Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

February 3, 2017

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

Malay Scholars Find Fault in Malay Leaders

Malaysian Official No. 1–The Corrupt and Corruptor

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) presents itself as the guardian of Malay interests, culture and language. So what do the 1MDB and other scandals say about the fundamental problems of this long-dominant ruling party, the institutional arm of the Malay elite?

The disappearance of vast sums from the accounts of the state-backed 1MDB investment vehicle, the murder of a senior investigator, the murder by the Prime Minister’s security detail of a pregnant Mongolian translator/model and former girlfriend of Najib’s close associate, must say something about elite behavior.

They may be extreme events but by no means unique in Malaysian history over the past 40 years. What were then vast sums went down similar drains, more than one associated with Bank Bumiputra, including the murder in Hong Kong of an auditor doing his job too well. Plenty of other lesser financial scandals have emerged from specifically Malay, publicly-owned institutions supposedly created to benefit the rakyat but too often ATMs for the elite. They are mostly quickly forgiven and forgotten.

Rather than looking for a contemporary or political analysis of the causes of these various scandals, it is worth casting a glance back at how some well-known Malay intellectuals in the past saw their Malay leaders. Two examples, separated by 140 years, will have to suffice.

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The more recent, written in 1982, appears in Shaharuddin B Maaruf’s Concept of a Hero in Malay Society tracing the influences on the Malay elite from the epic of Hang Tuah to the later era where feudal loyalty was allied with a crass materialism. Some of the feudal traits exhibited by Hang Tuah (and by equivalents at the Javanese Majapahit court) included feats of drinking, gambling, hunting and lovemaking. Do they still dominate?

 Interestingly Shaharuddin singled out not a Malaysian but the martyred Philippine nationalist Jose Rizal and General Sudirman, Indonesia’s military leader in the war of independence, as the wider modern Malay world’s leaders as selfless, determined and principled. In contrast, he quoted the principal agent of British imperialism on the peninsula, Frank Swettenham, on the eagerness of the Malay rulers to accept British overlordship in return for position and income.
Image result for dr shaharuddin maarufA Contemporary UMNO Leader

Shaharuddin himself echoed other post-independence critics of the elite such as Syed Hussein Alatas, the Malay academician turned politician who became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya and a founder of Gerakan, a multi-ethnic, reformist party. Alatas wrote the Foreword to Shaharuddin’s book.

They both noted the conflict between the feudal values of the elite, seen in their devotion to hierarchy, show and dynasty, and the Islam it professed. Instead of acknowledging that Islam’s strength lay in the diversity of interpretation of the Koran, it insisted on a single one laid down by an intellectually bereft elite, more interested in the furtherance of narrow Malay racial interests than in religion. Personal loyalty to a leader also trumped laws and principles.

There was, wrote Shaharuddin “no genuine interest on the part of the Malay elite to foster the intellectual, humanitarian and scientific aspects of Islam … but only to organize Koran reading competitions” – a stark contrast to the days when Islam was at the forefront of intellectual and scientific advance.

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 Present Day Malay Heroin Rosmah ‘Birkin’ Mansor

Reading about the shopping sprees of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, of the spending of huge sums to join the celebrity crowd in New York, mansions in California, Hollywood movies and high-priced western paintings suggests that elite behavior has got even worse since Shaharuddin wrote more than a generation ago: “The spirit of indulgence leads it [the elite] to imitate the negative aspects of western culture while the scientific and intellectual tradition is discarded… Being indulgent and imitative, the Malay elite always seeks to identify itself with its western counterpart.”

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Nor was it just a problem of aping western ways. Another was the desire to be grandiose and showy. “They spend lavishly on buildings, cars, official functions and other expenditures for prestige.”

Worse still, “celebrity worship is widespread in Malay society” – as if foretelling the elite urge to be seen in the company of such trashy western celebrities as Paris Hilton.

Shaharuddin’s criticisms were however mild compared with those of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir 1796-1854) also known as Munshi Abdullah. He was a Melaka-born translator and teacher who worked for the British, notably with Stamford Raffles at the time of the British takeover of Singapore. Abdullah was not a traitor to the Malays but one so appalled by the condition of the Malay states that he saw cooperation with the British as a way of improving the lot of the Malays through economic progress, the end of internecine conflict and the spread of education and knowledge.

An 1838 work following a visit to Kelantan, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan, had polite advice for Malay rulers. But his better known autobiographical work Hikayat Abdullah written in the 1840s was more scathing in its views of the monarchs.

“It is no light tyranny that has been exercised by the Malay rulers, apart from a few who were good. Women and children who caught their fancy have been abducted by force as though they were taking chickens, with no sort of fear of Allah and regard for his creatures. They have often murdered men whose offences in no way merited death. They have plundered the property of other men, killing the owners or dragging them off into captivity. If they owe money they refuse to pay it. They are very fond of gambling, cock-fighting, opium-eating and keeping a host of slaves. …There are many other disgraceful practices which I feel too ashamed to mention in this book. They keep young girls, sometimes more than a hundred, as concubines in the palace. They have relations with a girl once or twice then for the rest of her life she cannot marry another man…

“Was there not a time when half the world was under Malay dominion and rule? There are many books and records which tell of the rulers of olden times, how great and powerful they were, so rich and full of wisdom. Why have their lands been despoiled by Allah ere now and passed into foreign bondage.

…Even in my own time there have been several Malay principalities which have come to ruin. Some have reverted to jungle where the elephant and tiger roam, because of the cruel injustices of their rulers and chiefs; not merely distant places but, for example, Selangor, Perak, Kedah as well as Padang, Muar, Batu Pahat and Kesang and many others like them. Once they were rich and flourishing states with a large population. Now they are states only in name. …

“Many are the places and lands which have been destroyed by the depredations of the young scions of the ruling house whose rapacious hands can no longer be tolerated by the people. Other races, the English, the Indians, the Arabs, the Chinese do not conduct themselves in the manner I have described. Only the Malays. Among all the other races the ruler’s children are expected to be well educated and very intelligent… If the Malay ruler do not keep their own children under control, how can they themselves exercise authority over the people? As it is under Malay rule ordinary people cannot lift up their heads and enjoy themselves… Another failing commonly found among Malays is their inability to change or modernise their idea or to produce anything new. They utterly refuse to abandon superstitions of the past…”

And so on. Abdullah used many more pages to denounce the rulers and attitudes of the Malay rulers and state of society of his time.

There seems a continuous theme from the 1820s until today. It might be argued that both Abdullah and Alatas were not really Malays. Abdullah was of Tamil Muslim origin, Alatas of Yemeni ancestry and born in Bogor. But the notion of a pure Malay race is a fiction to which the ancestries of Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Mahathir Mohamed attest. No one doubted the mastery of Malay language and culture possessed by Abdullah and Alatas, nor their standing as modernist Muslims with enquiring minds. Are there any such figures in Malaysia today?

(Translation of Hikayat Abdullah by A.H. Hill. Concept of a Hero in Malay Society by Shaharuddin b. Maaruf, Eastern Universities Press, 1984)


Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia

January 16, 2017

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia

by Josh Hong

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A leopard never changes its spots, does it? Having failed to offer a set of alternative policies and convince the general public of their ‘reformist’ credentials, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Zainuddin Maidin and Muhyiddin Yassin are now all back to bashing Najib Abdul Razak along the not-so-subtle racial lines.

Yes, China has been investing aggressively in Malaysia, but the Chinese are not the first ones who came, saw and conquered our market in recent years.

Before that, the Americans, Japanese and Arabs, too, had pursued very proactive business strategies in South-East Asia. With its relatively well-developed infrastructure and affordable land, Malaysia stood to benefit tremendously from their investments for more than three decades.

Since the 2000s, the Arabs, too, have been investing heavily in strategic industries in Malaysia, especially the petrochemical sector and real estate development, with the United Arab Emirates emerging as one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners and among the most vigorous investors in Malaysia’s oil and gas industries.

Mubadala Petroleum is currently setting its sights on Sarawak, while the International Petroleum Investment Company remains a key investor in Malaysia despite the 1MDB debacle. Both Putrajaya and Abu Dhabi maintain bilateral and trade relations are rock solid.

Meanwhile, the Qatar Investment Authority is a big player in Malaysia’s strategic real estate, commodities and energy sector. In 2013, it had plans to develop the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in southern Johor that was worth US$5 billion, aimed at making the country a petrochemical regional hub, not too dissimilar from China seeking to help turn Malaysia into a ‘transportation hub’ via Bandar Malaysia and the proposed high-speed rail terminal.

Even less well-known was that an agreement was signed in 2012 to make Qatar Holding a cornerstone investor in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad, no doubt a highly important and vitally strategic global agricultural and agri-commodities company, while the Kuwait Investment Authority invested US$150 million in Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare.

At one time, the Qataris and the Najib government even agreed to build a ‘seven-star’ Harrods Hotel in the Bukit Bintang area in Kuala Lumpur, right next to the upmarket Pavilion shopping mall. The business venture somehow went awry and subsequently called off.

This aside, Saudi Arabia several years ago ranked fifth among Malaysia’s leading sources of investment, just behind Japan, South Korea, the US and Singapore. China was nowhere to be seen then.

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Mind you, PetroSaudi International was deeply involved in the scandal-ridden 1MDB and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei even confirmed in April last year that money was wired into Najib’s personal account and it was a “genuine donation with nothing expected in return”.

Now, one may derive from the s statement that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was complicit in corruption on a global scale but did any Malay or Muslim leader in UMNO or outside of it accuse the Saudi government of seeking to undermine Malaysia’s sovereignty or taking over the country? Is Saudi Arabia beyond reproach simply because it is where Mecca, Islam’s holy city is located?

The Arabs have been coming but no-one, certainly not UMNO, Mahathir or his minions in Bersatu, has said a word against investors from the Gulf region.

Nobody is talking about Najib turning the country into an Arab colony except for Marina Mahathir who lashed out at ‘Arab colonialism’ because traditional baju Melayu for women are now more difficult to find than in the old days as compared to the increasingly popular Arab attire. But her father has yet to cast aspersions on Najib selling Malaysia out to the Arabs through all the strategic investments.

Instead, Mahathir has been harping on Chinese nationals buying up lands and properties and blaming it on Najib, hoping that this would heighten the siege mentality of the Malays which would in turn alienate them further from UMNO.

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But Mahathir’s subterfuge can escape anyone but me. After all, it was his alleged racist rhetoric that kept him in power for over two decades, and Malaysia’s complex racial dynamics have created a fertile ground for a cunning strategist like him.

Crafted with the Malay constituency in mind

The messages by Mahathir, Zainuddin and Muhyiddin are not a coincidence, for they are all carefully crafted with the Malay constituency in mind.

They cannot openly demonise the Chinese Malaysian community because they need to ensure the opposition parties including DAP win enough Chinese votes, but at the same time, they are in dire need of denying Najib critical Malay support. So the best way to achieve this is to play up China as a bogeyman.

Mahathir and Bersatu may appear to be concerned over the influx of mainland Chinese capital and money, but their articulation is nothing but a veiled warning to the Malays that continued support for Najib would mean a greater Chinese presence in Malaysia, to the detriment of the ‘indigenous population’, of course.

Why pick on the Chinese when your Muslim brethren from the Middle East are no less commercially greedy and strategically ambitious?

It is not very different from the days when Mahathir ‘cari pasal’ (find fault) with Singapore in order to consolidate the Malay base. Stigmatising Chinese Malaysians comes at too huge a political cost, hence the sudden ‘realisation’ of mainland Chinese investments being a threat.

It is nothing more than a repackaged argument that, in favouring the (mainland) Chinese, Najib would only end up marginalising the Malays, just like the British.

If Mahathir and his cohorts have an issue with excessive foreign investments, they must not just single out China but the Gulf countries also. Mahathir may even question his own national car policy which only resulted in Malaysia becoming almost totally dependent on Japan for spare parts and technology, while failing to make Proton a car giant as he would have dreamed!

I have a problem with Islamic conservatism, but I have no problems with the Muslims; I am sceptical about American expansionism but I am fine with the American people; I am opposed to Israeli policies on Palestine but I don’t hate the Jews; I disagree with Shinzo Abe’s historical revisionism but I appreciate Japan as a wonderful country, and I look askance at communist ideology yet I enjoy the friendship of my mainland Chinese friends.

And I remain very much a leftist and a liberal who considers neo-liberalism a major source of the global chaos today. But unlike Mahathir, I vow not to use race or religion as my weapon even if I am wary of the destructive power of capitalism, because I have always been acutely aware of the hard fact that capital and money have no motherland.

Go on supporting Mahathir and Bersatu if you want, and I won’t shed a tear for you even if one day you find yourself trapped in the quicksand of racial politics and unable to be free.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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

Unity in Diversity

January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

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You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

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No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

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UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

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The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

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Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

Malaysia : It’s NOT OK to rely on Islamic Eggheads

April 3, 2016

Malaysia : It’s NOT OK to rely on Islamic Eggheads

by Zainah Anwar

What we need is to overhaul the way Islam is taught and understood. Our aim is to bring out the best in the religion so Muslims may use it to bring good to the modern world.

THE Minister in charge of Religion worries about liberal and pluralist Muslims whom he considers deviant. The Mufti of Perak worries about Muslims who use logic and intellect to make statements on Islam.

And this guy from the Perak Islamic Information Centre worries there are Muslims who believe the Federal Constitution, drawn by men and amended several times, could ever be considered superior to Syariah laws formulated by God.

Super Islamic Eggheads

Never mind if it’s men who drafted those Islamic laws he was referring to, and men who passed them in Parliament and state assemblies, and men who enforced them.

Let me save them from sleepless nights in search of solutions for problems that do not exist, and in the process, waste hours and millions of taxpayers’ money. Such men in power should really be concentrating their time – if not their intellect – on far more important matters that beset the country and the ummah.

The threat of terrorism and extremist illiberal thinking, corruption, abuse of power, the thousands of men who beat their wives, who fail to provide and protect their families, who destroy family well-being by taking another wife without the consent, let alone knowledge, of their existing wife and children, who fail to practise family planning and produce more and more children for whom they have no money to support and no time nor skills to guide and nurture.

Really. Let’s get some priorities right here on what really are threats to the well-being of the ummah. They certainly do not come from Muslims who believe in liberalism and pluralism. So, yes, let’s use our God-given intellect. Let’s be logical, let’s reason, let’s make decisions on the basis of facts and realities.

In a recent parliamentary response to the PAS MP from Pasir Mas, Jamil Khir Baharom said liberal Muslims are a danger because they believe in “pluralism”, which supposedly means an ideology which holds the human intellect to be a revelation.

The Tee who became Abdullah

Now that’s a revelation! I wonder how he reached such an understanding of pluralism and where he finds the evidence to support that conclusion.

I know many Malaysian Muslims who proudly proclaim themselves as liberals.But as far as I know, they believe in differences and diversity, in progress and change, and they resist authoritarian rule. Those are Islamic values.

And the pluralism they celebrate is directly inspired by the Qur’anic verse 49:13: And God has created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.

And where are those so-called liberals who supposedly advocate scepticism on the authenticity of the Qur’an, and advocate new interpretations of worship and dispute the criteria and morals of prophets? He must be reading obscure reports produced by even more obscure people who have to justify their existence as thought police.

Yes, there are liberals who question the methodology in interpreting the Qur’an and Hadith, and refer to other methods to comprehend Islamic law that the Minister disagrees with.

But lest the Minister forgets, the reason why there are several schools of theology in Islam (kalam) and even many more schools of law (madhab) is due to the fact that the Qur’an has always been open to diverse and differing interpretations.

What believing “liberals” in the contemporary world are trying to do is to unearth the richness of the Islamic legal and philosophical tradition in their search for solutions to the injustice perpetrated in the name of Islam, and to bridge the gnawing disconnect between classical law and contemporary reality.

The Guys behind Malaysia’s Political Islam

It is clear that so many of Malaysia’s Muslim leaders are ignorant of their own tradition when they accuse fellow Muslims as deviants, simply on the basis of differing opinion on how Islam is understood and used as a source of law within a democratic nation-state.

If we really want Islam to remain relevant to the realities of our lives today and to ensure that justice is the outcome of any law in practice, there are many Islamic legal principles that can be used to bring about the urgently needed reforms towards justice and equality.

We should be proud of our rich and complex tradition and continuously mine for gems, instead of shunting them aside to serve a dogmatic ideology that privileges a few men in authority.

I don’t know where and how they studied Islam. But the Islam I studied and continue to study gives me so much hope that justice and equality are possible.

Just to start with, I wish they would be guided by the principles of maslaha (public interest), ikhtilaf (differences of opinion), istihsan (choosing the best opinion in the interest of equity and justice), istislah (choosing the best opinion in the interest of public good) in drawing up laws, policies and fatwas.

These are rational and liberal concepts constructed by Muslim jurists some 1,000 years ago that our contemporary ulama seem to have forgotten.

Why? Is privileging power, authority and dogma over the best interest of the ummah far more important?

There is much in our tradition to be proud of. And yet, we continue to be bombarded by pronounce­ments and actions that just make us cringe and fearful of the future of this country.

How could anyone who loves Islam pronounce shamelessly in public that a Muslim cannot use logic and intellect when it comes to Islam?

God created humans different from other beings because of our ‘aql (intellect). Dozens of verses in the Qur’an refer to the importance of using the intellect and the consequences when one does not use the intellect.

Again, I don’t know where this idea that Muslims cannot use logic and ‘aql comes from. In fact, the science of logic (mantiq) was developed in the most sophisticated manner by Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Ibn Sina.

Mantiq is taught for hundreds of years in Islamic universities in the Arab world. Muslim philosophers regarded mantiq as a vital instrument to acquire knowledge, develop reasoning and argumentation to demonstrate truth claims.

And yet in the 21st century, we Muslims have deviated so far from our own enlightened heritage, and impoverished our minds in the process. This is a tragedy.

While history acknowledges how Muslim mantiq scholars brought Greek logic to the attention of the Latin West and helped transform intellectual life of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, we today pronounce Muslims who use logic and intellect as those who have gone astray.

Astray from what? The attempts at imposing one authoritarian understanding of Islam to perpetuate power and privilege?

Obviously, what Malaysia and much of the Muslim world need urgently is an overhaul of the way we teach and understand Islam.

For too long, the religion has been used and abused to serve the interest of those in power and those desperate for power, manipulated beyond recognition to justify discrimination, injustice, authoritarianism, obedience, violence, and at the end of the spectrum of abuses, the unthinkable barbarity perpetrated by ISIS.

Instead of spending hundreds of millions, if not billions on military and security solutions to the problem of extremism, how about spending just a few millions to bring enlightened scholars, public intellectuals, education specialists together to develop a new curriculum on how Islam should be taught in schools and universities to bring out the best in the religion to enable Muslims to use the religion in the best way possible to do good and bring good to the modern world, and to the lives of impoverished Muslims – materially and intellectually.

It is this jihad in the intellectual realm that is urgently needed, not a pathetic misguided war against Muslim liberals.


Thayaparan interviews DAP’s Lim Kit Siang

March 31, 2016

Thayaparan interviews DAP’s Lim Kit  Siang–Embracing a long time adversary


Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

INTERVIEW: Very few Malaysians can say they have they lived up to the second part of the famous John F Kennedy quote “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” as DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang has.

After decades of wrestling with his political adversary, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for the soul of Malaysians after years of being on the receiving end of the all-encompassing power of the Umno state, the honourable gentleman from Gelang Patah, found himself part of a joint declaration along with Mahathir, calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

While the DAP has enjoyed a political resurgence with a newly awakened electorate, the long struggle against the UMNO state has not diminished the enthusiasm and vigour of one the few people who can credibly claim title to elder statesmanship.

Here in two parts, Lim Kit Siang, explains what is at stake when it comes to the machinations of the Najib state, boldly answers questions from a sceptic (the writer) and reminds Malaysians that while we must never excuse the sins of the past, we can move beyond them.

Does “saving Malaysia” mean “saving UMNO”, because Mahathir has made it clear that his agenda is to save UMNO from Najib?

Interestingly, I issued a statement in Abu Dhabi on April 19, 2015 en route back to Malaysia after a DAP MPs fact-finding visit to Jordan and Egypt, where I differentiated between the “Save Malaysia”, “Save UMNO” and “Save Najib” concepts.

This is what I said in my statement last April :

“When I said in my speech to Malaysian students in Alexandria on Friday that I am prepared to work with Mahathir on the ‘Save Malaysia’ agenda, I was not thinking of ‘Save UMNO’ or ‘Save Najib’.

“In fact, there is nothing for me to work with Mahathir or anyone else as far as ‘Save UMNO’ or ‘Save Najib’ is concerned, as UMNO is an incorrigible party set in the ways of money politics and abuses of power, and the greatest contribution UMNO can make to the healthy development of democratic politics and Malaysian nation-building is for UMNO to go into the opposition benches to allow Malaysia to become a normal democratic country where the transition of power from one political coalition to another is not regarded as a national catastrophe but a necessary rite of passage from a country to graduate to become a normal democracy.

“I believe the First and Third Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn would agree with me and this was why both of them refused to join UMNO Baru which was formed by Mahathir in 1988 and both remained outside UMNO Baru till their last breath…

“I stand by what I said to Malaysian students in Alexandria that the focus of the present must be unwaveringly to ‘Save Malaysia’ from the present roller-coaster policies which threaten to plunge Malaysia down the slippery slope, whether in nation-building, politics, economics, education or other aspects of national life, to that of a ‘failed state’.

“I have said that for this formidable task, we must be prepared to put our differences in the past to one side and concentrate all our energies on one common agenda, to save Malaysia from all centrifugal forces to tear the country asunder.”

As far as I am concerned, “Save Malaysia” means saving the country, and not an individual, be he Prime Minister Najib Razak or a particular party, be it UMNO.

How can meaningful reforms be carried out by anyone who has Mahathir’s imprimatur?

When Mahathir suggested that political and civil society leaders gather to sign and proclaim the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia, his first draft focused on concerns over the deteriorating political, economic and social conditions in the country and the damage done to the country under Najib’s premiership, in particular by the RM55 billion 1MDB and RM2.6 billion “donation” twin mega scandals.

However, as the problem is not just about the man but also the system, Mahathir agreed that apart from Najib’s resignation there would also be “much-needed democratic and institutional reforms” to restore the important principle of the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary and ensure the independence, credibility, professionalism and integrity of our national institutions.

This was highlighted in the last paragraph of the 37-paragraph Citizens’ Declaration, which has to be elaborated in the second step of a national consensus.

The original 42 signatories to the Save Malaysia Citizens’ Declaration, as well as all citizens I hope will endorse the Citizens’ Declaration, have our separate political and national agendas – but the salvation of Malaysia lies in our ability to agree on a core common agenda to save Malaysia, and to enlarge this core common agenda.

Could you describe the processes which led to the declaration and what was your reaction to potentially working with your long-time political adversary?

The country has reached a historic watershed where Malaysians must rise above racial, religious, regional and political differences to take a united stand on a common national agenda – to save Malaysia from hurtling down the slippery slope of a failed and a rogue state.

There have been historic examples, both international and in our country – from Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek forming a common front to fight a bigger common enemy in China, to the United States President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian dictator Stalin uniting to fight Germany’s Hitler in the Second World War, or the British colonialists teaming up with the Malayan communists under Chin Peng in the Malayan jungles through Force 136 during the Japanese Occupation.

What the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia sought to do is to spark off a national movement involving the unity all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, region or politics to save Malaysia – the highest form of patriotism at this time.

You have said that we can’t undo the past. But how do we secure a future with someone who has been the cause of much of the damage of in the past, who has refused to even acknowledge the role he played, in destabilising our public institutions?

The March 4, 2016 Citizens’ Declaration is not Mahathir or Lim Kit Siang’s declaration – it is a declaration by citizens of Malaysia, regardless of race, religion, region or politics to save Malaysia.

The historic and unprecedented gathering on March 4 to sign and proclaim the Citizens’ Declaration is not about Mahathir or Lim Kit Siang, Muhyiddin Yassin or Mohamad Sabu or Ambiga Sreenivasan, but about 30 million Malaysians, their hopes, aspirations, dream and future.

How do you counter the perception that this declaration gives legitimacy to Mahathir and his decades long rule of Malaysia?

The declaration is a statement about the future as to how Malaysians can unite at present on a common platform to save Malaysia, not a judgement or verdict of the events of the past. The question of legitimatising or criminalising any individual or event in the past does not arise.

I am aware that questions have been asked as to how Lim Kit Siang and Mahathir can sit on the same table, considering the decades of differences and Mahathir’s responsibility in sending me and Guan Eng into incarceration, twice not once in Guan Eng’s case.

In my 50 years of politics, I have been accused of all sorts of things – of being a Chinese chauvinist; communist; cause of the May 13, 1969 riots; anti-Malay, anti-Islam, all completely baseless and pure defamation.

For my joint appearance with Mahathir for the March 4, 2016 Save Malaysia Citizens’ Declaration, I have been accused of being Mahahtir’s puppet and Mahathir accused of being my puppet.I am used to all these epithets and abuses, but it must be the first time that Mahathir is being accused of being my puppet.

I am no puppet of Mahathir, just as Mahathir is no puppet of mine. It was not easy for me to appear on the same table with him just as it was not easy for Mahathir to appear on the same table with me.

This is a testimony of the exceptional times we are in, where Malaysian patriots must rise above their differences to reach an accord in the higher national interest, which is why the March 4 Citizens’ Declaration marks a historic watershed in Malaysia’s political development.

Although there seems to be a cautious optimism amongst the general vote base of the opposition, what do you think of the scepticism from certain quarters of civil society with regards to this declaration?

I can understand such reservations and even skepticism.I can imagine similar debates before the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Kuomintang decided on a united front against the Japanese invaders in China, or in the capitals of Washington, London and Moscow before the conclusion of the “Grand Alliance” of the Big Three against Nazi Germany or by the British colonialists who had retreated to India during the Japanese Occupation and the Malayan Communist Party in the jungles before they cemented their operation and the infiltration of Force 136.

I believe many of the signatories also have doubts and reservations about whether what they had embarked upon will lead to success.For the sake of saving Malaysia, it is better to have tried and failed than never to try at all.

If Najib carries out another Operation Lallang, do you think that politically the opposition can survive?

I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) twice, first time for 17 months in 1969 after my first election as member of parliament for Bandar Melaka and the May 13, 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur and second time, under Operation Lallang for 18 months.

Although the iniquitous ISA has been repealed, the country appears to be heading to a new period of repression with new draconian legislative measures likely to be presented in the current meeting of Parliament, with new draconian provisions and increased penalties for offences under the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act as well as giving the Prime Minister dictatorial powers to virtually declare emergency in the country without checks and balances from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Parliament.

While we must stay vigilant to safeguard our fundamental liberties entrenched in the Constitution and not allow these human rights to be diluted or taken away in any manner under any circumstances, we know that we are in situation where we must be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

The acts of repression, oppression and persecution have been the game of Barisan Nasional in their effort to maintain power. And as I mentioned, I too am a victim of the vicious ISA, and even the Sedition Act. But whatever bad things done to the opposition, we have always come back stronger, with the people’ support. This is the magnitude of the task and challenge confronting Pakatan Harapan.

How does the DAP counter the perception that their efforts to reach out to the Malay community is not an attempt to subvert “Malay” political control and do you think that compromising on core secular values to court the Malay vote is in the long run detrimental to the progressive agenda of the DAP?

There are two dangerous fallacies played up by some UMNO leaders and their cybertroopers. Firstly, that the defeat of UMNO in the next general election will result in Malay losing political power in country, and secondly, the defeat of UMNO will result in the defeat of Islam in Malaysia.

Let me quote our national laureate A Samad Ismail, who is also a DAP member, who has asked UMNO many times: how would the Malays lose political power if UMNO is defeated in a general election? He also asked: “How are Malays under threat? How can religion (Islam) and Malays be threatened when those in power have been Malays for over five decades?”

Pakatan Harapan will ensure that the defeat of UMNO will not be a threat or disaster for Malays or Islam, or for that matter, for any race or religion in the country. Will UMNO’s electoral loss in the 14th General Election be such an unmitigated disaster than it will end in UMNO’s demise?

I do not believe UMNO is in such a terminal stage of political cancer that it will die and can never recover if it loses the 14th General Election. Both DAP and our Pakatan Harapan partners have been explaining the issue in all our ceramahs and forums, and our views are disseminated through our respective party publications.

On the question of compromise, let me reiterate the fact that people support DAP because they believe we can lead them to a better Malaysia. However, we cannot lead them to a better Malaysia unless we are a part of a coalition to be able to govern, formulate and implement policies for the whole country.

We are in need of change and we must dare to reach out, and to do that, we must dare to transform the DAP into a truly Malaysian party, with the support of all Malaysians, including Malays, Ibans and Kadazans as well as Chinese and Indians.

Nobody is suggesting that we betray or compromise or sell out our principles, ideals and objectives. What we need to change drastically is our modus operandi, and not our ideals and principles, to be more inclusive to appeal to all Malaysians. We have always been a constitutional secular social democratic party fighting for all Malaysians based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and solidarity.


If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”–– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

INTERVIEW: This is the second part of an interview with DAP leader Lim Kit Siang on why he is willing to work with his nemesis, former Premier Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, in the ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign.The first part appeared yesterday.

DAP has always struggled with the perception and UMNO propaganda that it is a “Chinese” entity. Do you think that the DAP has made some missteps that gives credence to this perception?

DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party. Right from the beginning during DAP’s formation in 1966, DAP had pledged itself to pursue a Malaysian Dream, not a Chinese Dream, an Indian Dream or a Malay Dream.

This is why DAP is the first political party in the country to be Pan-Malaysian, establishing branches in Sarawak and Sabah before any other political party in the country.

All through the past five decades, DAP had been accused of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam by UMNO, because of UMNO fear that the DAP will be able to make inroads into UMNO spheres of influence with our Malaysian political appeal, transcending race, religion or region.

No political party seeking support from all Malaysians can be anti-Malay or anti-Islam, or for that matter, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Dayak, anti-Kadazandusun or anti-Buddhism, anti-Christianity, anti-Hindiuism or anti-Sikhism.

The battle against such lies and falsehoods had been a particularly uphill battle for the DAP because we had to face the full onslaught of the UMNO juggernaut with its control and ownership of the mass media, particularly in the era before the advent of Internet, news portals and the social media.

However difficult the terrain, DAP had never wavered from our objectives and principles that the DAP had been formed not to fight for any one race but for all races and Malaysians in the country! This is why right from the beginning, starting from the first general election in 1969 contested by the DAP, the party had always put up a multi-racial and multi-religious slate of candidates.

In fact, in the 1969 general election, two Malay state assemblymen were elected, one in Perak and the other in Negri Sembilan. In the past 11 general elections, DAP had elected Malay members of parliament and state assembly representatives in peninsular Malaysia.

In the 2013 general election, we elected a Kadazan state assemblyman in Sabah and we look forward to the election of the first Dayak state assembly representative in the forthcoming Sarawak state general election.

As in the 1969 general election, DAP has now more Indian MPs than MIC. It is because of the DAP that there is an Indian Deputy Chief Minister in Penang and the first Indian speaker in the Perak state assembly after the 2008 general election.

All these precedents and breakthroughs are testimony that DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party.DAP does not apologise for its objective and commitment to be a party representing Malaysians regardless of race, religion or region – whether Chinese, Indians, Malays, Ibans, Kadazans or Orang Asli.It has not been an easy road in a country where the politics of race and the politics religion have played such a dominant role in the Malaysian politics.

Where does pragmatism end and political opportunism begin?

Can these Fat Cats be trusted?–The Malay First Types mentored by Tun Dr. Mahathir

There can be no room for opportunism as principles and ideals cannot be compromised, but the tactics and strategies to “Save Malaysia” from hurtling towards a failed and a rogue state must be pragmatic and flexible.

After the acrimonious split with PAS, is there a lesson to be learnt on the folly of engaging with an Islamic party and if so, how could this be applied with DAP’s political alliance with Parti Amanah?

Political Islam is a reality we must live with, whether in Malaysia or the world, and I do not agree that it is folly to engage with an Islamic party. The split with PAS and the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat is not because PAS is an Islamic party, but because it has failed to honour its compact on the Common Policy Framework and the consensus operational principle reached when Pakatan Rakyat was formed.

The political alliance with Parti Amanah Negara in Pakatan Harapan is fully justified if the component coalition parties can learn the lesson from the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat, that any political coalition is only viable and sustainable if the component parties of the coalition abide by the common policy programmes agreed among them, for there is no other basis for a genuine political coalition of equals to succeed.

Pro-establishment bloggers and news portals have demonised the DAP as a pro-Christian political force. Do you think that religion has a role to play in the political discourse and if so, how does one maintain the balance in pursuit of a secular society?

The majority of DAP leaders and members are not Christians. How can DAP become a pro-Christian political force? This is why the allegation of UMNO-BN propagandists and cybertroopers that DAP wants to create a Christian Malaysia is even more bizarre and ridiculous.

Right from the very beginning, the DAP stand is clear and unequivocal that we fully accept and respect the fundamental constitutional provision of Islam as the official religion while other religions can be practiced peacefully anywhere in the country.

The stand taken by the DAP, that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion, is the same and consistent with the public positions taken by the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Razak Hussein and Hussein Onn.

The Pious Man destroyed the legacies of Tunku, Razak and Hussein by aping Mahathirism in extremis

Is it seriously suggested that the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia were enemies of Islam because they uphold Malaysia as secular nation, which does not mean anti-Islam or anti any religion but respect for all religions?

When you said you would even work with Prime Minister Najib Razak if he was serious in reforms, you received much public opprobrium. I took that particular statement as a sign of that you were willing to work with anyone to save the country but more importantly as a sign of frustration. After decades in the forefront advocating change, how frustrated are you with the direction this country is headed in?

I had clarified in Padang Besar why I said in Sungai Petani on March 12 that I was prepared even to work with Najib to save Malaysia. I said in Sungai Petani that I believe that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, race or politics, love this country and can subordinate self-interest to national interests and support a Save Malaysia campaign to stop the country hurtling down the slippery slope towards a failed and a rogue state.

I listed some of the things which Najib should do if he is to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign, like freeing Anwar Ibrahim and restore to him all his political rights and civic enfranchisement so as to fully participate in a national consultative process on the democratic and institutional reforms necessary to restore national and international confidence in Malaysia; an independent and credible royal commission of inquiry to carry out comprehensive and far-reaching investigations into Najib’s twin mega scandals; halt the lurch towards dictatorial trends by withdrawing all draconian legislative proposals, including proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the withdrawal of the National Security Council Bill, and the withdrawal of all charges and investigations against opposition and civil society leaders under a variety of repressive and undemocratic laws; and the immediate suspension of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and end wasteful government expenditures and corrupt practices.

I believe there will be many Malaysians who will agree that with some of these initiatives, Najib will qualify to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign. I do not think I am the only one frustrated and even exasperated with the direction this country is headed to, which is why the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia deserves full public support to give it a chance to succeed.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is currently facing in my opinion a politically motivated witch-hunt regarding the purchase of his house. Do you see this as a prelude to more insidious manoeuvrings to cripple the opposition?

Yes, to distract public attention from Najib’s twin mega scandals, which are virtually making headlines all over the world and completely beyond the control of Najib’s minders and the impact of the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia.

From the television time and the newspaper space given to the issue of Guan Eng’s bungalow, the government and UMNO-BN media, without being able to show that there is any element of corruption, are creating the impression that the allegation about Guan Eng’s RM2.8 million bungalow issue is 1,000 times more serious than the worldwide allegations about Najib’s RM2.6 billion “donation” scandal.

There is a general perception that the DAP cannot accept legitimate criticism without deflecting or engaging in victimhood. Do you think this perception is justified?

I do not think DAP leaders have any objection to legitimate criticism. If there are DAP leaders who bristle over legitimate criticism, they have to learn to live with it as an integral part of a democratic society.Our problem is baseless and biased criticism stemming from dishonourable agendas, and this seems to be a season for them. I have been criticised for things I had not said, and this appeared in what was until recently a reputable media. What is one to make of such scurrilous attacks passing off as legitimate criticism?

How do we nurture a more productive form of discourse with BN supporters when UMNO is using the instruments of the state to neutralise the opposition?

Although UMNOO leaders are demonising DAP in their attempt to portray DAP as its “main enemy”, it doesn’t mean DAP and Pakatan Harapan will not respond in kind to such attacks. DAP does not regard those three million Umno members as “enemies” but only as Malaysians with different political inclinations.

We are always prepared to engage with them for the common purpose and objective to save the nation and all Malaysians comprising different races and religions. It was for that reason alone we agreed to the Citizens’ Declaration.

I know it is tough to even engage with UMNO leaders and members to discuss on such matter because their top leadership would never allow such meetings. Yet if we can promote the campaign on the declaration and efforts to save Malaysia, I believe that would be one of the many ways to engage with UMNO and Barisan supporters, even when Umno leadership is using the state apparatus.

We know that the top UMNO leadership is afraid of DAP because UMNO is losing support of Malays and Muslims as it is not prepared to stop the rampant corruption and injustices of its policies, like Najib’s RM2.6 billion and RM50 billion 1MDB twin mega scandals.

What do you think the consequences would be if the agenda to remove Najib fails?

The Citizens’ Declaration is work-in-progress to save Malaysia. Nobody is so naïve to believe that just because 42 political and civil society leaders can bridge the political divide to reach consensus on the Citizens’ Declaration on March 4, Najib will heed the call of the Citizens’ Declaration and will resign the very next day.

The journey to save Malaysia is going to be a long, arduous and most challenging one. There is no game plan. We have to take one step at a time. I favour the Chinese saying “mo zhe shi tou gua he” or “cross the river by groping the stone under foot” to describe the approach we have to take to carry out the challenging mission to “Save Malaysia”.

We must be prepared for the long haul. This sounds rather odd coming from a 75-year-old, who does not have many active years left. But the message and task of “Save Malaysia” must be borne particularly by the young generation of Malaysians because we are a youthful nation.

I, therefore, call on all young Malaysians to step forward to take over the baton to save Malaysia from becoming a failed and a rogue state.

Part 1: First time Dr M accused of being my puppet, laments Kit Siang

Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

March 14, 2016

Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

Malaysians might agree with some reluctance to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.–Dennis Ignatius

majlis-deklarasiTun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wants to save UMNO Baru and then become a party member again

By Dennis Ignatius

The remarkable gathering of political and civil society leaders and the “Citizens’ Declaration” they signed continues to reverberate across the political landscape.

That opposition and civil society leaders who participated in the gathering now feel obliged to justify if not defend their decision to join Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his quest to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak says something about how controversial it has all become.

The day after tomorrow

There is, of course, no argument that Najib has been disastrous for the nation. All but a few self-serving cronies and an assorted coterie of hangers-on are united in the view that Najib should be pressured through whatever democratic means available to step down as quickly as possible.

It is what comes next that is the fly in the ointment.

Those who joined Mahathir last week insist that the immediate priority is to get rid of Najib because the country can no longer endure his maladministration. While few would dispute that, many are equally suspicious of Mahathir’s motives.

What is Dr Mahathir fighting for?

Has the éminence grise of Malaysian politics undergone a Damascus road experience and come out convinced that only drastic change can save the nation or is he being as Mahathirian as ever, seeking to exploit public discontent purely to further his own political agenda? Is his goal democratic transformation or merely the continuation of UMNO’s hegemonic rule under a more competent and pliable leader?

When questioned about Mahathir’s motives, many of the participants sought to sidestep the issue in the interest of creating a united front against Najib. One signatory even dismissed such concerns as “irrelevancies of the moment” while others urged the public to focus on the big picture.

Alluding to these concerns, Mahathir himself would only say that it was something that politicians could fight about later.

The general public, however, appear unconvinced. They have harboured hopes for change for too long to now acquiesce in political games and they baulk at following even trusted leaders like Lim Kit Siang without a more convincing road map for change.They have good reason to be wary.

No regrets

“All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.”

Throughout his long and bitter campaign to dislodge Najib, Mahathir has consistently argued that he is fighting to save UMNO and ensure its long-term survivability, something that both UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin and former Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir reaffirmed just days after the signing ceremony.

Even Mahathir’s resignation from UMNO was not a rejection of the party per se but a dramatic manoeuvre to pile pressure on Najib to leave.

Mahathir also does not appear to be a man with second thoughts about his past policies and actions. In fact, he has never admitted to his own culpability for the sorry state our nation is in today. Judging by his many statements since he resigned as Prime Minister, he appears to see his years in office as a sort of golden era to which we must return.

The only mistake he admits to is his poor choice of successors but that is little consolation.Furthermore, he has given no indication whatsoever that he is ready to embrace the kind of democratic values that so many want so much to see established in our nation. Indeed, he has always believed that democracy is vastly overrated and that a developing country like Malaysia needs a strong, almost absolute leader at the helm; just not the present one.

He is no democrat and he has never pretended to be one.And then to have some of the other unrepentant engineers of our present plight seated smugly at the table passing themselves off as would-be reformists and saviours, as if yesterday didn’t exist, was simply, I suspect, too much to swallow for many people.

Scraps from the table

Mahathir’s only concession to democracy at the meeting was a passing reference, towards the very end of the declaration, to constitutional rights and freedoms, all stuffed into a mere two of the thirty-six paragraphs of the declaration.

Cynics would undoubtedly see it not as a change of heart but a clever tactical concession to win over his detractors.

But such is Mahathir’s charisma, force of personality and political standing that when he summons the nation to battle, even his most implacable foes feel obliged to respond notwithstanding their reservations about him.

Anwar Ibrahim, for example, who has been so horribly and shamefully treated by Mahathir, graciously reached out from his prison cell to endorse the doctor’s initiative in the interest of the nation.

And such is the depth of despair and angst in our nation today that people with unquestionable integrity who have struggled long and hard and have made enormous personal sacrifices to build a better nation are now willing to accept the scraps from Mahathir’s table – a few half-hearted and weak assurances of democratic reform at some future date – in the hope that it will lead to real change.

If Mahathir, however, is unwilling to concede the need for genuine democracy, justice and inclusiveness when he is at his weakest, it is surely too much to expect him to do so when he is once again in firm control of UMNO-BN.

Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.

In spite of all the misgivings Malaysians might have about him, there’s a good chance that the nation will follow him once again if he would but lay before us all a clear path to national redemption.

Insipid and uninspiring

Ambiga, Maria Chin, and Hishamuddin Rais sold out Bersih

In the meantime, the call to all Malaysians to unite around Mahathir for the good of the nation is unlikely to arouse a national awakening.

Malaysians might agree, with some reluctance perhaps, to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

Nelson Mandela asked his nation to let bygones be bygones on the promise of building a new and democratic South Africa where all are treated with equality and respect. All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.

Clearly, if Mahathir and the co-signatories of the Declaration want to generate the kind of unstoppable power for change, they will have to come up with a more comprehensive plan of action.

A road map to the future

What is needed is a clear and uncompromising road map for the restoration of democracy and the renewal of our national institutions. Releasing Anwar Ibrahim from prison and allowing him to resume his political role in the nation is also a must. Unlike so many others at last week’s gathering, Anwar has earned the right to sit at the table.

To be sure, it will be a challenging task and will almost certainly take longer to construct but it will force all parties to agree upon the kind of nation we want to see going forward. And the consensus that emerges from such a meeting of minds will, in all likelihood, be far more enduring.

If the signatories to the Citizens’ Declaration will now take it upon themselves to deepen the discussion on these issues with a view to drawing up a workable road map for change, the meeting will come to be seen as a good first step instead of a false start.

And if such a meeting of minds is unattainable, Mahathir’s initiative should be summarily abandoned; we would be better off focusing our efforts on building a more viable coalition to take on Umno-BN at the next elections.

Our nation is ripe for change. There’s a sliver of hope. Let’s not squander it on the expediencies of the moment.

Dennis Ignatius has served as former Malaysian Ambassador to Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. From 2001 to June 2008 he was the High Commissioner to Canada.