Mahathir and the new National Car Project

August 9, 2018

Mahathir and the new National Car Project–Doomed to Failure Again

by John

In 1984, a young researcher at a prestigious Malaysian thinktank wrote an exhaustive review of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s plan to partner with Mitsubishi Motors of Japan to produce a so-called national car. The sum and substance of the researcher’s report was: Don’t do it. It would be an economic disaster that would also limit consumer choice.

The report was leaked to a reporter for the Asian Wall Street Journal, then the New York-based WSJ’s Asian edition, which ran the story. The think tank’s chief quickly shot it down, saying it was only a draft, and never mind.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and learn just how prophetic the researcher’s warning was.

Mahathir went ahead and midwifed his proposal, of course, which became Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional (Proton). In the ensuing three-plus decades of its existence, the car, part of Mahathir’s move to move the country away from its resource-based economy to heavy industrialization, can only be described as a disaster.

Eventually in June 2017 – allegedly, partly to find funds to bail out the flailing 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which was enveloped in scandal – Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government would sell 49.9 percent of Proton to China’s Zejiang Geely Holding Group and effectively cede control over it to the automaker Geely.

But for everybody breathing a sigh of relief at having managed to get rid of the albatross hanging around Malaysia’s neck, the idea of a national car is back, along with Mahathir, who led the take-no-prisoners campaign to get rid of the corruption-plagued Najib in the country’s May 9 general election.

The 93-year-old Mahathir appears to want to bring back the country to where it was when he left office in 2003 after the first 23 year stint as premier, also reviving a proposal to build Malaysia’s half of a bridge over the Singapore causeway that nobody wants. It has won the name “crooked bridge” because it would have to be built to connect to Singapore’s half of the causeway since the island republic has no plans to replace its half of the bridge.

Ominously, Mahathir, has been appointed chairman of the board of Khazanah Nasional Bhd., the government’s premier investment vehicle, or more likely has appointed himself. Appointed along with him are allies Mohamed Azmin Ali, Mohd Hassan Marican, Sukhdave Singh and Goh Ching Yin. It was Kazanah that would ultimately take control over Proton, raising fears that Mahathir’s second incarnation as premier will result in amassing the same kind of power that he amassed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Against the advice of virtually everybody, Mahathir has gone to Japan, possibly to seek a joint venture partner to build another car despite the failure of Proton, which in characteristic Mahathir fashion was blamed on everybody else.

Entrepreneur Development Minister Mohd Redzuan Yusof announced last week that the government expects to launch what has been called “national car project 3.0” by 2020 in a move described as strategy to revitalize the national automotive industry.

But if past is inevitably prologue, Malaysia would do wise to heed the critics. Rafizi Ramli, the Vice President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, urged that the project be reconsidered, saying no such plan had ever been discussed in the governing Pakatan Harapan coalition. No attempt has been made to assess the cost, no decision has been taken which agency would assume responsibility, no move has been made to abolish swingeing excise taxes on cars.

Image result for Barry Wain and Mahathir


The saga of the Proton Saga – the name given the first national car – is contained in “Malaysian Maverick,” the highly regarded biography of Mahathir written by the late Wall Street Journal editor and columnist Barry Wain, who pointed out that for most of its existence, Proton lost RM35,000 (US$8,587 at current exchange rates) on every car sold.

Proton’s dubious success, Wain wrote, “came at a heavy cost to Malaysian consumers: taxes ranging from 140 percent to 300 percent on imported vehicles, and up to 40 percent on cars locally assembled from imported kits.”

Proton cost Malaysia’s taxpayers billions in direct subsidies and untold billions more in opportunity costs as those who didn’t want a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer were forced to pay enormous excise taxes on foreign-made cars. Thousands went ahead and bought Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans anyway, paying the extra freight. They also bought even more-expensive Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars anyway despite the extra cost.

Image result for Barry Wain and Mahathir

Already dated by the time Malaysia started importing the Lancer kits, the car was lackluster at best. Given Malaysia’s population at that point of fewer than 30 million, it was impossible to gear up to beat the economies of scale enjoyed by Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other manufacturers, who turned out millions of cars every year in their home bases and satellite plants.  Attempts to sell Protons overseas failed. Cars sold in China and England, for instance, had no heaters because they weren’t necessary in Malaysia. In order to sell the car in the UK, 400 technical modifications had to be made.  In the end, exports accounted for only about 10 percent of sales.

Worse, as Wain wrote, the country’s thriving assembly industry, which employed thousands, was decimated by the favoritism shown to Proton. By contrast, Thailand welcomed the entry of foreign firms to assemble cars there, ultimately becoming the export hub of Southeast Asia and ending up what was called the “Detroit of the East.”

Image result for Original Proton Saga 1986 Model

Read this:

As Proton attempted to increase local content, with Malaysian engineers and designers producing more and more of the components of the cars, they fell even further behind, unable to compete with the technical expertise of the Japanese, Koreans and other carmakers.

In the end, there was little to show for Proton other than the Malaysian Islamic hood ornament, a symbol of pride. Mitsubishi “bailed out of Proton in 2004, ending a two-decade partnership that proved extremely profitable for the Japanese group” at the same time Malaysia was left “with dozens of uncompetitive local auto parts makers and vendors.”

Now Mahathir wants to do it again. He may get his way.  But the national car encapsulates a more worrisome concern for the country, and that is that the ideas that failed – besides Proton but including a long string of grandiose projects — cost the exchequer as much as RM100 billion in mismanagement and corruption, according to Wain’s book. Mahathir during the campaign that ousted the massively corrupt Najib Razak claimed he was now willing to share power and ideas. The car is a disturbing throwback, and raises the possibility that there are more such projects in the wings. For those who read Wain’s 2009 book, revised and updated in 2012, it might pay to go back and reread it.

Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerabilities in the states

June 27, 2018

Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerabilities in the states

Dr. Bridget Welsh
In this era of ‘new Malaysia’, the need for capable and reform-oriented leadership at the state level will be essential to bring about the changes needed to improve governance…the federal government has the power of the purse to encourage greater reforms at the state level and can set important governance examples. Working collaboratively with state governments to move out of status quo politics toward reform from above and below is essential to reducing vulnerabilities of Harapan states.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | In the weeks following GE14, the focus has centred on developments at the national level, as Malaysians wait for a full cabinet and watch the new Pakatan Harapan government set in place its initial policies.

At the state level, there are equally important and transformative developments taking place, largely off the national radar. There are some worrying signs that greater attention needs to be placed on building the reform credentials of the Harapan government from below.

Varied tenuous patterns of state control

Harapan now holds power in eight states – Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Sabah (despite the outstanding legal contest for the chief minister position). The remaining states are held by PAS (Kelantan and Terengganu) and BN (Pahang and Perlis) with Sarawak now Pakatan-friendly under a new configuration of the Sarawak Parties Alliance (Gabungan Parti Sarawak).

Among Harapan states, there are broadly three political conditions. The first is a large majority coming with incumbency, as in the case of Penang and Selangor, and with a decisive victory as occurred in Johor. In these states, the main challenge is to accommodate different coalition partners (and in the case of PKR, factions) with positions and adequate representation. The new chief ministers in Penang and Selangor are also facing the need to come out of the shadow of their predecessors.

The second group of states are those that have slim majorities. These include Malacca and Negri Sembilan with a three and four-seat majority respectively. They face an UMNO opposition, which at this moment is fragmented and inward-oriented.

All of the majority Harapan states are vulnerable to issues within Harapan itself. Beyond jockeying for positions, differences over race and religion have the capacity to divide the coalition and are especially impactful in states where UMNO and PAS are likely to play on these factors.

Unlike the situation at the national level, where Sarawak’s Pakatan-friendly orientation has shored up Harapan’s more inclusive position on race and religion, this is not the case in many of the Harapan states and thus makes these states more vulnerable to the mobilisation of political division along racial and religious lines.

The third group are states where Harapan holds the majority of seats but this majority can be overturned by a coalition among opposition parties or a reconfiguration of different partners. Here, Harapan governments are balancing a combination of internal and external pressures, including continued inducements for defections. The potential for political instability in these states is real.

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This is the case in Sabah, where Warisan is the largest party allied with Harapan to form government. Warisan (led by Shafie Apdal, photo) holds 23 seats, with Harapan parties holding eight seats, with a majority of two seats. Perceived unfair actions taken against Warisan partners in areas such as appointments by the federal government can potentially inadvertently contribute to instability in Sabah.

Perak and Kedah also fall into this category of possibly overturned majority states. In these two states, PAS holds greater political power. In Perak, Harapan holds onto 29 seats, with the BN at 27 and PAS at three, while in Kedah Harapan holds 18, with PAS at 15 and UMNO at 3. In the last month, there has been considerable wrangling over the speaker and deputy speaker positions in Kedah, with the possibility of elections should there be an impasse.

The balance of power in Perak remains fragile and given the history of induced political turnover in the state, it is arguably the most vulnerable to a change in government.

Chief minister choice

It is also important to appreciate that legal decisions involving the case of the chief ministership in Sabah and election petitions across the country have the potential to shift the numbers in these majorities. The sources of instability at the state level extend beyond managing numbers. Crucial is the choice of chief minister and the state leadership.

The royalty has played a pivotal role in deciding who should run the different states, from Selangor and Perak to Johor. This has placed constraints on the Harapan government(s). The royalty’s role has been prominent under the BN government as illustrated by the Terengganu crisis of 2014 and more recently in Perlis but is being more openly being discussed in the era of ‘new’ Malaysia.

At issue are not just concerns for representation, race and religion and economic interests, but the democratic fabric of Malaysia. Increasingly there is greater disgruntlement with royal interventionist positions.

This is especially the case in states where a sultan’s veto power has been seen to reduce the stability of a Harapan government or led to choices that are seen to bring into power a perceived less experienced candidate. The open criticism of the choice of new Selangor Menteri Besar, Amirudin Shari, is illustrative of some of the disgruntlement, although in this case these complaints are also reflective of the different factions within PKR.

Capability, qualifications and the reform orientation of the new state leaders are at the core of concerns surrounding the leadership of Perak and Johor.

Image result for Menteri Besar of Perak  Ahmad Faizal Azumu


The Perak Menteri Besar, Ahmad Faizal Azumu from Bersatu (pic above), whose fiasco in the handling of the Hari Raya open house in a theme park earlier this month was criticised, has yet to properly answer questions about the veracity of his academic qualifications. He is seen to be closer to Umno than to Harapan, coming from a traditional UMNO warlord family. While still early days, his leadership to date has failed to broach any of the scandals of the previous Zambry Abdul Kadir government and is evoking serious criticism from the ground.

The choice of Osman Sapian, the now Bersatu former UMNO three-term state assemblyman from Kempas, to be the Menteri Besar of Johor also signals the persistence of status quo politics at the state level. Osman’s choice has been seen as possibly limiting reform and not actualising the leadership potential for Johor at the state level.

The expectations in Johor are especially high, given its economic and political importance and the decisiveness of Harapan’s victory. The choice of Osman has emboldened UMNO who feel they can win the state back under Osman’s leadership and not evoked confidence among many Harapan supporters.

Reform from below and above

Decisions at the state level to date have showcased some of the ideological differences within Harapan itself, most notably the connection to Umno and its style of patronage politics. In other states such as Malacca, the early patronage to Harapan members, some of whom are not qualified for the positions in state-linked companies they were given, also raised eyebrows.

States play a crucial role in governance, and if reforms in Malaysia are to gain traction they need to happen at the state level as well. The same clean-up and oversight of government-linked companies touted by Harapan leaders at the national level should be paralleled at the state level, especially given the link between state governments and national scandals as occurred with Terengganu and 1MDB.

A failure to address reforms at the state level opens up Harapan for criticism and has the potential to undercut any reform at the national level. Keep in mind the greatest vulnerability the Harapan governments face is a loss of confidence among the electorate. It is at the state level, in vital areas of land development and social service management, that many witness first-hand abuses of power and corruption concerns.


Political transitions are not easy, especially given the resistance to these transitions and how vulnerable many of the state governments actually are to political turnovers and status quo politics. In 2008, it took some time for the Selangor and Penang governments to find their footing and this will likely be the case for the new Harapan state governments as well, and arguably pressures for reform were also curtailed.

In this era of ‘new Malaysia’, the need for capable and reform-oriented leadership at the state level will be essential to bring about the changes needed to improve governance.

Image result for lim guan eng at finance ministry


Unlike in the past, however, the federal government has the power of the purse to encourage greater reforms at the state level and can set important governance examples. Working collaboratively with state governments to move out of status quo politics toward reform from above and below is essential to reducing vulnerabilities of Harapan states.

A failure to do so puts these governments at risk and deepens the challenges for the federal government itself.

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 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 (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at

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


GLC’s: Pagar makan Padi

June 26, 2018

GLC’s: Pagar makan Padi

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Image result for tawfik tun dr ismail


 “ Yes, they enjoyed their position admittedly through patronage, but it would have been a competitive climb for them nevertheless. Is the mood for revenge against the previous regime making us senseless to the long-term damage to Malay progress in commerce?”–Former UMNO MP Tawfik Ismail


As the heads and top officials in Government-linked corporations (GLCs) continue to be lopped off and voices are raised on how to reform these enterprises, the wisdom of the new Pakatan government in taking off the kid gloves in dealing with GLCs has been questioned.

The plain truth, however, is that the shortcomings and failings of these enterprises have been known for a long time – long before Dr Mahathir described them as becoming “monsters”.

Image result for Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Crowding out private enterprise, given privileged access to contracts, benefiting from favourable government regulations and capitalizing in less discernible but nonetheless effective ways familiar or accessible only to insiders, the negative impact of these ubiquitous and often monopolistic  bodies has been accentuated by their lead role in the poor governance and corrupt practices that have blighted the nation’s economy and society.

 Self Censured Analysts

 Most analyses of GLCs in the past and continuing today – even if critical -have either ignored or tended to avoid forthright and frank discussion of the main reason for the establishment and dominance of GLCs – the mission focus on the Malay agenda.

The key questions to be asked are:

what is this Malay agenda; whose interests does it serve; and should a race-based agenda be the driver or leitmotif of GLCs which rightfully belongs to all stakeholders in the country.

These questions need to be put out and answered in the public sphere regardless of whether the GLCs can be reformed and reconfigured in accord with truly national aspirations.

Perkasa Inaugural Congress, 2010 and GLCs      

I had posed and tried to answer this question in response to Ibrahim Ali of Perkasa who, in the inaugural Malay rights group congress held on 27 March 2010, had said that “We are not only looking at their (GLC) performance but also the role they play in helping Malay entrepreneurs.”

I had replied then that:

“The Malay and Malaysian public should look forward to hearing the outcome of Perkasa monitoring the GLCs and learning the truth about how these bodies are standing in the way of, or seriously implementing, their mission of fulfilling the Malay agenda.” See

At that time, in 2010 eight years before the present debate, I noted too the considerable success of GLCs in furthering the Malay agenda from the following indicators:

  • GLCs are major shareholders of corporate equity. They comprise 36 per cent and 54 per cent of the market capitalization of Bursa Malaysia and the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index.
  • Seven out of the top 10 listed companies are under majority ownership of the government.
  • Senior GLC positions are largely determined along ethnic lines. GLC directors, management and staff are largely Bumiputeras.
  • Non-Malay owners of listed and unlisted companies often have no choice but to work with influential Bumiputera and GLCs to help protect their interests through obtaining sub-contracts or becoming suppliers of goods and services.
  • Non-Malays may own 40 per cent of corporate equity Based on the government’s flawed calculations but GLCs are the major players and have control over the economy.

Malay Agenda Accomplishments Since NEP

I had also noted that much of the new wealth in the country is in Malay hands. These sources of wealth include the plantation sector which is dominated by Felda and PNB companies;  the smallholding agricultural sector where the Malays are the major group amongst the 112,635 Felda settlers; the hi-tech aerospace industry; the defense industry; the petroleum and gas industry where apart from Petronas and MMC, the Malays have substantial holdings in key MNCs such as Shell, Exxon, BP; the finance and banking sector where eight out of 10 banks are Bumiputera- owned and controlled; the automotive sector where Malay interests are dominant in Proton, Perodua, DRB Hicom, UMW and Naza, and where the system of APs ensures a steady stream of income for select Bumiputeras; the energy and utilities sector where TNB and Malakoff are key players; the more recently contentious MARA’s digital malls and so on.

Perhaps most successful of all in accomplishing the Malay agenda was that the NEP objective of building a strong Malay professional and technical elite class had been reached well before the time of Perkasa’s inaugural congress.

From a very small base of professional and technical workers in 1970 (Bumiputera comprised 4.9 per cent of registered professionals at that time) the Malay component of the country’s professional and technical workers in 2010 was the biggest amongst the various racial groups. According to the Malaysian government’s Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010), the Bumiputera community comprised 63.5 per cent of the ‘Professional and Technical’ category of employment in 2000.

This growth of a strong Malay professional class within a short period of 30 years – with some finding employment and high positions in GLCs as noted by Tawfik Ismail-  is possibly the fastest recorded by any marginalized community anywhere in the world.

That this information is not widely known is not due to modesty. It is part of political spin aimed at playing up to Malay insecurity, under-reporting Malay achievement and emphasizing the non-Malay, that is, Chinese dominance of the economy.

This new privileged class (and its leadership institutions such as the GLCs) could also be the main reason accounting for the phenomenon of “pagar makan padi”.

Tackling Malay poverty

I had also argued that in the economic sphere there is still work to be done to uplift the lot of the poor Malays (see article on the country’s underclass – I noted that the task is less formidable than what official statistics may make it out to be.  This is because Malay poverty – as distinct from Bumiputera poverty – is over-estimated by the statistical practice whereby the Malay figures are lumped with the figures of recent migrants from Indonesia who have obtained Bumiputera status as well as the other Bumiputera from East Malaysia.

The great majority of the former group — Javanese, Sumatrans, etc — who have assimilated into the country’s population especially after the 1970s came with little in assets or income. Inclusion of these poor “pendatang”, despite their upward mobility after migration here in the official statistics, has impacted in distorting the racial distribution of household income.

Without them (and Bumiputra communities in Sabah and Sarawak), the ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’ or ‘local’ Malay achievement, as distinct from Bumiputera achievement, will be higher in all the social and economic indicators – especially the key one of land ownership – used by the Department of Statistics to measure inter-ethnic differences.

 The Malay Agenda and the country’s future

In the weeks and months to come, the ruling PH government will unveil more of its economic policies and programmes to replace the BN’s ineffective, unproductive or discredited ones.

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Looking beyond 1981– 2020: Will the Malay Dilemma be resolved under Mahathir 2.O Administration? NO until we empower and challenge the Malays and stop spoon feeding them like UMNO did to remain in power for 60 years.

We need to stop manjaing (pampering) them and  should make them self-reliant and resourceful. I understand what Dr. Lim Teck Ghee and Tawfik Tun Dr. Ismail are trying  to hint at. Let us challenge Malaysia’s Status Quo.–Din Merican

It is extremely unlikely given the BN’s prioritization of the Malay agenda that the Malay position in various sectors of the economy has stagnated or fallen back since 2010 and that it deserves attention and propping up through a larger allocation of the nation’s financial resources to support. This issue needs strong and independent empirical evidence to verify.

It could also be that GLCs should continue to play a key role in enabling achievement of whatever is authoritatively established as an uncompleted or lagging Malay agenda as well as the priorities in the larger national agenda. This also needs similar rigorous analysis to establish.

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But the hard questions – driven not by “revenge politics” but by sensibility and prudence – still need to be asked of the Malay agenda in this new era of accountability, transparency and good governance:

What is this new Malay agenda today; which part of the old Malay agenda has yet to be achieved or realized; which targets have not been attained; and how will reconfigured or reformed GLCs help the Malays and the nation arrive at final accomplishment of the Malay agenda?


PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad submits names of additional 15 Ministers to DYMM YDP Agong (His Majesty The King)

June 22, 2018

PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad submits names of additional 15 Ministers to DYMM YDP Agong (His Majesty The King)

by Norman Goh

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Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah–Foreign Minister of Malaysia?

Comment: It will be great indeed if the handsome, suave, articulate,  and intellectual Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah is Malaysia’s new Foreign Abdullah. Wisma Putra is in urgent need of a major shake up and reform.  The quality and competence of our Ambassadors must reflect the aspirations and vision of the new Malaysia led by Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad.

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Najib Razak’s Ambassador to The Kingdom of Cambodia, Dato’ Hassan Malek, was a part time diplomat and Member of Parliament.

The importance Malaysia attaches to countries where we have diplomatic relations is reflected in the quality of our Ambassadors. For example, the previous Ambassador to The Kingdom of Cambodia, Dato’Hassan Malek, did not devote his entire time to his diplomatic duties as he was also a Member of Parliament.  Furthermore, being unschooled in diplomacy and international relations, he was like a fish out of water at diplomatic functions. He also did not actively interact with members of the Malaysian business community in the Kingdom.

The new Malaysia government must, therefore, choose Ambassadors on merit and should avoid sending discredited politicians as our representatives abroad. –Din Merican

Malaysiakini reports:

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has submitted the names of 15 additional cabinet members to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V.

According to a government source, the list was submitted on Wednesday.“There will be a total of 28 ministers, two each from Sabah and Sarawak. Deputy ministers are also included, along with names for senators who might be appointed as well,” he told Malaysiakini.

However, the number of deputy ministers and prospective senators were not specified.

The source said among those on the list for minister positions are PKR’s Saifuddin Abdullah, Amanah’s Khalid Samad as well as DAP’s Teresa Kok and Ong Kian Ming.

Malaysiakini learned that Saifuddin Abdullah would helm the Foreign Affairs portfolio whereas Ong would be made international Trade Minister.

During an interview with Malaysiakini this morning, Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran also confirmed that the names have been sent to the Agong.

“I’m not privy to it, but I know (the names have been submitted) because the PM did say this to us. It’s just a matter of time, today, Monday, Tuesday (for the appointments) to take effect,” he added.

Kulasegaran is also hoping there would be another Indian minister as it would help reduce his workload in having to attend to issues concerning the community.

At present, there are 13 ministers, including Kulasegaran, who were sworn in on May 21.  These are:

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as Women, Family and Community Development Minister.

Bersatu President Muhyiddin Yassin as Home Minister.

Amanah President Mohamad Sabu as Defence Minister.

DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng as Finance Minister.

PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali as Economics Minister.

Bersatu’s Dr. Mazlee Malik as Education Minister.

PKR’s Zuraida Kamaruddin as Housing and Local Government Minister.

Amanah Deputy President Salahuddin Ayub as Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister.

DAP’s Gobind Singh as Communication and Multimedia Minister.

Bersatu’s Rina Harun as Rural Development Minister.

Amanah’s Dzulkefly Ahmad as Health Minister.

DAP’s Anthony Loke as Transport Minister.


My Face to Face Interview a Decade ago on RPK’s Malaysia-Today

June 14, 2018

My Face to Face Interview a Decade ago on RPK’s  Malaysia-Today

I would like to see us adopt the debating style of the British  Parliament where MPs do not shout at each other as if they are in a fish market and the level of discourse reflects their knowledge of the issues before them and their preparedness. In my view, British MPs know how to disagree on substantive issues agreeably. They do it in style and it is such a delight to watch their deliberations on television.

Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob is a trained lawyer and Malaysian political commentator. He writes for numerous international newspapers and online journals as well as hosts Face to Face, an interview segment of Malaysian/regional issues and personalities hosted on Malaysia Today. He also serves as Foreign Correspondent for foreign news organisations.

Din Merican, the Reluctant Blogger, a former civil service officer with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a central banker at Bank Negara, he was also with the private sector (Sime Darby). He is currently Program Director for Parti Keadilan Rakyat in the office of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He gives us a straight-from-the-shoulder response in another hard-hitting Face to Face interview.

Image result for Din MericanDin Merican, the Reluctant Blogger a Decade Ago (2008)

1. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your foremost specific concern with regard to Malaysian politics at present?

Din Merican: That it has fallen into a racial, nepotistic and plutocratic mould. The entire body politic cries out for liberation from this self-made dungeon. The results of the 12th General Election have cracked the mould. The course being steered by Pakatan Rakyat (Parti KeADILan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party and Parti Islam Sa.Malaysia[PAS]) points the way towards the country’s liberation from this stultifying cage. Malaysian voters have become increasingly sophisticated and discriminating in the way they exercise their democratic rights.  That is our ray of hope for a more democratic and open society. So the recent winds of change, and some people would call it “political tsunami”, give me room for cautious optimism.

2. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your observation of the ongoing Parliamentary sessions? Has it met with your expectations?

Din Merican: It is an improvement over the previous era when the opposition was minuscule and the government was untrammelled in getting its way. That was a negation of democracy. The current session, with a one-third plus opposition presence, resuscitates the drooping flower of democracy. But to say that the level of debate, discourse and decorum is of the standard that projects Malaysia as a healthy polity is to overstate the reality. We are some way off that standard but we can get there if current trends are sustained.

I would like to see us adopt the debating style of the British  Parliament where MPs do not shout at each other as if they are in a fish market and the level of discourse reflects their knowledge of the issues before them and their preparedness. In my view, British MPs know how to disagree on substantive issues agreeably. They do it in style and it is such a delight to watch their deliberations on television.

3. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What three issues would you like to see debated? Why?

Din Merican: I would say that there are four issues that are in dire need of debate and resolution, These are the restoration of the judiciary to its pre-1988 standard, the combating of corruption with the creation of a truly independent and professional Anti-Corruption Agency, the inauguration of a programme to tackle poverty on the basis of need rather than race, and the unshackling of the media. The panoply of measures required on all four fronts would check the country’s irreversible slide into a mediocrity that is an affront to the talent and potential of the Malaysian people.

4. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: I believe it’s fair to say that you do speak for Anwar Ibrahim on a number of issues. Are we really to expect a change of government by way of duly elected Member of Parliaments changing shirts? Even Pakatan Rakyat leaders have stated the ethical dilemma of such a move. Please clarify.

Din Merican: It’s not right to say that I speak for Anwar Ibrahim. He has a mind of his own and firm convictions I find admirable. Anwar wants a more egalitarian, inclusive and meritocratic Malaysia. I share his agenda for change. I’m elated to be part of the effort to bring about that change.  I feel that though the UMNO-led and controlled Barisan Nasional won the 12th General election, it has lost the moral and intellectual legitimacy to govern. Why do I say that?

Look at the evidence. Every fortnight or so, the media, both mainstream and alternative, unearths a new scandal. The cumulative effect of these disclosures will erode Barisan Nasional’s moral legitimacy to govern.

How long before the people who voted for them begin to realise that their compatriots who voted Pakatan Rakyat were on to something they were not?

In politics, the rhythms of this consciousness do not obey formal categories of time, convention and place. They are by their nature disorderly. But wise are the politicians who are to the fore of these rhythms than in its rear.

Anwar and his colleagues in Pakatan Rakyat are  contrarians. They saw the emergence of a “Black Swan”—a rare event of momentous change.

Image result for Nassim Nicholas Taleb's “The Black Swan

Pardon me, but I have just completed reading philosopher and stockbroker Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. It’s a riveting read. I recommend it wholeheartedly to you, Imran, as I have reason to believe you are a curious and discerning reader of books.

Taleb says, “I do not particularly care about the usual…Indeed, the normal is often irrelevant.” He adds that we should be wary of “platonicity” (named after Greek philosopher Plato), that is “our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well defined forms…Platonicity is what makes us think that we understand more than we actually do.”

Taleb tells us of the existence of platonic fold, which is “the explosive boundary where the platonic mindset enters in contact with messy reality, where the gap between what you know and what you think you know becomes dangerously wide. It is here that the Black Swan is produced.”

UMNO, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, is caught in a warp of its own making. It is unable to free itself from its conventional wisdom. That is because it never had an ideology. It was set up on a sentiment which was the defence of the Malay race—and, in truth, they rarely if ever defended the Malays; only an elite’s vested interests, their families, cronies and proxies — and now that sentiment has run its course and the party is out of gas. So, at the risk of repetition, UMNO lacks the intellectual legitimacy to govern.

Absent moral and intellectual legitimacy, the Barisan Nasional government is on its last legs. In that situation, members of some substance and fellow travellers would want to defect. Debating the morality of defections in that kind of situation is like questioning the jauntiness of the orchestra on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg!

5.Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Assuming that Pakatan Rakyat does form the next government as mentioned above, can it really hold up? The alliance between PAS and DAP, for example, seems an untenable position. Comment?

Din Merican: You have heard that politics is the art of the possible. And finality is not its language. When Pakatan Rakyat was formed, PKR, DAP and PAS all agreed to abide by the Merdeka Constitution of 1957 whose essential thrust has been maimed by the authoritarian drift of the Barisan Nasional over the half century of its hold on power.

Now, in each of its three components, Pakatan Rakyat may  encounter elements resisting or deviating from its promise to deliver to the Malaysian polity the dispensation vouchsafed it by the Merdeka Proclamation of 1957 and the Merdeka Constitution. These elements will find that they are in a minority and that the majority want adherence to this agenda rather than digression from it. As in any healthy democracy, the majority will win and the minority will either modulate its positions to fit or seek another platform to espouse their cause.

There will be squalls and ruptures arising from this struggle, but it will not fracture the movement because, unlike UMNO and the Barisan Nasional, Pakatan has an ideology, embedded in and reflected by the ideals of the Merdeka Proclamation and Constitution, to which Umno and BN pay mere lip service while deforming its essence. Pakatan will resurrect these ideals and in doing so unite the Malaysian people and nation.

In a democracy you govern by consent of the governed, not by  imposition by the few. I assure you that in Pakatan Rakyat, the threats of ethnocentrism and theocracy would not menace the  broad and sustainable impetus towards democracy,  transparency and good governance based on the principles  envisaged by the Merdeka Proclamation and Constitution.

6. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Let’s talk about the NEP. Could you please clarify whether this controversial affirmative action policy will be made absolutely redundant in whole? Critics think that an alternative but similar policy to the NEP will instead be implemented by Pakatan Rakyat to appease the Muslim-Malay majority. Care to elaborate?

Din Merican: The NEP (National Economic Policy), better known emotively by DEB (Dasar Ekonomi Baru), will be replaced with the Malaysian Economic Agenda (MEA). Whereas the DEB was implemented on the basis of race, the MEA will be implemented on the basis of need.

The Malays and the bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak constitute the poorest people in the country. The MEA will address their needs. This is not to say the poor among the Chinese and Indians will not be similarly assisted. The Malays and all who are indeed poor will receive government help to escape the trap of poverty.

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The DEB has become an instrument of exploitation to enrich the few at the expense of the many. It was intended as an aid to empower the poor, and not as a crutch. It was never intended to build a class of appropriators of great wealth who use power to amass fortunes. The time has come to jettison a discredited policy and substitute it with a new one that will deal aggressively with poverty and not supplant it with dependency; and that will unify our country and not divide it into separate cantonments of privilege and wealth while breeding ghettoes of misery and ignorance in its backwash.

7. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: The country seems to be at an even standstill. Opposition MPs are almost that of the BN MPs. UMNO seems split on its choice of leadership whereas MCA/MIC is apparently lashing out at UMNO. There appears to be deep divisions across the Malaysian socio-political strata. In what manner could Pakatan Rakyat unify these factions of competing interests to restore stability?

Din Merican: By addressing problems from a unified Malaysian perspective, by attempting to solve problems from the angle of building a united nation, Pakatan Rakyat would go a long way to demonstrate that that which unites us as Malaysians is greater than that which divides us into separate ethnic and divisible entities. There is a Malaysian identity out there whose dynamics are subtle and creative enough to subsume the cultural variety of its population.

The Indonesians have “Bhinekka Tunggal Ika”, which is Javanese for Unity in Diversity. We too will evolve a similar paradigm. In a new era of good governance by Pakatan Rakyat, the creative flows of the polity will engender this Malaysian identity. When people accept that justice is the common coin of the realm, they know that everyone with talent and capacity for diligent work can flourish.

8. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: A substantial segment of the Muslim-Malay community in particular UMNO brand Anwar Ibrahim as a traitor. What are your views on this?

Din Merican: We are in Samuel Johnson’s debt for reminding us that “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” People who are void of ideas and principles will resort to branding others who are not similarly bereft, as traitors to this and that.

Anwar Ibrahim stood up to authoritarianism and injustice in this country. He, like several others espousing different platforms at different times in Malaysian history, bore the brunt of the backlash. The tree of liberty is watered from time to time by the suffering and blood of patriots. Fortunately, Anwar possessed the resilience and the indomitable spirit to come back fighting and now the electorate is harkening to his message of change. Anwar is no traitor; he is a fighter in the best humanistic traditions.

I believe that all good leaders must possess an alchemy of great vision. To me, Anwar is the foretaste of a statesmanship South East Asia has yet to see since the great Filipino nationalist Jose Rizal. As a Malay Muslim leader, he has to transmute the dreams of his people for economic uplift and political transformation into the reality of a progressive united Malaysian nation that includes the yearnings of its minorities for justice and self-fulfilment.

Anwar’s is an inclusive vision that will project Islam’s Universalist ideals of justice, compassion, and the pursuit of knowledge to grand effect. He will tie the rich tapestry of our diverse nation into a single garment of noble destiny.

9. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Would you like to share with our readers some of the interesting programs that you are working on?

Din Merican: I am doing what needs to be done for my country, Parti KeADILan and my leader. For me, this time has more than arrived to give back to the society that nurtured me what I owe it. I have to go at this opportunity full tilt. To whom much is given much is required.

I am now working on corporate and international relationships. I want corporates and leaders around the world to know who we are and what we want for Malaysia. I’m also glad that with the Internet, I can keep in touch with Malaysians and friends around the world via my blog

10. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Should Abdullah Badawi resign as PM? Do you think he will be able to cling on to power much longer?

Din Merican:  Abdullah Badawi is a symptom of a deeper malaise in UMNO and the Barisan Nasional. People are wondering how a leader who started with such promise could come so quickly a cropper. The reason is now self-evident. He was actually a bland and inane figure who under a gentlemanly veneer hid his lack of substance. Now UMNO’s lack of ideology is reflected in its leader’s void of substance. Ditto Barisan Nasional. Both UMNO and BN cannot reform, cannot change. They are stuck in a deep rut. Every step they take forward is rescinded by two they inevitably take backward. Retrogression is built into their marrow.

Thus questions of how long Abdullah will last or whether he will  cling on to power are notable for their irrelevance. When you have lost the moral and intellectual legitimacy to govern and if it seems that you can still go on, then it must be that the momentum of the preceding 50 years gives you the ballast to float. But for how long!

 A more relevant question is whether anyone in UMNO and Barisan can fill the void of its moral and intellectual bankruptcy. I’m afraid I see nobody who can do that. It’s a decline that’s terminal. It only awaits the day of its eventual internment.

11. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Published reports point to the fact that business confidence and the investment climate is lusterless due to the external sluggish global economy and uncertainty in Malaysian politics. Consumer confidence is also expected to slowdown. What’s your assessment for the Rakyat in terms of the cost of living and purchasing power spilling into 2009? What’s Pakatan Rakyat’s solution in general to deal with the economic lag?

Din Merican: The facts are staring in our face, but we seem to lack the political will to deal with the effects of economic, social and political pathology. Please read our Malaysian Economic Agenda. Some of our ideas have been hijacked by the Barisan Nasional. Well, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery.

12. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob : If you met Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, what would you say to them.

Din Merican: A spell in the opposition would be good for you. Try it. It may engender the realism from whose flight the present paralysis in UMNO and the country was spawned.

13.Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your estimation on the big events at the forthcoming UMNO elections? Of white knights and dark horses.

Din Merican: I doubt that half of the UMNO divisions will meet to demand that an EGM be held to amend the party constitution to abolish the quota system governing contests for top party  posts. This will mean that Badawi, a captive of indecision, will  wind up unchallenged as UMNO President in December, 2008.  It would be a travesty if that happens. But UMNO is not only in need of a change in leadership, it is also in dire need of  ideological rudder to steer the party out of the rut it has fallen into. They have nobody who can supply that. The party, like the coalition it leads, has to expire before it can regenerate.

May 13, 2008

Face to Face interviews are conducted by way of e-mail unless otherwise stated.

What the Malaysian election (GE-14) means to me

May 22, 2018

What the Malaysian election (GE-14) means to me

By Firoz Abdul Hamid
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The year 2018, it was 9th May – I went into the day with much hope for the future of my country, Malaysia. I voted. I volunteered at the polling station and then I waited the whole night for the results with my brothers and friends. By 1am on the 10th of May I was knackered and I woke up again at 4am to learn we will most probably have a new Prime Minister and a new government. Yes! I exclaimed!


My heart went through the day hoping we will carve a moment in history with this transition, for there is a moment here where this country can make history and enter a transition and deal with its past – as painful as it may seem to some.

This election more than any other meant a lot to me because I saw my country descending into fear of our own elected leaders. We succumbed to hero worshiping to an extent that we were losing our own individual identities and seeking our validities through leaders around us – exemplary and otherwise.

Further we were being emotionally and psychologically divided on creed and race and not on values. As people, we were mostly grappling with the remits of right and wrong, norms of good and bad, and on each of these counts our extreme margins kept moving based on our sense of security and prosperity. Political debates tore friends and families alike. Whilst healthy, I would argue that these debates were not able to succinctly articulate the Malaysia that should be for anyone I have met – they just knew they no longer wanted what it is!

The state we were in was unsustainable and given time we would have lost our best brains and best people and suppressed the souls of good people for fear of rebuke and censure by the more privileged in authority. We would have disintegrated as a nation.

I have friends who had businesses here, who were simply fed up with the unhealthy bureaucracies and gate keeping to the powerful that they left taking their businesses to a less developed country. They are prospering there I must add.

What brought us here – I searched my own soul. How was I a part of this making – I asked. We make our leaders. We make our societies. We are the creators of the boundaries of our prejudices, our societal rights and wrongs. We deserve the fate we get and the leaders that reign us – my own faith has taught me. Our own hands do us wrong!

11th of May 2018 – when the new government was sworn in. Jubilation followed and cries for accountability from the past became louder. Many of my close friends – both here and abroad – were elated with the seemingly new landscape ahead. But to me the fear is that we were piling all this on one man, and one man alone. Our new Prime Minister – a great leader we are blessed to have again.

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“Our new Prime Minister – a great leader we are blessed to have again.But this is not about him. This is about us as peoples of this country called Malaysia”–Firoz

But this is not about him. This is about us as peoples of this country called Malaysia. We got to where we got to because we allowed and approved unhealthy behaviours and practices in our public sector and private sectors. We collectively allowed and practiced for our own personal benefits when it suited us the whole “ampu-bodek” ( i.e. sucking up, fawning) culture and not questioning authority in the name of culture. We turned a blind eye when our government-linked companies splashed our tax monies on exotic board meeting locations for as if having a board meeting in Bali or Perth would have one make better decisions than having it in your office canteens. We allowed gate-keepers to leaders and lapped and pandered to them as valuable contacts for our sustenance. We as a society allowed this. We were creators of this culture for way too long.

This is not a one person’s problem, this is a cultural problem. Sacking people will not solve a cultural problem. Transformation and transforming a company and imbuing culture is the toughest part of change. That requires time and resources. Requires patience. Having done transformation work in both public and private sectors, I can safely say sacking people and putting in YOUR people who root to your allegiances and loyalty is not the solution. It is not change. It is camouflaging change. It is actually the same thing with different faces. It is just doing what the other did and you are no different. Sacking those who were taking orders from their leaders and/or shareholders is not transformation. It is just a means to replace the old with the old with a tag of new as a disguise.

There is a real chance for these newly elected Malaysian leaders to carve their names in the global arena by bringing order back into this new chaos in Malaysia. Leadership with magnanimity is what we need now. Yes, for those who have clearly transgressed – prosecute but do not persecute. Rule of law should be the order of the day as our 7th prime minister has committed.

Why would those whose jobs were directed by greater powers be removed unless they have clearly erred by law? It is the culture that enabled an apolitical public sector. Removing persons will not solve the prevailing problem – and that is having leaders in the public sector who will say NO to their political masters. We had this once and of those the most recent who left us was Tan Sri Ishak Tadin who dared say no to powers when they erred.  Even central bank governors once put their foot down to political masters.

Why is Salahuddin Ayubi, the conqueror of Jerusalem deemed so great until today? It was not just how he brought the Muslim forces together in reconquering Jerusalem, but also how he treated his nemesis and foes and the Christians with such magnanimity post conquering Jerusalem. The same with Emir Abdul Qadir al-Jaziri of Algeria – he protected the French Christians in Algeria during a war – i.e. the very people who persecuted him and imprisoned him. What was the first things that our own Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) – did when he was freed from prison – he said “today there will be no account for you”  to his own siblings who betrayed him – the very thing our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said when he re-entered Mecca.

I am not calling for prophetic behaviour – but this country of mine and its people need reconciliation. I was blessed to have served Malaysia in transforming the public and private sector entities. Key to transformation is new culture and a leadership that will support it.  The time is now to bring the public sector back to where it should be – heads of government must have the guts to say NO when the answer should simply be NO. They must not fear persecution as a result. We need clear lines of authorities between public servants and politicians. We do not have many leaders in the public sector of Malaysia anymore who dare say NO to a political master. This has to stop.

When I served in the public sector of Malaysia, we had a breed of leaders who simply had the guts and credence to say NO to politicians – who come and go. That culture and quality of leaders have eroded. Do you blame the politicians? Or do you blame the public officials? Go figure!

When I served in the public sector of Malaysia, we had a breed of leaders who simply had the guts and credence to say NO to politicians – who come and go. That culture and quality of leaders have eroded. Do you blame the politicians? Or do you blame the public officials? Go figure!–Firoz

When the 5th Prime Minister won his first two thirds in 2003 there was jubilation yet five years down the line he was rebuked for failure. What went wrong? Culture. Then the 6th Prime Minister was sworn in with much hope and now we see a 7th Prime Minister who ran on the cards of much needed change. But the change remains unclear to many. It is clear in my mind having seen two transitions – the change is in the culture – not only people.

Great companies go through successful transformation not by putting in people who hold allegiances to the new leader, but rather they transform processes and cultures and retrain people from the past era as well. That is why many of the greatest countries in the world today are still great because they do not discard the old and out-of-favour, but rather embrace and bring them back into the folds of reconciliation – which my country desperately needs now.

We are at the cusp of great hope and victory in Malaysia with fantastic new leaders. But these leaders themselves must be accessible to public and not surround themselves with their own gate-keepers and advisors hence perpetuating the past cultures. In the haste of change for a somewhat jaded society, do not forget that a country is only as strong as its people and their values. You need to rebuild values – good ones from bottom right to the top. You need to make sure as a society we unlearn bad values and relearn good values and ensure these values are deeply inculcated in our souls for generations to come.

That is why this election means a lot to me – for if we cannot find it in us to change values in this society – we can never change no matter how many elections may pass us by.

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Investvine contributor. The opinions expressed are her own)