Tun Razak would be disappointed with Malaysia today, so are we Malaysians


August 29, 2017

Tun Razak would be disappointed with Malaysia today

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/393600

If Abdul Razak Hussein was still breathing, he would be disappointed to see the four scenarios happening in the nation at present, said Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

Image result for 'Fulfilling A Legacy - Tun Razak Foundation' by Shahreen Kamaluddin

Abdul Razak, who was conferred the honorific title ‘Tun’, was Malaysia’s second Prime Minister and father of the current premier, Najib Abdul Razak.

The first scenario, said Sultan Nazrin, was the unity among the people which Abdul Razak emphasised as vital for the country’s future. However, the ruler said in their earnestness to garner support, political parties appeared to be inclined towards fanning religious and racial issues.

Sultan Nazrin pointed out that Abdul Razak also underlined the important role schools played in fostering racial ties through national education as contained in his education policy.

“The implementation of the national education policy appears to be failing in achieving the objective of the school as a nurturing ground to unite the people. The younger generation of various races who go through various education mediums will not have the opportunity to interact and become acquainted, on the contrary, growing up in isolation in their own racial groups,” the Ruler was quoted as saying by Berita Harian.

Image result for Najib Razak and Tun Razak

Tun Razak would be disappointed this son who turned out to be most corrupt and racist Prime Minister of Malaysia. Malaysia is today Malusia

The Sultan was speaking at the launch of the book ‘Fulfilling A Legacy – Tun Razak Foundation’ by Shahreen Kamaluddin in Kuala Lumpur. Also present was Abdul Razak’s widow Tun Rahah Mohd Noah.

The Perak Ruler said the third scenario which Abdul Razak would regret was related to the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), especially the abuse of the opportunity in the distribution of wealth.

The Sultan said this resulted in a large-scale erosion of the bumiputera’s economic share, which not only created misunderstanding among the bumiputera who considered it as favouritism but also causing anger among the non-bumiputera. 

Sultan Nazrin cited corruption and integrity as the fourth scenario. “Tun Abdul Razak’s heart would be crushed in following the exposure after exposure, arrest after arrest because of widespread corruption involving top officials and educated individuals which have tainted the country’s good name,” he said.

Therefore, the Sultan called on the people to appreciate the vision and the sacrifices of Abdul Razak. “Let us pray together to Allah that his vision and spirit of sacrifice will not fade from the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

Malaysia through its Constitution


August 8, 2017

Malaysia through its Constitution

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Malaysian Story

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1962: Consolidation of Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1963-1969: A Nation in Transition

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

KL in the 1960s.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1969-1973: Aftermath of a Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1973-1994: The Mahathir Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahathir Mohamad.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Malaysia Day celebrations.

 

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

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

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

Whither Do We Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Cindy Tham, ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 The Sun Daily, ibid.

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

18 Lim Hong Hai, ibid., pp. 111–112.

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

20 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 179–180.

21 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 181.

22 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 185.

23 See Article 121 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

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

Zairil Khir Johari is MP for Bukit Bendera, Penang.

 

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics


July 3, 2017

Banyan

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics

https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21724432-former-prime-minister-reinventing-himself-leader-opposition-mahathir-mohamads

The former Prime Minister is reinventing himself as a leader of the Opposition

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The Doctor seeks a Return to the House

WHEN Mahathir Mohamad spent a week in hospital last year, at the age of 91, talk naturally turned to his legacy as Malaysia’s longest-serving former Prime Minister. How naive. Dr Mahathir may have stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in office, but he has hardly been retiring in retirement. His constant sniping helped topple his immediate successor, Abdullah Badawi, who lasted until 2009.

Now the old warhorse is picking a fight with Najib Razak, the Prime Minister since then and now leader of Dr Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has run Malaysia for the past 60 years. Dr Mahathir has registered a new political party and persuaded Pakatan Harapan, the fractious coalition that forms Malaysia’s main opposition, to admit it as a member. Now Pakatan is debating whether to make Dr Mahathir the chairman of their coalition—and, perhaps, their candidate for Prime Minister at elections which must be held within 13 months. Having long said that he would not be returning to Parliament, Dr Mahathir has lately been hinting that he would consider another stint in the top job.

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In Politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely turn of events. The original incarnation of the coalition Dr Mahathir might soon be running was formed in the late 1990s to oppose his own interminable rule. Its founder, Anwar Ibrahim, was Dr Mahathir’s deputy until the latter sacked him during a power struggle; he was later jailed on sham charges of corruption and sodomy. The current government’s methods are copied directly from Dr Mahathir’s playbook. Since 2015 Mr Anwar has been back in prison following a second sodomy conviction, this one just as dubious as the first. The reversal of the authoritarian turn Malaysia took under Dr Mahathir is one of Pakatan’s main objectives.

What makes all this even tougher to stomach is that Dr Mahathir’s conversion to the Opposition’s cause looks disturbingly incomplete. Though he is hobnobbing with former enemies, the old codger still finds it difficult to apologise for the excesses of his tenure. Many of his views remain wacky: in May he told the Financial Times that he still thinks the American or Israeli governments might have arranged the attacks of September 11th 2001. Can Malaysia’s opposition really find no more palatable leader?

These are desperate times, retort Dr Mahathir’s supporters. Since 2015 news about the looting of 1MDB, a government-owned investment firm from which at least $4.5bn has disappeared, has dragged Malaysia’s reputation through the muck. American government investigators say that 1MDB’s money was spent on jewellery, mansions, precious artworks and a yacht, and that nearly $700m of it went to the prime minister. Mr Najib says he has not received any money from 1MDB, and that $681m deposited into his personal accounts was a gift from a Saudi Royal (now returned). He has kept his job, but only after replacing the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.

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The Prognosis is that Najib Razak is likely to win GE-14

One might expect this scandal to propel Pakatan into power at the coming election, but instead the opposition looks likely to lose ground, perhaps even handing back to UMNO and its allies the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution. This bizarre reversal has much to do with Malaysia’s regrettable racial politics: the Malay-Muslim majority largely favours the government and the big ethnic-Chinese and -Indian minorities tend to vote against it. Mr Najib has baited an Islamist party into renewing calls for more flogging for moral lapses, forcing them to leave Pakatan. The split in the opposition will lead to lots of three-candidate races, in which UMNO will romp home.

Put in this context, Dr Mahathir’s reappearance is a godsend. It stands to transform Pakatan’s chances by granting access to a broad swathe of rural constituencies that they had previously thought unwinnable. Many Malays have fond memories of the booming economy of Dr Mahathir’s era (they overlook its crony capitalism and his intolerance for dissent); in their eyes, he put Malaysia on the map. As coalition chairman, Dr Mahathir might also bring some order to Pakatan’s noisy council meetings. His backing could be invaluable after a narrow victory or in a hung parliament, when UMNO’s creatures in the bureaucracy might be expected to put up a fight.

All these benefits could probably be obtained without offering to make Dr Mahathir the Prime Minister. But he may be the only front man upon whom most of the coalition can agree. That role had previously fallen to Mr Anwar, but it has become clear to all but a few holdouts that he cannot continue to manage the quarrelsome coalition from his cell. Voters are not sure whether to believe Pakatan when it says that, should it win, it will find some way to catapult Mr Anwar out of his chains and into the country’s top job. Nor are they much inspired by the notion of accepting a seat-warmer to run the country while this tricky manoeuvre takes place.

It could be worse

This is a depressing mess, even by Malaysia’s dismal standards. The opposition bears no blame for the dirty tricks which, over several shameful decades, the government has used to hobble Mr Anwar and many others. But by failing to nurture—or even to agree upon—the next generation of leaders, they have played straight into UMNO’s hands.

It is possible that the thought of hoisting Dr Mahathir into the top job will at last force the coalition to thrust a younger leader to the fore (some suspect that this is the outcome that Dr Mahathir, a shrewd strategist, has always had in mind). But it is also possible that, facing only uncomfortable options, they will end up making no decision at all. Some in Pakatan seem happy to barrel into the next election without telling voters who will lead Malaysia should they win. That might seem like pragmatism, but it is really just defeatism.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Doctor on call”

Where is Malaysia heading with China?


Where is Malaysia Heading with China?

by Dr. Shankaran Nambiar

Where is Malaysia Heading with China?

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s father, Tun Abdul Razak, the then Prime Minister, initiated diplomatic relations with China in 1974.  At the time it was a bold step.  China was then a peripheral country because it did not count for anything in terms of political and economic power.  In addition, it espoused an ideology and had a political system that could only attract derision.  Nazib Razak, like his father, is bold ( or desperate, Dr. Nambiar?–Din Merican) in pursuing Malaysia’s ties with China.  What is less clear is his sense of purpose and direction.  In the wider context of things, Najib’s attempts to engage with China seem like a flurry of events in search of an overriding theme.

… it is unclear if Malaysia is seeking greater engagement with China because it thinks the US is an unreliable ally, or because it is a declining power, or… because Malaysia wants to align itself with the power of the future.

Najib’s visit to China in October 2016 was a significant one.  It was noteworthy for several reasons, yet it failed to define Malaysia’s stance within the wider landscape.  It is precisely because it escapes clear definition that it becomes worthy of interpretation.

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The Stressed Out and Aging Najib Razak on a trip to China

The thrust of the Malaysian premier’s visit to China lay in the many economic deals that Malaysia struck.  Economic cooperation is often a part of these official visits.  But there are distinct characteristics to the investment agreements signed at this meeting.  The investments from China that were agreed to were wide-ranging, covering the building of ports, railway lines, and property development projects.  Also included was the purchase of a Malaysian power plant by the Chinese that will supply power to the national energy company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad.

The terms of financing, in the case of these projects, have not been clearly disclosed.  Neither has it been clearly presented if these projects will exclusively employ local human capital, imported Chinese workers, or a mix.  It would be understandable to have key Chinese workers who possess specialised skills run the projects. Amidst intense speculation that the deals were undertaken with the aim of settling the outstanding debts arising from the scandal-ridden 1MDB project, the usefulness of the Chinese investments comes into question.  If only to add to doubt and fear, former premier Mahathir Mohamed’s assertion that Malaysia has been sold to China serves to severely undermine confidence in these investments.

Internal considerations aside, China has a controversial history when it comes to its investments abroad.  There seems to be a pattern of easy loans being extended to countries with internal problems and questionable systems of governance and institutions.  In Africa, the Chinese investments seem to have employed more workers from China than those available locally.  This, if repeated in Malaysia, would reduce the multiplier effects that Malaysia could otherwise gain.

Even in the light of China’s record on foreign investments, the government has not found it necessary to engage in wider information dissemination on the details of the investments, nor has it invited discussion and debate on the advisability of these investments.  The results of feasibility studies and the socio-economic impact on affected communities, if at all undertaken, have not been publicly shared.

The particular positioning that Prime Minister Najib has chosen to take is worthy of examination.  He seems to have swung from his cosy relationship with the US, forged during the Obama administration, to an unquestioning one with Xi Jinping.  What could have prompted such a swift shift?  It could be the realisation that China is the superpower of the future.  But that could not have dawned with striking suddenness.  China is no more or less a power now than it was during the Obama days.  The Department of Justice’s probe into the 1MDB scandal could have been unsettling, although Najib enthusiastically offered to cooperate with the relevant authorities and, of course, within the framework of legal structures.  It could be that Najib wants firmer grounds of support which he thinks are more likely with Xi than President Donald Trump.  Najib’s visit to China preceded Trump’s January 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Given the sequence of events, one cannot attribute Najib’s declared commitment to deepen ties with China as resulting from the US’s withdrawal from the TPP. Of course, being a part of the TPP agreement would have provided the right counterbalance against engagement with China.  In the absence of the TPP it would make more sense to work with the US through some other format than to be more reliant on China than necessary.

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Playing geo-politics with President Xi of the PRC

Finally, Najib’s possible epiphany that he has to cater to the sentiments of the Malaysian-Chinese who form an important part of his domestic constituency could not have been a strong motivating factor.  It is true that the 14th general elections, expected to be held in 2018, are approaching. The Malaysian-Chinese community in the country is an important block of votes, one that Najib would covet.  But there are other ways of winning their votes; succumbing to China need not be one of them.  It is not an acceptable argument to claim that Najib is shifting towards China in order to appease the local Chinese because the Chinese community is mature enough to draw the line between what happens within the country and how Malaysia postures externally.

If Najib had chosen to be influenced by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte that would have been an act of avoidable impulsiveness.  Malaysia, like the Philippines, is a small state that cannot afford to go on a frontal attack against a superpower.  However, this argument has limited force because a small state that does not want to be caught in a conflict between two superpowers would rather be non-aligned than tilt closer to one or other of them.  This is where the principle of non-alignment gains currency, one that Southeast Asia’s leaders —Soekarno of Indonesia,  Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Cambodia’sNorodom Sihanouk, and  India’s Jawaharlal Nehru — had espoused.  It is, therefore, not surprising that US Vice President Mike Pence in his tour of the Asia Pacific in April 2017, chose to visit Jakarta rather than Kuala Lumpur in addition to stops in Tokyo, Sydney, and Hawaii.

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Hedging with India

It is interesting that despite Malaysia’s tilt to China, Najib issued a joint statement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to India, which included a veiled reference to the South China Sea problem.  With no mention of China or the South China Sea, the statement, with obvious reference to China, called upon all parties concerned to show their utmost respect for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Malaysia has consistently held the view that UNCLOS should be respected and that the South China Sea problem should be resolved through negotiation.  This is to be expected with Malaysia being a claimant, too.  The inclusion of this issue in the joint statement issued on the 60th anniversary of India-Malaysia diplomatic relations indicates that Malaysia realises its responsibility within the region, particularly ASEAN.  In the context of its closer ties with China it may not want to object to China’s actions firmly and visibly.  While gently acknowledging that it does not agree with China, Malaysia may not want to go further on the issue.

Many of the investment decisions that have been taken in recent times do deepen Malaysia-China ties, but it is not clear if they are set within a broader, well-considered scenario.  Some of the projects that have been coming up recently certainly resolve current problems, as does the sale of the Tun Razak Exchange to the Chinese.  Again, its advisability is uncertain.  The same can be said for the port development projects that Malaysia will engage in with China’s assistance.  They will help Malaysia economically while also placing Malaysia within China’s scheme for the region.  Specifically, it is unclear if Malaysia is seeking greater engagement with China because it thinks the US is an unreliable ally, or because it is a declining power, or, viewed differently, because Malaysia wants to align itself with the power of the future.  It could also be because post-Obama, Malaysia sees less US interest in the region.  Or it could also, very simply, be because economic aid comes more easily and with less questions asked from the Chinese.  The last would be the weakest reason, but one that could really have been the motivating factor given Malaysia’s pragmatic streak.

Dr. Shankaran Nambiar is a Senior Research Fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research.  He is author of “The Malaysian Economy,” and the recently published, “Malaysia in Troubled Times.” He can be contacted at sknambiar@yahoo.comImage credit: CC by Wikimedia Commons.

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


February 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

by Lim Teck Ghee

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

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

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Malaysia’s Oxford and Harvard Educated Sultan

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

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

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

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

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

Who Lost Out With The NEP

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

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UMNO-BN Election Gimmick?

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

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

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

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

OECD’s Damning Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

A Malaysian Trilogy


February 3, 2017

A Malaysian Trilogy

by Dr Chin Huat-Wong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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