MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs


February 17, 2017

MARA: Stop being an albatross around Malay Entrepreneurs

“…there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.–Syukri Tahir

Mara is one of the most important and respected institutions in Malaysia. Since its formation in 1966, it has helped countless thousands of bumiputeras succeed in business and industry. But has Mara adapted enough to remain relevant and effective today? Sadly, I don’t think so.

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I say this because Mara seems more interested in protecting bumiputeras from the world than letting them compete in it. This is a recipe for stagnation and backwardness. Take the Mara Digital Mall, for example – it was set up as a bumiputera alternative to Low Yat Plaza. What exactly has it achieved?

Because it was created and promoted as a platform for bumiputera IT traders, non-bumiputera customers have largely stayed away, choosing to shop at Low Yat instead. How are bumiputera traders supposed to survive – let alone thrive – when their customers are only limited to one race?

I recently paid a visit to the Mara Digital Mall in Kuala Lumpur and found the traders to be demoralised. Many shops had stock shortages, confirming what traders told online news portal Free Malaysia Today last December. If you want to buy anything, you will have to pre-order in advance. Rather serve as a vehicle for bumiputera empowerment, the mall may well turn out to be an embarrassment to bumiputera entrepreneurs.

Image result for Minister Ismail Sabri is an idiotMinister Ismail Sabri from Pahang

Mara’s short-sightedness also extends to education. Recently, now suspended Mara chairperson Annuar Musa said that UniKL, which is wholly-owned by Mara, recognises the Chinese-education-based Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC) as an entry qualification. He correctly bases this on long-standing government policy. Because UniKL is a private institution of higher learning rather than a public one, it is allowed to recognise the UEC.

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In recognising the UEC, Annuar saw an excellent opportunity to grow UniKL, expand the diversity of its students, and give it an international outlook. Sadly, the rest of Mara disagreed with him, including the minister who oversees the institution – Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Annuar has the right idea, but he got into trouble for speaking it. How can Mara advance the cause of bumiputeras if Mara’s leadership can’t even see or comprehend the bigger picture?

They need to realise a few things. UEC recognition will allow us to keep talented Chinese-educated students in the country instead of having them leave for places like Taiwan and Singapore. Also, it will boost race relations and national unity because campuses will have students of different races and backgrounds.

It would not make sense to reject the UEC when prestigious universities around the world – from Australia to the UK to the United States – recognise it. The UEC is accepted at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge. If these are considered role models in education, then why shouldn’t UniKL follow in their example?

Furthermore, UEC students will expand the revenue base of UniKL and Mara. After all, Mara only sponsors bumiputera students – non-bumiputeras will have to pay, enhancing Mara’s ability to sponsor even more bumiputera students. In the end, it is bumiputeras who benefit the most from UEC recognition.

But as you can see, there is something wrong with Mara. From business to education, it seems to be making all the wrong moves. It needs to have more faith in bumiputeras. Bumiputeras cannot flourish or advance themselves in spaces closed off to other races and cultures. Mara must recognise that bumiputeras are not just competing with other Malaysians, but also the citizens of the world. It must lead, not stubbornly cling to the old ways.

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All


February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

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God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

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Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

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To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

DJ Trump in a Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua Dilemma


February 9, 2017

DJ Trump in a Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua Dilemma

Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” for Muslims: Najib Exempt?

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-politics/trumps-extreme-vetting-for-muslims-najib-exempt/

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Tan Sri Syed Azman, Malaysia’s AP King

At 2:30 a.m. one day in mid-November, after the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, the telephone rang in the official residence of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia.

Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor answered the telephone. On the other end was businessman Syed Azman of Weststar Group, a sprawling Malaysia-based conglomerate with interests in cars, aviation, construction, defense and engineering. Azman’s 40 helicopters shuttle people and goods to offshore oil platforms.

Known as the “AP king” for his ability to acquire scarce government-issued Approved Permits to import luxury cars into Malaysia, Azman, a Tan Sri – one of the highest of Malaysia’s arcane honorifics – had good news. The President-elect wanted to talk to her husband and told him to call two hours later, at 4:30 a.m. Azman arranged the call between Najib and Trump.

Azman is not just a rich Malaysian businessman. He knows Donald Trump relatively well and, according to a public statement by Rosmah, plays golf with the President, a real estate tycoon before his election. Some years ago Azman bought two of Trump’s ornate branded jets for use by his own businesses. During the presidential campaign, he re-loaned one of the jets back for use by Trump’s aides. It was repainted in the Trump livery and used during the campaign, a source in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel.

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A Fleet of Helicopters owned by Weststar Group

An email to White House press representative Michael C. Short, asking for details of the conversation, went unanswered. But a thrilled Rosmah, in a video recording released on Nov. 28 from a public function she had attended, described the call, saying Najib called Trump at the fixed time, and Trump answered himself. Rosmah said Trump and her husband discussed various things, and that the US President-Elect commended Malaysia’s economic growth rate. Trump, she added, also asked Najib when the latter planned to visit the US, to which the prime minister replied, “Wait until you settle in and I will come. I would like to discuss a few things with you.”

Apparently Trump’s famed “extreme vetting” of Muslims didn’t extend to Najib. The Malaysian Premier is the subject of an investigation by the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy unit (part of its Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section) for the theft of up to US$1 billion from the Malaysian government-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund.

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Barack Obama’s beleaguered Golf Buddy –Malaysia’s Najib Razak

Earlier, during the administration of Barack Obama, Najib was a presidential favorite under the perception that he was a moderate Muslim leader and a regional powerhouse. The Malaysian Prime Minister was invited to play golf in Hawaii with Obama before word filtered up about the fact that he was involved in what appears to be the biggest scandal in Malaysian history. That ended Najib’s cozy relationship with the then President.

Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” for Muslims: Najib Exempt?In addition to the theft, at least two people have died violently in acts tied to Najib’s administration.

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In October 2006, a Mongolian translator and international party girl, Altantuya Shaaribuu, was shot in the head twice and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside of Kuala Lumpur by two of Najib’s bodyguards. She had played a minor role in the purchase of French submarines by the Malaysian government when Najib was defense minister. French officials have charged that €114 million (now US$123 million) in bribes was channeled through Najib to the United Malays National Organization and another €36 million went into a mysterious company in Hong Kong that was established by Najib’s best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, who was instrumental in the submarine transaction.

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 The Late Anthony K. Morais

In the other incident, Anthony Kevin Morais, a prosecutor for Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission who was investigating the 1MDB scandal disappeared in November of 2015. His body was later found encased in cement in an oil drum that had been rolled into a river outside Kuala Lumpur. His brother, Charles Morais, an Atlanta businessman, later charged that Kevin Morais had been investigating Najib and his wife when he disappeared. Kevin Morais was believed to be channeling vital information about the scandal to the Sarawak Report, which has been instrumental in uncovering the details.

A half-dozen global jurisdictions including Switzerland, Singapore, the United Kingdom and others are awaiting the continuing US investigation, which involves allegations of the theft of at least US$2.5 billion and perhaps as much as US$4 billion from 1MDB, which was so disastrously overseen that it is believed to have lost as much as US$11.3 billion through theft and mismanagement.

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Like President Trump, flamboyant Jho Taek Low was educated at The Wharton School of Finance, The University of Pennsylvania

Steered by a flamboyant young friend of the Najib family named Jho Taek Low, an unknown amount of that money allegedly went to finance Red Granite Pictures, the Hollywood entity that produced the blockbuster movie “Wolf of Wall Street.” Riza Aziz, Rosmah’s son by a previous marriage, was a co-producer of the picture. Considerably more has ended up in California and New York, in real estate owned by nominees, particularly Jho Low, as he is known, who are believed to represent the Najib family.

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Najib’s Next Golfing Buddy?–Trump, however, cannot intercede on his behalf on 1MDB

In July 2016 US Federal prosecutors issued a 136-page document alleging that “over the course of an approximately four year period, between approximately 2009 and at least 2013, multiple individuals, including public officials and their associates, conspired to fraudulently divert billions of dollars from 1MDB through various means, including by defrauding foreign banks and by sending foreign wire communications in furtherance of the scheme, and thereafter, to launder the proceeds of that criminal conduct, including and through US financial institutions.

“The funds diverted from 1MDB were used for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States, pay gambling expenses in Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than US$100 million in artwork, invest in a major New York development project, and fund the production of major Hollywood films. 1MDB maintained no interest in these assets and saw no returns on these investments.”

As is customary, the US Justice Department had no comment on the progress of its continuing investigation into assets believed to have been stolen by the family or their associates.

Despite that, Najib and his cronies in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO0, the country’s biggest political party, have insulated themselves from the loss of leadership of the country primarily by bribing the 190-odd cadres who determine the leadership of UMNO to keep him in power. UMNO leadership confers automatic status as Prime Minister.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and other publications have provided voluminous proof that Najib allegedly diverted at least US$681 million – he has acknowledged the deposit in his personal accounts in Kuala Lumpur but given no reason for the deposit. Other sources have put the amount as high as US$1 billion.

“Come over with your family, we can have lunch or dinner,” Trump told Najib in the phone call, according to Rosmah. It remains to be seen if the invitation will continue to be extended.

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.

Malaysia: Into the Future Together


February 5, 2017

TN50, 1Malaysia and other else, Mr. Najib–Time to Get back to Basics and Stop your Political and Racist Nonsense–Into the Future Together and embrace Rukun Negara

by Zainah Anwar@www.thestar.com.my

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier. —Zainah Anwar
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Najib Razak–Malaysia’s No. 1 Problem

AS we stumble into 2017 in a Malaysia and a world full of uncertainties, and a US President shooting from his hip, causing global turmoil, I am glad that there are actually two important discussions taking place now in Malaysia on the kind of country we want to live in.

One is the TN50 series of national dialogues with young people on the Malaysia they envision by 2050. The other is the effort to make Rukunegara the preamble to the Constitution. And I believe they should feed into each other.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who is leading the TN50 dialogue, rightfully said this process is not just about defining policies for national development, but importantly, also about defining our national identity.

That many politicians (led by none other than the  narcissistic Prime Minister himself) are still determined to use ethnicity and religion to not only define us, but to divide us remains a dominant leitmotif of Malaysian politics to this day.

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In his recent interview with The Star, Khairy (pic with his wife Nori Tun Abdullah Badawi) stated that one of the areas of engagement in TN50 will be the subject of “an inclusive, vibrant and open society”. This, he hopes, will lead to a discussion on values and what a Malaysian identity should be.

I hope these dialogue sessions will be a platform where diverse groups of stakeholders can get to listen to each other and think. And in this process the “I” can become a ‘We” – we, Malaysians.

Over the years, ethnic and religious polarisation has gotten from bad to worse in Malaysia. The sad thing is that much of this divisiveness is driven by desperate politicians who manufacture fears and threats in order to maintain their power and privilege, and by non-state political ideologues burning with self-righteousness about establishing an Islamic state and syariah and Malay supremacy.

Never mind if such strategies lead to the destruction of the Malaysia we know and love, and the Malaysia that our founding fathers envisioned. That vision remains valid today.

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Malaysia’s Ills–Greed, Corruption and Incompetence

I have always believed that this country is big enough, and blessed enough for us all to share. That was how the founding fathers saw it as they developed a political system and policies where political power and economic wealth of the nation could be equitably shared.

As other ethnically divided countries fell apart, Malaysia stood in stark contrast because of a fundamental belief that this country has no other path to follow for its survival and well-being, but for its people to choose to live together in peace and to share the wealth of the nation.

To continue to label the Chinese and Indians as pendatangs, to portray them as threats, to regard other religions as a threat to Islam when the Constitution is clear in recognising Islam as the religion of the Federation and for other religions to be practised in peace and harmony, is nothing but a deliberate and mischievous attempt to manufacture a new ideological infrastructure for an exclusivist Malaysia to serve the short-term interest of the privileged few.

With all the corruption scandals perpetrated by those elected and appointed to protect the supposed interests and rights of the bumiputras, it is time that we start to think beyond our own ethnic and religious boundaries.

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Sebab sSaya nak songlap duit rakyat lagi

For there are larger interests for the national well-being that can unite us. So I welcome the TN50 dialogue initiative which I hope will start a national conversation on the kind of Malaysia we aspire to by 2050. Will it buttress the recognition of Malaysia’s plurality in the 1957 Constitution or submit to the demands for an exclusive identity based on ethnicity and religion, and even then, one that embraces only a certain kind of Malays and Muslims, while others are labelled deviants?

Will we continue to see our diversity as our strength rather than a curse and a threat as these extremists portray? Do we want to live in fear or in hope?

The proponents of the initiative (I am one of them) to make the Rukunegara the Preamble to the Constitution is embarked on an effort to reinvigorate and reaffirm this national commitment and turn it, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, into “habits of the heart”.

The objectives and principles of the Rukunegara, carefully crafted after the trauma of 1969 and launched by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on National Day in 1970, were designed to rebuild a sense of national unity and purpose – of a government and its citizens committed to building a democratic, just and progressive society with a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions.

They contain values that recognise our diversity and represent our commitment to inclusiveness, and our belief in democracy, justice, equity, and unity.

While some of us embrace these values until they become “habits of the heart”, too many others in powerful positions, in their rhetoric and actions, are determined to upend the best in the Malaysian character to refashion a new identity where those different are demonised and labelled, and therefore to be feared and excluded.

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier.

As expected, any effort to be inclusive, consultative, realistic in facing the challenges of today and the future, is regarded as a threat by these ethno-religious extremists.

Revitalising the Rukunegara to make it the preamble to the Constitution is damned as an effort to erode the special status of the Bumiputeras and undermine Islam as the religion of the Federation.

Dialogues to provide a platform for young people to envision the Malaysia they want by 2050 is criticised for not using Islam as its framework.

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Malaysia’s Gutsy Public  Intellectual

Such myopic attitudes reveal the intent of these supremacists to turn Malaysia into a mono-ethnic and mono-religious country or at least, one that serves the interest of only one group of citizens.

We want to move forward and embrace the values and ideals of the Rukunegara that remain relevant today, if not even more.

We want to explore new ideas and build new understandings that will keep us together and promote our collective well-being as we face the difficult and complex challenges of an uncertain new world order.

We want to stride into the future with knowledge and confidence, not with self-inflicted fear and myopia.

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.