Putting Malaysia’s Future in the hands of Mahathir Mohamad


April 28, 2017

Putting Malaysia’s Future in the hands of Mahathir Mohamad

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

If only the Opposition thought like Mahathir and stayed focused on their goal – which is not to just remove Najib but to change the government for the better – they will stay well away from a man like Mahathir – his record is there for all to see. Instead they have been seduced by the mantra, let’s get rid of Najib first.

If Opposition, in its strange state of amnesia, continues to forget to remember, they are going to lose their chance to heal this nation, their agenda hijacked by the one who was ultimately responsible for all this.–P. Gunasegaram

Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the one who tore UMNO apart, six years after he became Prime minister in July, 1981 when a bruising battle saw him win the UMNO presidential elections against challenger Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah by the narrowest margin ever. But he did much worse than that.

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The Opposition trusts Mahathir, do we Malaysians? Hopefully we are not a bunch of suckers–Din Merican

When Razaleigh challenged the election results and the courts declared it illegal, he did not respect the law and hold a new election. Instead, he set up a new UMNO, UMNO Baru, using the power of incumbency to force officialdom to facilitate the transfer of assets to UMNO Baru from the old, original UMNO.

He excluded from UMNO Baru those who considered his opponents compelling Razaleigh to form the alternative Semangat 46. He went about solidifying his position in UMNO Baru by altering the party constitution making it well nigh impossible for anyone to challenge the party president again, removing a check-and-balance so vital for democracy.

In 1987, via Operasi Lalang, he imprisoned over 100 people under the Internal Security Act or ISA and shut down several newspapers ostensibly to defuse interracial tension and bring back order, sending waves of shock and fear throughout the country and consolidating his then tenuous hold on power.

He is the man who is a master at exploiting racial divisions for his own gain, using it pre and post the May 13, 1969 riots – riots whom by some accounts he “predicted” will happen – to gain rapid ascension after Malaysia’s First Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was effectively deposed by his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussein, current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s father. Razak worked closely with young Turks within UMNO who included Mahathir and Musa Hitam among them.

Mahathir took revenge on the Judiciary in 1988, emasculating them by suspending Tun Salleh Abas,the Lord President and several Supreme Court judges and putting puppets in their place, a body blow from which the judiciary is yet to recover. Then on, Mahathir played enforcer, prosecutor, and judge. He could pretty much do what he wanted without controls, setting the stage for Malaysia’s descend into an abyss from which it is struggling to crawl out of now

There’s a fuller list of questionable things he did in an article I wrote for The Edge in June 2006 which was used in The Sun, three years after he stepped down, which posed a series of 22 groups of questions on his leadership, one for each of the 22 years he held the reins of power in the country.

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Then and Now (below)

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During the Asian financial crisis in 1998, he again resorted to strong-arm tactics to stay in power when his deputy then Anwar Ibrahim, now jailed opposition leader, mounted a thinly-disguised challenge to his leadership as the ringgit declined precipitously and the region was in turmoil following sharp falls in regional currencies.

Mahathir reacted swiftly and sharply, expelling him from all government and party posts and then sending in an elite squad to capture him at machinegun-point and detain him under the infamous ISA. He simultaneously imposed capital controls to stem the damage on the currency. And then came the sodomy charges against Anwar.

Paradoxically, it was Anwar who ensured Mahathir’s narrow victory in the 1987 party election when he prevailed upon Najib to cast the votes controlled by his block to Mahathir. If Najib had not and favoured Razaleigh instead, Razaleigh would most likely have won.

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Mahathir Mohamad with Singapore’s Philosopher-King Lee Kuan Yew

Mahathir did not even use the benefit of his dictatorial powers for the sake of the nation the way Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore as I pointed in an article comparing the two. Lee used his immense powers to cut corruption, improve the quality of education and evolve a strong, competent and incorruptible civil service amongst others. Mahathir effectively promoted corruption and patronage, oversaw a decline in educational standards and undermined one of the finest civil services in Asia with his arbitrary decision-making.

What is it about Mahathir that makes the Opposition so enamoured of him? People like Anwar and Lim Kit Siang who directly suffered so much from his blatant misuse of authority to perpetuate his own power and continuance?

Forget to remember

Perhaps the Opposition feels, like a lot of people, that Mahathir has some power of invincibility and that he can influence the people. But an examination of history does not show this as I explained in an article in 2006.

Mahathir was elected MP for the Kota Setar Selatan seat in Kedah in 1964. It was established early on that he was not invincible when he lost the seat to PAS’ Yusof Rawa in 1969. According to some accounts, he had said in 1969 that he did not need Chinese votes to win.

Following the May 13, 1969 riots, Mahathir wrote a widely-circulated letter criticising then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. He was dismissed from his UMNO supreme council position and expelled from the party. The following year, he wrote the controversial book ‘The Malay Dilemma’ which was promptly banned, the ban being lifted in 1981 when Mahathir became Prime Minister.

Mahathir was readmitted into UMNO 1972 after Razak assumed the mantle. The Tunku had stepped down in 1970 after the 1969 riots. Mahathir stood for the Kubang Pasu parliamentary seat in 1974 and won unopposed, retaining the seat until 2004 when he did not contest after his retirement. He was appointed education minister in 1975. The vital turning point for Mahathir came the following year when Hussein Onn became Prime Minister following Razak’s untimely death. Hussein picked Mahathir as his deputy.

And this was not because Mahathir enjoyed overwhelming support in UMNO. Mahathir was picked over two UMNO Vice-Presidents who had higher votes than him, Ghafar Baba and Razaleigh. An accident of fate put Mahathir in line for the top position. When Hussein retired due to failing health, Mahathir became Prime Minister in 1981.

And in 2006 when he attempted to get elected as a delegate to UMNO, after stepping down as Prime Minister, so as to voice his opinions at the UMNO General Assembly, he got a thumping defeat, meriting an article in The New York Times. He was placed ninth in a field of 15 for delegates from Kubang Pasu, his former seat! Mahathir pleaded money politics – something he never bothered to check during his time.

Despite his intense, tireless campaigning at the age of over 90 in both Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar in June last year, BN won handsomely in both seats, indicating that Mahathir has insignificant sway with the Malay voters anyway.

The Opposition is not likely to benefit much from Mahathir and his party Bersatu, especially with PAS now seeming to align itself with the government. It seems unlikely that the disunited Opposition will win.

But what if the Opposition won? What if Bersatu held the balance of power? Would it stick with Pakatan Harapan or would it go over to UMNO and make a deal by telling to get rid of Najib and bring back Muhyiddin Yassin to take over as Prime Minister?

Surely Anwar as PM would be unthinkable for Mahathir even if a process of pardon could be initiated. Mahathir can tell Harapan, no deal unless Muhyiddin becomes PM. And so we go from Najib to Muhyiddin – is that a big improvement in the overall scheme of things.

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Mahathir Mohamad and his Accomplices in the Political Destruction of Malaysia

That’s what Mahathir wants to be – a power broker, the king-maker. That way no matter who is in power, he is not going to be brought into account for his past misdeeds. That way he has a pretty good chance of putting his son, Mukhriz, in a strong position to assume future leadership. That way he is assured that history – written by the victors as the wise tell us – will be far more kindly to him.

If any one takes the trouble to remember what this man did and stood for, he would be mad to think that Mahathir is the solution – he was, and is, the problem. Without him and his 22 years of misrule, Malaysia would not have descended to what it is today.

Mahathir was accountable to no one. Not the people, not the party, not the judges. He could do almost anything he pleased and get away with it using the apparatus and machinery of control he had put in place.

He made opaque many decisions of government, putting anything marked secret by the government as secret under the law by removing the power of judges to judge even if the secret posed no danger to the country but only embarrassed the government and exposed its corrupt ways

That was the legacy he left behind – and a leader who followed him used it to do nasty things, some worse than that by Mahathir. Now we expect Mahathir – the source of all this – to save us Malaysians from Najib!

Is that why Mahathir is sticking his neck out? For the good of the country? But remember he had his chance – 22 years of it. He bungled – all he did was to stay in power and do the greatest damage to the country ever by any one, Prime Minister or not

His goal now is not to get into power but to ensure that whoever comes into power does not destroy him. As far as Mahathir is concerned, it is always about him – not Malaysia, not Malaysians, not even the Malays.

If only the Opposition thought like Mahathir and stayed focused on their goal – which is not to just remove Najib but to change the government for the better – they will stay well away from a man like Mahathir – his record is there for all to see. Instead they have been seduced by the mantra, let’s get rid of Najib first.

If Opposition, in its strange state of amnesia, continues to forget to remember, they are going to lose their chance to heal this nation, their agenda hijacked by the one who was ultimately responsible for all this.

 

To Chief Chimp Najib and his UMNO Chimpanzees –Stop your limitless chumpery


April 2, 2017

To Chief Chimp Najib and his UMNO Chimpanzees –Stop your limitless chumpery

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

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Way back in the days when I still blindly and thoughtlessly aped the opinions (apinions?) of my fellow self-perceived ‘humans’, I blithely perceived April 1 or ‘April Fool’s Day’ as simply an opportunity for us all to play amusing pranks or practical jokes on each other.

But growing political awareness eventually alerted me to the fact that, as I’ve mentioned many times before in Malaysiakini and elsewhere, most of us on Planet Earth are treated like April fools every day of every year by countless governments that, like China’s fake Communist Party, North Korea’s Kim dictatorship and Malaysia’s UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’ and countless others, are nothing but jokes at their citizens’ expense.

Even more dire, however, as I have gradually come to realise, all of us humans, whether we’re playing the fool every April 1 or being played for fools every day of every year by bleeders posing as leaders, have been busily fooling both each other and ourselves for the past couple of million years.

Ever since, in fact, our emergence as a new species of chimpanzee evidently equipped with such superior manual, intellectual and linguistic abilities as to enable us to see, define and declare ourselves as superior to not only other chimps, but also the rest of creation.

‘Creation’ being the crucial word in this discussion, as, paradoxically, the superior intellectual powers that enabled us perform and perceive ourselves as champs failed to replace all our instincts to think, feel and act like chimps.

And the complex of confusions and conflicts that this intellectual/instinctive, human/animal duality produced has rendered us uniquely and incurably capable of thinking and behaving like not only champs or chimps, but chumps. It would take several books to do even the slightest justice to a discussion of humankind’s seemingly limitless capacity for chumpery.

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And in case you’re interested, several of the many books I’d recommend on the subject included Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns’, ‘Germs and Steel’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’; Philippe Gigantès’ ‘Power & Greed: A Short History of the World’; and Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’. Not, I presume, that readers in Malaysia will be able to find the latter volume in bookstores, as its author hails from Israel.

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But that’s another story, in light of the issue I’d like to focus on in this mercifully brief column, Immanuel Kant’s concept of mankind’s promotion of satiable animal needs with insatiable human greed.

Humanimals are insatiable

Kant argues that, while sharing with all other animals basic needs like that can be at least temporarily satisfied, like nutrition, excretion and reproduction, we humans, or, if you prefer, we humanimals, as a result of our conception of the future and capacity for identifying or inventing additional ‘wants’, are insatiable.

Insatiable for the better, perhaps, in our apparently boundless capacity for inventing new, more efficient or otherwise apparently beneficial products, processes and social institutions.

But equally for the worse, or at least strongly arguably so, as evidenced, for example, by the sordid spectacle of the rich lusting for more riches despite the increasingly desperate impoverishment of both poor and disadvantaged people and the rapid depletion of Planet Earth’s resources.

As reprehensible and indefensible as such greed for tangible wealth and its attendant status and power may be, however, to me by far the most damaging human insatiability is that for such imagined entities as immortality.

The invention of some invisible and every other way unknowable omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent entity or group of entities that can be sufficiently entreated, begged, adored or worshiped into to support us in this life and grant our allegedly ‘immortal souls’ eternal life in some ‘other world’ has long been, and continues to be, a curse on the human race.

How many billions of lives have been blighted and wasted, not to mention cruelly ‘sacrificed’ since the dawn of human history in the service of ‘gods’ and ‘religions’ allegedly guaranteeing to assuage people’s fear of death by feeding their greed for life in some hereafter, while really only serving to empower and enrich their inventors and promoters, is anybody’s guess.

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The Faithful UMNO Mongkees–All For Few Pennies

As is why the self-proclaimed ‘faithful’ can so deny their human intelligence by not only believing the loads of irrational, incredible trash presented to them as ‘theology’, but also allowing themselves to be preyed-on by all the professional peddlers of such slop, and oppressed by potentates who cling to power by piously pretending to ‘protect’ their abject subjects from the adherents of rival sects.

Such travesties of human avarice are, as ever, still unfolding virtually everywhere on earth. Most obviously, of course, in those locations where the neediest in this life are preyed-on by Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and other groups so driven by their greed for power both here and in the ‘next’ life that they’ll happily kill and die for it.

Less overtly vicious, though far more common and thus arguably just as evil, are a great many allegedly ‘religious’ governments, or, like Malaysia’s Umno/BN regime, governments comprising people who claim to be ‘believers’, that are said to be riven with corruption and other forms of criminality behind their veils of piety.

And lest I appear to show a bias against Islam in this regard, I must make the point that, having myself suffered and thankfully recovered from early indoctrination into one of the countless so-called Christian sects, I’m especially cross that so many ‘conservative’ politicians in Australia, the US and elsewhere in the West who claim to be Christians are nothing of the sort.

In fact, as opponents in the social sphere of the Christian virtues of tolerance and compassion, and the supporters of the crassest forms of free-market capitalism in economics, they’re double-Crosstians, or, if you like, Crasstians.

But, thank goodness, it seems to me that, at least in Australia, all the signs are that so many people are so fast losing faith in these fakes that by this time next year when the next election is near, it’ll be them and the hard core of humanoids who ape them and their attitudes who will be feeling like April fools.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

The Padang Rengas Debate


March 20, 2017

COMMENT: I liken this Padang Rengas debate to  Gunfight at OK Coral. It is an encounter between old gunfighter looking for his last hurrah and a young, ambitious and astute gunslinger who knows that his adversary is no longer fast on the draw.  Advantage Nazri Aziz.

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The debate has been aptly described as a proxy fight between Tun Dr. Mahathir (Mentor) and our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak (Mentee).  For Najib, this debate is  also a convenient diversion from his massive political troubles arising mainly from his failure to come to grips with  the 1MDB fiasco and the lies he and his supporters told the Malaysian public and the world .

I have never agreed with Nazri’s politics, and  neither have I understood the motives of the former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years and left office in a huff leaving in his wake a shattered nation whose institutions of governance have been irreparably damaged.Why the need for this debate in the first place?

It was my good fortune to know both Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.  I followed their political careers very closely over several years. I  admired their political survival skills and  recognize their service to our country.  Both are strong and competent people -centered leaders. However, I think,  Tun Dr. Mahathir has finally met his match. By exploiting  the man’s oversized ego, the younger politician is able to draw his nonagenarian opponent to his home ground, thereby giving himself a psychological advantage.  That Tun Dr. Mahathir should take the bait surprises me. 

I know the Tun to be a  sharp strategic thinker. It is clear  to me that  age has caught up with the former Prime Minister as it must with men and women of his and my generation.We are all slowing down and taking stock of and reflecting on our lives but not the Tun.

My intellectual friend, Dr Khoo Boo Teik, who authored  a book, Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad, is right in saying that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is an engima. –Din Merican

The Padang Rengas Debate: A Verbal Lambast  between Two Generations

by Jocelyn Tan @www.thestar.com.my

The debate between Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz next week is expected to be fiery but not as explosive as the former PM’s confrontation with the Otai Reformasi gathering.

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PADANG Rengas in Perak is hardly the sort of place where one would expect a political debate to take place, much less, a debate between a former Prime Minister and the Tourism Minister.

The debate, if it goes ahead, could be the most happening event Padang Rengas has ever witnessed.

Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz is the outspoken and rather capricious MP for Padang Rengas which sits somewhere between Kuala Kangsar and Taiping.  As for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, there are few words that can adequately describe him these days so let’s just say he is even more vocal and mercurial than his would-be debater.

These two big personalities will face off in a grudge fight on March 25. All eyes will be on them even though no one has a clue as to what they intend to talk about because this debate is going to be about the personalities rather than the subject matter.

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This debate idea was not sparked off by any issue. Instead it was something that evolved following news that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be there on March 23, followed by Dr. Mahathir on March 25.

Now, Nazri is a macho alpha male politician, with a sort of machismo that is quite unrivaled among his fellow politicians. The Parti Pribumi folk were entering the lion’s den and he responded in typical macho fashion. He said the two big-wigs were gunning for him because they considered him a great threat.

“I welcome them, selamat datang. But don’t just come for a visit, why not contest in Padang Rengas? It would be better if Mahathir were to contest but if he cannot, then Muhyiddin can do it.”

The old lion in Dr. Mahathir bared his fangs and challenged Nazri to take him on in Langkawi. There were gasps because it sounded like Dr. Mahathir was throwing down the gauntlet in Langkawi. A day later, he clarified that he would not be contesting the general election. But Dr. Mahathir has made so many U-turns that it is best to keep an open mind on whatever he says.

Nazri offered to roll out the red carpet but Dr. Mahathir said he did not mind walking in the mud.It was a rather childish exchange between two grown men or what a Penang politician described as “two Mickey Mouse characters”. But Nazri was merely taking from the Mahathir playbook. During his time as Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir was famous for challenging his critics to contest in elections instead of just talking.

This is not the first war of words between them. A few years ago, they had clashed over the Biro Tata Negara, which Nazri claimed promoted racial sentiments but Dr. Mahathir defended as an organisation that promoted good values.

Nazri called the former Premier a “racist” and was summoned to the Prime Minister’s office. Things then were still hunky-dory between Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Dr. Mahathir, and Nazri was told to back off the elder man.

Nazri, who had been likened to a Samurai committing hara-kiri for taking on Dr Mahathir, emerged from Najib’s office with the quip, “My Shogun has spoken”.

Suffice to say that this time around, the Shogun will not be telling his Samurai to pull back.“Nazri is loyal to the boss of the day,” said Pahang tourism exco member Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin who was with the Tourism Minister in Berlin last week.

Sharkar said Nazri had also stood by Dr. Mahathir during the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Nazri came to the defence of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was under attack by Dr. Mahathir. Likewise, he is standing by Najib now.

Nazri’s nickname in UMNO is “Chief”. He is younger than Najib by a year, they were contemporaries in UMNO but Nazri was too indepen­dent to be part of any camp.

Shortly after Najib became Prime Minister there was pressure from those around Dr. Mahathir for Najib to drop Nazri from the Cabinet. The political animal in Najib knew that people like Nazri could be problematic but they have their uses and his instincts have been spot on.

No one has had the audacity to tackle Dr. Mahathir the way Nazri does. He does not give a damn about conventions, he can be quite irreverent about rules and stature and he is the only UMNO politician who has publicly referred to Dr. Mahathir as “senile”. He occasionally comes across as too much and even rude, but he is never boring.

Dr Mahathir has been drawing good crowds in Malay areas. He is still a novelty, and the rural Malays want to hear what he has to say. On the other hand, the debate could turn out to be another political fiasco. Dr. Mahathir had a rough time at the Otai Reformis convention in Shah Alam recently.

The Otai Reformis comprises hardcore veteran supporters of Anwar. Their loyalty to him has not wavered from the day he was sacked by Dr. Mahathir. The group, led by Hulu Klang assemblyman Saari Sungip, had endured tear gas and rough treatment by the FRU when they took to the streets to protest Anwar’s imprisonment.They are still critical of Dr. Mahathir and were upset that Anwar has reconciled with his oppressor.

Dr. Mahathir turned up at the convention thinking that he could slow-talk them to come along with him on the grounds that the real enemy is Najib. Unfortunately, many of those in the audience also regard Dr.  Mahathir as the enemy.

Dr. Mahathir was greeted by cries of “reformasi” and “bebas Anwar” (free Anwar) as he made his way to the rostrum. He could sense that this was far from an adoring crowd and he attempted some reverse psychology, saying that a politician has to accept that he cannot be loved by all. He said he knew that some called him “mahafiraun” (great pharoah) and “mahazalim” (tyrant).

He appealed to them to put aside other issues and focus on toppling Najib because without power, their struggle would fail. “After that, if you want to act against me, you can do so,” he said.

He was flanked by Saari and Anwar’s younger brother Rusli Ibrahim whose presence on stage was to signal that Dr. Mahathir was there with the blessings of Anwar. But the Otai Reformis is a seasoned group of people who have seen it all. They were cynical about Dr. Mahathir and his simplistic reasoning failed to wash on them. Besides, they did not trust him and the respect was not there.

There have been too many life-changing experiences between then and now and the emotional scars are still there.

Moreover, said an Otai Reformis politician from Terengganu, the audience was expecting no less than an apology from the former Premier and they had called out for him to “minta maaf” (ask for forgiveness).

When it became clear that he had not come to apologise, they broke out into jeers and heckled him.Dr. Mahathir tried to smile his way through it but there were moments when the mask dropped and he looked shaken.

“It was quite humiliating. I think he cut short his speech, it was over real fast,” said the Terengganu politician. On top of all that, Dr. Mahathir had to sit through a video detailing the Reformasi movement – Anwar addressing a sea of people from the balcony of the national mosque, the infamous black eye, the angry street protests and the controversial trial. It was a political chapter that he would rather forget.

When everyone in the audience raised their fists to cries of “reformasi”, Dr. Mahathir made a half-hearted attempt to do the same but his hand barely reached his chest. The event was quite a farce and some of those present said the organisers had deceived them by allowing Dr. Mahathir to take to the stage when he had no intention of asking for forgiveness.

“There is still a lot of anger. They want him to apologise to Anwar’s family who suffered so much,” said the same Terengganu politician. It is obvious that even the chief personalities like Saari and Rusli were not bowled over by Dr. Mahathir because they could be seen trying to control their amusement at the height of the jeering.

The gathering then passed several resolutions, one of which stated that “this convention is not a forum to seek Dr. Mahathir’s views on the reform agenda”. It was as good as a disavowal of Dr. Mahathir.

Dr. Mahathir ought to have an easier time in Padang Rengas. Hordes of his supporters will probably make a beeline to the debate to lend moral backing. This is traditional UMNO territory and the audience will not be anything like what happened at the Otai Reformis event. But this is also Nazri’s home ground. He is the most senior minister after Najib and has served under three Prime Ministers.

People often forget Nazri’s political seniority because of his contemporary image, from the way he dresses to the way he addresses issues. For instance, he sometimes turns up for official events in a sports shirt worn rapper-style, with the collar turned up. Nazri understands the local sentiments and is more than familiar with Dr, Mahathir and his lines of attack.

Two big personalities known for their wit and laser tongues, their fighting spirit and dislike for each other – it should be pure entertainment even if it yields little of consequence.

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

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Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

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Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

Image result for Mahathir's New Party

Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia


March 14, 2017

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia–Political Islamism out of UMNO’s desperation

by Rashaad Ali

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/08/gauging-support-for-islamic-law-in-malaysia/

Image result for The Hudud Thing in UMNO's Malaysia

The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang

The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.

Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.

Image result for ruu 355

Hudud –The  Political Hypocrisy of  It All

Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.

But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.

Image result for zaid ibrahim dapThis Guy does not  know where he is coming or going in Malaysian Politics–UMNO to PKR to DAP and what next?

The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.

The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.

The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.

As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.

Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.

It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.

The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.

As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.

Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

 

 

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?


March 2, 2017

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?

by Saleena Saleem

https://www.policyforum.net/look-winner/

Image result for Bersatu's Mahathir

Malaysia’s new opposition party, Bersatu, needs to change public perceptions to win support at the next election, Saleena Saleem writes.

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The elections come after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations levelled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Bersatu, led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, would lead a massive breakaway faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest did not materialise.

Image result for Najib RazakMalaysia’s Love Story–Rendezvous in Port Dickson

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within party ranks for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party – for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to the PM’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of dishonesty and hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy. Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for – he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition political coalition, Pakatan Rakyat saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues – for example, the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014, and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment) – that eventually led to its collapse. The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

Furthermore, the opposition’s current narrative on “Save Malaysia from Najib”, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived “Save Malaysia” movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections. When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Although a new political party, Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members. Addressing public perception challenges and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may paradoxically require less of a reliance on its aging political giants. Instead, an effort to introduce younger politicians could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the premier website for analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and societies.