Pakatan: Charting a Course for New Malaysia


July 31, 2018

Pakatan: Charting  a Course for New Malaysia

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Malaysia's New Cabinet 2018

TO pass the test of time and ensure its longevity in power, Pakatan Harapan has to fulfil the expectations that swept it to victory against all odds on May 9.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put together a Cabinet with a mix of race, gender and age that has never been seen in the political governance of our country. However, except for a handful of ministers, the Cabinet falls short on experience.

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, can seek advice and deploy advisers. This happens all the time, for­­mally or informally, as long as the ministers take responsibility for the decisions they make.

Thus the furore over the Prime Minister having a Council of advisers, or Tun Daim Zainuddin to assist him and the Cabinet, including as special envoy on a mission abroad, is just a bit of opposition mischief which should not be allowed, as it is intended to get everyone riled up.

The previous government had tens of advisers, some with ministerial rank but not responsibility, many others with handsome salaries – which is not the case at all with the Pakatan government.

However, Pakatan ministers need to get out of “Opposition mode”, to function and deliver with all the advice and support they wish and can get. They would need to get the go­vernment machinery – the civil service – to implement their decisions effectively.

Here, there is another problem. The largely Malay civil service is not used to having political masters committed to a multi-racial Malay­sia and a no-nonsense regime.

Numbers at the Treasury, for instance, cannot continue to have to be validated, especially as the full fiscal picture must be clear by the time of the Budget on November 2.

Those who are recalcitrant or have partisan political loyalties – and there have been attempts to sabotage the elected government – have to be weeded out. No small task in a civil service of 1.6 million, 78.8% of whom are Malays.

This brings us to the second major challenge Pakatan faces – the base of its political support. About 75% of the Malay electo­rate in GE-14 voted for UMNO or PAS.

There is still some ways to go to arrive at a New Malaysia in terms of multi-racialism. After two generations of “Malay First” and subsequently “Malay and Muslim First” political ethic, there is a mountain to climb to make it to New Malaysia.

A top-down approach to remove the culture of racial and religious thinking (so evident in the Sungai Kandis Selangor by-election campaign) has to be worked out.

The institutions (including political parties) and persons playing the race-and-religion game have to be marginalised.

Mahathir Mohamad, MALAYSIA PM

Again, not easy as every change or argument for change towards multi-racialism is greeted as a threat to race and religion and met with emotionally-charged menace.

Dr Mahathir succeeded in assua­ging Malay fears in this year’s election campaign, but what is the stra­tegy before the next?

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is best placed to take on this – the task of winning over the Malay majority. Politics of race and religion to entrench suspicion, hostility and dependence has to be replaced by a narrative of openness, engagement and success.

Of course, the cynical approach is to play the electoral roll and consti­tuency delineation game, like the previous government did, on top of racial politics. Pakatan, however, should not get involved in this kind of gerrymandering but to win again fairly and squarely.

The third challenge is the laws, institutions and attitudes that violate rights and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution have to be torn up and rewritten. Selective enforcement, discriminatory practices – particularly racial, religious and gender-based – the culture of impunity, arrogant sense of entitlement of being above the law, they all have to go.

The Pakatan government must deliver legal and institutional reforms as soon as possible. We all need to rediscover our Constitution on which our life in our country must be based.

All this needs to be undertaken by Pakatan, even as it manages the economy, addresses the serious grievances of Sabah and Sarawak, and conducts foreign policy. Indeed, Pakatan must also show greater clarity on succession as the failure of good succession planning could cause Pakatan’s downfall.

On Pakatan now rests the hope and opportunity for a New Malaysia that may never come again.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Foreign Affairs: Time for East Asia


July 9, 2018

Time for East Asia

By Bunn Nagara@www,thestar.com.my

READ : https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/The-Future-of-Asia-2018/Mahathir-revives-Look-East-policy-to-join-ranks-of-economic-giants

AS an indication of how out of touch some international pundits of Asia are, they still call North-East Asia (China, Japan and Korea) “East Asia.”

East Asia as a region comprises the sub-regions of North-East Asia and South-East Asia, the latter being the countries of ASEAN and Timor-Leste.

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The ASEAN region developed steadily with peace and prosperity as its watchwords. It became known as a region consistently posting some of the highest growth rates in the world.

Yet ASEAN and its member countries were severely constrained by a lack of economic weight and global reach.

ASEAN’s diplomatic clout is fine, but South-East Asia as a region falls short of economic heft in a rapidly globalising world. Nonetheless, the forces of globalisation themselves would take care of that with growing economic integration within East Asia.

North-East Asia included two of the world’s three largest economies, so as a region it had no problems of limited reach or heft. Despite global constraints, China on the whole continued to grow.

As the economies of North-East Asia and South-East Asia grew more integrated, growth in East Asia as a whole would soon reach an altogether different plane.

Studies generally find intra-regional trade surpassing foreign direct investment (FDI). A 2009 study found that tariff reductions as well as closer monetary cooperation among East Asian countries made sense.

A report by the Asian Development Bank Institute last year acknowledged the impressive growth of East Asia’s intra-regional trade ratio over the past 55 years.

It noted how trade had become “more functionally linked to international production networks and supply chains” as well as FDI in the region. This is indicative of East Asia’s deepening regionalisation. Typically, after Japan’s export of capital to South-East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, China took up the slack as Japan’s economy leveled off from the early 1990s.

In 1990, ISIS Malaysia and Prime Minister Tun (then Datuk Seri) Dr. Mahathir Mohamad worked on a proposal for an East Asia Economic Grouping (EAEG). It was time for East Asia to come into its own.

When Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Kuala Lumpur in December 1990, Dr Mahathir proposed the EAEG to him. Li Peng accepted and supported it.

The idea had not been discussed within ASEAN before. Indonesia, the biggest country and economy regarding itself the region’s “big brother,” felt miffed that it had not been consulted about the plan.

Singapore’s position, traditionally more aligned to a US that was not “included” in the East Asia proposal, was slightly more nuanced. Lee Kuan Yew, upon becoming Senior Minister just the month before – and on the cusp of the Cold War’s demise – still preferred an economic universe defined by the West.

At the time this was the European community and the Uruguay Round as an outgrowth of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

It was still three years before the European Union (EU), and four years before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Generally the world was still beholden to Western economic paradigms and game plans. The EAEG was thus seen as the work of some upstart Asians, in turns brash and occasionally recalcitrant.

Most of the six ASEAN countries, like South Korea, accepted the EAEG even as they tried to learn more about it. But it was still at best tentative.

The EAEG’s critics, however, proved more vocal. US President G.H.W Bush and Secretary of State James Baker wanted to crash the regional party by becoming a member also, or else would see the idea crash.

The Uruguay Round was then seen to be quite rudderless, and APEC, itself formed just one year before, appeared fumbling in the doldrums.

The EAEG, misperceived as an “alternative”, would be thinking and acting outside the box. An energised Asia owing nothing to Western patronage was far too much for an Occidental-conceived world order to contemplate, much less accept.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen and China’s President Xi Jinping

Malaysia tried to soothe anxieties about the EAEG by emphasising its soft regionalism. It was to be only “a loose, consultative” grouping and no more.

Why should a booming, rapidly integrating East Asia be deprived of a regional economic identity, when Europe and North America could develop their own?

Unfortunately the EAEG’s public relations campaign proved too little too late. The idea, albeit now conceived as an ASEAN project, lacked traction and ground to a halt.

Singapore saw its merits and tried a different tack. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong proposed an East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) within APEC, allaying fears of an insecure US that this would remain within the ambit of a US-dominated APEC.

Several political speeches and conference papers later, the EAEC idea also failed to germinate. A Bill Clinton Presidency was lukewarm-to-cool to the idea, still without the encouragement Japan needed for a nod.

A flourishing East Asia would be left without a regional organisation of its own, again.

In 1997 the devastating Asian economic and financial crisis struck, hitting South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia particularly badly. If the EAEG had been in place by then, greater regional cooperation and coordination would have helped cushion the shocks.

Suddenly, South Korea took the initiative to push East Asia into forming a regional identity: ASEAN Plus Three (APT). This grouping would consist of the same EAEG countries.

Image result for Shinzo Abe and East Asia

Indo- Pacific Partnership –An Alternative to China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI)

Japan this time was more accommodating, and the APT was born.

For decades, “the West” led by the US was identified with open markets and free trade. But now a Trump Presidency deemed protectionist, even isolationist, is hauling up the drawbridge and raising the barricades with tariffs and other restrictive measures.

These are aimed at allies and rivals alike, whether in Europe or Asia. Equivalent countermeasures have been launched, and the trade-restraining spiral winds on.

China, by now identified globally as a champion of open markets and free trade, has called on Europe to form a common front. Strategic competitors are making for strange trade bedfellows and vice-versa.

Dr Mahathir was on his annual visit to Tokyo last month for the Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia. He duly revisited the idea of an East Asian economic identity and community.

For emphasis, he added that he preferred this to a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership that the US has now rejected. How would an EAEG now play in today’s Japan and East Asia? More to the point, how would it play in Washington? The answer may still determine its prospects in Tokyo and East Asia as a whole.

It is possible that the US has become too tied to the idea of battling trade skirmishes, if not outright trade wars, with any presumed adversary to have time to frown on an EAEG.

Dr Mahathir has noted how this is the time for such a regional grouping, since we still need it and particularly when the US is helping to justify it. It is also conceivable that Japan today is more open to the EAEG, just like with the APT post-1997.

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America First Fallacy– In fact it is US retreat from global engagement

 

The more the rhetoric of a US-China trade war rages, the more likely East Asia can finally develop a regional economic identity of its own.

Even a US-EU trade conflict will do. East Asia should not be too choosy about its benefactors.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Bunn Nagara

G25 Malaysia: Pursuit of Moderation at International Level is Wisma Putra’s Job


July 4, 2017

G25 Malaysia: Pursuit of Moderation at International Level is  Wisma Putra’s  Job

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for G25 Malaysia

“If the Pakatan government wants to continue to pursue moderation at the international level, the GMMF must be disbanded. The pursuit of moderation at the international level can be taken over by the Foreign Affairs Ministry with assistance provided by civil society organisations, academics and other relevant parties”.–G25 Malaysia

G25 Malaysia writes on GMMF:

WE refer to the report “Ex-PAS deputy chief set to be axed from GMMF leadership” (Sunday Star, July 1) regarding the position of Datuk Dr Nasharudin Mat Isa, the executive chairman and CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF).

We are of the opinion that he should never have been appointed as executive chairman and CEO of the GMMF as it is supposed to be the foundation leading Malaysia’s pursuit of moderation at the international level, including the United Nations, and providing the leadership to garner support and work towards the creation of a global movement of moderates.

Image result for Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF).
Datuk Dr Nasharudin Mat Isa,  Executive Chairman and CEO of Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) shouls be fired.

 

The position requires someone who is a true and compassionate moderate and who is good at engaging both State and Non-State actors. His predecessors Tan Sri Razali Ismail and Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah fit well into the role.

The head of the GMMF should be the paragon of moderation both by example and reputation, and should speak out loudly against incongruous policies and actions taken by the government.

Image result for Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF).

But it is well known that Nasharudin tended to lean on the support of conservative groups, including Jakim and other religious authorities, that practised exclu­sivity and intolerance, which clearly contradicts the official policy of moderation.

There were numerous cases of intolerance which occurred under the previous government, one of the most obvious being the arrest and detention of Mustafa Akyol, a well-known Islamic scholar who is recognised as one of the leading voices of moderate and democratic Islam in the West. His arrest by the police was recommended by the religious authorities in the Federal Territories.

That incident gave the impression that the Malaysian Police serve these authorities. After this shameful episode, foreign missions in Kuala Lumpur made it a point to keep a watchful eye whenever their citizens were invited to give talks involving Islam in Malaysia.

Local academics were also concerned over whether they too would need to get tawliah from the religious affairs departments when participating in public forums on Islam.

Such restrictions on Islamic academic freedom have made a ­mockery of Malaysia’s claim as a leader of the global moderates’ movement.

Amidst all these ugly repressions, the GMMF proved itself to be totally ineffective in living up to its name. It is best, therefore, that this institution be abolished to prevent wastage of public funds.

Another example of this intolerance was the banning of the G25 book Breaking The Silence, which is about promoting moderation in Islam and the harmonisation of Islamic laws in the Federal Constitution.

Foreign policy begins at home, and if moderation were to be pursued as a major foreign initiative, moderation and tolerance must first be practised at home in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic and multireligious nation.

The new Pakatan Harapan government has promised to be more democratic, protect freedom and human rights, and champion the real Islamic virtues of peace, justice and compassion.

Nasharudin should also realise that he is out of tune with the aspirations and policies of the new Malaysia government and it is best that he step down of his own accord instead of being asked to leave.

If the Pakatan government wants to continue to pursue moderation at the international level, the GMMF must be disbanded.

The pursuit of moderation at the international level can be taken over by the Foreign Affairs Ministry with assistance provided by civil society organisations, academics and other relevant parties.

G25 MALAYSIA

Nazir Razak ready to leave CIMB Group?


June 30, 2018

Nazir Razak ready to leave CIMB Group?

http://www.malaysiakini.com

When an Outstanding Banker like Nazir Razak decides to leave before his term of office ends, there’s bound to be speculation. In this particular case, the man who is at the center of this Star newspaper report happens to be  the younger brother of  former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

 

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“In six years, we have expanded from two branches to 12 branches as well as 14 off-site self-service terminals. We presently have over $450 million in assets, making us the 13th largest commercial bank in Cambodia. We intend to be in Cambodia for the long term and we feel it is important to grow sustainably and to invest in developing our local talent pool. Regionally, CIMB Group is ASEAN’s fifth-largest universal bank. Over the past decade, the group has been one of the fastest-growing banks in the region”. Bun Yin, CEO of CIMB Bank, Cambodia

 

A Cambodian friend of mine who heads CIMB Bank operations (pic above) in Cambodia alerted me of this possibility a couple of days ago. My response was that he should not listen to rumours.  Chairman Nazir is well known in the Kingdom where CIMB Bank operates a very successful and profitable network of bank branches.

I am not privy to what is happening in the Malaysian corporate scene post May 9 GE-14. I have been away from the country since 2014.  But I hope that the impending departure of Chairman Nazir has nothing to do with politics.  Ideally, I would like him to either remain with the CIMB Group, or be given some key appointment elsewhere so that his talent,  professional  competence, reputation for integrity, and wide experience can be used for  the benefit of the New Malaysia.–Din Merican

 

Image result for CIMB Banking Group Chairman Nazir Razak

CIMB Group chairperson Nazir Razak will leave the banking group when his term ends next March, reported The Star today.

The youngest brother of former Prime Minister Najib Razak has informed the CIMB Board of Directors that he will not seek re-election as chairperson, a post he has held since 2014.

He has also served as CIMB chief executive officer (CEO) for 15 years. “He (Nazir) has told the board that he will leave and not seek re-election. The board is already searching for a successor,” said the source.

Malaysiakini has contacted Nazir for his response. Speculation has been rife that Nazir could leave earlier than March. The source however said thus far, there has been no indication of him being “told to go”. “He has not been called in by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) or anyone else,” the source was reported as saying.

 

The CEP is headed by former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, and was set up to advise the new Pakatan Harapan government on how to achieve its economic promises in 100 days as per its election manifesto.

CEP is also looking into the performance of government-linked companies (GLCs) and reviewing the appointments of key executives. Several CEO at GLCs as well as government-linked investment companies (GLICs) have already vacated their positions following the change in government.

Nazir is prepared to go earlier than the expiry of his term if he is told to do so, according to another source.

ASEAN Car, National Car and What else–Let’s Get Real, not Sentimental


June 29, 2018

ASEAN Car, National Car and What else–Let’s Get Real, not Sentimental

by Bunn Nagara@www,thestar.com.my

The international marketplace can be an unforgiving arena, if the hard economic realities of global markets are replaced by sentimentality or nostalgia. 

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A “national car” in Vietnam or Malaysia tends to miss the wood for the trees. Larger regional realities determine the local prospects, not the other way round. All goods and services are subjected to tough market realities.–Bunn Nagara

THERE is a pattern and a rhythm in global markets that, when acknowledged and heeded, can yield profits – but when denied or confronted may lead to loss and pain.

Asia’s two largest economies, China and Japan, are set to face off in South-East Asia in at least one sector: automobiles.

The signs of this looming challenge are becoming observable, as the portents of the rivalry settle steadily into place. A “national car” in Vietnam or Malaysia tends to miss the wood for the trees. Larger regional realities determine the local prospects, not the other way round. All goods and services are subjected to tough market realities. A temporary reprieve may come only with costly subsidies or tariffs which then render items uncompetitive over the longer term.

Among the realities of the global auto market are, first, that the motorcar is the single most costly consumer item commonly sold across borders. Second, of all the global consumer items traded daily, the car is probably the least nationally oriented. Parts come from all over the world, plants are established abroad for cost and other reasons, and companies from abroad buy proud “national” firms producing even the most prestigious brands.

Britain’s Jaguar Land Rover was bought by America’s Ford, and then by India’s Tata. Britain’s most prestigious marques, Rolls Royce and Bentley, were bought by Germany’s Volkswagen which also bought Italy’s supercar Lamborghini and France’s pride Bugatti, besides Spain’s Seat and Czechoslovakia’s Skoda.

Lamborghini was previously taken over by the Swiss (Mimrans), then the Americans (Chrysler), and then Indonesians (V’Power) and Malaysians (MyCom).

China’s Geely bought Sweden’s Volvo, the London Taxi Company, Germany’s prestigious Daimler (Mercedes) Benz, the US “flying car” company Terrafugia – and Malaysia’s Proton and Lotus.

Proton had earlier acquired Britain’s iconic sports car company, Lotus. Ownership “promiscuity” in the auto industry across borders is spread all round.

Some of these acquisitions may not be 100% but they are still substantial. Geely, for example, owns 49.9% of Proton and 9.69% of Benz, both being the single largest stake in these companies. Among the earliest across borders was General Motors’ acquisition of Germany’s Opel in 1929, after which Opel models were still sold in the UK as “British” Vauxhall. Last year Opel was acquired by France’s Groupe PSA which incorporates Peugeot and Citroen.

The pace and number of cross-border auto acquisitions continue to grow, along with the scale. It is a game for the super cash-rich, making independent national operations unviable while squeezing the prospects of new startups. In ASEAN countries today, mega competition on Level Two between Japanese and Chinese auto firms is shaping up. Even Korean companies are only looking in to see if there is a possible opening.

Sales of individual cars to consumers on Level One continue for all marques, but sales of whole auto companies (Level Two) are the new name of the game. Apart from direct competition between Japanese and Chinese corporations, competition is growing between their locally named subsidiaries – and between rival compatriot firms. The result may see South-East Asian auto companies functioning largely as proxies of parent Chinese and Japanese firms.

SAIC Motor, China’s biggest auto firm which also assembles US and European brands, wants Thailand as the regional production hub for export to other countries. Japanese companies had set that example in this region and are still trying to keep the “flag flying.” Toyota has raised its stake in the Philippines, as has Mitsubishi, with increased investments in factories for larger output. However, higher levels of local technical input are still limited at best.

The international auto acquisitions market has also involved prestigious car design firms. Vietnam’s first car company Vinfast proudly announced engaging Italy’s Pininfarina, which designed Ferrari and Maserati models – and which was bought earlier (76%) by India’s Mahindra.

Developing countries may be smitten by the “national car” bug, while developed countries are more interested in producing sophisticated high-value systems that can be incorporated into all cars: among them, AI for self-driving cars. These high-end components are the real value-added skills in auto production today, rather than basic parts assembly so commonly found in Third World car factories.

Ultimately, the issue is the degree of local content along with the technical input rather than a hidebound obsession with a “national” car. Production and ownership promiscuity across borders means that cars no longer have distinct nationalities.

Image result for Thailand the hub of auto industry in ASEAN

 

Thailand produces some two million cars a year, more than half for export, about as many produced as all the other ASEAN countries combined. It has no national car project since it manufactures only automotive components and assembles cars from other countries. Nonetheless its automobile sector is widely regarded as economically successful, employing more than half a million people and accounting for 10-15% of GDP. Most of the world’s auto parts and automobile manufacturers operate in the country.

A lack of high-end technical inputs for greater value-added has however been limiting to growth. Lately the auto sector pledged to scale up the technical ladder, with attractive government-supported incentives for environmentally clean designs.

Indonesia has ambitious plans for boosting its auto sector, encouraged by rising local demand since 2012 but still hampered by limited exports. It therefore risks mistaking local demand for overseas demand, which has been only 20% of Thailand’s.

Within ASEAN, Indonesia is the biggest country with the biggest population and economy, but its auto sector has not been competitive internationally. Government support through protectionism is no answer. Now the Indonesian auto sector may be facing another challenge – competition from elsewhere in ASEAN such as Vietnam. Its structural inefficiencies remain a persistent problem.

A study by Prof Sadayuki Takii found that the problems include weak or minimal local content and government protection contributing to a lack of competitiveness. The same conditions may be found in other ASEAN countries.

Another reality in the global auto market is how successful companies come from countries with a sizeable domestic market providing healthy competition nationally. Through the years, market discipline made these companies competitive internationally and fit to compete against companies in other countries. Protectionism however works in the opposite direction.

mahathir-jokowi-iriz-ev-01

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been toying with the idea of an “ASEAN car,” which would bring together engineering skills across this region to produce a competitive world-class item. This desire still exceeds the capacity or the prospect, unfortunately.

Countries in ASEAN still need to get over the lack of substantive technology transfer if they are to acquire the real skills that make the auto sector competitive. Increasing investments by Japanese and Chinese firms at largely parts assembly level are contributing to the problem. But who can say no to immediate investments offering more jobs?

Beyond technology transfers, local players also need to become innovative on their own. That has yet to happen. Another problem to resolve is the growing competition between ASEAN countries. The competing concepts of “regional car” and “national car” are in a zero-sum game.

The Philippines also wants to be the regional auto manufacturing hub within a decade. This national-centric approach, typical of the region, retards regional integration and prospects for the ASEAN Economic Community.

The more likely prospect is to become local outposts for larger Chinese or Japanese firms.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Bunn Nagara

Bunn Nagara

 

Zainah Anwar looks back on Malaysia’s GE-14- From 2008 to May 9, 2018


June 27, 2018

Zainah Anwar looks back on  Malaysia’s GE-14- From 2008 to May 9, 2018

http://www.thestar.com.my

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She writes:

It may have been a shock win for Pakatan Harapan in the recent election, but the writing has been on the wall for Barisan Nasional for more than a decade.

AH, finally, change has come! It was simply inevitable.

Inevitable change: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announcing his resignation when Barisan lost GE14 after the people rejected the corrupt practices of some of the Barisan politicians.

I have been writing for over a decade of the politically manufactured extremism and intolerance within Malay society and how the 2006 UMNO General Assembly was the turning point when a party that had prided itself as the bedrock of centrist politics, presented an extremist face to Malaysians on live television.

“UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights”.–Zainah Anwar

 

The histrionics of race and religion under threat, the keris waving, and the full display of Malay-Muslim machismo alienated and scared not just the non-Muslims, but the many moderate and progressive Muslims in the country. UMNO had crossed the line. The belligerent UMNO speakers thought they reflected the mood on the ground, only to fast discover that the ground had shifted from under their feet, as the President tried vainly to do some damage control with his closing speech.

By the 2008 general elections, the resounding victory that then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi enjoyed in 2004 based on his change agenda was overturned. The rakyat inflicted the most crushing blow to Barisan Nasional. Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor fell to the Opposition, and the ruling party lost its much vaunted two-thirds majority.

It all went wrong within just four short years. Abdullah Badawi had led Barisan to its greatest electoral victory ever, winning 199 of 219 parliamentary seats in 2004. He promised to eliminate corruption, to introduce open tendering for government contracts. He regarded the NGOs as the eyes and ears of the government, he stood up for women’s rights and a progressive Islam (Islam Hadhari) that must be re-interpreted to deal with changing times and circumstances. He promised a kinder, gentler Malaysia and more open and democratic politics.

While many of us shared in the fifth Prime Minister’s vision of a democratising, transparent and accountable government and his promise of an inclusive rule for all Malaysians, his failure to deliver on much of this grand vision and his inability to take charge of his change agenda in the face of resistance from powerful centres of power within UMNO, within the civil service, the Police, and even within his own cabinet eventually led to a massive loss of confidence. It was not supposed to be business as usual. But on the ground, it was much too much of the same thing.

From the endless manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays to supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion, from the Lingam tapes to judicial integrity, from rising crime to rising prices, local development without public representation, political leaders behaving badly, and allegations of corruption and cronyism that did not abate…the electorate was in no mood to wait for the promised change to come or to even acknowledge that some change had indeed taken place.

Anything but UMNO

I had written after the 2008 general elections that the massive public repudiation of Barisan was not just a repudiation of the Prime Minister Badawi’s rule, but of all the corrupt, immoral, authoritarianism of Barisan politics and governance in its 50 years of domination. The public has had enough.

That Pakatan Rakyat won votes on a platform of change from “Ketuanan Melayu” to “Ketuanan Rakyat” and a smorgasbord of promises to make democracy and good governance work for ALL citizens was beyond UMNO’s comprehension.

While the new alliance was fast capturing the shifting mood of Malaysian voters to a new political centre of equitable and fairer terms of engagement among the citizens, and between the citizen and the state, and generating excitement among young voters and community groups that their voices could indeed bring change, UMNO members were more preoccupied with power grabbing in the run-up to party elections in December 2009.

They might win party elections whooping their “Ketuanan Melayu” battle cry, but they would cause the party to lose the next general elections, I predicted. The ground had shifted, but they dug deeper into their bad old bag of tricks of race, religion, money politics, and self-enrichment. I never understood what was there for MCA, Gerakan and MIC to stay on with UMNO and its intemperate and relentless stomping and condoning of ethno-religious supremacy that was driving away Chinese and Indian voters into the waiting arms of PKR, DAP and even PAS. The mood indeed was anything but UMNO.

It was clear by 2008 that Malaysian politics was taking off into an epochal transformation from race-based to issue-based, I felt. Increasingly, Malaysians were building new solidarities based on issues, not race or religion. Be it human rights, women’s rights, free and fair elections, democracy, good governance, anti-corruption, freedom of the press, detention without trial, death in custody, local government, environment, land rights, quality education, arts and culture, … it would be issues that would bring Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds together, I wrote then.

So Abdullah was forced into early retirement and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the sixth Prime Minister, warning UMNO to “change or perish”. He called on UMNO members to be the eyes and ears of the rakyat so that UMNO could read accurately the pulse of the nation and translate that into policy and action. In grand style, he called on the people to restore the bridges that brought us together and tear the walls that separated us. He introduced 1Malaysia and he wanted repressive laws repealed and UMNO party rules to be more democratic.

Regime crisis

That was 2009. But I wrote early on that Najib might have the dubious honour of being the first UMNO President to become Leader of the Opposition, as I saw no mood for change among UMNO leaders and members. They felt they were the only rakyat that mattered. All they were preoccupied with was to use the race card to enrich themselves – to get more handouts and more contracts into their grubby hands.

Almost 11 months after the 2008 elections, UMNO lost a by-election in Kuala Terengganu as PAS, PKR and DAP displayed unprecedented cohesion and dazzled the voters with their unity, sharing the same platform everywhere.

It had made no difference to UMNO thinking and strategising that 74% of the Malays in the Kuala Terengganu constituency polled a week before polling day believed that “Malay political power was weakened by corrupt and self-serving leaders”, while only 17% said it was weakened by “demands made by the non-Malays”.

UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights.

That a newly cobbled coalition of strange bedfellows could present a united front and work together as a team and sell their multi-ethnic agenda to a Malay electorate showed what a pathetic empty shell Barisan as a multi-ethnic coalition had become.

2009 under the new leadership brought no respite to the rakyat. Incident after incident piled up and we felt as if the country was going to implode. Issues on whether one was a Muslim or not, whether a father who converted to Islam had the right to unilaterally convert his underage children, the sentencing of Kartika to caning for drinking a glass of beer, the arrest and prosecution of then former Perlis Mufti for teaching Islam in a private home in Selangor without a letter of authorisation…the endless sledgehammer of persecution in the name of Islam went on.

By 2010, the likes of the belligerent Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin had emerged as the poster boys of UMNO and the future the party believed in. It was their voice and those of their ilk that the government of the day seemed to listen to. Not the voice of Malaysians, who believe in our founding fathers’ vision of a modern, democratic, secular, culturally pluralistic and inclusive political community.

 

Unpopular tactic:: Umno continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

Unpopular tactic: UMNO continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

Contrary voices were either cowed into silenced or demonised. More demagogues were organised to whip up Malay sentiment against any attempts to discuss concerns arising from the makeover of the Constitutional idea of “the special position of the Malays” into Malay supremacy.

The idea of Ketuanan Melayu sits uncomfortably among many Malaysians, be they Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajaus, Orang Asal, Eurasians…. It is a racial supremacist idea, a far cry from the simple reality that Malays as the majority population of this country will naturally be the politically dominant group. And a far cry from the constitutional notion of the “special position of the Malays” which legitimised affirmative action as a temporary special measure to enable a historically disadvantaged group to catch up.

Obviously, Malaysia had entered into another “regime crisis”. The NEP-era political phase and governing mechanism exhaled its last breath on March 8, 2008.The Opposition had still not coalesced into a viable trusted alternative with a common political vision of Malaysia. The Barisan Nasional government showed no resolve to deal with the concerns and contestations over matters of race and religion, and human rights and fundamental liberties. This pessimism about the future of Malaysia continued to corrode the body politic and the public sense of well-being.

By mid-2010, I pronounced in this column that UMNO was beyond redemption. It had regressed into a dinosaur, too huge, too old, too fossilised in its ways to be able to adapt to new conditions. The sense of privilege and entitlement was too entrenched for UMNO members to ever want to change.

While UMNO politicians and Perkasa pointed fingers at other races as a threat to Malay political survival, the Malays themselves saw something else. A Merdeka Centre survey revealed that 70% of Malays felt that the main threat to the Malay political position in the country was corruption among Malay leaders. Only 22% believed it was due to demands made by other races in the country. This national survey reinforced the Kuala Terengganu findings of January 2009.

The changing values and changing mood were clear. A significant 40% of the Malay respondents believed that citizens should be treated and accorded the same rights in Malaysia, regardless of race and religion. Forty-five per cent believed that government assistance programmes only benefited the rich and politically connected. The two top issues all respondents identified as being the most important in need of change were: “making the country more democratic” and “making our education system world class”. But 66% of the public felt a sense of powerlessness that they could influence government policy.

And yet UMNO continued to play its dangerous game for the future of Malaysia. And it did not care that continuing to abuse race and religion unabated spelt the death knell to its Barisan partners who could never hope to deliver the minority votes necessary for the ruling coalition to maintain power.

No political will

The then Prime Minister (Najib Razak) made attempts to bring UMNO back to the centre by calling for the voice of moderation to prevail in Malaysia, reminding UMNO members at the 2010 General Assembly that it was the Malay trait of moderation that had enabled the community to be accepted as leaders in a multicultural society.

But wasatiyyah required political courage and grit. No one in UMNO had the political will to follow words with deeds. Its hypocrisy continued to stench. Sisters in Islam was called in twice by the Police for questioning under the Penal Code and the Sedition Act for standing up for Kartika. For the first time too, a state religious authority issued an official Friday sermon attacking Sisters in Islam and urged the congregation to take action against us.

In frustration, I wrote a column in 2011 on whose voice should prevail in this country. Those who perpetually saw race and religion under threat and demanded that every person who believed, thought, behaved, dressed, acted, opined differently should be “fixed” through many state sanctioned operations – boot camps, rehabilitation camps, punished under the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act, or just denounced and demonised as enemies and traitors of race, religion and country?

Or those who envision a democratic and just future, where rights are recognised on the basis of citizenship rather than just race, religion, or sex.

The choice was obvious to most of us, the good citizens of Malaysia who loved this country, and who were determined to be resilient, resourceful, and open minded to face the challenges and realities of the 21st century.

The same old script

I was totally frustrated by the endless manufacturing of many more new threats. From the innocuous fun of poco-poco to the relativism of post-modernism, from calling Muslims opposed to UMNO and PAS unification as “pengkhianat Islam” (traitors of Islam) to accusing Christians of plotting to turn Malaysia into a Christian state! All these of course adding to the existing long list of threats that included pluralism, liberalism, feminism, secularism, kongsi raya, open house, tomboys, yoga…

It was hard to understand why these same actors were trotting out the same old script that cost the Barisan Nasional government so dearly in 2008. It’s like as if nobody had learnt any lessons from that political tsunami. Since attacking liberal Muslims and ungrateful Chinese did not work in 2008, they amended the script to add Christians and even the passé Communists. Why would an unpopular political party create more enemies, instead of making friends?

And to be sure they added the promise of the Hudud law and its grim serving of chopped off Muslim hands and feet, stoning to death, crucifixion! What kind of future is that? “It’s ok to implement the Hudud law because it doesn’t affect non-Muslims.” So it’s ok for Muslims to be brutalised? “Non-Muslims should shut up because it doesn’t affect them.” But they are Malaysian citizens who have every right to speak up on laws that allow for brutal and inhumane punishments against their fellow citizens, the majority population to boot. “Muslims who are not experts on Islam should shut up”. Then please take religion out of the public sphere and make it private between us and God.

By 2012, a desperate UMNO, which for two decades under Mahathir’s rule had been consistently opposed to the Hudud law, embraced it as its own. One state assemblyman in Johor proudly proclaimed that the UMNO Hudud would be superior to the PAS Hudud as it would apply to all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims! And other UMNO leaders and entities in quick succession echoed the call, lest their piety be questioned. And they stoked the debate further by trying to portray the upcoming general elections as a choice between those who wanted the Hudud and the Islamic state and those against.

I wrote then that the choice before us was not between Islam and secularism, not between Hudud law and civil law, not between tradition and modernity. Those were false dichotomies created to divide us. The choice before us was between democracy and despotism, between good governance and corruption, between equality and discrimination, between social justice and inequity.

The UMNO/Perkasa/Utusan Malaysia nexus and its orchestrated battle cry of “Malays and Islam under threat” stoked Malay anxiety – enough to win Umno support and make a nine seat gain in the 2013 general elections. Malays, who saw UMNO as its protector, bought into the emotive appeal that their special rights would be eroded by a Pakatan coalition that stood for affirmative action based on need, rather than race, and Ketuanan Rakyat rather than Ketuanan Melayu.

But the very political strategy that won UMNO support in the rural areas and among some segments of the Malay community, cost Barisan support among the Chinese, Indians and Malays in urban and semi-urban areas. For the first time, Barisan won the national elections with less than 50% of the popular vote.

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The demands for reformasi that began in 1999 with the sacking and incarceration  of Anwar Ibrahim was steaming ahead. Barisan popular votes went down by 10% then and UMNO and Barisan were saved by support from the Chinese, many of whom were spooked by reformasi in Indonesia. 2004 was just a blip in the downward slide with excitement over promises of change by a new Prime Minister. Performing from bad to worse in two successive general elections was unprecedented.

There were yet more calls for change. This time the then Deputy Prime Minister warned UMNO members to “change or be dead”. But no one was listening. Some UMNO leaders continued to blame others for their failures and shortcomings. And this time they told those who disagreed with them to leave the country. In the past, the retort used to be vote us out if you don’t agree, but by 2013 that was too painfully close to the truth to even utter.

At the UMNO general assembly that year, the debate, in content and tone, did not provide voters with any indication or hope that UMNO was capable of change to win back the support it had lost in two successive elections.

The de rigueur threats were made yet again – from “liberalism, pluralism and secularism”, to threats from people who supposedly attacked “Islam, the Sultans, the national language, the NEP” all rolled in one breath, and threats from oh, those forever ungrateful Chinese. And then, of course, the same old demands for more handouts and economic assistance for the Malays. And nary a curious squeak as to why a Malay dominated government that has implemented affirmative action policies for over 40 years, with billions spent on bumiputra empowerment and economic advancement plus dozens of accompanying policy instruments, have still failed to address the needs of those left behind and build the resilient commercial and industrial community as envisaged.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, UMNO  Deputy President, gave a dire warning in his closing speech – that just a 2% swing in votes will cost Barisan to lose power.

Forty-four of the 133 Parliamentary seats Barisan held were regarded as “grey” seats where the party had won by a mere majority of between 0.1 and 5.9%. Without new initiatives to appeal to the electorate, Barisan would be in a “precarious position”, he warned.

I met a few UMNO leaders who were at that general assembly who said they cringed listening to the speeches and the non-debates. They felt they were in a sinking ship.

Then why didn’t you and people like you in UMNO speak out, I asked.One said, “Are you kidding me. I speak out, I turn my back, no one is behind me.” Another said, “I speak out, they will send the income tax guys knocking on my door at 3am.”

The dinosaur was truly paralysed and rotten to the core. Malaysia has changed, more and more Malays were changing, but UMNO remained trapped in a dance hall, partying to its own music, oblivious that extinction was near.

In July 2015, I wrote a column, feeling choked and suffocated that this country and its rakyat were being crushed and pummelled by wrecking balls. The wrecking ball of race and religion, of insatiable greed, of desperation to stay in power, of never-ending sense of entitlements, of unpunished crimes and abuses, of ideology over rational thinking, justice, and fair play. These concerns were nothing new. What was new was the breathtaking scale, the endlessness of it all, and the shamelessness with which the perpetrators displayed their unscrupulous, destructive and criminal behaviour, in words and deeds.

The 1MDB scandal had broken. We began to live in an Orwellian world where bad was good and good was bad, where those who revealed abuses and scandals were detained, questioned, prevented from travelling, charged in court, sacked from their positions, while those accused proclaimed their innocence and carried on unimpeached, and buttressed to remain in power.

By this time, I felt UMNO was committing hara-kiri. It added yet more mind-boggling threats – “national security” and “parliamentary democracy” it seemed were now under threat as more and more damning evidence of kleptomaniac behaviour at the very top was revealed. To continue to talk about it posed a threat to the stability of the ruling party and therefore a threat to democracy and national security! What a mind leap we were supposed to exercise to believe in this Orwellian construction of truth.

I never understood why UMNO leaders or all the Barisan MPs still could not see that their rule was over. If the Prime Minister continued to lead the party, they would lose GE-14. Didn’t they consider working together to put pressure on him to step down in order to save the party and the country? Didn’t they consider working together with the Opposition MPs to mount a no-confidence motion in Parliament? It was staggering that a Prime Minister could ever accept RM2.6 billion dollars into his personal account – and still remain in office. It was as simple as that.

But too many on the UMNO bandwagon remained dazzled by the millions that had been dispensed to them and the many more millions that they could still make in power. So right up to May 9, they believed they would still obtain a handsome victory at the polls. The unthinkable, they thought, could not happen with the money spent, the gerrymandering and malapportionment, the mid-week polling day, the mainstream media on their side, the threat of arrests under the fake news law, the threat of an emergency under the new national security act.

Image result for mahathir mohamad wins malaysia's ge-14

But we Malaysians have had enough. The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm. My friends and I knew this was the best chance to overthrow a party that had been in power since independence day. For the first time ever, we collected money to donate to candidates of our choice.

Many of us in the women’s movement volunteered for Maria Chin, raised funds, managed her Bilik Gerakan, helped with her communications, outreach, worked as PACAs, pounded the streets at markets and neighbourhoods, and trudged up and down low-cost flats, to reach out to the voters in Petaling Jaya.  We headed to as many ceramahs as possible in the Klang Valley. The idealistic fresh faces standing on stage promising a new democratic, inclusive, and clean government gave us hope.

While so many friends were still too scared to predict the outcome for certain, I just felt it in my old bones that Pakatan Harapan would sweep into power.

UMNO has no one else to blame but itself that Malays no longer see it as the protector of the race and religion. In swinging to the far right and representing the interest of only one segment of the Malay community, it lost the faith of many others that it was able to steer a moderate path to maintain Malaysia’s political stability and prosperity in collaborative partnership with others.

Today, the sun is shining again and I am so, so proud to be Malaysian. We bucked the global trend of elections bringing into power conservative and right wing parties. My friends abroad were thrilled that we Malaysians did it! – Through peaceful elections and a relatively smooth democratic transition to a new ruling coalition that stands for reform. If in the recent past they had asked me in despair what went wrong with Malaysia as it became known for the biggest kleptocracy scandal ever, this time with envy, they asked, “How did you do it?”

The Malaysian electorate has for decades wanted to see change in the way this country is governed, how law is applied, how politics is conducted and how business is run. The long standing public demand for greater transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, a free and responsible press, free and fair elections, a more just and open political system, an end to police abuse and misuse of power, and an end to the intricate web of business and politics that bred cronyism and corruption, that for decades remained unmet, now seem possible.

For Pakatan Harapan, winning was the easy job. The hard work now begins. And I have no doubt that the rakyat will throw them out if they fail to deliver on their promises. For this election victory is as much ours as it is theirs. It was us who led the demand for change for decades, and we never gave up. We delivered the victory to Pakatan. We all feel very precious about what we have achieved and we will remain vigilant. And we will not be cowed into silence.

Today, we live in hope and optimism that all good things are possible in this new Malaysia. Salam Malaysia Baru, my beloved.