Saturday, December 27, 2008

Enter Najib, with baggage

Nov 6th 2008 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition

A new leader mired in accusations

ONE could certainly say that Najib Razak was born to be Malaysian prime minister. He is the son of Abdul Razak, the second man to hold that job following independence from Britain, and the nephew of his successor, Hussein Onn. Elected to parliament aged 23, on his father’s death, he rose to become deputy to the present prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. However, Mr Najib, expected within months to become the country’s sixth post-independence leader, will enter under a cloud of allegations, including ones linking him to a murder case, all of which he categorically denies. But some Malaysians will be wondering if he is a fit person to lead them.

Facing a revitalised opposition, in an election earlier this year the governing coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lost the two-thirds majority it needs to change the constitution. Since then, the knives have been out for Mr Badawi. Despite his efforts to cling on he is being forced to quit next March. The contest to succeed him as party president, and thus prime minister, at first promised to be lively. But party officials, fearful of the challenge from the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim (a former UMNO deputy leader), chose to hang together rather than hang separately. By November 2nd Mr Najib had won enough nominations to block his only rival, Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister, from getting on the ballot-paper. The quizzical Mr Najib (left)

Like Mr Badawi before him, Mr Najib comes to the job promising reforms, including of the system of preference for members of the ethnic-Malay majority for state contracts and jobs. Mr Badawi achieved little, though he allowed a bit more freedom of expression than had his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad. Expectations for Mr Najib are lower still. It is possible, notes Edmund Gomez, a political scientist, that he will use the worsening economic outlook as a pretext for reverting to Mahathir-style repression.

Mr Anwar has failed to carry out his threat to topple the government through a mass defection of parliamentarians. Even so, there is a palpable fin de régime air around UMNO. Mr Badawi, Mr Mahathir and other leaders are publicly lamenting how corruption and cronyism are rife in the party. But his opponents say Mr Najib is hardly the man to restore confidence. In the latest scandal to which they are linking him, the defence ministry (which he oversaw until recently) has deferred a big order for helicopters following questions about their high price. A parliamentary committee this week cleared the government of wrongdoing, but admitted not investigating whether “commissions” were paid.

In an earlier case, a company the opposition claimed was linked to Razak Baginda, an adviser to Mr Najib, was paid juicy fees for services provided over a contract for the purchase of French submarines. A Mongolian woman, said to have worked as a translator in the negotiations, was shot dead and her corpse destroyed with explosives in 2006. Mr Razak was put on trial over her killing, along with two policemen. The case has dragged on for months and seen various odd goings-on, including changes of judge, prosecutors and defence lawyers at the start of the trial. A private detective signed a statutory declaration implicating Mr Najib, retracted it the next day, saying it had been made under duress. Calls by the victim’s family for Mr Najib to testify were rejected. On October 31st the judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to make a prima facie case against Mr Razak.

The policemen’s trial will continue. A blogger who linked Mr Najib's wife to the case is on trial for criminal libel. None of this, however, seems likely to interfere with Mr Najib’s accession to the prime minister’s job. A bigger threat may yet emerge from the resurgent opposition and Mr Anwar, who nurtures a long-thwarted ambition to take the job himself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2009

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To All Readers, Visitors and Friends all over the world, I wish all of you and your family a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and Happy New year 2009.

For some 2008 will have been their best year and for others not so good. Either way you need to take a break every now and then and this is a great time to do it.

Thank you for all your support this year. I appreciate every comment and all the feedback that I get. Without you there would be no blog.

May 2009 be your best year ever.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chinese executive guilty of fraud

Big News
Thursday 18th December, 2008

A former executive with China World Trade has pleaded guilty in a US federal court on fraud charges, resulting from an e-mail stock manipulation scheme.

How Wai John Hui has pleaded guilty to sending tens of millions of e-mails that promoted obscure stocks, in an effort to inflate the value of stocks he owned.

The spam-for-profits scheme was instigated by How on behalf of Chinese companies

How is a resident of Hong Kong and Canada.

Lack of honesty at root of financial crisis

Editorial - Arab News
Thursday 18th December, 2008

The $50 billion investment fraud to which the respected New York financier and former NASDAQ Chairman Bernard L. Madoff has allegedly confessed, may prove to be the paradigm for all that has gone wrong with the international financial system.

It points up the greed, incompetence and woeful wishful thinking that have all combined to produce economic meltdown and plunge the world into recession.

Most staggering is the stupidity of both regulators and professional investors in failing to spot that for at least a decade, at the heart of his hedge fund operations, Madoff was running a pyramid scheme. This relied on new investment funds to pay out market-beating returns to existing investors. Madoff’s refusal to explain his fund management strategy and his dubious employment of an out-of-town hick accountant ought to have rung loud alarm bells. The Securities and Exchange Commission ought to have checked out the business as a matter of course, especially after a few wise individuals had reported their concerns to it. But they did not.

Top flight international banks, as well as professional investment managers, including some of the most prestigious fellow hedge funds ought, as a very basic operational procedure, to have conducted elementary due diligence on the Madoff fund before giving it a cent. But they did not. What, therefore, does this say about the quality of regulators and highly-paid investment professionals to whom has been entrusted the oversight and care of trillions of dollars, which very often come from the agglomerated pensions of millions of little people? What indeed does this say about the culture and morality of the international financial markets and the people who have run them? The answer unfortunately is not very much.

Current economic problems may rightly be ascribed to a lack of liquidity and of market confidence, but the root cause has been a fundamental lack of honesty of which Madoff is just one, albeit outstanding example. Indeed what actually is market confidence? Until now it has not in reality been a confidence that the markets were well run with participants of the highest probity. Rather it was confidence that the whole merry-go-round of inflated values, frenzied trading in everything from commodities to spurious “Special Investment Vehicles” underpinned by ever-more ballooning credit, would carry on spinning.

That banks, companies and investment funds no longer trust each other with their remaining cash, perhaps evidences the fact that many of them know just how badly they themselves have behaved in the mad markets that crashed this summer. Madoff’s rotten pyramid of phony value could, therefore, be seen as not far removed from what has happened throughout the financial markets. There is no viable alternative to capitalism for the allocation of funds to produce increased value and prosperity. But there are certainly far better ways in which bankers, regulators and investment professionals can conduct themselves. Complaints that over-regulation will damage the markets should be ignored. We are where we are because what regulation that did exist failed to keep the markets honest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ripped off foreign clients ask why US allowed Madoff funds

Big News
Tuesday 16th December, 2008

US financial regulators have been castigated by foreign countries, whose financial experts have asked why they were unable to prevent an alleged 50-billion-dollar fraud scheme by Wall Street player Bernard Madoff (pic. left).

Spain's stock market regulator said investment funds in the country had nearly US$150 million exposure to funds from Madoff Investment Securities.

Spanish newspaper El Pais pointedly said the supposed meticulous supervision by the US financial watchdog had failed in the task of preventing massive fraud.

British investment consultants have referred to the financial scandal as the unacceptable face of capitalism.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet (pic. left), who this week became France's financial markets watchdog, cited three previous crises which the US had failed to see coming: the 1998 collapse of US hedge fund managers LTCM; the 2001 false-accounting scandal involving energy giant Enron; and the collapse in September of the Lehman Brothers bank.

On Monday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (pic. right), director general of the International Monetary Fund, expressed concern over the failure of US regulators to spot warning signs at Madoff's firm.

Bernard Madoff, 70, was arrested last week after allegedly confessing to defrauding 50 billion dollars by secretly using money from new investors to pay interest to other investors.

The alleged fraud has been likened to a pyramid scheme.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dr CHANDRA MUZAFFAR: Ways to understand the other

by Dr Chandra Muzaffar
NST - Sunday, 14 December 2008 14:31

What should be clearly understood by all is that as a result of the extraordinarily generous conferment of citizenship upon a million Chinese and Indians on the eve of Merdeka, the political landscape changed drastically.

IF the ethnic temperature in the country has increased in the last few months, it is partly because few of us bother to explain to our own community the concerns of the "ethnic other".

If the influential stratum in each community makes a sincere attempt to understand and empathise with the other, it may be possible to reduce mutual distrust and forge better inter-ethnic ties.

Chinese and Indian Malaysians who have some knowledge of the ethnic situation in the country and command some moral authority should try to convey the following seven-point message to their communities.

One, the Malaysia that we know today did not emerge suddenly from the ocean after the vast majority of Chinese, Indians and other non-Malays decided to settle down permanently in the country at the end of World War 2.

This nation has a history that has shaped the present as it will mould the future.
The Malay rulers who were at the apex of sultanates that existed in one form or another for hundreds of years embody that history.

So does the Malay language, the lingua franca of the archipelago since time immemorial, which endows the region -- the whole of Nusantara -- with its cultural identity.

Islam is not just the religion of the Malays but was also the basis of law and administration in the region's pre-colonial kingdoms.

The sultans, the Malay language and Islam, as many non-Malays know, are three vital pillars of the nation that are integral to the Malaysian Constitution. They are crucial ingredients in the collective consciousness of the Malays and help to define the character and identity of the nation.

Two, contrary to a view expressed in some circles, the formation of Malaysia in 1963 did not in any way nullify the simple historical truth that the nation had evolved from a Malay polity.

In fact, amendments to the 1957 Constitution provide the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with the authority to appoint governors to Sabah and Sarawak while Article 3(3) makes him the head of Islam in those two states.

Malay, needless to say, is also the sole official language of Sabah and Sarawak. More significantly, like the Malays, the natives of the two states are also recognised in the Constitution as indigenous people or Bumiputeras.

Three, logically, indigenous Malay kingdoms of the pre-colonial period should have evolved into a Malay nation at the time of Merdeka. This did not happen mainly because the British colonial administration which had facilitated the huge influx of Chinese and Indian migrants into the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries changed its policy immediately after World War 2 and insisted that Chinese and Indians be granted citizenship.

Why there was a change in policy and why the Malay rulers and the Umno political elite, who were at the helm of the Merdeka movement, acquiesced with the British are beyond the scope of this article.

What should be clearly understood by all is that as a result of the extraordinarily generous conferment of citizenship upon a million Chinese and Indians on the eve of Merdeka, the political landscape changed drastically.

To illustrate this point, in the 1955 election to the partially elected federal legislature, only two out of the 52 seats had a Chinese majority. But in the 1959 parliamentary election, when the number of seats was doubled to 104, Chinese majority seats increased to 39.

By sharing their land with the non-Malays, a people who through the normal course of events should have formed their own Malay nation-state became a community among communities.

The Malays had made a significant concession on the identity of the nation. It is this concession, almost unprecedented and unparalleled in the annals of nation-states, which leading Malay scholars and writers have described as a "huge sacrifice".

It is a sacrifice that has seldom been appreciated by the Chinese and Indian communities.

Four, viewed against this backdrop, the accommodation of the Chinese and Tamil languages in the nation's life is also without precedent.

There is hardly any other society in the world that allows the mother tongue of its non-indigenous communities to be used as a medium of instruction in the national school system. Chinese and Tamil are also part of the official information and broadcasting system.

These unique features of the Malaysian nation have not won accolades from the champions of these two languages.

Five, if non-Malays acknowledge the foundation of this nation and the remarkable accommodation of their languages, cultures and political rights, they would have no problem accepting Malays as the nucleus of the national political leadership. And indeed, in the last 51 years the moral legitimacy of this Malay nucleus has never really been questioned by the non-Malay masses.

It should be distinguished from ideas such as Ketuanan Melayu which has been erroneously translated as "Malay supremacy" and has no basis in the Constitution.

Six, again it is because of the unique circumstances surrounding the emergence of the Malaysian nation that the special position of the Malays and other indigenous communities has been entrenched in the Constitution.

The community that agreed to the accommodation of the non-Malays was an economically disadvantaged community in 1957 with 64 per cent living below the poverty line.

This is why "special position" was conceived at the outset as an affirmative action policy applicable to specific sectors of society. Whatever the abuses, the policy has succeeded to a great extent in transforming the socio-economic status of the Malays.

Seven, nonetheless, since Malays and other indigenous communities continue to lag behind in business, there should be a concerted, organised endeavour on the part of outfits such as the Chinese Chambers of Commerce to provide meaningful assistance to the former to enable them to establish sustainable enterprises.

While it is true that a lot will depend upon the Bumiputera entrepreneurs themselves, it is unfortunate that strengthening their position in commerce and industry has never been part of the agenda of what is undeniably an eminently successful business community.

Just as non-Malays should show some understanding of the Malay position, so Malays with moral weight should try to develop empathy within their community for the legitimate concerns of their non-Malay co-citizens.

Malay empathy could express itself in relation to the following seven issues.

One, Malays should understand that while a big segment of the Chinese and the majority of the Indians served the interests of the colonial economy, a lot of them were also marginalised and exploited by the colonial power structure.

The Indian poor in particular in the plantations and in the public works sector were exploited mercilessly and subjected to various indignities.

Like the Malays who were robbed of their land, the Chinese and Indians were also victims of British colonialism. They shared a common bond of pain and suffering that most of them were not even aware of.

Two, after three or four generations of domicile, non-Malay citizens in present-day Malaysia want to be accepted as equal partners in the building of the nation.

In their quest for equality and justice, they are no different from the descendants of other immigrants, such as Bangladeshis or Pakistanis who had settled down in Britain decades ago and who today want to be treated like any other indigenous British citizen.

It is a legitimate aspiration which the Malaysian Constitution takes cognizance of. Article 8 not only states that "all persons are equal before the law" but also prohibits discrimination, "except as expressly authorised" by the Constitution.

Three, in this regard, the application of the special position of the Malays and other indigenous communities does not need to violate the principles of equality and justice if law and policy are aimed solely at helping the needy and the deserving, and, if at the same time, the concept of "the legitimate interests of other communities" in the Constitution is also directed towards assisting the needy and the deserving among the Chinese, the Indians and other non-Bumiputeras.

In other words, it is possible within the framework of the existing Constitution to be fair and just to everyone regardless of ethnicity.

Such an approach, the Malays can rest assured, will not jeopardise their well-being.

On the contrary, if one endeavours to be just and fair to everyone, it would be easier to curb the abuse of the special position by the rich and powerful which has been detrimental to the interests of poor and powerless Bumiputeras.

Four, being just and fair to everyone also means ensuring that non-Malay, non-Muslim Bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak are provided ample opportunities for progress and advancement qua Bumiputeras in government, politics and the economy.

More specifically, their mobility should be accelerated in the federal, civil and public services and also in the police and the military. There have been times when the state's commitment to improving their status and their well-being has not been as strong as it should be.

Five, as with the non-Muslim Bumiputeras, the scope for emplacement and promotion for non-Bumiputeras in the bureaucracy should also improve.

The present government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has already begun to take concrete measures in this direction. In the police and the military, too, there are some attempts to encourage non-Bumiputeras to play more prominent roles.

Six, as with their role in public institutions, non-Malays have some legitimate grievances about the lack of recognition of their contributions to the development of literature and the arts.

Malay leaders and Malay society as a whole should be more forthcoming in rewarding the accomplishments of these non-Malay writers, artists and singers, especially when their medium of expression is Bahasa Malaysia, the language of the land.

Seven, Malays as Muslims should appreciate that integrating non-Malays into the public service and the nation's cultural milieu and ensuring that justice is done to the non-Muslims who live in peace and harmony with Muslims in no way undermines Islamic ethics.

Indeed, the Islamic perspective on humanity as embodied in the Quran is uncompromisingly universal and inclusive.

When Islamic civilisation was at its pinnacle, it was this all-embracing, integral outlook that prevailed, which is why ideas and individuals from so many different religious and cultural backgrounds contributed to its triumph.

Malays have nothing to fear from a universal, inclusive approach to society and its challenges, especially since the socio-economic position of the community is bound to get stronger over time while the nation's demographic trend will witness an even more pronounced shift towards the community in the coming decades.

For Malays to understand the non-Malay situation and vice-versa and for each to communicate their ideas to their respective community, the media has a critical role to play.

It is perhaps the only channel through which a balanced perspective on our ethnic problems and their solutions can grow and develop.

One hopes that the media realises how important its role is in promoting inter-ethnic understanding.

Indeed, understanding the other is one of the vital prerequisites for our survival and success as a nation.

About the Author: Dr Chandra Muzaffar is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Can Najib transform Malaysia’s and Umno’s fortunes?

DEC 6 — Throughout the latter half of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s period in power, the issue of leadership had been heatedly discussed. The general consensus seemed to be that he was a nice man, but one who had waded in way beyond his depth.

Now, as he prepares to leave the stage, the focus moves to the premier-in-waiting, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, and many worry about what type of leadership this aristocrat will provide.

What differentiates these two from Malaysia’s earlier four prime ministers is that they are too young to be among those fired up by the wish to end colonialism, and consumed by the idea of national independence.

They belong to another generation in the nation-building process, and are the grateful inheritors of the apparatus that the first generation of leaders put into place.

Their climb to power started half-way up the ladder. This is a common enough phenomenon in the life of nations. The second or third generation cannot be expected to be as tough, hungry or desperate as the first was.

Najib has denied that he will be returning to the authoritarian style of the fourth premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At the same time, despite having been Abdullah’s deputy for almost five years, he cannot merely adopt his predecessor’s slow-burning and ineffectual style of system-tweaking reform.

It is often claimed that a country gets the type of leader it deserves. But of course, the issue is much more complicated than that.

What type of leader arises or is needed at any particular time depends on what needs doing, and on the type of interaction the leader manages to build with those he intends to lead, or represent.

It is this relationship that decides the fate of a nation — the adaptability of those who rise to become its leaders, the challenges that are most pressing for the times, and the ease — or lack of ease — with which followers comply.

It is a truism that with very few exceptions, all societies put into place a mechanism that holds good promise of picking talents as future leaders and preparing them to perpetuate the system.

This role of generating leadership material may be undertaken by a wide variety of institutions such as business schools, the school system in general, as well as universities and colleges — even foreign ones — and also political parties, among others.

The United States has its Ivy League colleges, the French have the École Normale Supérieure and the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (Insead), the British have Oxbridge, Eton and the London School of Economics, and others.

Highly politicised countries tend to generate leaders through their major political parties. This can be done either through the internal education (or indoctrination) of promising members or in conjunction with some elaborate screening process in the nation’s school system.

In the case of Malaysia, the dominance that Umno and its allies in the Barisan Nasional have exercised over the country since 1957 has meant that anyone wishing to become a future leader has had to be part of this machinery.

Seldom is anyone brought in from the outside to be placed in a prominent position. One exception was of course Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whom Dr Mahathir brought in from outside Umno to reverse the party’s loss of Muslim support. The leadership material that Umno possessed up to that point was then slowly eradicated, leaving only Dr Mahathir and Anwar in the end.

Dr Mahathir, being the first non-aristocrat to become prime minister, was a self-made leader who rose to power by firing up the imagination of the Malay community.

Anwar was also a self-made leader who excelled at exciting the crowd with his rhetoric, and at organising mass movements.

Once Anwar was pushed out in 1998, and once Dr Mahathir had resigned in 2003, Malaysia entered a new period of leadership.

The country awaited a new type of leader to reform the system and to secure good governance after the excesses of the Mahathir period.

Not only are these men and women, whose convictions were forged in the fight against colonialism gone, the citizenry has become more sophisticated. Malaysians are now more educated, more widely-read, more self- assured, more global in their outlook, and less prone to swallow propaganda wholesale.

The challenges of the times have gone beyond the mere avoidance of inter-ethnic violence and the mere improvement of material standards. Politics of division based on ethnicity and religion no longer has the powerful effect that it used to have.

Such an electorate wished for a new type of leader and a new type of politics.

It was clear from the electoral successes he achieved in March 2004 that Abdullah had promised exactly the right things to the public. But he let the moment slip, and having failed to reform and repair the system, he fell from grace in March — in the eyes of the electorate and of his party.

Few observers believe that Najib is up to the job that Abdullah failed to carry out, and after suffering the failure of the Abdullah period, there is little wish for another such disappointment.

That is Najib’s big challenge. He has to win popular support as quickly as possible because he is faced with a disillusioned and impatient electorate.

His allies are insecure, at his heels snaps an opposition led by a wounded but nevertheless formidable leader in Anwar Ibrahim.

The crisis of leadership that a Malaysia governed by an uninspired Umno-led Barisan Nasional is suffering today is evidenced by the present show of strength from the sultans, the pre-Umno traditional Malay leaders. Where a modern democracy is concerned, only when a power vacuum exists do monarchs get a chance — or feel called upon — to provide moral leadership. — TODAYonline

Note: The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Dr M mocks Abdullah’s vow on reforms

Singapore, December 6, 2008

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has poured scorn on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's promises to push through reform before he steps down in March next year.

Dr Mahathir, a withering critic of Abdullah for over two years, first listed all the initiatives that Abdullah had promised back in 2004 and, later on, in 2008, and then proceeded to mock the premier's fond, if wistful, hope that he would achieve much of his promises before next March.

“It is now December 2008,” Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog yesterday. “So far we have seen no progress at all in any of these glorious initiatives. Instead, the prime minister is busy visiting foreign countries with his family in the beautiful, big and new Airbus A320.” In fairness, the Bill to set up a new Anti-Corruption Commission is being tabled in Parliament by Abdullah next Wednesday.

It does not seem to have impressed Dr Mahathir one bit. “After failing to implement any of the promises made in the 2004 or 2008 elections, it looks like nothing is being done either with regard to the promise to carry out a variety of so-called reforms as mentioned in the press statement on why the PM would step down in March 2009 — three months after the scheduled Umno General Assembly,” continued the former premier.

“But the visits to foreign countries to sign contracts which were not mentioned in the statement are being assiduously carried out,” Dr Mahathir noted sardonically. “I wonder why.”

He then claimed that the premier was now busy campaigning for his candidates in polls next March in Umno, the dominant political party over which Abdullah presides.

“(Deputy Prime Minister) Najib (Razak) is going to be surrounded by Abdullah's people and through these people Abdullah will control the government of Najib,” Dr Mahathir wrote.

“Najib has already abandoned (International Trade Minister) Muhyiddin (Yassin), the fierce critic of Abdullah,” claimed Dr Mahathir. “He does not want to incur the displeasure of his boss. Would he refuse to appoint Abdullah's nominees? Would he dare go against them?”

It isn't clear why Dr Mahathir, 82, continues to inveigh against his hand-picked successor given that Abdullah is widely seen as a lame duck with no real power to influence the outcome of the Umno elections.

What's clear is that Dr Mahathir does not trust Abdullah. Last week, he even claimed that Abdullah was still interested in staying on as premier even though he would no longer be Umno president, hinting that Abdullah could resort to other means to stay in power.

“Looking at the Umno leaders and members, it is possible for this to happen,” said Dr Mahathir. “They will not go against Abdullah as they are so comfortable with his leadership and certain pleasures that they have received from him.” — Business Times Singapore

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zaid: Pak Lah a nice man

" No, I think Pak Lah is a nice man. He wouldn’t sack me on his own [...] but then Pak Lah couldn’t even maintain himself..." he said.

Reform of Umno doubtful, says sacked ex-minister

Sacked Umno member and former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim is doubtful if the ruling party is capable of reform as pledged following its dismal showing in the March 8 polls.

Zaid, who was given the boot on Tuesday for having close ties with the opposition, lamented that some leaders in Umno could not accept his open-minded approaches and views.

During a press conference in Petaling Jaya today, the former minister was asked if Umno is capable of reforms, to which he replied: "I doubt they (the leaders) can."

"But Umno will have a new leader in March... I may be wrong," he added in reference to the transition of power plan which will see Najib Abdul Razak succeeding Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as number one.

On the same note, Zaid stressed that his sacking underscored the fact that Umno leaders were not open to the ideas of change which he advocated.

"The criticisms against me were because they cannot accept these ideas of change. (Otherwise) why are they so angry with me? What have I done? They can't accept these changes," he said.

Among others, he said, certain party leaders could not accept his stand on wanting to make the Malays more independent.

These party leaders, he added, considered such a view as a 'betrayal' of the Malay race.

'Stop belittling me'

Although he did not name the leaders, Zaid, when responding to another question, called on Umno vice-president Muhyiddin Yassin, information chief Muhammad Muhd Taib and supreme council member Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz to stop ‘belittling’ him.

"Umno leaders like Nazri, Muhyiddin, Mat Taib (Muhammad) and others always made fun of me and said all sort of things. I think they should concentrate on doing their work and resolve the country’s problems.

"Like they said, since I am a nobody, there is no need for them to belittle me all the time, focus on your work," he added.

Zaid said his attempt to articulate a new vision for the party which was less communal had been misconstrued as being ‘rebellious’.

He also warned that if Umno did not adopt a more inclusive approach, race relations in this country would be further affected.

"Umno has become more etno-centric, more communitarian but that is not our role. Umno’s role is to be the provider for everyone [...] that is where we differ," he said.

'Pak Lah a nice man'

Zaid also disagreed when asked if his sacking was a move by Abdullah to boost his popularity in the party.

No, I think Pak Lah is a nice man. He wouldn’t sack me on his own [...] but then Pak Lah couldn’t even maintain himself..." he said.

Zaid's resignation from his ministerial post in September and his sacking this week render a blow to the Abdullah administration.

The 58-year politician had left a successful legal practice to serve in Abdullah’s government in March and his appointment was lauded as a sign of the premier’s resolution to push for reforms.

Zaid was entrusted with the task of reforming the judiciary, one of the major reforms that was promised by Abdullah.

Nevertheless, it was a bumpy road for Zaid during his short tenure in government after he was dealt with internal criticisms on several counts such as the setting up of the judicial appointment commission and the issue of apologising to six affected judges in the 1988 judicial crisis.

He finally resigned in protest over the use of the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, against an opposition politician, a blogger and a journalist -

Monday, December 1, 2008

Anwar's new promise

By Elizabeth Looi and Ng Boon Hooi,
1 Dec 08 : 9.00AM

PKR leaders shaking hands with delegates

FOR all intents and purposes, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is not a man who gives up easily.

At Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)'s just-concluded national congress, he failed to adequately explain why Pakatan Rakyat did not manage to take over the federal government by 16 Sept as repeatedly promised. The failure to fulfil one promise, however, didn't stop the party advisor from setting new goals for the opposition.

The new goal is the takeover of the Sarawak government by the time the state holds its next elections, latest by 2011.

That was the topic that gripped the three-day congress, which ended on 30 Nov, at Stadium Malawati Shah Alam where the largest opposition party gathered for the first time since its spectacular victory in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Although PKR has never been popular in East Malaysia, Anwar, who is also opposition leader, was confident about winning the state elections with the support of the other Pakatan Rakyat members, PAS and DAP.

"I will make sure that all of PKR's wakil rakyat and members start going to Sarawak next month to do their groundwork," he said during his public speech on 29 Nov, to loud cheers and applause.

Vice-president Azmin Ali also told reporters the party planned to organise a big rally in Miri on 14 Dec.

But is this yet another attempt to whip up the people's imagination for more change, as 16 Sept seemed to be, or is Anwar's new goal realistic?


Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has predictably scoffed at Anwar's declaration.

He's not the only one who is sceptical. Political analyst Ong Kian Ming says PKR is being over-ambitious and they should instead start with trying to break Barisan Nasional's two-thirds majority in Sarawak.

"I don't think they can win the state. They will win between 25% and 40% of seats. That will give them some headway and it will be significant," he says in an e-mail interview.

He adds that Pakatan Rakyat should first overcome various challenges before trying to rule the state. Among these are the disagreement between PKR and DAP in Sarawak, and whether PKR is able to attract eligible Dayak leaders for the elections.

Sarawak has an unstable political landscape (pic by Lainie Yeoh)

"Can they also overcome the resource imbalance in Sarawak which, because of its relative poverty and inaccessibility, makes more of a difference than in the peninsular?" asks Ong.

Ong opines that Taib, who has been chief minister since 1981 and hounded by allegations of corruption, could be one of the factors that swings the peoples' votes.

"I don't think Sarawakians are happy with him but Sarawak is not the same as the US. You can shift the popular vote by 5% and win the presidency in the US but in Sarawak, you can shift the popular vote by 5% and win only 10 state seats more," Ong explains.

He also points out that the Dayaks themselves are split, resulting in an unstable political landscape.

Longing for change

Political analyst Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff, however, believes that the people have been longing for change and are ready for a new government.

He is confident that Pakatan Rakyat can win the state elections because of anti-Taib sentiments. Mohammad Agus argues that in the past, the Malays continued to vote for Taib, despite his perceived reputation, because they did not have any other Muslim leader to choose from.

"Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have lost their credibility at the federal as well as state level, and Pakatan Rakyat now seems irresistible to the people," he says, adding that now was the best time for Anwar to bring changes to Sarawak.

The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia associate professor adds, however, that the biggest challenge for Pakatan Rakyat and PKR is to convince the Dayak and Chinese voters who make up the majority of the 2.5 million population.

Sarawak PKR deputy liaison chairperson Nicholas Anggat Bawin (pic. left) agrees that Sarawakians are desperate for change. "The 8 March political tsunami in the peninsular has reached Sarawak. It is a big inspiration for us that change is possible."

Nicholas, who is former Sarawak National Party vice-president and deputy youth leader, adds that the Dayaks are tired of losing their rights, especially their land rights.

Unfulfilled promise

Notwithstanding PKR's chances of winning in Sarawak, the question still needs to be asked: Is this yet another tactic to enhance PKR's public image and support, and for Pakatan Rakyat to keep the BN on its toes? The promise that was 16 Sept seemed to be just that, especially since no credible explanation has been forthcoming about why 16 Sept didn't result in a change in government.

Indeed, Pakatan Rakyat is already being pressured by civil society to live up to its promises, instead, it seems, of offering new ones. In a 28 Nov joint statement, 20 civil society organisations called on the loose opposition coalition to expeditiously form a shadow cabinet to prove that it was ready to and capable of taking over the federal government.

"Nearly nine months after the March elections, Pakatan Rakyat which vowed to take over federal executive power via crossover of BN parliamentarians must now be prepared to show that they are not only interested to govern, but are able to do so," the joint statement said.

"Positioning himself as the prime-minister-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim must present his team of ministers-in-waiting not later than his rival (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak announces his line-up in March (2009).

"(A) shadow cabinet is a common feature in Westminster democracies as it indicates the opposition's readiness to take over governing if the incumbent government is defeated in a parliamentary no-confidence vote or an election," the statement added.

Delegates formed a long queue to share a few words with PKR's top leaders

Among others, the civil society groups said having a shadow cabinet would consolidate the position of Pakatan Rakyat component parties on policies at a time when the parties have been publicly contradicting themselves. Such contradictions have occurred over issues such as the proposed 50% housing quota for bumiputeras in Kedah; the appointment of a Chinese Malaysian woman to head the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS); and the sale of alcohol in Selangor.

But PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali disagrees that there is a lack of effort on their part to prepare to take over.

"Instead of a shadow cabinet, our parliamentarians have formed committees to check and balance the government," he tells The Nut Graph.

He says Malaysia has a different kind of democracy from Britain's, adding: "We do not have to necessarily follow everything in the Westminster democracy. Their political parties are Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, but our political parties are different."

Azmin adds that Pakatan Rakyat's committees cover most of the senior cabinet portfolios such as international trade and industry, and economy.

Plate will be full

Indeed, it seems unlikely that Pakatan Rakyat will form a shadow cabinet anytime soon to convince the rakyat that they are capable of fulfilling their takeover promise, especially in the absence of any evidence to suggest they can.

PKR leaders standing up for the party's song at the end of the congress

With an upcoming by-election in Kuala Terengganu, and now new hopes for Sarawak, taking over the federal government may not be the immediate priority, earlier promises notwithstanding.

PKR may have high hopes in Sarawak but it will be a tough fight considering that opposition parties have traditionally been weak in the East Malaysian states.

Still, hope springs eternal because Anwar, the politician, has demonstrated the ability to win despite all odds. So far, the 8 March election results hold him in good stead. But can he withstand emerging scepticism and growing cynicism if he offers yet another promise he is unable to deliver on?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

KT by-election a referendum on Najib, Anwar and Pas

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 - Get ready for a monster of a by-election in Kuala Terengganu.

The death of Deputy Education Minister and Barisan Nasional MP Datuk Razali Ismail has set the stage for an electoral contest which will not alter the overall position of power in Malaysia but is pregnant with meaning for all the major players of politics here.

# Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak:

By convention, the deputy prime minister heads the BN machinery during by-elections. But this will be no ordinary jaunt for Najib. The Opposition will turn the contest into a referendum for the country’s prime minister-in-waiting and there will be no place for him to hide from the insults and gloomy analyses if Pakatan Rakyat snares the parliamentary constituency seat.

Kuala Terengganu will be different from the last contest in Permatang Pauh for a sprinkling of reasons.

Reason 1: Unlike Permatang Pauh, this is a seat which has been held by BN for the last two elections, albeit tenuously. In 1999, at the peak of the fallout over the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from government, Pas candidate Dr Syed Azman Syed Nawawi thrashed BN’s Datuk Abu Bakar Daud by a yawning margin of 14.448 votes.

Four years later, the popular Razali was fielded as a candidate there and he regained the seat for the ruling coalition by 1,933 votes. He retained the Kuala Terengganu seat by 628 votes on March 8.

In short, except for 1999-2004, this seat has been owned by the BN. In contrast, Permatang Pauh has been Anwar’s stronghold and remained in the hands of his proxy when he was in jail or ineligible to contest.

Reason 2: When BN contested the by-election in Permatang Pauh in August, there was still uncertainty over Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi’s future as prime minister. Blame for Anwar’s stunning victory was laid at his feet with pundits and Umno politicians saying that the PM’s unpopularity on the ground and lack of leadership were reasons for the limp performance of the Umno machinery.

Well, Abdullah is on his way out and a defeat for BN in Kuala Terengganu, or even a victory by a smaller margin than 628 votes, will have to be borne by Najib alone.

This by-election will not be about Abdullah’s track record (that story is done and dusted). This contest will be a bellwether of Najib’s ability to galvanise the troops on the ground and convince the voters that he is the future of the country. If BN does not deliver in Kuala Terengganu, he will not be able to seek refuge behind Abdullah’s weaknesses. Not this time.

# Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim:

Despite the brave talk at the Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s congress and festival of rhetoric about taking over control of the Federal Government, the Opposition leader knows that there have been more question marks over his ability to keep Pakatan Rakyat together in the last month than at any time after March 8.

It is not just BN politicians or the mainstream media that have raised red flags over his statements. Even the foreign press - longtime supporters of his more open and inclusive agenda - are settling down to the belief that Anwar will have to play the role of Opposition leader till the next general election.

Anwar needs a strong showing in Kuala Terengganu to inject fresh belief and enthusiasm into a coalition that has yet to agree on a common platform and is in danger of self-destructing over ideological differences.

Still, the consummate political player knows that one victory could lift the mood in Pakatan Rakyat, reduce BN’s comfort zone in Parliament by another seat, and put BN and Najib on the defensive.

More importantly, a strong showing by the Pakatan Rakyat in Kuala Terengganu will convince Malaysians that reverses suffered by BN/Umno in March were not solely due to Indians and Chinese voting with their feet, but also the result of more discerning Malay voters, even in rural Malaysia.

Kuala Terengganu is a 90 per cent Malay constituency. On a more personal level, this by-election is a battle of Anwar versus Najib. The battle between the man who believes that he is destined to become the prime minister against the man who has the top job in his clutches.

# Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas):

Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Datuk Mustafa Ali and the powerful Terengganu faction of Pas have had a difficult time living down the loss of state to BN in 2004.

After just one term in office, they were booted out. And despite all the brave talk of wresting control of the state on March 8, spurred no doubt by infighting among Umno politicians in Terengganu, Hadi and his team still failed.

In the months following Election 2008, the Terengganu faction has had some difficulty exerting their influence on the party. They have had some serious reservations over Anwar’s tactics and have favoured a rapprochement with Umno. But they have had to yield to those in Pas who believe that it better to work with Anwar and the Democratic Action Party than with the “cruel and greedy’’ people of Umno.

Another defeat for Pas in Kuala Terengganu could end Datuk Mustafa Ali’s tenure as the election strategist of the party and blunt any offensive the Terengganu faction is planning to launch before next year’s party assembly.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Democracy Threatened at Bangkok International Airport

Written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Did the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have military help?

Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok has now been closed by fascist thugs from the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy, which is demanding that the elected government resign. This is despite the fact that the government has the backing of the majority of the Thai population and even the majority of Bangkok citizens.

PAD protesters at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.

This backing has been proven by repeated elections. The PAD wants a dictatorship to replace democracy because they deem that the majority of the Thai electorate are too ignorant to deserve the right to vote.

How did the PAD thugs manage to seize Bangkok International Airport? Airports are supposed to be high security areas. Thai airports are controlled by the Thai military. It is obvious that the Thai military, who staged an illegal coup in 2006, have quietly supported the PAD’s actions. It is obvious that the military is unwilling to provide basic security to air travelers and air crew. But they are happy to rake in huge salaries associated with their control of the Airports Authority. Foreign governments and airlines should reconsider whether the authorities in Thailand are willing to provide international standards of safety and security.

Back in early October, the PAD thugs surrounded parliament to prevent the Prime Minister from making a policy speech. When the police used tear gas to try to disperse the PAD, the police were roundly condemned by the Thai media and most middle-class intellectuals. It is no secret that the PAD are armed with guns, bombs, knives and wooden batons. They constantly break the law with impunity. Earlier Tuesday PAD thugs were filmed by Thai TV PBS, shooting at taxi drivers who were trying to defend their pro-democracy community radio station. The PAD thugs were holding up pictures of the king. Yesterday the PAD kicked and punched a senior policeman. The police are powerless to act.

The PAD is a royalist fascist mob which has powerful backing. Apart from the army, they are supported by the Queen, the so-called Democrat Party, the courts, the mainstream media and most university academics. What these people have in common is a total contempt for the Thai electorate who are poor. They are angry that the Thai people voted for a government that gave the poor universal health care and other benefits. They want to turn the clock back to a dictatorship which they call "the New Order".

They are hoping that the courts will now dissolve the ruling party and that an authoritarian "national government" will be set up.

It is clear that the PAD, the Military, the Democrat Party and the conservative establishment would rather see total chaos in Thailand rather than allow democracy to function. This is despite the fact that we face a serious economic crisis. Interestingly the anti-government groups are extreme neo-liberals with little grasp about how to deal with the economic crisis or how to stimulate the economy. Apart from opposing welfare, they have attacked Keynesian policies of the previous Thaksin government.

Where is the king in all this? Throughout the three year political crisis, the king has never attempted to diffuse the problem. Many Thais believe he supports the PAD, but it is more likely that the monarch has always been too weak to intervene in any crisis.

Those who support democracy and social justice in Thailand must condemn the PAD and those advocating a dictatorship. We must be with the pro-democracy Red Shirts, while refusing to support ex-PM Thaksin, who has a record of Human Rights abuses. I hope that all those friends of Thailand abroad will support all our efforts to defend Thai democracy and to defend those of us who may face arrest in the future.

Jr Giles Ji Ungpakorn is an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Transforming Umno

By N Shashi Kala
25 Nov 08 : 9.00AM

IT has been more than two weeks since the close of nominations for Umno supreme council posts. Every post, except the presidency and the Wanita deputy chief position, is being contested.

But as the candidates prepare to do battle for the hearts, and some would say pockets, of the 2,500 delegates at the 24 to 28 March 2009 Umno general assembly, the issue of reforming the party is sadly in danger of being sidelined.

The candidates include a sprinkling of new faces, but the majority are familiar names in the Umno echelon — holdovers from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's time as Umno president.

This has left some observers wondering if Umno is actually making any attempt to reform itself in the wake of the 8 March 2008 general election.

Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came under tremendous pressure to resign after the elections. After stonewalling for a period, he finally decided to exit via a transition of power agreement with his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, slated for March.

To that end, he is not defending his presidency, leaving Najib to win uncontested. But will the team that is headed for the polls help bring about much-needed rejuvenation within the party?

Reform prospects dim

Pulai Umno division head Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed tells The Nut Graph that the message sent out by the divisions on reform has been mixed.

"For the presidency, they accept the generational change as a result of the handover from Abdullah to Najib. For the deputy president's post, I think the membership didn't have a real choice between a younger candidate and an older one," says Nur Jazlan.

(The list of candidates for the Umno supreme council posts is available here.)

Nur Jazlan, who is the 42-year-old son of former Information Minister Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat, shocked many Umno members by offering to contest the deputy's post. The two-term Member of Parliament (MP) for Pulai in Johor was branded an upstart for daring to run for such a senior post.

He withdrew after failing to receive a single nomination, and bemoans the lack of new blood in the Umno hierarchy.

"The members like my message on rejuvenation but are not willing to carry it out. They like democracy within the party and would like to have a choice of leaders. But now they are stuck with the older set of leaders on offer," muses Nur Jazlan.

Political scientist Dr Joseph Liow, who is associate professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believes Umno is now going through a period of quick consolidation, with Najib coming into this from a position of strength. But he points out the prospects for reform are dim.

"After all Najib, (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin (Yassin, contesting for the deputy presidency), Datuk Mukhriz (Mahathir, contesting for Youth chief), Datuk Seri Shahrizat (Abdul Jalil, contesting for Umno Wanita chief), et al are all part of the old Umno system, and they have been a part of it for some time," he says.

Ongoing regeneration

But Nur Jazlan is more optimistic. He says that the process of reform is there, but slow.

"That's why I needed to shock the system [by announcing my intention to contest for the deputy presidency]. If I didn't do that, they (Umno) would not even start thinking about reform," he says.

The lack of impetus for the grassroots to opt for change is due to Umno's top-down power structure, says Nur Jazlan (right).

But he says he has faith in Najib's commitment to implement the big changes needed by the party after he takes over, "even if it means going against the entrenched interests within the party."

"I think Datuk Seri Najib realises that Umno must change quickly or it will be changed in the future," Nur Jazlan adds.

Umno member and Tambun MP Datuk Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah agrees with Nur Jazlan, explaining that regeneration within the party is ongoing.

"Sometimes, when people look at Umno, they only look at the supreme council; that is just one part of the whole party. We have got the Youth and Puteri wings," he says.

He notes that the formation of Puteri in 2001 is one example of the regeneration process, which can also be seen in the new faces contesting for the vice-presidency.

"For the deputy president post, the divisions have gone for people with experience and exposure. But for the vice-presidency, the divisions are looking at the future; to future leaders who can assume greater responsibility," Husni says. The deputy finance minister is one of 68 candidates vying for a supreme council seat.

But would the new guard be as receptive to reform as Abdullah was? Or will Abdullah's departure herald an end to such thoughts, and a return to business-as-usual within Umno?

Not dead

Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a political scientist with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, thinks the reform agenda in Umno is not dead.

"The fact that Abdullah is not running for the president's post doesn't mean his plans will be thrown out. In fact, many Umno leaders support his plan, but they don't think he is firm enough to implement them," he tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.

Liow, on the other hand, doesn't expect Abdullah loyalists to do well in the coming party elections. He says Abdullah's son-in-law and current Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin, (left) especially, is fighting for his political life.

"Whether he is defeated [for the Youth chief post] or not would be an indication of the fate of Abdullah's legacy," says Liow.

But Husni's view is that Abdullah's legacy is assured as Najib has openly declared he will continue with his predecessor's policies.

"The future of the policies will be highly dependent on who is the leader. And the leader, Najib, has already said he will continue with the substance. On those grounds, I believe the policies that Pak Lah has put into place will continue into the future," he says.

Mahathir's return?

Despite perceptions that he is Mahathir's proxy, Liow believes Najib will be his own man.

Muhyiddin Yassin (right), who is contesting for the deputy presidency "I certainly do see Mahathir playing an active role. That said, Najib and Muhyiddin, and Mukhriz for that matter if he wins, will want to distance themselves from obvious alignment with the Tun.

"Overall, I'm not sure if it would be a wholesale return to Mahathirism, though we will see glimpses of it. After all, Najib matured basically under that system," Liow concludes.

Shamsul agrees, saying Umno cannot go back to its old ways, and especially not Mahathir's way, which is viewed by many within the party as divisive.

With four months left to go before the elections, the battle lines are now being drawn. The jostling for support will intensify, leading to worry that the whole exercise could leave Umno even more divided than it presently is.

But Husni doesn't fear the worst. He believes competition within the party is healthy.

"Competition will create a competitive spirit. And a competitive spirit in itself will enhance the strength of the leaders and the party."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ketuanan Melayu rebutted

By Shanon Shah
24 Nov 08 : 9.00AM

"IF you live in Malaysia, you cannot have Ketuanan Melayu. The word 'ketuanan' is alienating. Malaysia has Eurasians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians, and so on. If anyone deserves to be called the 'tuan' of this land, it's the Orang Asli."

Most Malaysians would be forgiven for thinking that it was a non-Malay Malaysian politician speaking out against Ketuanan Melayu. But these sentiments were articulated by Nur Farina Noor Hashim, the People's Progressive Party (PPP) Puteri bureau head.

"I just had no interest to join Umno," Farina, who joined PPP in 2004, tells The Nut Graph. PPP is a component party of the Barisan Nasional (BN), of which Umno is the dominant party.

Farina is, of course, referring to the position taken by Umno leaders that suggests ketuanan Melayu is synonymous with Malay rights, and that Malay rights are under threat. Or rather, any questioning of ketuanan Melayu is tantamount to threatening the Malay race.

The consistent message from these Umno leaders of late seems to be that only Umno is capable of defending the Malays. Or that Umno is the Malay race. And their currency is ketuanan Melayu.

Farina is not the only Malay Malaysian politician to view with some amount of circumspection Umno's position as defender of the Malays and their supremacy.

"I love Malays and I love Malaysia," says Gerakan central committee member Dr Asharuddin Ahmad. "But this country cannot survive without non-Malays. We are all Malaysians. The future of Malaysia lies with multiracial parties," he tells The Nut Graph.

Interestingly, Asharuddin (photo right) is a former Umno member. He joined Umno in 1988, but left to join Gerakan 10 years later. He says he has been branded a traitor to Malay Malaysians, but asserts that joining Gerakan does not make him "any less Malay or more Malay".

"Umno's struggle is not wrong, but I prefer Gerakan's multiracial approach," Asharuddin says.

"Ketuanan" alienates

Umno leaders' defensiveness around the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric is not new. Their recent rancour in attacking dissenters within the BN, such as former Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe, was therefore alarming yet unsurprising.

The question, however, is whether Malay Malaysian politicians have a future outside of Umno, especially if they want to remain within the BN.

In that sense, the case of Gerakan's Asharuddin is interesting, having crossed over from a party that champions ketuanan Melayu to a multiracial one.

But Asharuddin is not alone. Another ex-Umno member who jumped ship to join a multiracial BN component party is Datuk Nik Sapeia Nik Yusof from PPP.

Nik Sapeia was invited by party president Datuk Dr M Kayveas to join, even though he is still facing court proceedings for the charge of attacking former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2006. Nik Sapeia is now the party's Kelantan chief.

"Before I came along, nobody believed PPP had any supporters in Kelantan," Nik Sapeia tells The Nut Graph. "Now in Kelantan, every time I organise an event I get thousands of people attending and supporting it. The Kelantanese are ready and they want change to happen in the political scenario here."

He says the Kelantanese are increasingly seeing that PPP will bring about this much-needed change.

Asharuddin and Nik Sapeia are undoubtedly minorities among the BN's multiracial component parties. However, they are slowly coming out of the woodwork, especially since the BN's unprecedented losses in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Farina (photo right) feels that Umno's outbursts and threats will only backfire in the long run.

"Malaysians are very open-minded and intelligent now," she says. "Our politicians must be on par with the rakyat's intelligence, because it's the rakyat who want change and will eventually change this country."

Multiracial politics

The voices of these non-Umno Malay Malaysians within the BN join those in the Pakatan Rakyat that have also been upping the ante against Umno's ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

As part of its election campaign, PAS launched its "PAS for all" tagline. The Islamist party also continues to aggressively recruit non-Muslim support via Kelab Penyokong PAS.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leaders, such as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dr Syed Husin Ali, have been promoting "ketuanan rakyat" instead of "ketuanan Melayu". And the DAP also scored a coup when it recruited Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim as the party's vice-chairperson. He was formerly vice-chairperson of Transparency International's board of directors.

The Pakatan Rakyat parties are therefore, in varying degrees, grappling with their respective multiracial futures. The previously monoreligious, monoracial PAS is trying to appeal to a wider section of Malaysians. In an interview in the November 2008 issue of Off the Edge, even party spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said, "If there is a Chinese person in Kelantan who is good, pious and clean, I will campaign for him to become Chief Minister. As long as he is qualified, as long as he is a Muslim, I don't care what ethnic background he comes from."

The Chinese-dominated DAP is trying to increase its appeal to non-Chinese Malaysians, specifically Malay Malaysians. And high-level Malay Malaysian leaders in PKR are trying to consolidate the party's tentative multiracialism.

A little-known fact is that two other opposition parties, albeit non-Pakatan Rakyat members, are multiracial and led by Malay Malaysians. They, too, are vocal in their opposition to the Ketuanan Melayu rhetoric.

Historical miscalculations

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) national chairperson Dr Nasir Hashim (photo right) says Umno's racial outbursts are rooted in historical miscalculations.

"We made a mistake, even after Merdeka, when we were emerging as a nation. We should have talked about helping the poor among all races and not just zero in on one race," he tells The Nut Graph.

Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) president Hassan Karim concurs. He tells The Nut Graph: "The NEP (New Economic Policy), being capitalist and race-based, only benefited a minority of Malays. What about analysing it from a class perspective? Not all Chinese are rich either, you know. There cannot be ketuanan Melayu or ketuanan bukan Melayu. There must be justice for all."

According to PSM's Nasir, the implementation of the NEP which focused on one race soon gave currency to the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric. But he says ketuanan Melayu is just a red herring. "Name me one Malay who is a pure Malay. There is virtually none — all Malays are mixed-blood to some degree."

Rather, Umno's outbursts can be seen as the increasingly desperate acts of a party frustrated by its loss of power, he argues. "Umno is frustrated by its losses during the general election, and continues to use race and religion to divert the anger of poor Malays," adds Nasir.

"Because as so-called leaders of the Malays, Umno has failed. It has not even been able to help poor Malays and Malay entrepreneurs," he asserts. Therefore, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric conveniently redirects the frustration and anger of disenfranchised Malay Malaysians towards other races. Herein lies the danger of Umno's rhetoric, says Nasir.

"In times of economic difficulty, the ketuanan Melayu rhetoric will likely give rise to fascist tendencies. When people are feeling the pinch and they are frustrated, you just need to cucuk them and then they'll meletup. Umno knows this only too well," he says.

Again, PRM's Hassan (left) concurs. "Ketuanan Melayu will destroy our country. I'm a Malay too, you know, but I believe that what Umno is fighting for is feudalistic. We cannot move forward if we follow Umno."

The Malay Malaysian leaders interviewed all say that interest in their respective parties, both in the BN and opposition, has risen since 8 March, especially among Malays.

It is definitely heartening that there is a diverse and growing number of Malay Malaysian political leaders speaking out against supremacist rhetoric and for an inclusive society. But it is even more encouraging that they are gaining support.

Perhaps this, then, is the most encouraging indicator yet that racial politics is losing currency in Malaysia.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Understanding the Thinking, Mentality and Philosophy of the Chinese

Saturday, 22 November 2008 11:52

I have to say here that I do not read people's comments since they are too scared to reveal what their level of intelligence and standing in society is. If they do not have an identity, they do not have any views worthy of anyone considering. Worse, one cannot use these comments in one’s research on the subject.

Yes, I am brave enough to sign my name on this article.

by Mansor Puteh


This is an attempt at studying the thinking, mentality and philosophy of the Chinese in the world especially those who live outside of the Chinese world.

When will someone conduct a more serious research on this following the wake of the earlier doctoral thesis a Chinese scholar had done which was later published in a book called, History of Chinese Immigration to Nanyang which tells the sorry tales of how the Chinese had to flee from South China to go to Southeast Asia with barely anything on them except for the clothes they were wearing?

The then President of Taiwan, Lee Teng-Hui, called the Chinese in Singapore uncultured as they are descended from the people of South China. This was when he had a spat with the Minister Mentor of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Yet, Kuan Yew didn’t bother to challenge the other Lee, almost as though Kuan Yew knew he didn’t have anything to contradict.

But I am going to be charitable and not describe the Chinese in Singapore as what the President of Taiwan had said.


It is unlike Michael Chick, who has an English name, who has written another article with a weirder title - ‘MALAYSIAN CHINESE ARE STUPID! which was published in Malaysia-Today. Yet, he was not condemned.

Shockingly, there were many Chinese commentators who agreed with him. The reason being the writer is English. If he was Malay, he would have been condemned.

Many Chinese and other non-Malays have tried unsuccessfully to define what and who the Malays are but all of them fail because their thinking was clouded by their own prejudices and biases.

So Michael is lucky because he is English and his views are considered by the commentators to be superior.

Yes, I do mix more with the non-Malays. I went to a Catholic missionary school where I was the only Malay student in class in most of the eleven years I was there in primary and secondary school.

And yes, I have many close relatives who were former Chinese and Indian Hindus.

In fact, most of the ancestors of the Malays, including the members of the royal families were also Hindus, including Parameswara (photo left) who became a Muslim in 1414 of the Common Era (CE).

Michael Jackson wore an abaya, a traditional Arab women's veil, in Bahrain Photo: REUTERS

And as I am writing this, I had just seen in the papers of how Michael Jackson who was said to have converted to Islam and now calling himself Mikaeel. He followed in the footsteps of his elder brother, Germaine who became a Muslim in 1989.

Is Michael’s conversion to Islam one strange reaction to Barack Hussein Obama’s becoming president of the United States? It cannot be just a coincidence.


There are Chinese everywhere – in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore and almost all the countries in the world and in different numbers ranging from a few hundred to a few million.

The way the Chinese behave and try to exert themselves differ according to which country they are in and how many of them.

The only difference is in what numbers and percentages and the way the Chinese behave is according to these factors.

If they become larger than the local native population such as in Singapore, they will demand and get the ultimate power to control the whole island and in the process cause the extinction of the Sultanate of Singapura.

Yes, Stamford Raffles called it Singapura, while his successor who could not speak much Malay, mispronounced it as Singapore.


In Indonesia, where the number is smaller and comprising only three percent of the total population of the country, they accept everything including being ‘forced’ to study in Indonesian schools and not make any unnecessary demands on the government, lest they will get it in strange ways.

They even had no choice but to use Indonesian names and speak in the local language.

Only lately, however, are they allowed to have their own television programs in Mandarin and you can now hear the Indonesian Chinese speaking in Chinese – Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien mostly, publicly without being chastised. Only a small percentage of them convert to Islam, and speak the language of the majority there.

In the Philippines, the number of the Chinese is even smaller. And because of that they have no choice but to assimilate with the local population comprising of the Filipinos, even calling themselves Filipinos and speaking in Tagalog and English. They do not speak Chinese or clamor to have their own schools.

And because of that they are able to get some of their own kind appointed as President of the country starting with Corazon Aquino (photo left). She does not call herself Chinese and only rarely does so and on any of her visits to China, she would visit her ancestral village in south China.

The same with Thaksin and Samak who are prime ministers of Thailand. Both of them are Chinese, but they do not have Chinese names or are able to speak Chinese. They also have Thai names and do not wish to be referred to as Chinese.

The reason being the number of the Chinese in Thailand is very small. And despite controlling the economy and politics, they cannot exert their Chinese-ness that much, lest they would lose support of the average Thais who are comfortable accepting them for who and what they are.


In America, the number of Chinese is also small; they restrict themselves to Chinatowns and find their own entertainment watching movies from Hong Kong and listening to music from this country. They do not have any ambition of forming their own political parties because they know they can never go anywhere.

If there are Chinese who have been appointed to office, they have to run on the Democratic or Republican Party tickets.

In short, the Chinese in America have to assimilate, just as the Chinese in Canada and England. They are too small and insignificant to make any impact.

Yet, they can and are allowed to build their own schools and temples, but they do not want to waste their time doing so; they are more interested to save whatever money they have on their companies and themselves.


The Chinese in Malaysia, however, are in a special position: their number is larger. At one time they were forty percent of the population with many of them who are actually poor and in abject poverty.

No wonder they refused to return to China where they could not show their newly-found wealth to their relatives. So they chose to remain in Malaya as punishment for their failure to get their proverbial pot of gold here.

Their off-springs were the ones who had to slog so they could become successful and become more fused with the land, unlike their parents who had failed to do so and who still thought they were Chinese nationals owing no allegiance to the country they were now at.

However, over time, this percentage has been reduced to only 25 percent. It is a small percentage, compared to the percentage of the native Malay population which stands at around 60 percent and growing rapidly so that by 2050, it will be 80 percent.

Yet, the Chinese in Malaysia think they can exert themselves and demand all sorts of things without admitting it and pretending that no one would figure it all out.

The Malays have been kind in accommodating their every needs so much so that the economy of the Malays has been in shambles.

With no land, money or property when the Chinese first came here, they started work as menial laborers and renting houses and land which they developed and eventually started owning them. Most of the ‘night-soil carriers’ were Chinese with some Indians and almost no Malay.

And now we can see how many Malay lands where ancient villages and old paddy fields had stood have been redeveloped by the Chinese as their economy expanded. And the Malays have also been too supportive of their economic growth by allowing themselves to be used as the customers of their business, which continued to expand and grow purely on the strength and support of the Malays, without which the economy of the Chinese could not grow at all.

The Malays and their ‘leaders’ continue to be oblivious to this and continue to accommodate every need of the Chinese.

And not enough with this, they are now craving to have political power, too. Many have even challengedKetuanan Melayu.

Is it wrong for the Malays to have their own slogans? Is it wrong for the Malays to carry their ‘keris’ in whatever ways they like? Who are the others to ask the Malays not to carry them?

Now it is the ‘keris’; tomorrow it is the songkok’; then what? Bahasa Melayu wants to be described as Bahasa Malaysia, yet they are not interested to master it.

Only those who want to be in politics have no choice but to know this language lest they cannot take part in any political debate. Just like the lawyers who have to use Malay in the court or they cannot fight any case and have to do office work only.

But when will they start to demand the use of English in the courts? This can happen.

So, you, see it is the numbers that make up the equation.

One cannot deny that if the number of the Chinese in Malaysia rises further so that they are more than the Malays, then surely their behavior and demands will become more ridiculous.


No Chinese or Indian wants to talk about how Pulau Pinang can also have a Malay as their chief minister. All of them want to ask when a Chinese (not an Indian) can be Prime Minister of Malaysia. That possibility is as good as asking when a Malay can be the vice-chancellor of UTAR and the New Era College.


The first indication of how the new DAP government of Pulau Pinang will act when the Chinese in Malaysia become more assertive is in how fast they wanted to change road names.

What if they have full control of Malaysia: Wouldn't they also want to change the Constitution, too?


Singapore had a way of balancing the ethnic composition of the races
. They knew the Malays have a natural way of expanding themselves, numerically speaking. There used to be only 14 percent of the population of the country when the country left Malaysia – or were ‘sacked’ from Malaysia.

Now the population of the Malays has been ‘fixed’ so that it does not increase. The Singapore government will ensure that this remains so. And they would ‘import’ Chinese from foreign countries particularly the wealthy ones from Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, to ensure that the percentage of the Chinese population remains at 70 percent.

Early Malay leaders were not smart; they did not have evil ideas and insisted on keeping Singapore in the Federation because they did not wish to play the Devil by expanding the population of the Malays so that it exceeds that of the Chinese including those in Singapore by encouraging the immigration of Indonesians to the land.

If they had done this, then surely the population of Malays in Malaysia can be a lot more now and that multi-ethnic strife that we experience today would not happen.

Many Chinese and Indians in Malaysia blame the government for ‘allowing’ Malays from other countries particularly Indonesia to become its citizens or permanent residents which they say is a strategy to increase the population of the Malays.

But they ignore the fact that the Singapore government had been doing it more feverishly so as to ensure that the population of the Malays remain ‘fixed’ at 14 percent.

Yet, the Malays in Singapore do not complain about this. The reason being they are too small and insignificant to say anything.

It’s all about numbers. Go figure this out.


So now you know why the early Chinese who had come to Melaka in the Fourteen Century became known as Baba and Nyonya, who speak only Malay and were able to assimilate with the local Malays.

The reason being they were too few of them – 500 according to the history books and ancient text. And they had come with Princess Hang Li Po who married Sultan Mansur Shah.

With only 500 of them, they had no choice but to speak in Malay so that they could be understood and not rejected. They could not exert themselves.

However, with the tide of immigration of the Chinese in the Nineteenth Century, more Chinese were able to come to Malaya so much so that they were able to exert themselves.

It was fortunate that the Malay rulers had intelligence and were able to think or guess what the English colonist masters wanted to do – which is to displace the Malays in their own sultanates, just like what they had done in Singapore which had become a ‘Chinese country’ as it still is.

If the sultans were not smart enough, the population of the Malays in their own states or sultanates would not form the majority and their position in their own states would become weak. So sooner or later, they, too, would have to go.

The special position of the sultans today is not due to the presence of the non-Malays then but solely rests on the support and strength of the Malays. Therefore, they, too, should be eternally grateful for the Malays for keeping them where they are now, for without them, the sultanates would have been displaced long ago, even without the British doing anything nasty.

So it was good that the sultans were able to exert themselves and got the support of the Malays and outdid the British who were outsmarted until they were forced to sign documents that in effect forced them to leave the country in shame before it became worse than it was for them, and before the whole of the Malay Peninsula became another Singapore – a Chinese state.


I pity the Chinese in India, Bangaldesh and Pakistan and all the other poorer countries; their numbers are so tiny that they have no choice but to keep quiet. No Chinese would want to migrate there because they know they could not benefit from doing so.

They only want to migrate to countries that are already prosperous so they can take advantage of it, like Australia, England, Canada, New Zealand, so they can be more English and less Chinese.

There is no Chinese representation in the Lok Sabha or the parliament in New Delhi and chances of any of them of ever being appointed chief minister of any of the states in the country is as good as Osama bin Laden being offered American citizenship or permanent resident status.