Sunday, September 28, 2008

MALAYSIA'S LEADERSHIP A TRINKET



The latest UMNO shenanigans effectively reduced the party's (and thus the country's) leadership to a Sunday market trinket, to be haggled between a desperate discredited seller trying to get the best possible deal, and a bankrupt buyer who has only his incumbency to offer as currency.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

M. Bakri Musa

Tengku Razaleigh, in referring to the tussle between Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, said, "… [W]e are embarrassed at the sight of two grown men playing this endless children's game of 'yours and mine' with the most important responsibility in the land, oblivious of the law, oblivious to the damage they are doing to the nation." The Prince's observation on the damage wrecked on Malaysia is spot on, declaring that Malaysia had been reduced to a banana republic and a laughing stock

What Abdullah and Najib do not realize is that the value of the trinket they are frantically bargaining over keeps dropping. While the two are consumed with striking a deal between them, they fail to notice that Anwar Ibrahim is on the sideline, ready and willing to take over, thus effectively reducing the two protagonists and their trinket to irrelevance.

Meanwhile the important business of running the country is neglected. They have been consumed with lobbying their followers, as well as engaging in hours of "four eyes only" meetings, haggling over when, how, and at what price the trinket would be handed over. They are oblivious to the nation's compounding problems, from the massive public health hazard of contaminated milk products imported from China to the American credit crunch that will soon spread around the world.

It is time to make these two characters irrelevant. It is time to let this desperate drowning duo strangle each other and sink to the bottom of the cesspool they have created for themselves.

Our priority is to make sure that they do not drag the nation down with them. This responsibility falls heavily on those leaders of the opposition, in particular Anwar Ibrahim. He has to be ready to take over and make the necessary preparations now, especially with regards to policies and personnel.

The Price Keeps Dropping

Right after the March 8, 2008 electoral debacle, Abdullah declared that he still had the people's trust. Then with confidence borne out of ignorance a la the village idiot, he asserted that he would serve his full second term. He even intimated that he might lead his coalition to its third electoral victory in 2013!

Such detachment from reality! It was merely out of courtesy (that is the trademark of our culture), and respect for the highest office of the land that Abdullah was not laughed off the stage. Unfortunately he mistook that as acceptance, if not rousing endorsement, aided by his cronies, advisers, and family members feeding his fantasy. The world knew better.

On the surface Abdullah did seem to have a mandate. After all, his coalition secured a comfortable though not the usual two-third majority in Parliament. On closer scrutiny however, his Barisan coalition barely scrapped through the popular vote, while many of the seats won were only with the slimmest of majority. That election also saw five states, including some of the most developed, repudiating Abdullah's leadership.

When the rumblings of discontent over his leadership became louder, especially after his coalition's thumping at the Permatang Pauh by-election, Abdullah was forced to lower his bid, but just a tad. He now thought he could satisfy his detractors by agreeing to hand over power by June 2010. He set it far enough ahead such that should circumstances shift, he could conveniently change his mind. Abdullah was counting that people would not see through his not-so-sly scheming.

Again, he misjudged the public, and his party's mood. Following a ruckus September 2008 UMNO Supreme Council meeting in which a few finally caught on to the reality and spoke up, albeit tentatively and a little belatedly, Abdullah lowered further his asking price. Now he did not rule out on an earlier transfer, clarifying that the June 2010 date was meant to be the latest when he would quit.

That pacified the dissidents, including the outspoken Muhyiddin Yassin and the hitherto "Iron Lady" Rafidah Aziz. They were an easily-mollified bunch.

Then following the gathering of his clan, and undoubtedly convinced once again by them, Abdullah backtracked. They prevailed upon him that his leadership was worth more and that he should hold out for a better price. That triggered yet another volley of dissatisfaction.

At a special meeting of the Supreme Council last week, presumably to discuss specifically the leadership transition, Abdullah was given an ultimatum. He must decide by October 9, 2008 on whether to defend his leadership. The alternative presumably would be to quit.

To an average observer with a modicum of commonsense, that was just another nice way for the council to say, in the grand Asian tradition of "saving face," that it no longer had confidence in Abdullah. Abdullah however is thick-skulled and a tad slow on the uptake. Besides, another round of meetings with his clan and they would convince him that indeed was not the intent of the council. "Flip-flop" Abdullah listens to whoever has his ear last.

More to the point, that council's decision was meaningless. If Abdullah were to decide not to defend his position at the now-postponed UMNO convention, the country would still be faced with a leadership crisis and uncertainty for the next six months. Everyone would be consumed with positioning themselves. No effective government work would be done as every UMNO politician would be busy politicking.

On the other hand, if he decided to cling on, it would still create a leadership uncertainty, and there would still be heavy intrigue and campaigning. Nothing would have changed. Our nation's business would still be unattended.

Abdullah has again abused our traditional Malay culture of halus, the subtle way. The gullible Muhyiddin went so far as to describe Abdullah's latest "decision" as "magnanimous!" No word from the "Iron Lady." As I said, they are easily satisfied. I wonder how long before UMNO Supreme Council members realize that they had once again been had by him.

As for Najib, he is burdened with his own considerable baggage. He would like that trinket be handed over to him as if it were his due, and without contest, all in the name of party unity of course. Contest means having to scrutinize his record, which is not pretty. In fact it is sordid.

If only there were some jantans in UMNO Supreme Council, they would have long ago given Abdullah an ultimatum. Resign or we push for a "no confidence" vote! That is the only language Abdullah understands: direct and brutal. There cannot be any subtlety or he will pretend to miss it.

It does not take a jantan to do that, only some responsible adults concerned about the lack of leadership and the country being left adrift. Absent that, rest assured that come October 9, Abdullah will again waffle, and UMNO Supreme Council will have to find yet another face-saving device to spare some modicum of respect to someone who clearly no longer deserves any.

I could not care less about those UMNO Supreme Council members except that they are also the leaders of our country. That is the scary part. If they cannot stand up to a limp Abdullah Badawi, how can we expect them to face up to a President Bush, China's Hu, or even Singapore's Lee. That is what terrifies the heck out of me, as it should all Malaysians.

Meanwhile Malaysians are reduced to watching the bizarre haggling over an increasingly worthless trinket between their two top but desperate leaders. We all should be embarrassed by that, not just Tengku Razaleigh.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

COUNTING THE COST OF MALAY CONSERVATISM


By Karim Raslan

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, like his cousin, Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, are “bangsawan” (or aristocratic) politicians. To outsiders, it would appear that their rise through Umno has been charmed. In reality, their rise was propelled by a combination of lineage, “noblesse oblige”, education, the personal wealth linked to their family networks (it's safe to say that they know or have connections to everyone of political or economic consequence), glamour and the deft management of party politics.

At their best, they can be the most racially inclusive of figures: cosmopolitan, urbane and well-educated. In this respect, they reflect the way modern Malay royals have themselves become ineluctably “Malay-sian”, with royal palaces bestowing Datukships on the socially ambitious of all races.

At their worst, the “bangsawan” politicians can be deeply conservative, resistant to change and overly cautious. In the case of Najib, his continuing refusal to endorse and promote the reform agenda is undermining his own career.

Still, English language-speaking Malaysians have always tended to feel a close affinity with “bangsawan” leaders. They tend to project onto them the best qualities of their famous fathers — Tun Abdul Razak in Najib's case; and Tun Hussein Onn's in Hishammuddin's — forgetting that each has his own particular weaknesses. Because of this, Malaysians are also the angriest when they feel these “bangsawan” politicians have let them down (as Hishammuddin did with his kris-wielding antics).

As Najib appears to be closing in on the premiership, it's time to review the prospect of a “bangsawan” administration. Back in March, I interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister at his residence in Pekan.

The Razak family compound, with its grove of mature tembusu trees, is at the edge of the town. The original house, the late Razak's home, has been renovated, repainted and air-conditioned. To the right of the house, there are offices as well as a large semi-temporary structure with a concrete floor and a metal roof, and open on four sides. Food was laid out on the tables inside. The compound is an industrial-scale political infrastructure framed by the sluggish waters of the Pahang River flowing behind it.

Pekan is almost exclusively Malay. It is a royal town imbued with the Sultan's brooding presence. Najib with his hereditary title, Orang Kaya Inderapura, is very much “of” the Istana. He was also Menteri Besar of Pahang from 1982-86. These ties reflect Umno's traditional linkages to the royal houses, bonds that are almost alien to opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim with his more activist and populist ways.

Historically, there have been two centres of authority in Malay society: the masjid and the Istana — the first spiritual and the second temporal. There has always been a degree of tension between the two. Umno's links are with the palace. The opposition Pas has a tight grip on the masjid. Despite what Anwar may envisage, this year could in fact presage a historic shift in power to the masjid.

Still, there's no doubt that Najib is one of Malaysia's smartest politicians. He is well-read and has a rigorous mind. His unflappable disposition is well suited to the demands of governance. He presides over meetings effortlessly, can summarise discussions succinctly and understands the importance of prioritising issues. In technocratic terms, he far surpasses both Prime Minister Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and even Anwar, whose flamboyant style is less suited to the tedium of Cabinet life.

However, Najib's superiority vis-a-vis his peers is less a reflection of his own personal excellence than the sheer weakness of Umno's human resource development. Capable Malay men and women avoid political life like the plague.

Time in Pekan was limited, so I was forced to interview Najib in his stretch Proton on the way to the Kuantan airport. I started by talking about the Indian activist group Hindraf and the devastating impact the temple demolitions in Selangor have had on Indian support for the ruling coalition.

Najib had spoken to an exclusively Indian gathering a few weeks before. To my surprise, he had made a point of apologising for the destruction of the temples.

As we talked, Najib explained: “The level of consciousness for all communities has risen. The nature of Malaysian society is going to be much more complex. We need to meet the rising expectations of Malaysian society — with globalisation and IT.”

I sensed in him a willingness to be all-embracing and open: “As Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, you belong to all communities,” he said. “You have to care for them and listen to their needs and aspirations. At the same time, we have our own constituents. We also need to maintain and deal with them. However, this isn't a zero sum game.”

“We are dominant and we have responsibilities to other races. The other races look up to Umno,” he added. As the conversation returned to Umno, his innate conservatism kicked in.

Najib's much vaunted capabilities will amount to very little as long as he neglects the reform agenda. As it stands, there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the Altantuya murder case.

He must come to terms with the fact that Malaysians look upon him with a jaundiced eye because they don't trust the institutions of state. Were he to push the reform agenda — cleaning up the courts, professionalising the police force and freeing up the media — the doubts about him would begin to fall away.

He must promote greater transparency and accountability, especially now that he is also Finance Minister. His confidence in the face of scrutiny would be the best way to head off the critics and prepare his party for a more people-friendly future. A failure to do so would be fatal both to him and Umno. - Straits Times

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Limp Replacing The Lame



With Najib Razak scheduled to replace Abdullah Badawi as Prime Minister by June 2010, we have the specter of The Limp Replacing The Lame.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

M. Bakri Musa

Abdullah's recent announcement that he may give up even sooner thrilled Najib. Presumably to "prove" his sincerity, Abdullah traded ministerial responsibilities with Najib. Now we have the limp taking over what was once the responsibility of the lame, and vice versa.

In classical Malay literature, for example Hikayat Malim Deman, everyone in society has his or her own responsibilities, doled out according to one's capabilities. Thus the deaf would man the cannons, an appropriate enough duty as the blasts could not possibly damage his hearing any further! This reflects the traditional values of our culture in respecting the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, and that each of us can contribute in our own unique ways.

Those great narratives of our ancient literature also reveal something else. While the lame and the limp can still contribute to society, there is one place where they should not be. The limp and the lame have no place in the leadership. I have yet to read of the limp or the lame becoming Bendahara or Panglima in our literature, ancient or current.

Abdullah The Lame

As shown by his performance during these past five years, Abdullah is a lame leader. His propensity to doze off aside, the responsibilities of leading our nation is way over his head. The poor man is simply overwhelmed. He does not realize that he is drowning as the crowd around him keeps cheering him on.

Abdullah clearly has been promoted beyond his capability. Judging by his talent, Abdullah is more suited to run the Kepala Batas municipal council, at best.

Malaysian voters were not the only ones fooled by Abdullah; so too that shrewdest of politicians, Tun Mahathir, who appointed Abdullah. Voters realized their collective misjudgment in giving Abdullah his undeserved massive mandate in 2004 by repudiating him in this last election. Mahathir too has openly admitted his error and is now desperately trying to remedy it.

There are two groups of individuals still mesmerized by Abdullah's pseudo talent. One is his cabinet colleagues and two, his fellow leaders in Barisan, specifically those in UMNO Supreme Council. Lately however, we are seeing signs of them getting wise, only a few of them though. It is not so much that they are finally seeing that their emperor is stark naked, rather that he is no emperor at all, in demeanor or performance.

Abdullah received much praise when he appointed Zaid Ibrahim as the de facto Law Minister. Those praises came less out of conviction, more of hope.

It did not take long for Zaid to realize that what he thought from afar as a sultan wrapped in shining samping sutra was, up close, nothing more than a jungle man wrapped in tattered bark loincloth. He was not amused. Zaid recognized early his error and despite pleas from Abdullah, quit the cabinet. Zaid did not build his hugely successful law practice without being a good judge of character and talent. In Abdullah, Zaid saw neither.

Zaid's reputation soared on quitting the cabinet. It was not at all tarnished by his brief association with Abdullah.

To be sure there are some rumblings in the cabinet suggesting that a few may share Zaid's assessment of Abdullah. There is for example Trade Minister Muhyyiddin Yassin. Like many, his is only cakap kosong (empty talk). Unlike Zaid, Muhyiddin does not have the courage to act on his conviction. He is reduced to mumbling his dissatisfaction in the hope that his uttering would be incoherent enough so that whoever would win, he could say that he was on their side!

As for Abdullah's fellow leaders in his Barisan coalition, they too are assuming Mohyyiddin's mumbling and indecisive posture. So far only the leaders of the small SAPP with two Members of Parliament have taken decisive action by leaving the coalition. Even they are hedging their bets by choosing to remain independent

Leaders of the other Barisan coalition in MCA and Gerakan are clearly unhappy. However, either due to lack of courage or out of loyalty, they too are reduced to Muhyyiddin-style mutterings.

There is one brave soul in UMNO Supreme Council, Tengku Razaleigh. He alone was the first to see through Abdullah. He is also the only one who has come out to challenge Abdullah openly. Even more remarkable, he did so very early on. This prince can sniff out the qualities of real sultans from the pretenders very quickly.

The meek may inherit the earth, but they, like the lame and the limp, have no right to the leadership of our nation.

Najib The Limp

The mainstream media and the hierarchy of UMNO are as usual delirious with joy with Najib taking over the finance portfolio from Abdullah. I am uncertain whether that sentiment is genuine or merely the meek paying homage to the powerful.

Najib has not demonstrated much competence in running the Defense Ministry. It was during his tenure that a ragtag bunch of village bums, members of the Al Muanah group, successfully overran the Army Base near Grik, Perak a few years ago. We were promised by Najib a White Paper over this massive security breach, but so far that is only a promise.

It was also during Najib's tenure that the newly-built Pularek base in Johore collapsed just as it was being completed. Mercifully it was before its opening ceremony!

In the current trial of the Altantunya murder case, there is the grisly reminder of the massive corruption and bungling of the multibillion dollar submarine deal with France. The list is long as well as expensive.

We are told that Najib is particularly qualified to take over Finance from Abdullah. We are also told that Najib is a "British-trained economist! Take a few courses in economics in your undergraduate years and presto, you are an economist! This effusive praise and embellished accolade reflects the generosity of our culture. We are generous even in our praises, whether they are deserved or not.

Frankly, it is not too difficult to be "better" than the inept Abdullah. That is no praise!

Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat have every right to demand the reconvening of Parliament and to introduce his "no confidence" motion against Abdullah. In denying Anwar his demand, Abdullah merely reaffirms his weakness. Only the lame and the weak shy away from challenges.

Malaysians are not lame or limp. We successfully stood up against the British colonialists. We still remain unique in that we are the only nation that had successfully beaten back the communist insurgency. We are proud of our traditions and achievements. This is not the time to let the lame or the limp lead us. In fact, there is no such time. - Malaysia Today

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pak Lah’s economic reckoning


Thursday September 18 2008

SEPT 18 —Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced this week that he has enough parliamentary support to unseat the current government, led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. If he does, Abdullah's lacklustre economic management will be largely to blame.

The prime minister has not introduced any substantive reforms during his nearly five years in office, preferring to rely instead on opening up the government purse. Under the Ninth Malaysia Plan announced in 2005, he expanded public-sector spending to RM200 billion annually from RM160 billion. In his Midterm Plan Review this year, he increased this outlay to RM240 billion. The national debt now stands at RM285 billion, up from RM192 billion in 2004. The official fiscal deficit has risen to 4.8% of GDP this year, from 3.2% last year. Revenue is being spent faster than it is coming in.

It's hard to argue that these outlays have served the broad public interest. Much of the funding has been channelled to elites in the majority Malay community, under the country's pro-Malay affirmation action programme. That has created discontent with many Malay who don't see the full benefits of the programme, and among the minority Chinese and Indians, who are excluded from it altogether.

Abdullah's stewardship has had a real impact on the economy. Capital flight has risen sharply; Malaysian investment abroad now exceeds inward foreign investment. The Kuala Lumpur stock exchange has lost almost one-fifth of its value this year to date. Malaysia's currency, the ringgit, saw its biggest one-month loss last month since the end of the dollar peg in 2005. Although GDP growth has averaged a robust 5% annual growth under Abdullah, that record is now under threat. Inflation reached a record 8.5% this summer. Job creation has reached record lows, as unemployment, particularly among young majority Malays, remains high. Ironically, only the opposition-led state governments are attracting new foreign investment — and without the federal government's help, no less.

Abdullah's 2004 attempts to promote growth and investment — such as through the promotion of the biotechnology and agricultural industries — have failed. He also fumbled discussions with the United States on a free trade agreement, which have now stalled. What Malaysia really needs is education reform and the liberalisation of its labour markets to improve its economic competitiveness.

The political opposition, in the form of Anwar and his Pakatan Rakyat coalition, have seized on these issues. They have promised to root out corruption and to implement a new economic policy to address the concerns of all ethnic communities in Malaysia. Their platform aims to move beyond populist spending to introduce structural reforms in government procurement programmes and in the management of government-linked companies.

When Abdullah assumed office in 2004, he inherited an economy in need of structural reform. Malaysians have had to pay for his poor stewardship through higher prices, stagnating wages and growing private sector debt. Soon, Abdullah may have to pay the political price for that record. — Wall Street Journal Asia

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Analysts: Leadership change needed to revive economy


By Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 ~ Whether the Pakatan Rakyat forms a new government today is not the main issue at stake in trying to revive flagging economic growth.

Instead, market and political analysts believe any change of leadership will provide a fillip to the economy and boost investor confidence.

"In terms of qualification and intelligence, the most qualified person to become prime minister is Najib," an economist with a local investment bank who requested anonymity told The Malaysian Insider, referring to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

"He has an economics background, and in terms of getting into and understanding issues, he is in a better state than the prime minister.-

The rising cost of living and the slowing down in economic growth have become a major issue affecting politics, with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government swiftly losing popularity due to high oil prices.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's constant threats to topple the ruling Barisan Nasional government, and challenges from within Umno against Abdullah, have also undermined investor confidence.

Earlier this month, financial services group Credit Suisse told investors worldwide in a report to avoid buying stocks in Malaysia.

Credit Suisse pointed out that the power struggle between Anwar and the government was heightening risks to the Malaysian economy.

Tricia Yeoh, an economist attached to the Centre for Public Policy Studies, said Malaysia needed a leader to get rid of institutionalised weaknesses.

"The best leader is the leader who can get rid of corruption and one who can transform the economy in light of the current slowdown."

Another market analyst said Abdullah's reputation for "flip-flop'' - policy reversals - also did not inspire confidence.

"This kind of flip-flop does not bode well for investors with regards to strategies," he said.

The only thing that appears certain at this point is that Abdullah is no longer seen as a viable candidate to remain as prime minister for much longer.

Said Dr Ooi Kee Beng, political analyst with the Singapore-based Institute of South-East Asian Studies (Iseas): "Where Abdullah is concerned, he should retire. He was given the mandate five years ago and he failed."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Justifying the morality of defection


COMMENTARY by political editor Wan Hamidi Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 ~ Three people were detained under the Internal Security Act - a blogger who expresses his freedom of speech, a journalist who reports what she heard and a hardworking wakil wakyat who is probably the victim of slander.

Is there something wrong with this picture?


Detaining without trial Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin, Sin Chew Daily senior reporter Tan Hoon Cheng and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok is seen as the wrong signal sent by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. Malaysians, even those who want the ISA abolished, are wondering about those who are really trying to inflame racial tension.

In the art of who gets what, when and how, politics is all about power. And that's what Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is doing. And with the latest development, time is on his side.

The detention of the three people-serving citizens while Anwar's trying to get BN MPs to his side will probably will hasten the pace.

"Invoking the ISA just days before Sept 16 is clearly an attempt to engineer an atmosphere of fear and instability that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics against those aligned with the political opposition," said the PKR de facto leader.

Even his allies Pas and DAP who are principally opposed to party hopping, have now come up with justifications for accepting BN MPs.

Pas' revered religious scholar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has this to say:

"If you allow Umno to continue ruling the country, the honour of the country is at stake. If you talk of party hopping, Umno in the days of Datuk Asri Muda (the former Pas leader in the 1970s) has been trying to buy over Pas leaders.

"Umno is the teacher of party hopping. They taught people to be dishonourable."

The Kelantan menteri besar who is also the party's spiritual leader reiterated that party hopping would be tantamount to betraying the people's trust but explained that it was acceptable if the intention was to free the country from a corrupt Umno and BN.

Whether his remark is based on religious convictions, Nik Aziz has shown his political acumen to justify realpolitik, a skill usually underestimated by his detractors.

After the March 8 general election, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi held a series of secret meetings with top Pas leaders under the pretext of Malay unity which among other things offered the Islamist party to cooperate with Umno.

At the same time, Perak and Selangor Umno also offered their Pas and PKR counterparts opportunities to cross over to BN.

Nik Aziz's strong supporter, Selangor Pas deputy commissioner Khalid Samad, offered his view on democracy and the morality of crossing over.

"Is it democratic and moral for the BN to go into the 12th general election last March using the full weight of the state apparatus behind them? The media, government agencies, the budget, the police, with the postal votes securing them victories in various seats, the indelible ink issue, the doctored voters registration, etc,etc?

"The crossover is said to be due to money changing hands, i.e. loyalties being bought! The only ones buying loyalty is the BN," he wrote in his blog recently.

In 1973, opposition parties Gerakan, People's Progressive Party and Pas, as well as Sabah and Sarawak parties, crossed over to the newly-formed BN in 1973.

In 1990 the ruling Parti Bersatu Sabah left BN to join up with the then Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah's Semangat 46. Over the next two state elections, BN bought over a number of PBS assemblymen as well as helped some of them to form new parties. In 2002, PBS rejoined BN.

For DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, it is all right if the BN MPs are motivated by noble principles of saving the country from further drift and loss of direction of the BN government and for the political, economic and national betterment of the people.

He believed that if that was the case, the BN MPs' honourable and principled action to leave BN would gain the sympathy, support and respect of all Malaysians.

"DAP and I had maintained since the 1970s that elected representative should resign if they want to defect, return the mandate to the voters to seek their approval in a by-election on a question of principle.

"(This) will banish the disgraceful political spectacle of money politics where MPs and state legislators could be bought and sold in the market place and end unprincipled, unethical and dishonourable politics.

"This honourable option for an MP to resign and cause a by-election to seek a new mandate from the electorate to endorse his resignation or defection was closed in 1990 when the Constitution was amended to bar any MP who resigns from his seat from standing for election for five years," he said.

He also said more Malaysians had come around to the view a change of government was not only timely but has become an imperative national agenda, adding that this was also the view of many BN MPs.

It is now beyond justification.

Ten days ago the prime minister who said that the media must not be afraid of honest reporting while upholding truth and justice has again backtracked on his promise when his administration arrested the journalist, the blogger and the politician yesterday.

For DAP publicity chief Tony Pua, the government has lost all moral authority to rule the nation.

Just a few hours before she herself was detained, Selangor executive councillor Kok who is also DAP national organising secretary in her press statement said: "If the government wishes Malaysians to continue supporting it as a legitimate democratic government, it should immediately and unconditionally release Raja Petra and rescind the 'show cause' orders issued to the three dailies (The Sun, Sin Chew Daily and Suara Keadilan)."

Opposition leader Anwar knew the political game well when he said, "The dastardly act of detention without trial will do nothing to abate the current government's declining credibility, and in fact will likely hasten its eventual collapse."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September 16: the end of nationalism and tribalism?

Malaysia Today
Posted by Super Admin
Friday, 05 September 2008 10:27



Islam and other religions require this form of social justice to be applied to the lives of human beings. Islam does not discriminate one on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, creed nor national origin.

Azly Rahman
dr.azly.rahman@gmail.com
http://azlyrahman-illuminations.blogspot.com/


After 51 years of Merdeka, we still hear fellow Malaysians being called pendatang or immigrants; fellow Malaysians who have lived and sacrificed for this country -- and pay taxes too.

Some time ago, Umno Perlis delegate Hashim Suboh was quoted in a New Straits Times report as saying at the end of the debate on economy and education issues that "Datuk Hisham (Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein) has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham when is he going to use it?"

The Perlis delegate made the remark while saying "force must be used against those who refused to abide by the social contract" in relation to Hishammuddin's alleged weakness in dealing with demands from the Chinese schools. - malaysiakini report, Nov18, 2006.

That delegate's remark is an embarrassment to the peace-loving people of Perlis, let alone represents what the Malay is, intellectually. The Malays of Perlis elect their representative not to misrepresent them with a false image of myopia and paranoia, or amuk and latah. It shows how ill-prepared one is in dealing with sensitive issues. It is telling the people of Perlis that they need better leaders with better command of the vocabulary of peace and better understanding of what 'social contract' means. A close reading of the Enlightenment thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau would help the delegate write sensible speeches.

This bring us to the following questions:

What is a Malay? What is a Malaysian? What is a nationalist? What is a "nation"? How are we becoming "re-tribalised" in this world of increasing restlessness over a range of issues that are not being resolved by the current regime. These are burning questions as we become more mature in discussing race relations in Malaysia – almost 40 years after the May 13, 1969 incident.

Ernest Renan, Anthony Smith, Benedict Anderson, Harry Benda, and John Funston – major scholars of nationalism -- would agree that Umno does not have an ideology except to sustain its elusive political superiority via the production of post-industrial materials and human beings.

Elusive word

Even the word "National Front" (Barisan Nasional) is elusive. It is surviving as long as means to cling on to power – by all means necessary – becomes more efficient and sophisticated. Its survival lies in the way people are divided, conquered, and mutated into 'post-industrial tribes'; market-segmented-differentiatedly-sophisticated enclaves that are produced out of the need for the free market economy to transform Malays and Malaysians into consumers of useless goods and ideology.
Post-industrial tribalism is a natural social reproduction of the power of the media to shape consciousness, and to create newer forms of consumerist human beings. Nationalism, including Malay nationalism of the Mahathirst era, is an artificial construct that needs the power of "othering" and "production of enemies" and "boogeymen and boogeywomen" for ideological sustainability.

But what is "nationalism" and does "Malay nationalism" actually exist in this century? Does the idea of 'natio' or "nation" or "a people" survives merely on linguistic, territorial, religious homogeneity when these are also subject to the sociological interrogations of subjectivity and relativity?

Nationalism is a psychological and cultural construct useful and effective when deployed under certain economic conditions. It is now ineffective as a tool of mass mobilisation when nations have gained "independence" from the colonisers and when the "enemy" is no longer visible. All that exist in this post-industrial, globalised, borderless, and mediated age of cybernetic capitalism is the idea of "post-industrial tribes" that live and thrive on chaos and complexity and on materials and goods produced by local and international capitalists.

Revise the old formula

We are in the 21st. century. About two years from now, we will arrive at the year 2010. The non-Malays and non-bumiputeras have come a long way into being accepted as full-fledged Malaysians, by virtue of the ethics, rights and responsibilities of citizenship. They ought to be given equal opportunity in the name of social justice, racial tolerance and the alleviation of poverty.

Bright and hard-working Malaysians regardless of racial origin who now call themselves Malaysians must be given all the opportunities that have been given to Malays since 40 years back.

Islam and other religions require this form of social justice to be applied to the lives of human beings. Islam does not discriminate one on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, creed nor national origin. It is race-based politics, borne out of the elusiveness of nationalism, that creates post-industrial tribalistic leaders; leaders that will design post-industrial tribalistic policies. It is the philosophy of greed, facilitated by free enterprise runamuck that will evolvingly force leaders of each race to threaten each other over the control of the economic pie.

The claim of "civilisational Islam" or "Islam Hadhari" must be backed with a philosophy of development that restructure society no longer on the basis of newer forms of post-industrial tribalism that accords the political elites with the best opportunity to amass more wealth, but to redesign the economic system based on an efficient and sound socialistic economic system. It might even require political will to curb human enthusiasm of acquiring more and more of the things they do not need. In short, it should curb temptations to out-consume each other in the name of greed.

To be civilised means to wake up to the possibilities of humanism and not plunge into a world of more sophisticated racism. The universal principle of humanism requires the privileged few to re-examine the policies of national development that prioritise the creation of more real estate projects than the construction of programmes that meet basic needs of all races and classes of peoples. To civilise a nation means to de-tribalise the citizens into a polity that will learn to share the wealth of this nation by accepting this land as the "earth of mankind" (bumi manusia) rather that a land belonging to this or that race.

In a multi-racial, multi-religious, country such as Malaysia, nationalism is a complex yet withering concept. In a globalised world of globally- and government-linked companies this concept of "fatherland" or "motherland" is a powerful weapon of the wealthy to mount arguments that hide the real intention of empire-building. The lifestyle of the country's rich and famous require nationalist sentiments to be played up so that the more the rights are "protected" the more the political-economically rich few will have their sustained control over the people, territories, natural resources and information.

This, I think is the picture of post-industrial tribalism we are seeing as a mutation of the development, appropriation and imitation of the Malay feudalistic mentality. The clear and present danger in our post-industrial tribalistic world lies in old formula we are wrongly using.
The essential question now is – as a 'Malaysian nation'/Bangsa Malaysia haven't we agreed upon a common history and a common destiny?

Let us celebrate the end of racism with the sinking of Bahtera Merdeka. For too long race and religion has been used a twin-concept of fear and domination of those robber-barons who call themselves nationalists in a post-industrial tribalistic world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Malaysian Politics Descends Into Chaos


by Jed Yoong
01 September 2008

Government leaders appear increasingly likely to dare unrest by seeking to jail Anwar Ibrahim

Despite a convincing electoral victory that returned Anwar Ibrahim to Parliament a week ago as opposition leader, it is growing increasingly certain that stalwarts in the United Malays National Organisation intend to try to put him in jail over allegations of sodomy by a former aide in his office.

The vehicle to do it is a bill rushed through the parliament that will compel Anwar to provide a fresh sample of DNA in the case, which was brought by Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who lodged a police report at the end of June charging that the former deputy prime minister and finance minister had raped him in a luxury apartment in the Mont Kiara district in Kuala Lumpur.

The bill was tabled for second reading in Parliament last week on the day Anwar won an overwhelming victory in the Permatang Puah by-election that returned him to electoral politics. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters the timing was only coincidental. Under its provisions, it provides for compulsory extraction of DNA in sexual abuse cases. Anyone refusing to give a sample would be liable to a fine of up to RM10,000 and a possible year in prison.

Anwar has refused to provide the sample, saying that it will be used to fabricate evidence and that the government already has his profile from 1998. The government says the sample from that time is too old. Anwar has said he has an unshakeable alibi for the time the offense allegedly took place. The physician who examined Saiful issued a medical report and a statutory declaration saying there was no evidence of sodomy. Nonetheless, the government, in the end, charged Anwar for consensual sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in jail, although it didn’t charge Saiful for engaging in consensual sex.

If Anwar is arrested, say observers in Kuala Lumpur, there is a likelihood of riots. When he was originally arrested on the charges in July, hundreds of people took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur’s “golden triangle” Chinese area of the downtown, and at least seven truckloads of Field Reserve Unit troops lined the streets near the police headquarters where Anwar had been taken by officials.

The continuing turmoil and rising tension are beginning to take their toll on investor attitudes. Bloomberg reported Friday that the widening budget deficit, caused by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s tax cuts and spending boosts to fend off the opposition’s move to take over the country, is putting its credit rating and currency at risk. Inflation spiked to 8.5 percent in July, a 26-year high.

Abdullah Badawi, facing a rising insurrection within UMNO, called for unity Sunday as his government continued to crumble. Anwar has vowed to bring down the government by the middle of this month and take over as prime minister. Concern is rising within the party that if Anwar does indeed take over, he will wreak vengeance on those at the top of the party who brought the charges against him this time and previously when he served six years in prison on similar charges. He has repeatedly accused the government, and particularly the judiciary, of corruption. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak appears to be a particular target.

The first time Anwar faced such allegations was in 1998. Then being groomed to succeed Mahathir Mohamad, the former and longest serving premier, he was sacked and expelled from UMNO and was eventually jailed for sodomy and abuse of power, although the sodomy allegations were overturned by the courts in 2004 after Mahathir left power. Anwar was released in that year after serving his sentence for the corruption conviction. He and his supporters have always said that the charges were trumped-up and part of a political conspiracy to destroy his political career. He has filed charges against Musa Hassan, the Inspector General of Police, and attorney general Abdul Ghani Patail, for falsifying the evidence that put him in prison.

This time around, the allegations surfaced in similar conditions -- a Barisan Nasional, or national ruling coalition, under siege. In March national elections, the Barisan lost its half-century grip on its two-thirds parliamentary majority, which allows it to amend the constitution but it can still pass legislation, and five states in the March 8 general election. Pakatan Rakyat, a coalition formed after the election, brings together three unlikely partners -- the fundamentalist Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Anwar's predominantly Malay and middle-class Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or People's Justice Party.

The decision to go after Anwar on the sexual perversion charges is viewed by many as a sign of the ruling coalition’s weakness instead of playing a waiting game in the parliament. There is a considerable likelihood that the opposition coalition will come apart, given enough time, because of the philosophical disparities between them. Leaders of PAS have already asserted that the fundamentalist Islamic party should lead the Pakatan coalition because it has greater Malay membership than Anwar’s party, Parti Keadilan, and that it has the right to the premiership. PAS leaders have complained that they have not been given enough say in the local governments that the opposition overthrew in the March elections. Having PAS in charge of the government would be anathema to the other two parties in the coalition, particularly the DAP, but also to a large extent Anwar’s own party, which is made up of middle-class Malays who find PAS’s brand of Islam too restrictive.

Thus Anwar himself is in somewhat of a race against time. If he doesn’t get his 30 supposed members of the Barisan to defect to his side before Sept. 16, as he promised, he faces the possibility that his coalition will weaken – although he could be girded by three more by-elections. Losing candidates in three districts in the states of Perlis, Kedah and Sabah have all filed court challenges seeking to overturn elections. An UMNO source says they could indeed be overturned and, given the current malaise with the government over inflation, corruption and other issues, there is a good chance that the opposition would sweep the seats, making Abdullah Badawi’s position even more precarious.

Adding to that, Bernama, the government-owned news service, reported last week that an UMNO branch on the island of Langkawi passed a resolution last week asking the octogenarian former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wife, Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, to return to the party that a furious Mahathir quit in May after a royal commission recommended that he be investigated for improper judicial appointments. A Melaka UMNO branch supported voted to support the resolution as well. Mahathir has offered to rejoin the party in an effort, he says, to save it.