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?