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New Malaysian Politics – NEP still matters? March 14, 2008

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Malaysia, Politics.
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Been thinking about what the recent 2008 general election in Malaysia meant for the NEP – an affirmative action program put in place by the ruling government in the early 1970s to assist the poor Malays.

If the article below is of any indication, the NEP that has often been used to rally support from the Malays comes election in the past no longer seemed effective. The idea that the Malays need to depend on the ruling government for their economic well being through the NEP seems less realistic today than 10 or 20 years ago.

The ability of the Opposition to wrestle and legitimately set up their governments in five states could indicate that the Malays are comfortable of their socio-economic standing and are eager to compete on a level playing field. This notion is supported by the fact that the Opposition will be dismantling the NEP based on race and replacing it with one based on need.

Obviously, old politics no longer hold. This could well signal the emergence of a matured civil society capable of making decisions without emotional attachments. Such an emergence, if holds true, could bode well for the country’s shift towards a more participatory and open democracy.

Postscript (17 March): To be certain, the NEP no longer exists since 1990 when it was replaced by the New Development Policy (NDP). However, critics observed that it was more of a name change than real substance primarily because many of the tangible economic benefits offered under the NEP policies continue to exist. Thus, the discussion here focuses more on that than the literal sense.

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Nazri: We may see end of NEP

KUALA LUMPUR: The election results signal the beginning of the possible demise of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and special rights for the Malays, said Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

The Umno supreme council member said it appeared that the Malays, especially in the town areas, had become more confident now and felt they could compete with the other races on a level playing field.

“We (Umno) have to really sit down and think. It looks like the educated Malays do not care about Malay rights anymore,” he said when contacted.

“The Malay doctors, lawyers, engineers feel they have made it on their own merit.

“It looks like the NEP is not something that can be used to persuade the Malays to support the Barisan Nasional.

“The Malays are saying ‘you can’t scare us by talking about us losing our rights, because we are here on our own merit’.”

Nazri said it looked like some Malays felt that the NEP was unfair, and questioned

why special rights should be given to the Malays.

He described the new confidence among the Malays as good for the Malay psyche.

In the just concluded election, the Barisan only managed a simple majority in Parliament, and lost five states (Kedah, Selangor, Kelantan, Penang and Perak) to the Opposition.

The Opposition had largely said they would dismantle the NEP and put in a place a new affirmative action policy based on need rather than race.

Nazri, who retained his Padang Rengas

parliamentary seat by a majority of

1,749 votes, said he barely survived the political tsunami.

He said the youngsters – Chinese, Indians and Malays – who returned from Kuala Lumpur to vote in Perak had tried to persuade their parents, who are Barisan supporters, to either not go out to vote or vote for the Opposition.

“I only survived because of my personal touch with the voters,” he said.

He believed the political landscape in the country had changed irreversibly and that all parties would now have to work harder.

“Every wakil rakyat will have to work to win the hearts of the people. This is good for Malaysia because, at the end of the day, it is the rakyat who benefits,” he said.

Malaysian Election 2008: Towards New Politics March 10, 2008

Posted by genchan in General, Government, Malaysia, Politics.
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The 12th Malaysian general election was held on the 8th of March 2008 (Saturday). 13 days of election campaign saw a fiesta of banners, posters, party flags, talks, dinners and seminars as candidates of both ruling and opposition parties went all out to woo the people with their manifestos and pledges. stateseats1.jpg

As the polls closed at 5 pm, news about the results began to spread that started from around 7 pm and went on throughout the night. Thanks to the advancement of IT, handphones and SMS became the main channel in spreading the unofficial results of both state and parlimentary seats.

Unlike the 2004 general election, this round saw some monumental changes in Malaysian politics whereby states that were strongholds of the ruling party fell to the opposition camp. If 2004 saw one state under the opposition, 2008 saw a record five. Apart from Kelantan (PAS), Penang (DAP-PKR), Kedah (PAS), Perak and Selangor (PKR) will see new leaderships. It is a record indeed simply for the fact that never in the history of Malaysia have so many states been lost to the opposition since Malaysia gained independence 50 years ago.

Overall, Barisan Nasional (the ruling party) continues to run the country, not with a 2/3 majority (like in 2004) but a simple majority. The implications are such that the new BN government would be facing a tougher time in making laws and passing bills due to a louder opposition voice now taking office in parliament. Government actions would also be more closely scrutinized and carefully watched.

As for the states under opposition rule, there will be some exciting times ahead as the new local governments bring in their own brand of politics. The mandate for the new brand has been given by the people. The hope of the people is that this new brand would taste sweeter, better and more oomph than the old brand. However, whether it will come true or not remains to be seen.

As test cases, what transpires in those five states in the next five years could have serious implications for the future of Malaysian politics and as such should not be taken lightly. One can equally expect the ruling government to soul-search and work to win back the hearts of the people that it has unwittingly lost.

Malaysians are in for an exciting and important journey as politics in the country takes a new turn.

One thing seems to be clear from this election is that what once used to be blue does not continue to stay blue forever…  

For some more info on the election, see
http://thestar.com.my/election/

http://thestar.com.my/election/results/results.html

Malaysia’s Malaise November 29, 2007

Posted by genchan in Government, Malaysia, Politics.
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International Herald Tribune (Opinion)

By Philip Bowring (November 12, 2007)

Malaysia is in a political cul-de-sac, resulting in an erosion of national institutions and the entrenchment of corruption. Recent events show that awareness of these problems is growing, but Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is politically too feeble to implement his good intentions, increasing the difficulty of reconciling the interests of the Malay/Muslim majority with the non-Muslim Chinese, Indian and indigenous groups that make up 45 percent of the population.

Public disquiet and Abdullah’s own weakness were on display in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday when some 40,000 people, headed by the leaders of the three opposition parties and including former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and representatives of a wide range of NGOs, defied a government ban to march to the palace of the king, the titular head of state, to petition for clean and fair elections.

This peaceful multiethnic event followed an equally unprecedented speech two weeks earlier by Sultan Azlan Shah, a respected former chief law officer who is also one of the nation’s nine hereditary rulers.

Azlan referred to a loss of confidence in the judiciary as a result of questionable appointments and judgments perceived to be driven by politics and money. He noted that its once high reputation had sunk dramatically, quoting a recent World Bank survey. Azlan is believed to be behind a revolt by the sultans against approving – normally a rubber stamp process – the appointment as chief justice of a legal adviser to the governing party with little experience on the bench.

Among current cases that have raised questions about the legal system is the conduct of the trial of Razak Baginda, a close associate of Defense Minister Najib Abdul Razak, and two of Najib’s bodyguards for the murder of Baginda’s former mistress. Baginda was closely involved in arms deals with France.

The publicity given to the Azlan speech and the Baginda trial point to the greater openness of Malaysia under Abdullah compared with his authoritarian predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad. But though Mahathir was much-criticized for politicizing the judiciary and institutionalizing money politics, he was able to get things done. Abdullah, on the other hand, is seen to have largely – though not entirely – failed to deliver on his promises of cleaner government.

The fault lies less with his personality than with the structure of politics. Abdullah argues that the ballot box and Parliament are the places for political action, not street demonstrations. However, neither is likely to deliver change while race-based politics ensures continuation of the 50-year rule by the United Malays National Organization, which feeds off the economic privileges that the Malays accord themselves.

To keep the loyalty of Malay voters UMNO has both to outflank the Parti Islam and to divert attention from the enrichment of a small Malay elite at the expense of the Malays. Parti Islam is prone to stomach-churning speeches about Malay dominance and hypocritical displays of Islamic fervor that offend Malaysia’s plural reality and its secular Constitution.

Nothing can change as long as most non-Malays continue to grudgingly support UMNO rule for fear that the Parti Islam alternative would be worse, or while the non-Malay capitalist class remains wealthy enough to pay tribute to a Malay elite. In its own behavior this elite is liberal and internationalist, but for political purposes encourages the lower-income Malays to think in communal ways.

Judging by their attendance at the rally on Saturday, lower-income Malays may be becoming disillusioned with policies that mostly benefit the elite. But UMNO’s grip is strong.

Abdullah might in principle want to reform UMNO, bring in more of the Malay professional middle classes who rely on their own abilities rather than the patronage system, and give more senior government jobs to non-Malays. But he is proving to be a prisoner of the party, its money politics, its dynastic tendencies and its desire to occupy the higher reaches of the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the many quasi-government businesses.

Meanwhile, for all their ability to join together in a demonstration against the government, the two largest opposition parties – Parti Islam and the mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party – are at either end of the race/religion spectrum. The multiracial middle ground now occupied by Anwar’s party has thus far had limited appeal.

None of this may seems to matter too much when the economy is expanding, thanks to record prices for oil, palm oil and other exports. But income inequality is bad and getting worse. Malaysia’s political stability may be threatened the next time there is a recession, and there is reason to worry about Malaysia’s ability to become a developed country when its institutions are corrupted by a stagnant, race-based political system that may have outlived its time.

Criticism at the highest level October 24, 2006

Posted by genchan in Government, Malaysia.
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 Malaysia’s former PM Dr. Mahathir has been an outspoken person since taking the helm back in 1981. Thus, it’s no surprise that he has continued to be outspoken on many issues even after his retirement. It is, however, surprising and somewhat anew in the history of Malaysia for a former PM to openly criticize the current government that he has helped to shape.

Its not something that you will see everyday in developing countries. But it is a healthy process for democracy and for the nurturing of a civil society. It has a bigger impact than criticisms from the opposition or the general public, simply because its coming from the man that for two decades has been at the center of Malaysian politics. However, it might be naive to think of the criticisms as a representation of societal woes rather than the frustrations of one man.    

Below is an interesting excerpt from New Straits Times (24th Oct 2006) on Dr. M’s meeting with PM Pak Lah.

1) The reason why Dr Mahathir met the Prime Minister

I think a lot of people are unaware or confused about the reason why I met Pak Lah.

Actually, Mubarak, the organisation of ex-Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen, approached Mokhzani, my son, to try and help resolve this problem, the problem being my criticism of the government which is causing a lot of confusion. They suggested three things: That I should meet the Umno supreme council.

Secondly, if that cannot be done, I should meet the Malay members of the Cabinet and thirdly, if that is not possible, for me to see Pak Lah.

Pak Lah agreed to see me. So I was informed that I should meet Pak Lah. Since this was initiated by Mubarak, I said I would like to see Mubarak first to find out what is it that they were asking me to do.

Mubarak came, five of them including their president, and Tan Sri Zaleha. I told Mubarak what I felt about things and after Mubarak listened to me, they felt that I should tell these things directly to Pak Lah.

I said if I am free to speak frankly then I would see him. After that, I believe Mubarak went to see Pak Lah and Pak Lah agreed to see me and a date, a time and a place was fixed. I had requested that there should be one person as witness for each of us but the agreement was that there would be nobody and I said that was fine. 

 2) The meeting

Pak Lah met me at the door together with his son, Kamal, and I went to his office, I think, in his house, at least it used to be an office when I was there. I told him I would record our dialogue. I will talk. So I set down the recorder on the table and I told him I would like to start. Then of course, I told him about all the things I was critical of the government. In one and a half hours I covered a whole lot of things.

He interrupted me several times when I was talking, for example when I said that it was not true that the government did not have money for the projects because when I decided to step down in 2002, I had made sure of four things: That the country was stable, that Umno had regained its popularity, that the economy was doing well and number four that the finances of the government were in good shape.

It was only after that I decided to step down. But I said that there was no question that when I stepped down the government had no money.

He said “yes, yes, the government now has money” implying of course that at the time I stepped down the government had no money. I said yes, I know all about that and now the government has more money than it has ever before.

When I said that his son and son-in-law have been telephoning people to give contract to so-and-so, he said he did not think they did.

There were a few other things he mentioned but as he talked I saw that it was nearly two hours and I decided that the meeting was over. I got up and collected my recorder and said goodbye to him at the door and I came out. 

Q: What was Pak Lah’s reply when you called Malaysia a police state?   

   A: He said this is not true. He doesn’t agree with me that this is a police state.

Q: What do you hope to achieve ultimately? You didn’t ask the Prime Minister to step down and you’re not thinking of a time frame and this thing has been going on for months, so what is your goal?   

   A: Governments have been criticised before and governments which are sensitive would take into consideration criticisms. It may take the form of resignation, it may take the other forms like stop doing all these wrong things, things that people criticise about.

Q: Tun, were you convinced or satisfied at all of any of Pak Lah’s responses to you?    

   A: At the moment, no.

3) On his legacy

Q: You are considered the father of modern Malaysia. Are you concerned that your legacy is being chipped away by this controversy?   

   A: It is not being chipped away by this controversy. It is being chipped away by the actions of this government. For the past three years, there has been no move. The economy has not been doing well, people have not been able to get jobs and unemployment is still high. Nothing has been done really to improve the economy, although we read, of course, of very good figures but we see that the retail business is not good, contracts are not easy to come by.

4) On Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak

Q: Would you support Najib as Umno president?   

   A: That is hypothetical.

Q: Do you think he would make a good prime minister?   

   A: Well that is up to them to decide. It is not for me to decide or for me to say whether I support or don’t. It is entirely dependent upon Umno. But I must admit that I had appointed Najib as the Deputy Prime Minister and in the course of time, as is tradition, the Deputy Prime Minister should succeed the Prime Minister.

Q: Are you unhappy with Datuk Seri Najib for not saying much?   

   A: Whether I’m happy or not, whatever happens to him, it is something that will happen to him, not to me. Whatever he does will affect his future.

Q: But you lobbied for him.   

   A: Well, I did. But beyond that, I’m not prepared to go and do anything more.

5) On how the Chinese will vote in the next general election

Q: You mentioned Chinese business people earlier. Do you think the Chinese will vote for the Opposition in the next election?   

   A: My assessment is that it is not possible for the Opposition to win but they may be able to reduce the majority of the government.

Q: Don’t you think that what you are doing now is bad for the party?   

   A: I see that what he is doing now is bad for the party. Unless you criticise and stop what he is doing now, you’re going to have bad results for the country. It’s not an internal problem of Umno alone. It’s not a question of unity within Umno. Umno cannot win elections without public support and today, the public is very critical of the present condition of the economy, the present system of administration, the involvement of family members.

Q: Have you anything good to say about the government? Has the government done anything good?   

   A: We’re still an independent country although foreign policy-wise now we are less highly regarded than before by the developing countries and the Muslim countries. Abroad, they are asking what happened to Malaysia. It is one thing to be friendly with Bush.

6) What next?

Q: Would you meet with Pak Lah again or is it no use?   

   A: If there is chance to meet him and if there is a use, then yes. If there is a problem and I only speak to him and others don’t know about it, the effect would not be there.

Q: What is next for you after this?   

   A: Nothing. I told him I would continue to make criticisms and I will go on in my usual way but I do hope that this habit of asking the police to frighten people should stop and my civil rights should be restored. I have a right to speak to Umno. I have a right to speak to any audience I like.

Q: How long more will you be patient?   

   A: I will continue until there is some change, until I see some results. Of course, I am 82 years old. People believe that if they delay long enough, this interfering nosy Parker will disappear or will not be able to speak.

Q: Would you like to see the Prime Minister lead for a second term?   

   A: Depends on how he performs.