Friday, November 26, 2010

Conflict of Two Koreas

The latest Yeonpyeong island conflict between the South and North Korean armies is an unfortunate event. I have been working closely with the Korea Tourism Organization in Kuala Lumpur for the last three years. I have personally visited South Korea five times and would cherish a trip to North Korea in the future.

Koreans on the both sides enjoy strong family and cultural ties. There is little which separate them when comes to commitment and determination. Koreans are very inventive, determined and creative people. It is sad to see what this country achieve united rather than divided. It could be the new Asia's Germans if a peaceful and mutual reunification can be achieved in the future.

Meanwhile, the city of Seoul has been considered as one of most vibrant world cultural cities. You should visit it for the splendour, energy and cultural richness.

Like I have said, both Koreas enjoy good family ties. It is inconceivable for the two regimes to go to war at this point in time. Malaysians who are going there should not be overly worried by the situation. Both China (a key ally to North Korea) and US (a key ally to South Korea) would not want the conflict to turn into a serious matter because both countries are working on their own economy recovery.

Hopefully a quick calm down can be achieved to put senses back into the leadership of North Korea.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Candidate Versus Culture: A Thought for Third Force Debate

The life and death of a political party depends on its leadership quality, members' commitment to its ideology and its political culture.

Much has been debated about an inherent lack of quality in elected representatives in Malaysian politics. Before we criticize the political parties for a poor selection of candidates, we should first try to understand the background of party politics in Malaysia.

First, established political parties in the country are limited by their party structure e.g. divisions and branches which are geographically linked to electoral constituencies. Party elections used to elect and promote leaders who will be chosen to become candidates in general elections. Often, a division chairperson is also the elected representative of the area.

Second, this structure i.e. a close link between party positions to candidacy has created a barrier for the party to choose a candidate freely. 'Parachute' candidates normally face tremendous opposition from the party members in the division. Many of them may even face a backlash if the protest and rejection ended up in a sabotage and boycott. Hence, a party normally chooses a candidate whom they think is popular with the party grassroots.

This tendency may turn into warlordism we found in political parties. A politician will do anything to win his party election at the divisional or state level. Any attempt by the party to replace an inefficient elected representative may be deterred through his/her popularity at the local level. It was proven in the last elections that a party warlord or 'strongman' may not necessary popular or well-received by the voters.

Third, the political culture is an important factor which determines the pace and space for renewal in a political party. Most political parties in Malaysia are practising patronage politics. The parties are often associated to a personality or family roots. It may be difficult for the parties to incorporate outstanding outsiders into the party leadership structure. Talent and know-how are not highly prioritised in leadership ascension.

Finally, the voters too need to play a party to send a clear message to the parties on what they prefer as candidates. We must remember that the quality of policy formulation, response to national, regional or global crisis, quality of governance, and general socio-economic development are dependent on the quality of the people we have put in the government.

Candidate selection is key for the next general election. However, this conclusion may be short lived and proven wrong if voters choose to slip back to the old habit of preference - race, party association and religion. Malaysia's political culture is one of the most hazardous in the world. Some politicians spend more time on religion and race than actual policy intervention and good governance.

In a world where the efficiency of a government can become a competitive advantage to attract talents and investments, can Malaysians rise up to the challenge to put the right people in the government?

If we do, then the whole perception that politics is the exclusive domain of political parties or the two coalitions e.g. Pakatan and Barisan is wrong and counter productive. Our people must intervene in the political process. We do not need personalities who are using the political platform to achieve their own needs and protect their interests.

This is what I called a Third Force, an enlightened group of voters who will play a role to determine the future of this country. I would like to see a change of power in the country because I firmly believe that any political coalition or party holding power for more than 5 decades cannot be that good to keep the ills and negative culture into the party. Some ancient dynasties did not even last that long.

However, any government in waiting should not ignore the voice and demand of the people to choose/field better candidates. Nor should they deter any persons from exercising their democratic rights to participate in the electoral process if none of the current parties are able to meet their expectation.

Proponents of change, if are serious about change, should be able to sit down to discuss and embrace a broad coalition with a change for a better tomorrow as its common goal.

When sacrifice and service is above self, we do not have to witness an ugly side of party politics. Can our politicians live up to this expectation?

Serve Malaysia, which is a beautiful country. Those of us who cannot participate in the electoral process as candidates should do our part to forge common shared values which are non-racial but Malaysian centric!

The challenge is less than 6 months away! A damper of the people's hope for change and for a fairer and just Malaysia will drive more disappointed and disenfranchised people out of the country than what the Talent Corp can hope to attract back home.

So, people like Zaid Ibrahim, Syed Hussien Ali, RPK, Haris Ibrahim, Nik Nazmi, Anwar Ibrahim, Azmin Ali, YL Chong, Jeffrey Kitingan, Uthayakumar, Warthayamorthy, Jenapala and others should take this heed seriously: Focus on the change agenda and not who is going to be a spoiler in the next general elections.

Farewell Dr Lim Chong Eu!

Dr Lim Chong Eu was probably one of the best political strategists and a chief architect of Penang in the last century. Penang CM Lim Guan Eng paid tribute to a "giant of a politician who ushered in a new age for Penang."

The founder of Parti Gerakan first came into prominence in national politics when he won the MCA presidency by defeating its founder president the late Tan Cheng Lock. However, he was outmanoeuvred after being at the helm for only two years due to factionalism. He told me the opposite faction in MCA had taken an opportunity in his fall out with UMNO president Tunku Abdul Rahman over seats allocation issue and blamed him for souring the party's relationship with UMNO.

Lim had asked for MCA to be allowed to contest at least a third of seats in the parliament. He had wanted to deter any unscrupulous and careless attempt to amend the federal constitution. The constitution has been amended at least 700 times since the premiership of Tunku!

I had asked him about his decision to join the Barisan Nasional in 1973 which had caused a split in the party. He told me that it was a practical decision which left him without much option after the racial riots broke up in Klang Valley, Penang, Malacca and several parts of the country. Penang was suffering from a massive unemployment of almost 15%. He had mooted the idea of Barisan Nasional to Tun Razak, his closest ally in UMNO when he was serving in the National Emergency Council.

As a leader, he had to support national reconciliation (the original purpose of Barisan) and ensure that the promises to the voters of Penang were met and jobs were created. The federal government under the premiership of Tun Razak was supportive to Dr Lim's plans and proposals to help create a new frontier for the city state. As a result, the Free Trade Zones were created after the MCA minister of transport had taken away Penang's free port status. It was Dr Lim who brought Intel to Penang in the early 70's. He had created the Penang Development Corporation to help him to implement his vision.

I had also asked him about the NEP. He did support the original intent of the NEP which he was sure that it will be repealed and liberalised in 20 years (1990). Unfortunately, Dr Lim was defeated in the 1990 GE by Lim Kit Siang and subsequently retired from politics. He had remained to his non-interference stance since then and dabbled in business instead. We did not get to find out if he would have objected to the perpetuation of NEP and Malay supremacy.

His stand on Islamic state was clear. He was unhappy that Gerakan did not do anything to stop or rebut the announcement of Dr Mahathir at the party's annual conference that Malaysia is an Islamic country. Consistent with his stand on the federal constitution just before the 1959 GE, Dr Lim was probably worried about such politicking which may hijack and alter the spirit of the secular federal constitution.

Dr Lim was a political giant and a very intimidating intellectual who would pit his wisdom against anyone trying to discuss politics and philosophy with him. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend two days with him in 2007 to interview him for a book. I visited him again at his Tanjung Bungah home after the political tsunami in 2008 to ask for his well-being and discuss his views on the GE outcome.

Dr Lim was not a pioneer of non-racial political ideology unlike Syed Hussein Alatas or Tan Chee Khoon. He was a MCA president and founder of Chinese based United Democratic Party but he was quick to see a need to support multiracial politics in his later years of political life.

However, like other politicians, he was not without his weakness and criticism. But Dr Lim's imprint on the Penang socio-economic landscape has survived until today and will continue to do so in the future. Many Penangites working in factories in Bayan Lepas FTZ or using the Penang Bridge should pay tribute to his contribution. His other project, KOMTAR, was very ambitious. It was the highest building in Southeast Asia in the 80's but has became an eye sore since the era of Koh Tsu Koon's administration.

I was honoured to be able to pit my limited wisdom with his during those visits.

Monday, November 22, 2010

BN's Media/PR Frenzy, Where are Real Reforms?

The ruling Barisan Nasional has told its media to play up “feel good”, “positive” reports and to find flaws of its political foes for the next few months ahead of a likely March 2011 federal elections, sources told The Malaysian Insider.

Since the beginning of PM Najib's tenure, it has always been about "feel good", carefully planned and expensive PR campaigns, sloganeering and more. Public are forced to take in an overdose of terms and slogans e.g. 1Malaysia, ETP, GTP, NEM, KRAs, KPIs and a host of other similar sounding programmes.

But where are clear, concise and definite reforms? The government is still dragging its feet on the ISA. It is a draconian act which must be abolished since it was misused and abused by none other than Dr Mahathir and Abdullah Badawi to detain political opponents, journalists and dissidents. Nothing short of an abolishment will put Malaysia on a road to real democracy. The pro-ISA demonstration in Penang is an eye opener for Malaysians. Why? The proponents are mostly Umno members.

Since the global economic crisis hit the country in 2007, the government is still going around its business as though we are trouble free. There is no serious debate on how to manage the slid and glitches in the Malaysian economy. Why are investors heading to Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam but not us? Where are the new areas of growth? How to create more jobs? Apart from announcing targets on GDP per capita, additional 3.3 million jobs and others, the government does not give us an impression that it has the right strategy to help achieve these optimistic targets. Where is the RM1.47 trillion investment is going to come from?

Several public institutions such as the judiciary and the police have not improved their image and perception. The government should make all efforts to distance itself from these institutions and encourage them to be truly independent. The way Anwar Ibrahim's defence team has been denied access to key information and materials does not augur well for judiciary independence. The police is still acting arbitrarily on stifling democratic rights to assembly, free speech and peaceful gatherings and demonstrations. An IPCMC was mooted by a BN formed royal commission and it has yet to be implemented.

Najib is trying toying with obvious uncertainty over his NEM announcement to do away with rigid race based quota and adopt a fairer need based socio-economic model. NEP is set to be retained although it had been bastardized for decades. His 1Malaysia slogan stands out like a sore thumb in an administration composed of race based political parties and a majority based party with a clear race-based agenda.

Freedom of press is going to suffer a worse perception the direct acquisition of the Star Publications by MCA. The main stream media has lost its credibility and is treated as nothing more than a party organ by increasingly disillusioned readers. I buy them only for the adverts.

Apart from the media frenzy about BN's change of fortune, where are the real reforms?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who Hijacked Our Reform Agenda?

The last several weeks have been the most depressing to the proponents of real reforms in the country. Genuine activists have been working very hard to fight for justice and fair play in so many areas e.g. minimum wage, against corruption, police brutality, custodial deaths, illegal conversion cases, rule of law, free and fair elections, press freedom, against racism, against draconian laws, etc.

Some of these activities were harshly treated by the authorities. Imagine Burma and imagine recent police actions against peaceful demonstrations and cake parties! In Malaysia, Aung San Suu Kyi might not have been allowed to speak to thousands of her supporters like she did last week when she was released in Burma. Is the ruling regime in Malaysia worse than the Burmese junta?

Apart from some big sounding and scary amount of money announced for several big ticket public projects, the ruling government has not offered the people any kind of solid policy or institutional reform.

Yet, some Malaysians and some leaders in the opposition movement have started to lose their focus and mission. The mess created by leaders in the opposition fighting over menial political positions and self interests are beginning to make us feel that this country is again slipping into the same hole which has buried our sense of justice and fairness for decades.

Opposition politicians have been riding on the reform platform to win over voters and triumph in elections. What we need from them now is to embrace the reform spirit and help to contribute to the forces which are trying to free this nation from its ills. They should not contribute to the ills because they had benefited from the reform forces in the 2008 GE.

It is unfortunate that these self-centric politicians had hijacked our reform agenda with the political mess and controversies they had created. Worse, blind supporters of these politicians are trying to brain wash us that we cannot achieve our reform agenda without them. These supporters should remind their idols that the reform agenda is beyond and above any personality or individual.

Whoever wins the party elections is not going to give Sharmala a fair trial, or Beng Hock his justice and retribution or PKFZ it's money back.

We need leaders who are real activists whose mission is to free this society and nation from it's ills, weaknesses and injustices. We do not need power suckers who are only concerned about their own legacy and ego.

Malaysians, we should stay focused on our reform agenda and not the political noise polluters. With the kind of opposition members we have no wonder Barisan feel that they are back in business.

Without any real reform, this is a bad news for all of us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bersih 2.0: Support This Movement for a Better Malaysia

I would like to congratulate the steering committee members of Bersih 2.0 and the founders of the first Bersih movement for their lasting commitment to see a fairer and better electoral system in Malaysia.

A functional democracy alone is not enough for Malaysia. Elections, public institutions and civil society organisations have been used by autocratic regimes to justify a 'democratic rule'. We need a thriving democracy which is fair, just and expanding.

Former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan who now helms Bersih 2.0 was right to note that public institutions especially the ones which have been guaranteed their independence and existence through the federal constitution must not only be seen to be fair but act fairly as well. Unfortunately, the Malaysian Election Commission has often been seen as a tool of the regime.

During her speech, Ambiga listed down Bersih 2.0's 11 demands for electoral reforms, two of which are new:

1. Complete revision of the electoral roll.
2. Use of indelible ink in elections.
3. Reform of postal voting.
4. Free and fair media access for all contesting parties.
5. Minimum campaign period of 21 days.
6. Fair and professional constituency redelineation.
7. Automatic registration of all eligible voters.
8. Reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18 years old.
9. Reform in electoral financing rules to ensure transparency.
10. Administrative neutrality of all levels of governments.
11. Affirming the political right of all students of 18 years and above.

I support her call for active and healthy political debates between contesting candidates in the next general elections. At present, elections are won through developmental promises which can be seen as political corruption or money politics. Worse, some political parties have raked up assets worth billions. How is this situation possible?

I would like to urge responsible Malaysians to go out, join forces and unite to do a few things:

1) Get your friends or family members above 21 years of age to register as voters;
2) Persuade your friends especially those around the region to come to vote every four or five years;
3) Help to educate them about the responsibility of a good government and the relationship between government and society;
4) Campaign against corrupt politicians, racial politics and religious bigotry;
5) Reject politicians who are useless, senseless and knowledge-less

Politicians who are too free and are spending a lot of time going around the country trying to gain support for themselves should spend some of their valuable time to promote these messages to the public especially those who are living in the rural, semi-rural and semi-urban areas.

True people patriots do not care about position or power. They care more about their people and their well-being. Nelson Mandela was a reluctant president of South Africa and he had reached out to his captors to lay a united and better future for his country post-apartheid.

Here, we have a Defence Minister who shoots himself on the foot by suggesting that non-Malays were less patriotic for not joining the armed forces. The patriotic minister should tell us more about PKFZ financial scandal and how to nab the culprits if he is really so patriotic himself.

With silly politicians all around, it makes a movement like Bersih 2.0 very meaningful and timely. Another setback, Malaysian voters are going to grow more apathetic towards the voting process if they do not see any possible change through the ballot boxes.

Then, we can all enjoy a year round and perpetual racism, racial rhetoric, arrogant political speeches and nut case members of parliament who are only interested in trivial issues. No wonder Malaysia is losing out to Singapore soon in GDP (projected USD210 billion to USD205 billion in 2010) and long lost out in brain gain.

So, would you spend your time with Bersih 2.0 or Keadilan Baru?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Reforms Dilemma - Look Beyond Partisanship

We need comprehensive political, economic and social reforms in Malaysia. Sadly, we are not going to get any at all. We are not going to see any reforms because we are too dependent on politicians to deliver them. No reform will take place if we do not push the politicians to focus on good governance.

After victories in Galas and Batu Sapi by-elections, Barisan is already talking about their political resurgence WITHOUT having to deliver any reforms we expected. This brings us to the question if Malaysians are serious about the reforms they demanded?

Are Malaysians happy to be given some development promises, grants and monetary goodies? Do Malaysians understand the role of government and the responsibility of a credible democratically elected government to its people?

Can both Barisan and Pakatan deliver these reforms?

1) Political reform. Instead of harping on an outdated social contract, the ruling regime and the voters are bind together by a political contract which has to be renewed every five years through the electoral process. The political contract supersedes the social contract. It is more important than any social contract. Barisan has to deliver good governance, financial accountability and transparency, policy inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law in the political contract. This contract can be retracted when the ruling regime is booted out from office for failing to meet the expectations or terms of the contract.

I would like to see elected representatives being paid better salary so that better people would consider to join public offices. At the moment, the political parties are attracting the wrong people or those with the wrong intention.

Political parties should suggest clear policy measures which they will implement if they come to power in the next GE. Permanent measures should be implemented to ensure there is a check-and-balance mechanism in the system to deter abuse of power, cronyism, corruption and poor governance.

2) Respect for the equal rights of all Malaysians regardless of race or religion. Help and assistance should be given to needy ones without identifying the affirmative policy with race. Any political of the day must abandon a race centric policy because such policy will deliver a sense of justice, fairness and inclusivity in any multiracial society. In short, Malaysia must end race-based politics. It is unfathomable for anyone to vote for a race based party in the 21st century. Race based political system in Malaysia is a colonial system created by the colonial power. Malaysia should not allow its vast human potentials to be tied down by such a political system.

3) Malaysia needs an economic reform. A lot of observers are asking what is next after the 100 storey tower or the RM43 billion LRT system? Malaysia does not have a clear economic direction. Stimulus plan disguised as a new economic transformation plan is not going to bring this country a level higher. If building an attractive and competitive economy is as easy as constructing a 100 storey building, the world is already full of developed economies. What is Malaysia's next economic model which could put it side by side with new emerging economies such as Vietnam, China, India and Indonesia? How can Malaysia attract talents if the environment is not right? It is possible that we cannot even retain existing talents from leaving. There is a lack of HOPE and CONFIDENCE in the local economy. Malaysia is NO longer a land of opportunity. Many youths do not believe that they can become successful in the country. This is a serious perception deficit the government must look into.

4) There is no indication that the education system will be reformed to ensure that it can produce quality skilled workers for the local economy. What can 370 native English speakers can help to alleviate the standards of English proficiency in the country if the government is flip-flopping on the language policy? By 2014, the teaching of science and maths will be reverted back to mother tongue again. Shouldn't the government conduct a serious study to find out what is lacking in the education system?

5) The government should seriously address several acute social issues in the country. Malaise or 'tidak apa' attitude ranks at the top. Our society has a disease of not being able to implement any plan or project successfully. White elephant projects are all over and the government continue to waste a lot of resources annually on procurement and operational expenses. Where are the KPIs? Where is the report? Why do we need two KPI Ministers when there is zero improvement? Do we even have a maintenance culture apart from the PM's official home? Why are crime rates soaring high in such a small society?

Both political parties cannot continue to treat Malaysians as fools. We do not have to choose between Pakatan and Barisan. Voters should insist on giving their votes only to political parties which can meet all their terms and requirements.

It is ridiculous for Barisan to claim that it has reclaimed back support without making an effort to implement any significant reform.

It is equally ridiculous for Pakatan to aspire power if the newly minted coalition is only capable of criticizing Barisan policies or weaknesses. It has to offer voters a real deal as a viable opposition. Personally, I am not interested in the internal struggle of PKR or any opposition parties. As a voter, I am only keen to know if a political party is able to commit to long term reforms which can make Malaysia a better place to live in.

Malaysians must avoid from being overly superficial when casting their votes. We should start to understand our intertwined fate as passengers of the same boat. If this country fails because of its politics, none of us is going to get any special privilege or right to escape the wrath.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Mockery of PKR & Zaid Ibrahim

PKR has failed to achieve what it set out to do by conducting direct party elections. It had wanted to expand democratic space within the party and curb political corruption by allowing members to vote directly for their leadership.

Second, the party had intended to promote a new political paradigm to Malaysians. Sadly, it has failed on both accounts.

First, there is a low turnout of voters which exposed a serious lack of grassroots awareness of what the party is trying to promote. Second, any systemic change requires the right mindset or the right leadership to do it. Positive change cannot be achieved if leaders within the political party is more interested in position and power.

Whatever the reason, the perception given to the public is PKR is full of leaders who are only keen to grab power and position for themselves. The quarrels and squabbles are not going to set PKR apart from any component parties in the old regime.

PKR cannot make a convincing sale pitch of a new political dawn and a new hope for Malaysia to us if it cannot even get its house in order. There are many role models of leaders who had made costly sacrifice for their people but PKR leaders are just not among them. It appears that PKR is more interested to grab power than to serve the people.

Zaid is another disappointment. Talking about fairness, he was given so many key positions in the party despite joining it only in 2009. Is it fair to many other capable leaders in PKR whom may have contributed to the party earlier than him?

Zaid should have focused on his role as the coordinator for Pakatan Rakyat and not burdening himself with a deputy president position. If Zaid wants to leave a lasting impression of his legacy on Malaysian politics, he should have taken his role as a coordinator seriously and work hard to establish a real alternative to the Barisan Nasional.

This role is far more important than a deputy president of PKR. Zaid could work hard to persuade other forces in both Peninsula and Sabah & Sarawak to join his newly minted coalition. It is a fact that without a solid, integrated and cohesive coalition, Pakatan cannot hope for their path to Putrajaya to be laid with roses and breeze.

But Zaid is an impatient man. Zaid has given us an impression that he has to be a somebody in PKR.

How can we convince the 4 million Malaysians to register as voters if we cannot provide them with a viable alternative?

PKR leaders should lose their selfish ambition quickly and focus on real political reform if it wants to survive beyond the 13th GE and hopefully to realize its march to Putrajaya.

It does not matter who is right or wrong in the party elections. Politics is about perception. PKR is being perceived badly at the moment.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Implications of Galas & Batu Sapi By-Elections - Another Sad Story For Malaysia

I have called the two by-elections a let-down and a political trap for Malaysia. Key themes continued to emerge and took centre stage at the by-elections e.g. developmental politics, race, religion and personal attack.

There are a few implications for the people:

1) The continuation of master-servant mentality. Voters especially in rural/semi rural constituencies continue to accept a false reality that their future and well-being are dependent on the political masters. There is little awareness of the role of politicians, the relationship between politicians and voters and the election process as a democratic instrument for them to measure the effectiveness of politicians. Elections and their votes are taken as something they must give politicians in exchange for services and assistance.

2) Voters continue to believe that politicians especially in the ruling regime own the nation's resources. As a result, these voters feel obligated to vote for politicians who can deliver them the economic goods e.g. grants and development.

3) Politicians continue to manipulate national resources for their own political expediency. Some politicians actually believe that their party owns the national resources and as political masters they are eligible to use these resources to extend and expand their political interests.

4) Those who are aware and wanted a political reform will continue to stare at the symptoms of systemic decay in our democratic system. There is no indication that the ruling regime is interested to reform the system and accept more responsibility. They would prefer a distorted system in order to preserve power. There is zero indication too that the alternative coalition is ready to take a risk in a new system. It would not mind to compete with the ruling coalition on developmental politics if it has enough resources to match e.g. Galas (PAS government giving out land titles and zakat to Orang Asli). Without a political renewal there is hardly any possibility for this country to find enough political will to correct our internal weaknesses. All parties know that our economic competitiveness is slipping, our education system is decaying, our brains are moving out and our competitors are zipping pass us. But none can come out with a solid solution to rectify the crisis.

For Pakatan:

1) The defeats in Galas and Batu Sapi are indicative of the coalition weaknesses. It cannot continue to ride on the opposition weaknesses to win elections. Politics cannot be always about style but zero substance. Apart from pompous and entertaining speeches, the coalition should start to think how it can convince Malaysians of a new dawn which is better than what the current coalition can offer. How can it win in rural areas?

2) The coalition must be less superficial about its promise of 'change'. Rural folks would not be able to digest an abstract promise of 'change'. So far, the only change which Pakatan has promised is rather speculative - something it can only do after it has won power. How can this promise attracts voters to trust them? How can an abstract change be more powerful than developmental politics? At least the latter can be quantified e.g. money, low cost houses, rice, sarongs, etc.

3) If Galas and Batu Sapi defeats cannot keep Pakatan's leaders arrogance and ego in check then the future is bleak for a two-party system in Malaysia. The ruin of Pakatan will be filled by other forces. The coalition has at most 2 general elections to make a difference. This is the golden era of opposition politics in Malaysia. The combination of Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Nik Aziz is an attractive force. However, these leaders are nearing their decline and are aging. Nik Aziz is probably serving his last term as a chief minister and an iconic leader of PAS. What will PAS become post Nik Aziz? Kit is a giant amongst parliamentarians. Kit is DAP and DAP is Kit. Can DAP command the same respect and support from the Chinese community and urban professionals after the era of Kit Siang? What is PKR without Anwar? These are key issues which must be thoroughly explored by the parties.

For BN:

1) The victories in Galas and Batu Sapi cannot be seen as a yardstick to measure its political comeback nationally. BN must not allow the victories to cloud the need to commit to real political, social and economic reforms. BN may become another Thairak Thai Party if it does not pursue these reforms - only supported by rural/semi rural folks.

2) On political reform, the Umno led BN cannot continue to perpetuate race politics and neglect the 40% population in the country. Umno is leading the coalition in a semi-feudal mode. Mahathir is right that a democratic leadership cannot function in the BN model. Moderate leaders cannot survive within the political structure of Umno. That is why Abdullah Badawi was rattled and knocked out when he lost his balance after his failed attempts at reforms. Mahathir is calling for dictatorship ala China. Sadly, Mahathir does not understand the political and economic systems of mainland China. In China, provinces are given wide autonomy to compete economically and for investments. Provinces have their freedom to pass legislations and enforce them. Most of them get to keep more than 20 percent of their revenues. There is a greater focus on less developed regions compared to Malaysia (where 60% of total budget is allocated to Greater KL). China has a law to safeguard the interests of minorities in education, civil service and cultural preservation. Malaysia focuses on the majority and continues to taunt and blame the minorities for the lack of success of the majority.

3) BN needs to take up a clearer direction for the country. During Mahathir, he was trying to Arabrized the Malay community. He told the nation to look East at the economic and industrial prowess of Japan. He was immersed with the superiority of Western culture and horse riding. Now, he asked the administration to adopt the Beijing Consensus. Malaysia needs its own direction by understanding its unique strengths and social and natural values. Malaysia's strength is in its social diversity. Yes, Malaysia is truly Asia. Unfortunately, apart from appearing as a jingle in tourism advertisement the government has failed to incorporate and promote our diversity in governance and national policy formulation. Non-Umno political parties in BN should shoot themselves in the head if they missed this opportunity to persuade or even force Umno to move BN to the centre and become more accommodative. Their failure to push BN to adopt real multiracialism is partly due to the nexus between politics and business. Most political parties wanted to keep their rice bowl and dare not offend Umno which they are dependent on for contracts, grants, positions in government and agencies etc. Without a political reform, the victories at Galas and Batu Sapi cannot help BN to win the urban votes. Only the mentally shallow would think that 1Malaysia is so magical. It is but just an empty slogan and directionless. Why can't Najib on CNN admit that this government just need to care for the poor and bottom 40% regardless of race in the new affirmative action? NEP benefits the capitalists and elites more than the poor.

4) Galas & Batu Sapi victories would not help to free us from the economic trap. Malaysia problem is a lack of competitiveness. We do not have the required brains, manpower and skills to attract significant and meaningful investment such as Microsoft, Apple, Oracle etc. Most of the investments are oil & gas related, property development, infrastructure development etc. Most critical components (design, R&D & engineering) are not provided by locals but foreign expertise and companies. There is little indication of technology transfer. Imagine Proton is still living on old designs from Mitshubishi. Umno fixation with race supremacy, Bumiputera rights over privileges, false conviction that Malays cannot compete without handicap and Malaysia is the centre of the universe is going to ensure that we stay in the same economic dump for a long time. Wonder why some of the mega projects implemented here fell short of global standards? Wonder why the LRT trains run like a KTM classic train? LRT cannot be compared to MRT or MTR? It is because Umno has never initiate something for the goodness of the people but merely to allow its cronies to make a bundle from these projects. Like any profit driven companies, who would not want to maximize profits at the expense of gullible and unenlightened consumers?

5) There is also a social trap which is holding up the rest of the nation. Mahathir had admitted that Chinese Malaysians were more superior. When a government holds back its best citizens, the country is moving at snail pace. It should allow its best people to compete freely and focus on helping the less privilege ones to catch up. Wonder why the government has never had a grand plan to help the SMEs the way they did for regional corridors? Most of these SMEs are not owned by Bumiputeras but yet they are the most important component of an economy. Most of them are entrepreneurial, energetic, nimble and can be energized to move the economy quickly. Instead of engineering an animosity between Malays and Chinese in the private sector, the government should help the two communities to work together and share their experience. Without any concrete and conscious step to eliminate this trap, Malaysia will continue to lose brains. Talent Corp will die a premature death together with our RM500 million allocated to it. Brains need a good intellectual and innovative environment to come back to and not free visa for foreign spouse or tax free cars.

Galas & Batu Sapi did not alter any part of our sad story. With the social, economic and political traps, the elections will only serve as venues for politicians to satisfy their ego and lust for power and fame. Whoever wins would not help to change the fate of this country.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Is Mahathir a Racist? Or Simply a Big Bully?

Mahathir is attempting his usual gimmick again. He is trying to push the entire blame of what had gone wrong in the country over the last 3 decades to his self-appointed successor and ex-PM Abdullah Badawi.

Why is Mahathir trying so hard to demonize Abdullah? Is Mahathir afraid that history might judge if he was mostly responsible for what had gone wrong in this country? No wonder his party is talking about a review of the history subject in schools. Is Umno, like Mahathir, is also worried about its legacy and credibility?

Mahathir is trying very hard to establish these fallacies:

1) He (Mahathir) had done no wrong. Everything that was wrong was committed/contributed by Abdullah.

2) Abdullah was a weak leader. Hence, he was disliked and hated by the Malays who needed a strong leader to safeguard their interest and special position.

3) Because Abdullah was weak, the other races started to make demands and asked for the Malay special rights to be abolished. He was trying to justify the existence of Perkasa by creating imaginary 'extremists'.

4) Abdullah had detained opposition members under ISA.

5) Abdullah flip-flopped on policies.

His real target is actually not Abdullah. The latter was merely a distraction and a sacrificial lamb for Mahathir. Mahathir needed a person to push all the responsibilities to. Abdullah was not nasty. He was meek and weak, yes.

If he was nasty, he would have done something terribly bad to Mahathir for bad mouthing him and plotted for his downfall. To him, Mahathir is simply a big bully. Mahathir was acting like a spoilt brat who had set Abdullah up for stealing the ice cream when he had actually ate it himself.

Second, did Mahathir protect the interest of the poor Malays? Mahathir had created a new class of Malay cronies during his rule. His action had distorted the main focus of NEP from poverty alleviation to 30% equity. Would it be right if the 30% Bumiputera equity was held in the hands of a few super rich businessmen?

Malays need a leader who can focus on a bottom's up approach to socio-economic restructuring. No extremist would argue against the need to help the poor regardless of race. But Mahathir was more keen to protect the interest of super rich. Who created and promoted the APs, negotiated contracts, nepotism, corruption, money politics, racial politics and cronyism if not Mahathir?

Who muzzled the judiciary and ripped the credibility of the once independent civil service and public institutions?

Did Mahathir flip-flop on policies? Yes, many e.g. education, economics, NEP and many more. In fact, policy inconsistency was the main reason why investors avoided coming to Malaysia since the mid-90's.

Did Mahathir put any opposition members under ISA arrest? Truck loads of them. It is hilarious for him to accuse Abdullah for doing the same.

Mahathir's political career has come through a full circle. He had started as a racist politician, became a PM, promoted unity through Bangsa Malaysia and had gone back to his racist past by championing race supremacy and dominance. There is nothing wrong to defend his race. What is wrong is Mahathir had manipulated race to protect the interest of a few selected elites in the ruling regime.

Does Mahathir care about the poor Malay? If he was, why are Malays still form the largest percentage of the poorest in this country? Why was the government willing to waste billions on PKFZ, Bakun Dam, Cyberjaya, Putrajaya, corruption, wastage, new palaces, and a few newly proposed multi billions projects but peanuts for the poor?

History will judge if Mahathir is a racist and a bully or a true statesman.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elections & Political Trap

Both the by-elections in Galas and Batu Sapi lead us to a sorry state of Malaysian politics. Our politicians are caught in a deep political trap. Most of the candidates and politicians who are involved in the campaign are not able to get out from the racial/religious mould.

Every candidate claims to be able to serve the people better but stop short of providing the details. One candidate running for a parliamentary seat said that she wanted to improve the hygiene level of her constituents if elected. She was more comfortable with a musical instrument than trying to become a health care practitioner. Does she even know the role and responsibility of a member of parliament?

Another candidate is trying to sell 'change' to the mostly poor voters. What is the meaning of change if these voters can barely afford to live decently?

Most of them would not know what an 'autonomy' means to them. Politicians must show more interest in working to improve the fundamental issues faced by the largely disenfranchised citizens.

Most of them have been neglected over the last 50 years and are barely living on the fringe of a not-so-decent life. Many barely earn enough to put food on the table. As a result, many of their children did not get a basic education.

Our politicians must understand their own role and responsibility as policy makers. They must understand how their leadership and representation can help to improve the life of these poor and often neglected voters.

Public office should not be used to satisfy a lust for power and fame.

Unfortunately, our politicians and elections are still caught in the same unhealthy and dangerous political trap. Politicians are only good at running their opponents down by attacking their personality. It is a shame that both by-elections did not feature even a lively and meaning debate between the candidates.

The only thing we know is money, lots of it, is being throw around. It will be very unfortunate if the rakyat allow some crumbs to influence their sense of justice and real choice.

It is highly like that we will observe similar trend in the next couple hundreds of election. When can Malaysia get free itself from the political trap?