Rule of law is not arbitrary rule

THE new Pakatan Harapan government claims to be serious about implementing the rule of law in this country without fear or favour instead of the arbitrary application of the law which we have witnessed for the past 61 years.

However, against this principle, some of the recent changes in government institutions and actions by the new administration are cause for concern.

The Attorney-General must be truly independent

First, it has been reported that Lim Guan Eng’s lawyer plans to make representations to the new Attorney-General (AG) for the corruption charges against him to be dropped or changed.

After the shenanigans associated with the last “BN-friendly” AG that we are presently beholding, I’m surprised the new PH government would want to be seen to be doing the same with a “PH-friendly” AG.

Now, if we are not to slide into banana republicanism instead of upholding the rule of law as claimed by the new prime minister, the new AG should not only be strictly independent but must be seen to be independent and not an instrument of the ruling party.

The Malaysian people did not sack the old regime to put in place the same old, same old.

People have a sense of justice. We do not tolerate double standards and the AG has to be scrupulously neutral if he/she is not to be accused of partiality.

Rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law and that includes the powerful and the well-connected. When the AG’s office is abused for political ends, we will no longer have faith in the rule of law.

Once the system is not seen to be fair, people will lose faith in the legal system in this country and we will have anarchy. It is the rule of law applied without fear or favour that protects individuals, and society as a whole, from arbitrary measures and safeguards personal liberties.

What are the terms of reference of the Council of Eminent Persons?

Then we had a “Council of Eminent Persons” (CEP) thrust upon us with unknown terms of reference and without constitutional precedence. Before further statements and actions are taken by the CEP, Malaysians want answers to important questions:

>> Is this Council merely an advisory function to the Cabinet or just to the prime minister’s council?

>> Was the chairman of this Council elected by the Council or appointed by the prime minister?

>> Is its sell-by date 100 days or is that just Daim’s own agenda that he recently announced?

>> Will a Council place be reserved for Tun Dr Mahathir when he hands over the prime ministership to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?

This is why the specific terms of reference for the CEP must be clear for all to see.

Now, if this Council is merely an advisory role, why did Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim warn us to be wary of Daim Zainuddin in his recent interview with Malaysiakini: “… people are also expressing deep consternation that he has been unable to explain some major problems in the past … People say there’s no need to bring old baggage, which is true, but to me, if you want to talk about democratic accountability, it must not stop at (former prime minister) Datuk Seri Najib (Abdul Razak).”

Put an end to ministerial and prime ministerial prerogative in our laws

Many of our laws have a rider that allows the minister to have the final say with the interpretation of the law.

Other laws such as the Petroleum Development Act 1974 gives inordinate power to the prime minister as pointed out by former UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy: “Section 3 of the Petroleum Development Act 1974 empowers the prime minister to direct the Board of Petronas as he deemed fit.

Such directions are binding on the Board notwithstanding any written law to the contrary.” (Foreword to “Racism & Racial Discrimination in Malaysia” by Kua Kia Soong, Suaram 2015:xii)

Such prerogative powers should not be in the hands of ministers and the prime minister if we truly believe in the rule of law and work should start to clean up all such laws to ensure they are “people-friendly”.

Want of transparency, accountability and good governance in public administration and government-linked corporations has brought the system of governance into an appalling state.

The blatant abuse of power resulting in misuse of public funds with impunity led to the fall of the old regime. Malaysians expect better laws, proper procedures and transparent processes. In other words, we want rule of law, not an arbitrary rule, please!

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Stop kicking sand in Kim’s face

IT’S got to be either one of the stupidest acts that I can recall or a very wicked plan by Washington neocons to sabotage Korean peace talks.

How else to describe the decision by Big Brother USA and junior sidekick South Korea to stage major air force exercises on North Korea’s border. The prickly North Koreans had a fit, of course, as always when the US flexes its muscles on their borders. Continuing South and North Korean peace talks scheduled last week were cancelled by the furious North Koreans. The much ballyhooed Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is now threatened with cancellation or delay.

Who can blame the North Koreans for blowing their tops? As Trump administration mouthpieces were gabbing about peace and light, the US Air Force was getting ready to fly B-52 heavy bombers and F-22 Raptor stealth fighters around North Korea’s borders and missile-armed subs lurked at sea.

This provocation was the first of two major spring military exercises planned by the US and its reluctant South Korean satrap. In case North Korea failed to get the message, the second exercise is code-named “Maximum Thunder”.

And this right after Trump and his neocon minions reneged on the sensible nuclear treaty with Iran. In a policy one could call “eat sand and die”, Trump demanded that Iran not only give up any and all nuclear capacity (Iran has no nukes), but also junk its non-nuclear armed medium-range missiles, stop backing the Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, roll over and be good, don’t do anything to upset Israel, and pull out of Syria. In short, a total surrender policy leading to future regime change. Hardly an encouragement for North Korea.

North Korea was right on target when it accused arch-neocon John Bolton of trying to sabotage the peace deal. In 2005-2006, Bolton served as the Bush administration’s ambassador to the UN. He established a tradition for the post of being anti-Muslim, pro-Israel and anti-Russian, a policy continued to this day by the current US UN rep, loud-mouthed neocon Nikki Haley.

In 2005-2006, after years of negotiations, the US and North Korea were close to a nuclear/peace deal.

Enter John Bolton. He succeeded in sabotaging the US-North Korea deal. Why? Because Bolton, as an arch neocon, was fanatically pro-Israel and feared that North Korea might provide nuclear technology to Israel’s foes. As usual with the neocons, Israel’s interests came before those of the United States. Trump’s newly named secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, is also an ardent neocon.

Two weeks ago, Bolton went onto US TV and suggested North Korea might follow the course set by Libya, of all places. Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, bought some nuclear equipment from Pakistan so he could hand it over to the US as a gesture of cooperation after the Bush administration invaded Iraq. The handover was done with much fanfare, then the US, France and Britain attacked Libya and overthrew Gaddafi. The hapless Libyan leader was eventually murdered by French agents.

Is this what Bolton has in mind for North Korea? The Northerners certainly seemed to think so. Some wondered if Bolton and perhaps Pompeo were trying to sabotage the North Korea deal. Or were at least being incredibly obtuse and belligerent. Was Trump involved in this intrigue? Hard to tell. But he can’t be happy. His minions and bootlickers are promoting Trump for the Nobel Prize – rather ahead of events.

Or was the US military rattling its sabres and trying to protect its huge investments in North Asia? The Pentagon takes a dim view of the proposed Korean nuclear accords. The burst of sweetness and light coming from Pyongyang just sounds too good to be true.

Veteran Korea observers, this writer included, find it hard to believe Kim Jong-un will give up his nuclear weapons, particularly after seeing Trump’s deceit in dealing with Iran and Gaddafi’s murder.

Speaking of de-nuclearisation, why does North Korea not demand that the US get rid of its nuclear weapons based in South Korea, Okinawa, Guam and with the 7th Fleet? Many are targeted on North Korea. US nuclear weapons are based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Others are secretly based in Japan.

Why not demand the US pull out all its 28,500 troops in South Korea and some 2,000 military technicians at air bases? Conclusively halt those spring and fall military manoeuvres that raise the threat of war. End the trade embargo of North Korea that amounts to high-level economic warfare. Establish normal diplomatic relations.

Pyongyang has not even begun to raise these issues. Smiles and hugs are premature.

Eric S. Margolis is a syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

A fair and farsighted education system

IF we are to progress as a truly “developed” nation, we need a reformulation of our education system founded on egalitarian principles both in terms of opportunities and institutional practice. Tangible educational policy must focus on nurturing all Malaysians regardless of class or ethnicity to foster a nation of mature, critical and creative thinking citizens and that bridges the huge differential between manual and intellectual labour.

Malaysians deserve quality holistic education that encourages learning of the arts and humanities as well as scientific and technological knowledge required for research and development and vocational skills. Education must be secular and free of political and religious interference. Let academic freedom, students’ self-government and campus autonomy be the new environment in our tertiary institutions.

Free tertiary education for the B40

To meet the egalitarian goal of leaving no child behind, tertiary education needs to be free for the less privileged (household incomes of RM10,000 a month and below). To have a progressive and sustainable system, those from a more privileged background (household income RM20,000 or more a month) should pay full tuition fees. Otherwise, the middle class who dominate tertiary institutions will be subsidised by the working class. Those from households between RM10,000 and RM20,000 a month could pay on a sliding scale that is means tested. This will better ensure equal opportunities for all with no racial discrimination in enrolment into tertiary educational institutions.

The principle of free primary and secondary education for all should extend to the 60 independent Chinese secondary schools because they have been maintained by the Chinese community since 1961 and their Unified Examination Certificate is now recognised by the PH government.

No politics

The bigger priority of our new education policy is ending the politicisation of education. To refer to just one event out of many in the last six decades – the decision to send unqualified administrators to Chinese schools in 1987 – led to protests which then saw the unleashing of Operation Lalang. The unfair financial allocation to SRJK schools is also reflective of the way mother tongue education has been politicised and forced the Chinese and Tamil communities to pay “double taxation” to maintain their schools. The most telling indicator of the way education has been politicised is the statistics on Chinese and Tamil schools:

At Independence, we had 1,350 Chinese primary schools, 78 Chinese secondary schools and more than 800 Tamil primary schools. Today, there are only 1,290 Chinese primary schools, 60 independent Chinese secondary schools and 550 Tamil primary schools despite the doubling of the Chinese and Tamil population. There are nearly 100,000 non-Chinese students in the Chinese primary schools. Can you imagine the numbers in the classes in these schools?

Be proud of our mother tongue schools

Malaysians have good reason to be proud of our longstanding multilingual educational institutions. We should be proud that we have mother tongue education systems that have been nurtured since pre-British colonial times. The first Chinese school in the peninsula was set up in 1819, nearly 200 years ago. The Tamil schools have also had nearly 150 years’ history. It is not true that the British built different schools to keep the Malayan people apart. All mother tongue schools, including Malay schools were neglected under the British. It was the far-sighted pioneers in the respective communities those early days who built the schools to ensure their children received mother tongue education.

Thus, our ethnic communities should be congratulated for nurturing their mother tongue education despite the colonial neglect. During the pre-Independence days, there was mutual encouragement among the Malay, Chinese and Tamil education groups. Thus, the Chinese education leader Lim Lian Geok encouraged the Malay-language lobby to develop Malay-language education beyond primary level during the pre-Independence days.

Nevertheless, since Independence the Chinese and Tamil school lobbies have grown to distrust Umno’s attempts to change the character of these schools while refusing to allow any further increase in numbers. The mother tongue education lobbies have doggedly defended their schools against attempts to convert them to English-medium and later into Malay-medium schools. The statistics speak for themselves and the controversies at practically every general election reflect the politics of race and assimilation. Those who do not comprehend the suspicions by the Chinese and Tamil school lobbies of Umno’s agenda should read the protean saga I have written in The Chinese Schools of Malaysia.

The lesson to be learnt from the acrimonious controversies of the last 61 years is that the disingenuous attempts to assimilate mother tongue schools are bound to fail because the Chinese and Tamil communities will defend their schools tooth and nail.

Human rights provisions cannot be segregationist

The arguments against the existence of Chinese and Tamil schools are always the same, namely that they do not promote national integration. This is sheer hypocrisy when we do not hear the same strident condemnation of the racist enrolment policy at UiTM and other Mara institutions even though these institutions are paid for by all Malaysian taxpayers.

I have argued against the inconsistent arguments of the “melting pot theorists” elsewhere. As educationist Ken Robinson has advocated, “Ultimately, education has to be formed around how children learn and what they need to learn to form themselves.” Unesco studies have shown that while middle class children in more privileged family environments can cope with a second language as the main medium of instruction, those from less privileged home environments fare better when the medium of instruction at pre-school and primary level is their mother tongue.

Having said that, I have greater respect for the democrats who genuinely hope for greater contact between children of different ethnic communities. Allow me to put forward a progressive vision.

Schools provided by elected local councils

The promise of elected local government in the PH manifesto is fundamental to this vision. Once we have democratically elected local councils, education can be decentralised with schools built to suit the needs of the local communities based on local survey findings rather than the prevailing top down racial politicisation of education. Thus, if a community expresses a need for a Chinese medium school in Petaling Jaya or Kajang or Kuantan or Johor Baru, the local council would build it based on that need. The same applies to the other communities, for example, in providing English medium schools for Malaysians whose mother tongue at home is English. Why not indeed!

Education precincts to promote integration

Integration can be nurtured via “education precincts” set up by the local government to include new Malay-medium, Chinese-medium, Tamil-medium, and English-medium schools. These precincts would have parks and fields, theatres, ICT centres, libraries, gymnasiums, and other excellent facilities to be shared by students from all the schools in the precinct. Thus, besides allowing for opportunities to integrate, such a design will ensure greater equality among the schools in terms of quality of schools, facilities and financial allocations. The Chinese and Tamil schools will have no reason to complain about being discriminated against when they receive proportionate government assistance. And existing schools can similarly be grouped to ensure they have access to shared facilities and opportunities in their vicinity.

Thus, not only will students from all the streams have the opportunity to mix and mingle in these precincts, they can take part in joint cultural performances, quizzes, elocution and debating competitions, societies and sports meets. This will not only promote integration but also enhance the quality and standards of all schools.

The underlying principle in creating education precincts is qualitatively different from the old government’s “Vision School” concept, in that the schools in the education precinct are run AUTONOMOUSLY. The only difference is that the schools are completely catered for and funded by the government. Such an egalitarian system would offer a progressive way forward for the whole nation and would herald a new era of truly Malaysian cultural understanding both in education and society. For our system of education to be high-performing, it has to be well-focused and well-resourced, investing in professional training, appropriate technology and such common support services as in the proposed education precincts.

Once the new PH government honours its aspiration of creating a Malaysian Malaysia and to enact the provision of local council elections, it would be a short step to adopt education precincts as an integrationist blueprint for our new education policy. The mother tongue lobby in the Chinese and Tamil communities must likewise consider this proposal to have education precincts if they are serious about wanting to promote national integration. After 61 years of never ending controversies over our mother tongue schools, it is time to say: “No politics in education please, we’re Malaysians!”

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Taiwan can help meet health-for-all targets

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged member states to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. Although not a WHO member, Taiwan has offered universal health coverage to its 23 million citizens since 1995.

Taiwan launched its National Health Insurance (NHI) initiative by integrating medical programmes for labourers, farmers, and government employees, which covered only half the population. This was expanded to provide equal coverage to all citizens from birth. All foreigners who legally work or reside in Taiwan are also covered.

The NHI is a public programme run by the government based on a single-payer model. Life expectancy in Taiwan has increased to levels seen in key OECD countries, with women living on average to 83.4 years old, and men to 76.8. Yet healthcare costs are far lower in Taiwan than in most highly developed countries in Europe and North America, at US$1,430 per capita per year, representing just 6.3% of GDP in 2016. Administrative costs run at less than 1% of the total and public satisfaction remains high, at 85.8% in 2017.

Taiwan’s health system has undergone reforms to ensure its sustainability. Implementing the Global Budget Payment on top of Fee-For-Service reimbursement method effectively reduced annual medical expenditure growth from 12% to 5% since 2003. And the way premiums are collected has also changed from being purely payroll-based, to including supplementary premiums based on capital gains, which has created a surplus for the National Health Insurance Fund.

The NHI’s information system has migrated to the cloud, making it easier for hospitals, clinics, and doctors to access medical information. We encourage hospitals to upload computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans so they can be retrieved for consultations. A personalised cloud-based service, My Health Bank, enables patients to check their records.

The government has adopted a wide range of measures to reduce health inequalities affecting disadvantaged groups. We have premium subsidies for low-income and near-poor households, as well as the unemployed. We have also improved the provision of services in areas with limited healthcare resources, and implemented an Integrated Delivery System (IDS) in remote areas. We also raised subsidies on preventive healthcare services for indigenous populations.

It is impossible for countries to overcome healthcare challenges on their own. It is only through interdisciplinary and international cooperation that we can build a global health system that consistently and cost-effectively meets the healthcare needs of people worldwide and bring to fruition the WHO’s ultimate goal of health for all.

Taiwan has a great deal of experience in building and maintaining a universal health insurance system. We believe that Taiwan’s healthcare system can serve as a model for other countries. It has a constructive role to play in creating a robust global health network, and the best way is through taking part in the World Health Assembly (WHA) and WHO.

It is regrettable that political obstruction led to Taiwan being denied an invitation to the 70th WHA as an observer last year. The WHO not only failed to abide by its constitution, but also ignored widespread calls for Taiwan’s inclusion. Yet, Taiwan remains committed to helping enhance regional and global disease prevention networks, and assisting other countries in overcoming their healthcare challenges.

Taiwan seeks to take part in the 71st WHA this year as an observer.

Dr Chen Shih-Chung is Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare.

Rule of law must apply to all financial scandals

IT IS gratifying to see the speed in which the 1MDB investigation is being conducted and the pledge by the new prime minister that the rule of law will be the new mantra and will apply to all and sundry.

Even before this historical denouement, the two political coalitions in the country had been forced through their grandstanding to call for Royal Commissions of Inquiry (RCIs) into three of the worst financial scandals in recent Malaysian history. Pakatan Harapan had of course been calling for an RCI into the 1MDB scandal.

We would echo the call by former Federal Court Judge Gopal Sri Ram for the government to investigate the Scorpene submarine deal in which the former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s and his close associate, Abdul Razak Baginda were involved. In this scandal not only were huge commissions involved but a woman was murdered. Although two former bodyguards of the former PM have been charged and sentenced, the motive for the murder has to be investigated in a re-trial and the corrupt brought to book.

Set up truly independent Royal Commissions of Inquiry

Since Malaysians have been celebrating the end of 61 years of BN misrule and tyranny, it is only right and expected that the rule of law should apply to all the financial scandals during these 61 years from the relatively recent forex losses to the BMF scandal in 1984. These multi-billion financial losses have not been accounted for and the negligent and corrupt leaders brought to account. In these scandals, since the present PM was involved, it is only appropriate that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (or more commissions if need be) be set up made up of truly independent persons. Only then can we say that the rule of law applies to all and sundry in Malaysia.

Just as the previous PM tried to get away with impunity by compromising our democratic institutions, the new PH government must ensure that no leader should be allowed to get away with impunity for any transgressions against accountability and loss of the national coffers.

Political scientists Milne & Mauzy commented that Malaysia’s financial scandals “reached endemic proportions” in the mid-80s. Barry Wain, author of Malaysian Maverick reckons that close to RM100 billion were squandered between 1981 to 2003.

61 years of impunity

One of the first scandals in the 80s was what Lim Kit Siang called the RM2.5 billion “scandal of scandals” when Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, a Hong Kong based subsidiary of state-owned Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad, was found to have engaged in a wide range of shady dealings involving the Carrian Group. The sordid details included the murder of a BBMB auditor Jalil Ibrahim, who was sent to conduct an audit of BMF Hong Kong in 1983. No RCI has thoroughly investigated this scandal to see who in Kuala Lumpur had authorised those shady deals and recommended the appropriate charges against those responsible for this massive financial scandal.

Then there were the more than US$600 million losses suffered by the country over the Maminco-Makuwasa tin caper on Nov 19, 1986 when there was the attempt to corner the international tin market in 1981. Was it a Cabinet decision? An RCI must uncover the circumstances surrounding this covert operation which resulted not only in huge losses for the nation but the end of our erstwhile tin industry.

And who can forget Lim’s denunciation of Mahathir’s “piratisation” of the North-South Highway in 1987? The North-South Expressway was privatised to the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) and there were improprieties in the tender exercise, conflict of interest, lack of accountability and transparency.

In August 1997, 15 NGOs including Aliran, Awam, Fomca, ERA, Suaram and Tenaganita submitted a memorandum to the Anti-Corruption Agency asking for swift investigations concerning nepotism by various noted personalities, including the children of the prime Minister and an accompanying document containing lists of private limited companies where three children of the Prime Minister – Mirzan, Mokhzani and Mukhriz Mahathir – acted as directors. According to searches made at the Registry of Companies at the end of 1994, Mirzan had interests in 98 companies, Mokhzani in 48 companies and Mukhriz in 67 companies. They wanted to know whether there was any nepotism in the government, through Petronas by using hundreds of millions of ringgit of public funds to bail out Mirzan Mahathir’s Konsortium Perkapalan Bhd.

Cronies were bailed out after the 1997 financial crisis requiring repeated billion-ringgit bailouts at the public taxpayers’ expense especially that of the national airline in the government’s buyback bailout of Tajudin’s MAS stake at taxpayers’ expense. The RM10.5 billion bailout of Renong was another government bail-out of politically well-connected companies. At the end of 1998, Malaysian taxpayers were burdened with Perwaja’s RM9.1 billion liabilities. Accumulated losses and liabilities reached over RM10 billion.

The recently concluded RCI report into the colossal forex losses as a result of speculation by Bank Negara in the international currency markets from 1992-1994, with the losses cited as ranging from RM10 billion to RM30 billion must be made public. We can then determine the actual extent of the colossal forex losses and whether there had been any financial malpractices and abuses by then prime minister, finance minister and Bank Negara Governor in view of the inconsistencies and conflicting explanations about the colossal forex losses. The RCI should recommend the appropriate charges for those who abused their powers.

An RCI or RCIs must re-open the books on all the financial scandals since the eighties that have cost the rakyat so many billions of ringgit. For human rights defenders who demand social justice, democracy and human rights, there is no place for impunity. Impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. It refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. Impunity is especially common in countries that do not respect the rule of law, that suffer from corruption and have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak and the security forces are protected by the powers that be.

The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on Feb 8, 2005 states that:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

In our new democracy after the peoples’ vote in GE14, impunity must not be allowed to be entrenched in this country. We welcome the pledge by the new PM that the rule of law must prevail throughout …

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The trust deficit and the BN defeat

THE significance of the 14th General Election goes beyond Malaysian shores. May 9 will be remembered as the day when the multi-ethnic population of a country ousted the world’s longest ruling coalition through the ballot box in a peaceful atmosphere without a drop of blood.

This is unique in emerging democracies in the Global South. It makes one proud to be a Malaysian.

This victory of the political opposition should be placed within its proper perspective before we try to explain the reasons for it.

Also, what are the challenges that the Pakatan Harapan-led government now faces and will it be able to handle them?

Since the early years of independence, Malaysia has had a functioning opposition. There hasn’t been a single moment in our history when there was no one on the opposition benches, not in 1964 or in 1974 or in 2004, occasions when the ruling coalition in the form of the Barisan Nasional and its predecessor, the Alliance won overwhelmingly in parliamentary elections.

Opposition parties forging coalitions to defeat the Alliance or the BN has also been happening for a long time. A partnership of two left parties, the Parti Rakyat and the Labour Party called the Socialist Front did fairly well in the 1959 general election. Forty years later there was a more earnest attempt to create a four-party coalition comprising PAS, DAP, Keadilan and Parti Rakyat. Named the Barisan Alternatif (BA), the coalition sought to mobilise voters in the 10th general election in 1999 through allegations of abuse of power and authoritarianism against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the BN. The “black eye” of the incarcerated Anwar Ibrahim was a major rallying point.

The BA, specifically PAS, made some electoral gains notably capturing Terengganu.

However, it was in the 2008 general election that the opposition really made great strides, denying the BN its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and capturing Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor, apart from retaining control over Kelantan.

Anwar was an important campaigner as he was in the 2013 contest in which the opposition Pakatan Rakyat consisting of PAS, DAP and Keadilan remained in power in Kelantan, Penang and Selangor and continued to deny the BN its two-thirds majority in Parliament. In fact, the opposition increased its parliamentary representation by seven seats.

The issues that brought the votes to the Pakatan Rakyat in the 12th and 13th general elections were related to allegations of restrictions to civil and political rights, corruption, socio-economic injustices, ethnic polarisation and, in the case of PAS, the inability of the BN to implement Islamic law. In themselves, these issues were not new except that the environment had changed with the alternative media playing a huge role in shaping public perceptions.

They served to erode the support base of the ruling BN.

It is against this backdrop that one should view the defeat of the BN in the recently concluded general election. Each and every issue that had been part of the opposition’s menu in the past now assumed a more concrete manifestation. Thus, the neglect of the bottom 40% of society and the marginalisation of a substantial segment of the middle class amid rising cost of living that had become pervasive in the last five or six years found a villain in the goods and services tax (GST) introduced in April 2015. This was undoubtedly a chink in the armour of the BN which exposed the government’s vulnerability. But it would not have had such an adverse impact had it not been for the 1MDB scandal. A mammoth money-laundering scam implicating Najib, his family and his sidekicks, the then prime minister sought to conceal and camouflage it through dismissal of political comrades, by squeezing out public officials and by emasculating local inquiries. Not a single person has been charged for any wrongdoing connected with 1MDB or its affiliates in Malaysia.

It is this utter lack of honesty and integrity on the part of the Najib government that incensed a lot of Malaysians and convinced them that they should oust him. If anything, suspicions about the mismanagement of Felda reflected in the sale of land and properties and alleged misdeeds in other government linked outfits further undermined his credibility.

To put it in a nutshell, over four or five years, a yawning trust deficit had developed between Najib and the people. The verdict at the polls was a mirror of that deficit.

What exacerbated the trust deficit was the conduct of the election itself. As in 2013, Najib campaigned as if he was in a presidential race where everything is focused upon him. Since there was already a trust deficit, it weakened his position further. The temporary dissolution of Mahathir’s party by the Registrar of Societies and the ban on his image in the campaign by the Election Commission intensified the anger among voters.

Most of all, it was the viciousness with which Mahathir was savaged in the government-linked media that increased their disgust towards the incumbent. There was a total lack of manners, of courtesy which is so integral to Malay culture. This gross, crude violation of “adab” in Najib’s campaign cost him dearly.

Najib had underestimated the strength of the bond between his nemesis and the people. At the helm of the nation for 22 years, there was a high degree of appreciation of Mahathir’s contribution to the well-being of the masses, even if many were also aware of the downside of his leadership.

As leader of the Pakatan Harapan, he demonstrated two dimensions of his leadership which were critical to the success of his coalition. One, he solidified a disparate coalition by endowing the four parties with a sense of common purpose. A common logo was an outstanding achievement. Previous attempts at creating such a unifying symbol among opposition parties had failed.

The logo gave Pakatan a shared identity as a result of which the voters’ confidence in the coalition heightened. Two, Mahathir also succeeded in convincing the people that their overriding mission was to overthrow a leader who was perceived as corrupt and greedy. It was a simple direct message which he clinched by telling the voters that if they did not fulfil their mission Malaysia was doomed. Hence, Pakatan’s battle cry “to save the nation”.

Formulating effective strategies to combat corruption would therefore be the Pakatan’s greatest challenge. Its manifesto contains some ideas on this, including making political donations transparent. It also seeks to make the anti-corruption commission truly independent of the executive by providing the Malaysian Parliament with authority over the body.

There are many other office-holders and institutions vital for good governance that the Pakatan has identified which will also be subjected to parliamentary oversight. The Council of Elders that Prime Minister Mahathir has established to address matters pertaining to finance and the economy may also have to provide inputs on governance and integrity.

There are of course other equally serious challenges that the new government will have to face. The widening income gap between those who have a lot and those who have a little which has far-reaching consequences for other sectors of society should be the nation’s priority. Certain laws which subvert the quest for human dignity should also be reviewed.

Creating conditions that are conducive for the growth of empathy and understanding among the communities is of crucial importance.

For Pakatan to implement the onerous tasks ahead, there will have to be internal cohesion.

This is especially true of a coalition like Pakatan Harapan.

It stands to reason that Mahathir be given a bit of time and space to strengthen the sinews of the coalition as it leads the quest for a better Malaysia.

The article is based upon a presentation made at the Yusuf Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore on May 11. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The trust deficit and the BN defeat

THE significance of the 14th General Election goes beyond Malaysian shores. May 9 will be remembered as the day when the multi-ethnic population of a country ousted the world’s longest ruling coalition through the ballot box in a peaceful atmosphere without a drop of blood.

This is unique in emerging democracies in the Global South. It makes one proud to be a Malaysian.

This victory of the political opposition should be placed within its proper perspective before we try to explain the reasons for it.

Also, what are the challenges that the Pakatan Harapan-led government now faces and will it be able to handle them?

Since the early years of independence, Malaysia has had a functioning opposition. There hasn’t been a single moment in our history when there was no one on the opposition benches, not in 1964 or in 1974 or in 2004, occasions when the ruling coalition in the form of the Barisan Nasional and its predecessor, the Alliance won overwhelmingly in parliamentary elections.

Opposition parties forging coalitions to defeat the Alliance or the BN has also been happening for a long time. A partnership of two left parties, the Parti Rakyat and the Labour Party called the Socialist Front did fairly well in the 1959 general election. Forty years later there was a more earnest attempt to create a four-party coalition comprising PAS, DAP, Keadilan and Parti Rakyat. Named the Barisan Alternatif (BA), the coalition sought to mobilise voters in the 10th general election in 1999 through allegations of abuse of power and authoritarianism against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the BN. The “black eye” of the incarcerated Anwar Ibrahim was a major rallying point.

The BA, specifically PAS, made some electoral gains notably capturing Terengganu.

However, it was in the 2008 general election that the opposition really made great strides, denying the BN its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and capturing Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor, apart from retaining control over Kelantan.

Anwar was an important campaigner as he was in the 2013 contest in which the opposition Pakatan Rakyat consisting of PAS, DAP and Keadilan remained in power in Kelantan, Penang and Selangor and continued to deny the BN its two-thirds majority in Parliament. In fact, the opposition increased its parliamentary representation by seven seats.

The issues that brought the votes to the Pakatan Rakyat in the 12th and 13th general elections were related to allegations of restrictions to civil and political rights, corruption, socio-economic injustices, ethnic polarisation and, in the case of PAS, the inability of the BN to implement Islamic law. In themselves, these issues were not new except that the environment had changed with the alternative media playing a huge role in shaping public perceptions.

They served to erode the support base of the ruling BN.

It is against this backdrop that one should view the defeat of the BN in the recently concluded general election. Each and every issue that had been part of the opposition’s menu in the past now assumed a more concrete manifestation. Thus, the neglect of the bottom 40% of society and the marginalisation of a substantial segment of the middle class amid rising cost of living that had become pervasive in the last five or six years found a villain in the goods and services tax (GST) introduced in April 2015. This was undoubtedly a chink in the armour of the BN which exposed the government’s vulnerability. But it would not have had such an adverse impact had it not been for the 1MDB scandal. A mammoth money-laundering scam implicating Najib, his family and his sidekicks, the then prime minister sought to conceal and camouflage it through dismissal of political comrades, by squeezing out public officials and by emasculating local inquiries. Not a single person has been charged for any wrongdoing connected with 1MDB or its affiliates in Malaysia.

It is this utter lack of honesty and integrity on the part of the Najib government that incensed a lot of Malaysians and convinced them that they should oust him. If anything, suspicions about the mismanagement of Felda reflected in the sale of land and properties and alleged misdeeds in other government linked outfits further undermined his credibility.

To put it in a nutshell, over four or five years, a yawning trust deficit had developed between Najib and the people. The verdict at the polls was a mirror of that deficit.

What exacerbated the trust deficit was the conduct of the election itself. As in 2013, Najib campaigned as if he was in a presidential race where everything is focused upon him. Since there was already a trust deficit, it weakened his position further. The temporary dissolution of Mahathir’s party by the Registrar of Societies and the ban on his image in the campaign by the Election Commission intensified the anger among voters.

Most of all, it was the viciousness with which Mahathir was savaged in the government-linked media that increased their disgust towards the incumbent. There was a total lack of manners, of courtesy which is so integral to Malay culture. This gross, crude violation of “adab” in Najib’s campaign cost him dearly.

Najib had underestimated the strength of the bond between his nemesis and the people. At the helm of the nation for 22 years, there was a high degree of appreciation of Mahathir’s contribution to the well-being of the masses, even if many were also aware of the downside of his leadership.

As leader of the Pakatan Harapan, he demonstrated two dimensions of his leadership which were critical to the success of his coalition. One, he solidified a disparate coalition by endowing the four parties with a sense of common purpose. A common logo was an outstanding achievement. Previous attempts at creating such a unifying symbol among opposition parties had failed.

The logo gave Pakatan a shared identity as a result of which the voters’ confidence in the coalition heightened. Two, Mahathir also succeeded in convincing the people that their overriding mission was to overthrow a leader who was perceived as corrupt and greedy. It was a simple direct message which he clinched by telling the voters that if they did not fulfil their mission Malaysia was doomed. Hence, Pakatan’s battle cry “to save the nation”.

Formulating effective strategies to combat corruption would therefore be the Pakatan’s greatest challenge. Its manifesto contains some ideas on this, including making political donations transparent. It also seeks to make the anti-corruption commission truly independent of the executive by providing the Malaysian Parliament with authority over the body.

There are many other office-holders and institutions vital for good governance that the Pakatan has identified which will also be subjected to parliamentary oversight. The Council of Elders that Prime Minister Mahathir has established to address matters pertaining to finance and the economy may also have to provide inputs on governance and integrity.

There are of course other equally serious challenges that the new government will have to face. The widening income gap between those who have a lot and those who have a little which has far-reaching consequences for other sectors of society should be the nation’s priority. Certain laws which subvert the quest for human dignity should also be reviewed.

Creating conditions that are conducive for the growth of empathy and understanding among the communities is of crucial importance.

For Pakatan to implement the onerous tasks ahead, there will have to be internal cohesion.

This is especially true of a coalition like Pakatan Harapan.

It stands to reason that Mahathir be given a bit of time and space to strengthen the sinews of the coalition as it leads the quest for a better Malaysia.

The article is based upon a presentation made at the Yusuf Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore on May 11. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Wealth redistribution?

CONSIDERING the cost of living and deteriorating income inequality in our country contributed to the sacking of the Barisan Nasional government, one wonders first of all what the objective is in forming a Council of Elders (Bernama reports its now eminent advisers) and secondly whether the choice of Malaysia’s wealthiest persons, Robert Kuok, Daim Zainuddin in the newly minted “Council of Elders” will achieve that objective by prioritising wealth redistribution.

Robert Kuok is none other than the richest man in Malaysia with a net worth of RM60 billion. No doubt he is in the council because of his links with the Chinese leaders in China and financial nous. Daim Zainuddin is certainly one of the richest Malays in Malaysia. In fact, I remember PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin had questioned why former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin was left out of the list of Malaysia’s 40 richest individuals compiled by Malaysian Business magazine in 2014. By the time he became finance minister in 1984, his total net assets were estimated at nearly RM1 billion.

During the 1990s, academics including Edmund Terence Gomez and Jomo KS, regarded Daim as the most powerful figure in the Malaysian corporate scene. Besides these fabulous Forbes wealthiest, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s eldest son Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir is also among Malaysia’s 50 richest with a net worth of more than RM1 billion.

To remind Malaysians, Malaysia’s richest 50 persons have a total wealth of US$70 billion or more than RM280 billion while the total wealth of our B40 is only RM20 billion. EPF has revealed that only 22% of the 6.7 million Employees Provident Fund (EPF) active contributors aged 54 have sufficient savings of RM196,800 or more to sustain them during retirement. In other words, income inequality is getting worse and there is no proper welfare system for Malaysians, the majority of whom do not earn enough to be able to have a retirement, never mind the others who lose their jobs or are retrenched.

No doubt these corporate giants will know how to balance the country’s financial accounts but do they have the inclination – never mind the political will – to call for wealth redistribution and to narrow the gaping income inequality in this country?

It is clear that the increasingly serious gap in income inequality needs to be addressed through progressive taxation on high-income earners, their property and capital gains and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich. In fact, the replacement revenue for the scrapped GST should come out of such progressive income tax and taxing capital gains and dividends; limiting tax deductions for the rich. Rigorous legislation is vital if we are to curb the practice of transfer pricing that enables the largest corporations to stash their profits in off-shore tax free havens.

Capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms must be reviewed while a tax should be imposed on all international financial transactions and hedge funds.

Ultimately, as Dr Jomo Sundaram can very ably lecture the prime minister and Council of Elders, the solution to the serious problem of growing inequality and obscene wealth disparity is a question of socio-economic class.

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Reinventing Umno

IT was heart-wrenching to see how the 72nd anniversary of Umno turned out on May 11 – its founding day. Unlike before, May 11 used to be a very busy day at PWTC, surrounded by an all-around jubilant mood with members from all walks of life converging in the thousands. This time it was different – in a melancholic way.

The usual highlight was stolen by a “ruckus” and “commotion” that led to a passionate call for the president of the party to resign and take full responsibility for the historic failure to deliver what was promised: To make Malaysia great (hebatkan negaraku).

It quickly gained momentum particularly among the (disillusioned) youth, some even called on all those responsible for the devastating GE outcome to collectively step down and make way for fresh and younger blood to repair the damage. From what was shown over the media, the youth who were airing their unhappiness were left to their own devices to defuse the highly charged situation, assisted by the police on duty. The elders seemed to be preoccupied with their own set of “problems” under the circumstances, and thus were no where to be seen to ease the tension, raising some queries such as what happened to the oft-repeated GE slogan that “we are focused on the future of the younger generation” post-election?

Situations like this only add fire to the existing negative perceptions and impressions about Umno. What is lost in the narrative, however, is that the Umno of yesteryear and today are two different entities that are worlds apart. For example, during the launch of the book, Fulfilling a Legacy – Tun Razak Foundation in September last year, the Sultan of Perak noted that the second prime minister will be “disappointed” with the current state of affairs. He was emphatic in singling out: “If Tun Abdul Razak is still breathing today, surely he will be disappointed and regret seeing the four scenarios happening in this country now”, including the economy and education.

In fact, in my growing up days, it was not unusual to see the second prime minister walking with rural folks in the paddy fields as part of his duty or to see him wearing a casual white singlet, standing waist-up in a pool of water together with the fishing community. Otherwise he would be in his signature bush-jacket ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. In every way he was well liked for his genuine effort and humility for being a people’s person. It is vastly different today.

Gone are the days when Umno belonged to the rakyat and slogged for them. The name Abdul Razak was synonymous with this version of Umno that took pride in his leadership.

In short, what is not well articulated in the present story is how Umno has metamorphosed umpteen times throughout the years. And more unfortunately, the result is not necessarily a beautiful butterfly that many are anxiously expecting to see. The Umno of today has been very much inward looking, self-centred and often in denial. Despite the devastating “reality” that took the nation by surprise, the (ex) president still alleged that this was due more to “perceptions” rather than practice – reportedly quoting him as he announced publicly his resignation, a day after the youth voiced their demands.

In short, Umno has lost touch with reality as evident from the many speeches made that seemed to underestimate the “maturity” of the rakyat (as potential voters) in assessing the situation on the ground through a myriad of channels available to them globally. The introduction of the anti-fake law points to the obsession for self-preservation first and foremost that tends to back fire at a time of severe trust deficit towards the then ruling government.

Indeed, it is this pre-occupation on self-preservation combined with unrealistic denials that brought Umno to its knees before the eyes of the rakyat on that one eventful May day. By then Umno – allegedly illegal – is largely seen as a one-man show and the alphabets “MN” no longer stand for “Malay National” but more akin to the initial of the then president and prime minister. It no longer belongs to the people. And this was noticed and felt by most but not those too close to see. As a result the consequential fall was domino-like, which is clearly demonstrated by the aftermath of the GE14.

In other words, to be fair, Umno is still very much as alive as the legacies of its past presidents-cum-prime ministers who took Malaysia forward in the last five decades after Merdeka. What has actually “vanished” is the “fake version” as Umno has become increasingly “personalised” in the last decade, which few would miss and fewer still mourn if it disappears. In the words of the prime minister, it has to go back to its roots to find itself again and to return it back to the people like it used to be in yesteryear. Failing which there will be no 73rd anniversary to celebrate come 2019. Instead it will be marked as a day of disappearance.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com