Bogeyman politics

Campaigning in the PKR elections seems to have reached fevered pitch with the Kapar MP Abdullah Sani publicly accusing Daim of conspiring to stop Anwar from becoming Prime Minister. The PKR MP, who is campaigning for Rafizi’s bid to be elected deputy president promised to show proof at a later stage.

In a strange twist, one key claim that Rafizi has made for his bid is that a loyal deputy president, meaning himself (and by implication, his opponent, the incumbent Azmin, is disloyal) is vital to ensure that Anwar will succeed to be PM in the future. The rumoured story is that Mahathir is grooming Azmin to overtake Anwar, and the proof is Mahathir’s appointment of Azmin to the powerful Economic Affairs Ministry.

No one can know for certain what Mahathir really intends or thinks with respect to Anwar. And any claim in that respect must be dismissed as speculation. As I have mentioned in another article, you can claim anything with respect to anyone’s intentions and motivations. No one can prove you wrong. But neither can you prove it. You can feel Mahathir’s disgust over such tactics with his terse response: Show proof I want to block Anwar.

“I am not interested and stay away from interfering in the affairs of other parties,” he added.

But if you turn a deaf ear to the speculation and just look at the facts, Mahathir had appointed the PKR President to be his DPM and the PKR Deputy President to what is said to be a very powerful ministry, when previously no less than Rafizi had complained that Mahathir had not given due consideration to PKR’s dominant position as the party with the most number of MPs by rewarding it with ministries of greater significance. Who else should he have appointed to that ministry?

It just seems to me that a desperate Rafizi is resorting to “bogeyman” politics.

The bogeyman “is a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults to frighten children into good behaviour.”

“You need me to defend you and your loved ones against the bogeyman.”

UMNO has used this tactic for decades, casting the Chinese, the Christians as the bogeyman, ever ready to enslave the Malays and Christianise the Muslims. In more recent times, DAP is cast as both Chinese and Christian.

The harm of such tactics is that you make monsters out of innocent parties or communities and you create an unreasonable fear and paranoia about them, causing a breakdown in relationships. Not to mention that you are slandering in order to advance your own cause.

To see bogeyman politics being practised so early in PH’s history is a little alarming. If it works for Rafizi it could encourage others with similar ambitions to try such tactics and when they come into positions of power and influence they may start to demonise persons or communities, just as UMNO did.

What Rafizi does not realize, or perhaps does not care, is the harm he is causing to the relationship between Anwar and Mahathir, and by implication, between PKR and PPBM. And, I must say, the harm to Anwar in the eyes of the public. There is nothing more ugly than the sight of a man who feels entitled and who strikes out to defend that entitlement. I am not saying that this is Anwar, because I think he is a far better politician than this. But Rafizi is doing him no favours and linking Nurul Izzah with himself taints him even further.

Bogeyman politics is another relic of old Malaysia we should do away with.

In the new Malaysia, we need high journalistic standards

For the past 2 decades at least, reporting basically means “to tell it like it is”. Good reporting would be that care is taken to ensure accuracy. There is little editorial input. Or, at times, too much, and the report, while accurate, distorts what was actually said by leaving out the context.

Let me give some examples.

In this article, the headline says, “Selangor bought SPLASH at 10 times its price, claims Khalid Ibrahim”. Technically, if you read the article, Khalid “claimed the Selangor government paid 10 times the price to buy over water concessionaire Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor (SPLASH) when compared to an offer made in 2013.” A world of difference. It allows the “lie” that Khalid wants to perpetuate to be published but absolves him from all responsibility by reporting what he actually said in the article.

The fact of the matter is that one cannot compare the value of a company to the value of an offer someone made for it because you can set your offer price to anything you want.

So Khalid’s absurd statement was not called out but in fact that wrong implication was made a headline.

When the media fails to analyse what it is reporting and just allows statements to be published unfiltered, it fails in its role to be a guardian of the information that enters the public sphere through its gates. It allows itself to be manipulated by those who wish to influence public opinion via lies, innuendo and speculation.

This article, entitled “Former Kedah MB’s son questions Rafizi’s motives for slamming 3rd national car” does two things: Firstly, the person who asked the question is characterised as “former Kedah MB’s son”. It is said as if it means something; that here is someone who is speaking from some capacity. The truth is, the son is not even a “front” for the former MB, who passed away earlier this year. So in what capacity is he speaking that The Star is publishing him? The article did not say.
Did he call a press conference? No. This article was derived from a facebook posting.

Secondly, and this is my main gripe, this person questions Rafizi’s motives. And this is so characteristic of Malaysian politics. Rather than debate the merits of a person’s proposal or statement, you sidestep the whole issue by questioning the motivation.

The thing is, you can make a person’s motivation to be anything. You cannot be proven wrong. But in doing so you hope to weaken what that person has put forward.

I can question the motivation of Akhramsyah Sanusi, son of the late Tan Sri Sanusi Junid,for questioning the motivation of Rafizi.

Such “attacks” seem to be saying something, but it actually says nothing. It is innuendo and speculation. And in this instance, the attack is done by a non-player in the context. Star should not have given it any space. But in choosing to do so, it perpetuates this type of politics which is completely useless. If Dr Mahathir makes such a statement it is definitely worth reporting because it has implications. But seriously, the son of the late former MB (1996-1999) of Kedah? Frankly I question The Star’s motivation in publishing this.

This article is headlined “Bung’s ‘F*** you’ worse than my ‘gangster’, says Ramkarpal”. Need I say any more? If you want to run such an article you should say “Ramkarpal is childishly upset that he was ejected for refusing to apologise when asked but Bung was not for saying “F*** you” in Parliament (although he did subsequently apologise and retract his words). After all, Ramkarpal says, “F*** you is much worse than “gangster”.” It’s a much longer headline but at least it says something substantial, clarifies the truth of the situation, and hopefully discourages this type of nonsense from occupying public space.

The list goes on. The practice of “daring” another politician to do this, or to do that, or even to swear on whatever religious book is just theatre; it does not substantiate the truth or wisdom of whatever position that is being challenged. The practice of saying a minister supports whatever vile issue is at stake just because the minister has not by fiat acted on the matter, or when a party is now publicly silent on certain issues it is because it has sold out. Malaysian politics need to grow out of its childish ways. And the media should play its role to foster this.

Politicians and others with an agenda will always want to manipulate the public space but the media should play an intelligent role rather than be a mere amplifier for all and sundry. I am sure that politicians will call up media chiefs to complain but that I think is part and parcel of the role of being a guardian. When the media gives space for substantive debate and discussion, and starve childish politics of publicity or cast these antics in negative light, politicians can learn what will give them the publicity they need. Then too, hopefully, we can relegate the “Jamals and Bungs,” to their proper place in the public space, and Ramkarpal would not ask to be judged by the same standards.

Hannah on Wan Azizah

It’s been slightly more than a month now since I was appointed to be Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s deputy. My husband rightly pointed it out to me that it would be a new season of learning for me. Learning not just about issues but the leaders we serve alongside with.

I have read some news reports criticising Kak Wan about the 11 year old’s child bride issue and while the matter is now in the hands of the AG, I would like to share with you my one month observation of working directly under her leadership.

At any given time, the heart of a doctor would overshadow all the other roles she carries. You would have probably watched how she rushed off stage to check on YB Hanipa Maidin when he collapsed at the outdoor assembly. I have also personally seen how she dashed off the Deputy Prime Minister @ Minister’s chair to comfort victims of sexual harassment when they started crying sharing about their ordeal.

I have seen how she refused to bite back when some politicians attacked her publicly. She always takes the higher ground of giving people the benefit of doubt. When she commits to a cause or policy, I saw how persistent she was in having it signed, sealed and delivered.

While I admit criticism on the speed of handling the 11 year old child bride issue, I would also like you to know that we are dependant on other ministries to do their part (some of which I would have criticised openly for their lack of action but I remind myself we are now part of the same administration & correction has to be made internally, re-training is needed for our civil service & improvement has to be made asap). In these weeks, I can assure you that her utmost priority is to protect that child even at the expense of her own reputation.

I also witnessed her conversation with baby Adam’s parents (toddler found lifeless in the fridge) and observed how she covered all angles of assistance needed for the parents to move on. In other cases, she would remind me the need to look at all angles (something which I sometimes overlook in my pursuit of fast outcome).

I also saw her the morning when the late Balakong assemblyman Eddie Ng passed away in a car crash. She had to compose herself in a meeting. Professional yet her love for her comrade was evident.

Sometimes we forget how far we have come since May 9. Here is a woman who will never steal your tax money, an intelligent doctor in her own right to lead & selfless enough to make way for others. Malaysians, don’t be quick to forget the years of sacrifices made to have this #MalaysiaBaharu.

They say kindness is the highest form of wisdom. If I have any criticism at all about Kak Wan, it would have to be her kindness. Her family went through a lot but it was her kindness that has set the stage for reconciliation and healing for Malaysia in the months leading to May 9. Many politicians in the past have hurt Malaysia but her kindness will keep her away from doing that to you fellow Malaysians.

First published on Hannah’s personal facebook page.

Pakatan must map course to a new Malaysia

TO pass the test of time and ensure its longevity in power, Pakatan Harapan has to fulfil the expectations that swept it to victory against all odds on May 9.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad put together a Cabinet with a mix of race, gender and age that has never been seen in the political governance of our country.

However, except for a handful of ministers, the Cabinet falls short on experience.

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, can seek advice and deploy advisers.

This happens all the time, formally or informally, as long as the ministers take responsibility for the decisions they make.

Thus the furore over the Prime Minister having a council of advisers or Tun Daim Zainuddin to assist him and the Cabinet, including as special envoy on a mission abroad, is just a bit of opposition mischief which should not be allowed, as it is intended to get everyone riled up.

The previous government had tens of advisers, some with ministerial rank but not responsibility, many others with handsome salaries – which is not the case at all with the Pakatan government.

However, Pakatan ministers need to get out of “Opposition mode”, to function and deliver with all the advice and support they wish and can get.

They would need to get the go­vernment machinery – the civil service – to implement their decisions effectively.

Here, there is another problem. The largely Malay civil service is not used to having political masters committed to a multi-racial Malaysia and a no-nonsense regime.

Numbers at the Treasury, for instance, cannot continue to have to be validated, especially as the full fiscal picture must be clear by the time of the Budget on Nov 2.

Those who are recalcitrant or have partisan political loyalties – and there have been attempts to sabotage the elected government – have to be weeded out. No small task in a civil service of 1.6 million, 78.8% of whom are Malays.

This brings us to the second major challenge Pakatan faces – the base of its political support.

About 75% of the Malay electorate in GE14 voted for Umno or PAS.

There is still some ways to go to arrive at a New Malaysia in terms of multi-racialism. After two generations of “Malay First” and subsequently “Malay and Muslim First” political ethic, there is a mountain to climb to make it to New Malaysia.

A top-down approach to remove the culture of racial and religious thinking (so evident in the Sungai Kandis Selangor by-election campaign) has to be worked out.

The institutions (including political parties) and persons playing the race-and-religion game have to be marginalised.

Again, not easy as every change or argument for change towards multi-racialism is greeted as a threat to race and religion and met with emotionally-charged menace.

Dr Mahathir succeeded in assua­ging Malay fears in this year’s election campaign, but what is the strategy before the next?

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is best placed to take on this – the task of winning over the Malay majority.

Politics of race and religion to entrench suspicion, hostility and dependence has to be replaced by a narrative of openness, engagement and success.

Of course, the cynical approach is to play the electoral roll and consti­tuency delineation game, like the previous government did, on top of racial politics.

Pakatan, however, should not get involved in this kind of gerrymandering but to win again fairly and squarely.

The third challenge is the laws, institutions and attitudes that violate rights and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution have to be torn up and rewritten.

Selective enforcement, discriminatory practices – particularly racial, religious and gender-based – the culture of impunity, arrogant sense of entitlement of being above the law, they all have to go.

The Pakatan government must deliver legal and institutional reforms as soon as possible.

We all need to rediscover our Constitution on which our life in our country must be based.

All this needs to be undertaken by Pakatan, even as it manages the economy, addresses the serious grievances of Sabah and Sarawak, and conducts foreign policy. Indeed, Pakatan must also show greater clarity on succession as the failure of good succession planning could cause Pakatan’s downfall.

On Pakatan now rests the hope and opportunity for a New Malaysia that may never come again.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

This article was first published in The Star Online.

Israel Doesn’t Want to Be My State

By Sayed Kashua

Mr. Kashua is a writer and a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

We were driving our rental car out of Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. “Dad,” my oldest daughter said as we listened to the radio, “what’s the Nationality Law?”

“It’s a law that says Israel is a Jewish state,” I replied.

“But wasn’t it always that way?” she wondered, and rightly so.

“Yes. Bottom line, it’s always been that way.”

“I don’t get it,” my middle son said. “I thought you said we were citizens.”

“We are,” I answered.

“But we’re not Jewish, right?”

“No, we’re not.”

“Then I don’t get it,” my youngest son complained.

“It’s a little complicated,” I tried to explain. And it really was complicated to explain the law that Israel’s Parliament passed earlier this month without using terms like “racial segregation,” “discrimination” and “supremacy.” How was I going to explain to a 12-year-old that he is a citizen of a state that holds that he is inferior because of his non-Jewish origins? “Not everyone in the country is Jewish,” I said. “At least 20 percent of the citizens are not. But it’s a country where Jews enjoy rights that others don’t have. Meaning, non-Jews are less equal than Jews.”

“Can’t we be Jewish then?” my youngest son asked, as if he’d instantly solved the inequality problem.

“Sorry,” I told him, “that’s not up to me. According to Israeli law, in order to be Jewish you have to have a Jewish mother. So it’s not my fault; it’s your mom’s.”

“Great,” my wife protested, “now you’re shouldering me with your children’s inequality?”

When Israel was founded on the ruins of the Palestinian people in 1948, it was defined as a Jewish state. The Israeli flag was always a Jewish one, bearing a Star of David; the national anthem invokes the “Jewish soul,” excluding anyone who is not Jewish from these national symbols. The Palestinians who became Israeli citizens when the state was founded — like my family — have always been viewed as an undesirable demographic burden and subjected to discrimination.

So what does the issuance of the Nationality Law change? In essence, perhaps not that much. It has turned de facto racism into de jure racism.

The law asks progressive Israelis — both Jewish and Palestinian — to suspend our fantasies of equal rights and a future in which all the country’s citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender, have a sense of belonging. It seeks to legislate what Israel has been effectively telling non-Jewish minorities all along: You will never be a part of this country, you will never be equal, you are doomed to be unwanted citizens forever, to be inferior to the Jews to whom the state belongs and for whom it was founded. A state in which Judaism is the only national expression permissible by law will, by definition, reject any minority member who wishes to be part of it, even if he is, like me, fluent in its culture or, as I do, writes literature in its language, respects its laws, serves its society.

Israel’s message to its Arab citizens is that it does not wish to be our state. Moreover, it prefers to be the state of people who were born elsewhere, who do not speak its language, have never visited it or paid it taxes or served it in any way. The State of Israel will welcome these foreigners, wherever they are from, as long as they are considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish law. Individuals who are lucky enough to have been born to Jewish mothers can — practically overnight — receive Israeli citizenship, join the ruling race and become masters of the native population.

The Nationality Law prevents the possibility of multiculturalism in Israel and rejects any collective history or memory other than the Zionist one. By revoking Arabic’s status as an official state language, the law delivers yet another blow to the culture that has been vying for a position since Israel was founded. Article 7 of the Nationality Law, whereby the state shall regard Jewish settlement as a national value and work to advance it, has a distinctly colonialist tone, addressing Jewish settlement without any mention of the 20 percent of the population who are Arabs and who live in crowded conditions, under continuous threat of having their land appropriated.

While the message to Arab citizens within the State of Israel is unequivocal, the Nationality Law is murky when it comes to the Palestinians who reside in the West Bank and Gaza. What are the limits of the law, and to whom does it apply, in a state that avoids declaring its borders and refuses to accept those determined by international law? Doesn’t the fact that Israel controls the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories through military rule mean that it is now a state in which one population has civil rights and a second population is under occupation and lacks civil rights?

The powerful right wing in Israel wishes to annex the West Bank, or large parts of it, and some voices have been saying that Israeli law should be instated in the Occupied Territories, too. If this were to occur, how would the Nationality Law apply to the millions of Palestinians under occupation? Would there still be a prohibition against any definition other than the national-Jewish one? Does this law not aim to prevent any possibility of national Palestinian fulfillment in the State of Israel as conceived by the right wing — namely, one Jewish state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, in which only Jews are permitted self-actualization and granted a national identity?

It seems the only hope for the remaining millions of Palestinians to avoid losing what is left of their home is to find a Jewish mother who will agree to adopt them.

This article was first published in the New York Times.

Khazanah Nasional

I must confess that I knew very little about Khazanah. My impression is that this is the body the government uses to control GLCs. I get the sense that it has a lot of money and therefore a lot of power. And because it is under MoF it has the might of the administration behind it. And through it the government directly influences the economy. However, I never felt that Khazanah’s beneficiaries are Malaysians. In other words, I did not think it is a sovereign wealth fund. Rather it is akin to a bumiputera trust.

Note that these were my impressions. Whether true or not I did not know.

Well, since then I have consulted wikipedia, read this article on Cilisos, and this recent interview of Dr Mahathir on the subject, where he opines that Khazanah has deviated from its original objective.

So going by Dr Mahathir, who started Khazanah, the company (yes, it is actually a public limited company registered in 1994 with all shares except 1 held by MoF) said the firm was formed to hold shares for the Bumiputera until the latter possessed the capacity to purchase those shares.

He said this was because the Bumiputera who received shares had the tendency of selling them and enriching others instead.

“But along the way, Khazanah decided it should take all the shares for itself and if they are good shares, well, why not acquire the shares at the time of listing when the price of shares was very low and so they forget entirely about holding the shares for the Bumiputera.

“They decided that they should be holding the shares forever as a part of the government companies owned by the government,” he was quoted as saying.

According to the Cilisos article, and Wikipedia, Khazanah was given a new mandate in 2004 to exercise control over GLCs and nurture them to become well-run companies. Cilisos likens it to a change in role from being a babysitter to a parent.

This article suggests that the success of Khazanah in nurturing the GLCs can be seen in the fact that no GLC needed bailouts during the 2008 global economic crisis.

So going back to my impressions, Khazanah was at first a bumiputera trust and then became this entity that managed GLCs and nurtured them (and in doing so directly influencing the economy) and finally, from the way it is spoken of now, a sovereign wealth fund, evaluated by the appreciation of its value.

This is as much as I gathered in my simple research. If I am wrong, please correct me in the comments.

What Dr Mahathir wants to do is to return Khazanah to its original purpose. This means that Khazanah should always seek to return the wealth it holds in trust back to the Bumiputera public. It should hold control over companies only as long as it needs to do so.

Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying that Putrajaya would review the companies in which Khazanah has a stake in and sort matters to return the wealth fund to its original path.

“We need to agree with some of these companies to reduce the number (of shares held by Khazanah) and to a certain extent go back to the original intention of holding the shares allocated to the Bumiputera until such time when they can buy (them),” he said.

(In my research, I came to know that another company, Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), was established on 17 March 1978 as one of the instruments of the New Economic Policy (NEP) to re-engineer the economic imbalance in the Malaysia society. PNB has grown from strength to strength, with its assets under management (AUM) now reaching RM271 billion, from around RM3.5 billion in 1981. It is now the market leader in the Malaysian unit trust industry, with ASNB now managing more than 13 million accounts with almost 217 billion units in circulation (UIC). PNB has also enabled the sharing of corporate wealth with all Malaysians by delivering consistent, competitive returns over the years to its unit holders, with more than RM157 billion paid out since inception.)

Tan Sri Dato’ Azman Hj Mokhtar, who was appointed to lead Khazanah in 2004 with the new mandate, defended his record managing the sovereign wealth fund in his farewell message, directly referring to his ultimate shareholders as the “30 or so million Malaysians and then the millions more yet to be born.”

Interestingly, he also wrote of developing and practising the concept of “Building True Value” and elaborated that he interpreted this to include “developing among others human and knowledge capital and through the respect and preservation of the environment. He revealed that Khazanah had built key institutions include Yayasan Hasanah in Corporate Responsibility, Yayasan Khazanah for scholarships, Yayasan Amir for education, Khazanah Research Institute for economic policy development and Think City and the upcoming Taman Tugu Park in terms of the development of cities and community and public spaces.

I came across an interesting article by Dr Musa Mohd Nordin telling of how Khazanah had donated large funds to NGOs during the December 2014 floods, and then went on to tell of how Khazanah had continued to give to advance the causes of several NGOs.

The achievements of Tan Sri Dato’ Azman Hj Mokhtar and Khazanah are well defended by many. This recent article in The Star elaborates yet another aspect of what the company had done.

Looking from the outside, I am struck once again by how much a person can accomplish with the wealth and power he is vested with when he is guided by the simple goal of nation-building. I certainly hope that his recent experience would not sour him to the joy of serving the nation.

One cannot help but see the other side of the truth, that when a person is selfish and seeks only his own benefit, how much destruction he can wreak when given the wealth and power to do so. Of course I am thinking of what Cilisos termed as the sister of Khazanah, 1MDB.

Dr Mahathir seeks to return Khazanah to its original path. This, I think, takes nothing away from what Khazanah had achieved. Neither does the fact of what Khazanah has achieved negate what Dr Mahathir wants to do. It remains to be seen how this change will benefit the country and, as the PM intends, Bumiputeras.

SPLASHing in murky waters

I was intrigued when I saw the headline that the RM2.5 billion SPLASH deal was 10 times its price, according to Khalid Ibrahim, the former Selangor MB.

According to the article, Khalid “claimed the Selangor government paid 10 times the price to buy over water concessionaire Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor (SPLASH) when compared to an offer made in 2013.”

It seems he was asked to resign because PKR wanted him to offer a higher rate but he refused.

This seems to be congruent with what Najib has been claiming.

But it is not far off from the RM2.7 billion that I had mentioned, which is 10 times more than the RM250 million that was offered by Khalid Ibrahim (former Selangor menteri besar),” he said in a statement.

Khalid was asked to resign in 2014 due to the lower offer he had made to buy over SPLASH, said Najib.

According to Najib, a crony of a top PH leader will benefit handsomely from the purchase.

So it looks like Selangor deliberately paid 10 times more for SPLASH (and removed Khalid as MB when he refused to do their bidding) to benefit a crony of the top PH leader.

Except, of course, they were referring to an offer Khalid made of RM250 million for SPLASH, which was rejected because the offer was too low.

In an article in The Edge Markets, Khalid’s offer was characterised as “priced to fail” because RM250 million was only a tenth of the book value of the company.

Takeover offers for SPLASH in the past have been priced to fail (0.1 times price-to-book value [P/BV] or RM251 million as per the last offer in Nov 2013).

Whether or not a crony of a top PH leader will benefit from this deal, the fact of the matter is that Selangor is paying a fair price in relation to the value of the company.

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shaari had earlier said the takeover value of RM2.55 billion is after a 28% discount, based on the net book value of SPLASH as of June 30, which stood at RM3.54 billion.

It is a shame that Najib and Khalid are resorting to lies and innuendos to tarnish PH. Are they are only capable of this type of politics? And it seems to me just too coincidental that both Najib’s and Khalid’s stories supported each other’s claims and extended the notion to imply that PKR has rigged the deal to benefit its cronies.

The fact of the matter is that Najib’s administration has been urging Selangor to settle its purchase of SPLASH, before the events of GE14. And Khalid was urging the federal government to force the issue by taking over the Selangor water concessionaires.

Now that this matter is settled and the restructuring can now move forward, these two have decided to twist the facts and cast the deal in bad light.

Time to ‘put an end’ to politics of race in Malaysia: Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

SINGAPORE: One of the “biggest” problems Malaysia faces is the politics of race, said the country’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia on Monday (Jul 30), Mr Saifuddin touched on the challenges that the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has to address, after a historic election victory over Barisan Nasional (BN) that brought it to power.

“You see, my passion and my belief is that one of the biggest problems in Malaysian politics is politics of race and it becomes worse when politics of race is complemented by religion,” Mr Saifuddin said, adding that it becomes a contestation whereby race and religion are pitted against “democratic goods”.

“I think it is about time that we put an end, we put a stop to politics of race and this is not impossible,” he said.

Mr Saifuddin, who joined the People’s Justice Party (PKR) – a PH component party – from UMNO in 2015, was a deputy minister under the previous BN government.

While he was in UMNO, Mr Saifuddin lost his Temerloh seat during the country’s general election in 2013. Two years later he left the BN’s Malay component party, citing the mishandling of state investment fund 1MDB and the unexplained presence of millions of dollars in former prime minister Najib Razak’s personal bank account.

Representing the PKR in Malaysia’s general election in May, he beat the BN’s Johan Mat Sah and PAS candidate Nasrudin Hassan to win the Indera Mahkota seat.

Mr Saifuddin said he believes a new kind of politics in Malaysia is possible under certain conditions. The first being a good number of strong, credible political parties that are “truly multi-racial and multi-religious” in terms of membership. He added that this was already in place.

“At least three of them or two big ones are already in Pakatan Harapan and the other two are also open to people of other race and other religions.”

Secondly, he said there needs to be a system that motivates people to campaign and work across ethnicity and religion. But he acknowledged its absence within the current system.

“Unfortunately, the current system does not provide for that. I give you an example. In the last elections, you have 222 parliamentary constituencies. Out of that 222, only 83 are mixed seats. In our definition, mixed seats means no one ethnic group commands 70 per cent or more of the voters in that particular constituency. We won 73 out of those 83. According to my colleague, Ong Kian Ming (Deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry and Democratic Action Party member), if the EC (Election Commission) was fair in the delimitation exercise, we could probably have about 140 mixed seats.

“So can you imagine, I’m not saying we will win most of it, can you imagine the motivation if we have half of the parliamentary seats are mixed seats, you will have less of this politics of race and religion,” he added.

Mr Saifuddin rejected the notion that this was tantamount to gerrymandering to benefit Pakatan Harapan and instead pointed to the existing system.

“The current one, the current delimitation and drawing is actually because of gerrymandering and malapportionment. So if we can do away with gerrymandering and malapportionment, this is where Kian Ming’s argument come into the picture – you have more mix and that is still real Malaysia. So when you look at the boundaries of the constituency, then you will see that it makes sense, that it looks in a certain way.”

The foreign minister said he thinks that the majority of Malaysians are looking towards a kind of politics that is “more inclusive” and not one that is based on “money, corruption, patronage politics, feudalistic way of doing things.”

You can read the rest of the article, which focused on other matters, at channelnewsasia.com.

National unity or Malay supremacy?

In recent days there has been an avalanche of comments on whether the government should recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) issued by the 61 independent (private) Chinese schools that still survive.

Currently, it is not recognised by local public universities as an entry requirement though local private institutions and some foreign universities do. Both Umno-BN and Pakatan Harapan (PH) had promised in their respective manifestos to recognise it albeit with conditionalities (Bahasa Malaysia, for example).

Malay rights groups are now working themselves into a frenzy warning that UEC recognition would endanger national unity, jeopardise the existing harmony in the country, endanger the Malay race, undermine sovereignty, and even impact civilisation (whatever that means).

Pawn on a chessboard

Listening to all these shrill warnings makes you wonder if they are referencing some weapon of mass destruction rather than a simple examination certificate. It is mind-boggling that a simple examination certificate issued by a declining number of private schools (comprising less than 2.5% of the total number of secondary schools in the country) has the potential to do so much damage.

But let’s be honest: this whole brouhaha over UEC recognition is not really about national unity or even education policy but about Malay supremacy.

The truth, the ugly truth, is that the UEC issue is merely a pawn on the chessboard of a much wider battle that has assumed fresh urgency in the wake of Umno’s defeat in the last election. Malay supremacists see the election defeat as a setback for the so-called Malay agenda and are pushing back.

In essence, it is an argument about the kind of nation Malaysia should be: a nation built on equality and justice for all or an apartheid-like one based on Malay exceptionalism.

Malay supremacists tend to see everything as a zero-sum game. They don’t see the appointment of non-Malays to high office (Chief Justice, Attorney-General) as a plus for national unity and inclusiveness but as a setback for Malay power. They don’t see the non-Malay faces in Cabinet as a welcome reflection of our diversity but as an assault on their right to rule exclusively (sans some tokenism to belie their racism).

They’d rather have dishonest men of the ‘right’ race in key positions than good men of the ‘wrong’ race. In their calculus, every step forward for the non-Malays is a step backward for the Malays, every concession made, a threat to their very existence.

With them, there is no compromise, no common ground, nothing left over to share. Even their definition of terms like national unity and harmony differs from its common usage –unity means respect for Malay supremacy; harmony means non-Malay acceptance of their inferior position.

Of course, it is also a fight for the right to plunder the nation’s resources and enrich themselves at the expense of the very people they claim to be fighting for.

Sheer hypocrisy

They have fed on their own bile for so long that it has blinded them to reality and taken them to new heights of hypocrisy.

And so, they look the other way while the country’s sovereignty is progressively imperilled by indebtedness from dubious deals with China but get worked up by imaginary threats to sovereignty posed by a mere examination certificate.

They protest about foreign interference when the US Department of Justice investigates MO1 for the largest action ever undertaken under the US Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, but have nothing to say about recent revelations that the former government had secretly appealed to the US for help to cling to power in the event they lost the popular vote.

They make a fuss about Chinese education but don’t seem to notice the rising number of international schools in the country offering British, American, Australian or Arab national curricula. They have no problem accepting foreign curricula but get their knickers in a knot over the curriculum of a declining number of local Chinese schools. They howl and scream against Chinese education at home but quietly send their sons to China to study.

A sham construct

Their whole argument against UEC recognition (as well as related issues) is simply a sham construct, a fig leaf to cover the racism that lurks behind it.

To be sure, they themselves don’t really believe all the allegations they tirelessly throw about, but it is useful to stir up the masses and generate the outrage they need to pressure the PH government into acceding to the so-called Malay agenda while plotting their own return to power.

After all, who really believes that the Malays are about to be “bastardised” in their own country as former Prime Minister Najib Razak warned recently (and this from the very man who did more to “bastardise” the nation than anyone else). Or that Christianity is about to become the official religion of the country, as Umno Supreme Council member Lokman Noor Adam claims.

They know its all fake news but they are more than willing to spread it to fuel fears and exploit insecurities for the sake of power; national unity be damned.

How will PH respond?

Undoubtedly, Malay supremacist groups now pose the biggest challenge to the PH government and the reform agenda. How PH responds to this challenge will determine not only the very character of our nation going forward but, quite possibly, the outcome of the next election.

For a start, PH leaders need to go on the offensive to rebut the unfounded and nonsensical allegations being made by Malay supremacists. Fabricated allegations and false charges must not be allowed to stand.

As well, they need to do a far better job convincing the rural heartland that, far from weakening race and religion, the reforms now under way will benefit them more than anyone else, that having a clean government staffed by capable, honest and accountable leaders dedicated to enriching the nation instead of themselves is in the best interests of all Malaysians.

Ultimately, the biggest contribution that the PH government can make to the future of our nation will be to moderate a national conversation on how our nation will be defined and the steps that must be taken to get there. After decades of racism and bigotry, it won’t be easy, but ignoring it is no longer an option.

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

First published in FMT