Enough of ‘untuk bangsa, agama dan saya’

Pic: Reuters

There is more excitement on who will be the next prime minister than what he should do, particularly among the MPs, the political parties and their leaders.

Very little on how to arrest Malaysia’s decline, to save people’s lives and to revive the economy, let alone on the principles on which the country must be governed.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s last-gasp survival gambit dressed as a reform package was a lovely lollipop. Not surprisingly, a few were enticed to take a lick at it but most were afraid they might end up having to swallow the whole stick. Dangerous for the throat and breathing.

Muhyiddin offered it just as he was about to fall. It was cynical. It is also Machiavellian. Reminds me of a Groucho Marx epigram: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”

It was desperation. It was not belief. If he had done all that from the time he wrested power 18 months ago, as advised many times, he would have been celebrated, whatever detractors say about “back-door government” and so on. Instead, he fell on his own sword.

Now, these prime minister wannabes after him, what do they stand for? Is it again for “bangsa, agama dan saya”? Whoever it is, he must expose to the nation his principles, strategy and ways to achieve them.

There have been many suggestions from civil society on reform, reset for the medium and long term and an all-of-nation approach to face the immediate Covid-19 pandemic and administer economic resuscitation. The new PM must state his stand and how he is going to rebuild Malaysia.

The Cabinet and grand councils are not enough. There is Parliament, which should be mobilised into special select committees with expert support to deliberate on urgent issues: the health crisis and safety and security. Starting with two, as a number of us have proposed.

There are also human and institutional resources in the country (ISIS, MIER, IDEAS, CARI, etc) which should be organised to work objectively and professionally, without just having yes-men and getting them to deliver on pet projects for personal political ego trips.

There is the public administrative service with many capable civil servants who can be galvanised in the all-of-nation working groups that can, on the one hand, support the work of government and, on the other, the imperative to rebuild, reset and reform.

The next prime minister must have the ability to organise and orchestrate these activities and working groups to report up to the Cabinet and to a reset council which could perhaps be called Majlis Mengutamakan Malaysia, the 3M Council.

The next prime minister must engage public support beyond getting the backing of MPs and state the principles on which he will lead the country based on the Federal Constitution and the rule of law. Without public support and enthusiasm, he will not succeed and Malaysia’s decline will not be arrested.

Muhyiddin rather grandly spoke last Friday about returning Malaysia to its “glory” days. Glory and Malaysia. When were we there? Where are we now?

Even if we conceded there was a time Malaysia basked in glory, perhaps during the Tunku’s time or when we used to win the Merdeka soccer tournaments, the country is now close to falling into the sink hole of muddy and dirty domestic politics.

There has been so much self-inflicted damage.

In the last six or seven years, from 2015 when Malaysia was the chair of Asean in the year that launched the “Asean Community”, Malaysia has been a diminished entity.

We know only too well the dire domestic situation but internationally, particularly since March 2020, nobody looks to Malaysia to do anything worthwhile, not even where there is clear benefit to the domestic economy.

Thus, we are behind the curve on ratifying the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) or the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). Vietnam, for instance, is reaping huge export growth and foreign direct investment benefits from having ratified the CPTPP.

Valiant civil servants in the international trade and industry ministry are pushing hard to get the ratification, but with dysfunctional government political leadership and a non-functioning Parliament for so many months, it has been an uphill task.

Similarly, Wisma Putra officials have had to put on a straight face against knowing looks as Malaysia went down the gutter. 1MDB damaged Malaysia’s reputation like no other single event.

I remember attending Asean business events in 2015 head held down against such knowing looks with not the heart to say anything much as there were not the ears to hear it.

Now I get asked what is happening in my country, and not always from those who can hold their countries up in pride. That is how far we have fallen.

Nevertheless, we braved it out – the hardworking diplomats and civil servants especially. The prime minister in 2015 shamelessly rode the wave and took the credit, son who launched the community after father who signed Asean into being in 1967.

Always we have had self – saya – before the nation and its people. The new prime minister must not continue to try to fool the people at home, even as nations abroad see Malaysia, once a respected middle power, as a country in the middle of nowhere.


*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Parliament more essential than factories and services allowed to operate

What you need to know about motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin |  Malaysia | Malay Mail
Pic: Malay Mail

The politicians are now playing around with the politics of convening of Parliament. But it took the Agong and the Malay Rulers to inject real life into that happening.
Umno talks about “it must happen within 14 days”, the Prime Minister has formed a committee to look into it, and a disgraced former Prime Minister says he could on his own organize a meeting of Parliament without need of a committee, suggesting perhaps a man and his dog could do the trick.

All this political trivialization does not make the point the Malay Rulers did which is Parliament is essential in Malaysia’s democracy. It is one of the three pillars of government under the Federal Constitution: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
Neither does it make the killer point if even services and factories deemed essential are allowed to operate with SOPs under the current strict MCO, it is a travesty of the Constitution that the representatives of the people should only be allowed to meet when it is considered “safe” for them to do so.

Therefore the call by the Agong and the Malay Rulers that Parliament must meet “secepat mungkin” should not be disingenuously taken to mean “as soon as possible” with the emphasis on “possible”, and to stretch it out.
It should be noted in the media statement by the Malay Rulers in support of the Agong’s call for Parliament to meet the word used is “segera” – immediately.

Care must be taken not to take the mickey out of Their Majesties.
The royal media statements want Parliament to debate the ordinances issued under the emergency, which is to end on August 1st, as well as the Covid National Recovery Plan (NRP). If it meets just before the last phase of the NRP is reached, what kind of meaningful review and suggestions can be made?
As it stands the NRP is woefully short of “what ifs”, things not happening according to plan, or rather hope. There are no alternatives should they not be met. There is no Plan B.
A statement by the Malaysian Health Coalition last Saturday raised scientific questions about the adequacy of measures of performance and progress against the Covid pandemic on which the NRP is based. There must be national debate on these issues which have existential implications.

Going beyond, there needs to be developed an outline of a practical financial and economic recovery plan. The Asean Business Advisory Council Malaysia had submitted to the government in March this year 137 action steps in “Pathway for Malaysia 2021”, based on discussions with professional bodies, trade associations, chambers of commerce and foreign business associations & business councils in the country.
These kinds of recommendations should be stood on their head, thrashed out and debated.

It is already possible for Parliament to meet NOW. At the most 28 days from notice of meeting. So if all goes smoothly Parliament should meet in July. This week is critical to show the call by the Agong and the Malay Rulers is being taken seriously. There could be a dragging of feet such that Parliament does not meet until September as previously planned, but this would be tantamount to thumbing the nose at Their Majesties.
It could also presage a constitutional crisis, which the country does not need when it is already facing the huge Covid nightmare. We do not need it even if there were not the crushing Covid crisis.
Legal opinion is divided on whether the Agong could himself convene Parliament, or must and only act on the advice of the Prime Minister. The most compelling view I have heard, from one of Malaysia’s leading legal minds, is that the Agong can do so under Article 55 of the Federal Constitution.
At any rate, there is also strong argument Section 14 of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021 promulgated for the emergency in January allows the King to call for Parliament to reconvene without the advice of the Prime Minister.
This will not be the first time in politics that that which has been created has come to bite the hand that feeds it. It is hoped it would not come to that point. There has been enough excitement and drama in Malaysian politics since May 2018 and, particularly these last 17 months, to last a political lifetime.

The only good political sense has come from Mr. Lim Kit Siang, the doyen of Malaysian politics, when he suggested that there be a “political moratorium” in the next one-two years. This great statesmanship is something yet to be seen among all the other political leaders.
On the contrary, what is heard is of the PKR leader trying to cobble together an arrangement with discredited Umno leaders to form a new government. It is to be hoped the DAP with its 42 MPs will have nothing to do with it, because such a government will set Malaysia back again.
It is also unbelievable that some politicians are talking about forcing a general election at this time. It shows how little they care for the people in their thirst for power. A general election must not be held now because the virus will spread like wildfire, with deaths – now nearing 4500 against 471 the whole of last year – and brought-in-dead (BID) shooting up.

The Prime Minister should establish a broad-based unity government. Ironically that would require support of the 42 MPs from the DAP so often demonized. Let this be the time for beginning the healing process towards greater national unity.
There is a long, long way to go of course but, if not now, when is the time to address the immediate challenges, and to think through deep issues that divide the nation, by setting up a consultative body representing civil society, professional groups and business interests. What I have previously called the Malaysia First Council.

The Agong and Malay Rulers had alluded to the need for a strong, stable and effective government which has support from the majority of the people. If this is not a hint to the Prime Minister to get cracking on forging such a government, I don’t know what is.

The Prime Minister is in the best position to show true leadership by forging a united and broad-based government which has the backing of Parliament, representing the people, to save the nation. There is really nobody else, as every interested political leader falls short, carries too much baggage, imagines only that at last it is his time or has thinking and megalomaniac inclinations not acceptable today.
The country is in a tight spot. The political leaders have failed us. The Agong and the Malay Rulers are to be applauded for stepping up to the plate when the people are lost with no one else to turn to.
They have done so with great sensitivity. The last sentence of the very last paragraph of the Malay Rulers’ media statement is profound: the critical importance of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy in a culture of governance that adheres to the Federal Constitution and the rule of law. The Agong and the Malay Rulers have done what they have done – and will do what they must – but they are not interested in a systemic shift from being constitutional monarchs.
If only there were such sensitivity among the politicians of this country.


*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Throw someone under a bus?

Parliament in uproar over phantom voting on Budget 2021 yesterday | Malaysia  | Malay Mail
A nod in the direction of a national unity government and convening of Parliament is something the people will appreciate. Pic: Malay Mail

There is a lot of hunger and anger out there. The people’s misery is accentuated by their perception of corruption and double standards top to bottom as they reel from disease, death and deprivation.

The need for better government in Malaysia has never been greater, before the people are driven to want to throw someone under a bus.

It is a matter of grave urgency to discover a fit for purpose arrangement in the face of the greatest health crisis of our times, which is eating into the economic, social and political fabric of our country.

We cannot have a government worrying, politically unlike the people, where its next meal is coming from. A government walking on thin ice, always looking over its shoulder to see who is about to stab it in the back, and thinking of its next move to stay in power.

We need a government fully focused on addressing the huge crisis the country is facing.

We need a government which has the full support of Parliament, which should be recalled to play its rightful role outlined in the nation’s constitution, the highest law of the land.

Parliament has not met this year for its fourth session following the declaration of emergency in January — despite clear invocation that it can meet, including by the king, who had agreed to that declaration.

There are calls to suspend Malaysia’s system of parliamentary democracy and to establish a National Operations Council (NOC, or Majlis Gerakan Negara, MAGERAN), like the one which operated for two years from 1969 following the race riots in May that year.

Exposing megalomania, one such call comes from a political leader who had previously asked for the present emergency, such as it is, to be ended. What, to be followed by full declaration of emergency with him at the head of the NOC?

We must abandon such desires as the wet dreams of wannabe dictators.

There are three fundamental differences between the situation in 1969 and the one we face now. First, there has been no breakdown of law and order as occurred following the racial riots for us today to hand power to an autocrat, always a dangerous gamble.

Second, and critically, we have no towering political leaders to take the lead without significant opposition to think through the national issues to take the country forward.

Third, crucially, we don’t have two years.

Indeed, the NEP (New Economic Policy) — one of the two main products of that period — has become a primary source of national division instead of the unity it was supposed to have forged. The main reason is that it has been twisted and emasculated to corrupt the Malaysian body politic. But, that is a discussion for another day.

The other outcome, the shepherding of hitherto antagonistic political parties into a grand alliance — Barisan Nasional — is something we should be seeking to achieve today. But double quick.

Who is to lead that charge? A few hands will go up but, truth be known, there is NOBODY of the same kind of stature of the post 1969 leaders who can command and pull disparate parties together. Malaysian political leadership is bankrupt, the outcome of 40 years of divisiveness and greed for power rather than statesmanship.

Should we then just lie down and die? Of course, we cannot just give up. The leaders of the main political factions in Parliament should sit down very quickly to work out how they can form a unity government with the backing of their MPs in Parliament. They must, for once, serve the national interest and ride above narrow political and personal interests.

It is not about now is my chance to be PM. It is about how best to serve the nation at its hour of peril. About how to get on top of Covid-19 and to continually manage the risk from the virus that is not going away, how to restore the economy and to plan recovery of economic and social life. It is about the finest hour. Leave political games out for now.

Can we do it? I am not a close adviser of the prime minister but, from the start, when he came to power, I had always put to him the need to broaden his political base and have a bigger tent to ensure stability of government as the country faced huge challenges. He thought better and imagined he could politically navigate his way to stay in power despite not having the numbers in Parliament to achieve such stability.

It is not too late for him to go for a national unity government. As prime minister, he is best placed to do so. He has to rise above narrow interests and show the statesmanship the country needs now. If he does not, forget about being harshly judged by history, support for him will erode further at this moment in time.

The Malay rulers meet on Wednesday. This is a most important meeting in light of the crisis the country is facing. I read a lot of comments on social media about not drawing the rulers into politics. This is a wrong reading of history and reality. The Malay rulers have a role, although the difficulty has always been how exactly they should play it without exceeding constitutional provision and without undermining support for the institution.

The fact of the matter in our present situation is the Malay rulers have been seized of the issue of proclamation of emergency, which speaks to a discernment on how the country should be run at a time of crisis in the interest of the people.

When they meet on Wednesday, they will obviously want to review how the country has been run based on what they see and hear and representations they have received.

They have, as expressed by Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution, the right “to be consulted, to encourage and to warn”.

In our present circumstances, the people need some intervention to save their lives and livelihoods. A nod in the direction of a national unity government and convening of Parliament would be something the rakyat would deeply appreciate.

The Malay rulers could also propose ways in which the people can assist with expertise in these troubled times through establishment of an advisory council comprising representatives of civil society, professional bodies and business.

This could be expanded into a Malaysia First Council subsequently with wider terms of reference to get into the whole array of issues that have placed the country, not only in this crisis, but also in the most precarious position since its independence.

We need to have a whole-of-nation approach and best leadership to save the country. Every institution has a role to play. The people must will and support a national unity government, the convening of Parliament, and participation to find solutions and build consensus.

The palpable anger heard and to be read almost everywhere should get creative response. The rasa marah rakyat (the people’s wrath) should not be allowed to reach the level where they would want to throw somebody under a bus.


*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

China: Peaceful rise, antagonised… antagonistic?

top ten places in Beijing | Mandarin Zone School
Pic: Mandarin Zone School

THERE are risks a great power like China can take that a small- or medium-sized country like Malaysia cannot.

Still, when there is a territorial “intrusion” by airplanes of the Chinese air force over Malaysia’s maritime waters off the Sarawak coast, as recently reported, even a medium-sized state has to take some steps to signal a response to threats to its sovereign right.

Malaysia did well to do so. Both the scrambling of the Hawker jets and the protest note are par for the course. We should then not retreat from those actions.

When the foreign ministers meet, representing their nations, however unequal, they should speak as equals. None of the little brother, big brother stuff.

Nobody, of course, wants trouble with China. Least of all Malaysia, with all the dependencies, from vaccines to economy. Lives and livelihoods, the common refrain these dark days of Covid-19.

Ask Australia, which is in trouble with China. But we should recognise that Australia is not grovelling. There has to be some dignity for Malaysia, too. So let us not negate what little we have done over the “intrusion” — and move ahead.

In the wider context, the common interpretation that China has abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “peaceful rise” overlooks that bit about “bide your time” in that advice.

So the fact China has risen to become the second most powerful nation in the world — and rising — takes us beyond that “biding your time” bit. We are now seeing the contours, not infrequently, of actual state action, of what to expect of China as a great power.

China may be antagonised right now, but it will move beyond that condition to other forms of state attitude and behaviour not unlike those of other great powers in the history of international relations — but with special Chinese characteristics.

The “century of humiliation” prefaces the character of the modern People’s Republic of China. But it does not stop or begin there. There is the well before and the thereafter.

Chinese civilisation goes back more than 3000 years, one of four ancient civilisations in the world, but the only one among Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley that has sustained itself as a civilisational and racial entity, which is a source of pride not just for China but of Chinese people everywhere.

Against this extant of historical continuity, the “century of humiliation” from 1839 to 1949 may seem to be a blip in time, but it is a blight in the experience of the Chinese nation. At any rate, at this time in history, it is an intolerable memory and a shameful experience, which China is today in a position to put right.

When it is felt, that correction — here its definition can be subject to dispute — is opposed. There is a righteous indignation which, now that China has risen, can be supported by the power of state action.

What is happening to and in Hong Kong is the best example of return to status quo ante not subject to any other construction, including the “one country, two systems” principle agreed between Beijing and Britain when the colony was returned to China in 1997.

Implicit in this disregard of the joint declaration is the derecognition of locus standi of the departing colonial power after 156 years, in a process that rightfully returns Hong Kong to China.

China knows the power of the economy, specifically of its economy. And, increasingly, the power of its military.

There are still misplaced narratives on what has happened to China’s peaceful rise. Even discussion on the end of it is wide of the mark. China has risen.

The Deng Xiaoping dictum has ended. The expression of its end occurred when Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Of course, the change did not take place in one fell swoop. China’s accumulation of power has been taking place before Xi, thanks to Deng’s economic reforms from 1978, but it is Xi who has made the decisive decision based on a now powerful China.

China and America are in a gladiatorial contest of who is angrier and more antagonised. President Joe Biden has not moved from Donald Trump’s position that China threatens American dominance in the world. For the rest of the world, the concern is where all this might end.

In the Asean region — and to
us in Malaysia — that concern is more immediate, as in the South China Sea there is a ready theatre of conflict. Incidents of “intrusion”, such as the recently experienced off the Sarawak coast, will continue to happen from time to time due to the overlapping claims, with China ignoring the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that its nine-dash line giving it almost the whole of the sea has no basis in international law.

Vietnam has borne the brunt of many conflagrations with China. In the past couple of months, 200 Chinese vessels have been sitting in and swarming the waters in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China seems to be operating on the basis possession is nine-tenths of the law. The US and other western powers are operating freedom of navigation rights across the South China Sea. If there were to be an incident it could break into a wider conflagration.

Would China then be considered to have been antagonised, or has it become antagonistic?

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Increasingly challenging' situation at Selangor quarantine centre due to  growing admissions: Health department - CNA
Image: Channel News Asia

There is no time to lose. Malaysia is at the top in the world in terms of new cases per million of population and the number keeps rising. The recovery rate is falling and the number of people dying is increasing.

New variants of the virus have mutated which are challenging the full effectiveness of available vaccines. Hospitals are full, frontliners stretched and stressed.

We are in a desperate situation. Yes, a full lockdown comes into force tomorrow but it is uncertain whether the ravages of the pandemic can be brought under control. The economy will certainly suffer. The people will suffer even more, those who live. Many are dying and will die.

The nation, the people and the government should move together to face this crisis which threatens to break the country. We are staring at the abyss. Three things must be done quick.

FIRST, the prime minister should form a government of national unity to manage this crisis. He has been urged by many for some time now to set up that emergency government, but has chosen to ignore such advice. He may feel his bargaining position may have been eroded by seeking to form such a government at this time with his back against the wall.

But this is not the time for political calculation, party or personality. This is a matter of national survival at so many levels. In any case, he will still be prime minister and, by riding above narrow politics, he would be doing himself a world of good showing statesmanship at the time of greatest need.

The national unity cabinet should comprise representatives from all political parties represented in Parliament, of course, but could include non-partisan competent professionals.

Yes, there is the risk of political parties and leaders double-crossing the prime minister but they will be exposed for all to see. If the national unity government is brought down, there is every justification to, indeed, declare an emergency, which will be a different ball game, with full powers in his hands, for there is no way a general election can be held. Holding one would be suicidal.

SECOND, end the state of emergency such as it is and reconvene Parliament. Parliament is the right and proper forum to discuss policy issues and to pass the necessary legislation. The present emergency has not got widespread support and its end will help the process of forming a common national purpose at this time, yes, of grave emergency.

There will be some grandstanding and idiots, in Parliament, but the speaker’s more active and intelligent role should help to contain such twits.

Indeed a People’s Advisory Council should be established to also give advice to the government — comprising representatives of civil society, business and professional bodies. It will be a source of sanity and objectivity — which could also highlight shortfalls and failures in parliamentary discussions.

The role of conventional and social media is critical to highlight the good and to differentiate it from the bad, whether people or policies, but reporting should be accurate and committed to the urgent common national good — containment of the virus and management of the risks.

With Parliament back in session, it should re-examine the statutory debt limit of 60 per cent of GDP, so that the government can issue Covid Recovery Bonds and take on other debt to help people and businesses under lockdown. It could be examined whether such bonds could be excluded from the calculation of government debt as it is an emergency that we are facing. Developed countries have bust all limits and are masters of quantitative easing.

With a national unity government and a Parliament making it accountable, the people and others would have the confidence to take up the special purpose bonds. There are other ways for the government to raise money that can be scrutinised, such as through agencies whose liabilities are not in the calculation of total debt.

THIRD, the people must adhere to SOPs strictly. However, they see double standards where big names and politicians flout the law and get away with it. This does not make for a successful regime of SOPs. When they see a government which is united of purpose and a Parliament fit for purpose and a People’s Advisory Council suited to the purpose — and the end of double standards — there will be national commitment and buy-in.

The people also see events which have caused spikes in Covid-19 cases which are irresponsible and entirely avoidable. Starting with the Tabligh cluster from February last year, to the Sabah election also last year in September and the Ramadan/Hari Raya surges this year, which showed laxity of enforcement and couldn’t-care less non-adherence by religious and political leaders and big shots, the people see the SOPs as an imposition only on them that do not contain the spread of the virus at all.

These cycles cannot continue. Otherwise, we are headed for Armageddon. We do not want to become a country and economy of grave-diggers.

The people are also angry with the slow speed of the vaccine roll-out. There has to be greater accountability and transparency. Right now, they are very angry, with many explanations they cannot accept.

There are many intricacies and power political play in the access to vaccines in the world. These should be explained with clarity and consistency. At the moment they only see moving targets which are not hit. They also see systems for applications for vaccination which do not work 100 per cent.

Whether 150,000 vaccines administered daily will achieve herd immunity by the end of this year, with previous targets and timelines not met, is a source of grave scepticism.

And the challenges will not end. Afterwards, there will be the issue of booster vaccinations. Of testing for antibodies. Even now of mass testing and a regime of efficient contact tracing. Of opening up social and economic life but not letting the guard down. Not easy, but the people — and the government and political leaders — must understand the change, some would say nature’s epochal correction, that has taken place.

With a national unity government, a functioning Parliament, further people representation to offer advice, no double standards and greater transparency there will be, if not a feel-good factor (how can there be given the enveloping pandemic), greater belief and hope among the people that the country is not running into the ground.


*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Malaysia’s Palestinian problem

Pro-Palestinian activists and supporters let off smoke flares, wave flags and carry placards during a demonstration in London in support of Palestine
Pic: Deustche Welle, Tolga Akmen

The Palestinian problem is about displacement and self-determination which has become a huge humanitarian issue as a result of war and conflict.

It is not about religion and a matter of Muslims against Jews.

Malaysia’s cardinal mistake is to think of it in the latter sense — as Islam versus Judaism — which has strategic consequences which do not serve the Palestinian cause.

From it much emotional nonsense emanates exposing many deep Malaysian ailments which in turn are comical, pathetic and shameless.

Divine power is being invoked. But God only helps those who help themselves. What thought and way out of the situation for the Palestinians have the emotionally driven Malay-Muslims given?

Then there is this going out to Gaza to fight against the Israelis bravada. This is pathetic as these “volunteers” would surely be killed if ever they got there. In any case, there was actually little fighting on the ground, rather missiles fired by Hamas mostly missing Israeli cities against Israeli aerial and artillery bombardments many times more lethal.

So what about humanitarian help for Palestinian victims men, women and children always caught in the middle? Here the issue arose about monies collected in the past not handed over or getting to Palestine.

Never mind, an ulama said. No need to make big of that. More important is to make a donation with sincerity for which you will be rewarded in the afterlife. Good God, what about condemning those who may have spirited away the money, an illegal and corrupt act? Or a call for transparency and accountability? None.

This has become a most serious and embedded attitude in Malaysia which is now reflected for all to see in international humanitarian assistance. Even when caught those with influence, primarily Malay-Muslims, are still okay to be supported. The leader of Malaysia’s leading Islamic party has said as much.

It is bad advertisement for Malays and Muslims, and places Malaysia on a par with so many other Muslim countries in the world, countries informed by hypocrisy and double standard. How can they even talk about international law when they follow no law? When they are, and have been, killing fellow Muslims for years on end.

The domestic audience, mostly non-Malay-Muslim, repressed by religious and racial extremism, are increasingly losing interest in the Palestinian cause, when framed as an Islamic Jihad, because they see how abominable those proclaiming it are.

On the international scene, let us not forget Israel too would like the conflict to be depicted as a religious one, because they can get people in the West who associate Islam with terrorism to do so in the Palestinian struggle.

In the section on Palestine of my book 9/11 and the Attack on Muslims I related how Israel jumped on the Islam equals to terror bandwagon to snuff out Palestinians and their hope for a homeland. Now we see again how, with our stupid help, Israel is deploying the same tactic.

In addition, Israel cleverly hides behind the excuse of anti-semitism, especially with the guilty West — and we fall smack into the trap.

All this does not help the Palestinians, already fighting against great odds. We cannot help them militarily. We don’t deliver humanitarian assistance after monies are collected with great fanfare. Then we also do not help by the misconstruction of the conflict, with due excitable chest-thumping, as a religious one of Muslims against Jews.

To repeat, the Palestinian struggle is a fight to have their own homeland. A fight, in fact, against displacement and for self-determination.

Much water has flown under the bridge since Israel was established in 1948, however unjustly for displaced Palestinians. Many opportunities for a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, have been missed. Four wars have been fought with countless, punishing operations by the Israelis in, now, a truncated “Palestine” and, each time, a victorious Israel has got stronger, and the Palestinians weaker.

In the 12 years of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israelis have become emboldened with audacious settlements on the West Bank. In this last round of the conflict, the Israelis descended upon Gaza like a tonne of bricks, using missile attacks from there as justification and cause for their heavy bombardment — whereas it all started after heavy-handed and Gestapo-like action on the West Bank by Israeli police in Sheikh Jarrah and Al Aqsa in the holy month of Ramadan.

Somehow it has all been twisted to make Israel the victim. What Hamas was trying to achieve militarily from Gaza with its ineffectual missiles was to show the Palestinians were not totally helpless. What they did achieve, on the contrary, was to show that they were.

Hamas has done this many times before with innocent Palestinians suffering each time. What is this for? We should also not froth at the mouth, for what will that achieve for the Palestinians?

Malaysia should be more creative in its Palestine policy, instead of being angry with ineffective threats, with the routine lines on the need for Muslim unity which does not exist — why waste time — and condemnation of Israel with no call on Hamas not to put at risk the lives of innocent men, women and, particularly, children.

We must emphasise, again and again, the Palestinian right to self-determination and the need for a two-state solution.

US President Biden now talks about it whereas Trump gave carte blanche to Netanyahu to do what he will, including erasure of that two-state solution. Nevertheless America has not been even-handed again in this round, vetoing twice a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, before getting Egypt to broker one as US supplicant.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (China is president of the Security Council this month) actually offered his country’s good offices to bring about a ceasefire which neither Israel nor Hamas responded to. If not Hamas, at least the PLO should have responded to this gesture and get American knickers in a twist. Did they? No, they were consumed by unthinking emotion and passion.

Malaysia should, if it wants to have a credible Palestinian policy at all, work to get China more involved in the conflict so that the US does not alone, with Israel, play with Palestinian lives with impunity, while securing every single precious Israeli life.

We have to get smart, not get worked up and play to the domestic gallery. We also have to clean up our act if we want any country to bother with what we have to say, and not be exposed as another of those Muslim countries with no credibility.

We should speak out as a country, not as a Muslim country, which wants to see an end to the cycles of violence and suffering of the Palestinian people. We should state clearly that Israel’s right to exist must once and for all not be an issue, just as we call for establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side with it in peace.


*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Asean: Give Credit When It’s Due

Asean leaders' meeting succeeded in addressing Myanmar crisis, says PM  Muhyiddin | Malaysia | Malay Mail
Pic: Malay Mail

Asean leaders are to be commended for finally being able to do something about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, one of its member states.

Brunei, this year’s chair, Indonesia, Asean’s primus inter pares, ably supported by Malaysia and Singapore, got all member states to support the chairman’s statement that came out of the Jakarta leaders meeting last Saturday.

It goes to show there can be meaningful Asean action when there is political leadership.

The content of the nine-paragraph statement was laced with the usual Aseanesque of Asean summits, with only the 8th referring directly to the situation in Myanmar, including the five action points of consensus as an attachment to the statement, and the 9th to the need to facilitate the repatriation of displaced persons in Rakhine state as well as the need to address the root causes of the situation there.

It was a good harvest to record also the Rakhine state situation, although the immediate concern of the leaders meeting was the violence and fatalities following the military coup in Myanmar on February 1st and civil action against it.

The “sweetener” of a more general overlay in the statement was proposed by the Brunei chair to get the de facto Myanmar leader to attend. There has been criticism of having General Min Aung Hlaing attend the meeting, but there was really no alternative if the object of the summit is to bring an end to violence in that country. The elephant had to be in the room.

Most of the discussion at the meeting was on the situation in Myanmar, whatever generalities there were in the chairman’s statement. The five-point consensus was clear, specific and succinct: immediate cessation of violence; dialogue for peaceful solution; special envoy of the Asean chair to facilitate the dialogue process; humanitarian assistance; and the special envoy with his delegation are to visit Myanmar to meet all parties concerned.

All are desirable objectives and means to ultimate resolution and immediate end to violence. Of course there is many a slip between cup and lip, and there could be glitches and flare-ups, but the sense coming out of the meeting is that the General is looking for a way out of the hole his military has been digging for him.

Perhaps there should have been something on what would follow non-compliance. However in the exercise of the possible, given that Asean is now actually seized of the matter, it was left implicit.

Nevertheless it is incumbent that the special envoy, assisted by the Asean Secretary General, must not only get moving fast but should also report back to the chair of difficulties and recalcitrance. Asean must do more than just hold a watching brief.

It took some time for Asean to reach this point. Asean could only come out with a chairman’s statement following consultations that took place in early March. While Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have come out with their individual, robust statements, others, like the Thais, had come out to say what was happening in Myanmar were its internal affairs.

Still others were silent. An Asean consensus itself, excluding Myanmar, was hard to form – as if some of the states “suspicious” of intervention were harboring dark acts against their people some time in the future, for which they did not fancy an Asean interest. So it was good to see all agreeing to last Saturday’s Jakarta statement.

Broad as the paragraphs were before the two on Myanmar, apart from two paragraphs on the theme and deliverables of Brunei year as chairman, there were important restatements – reminders not just to Myanmar – of commitments in the Asean Charter to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government, respect for fundamental freedoms, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

There was a reminder too of the need to advance Asean community building, recovery from Covid-19 and to address “pressing issues of common interest to all Asean member states.” The last no doubt referring to the situation in Myanmar but also an opening to involvement in future crises affecting the region.

Passages in the broad paragraphs, further, underlined that Asean centrality depended on unity in engagement with external partners, with China and the U.S. mentioned by name.

The cynic might say there is so much wrong in too many member countries which already are at variance with those commitments under the Asean Charter. While, yes, it is the case, it is not peculiar to Asean and, more importantly, the lead up to involvement in Myanmar means there could be similar “intervention” in other countries when there is violence against and fatalities of their people. There is a limit even as many Asean countries fall short of its own standards.

Now that Asean has done something, it has escaped ignominy. However only a first, albeit all-important, step has been taken. The violence in Myanmar has to stop. Reconciliation has to take place. While stopping the violence is an immediate objective, reconciliation is a medium to long-term process.

What will Asean do if rogue elements of the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar armed forces) went on a rampage? Obviously it cannot do much without any peacekeeping forces on the ground. It is relying on the power, control and honesty of General Min Aung Hlaing. He has to be held accountable.

How deep should the Asean involvement be? It has to rely on good faith which is in short supply in Myanmar.

Reconciliation will take some time. And not just because of what has happened in the recent past since the coup. Can there be a return to the status quo ante? Have fresh elections got to be held? Must the present constitution which gives a special position to the military in the governance of the country be retained?

These issues no doubt are beyond Asean. They are for the people of Myanmar to sort out. Can, and should, Asean facilitation of dialogue between “warring” parties include help in resolving deep and outstanding issues? The word used in the Jakarta chairman’s statement is facilitating “mediation” of dialogue. How deep and how long and how involved are matters not quite clear.

So after a good day’s work, not to mention weeks of preparation, Asean is in a good place, but there is a lot more that lies ahead that needs to be thought through. After this particular statement, and its proposals, Asean leaders cannot all just go home and forget about it – as they have tended to do with many matters in chairman’s statements of the past.

The Myanmar situation requires constant attention and greater involvement if the country is not to fall apart – and Asean severely challenged again.

*Views expressed here are the writer’s own.

No place for Asean to hide

Military Crackdown in Myanmar Escalates With Killing of Protesters - The  New York Times

THE 56 members of the Dewan Rakyat and the three senators are to be commended for calling on Asean to suspend Myanmar’s membership of the regional organisation.

Unless Asean does something drastic, when many are dead and gone, and Myanmar returns to some kind of normalcy, it will have damaged further its vacuous claim to being a political community.

It would seem, as a grouping, the only notion of political association driving Asean is the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, in which case the member states might as well have remained separate as that principle is upheld in international law in the world community.

Even in international law, however, there are covenants against genocide and the use of violence domestically, with particular efforts on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) since 2005, resting on three pillars: the responsibility of states to protect its populations, the responsibility of the international community to assist in such protection, and to so protect directly when states are so clearly failing to do so.

However ineffective international law may be, it is a means of pressure to record wrongdoing, which can go further if powerful states organised around a closer community, like Asean, take action in accordance with it. In the case of Asean, the imbalance between non-interference and violations of domestic populations, is a disgrace.

Asean was not able to do something collectively about the genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar. It fell upon Gambia to take the matter to the International Court of Justice in 2019 for crimes against the community and ethnic cleansing, based on the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Where was Asean, which admitted Myanmar to the regional association in 1997, apparently because of the good that would come from engagement, rather than ostracising that country? What engagement took place after 730,000 Rohingya were expelled following killings, arson and rape. The Genocide Convention was the burning crucible within the Asean Charter’s principles of good governance and justice.

Yet Asean was unmoved, locked out by one principle only, non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country. The same holds true today following the coup on Feb 1 by the military, which now rules with force, violence and killing of its own population, who are seeking only that the outcome of the election last November be honored.

The statement by current Asean Chair Brunei immediately after the coup called for dialogue among the parties, reconciliation and the “return to normalcy”. It recalled the purpose and principles enshrined in the Asean Charter, the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was as far as it could go, as there was no consensus to go any further. Whatever it meant was in any case quickly negated by statements from Cambodia and Thailand that what was happening in Myanmar was its internal affairs.

One wonders what Asean member states that are so quick to put up the barricades of internal affairs are storing up for their people. At some point in the future, Asean would imaginably be mumbling words of not much consequence with no action or even a firm warning. The miracle of Asean is how it has survived for so long on this diet of political meaninglessness.

The much celebrated “success” of Asean in keeping the Cambodian United Nations seat for the Khmer Rouge after Vietnam invaded that country at the end of 1979 and installed the Heng Samrin puppet regime, showed that Asean could work together (at the time the fear of Vietnam was great and Southeast Asian countries saw themselves falling like dominoes against the Vietnamese onslaught).

But it also demonstrated that the bestiality of the domestic regime was secondary to invasion, the most direct form of interference in domestic affairs of another country. The Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979‬, had killed between 1.7 and three million of its Cambodian people. There always is a deathly aftertaste, when evil acts committed behind borders are sustained by keeping domestic affairs beyond the concern of others.

Without Indonesian leadership, Asean would be in absolute political wilderness. The republic’s foreign minister has been trying her best to whip up Asean action. Brunei has been active. There were strong words from Singapore and Malaysia, but nothing more as violence against civilian populations
rolls on.

Where are the others? The Asean charade cannot continue. Decisions by consensus have to be reviewed if clear-cut cases, such as Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing and killings of its own people, are allowed to stand with impunity. On Myanmar in particular, Malaysia — as one of those who pushed strongly for its membership of Asean in 1997 — has a responsibility to be more active in getting Asean to act.

Beyond that, it is about time that Asean is reformed. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, Asean continues to make decisions in a slow and ponderous manner when the need for urgency is greatest, when lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Now, when people are being mowed down in one of its member states, Asean is still not responding with clear and fast action.

Those who have made so many comments in the past about why countries must not interfere in the affairs of another should be careful what they wish for. Life is dear. Suffering has no borders. R2P is not just an international obligation and a moral duty. You could be the next victim.

Aung San Suu Kyi did herself no favours by absolving the Myanmar military of genocide of the Rohingya. Now she is in detention again as is Myanmar under military rule. What goes around comes around.

Meanwhile, Asean is up there for all to see as more interested in allowing member states to carry on within their internal borders in any way they like, without legal or ethical concern for human life.

The writer, a former group editor of NST, is visiting senior fellow and member of the Advisory Board of LSE IDEAS (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy)

Review of Anwar’s review of the Tommy Thomas memoir

In his review of Tommy Thomas’s book, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not come out strongly enough on the right of free expression.   FILE PIC
In his review of Tommy Thomas’s book, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim did not come out strongly enough on the right of free expression. FILE PIC

IN extravagant prose beyond the reach of most Malaysian understanding given the standard of English in our country, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim tried to offer an even-handed measure of the Tommy Thomas memoir My Story: Justice in the Wilderness.

His conclusion: The book should not be banned. With which I entirely agree. His warning, if I may continue in the vein of Latin expressions in his review: Caveat Emptor. Buyer beware, usually used in the capital market, which could apply equally in the purchase of a packet of cigarettes, or of a book.

In my commendation of the book I had observed and celebrated Tommy Thomas’s “refreshing and open style not characteristic in this country”. Anwar is only implicit on this in his review because, I guess, to refer to one of the extensive quotes, which is his predisposition: “I still have miles to go before I sleep.”

The trouble with writing in English in this country is that neither its language nor its texture is well understood and appreciated. Anwar is not unaware of this. Thus, while his review is mainly directed at those — his multiracial but inadequate base — who are okay with the language and its feel, he could not throw the baby out with the bathwater by fully embracing Tommy Thomas’s book.

He had to treat and save up for that most important constituency — the Malays. Hence, while his review is not without merit, at the end one is left to rue the fact it is somewhat constipated.

He could not come out to tell the Malays they should not be moved by the instinct to bully and threaten, and to go after, like a pack of hounds, something or someone they feel has transgressed their ever-expanding sacred territory. Thus Anwar had to side with the judicial and civil service, even the judiciary that was emasculated by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1988, against criticism in the book, or with the opinion rendered on the May 13 racial riots and Tun Razak’s alleged hand in it — indeed with all matters he saw the Malays could get worked up over.

Nowadays it would seem that Malays get or are made to be enraged over so many things, in direct proportion to incremental accumulated power ever since May 1969. There are even veiled threats of another May 13 if that is what Tommy Thomas wants. Quod erat demonstrandum (Q.E.D.), Tommy Thomas might say.

What instead should be happening is to challenge Tommy Thomas in a civilised manner to provide proof of his assertions. He could be criticised as not having the temperament and character to carry that great office of state as attorney-general. He could even be asked if he was not being racial in many of his aspersions.

The trouble is the ground has shifted so much that so many Malays have become so used to getting their way, come what may. The laws they use to persecute others they believe do not apply to them. We cannot have this situation get worse that some people are above the law.

It is that constituency that Anwar must reach. It is that drift, that has to be checked, the privilege that has reached the point of legal impunity in exercise of political power and domination.

To me, “justice in the wilderness” describes something more than an attack on the judiciary, and other things many see are plainly wrong in our country. It is a cry for justice in the Malaysian political system which, even when you hold a high office of state, as a non-Malay, you are demeaned and denied.

We Malays must think and understand how the non-Malays feel, instead of always wanting to put the boot in. Tommy Thomas opened up because, despite having been a successful lawyer and holding briefly a high office of state (which only received half-cocked acceptance and a cold shoulder from the Malay establishment), he was never allowed to feel the country gave him any love. If not love, not even recognition.

Maybe he should not have lashed out as he did. Even so, I can understand why. Anwar should have, but did not and could not.

This is the narrative Anwar should be coming out with, how this country is so much in need of a reset, a process which everyone thought Pakatan Harapan was embarked on. However, they screwed up on so many levels.

No one took a handle on promised reform. There was no sequence, no communication plan. I had worked something out, was supposed to get something going, but was not allowed to do so because of the internal politics of Tun Dr Mahathir’s office.

In any case, nobody could have saved the day because the promise of reform was a sham and a shambles. It was all Mahathir-Anwar, with Anwar the pupil sitting across the table from Mahathir, notebook in hand, hoping to placate the old man who took him for a ride.

Now Anwar reviews the Tommy Thomas book without even seeing in the totality the anguish, a tortured soul, subjected to and reflecting on so many things wrong in the country.

I have observed previously the Pakatan Harapan victory in May 2018, with not a little to do with their political incompetence, released a race-religion reaction not unlike May 1969, with no physical violence of course, but still with the fist-thumping re-imposition of the perceived order of things — unremitting Malay political dominance, diminution in the rule of law and of the constitution, tightening of Malay economic hold, even corruption justified in the name of religion!

What Anwar should have seen from Tommy Thomas’s book is that the work of reform is still to be done. That, if I may be allowed to refer to Graham Greene’s book, is The Heart of the Matter. Instead Pakatan Harapan continues to talk of Anwar as prime minister and Mahathir as senior minister — what?

It is clear the task of reform and reset lies elsewhere. Have independent people look at the Malaysian political system again. The rights of the Malays, Islam, the non-Malays and their religions should all be clarified and restated. The weaknesses of nationhood should be identified and addressed. The future of the country needs to be secured.

We must have a Malaysia First Council, Majlis Mengutamakan Malaysia, all of its people throughout all of its territorial extent. The person or body that sets this council up will get the eternal gratitude of all Malaysians.

The writer, a former group editor of NST, is visiting senior fellow and member of the Advisory Board of LSE IDEAS (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy)

Thinking Malaysia with Biden as US President

U.S. President Joe Biden  rose above the fray and addressed his nation as a statesman seeking to bring his country together again to find its inner strength for the greater good. - AFP file pic
U.S. President Joe Biden rose above the fray and addressed his nation as a statesman seeking to bring his country together again to find its inner strength for the greater good. – AFP file pic

THE rush is to think about impact on U.S.-Malaysia relations, but the more important thing is to reflect on relevance to Malaysia of what President Biden has to deal with in America.

Deep and bitter division in his country leading to assault on U.S. democracy led Biden to concentrate on American unity in his passionate and moving inaugural address last week. He rose above the fray and addressed his nation as a statesman seeking to bring his country together again to find its inner strength for the greater good.

In Malaysia, starting with Tun Dr. Mahathir from 1981, there has not been a statesman among Malaysian political leaders who has offered and worked towards national unity with honesty and care evident in Biden’s “liberating” ascendancy after almost half a decade of public service.

The Tunku, Malaysia’s founding statesman, brought the races together to achieve independence, but was felled by those in Umno who felt he did not bring the Malays enough economic benefit. From then on, in 1969, the “ultras” had to be placated by the institutionalization of a policy, the NEP, to eradicate poverty (irrespective of race, so very conveniently forgotten by all subsequent leaders), and to erase the identification of race with economic function.

Tun Razak, and his deputy Tun Dr. Ismail, the last two statesmen this country has had in power, conceived the audacious social engineering policy, which was intended to last for 20 years until 1990, to achieve national unity. Tun Hussein Onn, Prime Minister on the hoof after Tun Razak’s untimely death in 1976, was an honorable leader who did not have the time to make an imprint on the country because of his health and short tenure.

If he had continued longer, corruption surely would not have become rampant as it has today. When Tun Hussein resigned in July 1981, it marked a watershed, between Malaysian leaders of the past who were moved by the idea of nationhood and unity and honorable service, and those driven primarily by holding power through the politics of race and religion.

They used the NEP by prolonging it, emasculating it, and exploiting it for narrow Malay sectional interests, dosed with religious inroads to determine conduct and circumscribe discussion already throttled by strict laws.

There were three major moments since 1981 which gave hope but turned out to be a false dawn in Malaysian political history. Malaysia’s Vision 2020 (1990-2020) was informed by pretty words which gave great hope without honest political commitment, except in wanting the country to be fully developed economically.

The social and political side of being a fully developed nation “in all aspects of life”, was never a serious objective despite uplifting references to terms like “liberal” (now a word used to condemn everyone and everything not liked) and “Bangsa Malaysia” (again now a dirty word, a no go DAP threat).

When it was introduced with the Sixth Malaysia Plan in 1991, it was all so exciting, complete with the 7 per cent economic growth for the next 30 years to achieve developed nation status. I knew intimately all those involved in minting the wonderful words, and they may even have believed in them, but after operation lalang in 1987 and the emasculation of the judiciary in 1988, it was hard not to look at it as just another platform to secure a long reign, not a statesman’s honest target of achieving national unity.

Many events, including major economic and political ones in 1998, too involved to get into here, had already disfigured Vision 2020 before it ended largely forgotten last year.

Malaysia’s New Economic Model (NEM), which then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib unveiled in 2010, was the second moment of hope. A high income, inclusive and sustainable Malaysia, which will reduce the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest, to replace the NEP that had continued beyond its sell-by date, which Najib had criticized for its skewered implementation, was now on offer. It crashed against the hard rocks of Umno-Malay opposition and died with the 1MDB scandal.

This was a tragedy as Najib had the makings of someone who could have led Malaysia forward, if not to the ideal state of national unity, at least away from narrow sectarian thinking. Like his father, he was an able administrator, intelligent and quick to see economic benefit. Perhaps too quick for his own good, but a loss to Malaysia nevertheless of an opportunity to move ahead with a leader who has a vision and can work towards it.

Then, of course, there was May 2018. The biggest moment of all for review, reform and reset for a multi-racial and united Malaysia. Pakatan Harapan (PH) was the best and briefest hope that Malaysia ever had. I never saw or heard non-Malays sing the national anthem with such gusto as after PH came to power. Their country included them! Like everybody else who believed it was going to be the dawn of a new Malaysia they were to be betrayed.

Tun Dr. Mahathir could not rise above the politics of getting rid of Najib, which moved him to join the coalition in the first place, and obsession with making sure Datuk Seri Anwar did not succeed him, which finally caused the PH government to fall apart less than two years after it came to power. Most importantly the politics of race became the leitmotif of conduct which drove a wedge in the coalition with Mahathir ultimately falling on his sword as there were others now who knew better how to use race to cause his downfall.

Mahathir could not become, as so many had hoped despite his past, a statesman to lead the country towards unity and sustainable development, words I am taking from Vision 2020 in 1991. He is the best politician the country has ever had. But, alas, not a statesman Malaysia needed, and now still needs.

So when I am asked by the media to comment on how President Biden would affect U.S.-Malaysia relations, the thought that comes to me first is how much we need a leader like him to put my country together again. Someone who can rise above the politics of division.

Unfortunately there is not anyone in Malaysian politics today. We need first to find common ground from which a new politics not based on race can emerge and, with it, new leaders. How to achieve it should be the stuff of politics, rather than how to stay in power, how to get into power, and how to use the easiest and often basest appeals to stay in or get to power.

And in all this time a political plutocracy has formed which suspects different views, considers many of them as a threat, and rules by the low common denominator, on the foundation of the system and on the details of policy, that only yes-men can provide.

When I saw the attack on the Capitol, the assault on American democracy which Biden seeks to restore and reinvigorate, I also wonder who we have to restore and strengthen the institutions of democratic government in our country. If both the objective of unity and the constitutional governance are not the concern of Malaysian political leaders today, we are in for a dark and retarded period in national history, already blighted by the heavy cost of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of course U.S.-Malaysia relations are not unimportant, although less important to America than it is to Malaysia. Saying this will upset people who have an interest in presuming how important Malaysia is, whether ambassadors assigned to the task or those whose task it is to elevate those relations.

This is another problem in Malaysia. Not recognizing where we are, not admitting to reality. Always ready to blame the messenger and not look at the news he brings.

We become mediocre that way. What happens to U.S.-Malaysia relations now depends most of all on what we make of it, what we want from it, how we position ourselves to identify and engage and develop those relations. Biden will be engrossed within trying to unite his country once again, although he cannot avoid giving attention to global issues.

Malaysia has to identify which of the global issues are in Malaysian interest and engage the Americans actively in the bilateral relationship as well as in multilateral forums. We must bring activity and quality to the table.

For example if the issue of climate change and sustainable development is of common concern, we should determine exactly how we would like to work with the U.S. on it. Whether at international or regional policy level, whether in economic investment and business or technology activities, which sectors, public healthcare, human capital development, clean energy and so on. We should prioritise and go for it with specifics. We cannot be jejune and driven just by issues which are the flavour of the month.

On the issue of trade, going bilateral is insufficient, as we operate in a multilateral context. That multilateral context is not served just by making generalized statements of belief in a rules-based free trade system. We have to work at it. Do we work in Asean to provide leadership to take a common stand in RCEP, on FTAs, in international forums?

Asean has been dismal at this. It is, for instance, represented at G-20 meetings: Indonesia in its own right, Singapore as leader of the Global Governance Group, and the Asean chair as observer ever since the London Summit in 2009. Have they ever got together to present a common front on the most pressing issues of trade? Would Malaysia want to get this going in Asean, provide leadership in Asean, or are we preoccupied with domestic politics?

Similarly, on the more difficult issue of the South China Sea, we cannot duck having clarity by simply saying we do not want to have to choose between China and the U.S. Biden is likely to reiterate the American position on freedom of navigation and the “global commons”, a stand made clear by the Obama administration since 2010. Does Malaysia support this? Do we stand by the principle that international law must be observed to provide security for smaller states.

Further, we cannot countenance Chinese incursions into our exclusive economic zone, and not prevaricate, as we have done in the past, by saying it is no big deal for us that China does so.

We have to make the point about principles we uphold and actions we do not accept. Singapore, and this is a point which galls many in Malaysia, has been able to be clear on its position, sometimes at cost, from which it has been able to recover through adroit diplomacy.

Even so, there are diametrically opposed views in Singapore on whether Singapore should take a stand. But they are discussed vigorously and resolved in dynamic fashion and then determined policy is executed effectively, with nobody considered negative for having a different view.

In Malaysia there is fear and disdain, if not worse, for those who have a different view. This way policy decisions and conduct do not pass muster.

The basis of our nationhood is severely fractured. Unless this is addressed we will continue to operate as a maimed country. For one, the conduct of foreign policy will be sub-optimal. So, if you ask me how U.S.-Malaysia relations will be affected by President Biden, my answer is, by his example, we should be thinking Malaysia, reflect more deeply than superficial enumeration of this and that.


The writer is former NST group editor and Visiting Senior Fellow and Member of the Advisory Board LSE IDEAS (Centre for International Affairs, Strategy and Diplomacy)