A tribute to Karpal Singh


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The giants are passing, leaving only the pygmies in their wake

Rosli Dahlan, lawyer and senior partner in Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill:

The country has lost an exemplary and courageous son. A giant in court and in Parliament, never once flinching in his belief in the principles of democracy, justice and the rule of law which had been costly to his person and career, and yet he stood firm.

He will take his place in history as one of the finest patriots that this country has ever produced, regardless that he was recently convicted and fined RM4,000 for sedition.

His eulogy will note that his sudden passing is divine intervention against those who seek to put him behind bars by making an appeal against inadequate sentencing.

Shame on the AG (attorney-general). The giants are passing, leaving only pygmies in their wake

The late Karpal Singh – A true Malaysian hero


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Malaysia has lost an incredible patriot, a legend and true national hero. All his life, he fought for a Malaysia based on justice, freedom and equality. For his untiring efforts, he was harassed, jailed and was in the process of appealing a further attempt to jail him when he died so tragically. 

It is telling that all Prime Minister Naib Tun Razak did on learning of his passing was to offer a one line sentence of condolence. No eulogies to a great Malaysian. No recalling of his sterling service as a lawyer and parliamentarian or his contribution to the nation. The Prime Minister should be ashamed of himself that he allowed his own brand of petty politics to dictate his response. The government may not honour him but there is no doubt that millions of Malaysians will honour him in their hearts and remember him for his sacrifice, dedication and commitment to the struggle to make Malaysia a better place for all its citizens.

Sadly, he did not live to see so many of his cherished dreams for Malaysia come to pass but the dreams live on and the struggle continues. Others will take up the torch. One day we will have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people and on that day, the nation will celebrate Karpal Singh for the true hero he was.

He will be dearly missed and mourned by all Malaysians who love and cherish freedom & democracy. Our condolences to his family.

R.I.P. Karpal Singh

Malaysiakini reports that Karpal killed in accident, son injured

Veteran opposition MP and lawyer Karpal Singh was killed in an accident near Kampar in Perak this morning.

His long-time personal assistant Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu, 39, was also killed.

Karpal’s son Ram Karpal and the driver were believed to be injured in the accident which occurred at 1.10am near 301.6km northbound marker along the the North-South Highway.

Malaysiakini learnt that Karpal and his son, who is also a lawyer, were heading north for a court case later today.

Photos taken at the scene of the accident – near Gua Tempurung
in Kampar – show the white Toyota Alphard badly damaged.

Contacted later, an Ipoh police spokesperson told Malaysiakini that it is believed the MPV collided with a lorry which switched lanes without indication.

Karpal’s other son and Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo (left) told The Star that his father had died on the spot.

“My brother Ram is slightly injured but we are trying to get through to him,” he added when the daily contacted him at 3.30am.

According to a police statement later, Ram and driver of the ill-fated car, C Selvam, were not injured. However, Karpal’s Indonesian maid suffered severe injuries and she is warded at Ipoh’s Hospital Permaisuri Bainun.

The driver of the lorry, which was hit behind by Karpal’s car, and its three passengers escaped without injury.

Karpal, 74, was involved in a previous car accident in 2005 where he was paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

The vocal politician graduated from University of Singapore and started his law practice before running for Parliament in 1978.

His long tenure as Jelutong MP and fiery speeches in the Dewan Rakyat earned him the moniker “Tiger of Jelutong”.

Karpal had recently relinquished his post as DAP chairperson pending the disposal of his appeal against a sedition charge.

Last month, the High Court found him guilty of uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009.

PM offers condolences

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak conveyed his condolences via Twitter.

“I have just landed at Ankara when I heard the news that YB Karpal Singh died in a road accident. My condolences to the family,” read the premier’s tweet.

Other netizens also expressed condolences and shock over Karpal’s passing.

“Shocked and sad news! DAP chairman Karpal Singh passed away in accident tonight. Malaysia has lost a truly patriotic son,” wrote Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming.

“Our dear Mr Karpal is no longer with us… I just can’t accept it…,” said Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching.

The bodies of the two deceased, Karpal and Michael, arrived at the Ipoh General Hospital at 7.20am.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (right) and his deputy Mohd Rashid Hasnon, and former Perak menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin were there.

They conveyed their condolences to Karpal’s sons Gobind and Jagdeep. Karpal’s wife was seen crying, while a relative tried to prevent photos from being taken. The bodies were sent for post-mortem.

The meltdown of Malaysian institutions


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groupThe meltdown of Malaysian institutions

 | APRIL 15, 2014

There was a time Malaysia’s civil service was the envy of many, playing an important role in the country’s rapid industrialisation. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, April 15, 2014.

There was a time when Malaysia was known for its institutions – a civil service that facilitated rapid development from an agrarian economy to an industrialised one, a judiciary that was held in high esteem of the Commonwealth, and a military that defeated a communist insurgency.

Today, more than 50 years as a nation spanning from Perlis to Sabah, we see ineptitude and incompetency, a complete meltdown of Malaysian institutions.The Attorney-General now farms out cases to an Umno lawyer; the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) leads an organisation which does not act when a High Court rules; the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) suffers a credibility deficit; and the air force has not covered itself with any glory.

So who do Malaysians turn to in time of need?

Not any of the above, it appears. Sad but true.

The saga of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8, has confirmed what Malaysians have suspected for a long time. That there is not much meritocracy and thinking going on in the civil service.

The authorities, from the minister downwards, have yet to explain what happened in the crucial hours after MH370 was found missing. A CNN and BBC television report yesterday showed Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein avoiding the question.

Can the civil aviation sector trust the DCA to do the right thing immediately after a flight vanishes from the radar screens? Why wasn’t the air force told that a jet was missing? Why wasn’t plane maker Boeing told immediately? Why didn’t the air traffic control respond to their Vietnamese counterparts when told that there was no contact with the Boeing 777-200ER that was on its way to Beijing?

Why the silence?

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the civil service, police force, military and the public prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) also has to explain how it defends the country’s airspace throughout the day. Yes, we have brave men and women in uniform keeping watch but a mysterious blip on the radar moving east to west was left unmolested.

Not even hailed by radio, let alone scrambling jets to check on the blip. Or even to ask the DCA and air traffic control if they were also seeing the blip.

Does the RMAF have fighter jets on standby? How many can fly these days apart from those used for parades, air shows and F1 races?

The IGP has decided to play marriage counsellor to a divorced couple rather than enforce the law after the ex-husband forcibly took away his son from the ex-wife’s legal custody.

Does the IGP or anyone else in the police force know the law and the offence that was committed, or do they assume there is a conflict in the civil and Shariah law that they cannot take any action?

Can anyone cite religion and get away with a crime? How can people trust the police to enforce the law passed by lawmakers elected by the people?

Where is the Attorney-General in all of this? Is it more important for him to go to London to figure out who will have custody of the MH370 black box, once found, rather than stay back in the country and decide on whether to prosecute or take action against a man for abducting his child from his ex-wife’s legal custody?

Or just outsource some jobs to an Umno lawyer – from defending the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in a judicial review brought by the  DAP to prosecuting opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy appeal.

Is the Attorney-General’s decision to outsource some work a tacit confirmation and acknowledgment that there is no talent left in the A-G Chambers to do the work?

And is there any talent also left in the civil service, police force and military?

Malaysia’s civil service was the envy of many – from working on poverty eradication and affirmative action policies to industrialisation and a respected judiciary and prosecution.

They did more with fewer resources and lesser people then. But they had quality talent back then.

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the civil service, police force, military and the public prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

It might take a generation to possibly set things right with these institutions.

Or is that just a hope that is fading as fast as the chance of hearing another ping in the southern Indian Ocean? – April 15, 2014.

All talk & No action


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corruptionIf speeches alone could solve problems, Malaysia would be paradise on earth. Unfortunately, we have a prime minister who is all talk and no action. He makes wonderful and inspiring speeches all over the world but on the ground nothing changes. His recent statement on fighting corruption (see article below) is a case in point. Listening to him, you would think that the government is serious about tackling corruption and making great headway. The massive and illegal outflow of capital from Malaysia tells another story.

Here’s a recent report on corruption in Malaysia from the Malaysian Insider dated September 27 2013:

“Malaysia has been ranked as one of the most corrupt nations and listed as a country which is most likely to take shortcuts to meet targets when economic times are tough, according to a recent survey by Ernst & Young, signalling that the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has failed in its role to transform the economy.

Malaysia, along with China, has the highest levels of bribery and corruption anywhere in the world, according to the latest report, Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report Series 2013.”


And the much-touted anti-corruption commission is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the ruling party that goes after small fish and opposition leaders but leaves the stunningly corrupt politicians, their families and their cronies well alone.

BERNAMA article carried by the Borneo Post, April 4, 2014, Friday

KUALA LUMPUR: Measures have been taken to address the corruption issues, such as by strengthening the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar, said it was a very important step that the government has taken, even in the issues that had been raised in the Auditor-General’s report.

“For example, a committee has been set up, led by the Chief Secretary to the government. Among its members were representatives from MACC,” he said.

Abdul Wahid said this when commenting on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s keynote address at the London School of Economics 6th Asia Forum yesterday.

Najib had said corruption suppressed meritocritic opportunity, choked off entrepreneurialism and droveaway talent.

“Corruption is one structural driver of inequality that could hinder the nation to prosper.

“Many Asian economies are affected by corruption which harms social cohesion,” he said.

The forum brought together academics, policymakers and business and finance leaders to discuss Asian issues.

Among the speakers were Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, former Chairman of Malaysia Airlines and Dr Hassan Wirajuda, former Indonesia Foreign Minister. — Bernama

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Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/04/04/abdul-wahid-measures-taken-to-address-corruption-issues/#ixzz2xr0Zg7Ts

Irene Fernandez, a true Malaysian hero


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As I wrote in this blog in November 2008, Irene Fernandez was a true Malaysian hero. She took on a corrupt, abusive and uncaring government that treated the most vulnerable among us without dignity and compassion, and she prevailed by the sheer conviction of her cause and true grit. She fought for all of us to make our country a better place. 

Her death was met with silence from her government and praise from many all over the world. Much of the praise that came from foreign governments were, however, self-serving. They praise the persecutors for their moderation while honouring the persecuted for their endurance! 

Irene Fernandez, Champion of the Oppressed in Malaysia, Dies at 67

By  APRIL 2, 2014 NYT


Irene Fernandez in 2012. CreditRahman Roslan for The New York Times
Irene Fernandez, a champion of the oppressed in Malaysia whose indefatigable advocacy for better treatment of foreign migrant workers prompted her government to denounce her as a traitor and human rights groups to shower her with awards, died March 25 in Serdang, Malaysia. She was 67.

The cause was heart failure, Human Rights Watch said.

Ms. Fernandez abandoned a career as a teacher in her early 20s to fight for social causes. She helped organize the first textile workers union in Malaysia and campaigned for women’s rights, improved consumer education and safer pesticides.

Her signature crusade was for the rights of the poorest, most marginalized people in her relatively rich country: the migrant workers who do the dirty, ill-paying jobs many native Malaysians snub. Foreigners account for more than 16 percent of the work force in a population of 29 million people, and more than half the foreigners are in the country illegally.

Coming from Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian nations, these illegal workers toil in homes and at palm oil plantations and construction sites. Ms. Fernandez unearthed evidence of their being beaten and nearly starved. In an interview with The New York Times in 2012, she characterized the situation as “slavery days coming back.”

As much as their labors are needed, the illegal workers irritate many Malaysians, as their counterparts do in many countries. Some Malaysians join government-sanctioned volunteer groups to seek them out.

In September, the government began a campaign to arrest and deport 500,000 of these workers; it said their collective consumption of social services like education was expensive and went against its policy of relying less on unskilled labor.

Ms. Fernandez condemned the deportation drive, partly because it failed to distinguish refugees from other foreign workers, she said.

She achieved her greatest prominence in 1995 when she interviewed more than 300 migrant workers being detained by the government. They told her of rapes, beatings and inadequate medical care, food and water. After a newspaper printed a memo she provided detailing her findings, Malaysia’s government, in March 1996, charged her with “maliciously publishing false news.”

Her criminal trial dragged on for seven years, one of the longest in Malaysian history. Stanley Augustin, the prosecutor, accused her of blackening her country’s reputation.

“The court must take into account the interests of the nation,” he said. “Freedom of the press is not freedom to say anything you like. It must be confined and cannot hurt the public or national interest.”

She was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison, then released pending appeal. In 2008, an appellate judge reversed her conviction.

In 2012, Ms. Fernandez again outraged her government by telling an Indonesian newspaper that Malaysia was not safe for foreign workers because it did not have a legal framework or specific laws to protect them.

“When she says something like that, doesn’t she realize that her actions do not help the country or the Malaysian people?” Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in an interview with The New Straits Times, an English-language Malaysian newspaper.

Ms. Fernandez’s parents were Indians who moved to Malaysia to work on a rubber plantation when the country was under British rule. She was born there on April 18, 1946.

She traced her awareness of social and political issues to her childhood, when, as the daughter of a plantation supervisor, she was told not to play with laborers’ children. “I always found that a big conflict in me,” she told The Times.

She became a teacher, but at 23 left the security of a government job for the uncertain life of an activist, working for various labor and rights groups, including the Young Christian Workers Movement.

In 1991 she formed the organization Tenaganita (the name means women’s force in Malay), which ran shelters for migrants and victims of human trafficking. It eventually expanded its efforts to include men.

Ms. Fernandez’s many awards include the Amnesty International Award in 1998, the International PEN Award in 2000, the Jonathan Mann Award in 2004 and the Right Livelihood Award in 2005.

Her survivors include her husband of 35 years, Joseph Paul; two daughters, Katrina and Tania; a son, Camerra Jose; and two sisters, Josie and Aegile. She never lost her taste for battle. During her trial, she told The Los Angeles Times that she was ready for jail.

“It will give me an opportunity to write a report on jail conditions and see what changes need to be made,” she said.

Reprinted from Wednesday’s early editions.

A version of this article appears in print on April 3, 2014, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Irene Fernandez, 67, Fighter for the Oppressed, Is Dead.

A cartoonist takes the prime minister to task


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zunar#3[Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as  "Zunar" has been a thorn in the side of the government with his hard-hitting but spot-on cartoons. He is truly a great Malaysian. This is his response to criticism over his latest cartoon]

I refer to The Star Online article on March 19 titled: “Local cartoonist Zunar slammed over Washington Post comic strip.” The article was a response to my cartoon and opinion published by Washington Post a day before, titled “Cartoon of the day: Malaysian artist on the lost jet — and his government’s ‘weak’ response to it. [ click link to read Influential Washington Post publishes Zunar's "TOO WEAK" Najib as its CARTOON OF THE DAY! Get the message, Putrajaya!]

Najib is weak

In the cartoon, I made my point very clear that the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Najib’s leadership is weak in handling the MH370 mishap.

Prof Datuk Dr. Mohamed Mustafa Ishak, Head of politics, security, and international affairs cluster quoted by Star Online, said that my opinion was “insensitive and misleading” and “mere speculation and wild allegation”. (Link: http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/03/19/Zunar-washington-post/)

I understand for some academicians, their job is to defend the PM, but clearly Prof Datuk Dr. Mohamed Mustafa doesn’t read enough before he opened his mouth.

I made a conclusion and transformed my opinion through my cartoon based on news reported and analysis not only by local media, but by dozens of international media outlets.

If Prof Datuk Dr. Mohamed Mustafa watched and read CNN, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, Jakarta Post, South China Morning Post for example, he would certainly know how China, US and Vietnam are very upset with Malaysia over the lack of information.blackmagic

And yesterday, Indonesia also expressed its disappointment.

Just a few hours ago, BBC reported that the relatives of the Chinese passengers on the missing flight have threatened a hunger strike if the Malaysian authorities failed to provide more accurate information.

I am not suggesting that you have to believe all foreign media reports, but your judgement will be very shallow if you just read local mainstream newspapers!

And I would like to reaffirm my opinion that Najib is “too weak” as a leader. Tun Dr Mahathir (this doesn’t mean I like him) would have addressed the nation, give direction almost everyday if this happened in his era.

But Najib not only left the job to an ‘incompetent” Hishamuddin Hussien, and took 7 days to open his mouth to speak at a press conference, and yet did not have the courage to face foreign journalists by refusing to take questions.

And I would like to reaffirm my view in Washington Post that the press conference is just a public relations exercise by Najib when he sees an opportunity to gain political mileage.

cartoon#1The flip flop in the investigation leads, which I believe also led to the sudden cancellation of a scheduled press conference by Najib, shows the weakness of his administration.

For me, as a cartoonist, my job is to highlight different points of view, so that the reader will be fed with a better perspective for a healthy debate.

The “how can I be neutral, even my pen has a stand” philosophy of my cartooning requires me to have a very strong etiquette in providing the message and opinion. I do a lot of homework and gather as much information as I can from different perspectives. - www.zunar.my

Full article: http://www.malaysia-chronicle.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=246622:zunar-defends-his-washington-post-cartoon-reaffirms-his-view-najib-is-too-weak&Itemid=2#.UyoKtdyKya4#ixzz2wRin0oUb 
Follow us: @MsiaChronicle on Twitter

Awakening the conscience of an entire nation


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“Sometimes we will find amongst us an individual who by his deeds will wake the conscience of an entire nation”I am struggling to control my emotions as I think back about this man called Anwar Ibrahim, my friend, my classmate and our leader. In November 2009 I wrote this about him: “Sometimes we will find amongst us an individual who by his deeds will wake the conscience of an entire nation”And in the very same moment Portia’s plea to Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice keeps pounding in my head:The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Merchant of Venice

And then words like compassion, decency and fairness becomes a refrain that refuses to go away for is it not always true that we humans more often than not, treat animals better than we treat our own kind. And the manner this Umno led Barisan Nasional has treated Anwar Ibrahim fills me with disgust and contempt.

Whether you believe in the guilt or innocence of Anwar Ibrahim in this Sodomy Two ruling is a secondary issue because more than anything else this case has served to anwar3underscore and intensify the bitter division between those who are for the Barisan Nasional and those who are for Pakatan Rakyat.

It brings into question whether that most august of our institution, the Judiciary, does or does not take instruction from its political master.

And most critical of all, it suggests that the BN government is now embroiled in a desperate struggle for its political survival. A struggle it is losing because even as it pursues Anwar Ibrahim through the courts it is obvious to us all that the BN government is more concerned about preserving its political grip on power rather than with dispensing justice as it desperately sought to rid itself of its most persistent and unrelenting nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim.

Public passion has been aroused as the appeal court chose to convict Anwar of sodomy – a decision seen by many Malaysians as being unfair to Anwar Ibrahim simply because, guilty or not, that man has been put through more than enough suffering – more than what any man should endure. But like a drowning man who will cling to his rescuer and by so doing cause them both to drown, Umno no longer can see what this Sodomy Two case will make the Malaysian people do to Umno’s political future.

In 2008 it was the Anwar Ibrahim led Pakatan Rakyat that took five states from Barisan Nasional and deprive BN of its two third majority in Parliament.

In 2013 it was again the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat that secured the popular mandate from the Rakyat but still lost the elections.

And so BN thinks it has now put their nemesis to rest by pursuing him through a tainted judiciary and having him finally convicted of sodomy.

This victory, if it can be called one, will have its final chapter written in the 14th general election because that popular mandate secured by Pakatan Rakyat from the people of Malaysia in the 13th general election will come to haunt and hound UMNO and BN out of Government. This I am sure. And you and I will have to ready ourselves for this final act upon UMNO and BN…and then we will have the change that Anwar Ibrahim have been working with us to achieve for many long years.

For now this is what you have to do.

You will have to decide what you will personally do to rid our nation of Umno and Brisan Nasional

I am not talking about demonstrating in the streets to show this Barisan Nasional government that we are disgusted with the manner that they have treated Anwar Ibrahim.

I am not talking about any of you brandishing your keris or sharpening your parang in preparation for what is to come because many of us can no longer tahan how this dastardly BN government goes on harassing our leaders.

I am not asking who amongst you are now prepared to face whatever the Police can throw your way if you decide to take to the streets to show your anger and contempt at what this BN government is doing to Anwar Ibrahim.

You do these things and for sure our people will suffer physical abuse and even death as this BN government unleashes the riot squad against our unarmed activists. We do not want to give them any reason to beat any of our people up. We do not want to give them any reason to throw any of our people in jail indefinitely!

We need each and every one of our people to gather quietly and covertly to meet and keep the anger and rage against BN burning.

Be still my beating heart and think with clarity.
For now in every way they outnumber us.
For now in everything that we can do now they can do better because of their deep pockets and large armies.
If we have parangs and keris they can shoot us.
If we hurl stones at them their shield will protect them and they can chase us and beat us up without mercy as they have done to Kugan.
If we are armed they can mow us down as they have done to Amniurrasyid.

But what we have better than them is our passion and our determination to bring change to our country. This they cannot shoot at and kill.

As each and everyone grapples with our own thoughts as to what is to be done personally by us to rid ourselves of BN, Pakatan Rakyat must strive to pull together our people into one cohesive force that will combine all the passion and pent-up frustration against BN and make it into one tidal wave that will sweep this Umno led Barisan Nasional rubbish out of office and out of our lives forever.

And once that is done the work of holding them all responsible for the carnage and mayhem inflicted upon our people, our economy and our nation for the past five decades must then begin in earnest.

And to do this we all need to be strong, be prepared and be out of jail. For now let us not do anything to lull BN out of their stupor as they are lull into that sense of security they think they are now in with Anwar Ibrahim neutralized. Let them celebrate this hollow victory and let them think themselves safe from any more political harm now that their nemesis is no more.

Anwar is only one vote…we are many.

We start with Kajang. Can the people of Kajang calmly and quietly go to the polls and demonstrate their contempt and disgust with this Najib led Barisan Nasional in the same way we have shown our disgust and contempt for the politics of BN in the last general election…through our votes! Jom orang Kajang…gi mengundi! Vote for Pakatan Rayat!

A plane disappears, Malaysia’s flaws emerge


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MAR 13, 2014 6:00 PM ET

Confusion doesn’t normally make for a great economic indicator. But the chaos that’s marred the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is revealing quite a bit about Malaysia‘s potential — or lack thereof.

The Southeast Asian nation has long been hobbled by a political culture that places the ruling party’s needs over those of the Malaysian people. For six decades, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organisation has appeared to have only one goal: to maintain its hold on power. It’s thus promoted — and recently reinforced — Malay-first racial policies that benefit its political base. The side effects, including stagnant living standards, waning competitiveness, and the humiliation of Malaysia’s sizable Chinese and Indian minority populations, are all overlooked in the service of this larger goal.

The bungled search for Flight 370 has simply made manifest the consequences of this cynical bargain. How does someone like Hishammuddin Hussein become defense minister and acting transport minister in Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy? Even with his nearly 20-year stint as a legislator and more than a decade in ministerial posts, it can’t hurt that he’s also the scion of a powerful political family. The lamentable manner in which he has fielded questions about the search underscores how unaccustomed Malaysia’s leaders are to being questioned by anyone.

This mind-set also explains why Malaysia is ensnared in the middle-income trap that South Korea and Thailand escaped years ago. Rather than free the economy from race-based quotas and business preferences, the party has expanded them. Never mind that these policies make Malaysia even less attractive to multinational companies and encourage so many of the nation’s best and brightest to move to Singapore and Hong Kong. Or that the Philippines and Indonesia are surging ahead as Malaysia looks backward.

The country is proving to be all hardware and no software. For years, UMNO acted as though top-quality roads, state-of-the-art ports and bridges, iconic skyscrapers and a swanky new capital in Putrajaya would inevitably pave the way to prosperity. But economic software is even more important. And on that front, Malaysia has never bothered to cut red tape, level the playing field for non-Malays, or introduce the competitive forces necessary to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Why bother when all the party needs to do to stay in power is redraw voting districts, bribe the masses with fat handouts, invoke religion when necessary, and muzzle any pesky publications that dare to write about corruption and privilege? All this explains why per-capita income in a resource-rich nation with an enviable geographic position in Asia has stalled at near the $10,000 mark. Malaysia is stuck in the middle-income trap because its leaders are stuck in time.

The families of the victims of Flight 370 deserve better. But then, so do the Malaysians whom Najib claims to serve.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)

To contact the writer of this article: William Pesek at wpesek@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: MH2Nisid Hajari at nhajari@bloomberg.net.

GE13: Democratic nations gloss over Malaysia’s fraudulent elections


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NYT cartoonNow that the elections are over, world leaders have rushed to congratulate Prime Minister Najib on his electoral victory while  glossing over irregularities that have rendered the elections suspect.

It is quite clear to anyone who cares to look that the 13th general elections were the most fraudulent elections in our history. It failed, by any measure, to meet the minimum standards of free and fair elections.

Of course, one would expect the likes of Iran’s Ahmadinejad to praise Najib for his leadership and for “the strong backing” he received. Undoubtedly, Iran now feels an extra special affinity for Malaysia given Iran’s own penchant for skewing the electoral process.

What is surprising, however, was the reaction of other democratic governments. One would have expected that they would have, at least, expressed serious concern about the conduct of the elections instead of falling over themselves to congratulate Najib on his dubious victory.

While the international media highlighted the persistent reports of electoral fraud with the Economist describing Najib’s victory as “tawdry,” western democracies in particular mostly ignored it as nothing more than, well, an “irregularity.”

President Obama’s spokesman noted the obvious – that the elections were the most competitive in the nation’s history and that  opposition parties faced significant restrictions. Referring to the reported election “irregularities”, he said it was important that they be addressed and that the US looked forward to the outcome of the investigations. He concluded by saying that “The United States looks forward to continuing its close cooperation with the government and the people of Malaysia to continue to strengthen democracy, peace, and prosperity in the region.”

Translation: the Americans know there’s no chance at all that an impartial investigation will be conducted. And neither will one be demanded. As far as they are concerned, the lack of electoral integrity is just a minor and inconvenient fact that hopefully will be quickly forgotten. After all, there are arms to sell and the Trans-Pacific Partnership to seal.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, took basically the same approach. She congratulated the Malaysian people for their peaceful and enthusiastic participation in the elections, as if that was any surprise. She then went on to congratulate Najib for having won another term. Noting concerns over “irregularities” in the electoral process, she naively expressed the hope that the competent authorities would investigate the complaints, never mind that the authorities are neither competent nor capable of an impartial investigation. It’s like expecting the cat to investigate who ate the canaries.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard telephoned Najib to congratulate him on his victory. No indication that either of them took him to task over the electoral fraud. It’s business as usual.

Najib, in any case, professed himself “satisfied with the process and the credibility of the elections.” Message to the rest of the world: don’t hold your breath waiting for an investigation.

Given the critical importance of free and fair elections, other democratic governments  have no right endorsing the outcome of elections in the absence of independent verification. If they themselves don’t have monitors on the ground, they should at least differ to independent local monitoring groups like BERSIH.

Besides, there were so many warnings of electoral fraud before the elections but no expressions of concern from the international community.

Clearly, western democracies are great at trumpeting lofty ideals but terrible at putting them into practice. Profits take precedent over principles. Better the dictator you know than the democrat you don’t. All talk about strengthening democracy are empty words and meaningless rhetoric.

In the aftermath of GE13, Malaysians, in the their frustration, petitioned the White House. According to the Associated Press, the petition drew more than 220,000 signatures within a week, making it the second most popular issue on the site.

While it helped draw international media attention to the issue, it is, of course, an  exercise in futility.

Malaysians must know that in the struggle for freedom and democracy, they are very largely on their own. They must look to themselves, to what they believe in and find the strength, courage and determination to press on until Malaysia is truly free.

Taking back our democracy post GE13


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election fraudFormer U.S. Vice-president Al Gore said recently that “American democracy has been hijacked.” He said his country needs to wake up to the special interests that have a grip on the levers of power.

The same could well be said about Malaysia following the 13th General Elections.

There can be little doubt that there was widespread electoral fraud during the elections. The Election Commission’s much touted indelible ink, for example, turned out to be a joke. The only indelible stain, as far as most Malaysians are concerned, is on the reputation and credibility of the EC itself.

Until these reports are properly and  transparently investigated and put to rest, it is reasonable for Malaysians to question the validity of the elections and the continuing legitimacy of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. Clearly, BN has lost the support and confidence of the majority of Malaysians.

Our options, however, are limited. The BN government has a strong grip on the levers of power; almost all national institutions function as little more than appendages of the ruling party. No fair process of appeal is therefore available or possible.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that we have to resign ourselves to the hijacking of our democracy. Citizens actually have enormous power and there are a number of things we can do and must do.

We can, for example, work to change the media environment and promote independent journalism by boycotting government-controlled media like the New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia, and subscribing instead to online media like Malaysiakini which tend to report without fear or favour. It’s high time we leveraged our collective economic strength to send a strong signal to the media barons of Malaysia that we will no longer accept one-sided and fawning news coverage.

We can continue to support BERSIH and let the Elections Commission know that we bersihwon’t accept anything less than a clean, credible and fair electoral system. BERSIH  has indicated that a tribunal will be set up to investigate electoral fraud. All those who have evidence of electoral fraud of any kind should come forward. Together, we can expose what really went on during the elections and hopefully prevent it from happening the next time.

thiefWe can also continue to expose corruption, the abuse of power and misgovernance. If we can’t trust the system to put an end to this cancer in our society, we must do it ourselves. We have already seen the impact that exposés of corruption and the abuse of power can have. If we blow the whistle on corruption and wrongdoing whenever and wherever we find it, we can put the corrupt on notice that there is a good chance that they will be discovered and shamed if not prosecuted.

Pakatan Rakyaat (PK) leaders, especially in Selangor, Penang and Kelantan have done an outstanding job in showing the nation what good and responsible government looks like. In many ways, they have already set the benchmark for good governance in Malaysia. We must support and encourage them  further. We must become even more active participants in the political process because the future of our democracy will be determined in no small way by what happens in these states during the next five years.  

Most of all, let us build upon the spirit of national unity and common purpose that is already in evidence throughout the country. An immense psychological barrier was broken when the people of Malaysia rejected the old paradigm of racial and religious division and distrust. The ghost of May 13th has been finally exorcized despite the best efforts of racist and morally bankrupt politicians to keep it alive. It is now incumbent upon us, the ordinary citizens, to build upon this and deepen the roots of unity, tolerance and respect. We don’t need, and cannot expect, politicians to teach us about national unity; we just need to begin with ourselves and practice it as a way of life.

We have already come a long way. Despite the electoral fraud and the hijacking of our democracy, our nation has irrevocably changed for the better because of the commitment and activism of millions of ordinary citizens. We finally have a credible two-party parliamentary system. We have found our common purpose and reaffirmed our common identity as Malaysians first and foremost. And just as exciting, the youth of Malaysia have become agents of change.

As well, we have served notice on the BN elites that we can’t be fooled by empty promises, that we won’t be divided by race or religion, that we refuse to be cowered  by threats and intimidation, that we reject entirely the sleaze, corruption and the abuse of power they have foisted upon our nation for so long.

tokguruIf BN wants our support and allegiance, if they really want to promote reconciliation and demonstrate their worthiness to govern, let them compete with PR in good governance, in service to the people, in sound policies and proper implementation, and in respect for the dignity of the people they govern. If they want our respect, let them emulate the integrity and humility of Tok Guru Nik Aziz, the selfless service and commitment of Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang, the economic stewardship of Lim Guan Eng and Khalid Ibrahim, and the zeal for democracy of Ambiga and her colleagues in BERSIH.


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