Pakatan Harapan-Broom to Sweep Malaysia Clean


Partyforumseasia: The Pakatan Harapan or Coalition of Hope suffered a setback by losing an important by-election last weekend, which actually gave an opportunity to the opposition UMNO to develop new hope in turn. See the previous post

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (93) is killing two birds with one stone simultaneously by launching a wide-ranging National Anti-Corruption Plan yesterday, 29th of January. It shows him as a reformer and highlights the endemic corruption of the former government. His only eight months old new government is facing the unpleasant task to clean up the gigantic swamp of graft and corruption which served the former dominant UMNO party to rely on quasi-unlimited political funding. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak was simultaneously Finance Minister. With a rather hybrid entity, called Ministry of Finance Corporation, he could control a  huge network of Government Linked Companies (GLCs). But what was all too visible for the voters and finally broke his political neck was the growing evidence of criminal manipulations within the state-owned Sovereign Wealth Fund 1MDB with billions of dollars disappearing in black holes.

As laudable and timely as the National Anti-Corruption Plan is, some Malaysians remember Dr. Mahathir’s money politics in his first 22 year-long term as Prime Minister until 2003. Yet, the concept of eradicating corruption in Malaysia within the next five years and the planned reform measures sound convincing enough.

The most important points are as follows:

– New laws on political funding for politicians and political parties will be introduced.

– Review appointment procedures for key government posts.

–  Politicians and high-ranking civil servants will have to declare their assets.

– The credibility of the legal and judicial system must be enhanced.

– Corporate governance needs reform.

Ex-UMNO-President Najib Razak, facing a slew of graft charges, is still maintaining his innocence, and even may not be completely wrong in a technical sense because political funding has been totally unregulated in Malaysia so far.

The just-published Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International does not show any dramatic changes for Southeast Asia in comparison with the previous years. With rank 61 out of 180 countries, Malaysia is still ahead of most other ASEAN countries. Obviously, the 1MDB saga has not really affected the result.

For more details about political funding and money politics in Malaysia see:

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New Hope for Malaysia’s Defeated UMNO Party?


The sea-changing landslide defeat of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in May last year was mainly triggered by the loss of trust in its chairman and Prime Minister Najib Razak with more and more revelations concerning the 1MDB financial scandal. Najib is indicted with numerous accusations but still free on bail and still pretending that he didn’t do anything wrong. But UMNO, after more than half a century in power and enjoying quasi-unlimited access to funds via its tight control over a government-linked company empire, seemed to disintegrate quickly. Its Barisan Nasional (or National Front) coalition lost ten of the formerly 13 component parties which had contributed ethnic minority votes for decades. After initially 17 defected MPs, Umno remains with 38 in the 222 seat parliament and the remaining BN partners Malaysian Chinese Association and Malaysian Indian Congress with one each.

For the remaining UMNO MPs, switching into one of the new ruling coalition parties is not as easy as party switching used to be in Malaysia before. They are seen as opportunists in both camps, and the few who are trying to move back into UMNO are seen as traitors. There are even calls for banning party hopping or going independent altogether.

Left: Party switching in the 1970s…

Yesterday, Saturday, 26 of January, the low morale of UMNO and BN has Continue reading

ICERD and the elimination of racial discrimination in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Singapore has just submitted its first report on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which it ratified in November 2017. And multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious Singapore is proud of decades of “racial harmony” and equal rights for everybody. Neighboring Malaysia, in contrast, suddenly belongs to the remaining 14 countries worldwide which have not signed the convention. In force since 1969, the ICERD has been ratified by 179 countries and signed by 4 more. The new Pakatan Harapan government under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had promised to sign and ratify it but bowed to pressure from huge protest rallies by tens of thousands of Malays who feared for their positive discrimination and exclusive rights in the mixed ethnic setup of the country.

KL Icerd rally

On 8 December 2018 about 50.000 Malay Muslims protested against the ICERD in Kuala Lumpur.

The decades of racial politics by the former UMNO-Barisan-governments which helped to win all elections until May 2018 are backfiring now, that a strong Chinese-based party, the DAP, is part of the ruling coalition and accused of being a threat to the Malay majority. And even more backfiring is the focus on Islam by UMNO and especially the Islamist PAS party. Malaysia has a secular and neutral legal system, Islam is formally “the religion of the Federation” but not a state religion. For radical and many other Muslims, though, this is not enough. They campaign for more Sharia-based criminal punishments (hudud), and a right-wing Malay Muslim group,  Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Solidarity), known by its Malay acronym Isma, fights for giving up the secular principle and establish the country as a genuine Muslim state. The political parties which have promoted these social undercurrents for their electoral advantage, now see it as a vehicle to promote their comeback after being ousted in the May election. For the time being, UMNO is split and in disarray, but the ruling coalition is not really strong and united, holding together mainly by the towering personality of PM Mahathir.

With its evident idealistic undertones, ICERD itself may have an open flank by focusing on “racial” discrimination. In Article 1 it defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

But the notion of “race” is in many ways outdated since in terms of species, humankind consists only of the “homo sapiens” variety for the last 40.000 years. Neanderthal and other genes have survived in rather small percentages, and cultural differences may distinguish the existing subgroups a lot more than shades of skin and hair color. Among many pseudo-sciences, race biology has been one of the most destructive, historically an outgrowth of the need to justify slavery and colonial supremacy.

Southeast Asia is characterized by an outstanding number of distinct ethnic groups with their own language and culture, though closely related by phenotype and genetic composition. Indonesia counts over 300 ethnic groups, Myanmar 135, Thailand about 70, and Vietnam 54. Malaysia and Singapore, for administrative and political reasons, have decided to classify along the main racial lines, namely Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Others, thus simplifying the many shades of ethnic and cultural differences on the ground. In Malaysia, the ratio of “immigrant races” and the Malay “sons of the land” or Bumiputera was controversial from the beginning and later developed into a religious issue as well.

Singapore started her independence in 1965 with a Chinese majority of 75%, and the Malay, Indian and Other minorities to be accommodated as equally as possible. With the increasing migration and the ageing of traditionally more homogeneous populations, an ethnic mix will be the future of most countries. It is already and will remain an enormous political challenge, which is hardly understood by political parties in Europe and the US. The ongoing, though imperfect, solutions in Southeast Asia may present some clues for a better understanding, hopefully without the historical baggage of the outdated race biology.