22 August 2014

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Middle East Eye

As the Islamic State – and the response from western governments – appears to gain momentum, MEE asks three experts how the group has been able to expand and what will stop it

JOHN ESPOSITO, Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University 
@JohnLEsposito
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The Islamic State’s expansion has been made possible by political conditions in Syria and Iraq, ethic-religious/sectarian divisions and conflicts as well as in the region, and the failures of the US and international community. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s unprincipled and disproportionate military response to the “threat” of the democratisation wave, the Arab Spring, with the slaughter of Syrian opposition groups, both radicalised the situation and heightened sectarian (Sunni-Shia or Alawi) divisions. Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s policies – installing a Shia-dominated government, marginalising Sunnis and taking control of parts of Anbar province – increased an already polarised situation and sectarian violence that have resulted in alienated Sunnis welcoming IS. IS’s expansion so far has been mostly in areas of Iraq that are either primarily Sunni or have important Sunni populations in them. The situation was compounded by Gulf funding of militant Salafi jihadists, including IS, to fight a proxy war in Syria against Assad. At the same time, the failure early on in Syria of the US and EU, to become significantly engaged and work closely with regional allies like Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to support moderate anti-Assad forces had a ripple effect. The US and EU underestimated the threat from Syria in 2011 and, more recently, in Iraq.

Like al-Qaeda and other militants, IS offers a militant Salafi ideology/religious rationale to justify, recruit, legitimate and motivate many of its fighters. While there is a similar ideological world view and shared tactics between IS and other terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, there are also distinctive differences. IS seeks to occupy and control areas, to govern, not just to dream of or speak of, but to create and impose their version of a transnational caliphate, with its harsh version of law and order and provision of security and social services. At the same time, they are far more aggressive in driving out, suppressing and killing other Muslims (Shia, Sunni imams who disagree with them and Yazidis, for example) and Christians, or demanding conversion to their brand of Islam.

IS will continue for some years to be a threat. Its capabilities will be enhanced by its alliance with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It will also be very difficult for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to recapture most of the lost territory from IS, especially in areas where Iraqi Shia-dominated government and the Kurds are viewed as enemies rather than allies. Thus, it will be important for the new Iraqi government to form a significantly more inclusive representative government and policy. Given the current momentum of IS and its stated intentions to expand its caliphate, the group may well increase its activity in northwest Syria, southern Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Turkey.

Although not a game changer, a coordinated regional and global response by Muslim religious leaders and Islamic organisations that denounces and discredits IS’s religious claims and actions in the name of Islam could be useful. While some have spoken out, globalised communications enables a far more massive and effective response. It might be possible to make gains in responding to IS if there were a real US and international commitment. Having disengaged from Iraq and Afghanistan, and having taken a minimalist approach in Syria and underestimating the threat from the deteriorating situations in Syria and Iraq, there is no reason or significant indication thus far that US President Barack Obama will move in that direction.


JULIEN BARNES-DACEY, Senior Policy Fellow in the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa Programme
@jbdacey

The rise of the Islamic State has been fuelled by the perceived exclusion and helplessness of Sunnis in both Syria and Iraq, and enabled in particular by the brutal conflict in Syria which has acted as a mobilising space for the jihadist group. The material gains and momentum of its recent surge into Iraq is now helping to consolidate its position and draw in wider support.

Given its ideology, it’s clear that IS will ultimately need to be stopped militarily. But that can only happen on the basis of two pre-requisites: First, drawing away some Sunni support from IS in Iraq that empowers local push-back against the group (as opposed to depending on problematic Western military intervention).

But secondly, a strategy focused solely on Iraq won’t be enough. IS’s recent gains are based on its presence in Syria, and any meaningful attempt to stop the group will have to also go after it there. Given that the threat posed by Islamic State has created an unprecedented convergence of regional interests, there may be an opportunity to revisit the potential for regional deal making on Syria, drawing in the Saudis and the Iranians towards some kind of power sharing agreement based around the need to push back against the Islamic State. It’s a long shot, and clearly actors on the ground aren’t moving there yet, but the provision of arms and direct military attacks are fraught with uncertainty and the prospects of success are so slim that an opportunity to explore regional convergence – as is already happening in surprising ways in Lebanon and Iraq – may represent the best way forward.


AHMED MEILOUD, doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona’s School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies
@AhmedMeiloud

The rise of the Islamic State from the Syrian fratricide caught many by surprise. However, most keen observers knew that Iranian and Lebanese support would slow, but not prevent Assad’s demise. This recognition led global players to intervene. After attempts to form a secular opposition failed, the focus shifted to sowing discord between the Islamists to buy time and to stem the support pouring from the Sunni world. The plan worked, but its engineering failed. It eventually led to a dramatic – although in hindsight predictable – consequence: The cohesive and war-hardened men of IS won. In the process of crashing others, IS abandoned its guarded stance, declared its supra-national agenda and proceeded to vigorously pursue it on the ground.

Access to weakly defended weapons warehouses in Syria, extended experience with asymmetric combat, and fresh boosts of morale and volunteers allowed IS to use raids on Assad forces as a regular weapon-procurement scheme and its clashes with Iraqi forces as a recruitment tool within its Sunni constituents.

As a fighting force, IS possesses four strengths that make it the most lethal ground force in the region: 1. Brutality: It seldom takes prisoners; 2. Dedication: Its soldiers came to die for a cause. Despite its near annihilation in 2010, the movement never had a shortage of suicide bombers; 3. Mobility: most of IS’s attacks are marked by speed and surprise; and 4. Wide expertise in warfare: No regional army had fought in the past decade as many battles as IS core fighters have, using all means to bleed its often better-armed adversaries.

Despite these strengths, IS has some weaknesses. One of these is its image. The further its image is disfigured before Sunni Muslims, the more its recruitment line suffers. IS’s opponents are quite conscious of this and have sought to spread many tales of horror about its mistreatment of civilians. While most of the accounts of mass rape, forced marriages and sexual slavery have proved to be fabrications, IS’s display of mass execution of war prisoners united its foes and alienated its friends. Another flaw is the lack of aerial force or air defence systems. Further, IS’s flaws lie in its inability to win over key Iraqi nationalist groups. These are silent for now but could switch sides or wait it all out. The latter option is the best that IS could hope for. The signs of new sahawat [anti al-Qaeda Iraqi Sunni groups] are already looming on the horizon.

Although IS has managed to quickly overrun the US-trained and funded Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga and many divisions of the Syrian army – and would have done as well pushing the Kuwaitis or Jordanians – it is not invincible. The Iraqi terrain makes it extremely vulnerable to American airstrikes and its rapid expansion has left it thinly stretched. In the case of extensive air campaigns, IS’s mobility and access supply roads might be severely limited. This would give the weakened Peshmerga and other Iraqi militias some edge over IS.

But IS’s raison d’être is not territorial gains or established institutions, but rather its ideological commitment and the grievances it claims to respond to. If the sectarian problems in Iraq are not addressed, and if the general grievances against Western meddling in Muslim affairs are not properly resolved, Muslim youth, especially Sunnis, will continue to seek military methods to pursue their dreams. Battling already with a sense of injured pride and a sense of limited options, Sunni militants are unlikely to crash in the long term. The official Sunni world – except for perhaps Turkey and Qatar – has mostly been discredited and is, at its current state, incapable of providing an acceptable alternative to a caliphate dream. In the long term, a unified Sunni state, in Syria, Iraq and perhaps beyond, is inevitable.

 

22 August 2014

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Malaysiakini

Timbalan Presiden PKR, Azmin Ali menyeru pada anggota Angkatan Muda Keadilan (AMK) agar terus mempertahankan Pakatan Rakyat dari sebarang provokasi dan usaha untuk menggugat perpaduan gabungan parti itu.

MP Gombak itu meminta anggota AMK mencontohi pakar strategi Zhuge Liang dalam sejarah purba tamadun Cina untuk membina semula Dinasti Han.

“Mengambil ilham dari strategi Zhuge Liang, PKR hanya boleh menewaskan BN dan menegakkan Kerajaan Rakyat melalui muafakat bersama PAS dan DAP.

“Apa cara sekalipun, apa jua daya kita, Pakatan Rakyat perlu dipertahankan. Kita tidak membenarkan sesiapapun untuk melakukan provokasi dan cuba menggugat perpaduan Pakatan Rakyat.

“Kita bersama-sama membidankan kelahiran Pakatan Rakyat pasca (pilihan raya umum ke-12) pada 2008. Sememangnya, tahaluf siyasi ini berdepan dengan pelbagai cabaran,” katanya.

Dalam ucapannya juga, Azmin berkata walaupun Pakatan hanya dibentuk pada 2008, kerjasama politik dalam gabungan itu tetap utuh kerana pembentukannya tidak dibuat atas keadaan “terburu-buru”.

Kekuatan Pakatan Rakyat

Katanya lagi, permuafakatan Pakatan diikat dengan pelbagai dasar dan prinsip antaranya mempertahankan prinsip keadilan sosial dan kesaksamaan serta komitmen dalam membentuk kerajaan yang berteraskan tata kelola.

Pakatan juga sama-sama menentang keras amalan dan budaya rasuah serta kapitalisme kroni.

“Iltizam politik menerusi tahaluf siyasi ini menuntut AMK meneruskan kerjasama dengan Pemuda PAS dan DAPSY ke arah memperkukuhkan muafakat ini yang dibina atas kerangka perjuangan yang jelas.

“Keutamaan hari ini mestilah ditumpukan untuk mengembalikan kepercayaan rakyat kepada Pakatan Rakyat,” katanya.

Di samping itu, MP Gombak itu turut menyeru anggota AMK mencontohi pemimpin China Deng Xiaoping yang meletakkan asas kemunculan China sebagai kuasa besar ekonomi.

“Kerajaan Negeri Pakatan Rakyat mestilah melaksanakan kebijakan yang digarap bersama oleh komponen Pakatan Rakyat,” katanya.

21 August 2014

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Ulema and their impact on the Umma
Address by Anwar Ibrahim at the Inaugural Session – International Ulema Conference, Istanbul 20th August 2014

Congratulates RT Erdogan
Let me just take a moment to congratulate Prime Minister and now President Designate Tayyip Recep Erdogan on his overwhelming victory through the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the recently concluded presidential elections.

For the first time ever in the history of democratic Turkey such an election has been held and it is truly indicative of a huge positive impact in political and democratic reform. I am confident that Turkey has now taken another major step forward in proving beyond any doubt that democracy, freedom and justice are not only compatible with Islam but are essential for the progress and well-being of the umma.

Commends role of Al-Qaradhawi – examplary alim
Let me also take this opportunity to express the greatest appreciation to al Fadhil Shaykh Dr Yusuf al-Qhardawi who is not just the world’s leading authority in Islamic jurisprudence but, to my mind, more significantly, a champion for the cause of justice and freedom in the true Islamic sense.

In the face of constant oppression, mistreatment and injustice from the powers that be in his homeland and some other Arab countries as well as being subjected to a systematic campaign of character assassination by the West, Shaykh al-Qhardawi has remained steadfast in his convictions that if we are truly sincere in our struggles for peace and justice in the name of Islam, then we need only fear Allah s.w.t.

Ulama and justice
In this regard, we are indeed grateful that he has contributed so immensely to the uplift of the role of the ulema in this fast changing world and in the process has helped to move the discourse on Islam, the Shari’ah and justice to a level that resonates with the new ideals and aspirations of the new generation.

In the history of Islamic civilization, the ulema have occupied a central place in shaping the course of events that have a direct impact on the umma. In the process, they have contributed significantly to political and socio-economic changes in Muslim societies, some for better and some for worse.

One prominent feature of the role of the ulema has been and continues to be their relationship and interaction with the powers that be. In fact, it has been said that the extent of their influence on the people is very much dependent on the extent of their proximity with those powers.

Historically, their rise or fall was in the hands of the ruling government. We know that under Mustafa Kemal the influence of the ulema in Turkey virtually disappeared.
In Syria under the Ba’athist regime of Hafiz al-Asad, Islamists were slaughtered by the thousands and membership in the Muslim Brotherhood became a capital crime. Similar faiths befell the Brotherhood and ulema staunchly opposed to the secular and dictatorial regimes in Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.

In contrast, in Turkey today, the ulema are regaining their pride of place and are actively contributing to the national discourse on moving the umma to the next level.

The true ulema command our greatest respect because they have dedicated their lives to the cause of Islam and justice. They fear none except Allah. I say true ulema because there are those who are called ‘ulema’ or hold themselves out as‘ulema’ but when tested, it appears that they fear Man more than they fear God.

“Allah bears witness that there is no god but Him, so do the angels and those with knowledge upholding justice. There is no god but Him, the Almighty, All-Wise.” (Qur’an ‘ali Imran 3:18)

These are the true ulema for they are not just ‘ulul ‘ilmi’ but ‘qaa-imambilqisti’.
Therefore, ulema worthy of our highest respect are those who, in the name of justice, can stand up to dictators, tyrants and oppressive rulers. Imam Yahya an-Nawawi was one of them.

He refused Sultan al-Zahir Baibars’ request for a fatwa to legitimize further taxation on the people in order to finance his wars against the Mongols. While other so-called ulema obeyed, Imam an-Nawawi refused and told the ruler:
“I have heard that you have one thousand male slaves and each one of them has a girth of gold. And you have two hundred slave girls and each of them has a portion of gold jewellery. If you spend all of that and you leave your slaves with straps and dyes instead of the gold girths, and you leave the slaves girls with their clothing and no jewellery, then I will give you a fatwa that you can take wealth from the citizenry.”
We know of course what price Imam an-Nawawi had to pay for this. The Sultan became angry and banished him from Damascus.

Just for the record, this was no mediocre ruler of the Islamic world. He was the first Sultan of the Bahri Mamluk dynasty of 13th century. He had defeated the crusaders in at least three major campaigns, and had led the Muslim army to victory against the Mongols in the famous Battle of Ain Jalut.

In terms of governance, he was exemplary in building the necessary infrastructure for the progress of the umma, and paid particular attention to nurturing development in the Islamic sciences.

But Baibars was human and not infallible. So, when the test came for Imam an-Nawawi, his choice was clear.

Egypt
Coming back to Egypt, in order to fight the Islamist and after democratic opposition, we know how the dictators such as Nasser and Sadat relied on Al-Azhar ulema to go on government controlled media to condemn them.

In the present day, the January 25 Revolution gave the Egyptian people a golden opportunity to taste true freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, after being democratically elected as President, Morsi was never really given a chance to take Egypt to the next level as the traitors of the revolution and enemies of freedom and justice were busy plotting to take Egypt back to its pre-democracy days.
So, on 3 July last year, General Al-Sisi, on the pretext of fulfilling the people’s wishes, staged a military coup. Ulema throughout the Middle East and in other parts of the Muslim world roundly condemned it.

Unfortunately, the grand imam of al-Azhar whose fatwa condemning it would have the greatest impact, did exactly the opposite. Was this fatwa issued in the name of freedom and justice? Or was it in the name of supporting oppression and injustice?

As we know, the coup was followed by a reign of terror. Thousands of civilians, women and children were slaughtered while the United States, the European Union and most shamefully, many of the Arab states, stood by.

The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation and those fighting for freedom and democracy punished with death or life imprisonment. Three journalists from al-Jazeera were held for months without trial and later tried by kangaroo court given severe sentences.

Gaza
As for Gaza, the truth remains stark. Since July 8, more than 1700 Palestinians have been butchered by the Israeli government.

On the pretext of responding to rockets from Hamas, the IDF has unleashed a new phase of genocide that has caused unimaginable suffering. This mass murder of Palestinian civilians was committed with utter impunity in the face of world-wide condemnation.

The state of Israel, supported by their immense propaganda machine with the connivance of the western media, has been trying to justify its war crimes by representing Hamas as a terrorist organisation and that the relentless bombardment of civilian populations is an act of self-defence.

Firstly, Hamas is an organisation democratically elected by the Palestinian people. Secondly, just last April, they joined hands with the Palestinian faction particularly Fatah to work towards peace. They had pledged to adopt the three basic principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements.

This cannot be the acts of a terrorist organisation. As former U.S. President Carter has declared, these are the acts of a legitimate political actor, representing a substantial portion of the Palestinian people, who are committed to peace.

The fact of the matter is that it is Israel that has rejected this golden opportunity for peace. No amount of spin doctoring can ever justify the way the Israeli Defense Forces have unleashed their bombs and missiles on Gaza, destroying thousands of homes and displacing more than a quarter million Palestinians. They even bombed mosques, schools and UN shelters.

It is therefore clear who the real terrorists are. It is clear who are the ones committing ethnic cleansing. And it is clear who is trying to wipe who off the map of the world.

Fanaticism must be condemned
Meanwhile, the sectarian conflict in the Middle East shows no sign of abating. On the contrary, we have witnessed increasing violence and brutal killings.

Supported by external forces, the take-over by ISIS and the declaration of an Islamic caliphate in northern Iraq and south eastern Syria and the atrocities committed in the name of Islam is a classic example of religious fanaticism gone wild.

Whatever may be the causes, at the end of the day, the victims this orgy of violence, killing and bloodshed are the helpless civilians, women and children.

True Jihad
These conflicts have far reaching consequences going beyond the Middle East. In this regard, the role of the ulema cannot be overstated. The Muslim world must take decisive action. The atrocities committed by ISIS must be condemned unequivocally. And whether it is Sunni or Shia or other denominations, indiscriminate killing can never be justified. The ulema must do their utmost to bring to bear their influence on all
extremist groups.

Similarly, other extreme groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabab continue to spread violence and terror across the world. The ulema must also condemn these and other similar organisations and make it clear they are the enemies of Islam.

These extremist groups trumpeting the labels of Shari’a rule and Islamic state are hijacking Islam to justify their perverse and barbaric ways. There is nothing holy about slaughtering people for not converting to Islam. There is no jihad for raping women or kidnapping girls from their schools and homes and using them as bargaining chips.

And there is no Islamic caliphate or Islamic state that is built on the altar of bloodshed, violence and hatred. These are the very characteristics shunned by Islam.

The ulema must embark on a new and true jihad to reclaim the ground that is being usurped by these criminals and mass murderers.

“Allah will raise in ranks those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge. Allah is aware of what you do.” (Qur’an surah al-mujaadila 58:11)
Thank you.

21 August 2014

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Bloomberg View

The beheading of U.S. freelance photographer James Foley, now confirmed by U.S. officials, recalls the similarly gruesome murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. It should act as a reminder, too, that Islamic State began as al-Qaeda in Iraq and differs from Pearl’s killers only in tactics.

Both proclaimed killings of American journalists were acts of propaganda designed to shock. The leaders of Islamic State aren’t naïve enough to believe that Foley’s death will persuade the U.S. to end its airstrikes against the group. No more did al-Qaeda’s self-described Sept. 11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed expect the U.S. would meet the demand, made on the video recording in which he beheaded Pearl, to release all prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It’s especially chilling that Foley’s executioner had a British accent — Pearl’s kidnapper Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was also a U.K. national, radicalized while in Bosnia. At some point these people return home, unless killed or arrested. They will return brainwashed and brutalized.

Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State are best understood as nihilist organizations that target anyone who doesn’t share their inchoate ideology, rooted in a warped interpretation of fundamentalist Sunni Islam: Their enemies range from moderate Sunnis, to Shiites, Christians, Kurds, minority religious groups such as the Yazidi — and, of course, the West.

As ever, success is the best recruiter. Because, until recently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State left each other alone, focusing instead on taking territory from more moderate Sunni rebels in Syria, Islamic State thrived there. Now it has seized about a third of Iraq and, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, recruited 6,300 new fighters, about 1,300 of them foreign, in July alone. That raises their total to about 50,000 from 15,000 a year ago, the observatory said.

That’s a higher estimate than those of most Western analysts, but the trend is clear. Also important is that this membership boost occurred before the U.S. launched airstrikes, so it was not in response to Western involvement.

Islamic State differs from al-Qaeda in the priority it gives to building a caliphate at the heart of the Middle East, rather than attacking the West. Yet this is a matter of priorities only: The ideology and methods are shared, and when Islamic State fighters go home, it defies experience and logic to believe they won’t continue the fight there — one returnee already attacked a synagogue in Belgium.

The question for President Barack Obama and other Western leaders isn’t whether to fight Islamic State, but when. Should it be now, when the group is not yet entrenched in Iraq, and when Assad — finally — has begun to move against it in Syria? Or will it be once its fighters have established themselves in Iraq and Syria and move on to Jordan, as they moved on the Kurds? If they were to succeed in Jordan, why not the Gulf states, where they already recruit and solicit donations? In Iraq and beyond, the nightmare prospect is of an al-Qaeda that controls petrostates and enjoys the funds, space and leisure to train jihadis from around the world.

The tragic death of James Foley should not be seen as a signal to step back in the belief that this will only be our fight if we make it so. Foley’s killing just confirms what Islamic State is and what it intends.

21 August 2014

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Asia Sentinel

Former premier lists specific reasons for his withdrawal of support for serving PM

As long as two to three months before former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad publicly attacked his successor, Najib Tun Razak, through his blog, the former premier sent Najib a letter bristling with a list of demands to change his ways.

Mahathir’s irritation has sputtered behind the scenes since before the disastrous May 2013 general election, in which the ruling Barisan Nasional lost the popular vote for the first time in 44 years although it retained its majority in parliament via gerrymandering.  Since that time, bloggers deployed by Mahathir have made general attacks on the sitting prime minister, who took office in 2009 with Mahathir’s approval.

But for the first time he personally criticized Najib in his blog, Che Det, saying on Aug. 16 that he had withdrawn support.  The campaign against Najib has been mounted now in advance of the November United Malays National Organization general assembly, where it appears Najib has an unassailable position as party president.

Mahathir was scheduled to leave tonight for London, where Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor have been for the past several days after a holiday that began three weeks ago after Najib’s speech to families of the doomed MH17 airliner, which was brought down by a rocket over disputed territory in Ukraine on July 17.

In the letter to Najib, quoted to Asia Sentinel by a businessman with links to UMNO, Mahathir reportedly listed seven demands. Najib is said to have dispatched Tengku Adnan Tenku Mansor, the secretary-general of the United Malays National Organization, to see Mahathir, asking him to withdraw the letter.  Mahathir refused, however, sources say.  In the intervening weeks, nothing has happened.

Since Mahathir’s attack, the story has been playing out behind the scenes of the mainstream media, which are controlled by the political parties that make up the national ruling coalition. They have gone black, carrying only praise for Najib without mentioning Mahathir’s assault. Instead, the papers have merely included statements of support for Najib from leaders such as Foreign Minister Hishamuddin Hussein and others without mentioning the reason the support is needed.

Meanwhile the story has lit up the Internet, with independent news portals having a field day while Mahathir’s blogger allies including Rocky’s Bru, Outsyed the Box and others have defended him.

The demands listed in the letter included one that Najib reform the controversial 1MDB sovereign fund, which is deeply in debt after having funded a long string of controversial projects. It is said to be a major scandal sizzling out of sight and involving controversial Chinese playboy Taek Jho Low and Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

The octogenarian former premier also complained that not enough contracts let by Petronas, the national energy company, were going to build up Bumiputeras, mostly ethnic Malays, but instead were being let to more neutral parties. At one point in October of 2013, Mahathir actually resigned from Petronas, saying his doctors had advised him to slow down. But the real reason is said to have been his anger with Najib’s performance.

He also accused Najib of being too friendly with foreign governments including the United States over the bid to join President Barack Obama’s TransPacific Partnership Agreement free trade pact, and Singapore for bending to Singapore’s wishes and cancelling a controversial crooked bridge between the two countries over the Singapore Strait. He was also said to be miffed that Mahathir’s immediate successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, attended a dinner with Obama during the latter’s Malaysia visit but that he wasn’t invited.

He also objected to the so-called one-off BRIM cash handouts that the government announced to households making less than RM3,000 (US$847) per month in 2012 as an election sweetener to alleviate the burden of a rising cost of living for low-income earners, saying it was breaking the budget. It ended up costing the treasury as much as RM4 billion.

He demanded that Malaysia Airlines, which is 70 percent owned by the Khazanah Nasional sovereign fund, be turned over to the private sector to attempt to right it after two disastrous crashes that took the lives of more than 500 people and which is almost moribund, losing billions of dollars. The private sector is said to be Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhairy, a longtime Mahathir crony who became the country’s richest Bumi tycoon, largely through government contracts.

Finally, Mahathir criticized Najib over the breakdown in racial and religious relations in the country, which have grown progressively more poisonous by the year.  That seems to be a striking obtuseness on Mahathir’s part, since he has backed the Malay-supremacy NGO Perkasa, headed by firebrand Ibrahim Ali, and has made incendiary statements about racial superiority on his own. Prior to the 2013 general election, he sought to lead a major rally on May 13, the anniversary of 1969 communal riots that took  the lives of hundreds.  Najib forced the cancellation of the rally.

Allies say Mahathir’s aim is not to bring down Najib, but to apply enough pressure to force him into making deep changes in the way the government is being run. However, at the age of 89, having been out of power since 2003, and with few remaining allies in UMNO, it is questionable at this point how much clout he still has.

However, he has a formidable record, having forced the ouster of Tunku Abdul Raman and Hussein Onn as prime ministers before his own 22 year period in office, beat back challenges by UMNO stalwarts Tengku Razaleigh, the Finance Minister, and both Musa Hitam and Anwar Ibrahim as his deputy prime ministers, all of whom attempted to unseat him,  and then forced the departure of the successor he picked, Abdullah Badawi.  He is expected to mount a daunting campaign against Najib when the two return from overseas.

21 August 2014

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The Jakarta Globe

This year’s presidential election was marked by many remarkable events, ranging from an impressive show of people power to the darkest of political black campaigns. But while the election process has caused divisions within some strata of society, it has also generated a sense of solidarity that was rarely seen in past elections. A fascinating development, in some areas, was the revitalization of the strong ties created by Sukarno, the country’s first president, and Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder of the Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama.

Both men have had a lasting impact. Sukarno is widely seen as a model of Indonesian nationalism and was a pioneer of the patriotic movement while Hasyim was the founding father of NU, now the largest Muslim organization in the world, which preaches a moderate Islam that rejects the idea of an absolute Islamic state in Indonesia.

NU emphasizes that our independence can only be safeguarded by national unity, peace and religious pluralism, and the mixture of Sukarno’s and Hasyim’s similar ideologies and objectives has played an important role in Indonesia’s history. The joint fight against the imperialistic Dutch is one example, and both also had a hand in formulating Pancasila, the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state.

Cooperation in Pekalongan

This year’s presidential election saw a spiritual and ideological rekindling between Indonesian nationalism and NU, particularly evident during campaigning in the Central Java town of Pekalongan, the country’s most famous producer of the traditional batik textile.

Kuntho Witjaksana, a 45-year-old resident of Jakarta temporarily relocated to Pekalongan two months prior to election day to focus on a volunteer initiative. He had left his business and family because he wanted to start a more organized volunteer group for Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla. Why did he choose Pekalongan?

Kuntho’s father was the head of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) branch in the town and had been a congressman in the late 1980s. The initial step Kuntho took was to approach his father’s old political allies who still had a loyal following despite being politically inactive for years. Through this, he established his Relawan Persatuan group: volunteering for the cause of unity. The group attracted more than 5,000 people who became active members in a relatively short time. The association included supporters of the PDI-P, the Golkar Party and the National Democrats (Nasdem).

On the other side of town, Muhamad Jawad, 28, a young member of the Pekalongan branch of NU, also promoted its ideologies to local residents. He, and other affiliates of the organization, went door to door to remind the town of the plight and history of NU and to choose the candidate who they felt best represented the Nahdliyin, or followers of NU’s teachings. At a townhall meeting, Kuntho and Jawad met and discussed their ideas and realized how similar their beliefs were. It was a microcosm of the relationship established by Sukarno and Hasyim.

For the past few years, there has been a separation of sorts between the Nahdliyin and the nationalistic movement at the grassroots level. There is a growing sentiment that nationalism is synonymous to secularism and that NU is strictly a religious group with concerns only to the spiritual and religious ritualistic aspects of life while ignoring the more essential topics of nation-building. This divide could drive the two groups further apart and consequently lose sight of their common goal.

‘Watermelon organization’

It needs to be reminded that Sukarno once proclaimed in one of his speeches that he “loved” NU and that NU was widely regarded as a “watermelon organization”: green, for Islam, on the outside but flush red, for Indonesian nationalism, on the inside. The late Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s fourth president who was also known affectionately as Gus Dur, once said that to vote for either PDI-P or his own National Awakening Party (PKB) (with a heavy NU influence) would not make much difference, due to their many shared viewpoints. This philosophical fusion was one of the fertile seeds planted by Sukarno and the Nahdliyin that flourished and helped obtain Indonesia’s independency. A significant event that many forget was that Sukarno and NU were instrumental in the process of re-annexing West Irian (now called Papua) back to the republic from Dutch colonial rule in 1962.

The historic presidential election this year was an example of how these two associations can achieve a goal collectively, as shown by Kunto and Jawad. Their organizations campaigned together, held meetings to discuss village safety, and coordinated activities of members of their groups in unison to distribute campaign material across the town. Both the volunteer group and NU even sat down and performed a traditional prayer to wish for a smooth, democratic election process and to pray for the forefathers of both organizations.

A former member of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) in Pekalongan affirmed that these types of joint prayers between PDI and NU were a routine occasion in the old days and that he had longed for such a moment. In essence, Kunto’s and Jawad’s groups renewed the bond that had been thinning between them over time. During their newfound relationship, they were able to successfully assist the city of Pekalongan and its surrounding districts to vote for their presidential candidate at an impressive 70-percent rate. This is an example of the cooperation that Sukarno and Hasyim had in mind when they forged their partnership.

Sukarno and NU were shoulder to shoulder in building Indonesia to become Baldatun thayyibatun wa robbun ghafur — a place where all could live in tranquility and amicability. Re-implementation of this chapter in our history in present times is crucial now that Indonesia is threatened by radical religious groups that are trying to gain a foothold here. It is significant what the present government is doing in censoring and blocking their propaganda, but to prevent future problems, the work paved by Indonesia’s past leaders should never be forgotten.

Sukarno once asserted that a great nation is a nation that appreciates the sacrifices and deeds of its past heroes. Their contributions are an asset not only for the past and present but, more importantly, also for the future of Indonesia.

20 August 2014

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TMI

My friends are saying, if we listen to Dr Mahathir, the Selangor political saga is all because of Anwar. Anwar wants to become PM. Selangor is his stepping stone. By controlling Selangor he can buy Umno and others to cross over and join Pakatan.

If Anwar does that, it is nothing new. Buying his way out of most political predicaments is second nature to people like Najib himself. Monetary gratification is a most effective way to soften the most hardened of political opponents. Selangor should be used as a strategic vantage point if the objective is to capture Putrajaya from the more evil clutches of BN politicians.

So what is wrong with Anwar wanting to become PM and using Selangor in a more strategic way?

Some other friends are saying: “It’s true, the problem in Selangor is caused by Anwar.” But the problems in Malaysia are all due to Dr Mahathir. Dr Mahathir can be faulted for almost everything bad in Malaysia while he is credited with many things that are right for Malaysia.

So, we should not be overly concerned with what Dr Mahathir says. He has an undying hatred for Anwar. The two will continue to battle until one dies. We ought to see any statements about Anwar from Dr Mahathir as personal assessments with little political significance.

Anwar Ibrahim has the right to want to become the PM of Malaysia. If more people accept him, there is nothing anyone can do. Not even Dr Mahathir.

Since the Khalid Ibrahim issue broke out, Anwar Ibrahim has been relatively quiet. Perhaps he has been issuing directives behind closed doors. Otherwise, his treatment of Khalid has been tangential- producing a subdued article about what is a leader without followers. Not quite a fire and brimstone article.

Otherwise, Anwar hasn’t criticised Khalid aggressively as did the others in PKR. Perhaps Anwar’s approach is a reflection of what Khalid has achieved in the more positive side.

Why is it wrong for Anwar to harbour the ambition to become PM? If he thinks he has the capacity to become the next PM and he has the support of Pakatan and the rakyat, Anwar ought to be voted in to become PM. I have said it many times, if Najib can become PM, anyone else can. You can look at the statement from any perspectives you like.

If I can single out Anwar’s most important achievement, it is that he has bonded 3 different major political parties to share a common platform. Not even Tengku Razaleigh when he broke away from Umno to form Semangat 46 could achieve what Anwar did.

With a shared platform, Anwar has managed to offer the rakyat an alternative to BN, itself made of up of several different political parties. So why should Anwar be seen a lesser man and therefore not fit to become PM?

Malaysians owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for forging a common platform. The common platform is by no means absolute – it is rather a continuing work in progress as the different political parties strive to understand each other better. The recent Selangor saga showed clearly, the bond that exists between PAS- DAP and PKR must be strengthened with mutual respect, understanding and trust.

The only chink in Anwar’s armour is his alleged sexual misconduct, so depraved as the BN paints it out to be, that Anwar is morally unfit to become PM. His alleged recent most victim, Saiful Bukhari is suing Anwar for RM50 million. That makes Saiful the owner of the most expensive behind in Malaysia!

Now that morally depraved, is something you cannot conclusively proved. Since 1998, Anwar has been in and out of courts and even jailed for a number of years.

The duration of his association with the courts, which makes Anwar the “other” friend of the court, is now seen by the rakyat as being no ordinary prosecution but a persecution.

How can a man be persecuted for that long a time? Anwar’s endurance has even earned and gained admiration for that can only reflect a resolute and unshakeable spirit of the man. Any other man would have wilted a long time ago.

Indeed, rather than indicate a morally depraved being, Anwar’s endurance to withstand the longest persecution in Malaysian history has shown that Anwar has the moral fortitude.

Surely such a man is more than qualified to become the PM of Malaysia. How I personally feel about the man, is not significant at all. For that matter, to anyone else.  Can and will he gain the trust of the rakyat is more important and far greater significant. – sakmongkol.blogspot.com, August 20, 2014.

20 August 2014

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Foreign Policy

The Obama administration’s escalating air war against the Islamic State is running up against a dispiriting new reality: The militants are becoming as good at governing territory as they are at conquering it, making it considerably harder to dislodge them from the broad swaths of Syria and Iraq that they now control.

U.S. intelligence officials say the leaders of the Islamic State are adopting methods first pioneered by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, and are devoting considerable human and financial resources toward keeping essential services like electricity, water, and sewage functioning in their territory. In some areas, they even operate post offices.

The militants have built new court systems to enforce their harsh interpretation of sharia law, which punishes thieves by amputating their hands and has sentenced numerous Christians and other religious minorities to death because of their beliefs, the officials added.

At the same time, the Islamic State has generally allowed the local bureaucrats in charge of hospitals, law enforcement, trash pickup, and other municipal services to stay in their jobs, according to intelligence officials. In some areas, sitting mayors and other top local officeholders are keeping their posts.

Taken together, the moves highlight the fact that the Islamic State, already the best-armed and best-funded terror group in the world, is quickly adapting to the challenges of ruling and governing. That, in turn, dramatically reduces the chances that the extremists will face homegrown opposition in what amounts to the world’s newest territory.

“ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist group in the world because they combine the fighting capabilities of al Qaeda with the administrative capabilities of Hezbollah,” said David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who spent several years working as a top aide to Gen. David Petraeus during the height of the Iraq War. “It’s clear that they have a state-building agenda and an understanding of the importance of effective governance.”

In some areas under their control, the Islamic State is opening hospitals, building new roads, launching bus services, rehabilitating schools (at least for boys), and launching small-business programs designed to juice the local economies. In Syria, where bread is a core staple, the militants focus on managing local wheat mills and bakeries to ensure that supplies remain high enough to feed a population that was in some areas on the edge of starvation.

The group’s focus on good governance, at least by militant standards, starts at the top. In his first public comments after conquering Mosul, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called on ”scientists, scholars, preachers, judges, doctors, engineers and people with military and administrative expertise” to help govern the land his group controls. Those weren’t just words: Shortly after taking control of Mosul, Baghdadi transferred the Islamic State’s hospital administrator for the Syrian city of Raqqa to Mosul to take that same job there, Kilcullen said.

In Raqqa, which has been under Islamic State control for months, traffic police remain on the streets and local citizens pay taxes to the militants, who in turn give them receipts stamped with the group’s logo. A local goldsmith told the New York Times that the taxes are far cheaper than the bribes residents had to pay when Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad was in control. “I feel like I am dealing with a respected state, not thugs,” the goldsmith said.

The Islamic State also launched a “hearts-and-minds” campaign of sorts. In one of the more jarring examples, the group held a “fun day” in Mosul where the militants passed out soccer balls and held Quran memorization and recitation contests. The Islamic State, Kilcullen said, “is thinking like a state.”

20 August 2014

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Foreign Policy

Egypt’s generals appear to have an awfully short memory. A year after they massacred supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets of Cairo, they have some advice for American authorities on how to handle the spiraling unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. In a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian government urges the United States to show “respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”

A Ferguson police officer’s killing of an unarmed black teenager has sparked days of intensifying violence there, and a heavy-handed police response to ensuing protests has resulted in widespread international outrage. But the comments from the Egyptian government are depressingly hypocritical. A year ago, during the hot months of July and August, the military government in Egypt attempted to clear the streets of Cairo in a bloody crackdown. More than 1,000 peopledied during the ensuing crackdown, which came to embody the extreme, violent lengths to which the Egyptian military would go to hold on to power and keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of office.

The notion that Egypt’s government would have any constructive advice to offer on humane policing tactics is a dark, cruel joke.

Indeed, events in Ferguson — a police killing with obviously racial overtones followed by an aggressive police response — has provided a fertile opportunity for both America’s enemies and allies to poke Uncle Sam in the eye. Xinhua, the Chinese state outlet,editorialized on the issue, noting that 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his dream for a more free and equal America, his vision has yet to be realized. Turkish media has compared the unrest in Ferguson to anti-government protests in Taksim Square, in Istanbul. Russian coverage of Ferguson has entertained a gleefully apocalyptic tone. The supreme leader of Iran also got in on the fun.

Here’s the full Egyptian statement, in a translation provided by Sophia Jones:

“In response to a question by the Middle East News Agency on the escalating protests in the city of Ferguson in the state of Missouri as a result of the killing of the young American Michael Brown by police:

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that we are closely following the escalation of protests and demonstrations in the city of Ferguson and the reactions to them. He pointed out U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statements, which reflect the international community’s stance toward these events, especially what the secretary-general mentioned in regard to restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion and his hope that ongoing investigations shed light on the killing of the American youth and that justice will be enforced, in addition to him urging authorities to deal with the protests according to American and international standards.”

20 August 2014

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TMI

During the tumultuous PR-Selangor episode, which has not come to a conclusion yet, PAS has exposed its true colour when Dr Mohd Zuhdi used racist remarks in his messages and was not sacked from the party or even reprimanded by the PAS leadership. PAS has neither apologised nor tried to explain the incident in a wider perspective. PAS has to do something about this as its non-Malay voters are turning away.

PAS has also shown itself as having no real principle when after being adamant in wanting Khalid Ibrahim to stay on, which has almost divided PAS into two factions, one supporting Abdul Hadi and the other Anwar Ibrahim.

Then, in just over an hour of discussion, they decided to retract their support for Khalid Ibrahim. In short, after so much hue, PAS’s stubbornness simply fizzled out. PAS has to admit that it is now openly divided. Many new voters and PAS supporters have now decided not to support either PAS or PR from now on.

DAP has shown its solidarity almost steadfastly throughout the fiasco with only one or two isolated voices of dissent against the DAP leadership and against both PKR and PAS. Yet many new DAP supporters have decided not to support PR just because of the blunder made by PAS.

PKR however has been consistent in wanting to bulldoze its agenda. Despite the sacking of Khalid Ibrahim from the party and resignation of Faekah, Khalid’s personal assistant and the imminent PKR frogs leaping across to richer soil, PKR leadership has shown to be united and resolute in their endeavour. Yet many new supporters have concluded that PKR is just another Umno and refused to support PR anymore.

See, the Pakatan Rakyat ship was really sailing in a stormy weather and a very rough sea with some even being thrown overboard but fortunately the ship managed survived almost intact. Well at least for now.

But damage has been done with the voters now having second thoughts on how reliable the ship is. Can the PR ship continue its promised journey and reach its destination smoothly from now on? Can the crew of the ship be trusted not to have a mutiny and sail elsewhere or is the ship still sailing on its original route or is it being diverted to Treasure Island and the ship’s passengers will eventually become pirates and start killing each other once they reach the island?

However, in hindsight, once on the same ship, the various component party members are aware that they have to stay united or the ship will sink in unchartered waters. Pakatan Rakyat should be a given second chance. After all, despite all its wrongdoings, Umno/BN has been given all the chances for the past 60 years!

The voters must realise that no matter what, Umno/BN has the upper hand and PR is always the underdog. BN has a very long history and is a registered party whereas PR is just a loose coalition and refused recognition by the Registrar of Societies which is a government body.

Note that the hardcore PR supporters have given unwavering support in the past two general elections and on the basis of individual party, hardcore DAP and PAS supporters have been consistent in their support.

Note also that the group of voters that made the increase in the percentage of PR voters in GE13 is the new group of supporters comprising newly-registered voters, fence sitters and the ones who want to make a change, especially amongst young voters who are idealistic.

Based on their reactions in the various social media, some sort of picture has emerged reflecting their aspirations and mentality. They have started to turn away from PR as described above.

In fact, some veteran supporters too are having the same mentality. Maybe they are expecting a miracle from PR to make huge changes in the national politics in just two general elections!

This group of idealistic voters is not huge in numbers but they can make a huge difference between PR and BN.

Now, this is the group that has been taken aback by the PR-Selangor fiasco and they make judgements and conclusions based on what they observed on the surface without looking at the bigger picture and at times very naïve. They do not have a balanced view and really compare PR with BN, thus their love lost with PR and they start sulking.

They must realise that no matter what, Umno/BN has the upper hand and PR is always the underdog. BN has a very long history and is a registered party whereas PR is just a loose coalition and refused recognition by the Registrar of Societies which is a government body.

While BN has gone through many episodes and is a veteran, PR is still too young and untested, until now. BN is financially strong while PR is struggling to survive so much so that PAS has to circulate its donation boxes in every “ceramah”.

While PPP, MIC, MCA, Gerakan and the other component parties in Sabah and Sarawak are weak and willing sleeping partners, PAS and DAP of PR are old and established having their own vision and agendas. PKR is like a rookie trying to tame two reputable veterans.

Umno/BN has the advantage of the government machineries while PR has to do everything on its own accord. Umno/BN has all the power to suppress PR and PR only has its few lawyers defending it against the judges in the courts that have lost its integrity as exposed by the Lingam’s tape.

There are many shortcomings in PR and also many bad apples and moles who could throw the wrench into the PR gear.

So all those young, idealistic, temperament and naïve voters and supporters, including a few veteran voters as well, how could you simply decide now just based on the PR-Selangor episode to lose hope and not to continue supporting PR? You are living in a real world with realpolitik and not in a fantasy land with all sorts of miracle.

But could all of you, in fact, all this while be really Umno/BN supporters at heart and just wanted to try PR?

20 August 2014

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TMI

The Court of Appeal today dismissed Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar’s appeal to amend his defence in a RM100 million defamation suit against him which was filed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Judge Datuk Aziz Abdul Rahim, who chaired a three-man bench, said the court was not persuaded by the argument put forward by Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who appeared for Khairy.

“The High Court made a correct finding to disallow the amendments by the defence. Therefore, we dismiss the appeal,” he said.

Anwar had filed the suit against Khairy (pic) on March 7, 2008, after Khairy had allegedly made slanderous accusations that were posted on several websites, including news portal Malaysiakini.

The case is scheduled for case management tomorrow when judicial commissioner S.M. Komathy Suppiah is expected to fix the trial dates.

Komathy in October rejected Khairy, who is now youth and sports minister, from including particulars to bring clarity to his defence.

Anwar filed the suit against Khairy, saying that Khairy had uttered defamatory words and caused a video entitled “Anwar and kin no threat” to be posted on websites, including Malaysiakini.com.

The opposition leader also claimed that the video on Malaysiakini included parts of Khairy’s speech at Lembah Pantai on or around February 20, 2008.

Khairy is relying on the defence of justification and qualified privilege.

20 August 2014

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TMI

t is unheard of to frame a charge against lawyer N. Surendran for criticising a written judgment of the court, a retired judge and lawyers said.

They said it was ridiculous to prosecute him under the Sedition Act for expressing his opinion, adding that there must be room for dissent and criticism in a democratic society like Malaysia.

Retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said anyone was welcomed to criticise a judgment in the strongest terms.

“You only run foul of the law like contempt of court for attacking the judges personally.”

He said he had never come across anyone, let alone a member of the Bar, being prosecuted under the archaic law, from the time he started practice in 1970 until his retirement from the bench in 2010.

“It is common for lawyers and academicians to dissect judgments. Are we not now allowed to make a critical evaluation of the judges’ legal opinions?”

Sri Ram was referring to the sedition charge against Surendran yesterday for publishing an article, in which he wrote that the Court of Appeal ruling on March 7 which found Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim guilty for sodomy was “flawed, defensive and insupportable”.

Michelle Yesudas of Lawyers for Liberty said Surendran made the statement while carrying out his duty as a lawyer and the charge is similar to the sedition charge and conviction of the late Karpal Singh.

Karpal was found guilty in February 2014 for giving his legal opinion as a lawyer during the 2009 constitutional crisis of Perak.

“Surendran’s case sets an arbitrary and unjust precedent that will allow courts to convict lawyers for legal views that conflict with the political stance of the government,” said Yesudas, who is the legal/campaign coordinator of the lawyers’ group.

She said the Najib administration held the record for the most absurd sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Teresa Kok, Tian Chua, Datuk Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais, Suhaimi Shafie.

“We therefore call on the police and Attorney-General’s Chambers to conduct themselves in a professional, fair and independent manner.”

Lawyer Ragunath Kesavan said the Malaysian judiciary had gone through a tough time and they had been robust with criticism, adding that Surendran’s statement was mild.

“The police and prosecution should not overreact just because multiple reports were made against the accused.”

The former Bar Council chairman also said public institutions should not be cowed by pressure but should instead do the right thing based on merit.

“Lodging 300 reports nationwide, for example, did not reflect the culpability of the offence under this archaic law.”

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