20 June 2014

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Malaysiakini

Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) reply to allegations about overblown costs in privatised campus constructions is proof that the claims of abuse have merit, said PKR.

Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli in a statement today said that UiTM management’s reply in not denying the allegations of cronyism but only addressing the merits of private finance initiative (PFI), is in fact an affirmation.

‘UiTM’s media statement last night represents the first official response in a week after my expose…

“However, the UiTM management has not at all denied my expose regarding who the Umno cronies who are behind the concessions are.

“(In doing so), UiTM’s management  has in fact helped confirm that the facts regarding the cronies behind the concession companies and the increase in the cost that been brought up by me is true,” said Rafizi, who is PKR’s director of strategy.

Rafizi Ramli last Thursday alleged while the original cost for six UiTM campuses was only RM1.8 billion, the government will end up forking RM8.6 billion for all the six campuses after signing concession agreements to have private firms construct and manage them.

He noted that all the university could explain was that the PFI that the outsourcing entails would financially benefit UiTM.

Rafizi said the argument was flawed and listed a number of problems with UiTM’s reply.

‘No tender, lopsided contracts’

He said UiTM’s implementation of the private finance initiative (PFI) was flawed because it was awarded through direct negotiations instead of open tenders, and the awarding of contracts to inexperienced companies that seemed only to have been set up to clinch the contracts.

“The crony companies involved do not have experience in handling a big project. This will cause many problems like facilities not built according to specifications and improper maintenance during the execution of the project” said Rafizi.

He said it would also be a burden to the rakyat in the long run because of the allegedly lopsided deals, just as was Selangor’s experience with several other projects that Pakatan had been saddled with from the previous Umno government.

“Through this privatisation, the cost of construction has bloated to RM8.6 billion instead of the original cost of only RM1.8 billion.”

He said the rental that has to be paid by the university to the concessionaires this year alone has surpassed 14 percent of the allocated budget.

“When completed, the rental that has to be paid by UiTM to the concessionaire will be their biggest financial burden annually,” he said.

Rafizi warned this may eventually force UiTM to have to cut costs in various areas including sizing down their staff, cutbacks on upgrading of facilities and increasing student’s accommodation rent.

19 June 2014

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TMI

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim says he is now sure that the Malaysian Parliament is a “rubber stamp” for  Putrajaya after a motion to suspend a member of his party for six months was passed without a debate.

The opposition leader said the Pakatan Rakyat was not given a chance to debate the motion to suspend Padang Serai MP N. Surendran.

“It is now confirmed that the Parliament is a rubber stamp… when you suspend a member of parliament for six months without any debate,” he said, echoing what Surendran had said previously.

“We strongly protest the way Parliament was used. We (the opposition) cannot debate, cannot criticise or cannot reprimand,” he told reporters after staging a walkout from the chamber today.

Surendran was again suspended from Parliament for six months today for insulting the House and its Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia in a press conference on Monday.

He had just completed a six-month suspension on a similar charge of insulting the speaker in November last year, in a motion tabled by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri.

19 June 2014

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A visibly agitated opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters, “It’s official. Parliament is indeed a rubber stamp,” after Padang Serai MP N.Surendran was suspended from the Dewan Rakyat for 6 months. He adds calling Parliament a rubber stamp is nothing new, as even Dr Mahathir Mohamad had uttered it when he was fighting with Tunku Abdul Rahman, but notes that no action was taken then.

16 June 2014

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New Yorker

The day after Islamic militants swept into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and several other enclaves along the Tigris River, the conquering army, called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, posted a photograph on Twitter. It showed one of its fighters—a Chechen volunteer, the group said—opening the door of an American-made Humvee that it had seized from the Iraqi Army. The Humvee and the militant, the group said, had just arrived at an ISIS base in Syria, where, presumably, they were ready to be dispatched in the war there.

The border between Iraq and Syria may have effectively disappeared, but the dynamics driving the civil wars in those nations are not identical. In Syria, an oppressed majority is rising up; in Iraq, an oppressed minority. (The opposition fighters in both wars are mostly members of the Sunni sect.) Both countries just held elections: in Syria, the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, won in a display of empty theatre; in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to form a government for a third term, the elections were for the most part free. In Iraq, the dynamics driving the strife are largely Iraqi, and in Syria they are largely Syrian.

Even so, the events unfolding in Iraq point toward a much wider war, reaching from the Iranian frontier to the Mediterranean coast. The long open border between Iraq and Syria, and the big stretches of ungoverned space, has allowed extremists on each side to grow and to support one another. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, two of the strongest groups fighting in Syria, were created by militant leaders from Iraq, many of whom had fought with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia against the United States. The vast swath of territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris—from Aleppo, in Syria, to Mosul, in Iraq—threatens to become a sanctuary for the most virulent Islamist pathologies, not unlike what flourished in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. Among those fighting with ISIS and Al Nusra are hundreds of Westerners, from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. At some point, the survivors will want to go home; they will be well trained and battle-hardened.

The extremist groups dominating the fighting are beginning to take their war beyond the two countries that they now freely traverse. In January, ISIS carried out a car-bomb attack in Beirut near the offices of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that has been fighting on behalf of Assad. The Nusra front has also carried out attacks in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees who have fled to that nation exceeds twenty per cent of its population, which is not something that a state as weak and as fractious as Lebanon can be expected to sustain. In Jordan, the presence of half a million Syrian refugees is putting an enormous strain on the fragile monarchy.

The revolutionary government of Iran looms ominously over it all. Iran has been decisive in supporting Assad, and its influence over Maliki, never small, has increased enormously since the departure of the last American forces in Iraq, in December of 2011. During the war, Iranian agents trained, armed, and directed a network of Shiite militias, which killed hundreds of American and British soldiers. Those same militias are evidently being readied to confront the Sunni onslaught in Iraq; thousands of their members have already been fighting for Assad in Syria. Iran’s intervention in Syria has also alarmed Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have poured in guns and money to help the rebels. It is not difficult to imagine a multinational war, fought along a five-hundred-mile front, and along sectarian lines, waged ultimately for regional supremacy.

What can the United States do? It has already done quite a bit, of course. The invasion of Iraq, in 2003, by destroying the Iraqi state, empowered the Shiite majority—Maliki in particular. As long as American troops remained in Iraq, they could restrain Maliki and his Shiite brethren from their worst sectarian impulses. By the time the last troops departed, the civil war, which began in 2006, had been brought under control. But, in the two and a half years since the troops’ departure, Maliki has been free to pursue a stridently sectarian project, which has cut the Sunnis off from political power. He has alienated—even, in some cases, arrested—the most reasonable Sunni leaders and embarked on mass arrests of young Sunni men. In the process, Maliki has to a great extent driven the Sunnis back into the arms of the extremists. Indeed, in the sectarian calculus that now dominates Iraqi politics, Sunni unrest has worked largely in his favor, as it has allowed him to portray himself as the Shiites’ protector. The Iraqi state, built mainly by the Americans, is too feeble to resist the Sunnis’ efforts to break away.

For a time, in the waning months of the occupation, the White House and Maliki considered keeping some American troops in Iraq, in non-combat roles, ostensibly to train soldiers but also to help manage the nation’s politics. No deal was ever struck, and it’s difficult to imagine any appetite in Washington today for a substantial American reëntry into Iraq. But, with the militants nearing Baghdad, and the Iraqi Army faltering, President Obama will almost certainly feel compelled to act. Already, the U.S. has been rushing sophisticated weaponry to the Iraqi Army. The question now before the President is whether to take more significant steps, such as air strikes.

In Iraq, as in Syria, the choices are almost all bad, and the potential for American influence is limited. Syria appears to be headed toward an effective partition between predominantly Sunni and predominantly Alawite enclaves, and an impoverished, Somalia-like future where guns rule. In Iraq, the Kurds, the third big group, are taking advantage of the chaos by tightening their hold on Kirkuk and other disputed areas, in an effort to cement a future separate from that of the rest of Iraq. At the least, Iraq faces a future as a violent country, with a weak central government and many areas dominated by extremists. But things could get much worse than that.

Within a day after sweeping into Mosul, ISIS militants freed thousands of prisoners, looted bank vaults, and declared the imposition of Sharia law. From now on, the group said, unaccompanied women were to stay indoors, and thieves would be punished by amputation. The “divine conquest” of Mosul by a group of Islamic extremists is a bitter consequence of the American invasion. For now, there seems to be very little we can do about it.

10 June 2014

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9 June 2014

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by Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysiakini | 12:32PM Jun 9, 2014

With Cadbury’s reputation melting away like chocolate in the sun and possible losses of millions of ringgits, Najib Abdul Razak has finally reined in his chocolate warriors. In an effort to calm investors’ nerves, he instructed senior officials to issue reassuring statements about the Cadbury chocolate scare.

These men touted a long list of problems; sample contamination, prolonged sample storage time, lack of laboratory accreditation, incompetent laboratory staff and shoddy laboratory practices.

If these issues about contamination and DNA integrity sound familiar, you are right. We have heard them all before, in the Anwar Ibrahim Sodomy II trial and the prosecution’s appeal.

Despite all the shortcomings of the laboratory tests in the Cadbury fiasco, we are told, “The public should trust Jakim”. So, if we are expected to accept the failures of the chemistry laboratory, and the reasons for sample contamination by incompetent chemists in the Cadbury chocolate tests, why is Anwar’s legal team unable to use the same arguments in his appeal? Surely what is good for the goose should be also good for the gander.

In trying to placate an angry Muslim public and dropping investor confidence, the excuses given by Najib’s officials may have compromised the government’s own position, in relation to the Anwar Sodomy II case.

What else should we know about bad laboratory samples and work practices? What goes on behind the scenes which could shake our confidence? Why should we trust Najib and the government departments under his control?

In the Cadbury debacle, what role did a junior health official play in leaking the chocolate results? No junior official does things without instruction from above. Similarly, what role did the investigating officer (IO), Jude Pereira play in Anwar’s prosecution?

Are the allegedly pork-tainted Cadbury chocolates a political or a business fix-up? This cannot be a simple case of nefarious NGOs flexing their muscles, especially as there is talk of a chocolate company investing RM800 million in a factory in Johor. Some Muslims are becoming more hostile in their “defence” of Islam, with wedding raids, child abductions and Bible confiscations.

Ten days after ugly scenes involving Muslim NGOs, which threatened to punish Cadbury with violence, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs Jamil Khir Baharom announced in Utusan Malaysia, that a new test from the same batch of Cadbury chocolates showed no trace of porcine DNA and that the samples had been contaminated.

He said, “The previous result which were conveyed to the Health Ministry recently may have been contaminated.”

Contamination of the chocolate samples had possibly occurred because the samples had not been taken directly from the Cadbury factory and Jamil said that contamination could occur “if someone who consumed pork sneezed near the sample or if the samples shared the same storage areas as pork products”.

‘Second test not done’

The following day, Deputy Minister Hilmi Yahaya of the Health Ministry said that a second test had not been done on the chocolate sample, to confirm the presence of porcine DNA.

He said, “…apparently, it was not done and they kept the result for so long, three months is too long, then after that (it) came out in social media, which we never sanctioned” (sic).

Although the ministry’s laboratory could perform the tests, Hilmi said that the facility was not accredited to check on halal status.

Contrast these with Anwar’s Sodomy II trial and appeal, when his lawyer gave a long list of reasons why the semen samples from the anus of the complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan were dodgy. If there is one lesson we must heed, it is that “If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt”.

Despite the arguments of Anwar’s defence team, at his appeal, the lead prosecutor, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, ignored them.

The DNA samples retrieved from the semen in Saiful’s anal cavity were in “pristine” condition, despite being 96 hours old, he submitted.

Degradation should have occurred with bacterial growth. Four days later, upon examination, the government chemist, Dr Seah Lay Hong, said that there was no degradation of the sample. Her response was that “degradation was of no concern to her”.

The Australian experts who gave evidence said that specimens which are collected 36 hours after the sexual act could not be relied on to give a good DNA analysis.

Anwar’s ‘Good Morning’ towel from the lock-up was contaminated and illegally obtained by the prosecution. Saiful’s rectal swab contained the DNA of a third male contributor.

Serious doubts were raised about the integrity of the samples and the manner in which they were stored. For over a day, the semen samples were simply put in a cabinet in the office of the IO. No explanation was given for the deviation from the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the treatment and storage of samples to be used as evidence. In a high profile case, like this, the SOP should have been followed particularly closely.

The plastic bag, holding the individual DNA sample containers, had been cut open. The receptacles did not have tamper-proof seals, so the containers could easily be opened and resealed. These lend doubt to the credibility which can be placed on the samples. Who would have had the opportunity and motive to cut open the plastic bag, holding the containers?

Why should we trust them now?

Why should the rakyat give Jakim and the Department of Health the benefit of the doubt? Why should we trust them now? They have repeatedly broken our confidence, in the past.

The problem of porcine DNA contamination has occurred several times before. We are not told what actually happened, how contamination occurred, and who was prosecuted. We are only told that the problem has been resolved.

That is why we demand to know the full details of pig DNA contamination which happened previously (Tabasco, Golden Churn butter, HP Sauce). Why should we allow ourselves, and legitimate businesses to be subject to blackmail in the future?

When it suits the government, the sample taken from Saiful’s bottom will be taken out of storage, and used to hound Anwar with the sole intention of compromising his political career, of breaking his will and that of the people whose only wish is to demand justice and good governance.

7 June 2014

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Speech by Anwar Ibrahim, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House, 10 St James’s Square, London on June 5th 2014

Introduction
When one mentions Asia, the refrain ‘freedom and democracy’ doesn’t naturally come to mind. It is true that Asia does have the world’s two largest democracies. There is India which in sheer numbers dwarves the entire European and American democracies put together. And we also have Indonesia, touted as the world’s largest Muslim democracy. But we know that the test of democracy is not in quantity but in quality.

And while we’re in the numbers game, let us not forget that Asia also has the world’s largest non-democracy. The dragon has awakened. It is now the fastest growing, and soon to be the largest economy in the world.

In his poem “The Statues”, William Butler Yeats was concerned with more than just calculations and numbers when he wrote about “All Asiatic vague immensities.” He appreciated the importance of the cultural and civilizational aspects of what we call soft power.

For in terms of size, there is still the trinity of the Orient: namely Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. They are quality democracies and they seem established enough to remain so. They have vibrant civil societies, some like Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation, actively promoting freedom and democracy across the region. But, as nations, they seem to adopt a policy of political abstinence, eschewing any aspiration of being drivers of democracy for the rest of Asia.

The fact remains that autocratic regimes still litter the geopolitical landscape of Asia. They may be absolute monarchies, or dictatorships from a dynastic line, or autocracies that have monopolised power for years. They may also be so-called emerging economies with veneer of all the trappings of democracy but which, in truth, are mere sham democracies governed by political elites bent on retaining power.

A classic statement on democracy, almost a cliché, is attributed to Winston Churchill which I think is worth repeating. He said: “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect… Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government – except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Democracy, freedom and justice in the Asian Century
As for the so-called “Asian Century”, there is no consensus on what the criteria are. Many would agree that impressive growth for the last three decades should count as a major indicator. In spite of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Asia’s economic performance has been on the ascent and if it continues for another two decades, may well become a force that could bring about a power shift. And this seems to be sufficient precedent for establishing the Asian Century.

Of power shifts and Soft power
But when it comes to soft power, the jury is still out. For three decades, China had many opportunities to take a lead role in geopolitical affairs but it did not measure up to the challenge. Its priority has always remained economic growth. Who is to say that this is a right or wrong move? But in terms of its potential to garner soft power, this is counts as under achievement.

Nevertheless, some say that China is incapacitated from leading even Asia in geopolitical matters because of foundational issues of governance. In spite of a more open market and foreign direct investment growing by leaps and bounds, there should be no mistaking that it remains the world’s largest and most powerful autocracy. Well, Vladimir Putin may dispute that but that doesn’t change China’s track record as far as human rights and other fundamental liberties are concerned. This is quite apart from the border disputes that China is embroiled in that are now serious flashpoints of conflict in the East.

In the context of our discussion today on the Asian Century, this is indeed an intractable problem. As well as economic power, China may also be able to deliver on culture as one aspect of soft power but I doubt that will be enough to cloak China with moral authority.

So what about India? Given its track record in the political arena, India, with its vibrant democracy, seems a more obvious choice. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, free and fair elections. These are all the plus points for India. But India’s economic infrastructure is still weak. And just like China, it is very protectionist.

Having said that, a small caveat is in order: in the Western media, when it comes to Asia, it is called “increasing protectionism” but when it’s the USA or Europe similar measures are called “economic patriotism”. The great Chinese Sage, Confucius or Master Kung, was absolutely spot-on in advocating the rectification of names. The proper designation of things ensures social harmony not just in domestic affairs but in international relations as well.

Still, while Asian countries can look at India respectfully for its economic performance, the greater focus should be on its democratic values and the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness. But as Amartya Sen has pointed out India has a glaring contradiction: the continuing grinding poverty of its masses contrasts sharply with its alleged economic success. After all, it was a poor economy coupled of course with recurrent corruption scandals that propelled the BJP to such a grand victory in the elections. Nevertheless, with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and growing demands for social justice, India’s prospects of being emulated by others will be dim until some major progress is made in this area.

Inequities of wealth distribution
To talk of democracy divorced from the social context would be pointless. We have seen Occupy movement that spread around the world. It is an example of the cracking of social cohesion and stability even in established democracies when wealth and economic opportunities are monopolized by the rich and powerful. The signs are already there in various parts of Asia. In another decades, one can imagine, how much deeper and wider this gap will be, unless some major redistribution is made to assure social justice.

It is true that issues about evolution of inequality and wealth concentration in the hands of a few are easier asked than answered. In his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge may not have led to inequalities of the scale warned of by Karl Marx, but the main driver of inequality is unbridled free market economics. This tends to generate returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth. Today, this threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.

The problem of governance
Aside from the threat posed by extreme inequalities, I believe the problem of governance is the greatest impediment as Asian nations get richer and the reins of power continue to be concentrated in the hands of the upper echelons.

Though there is no correlation between corruption and geography, the scourge of corruption happens to be most rampant in Asia, Latin America and Africa. China and India have been hit by high profile corruption cases and many argue that one of the biggest factors that brought down the Indian National Congress party was corruption.

Southeast Asia, needless to say is riddled with corruption. This is an area Indonesia also must seriously examine. However, unlike its neighbours, Indonesia has taken many strides towards full democracy. Complaints of some localised incidents of vote buying notwithstanding, their elections are by far superior to others in the region in terms of being free and fair. In the last elections, there was no widespread systemic fraud and if challenged in the Constitutional court, unlike her neighbours, there is no question of a judiciary being subservient to the ruling party.

Corruption, however, remains a key issue. Yet, equally, we can see the earnestness and independence of the anti-corruption agency in discharging its duties without fear or favour.

Middle East, Turkey
As for Turkey, I believe that politically, the system is in place with the institutionalizing of democracy, the rule of law and proper governance. Economically, its growth trajectories are far better than its European counter parts, and in certain respects are as impressive as that of the Asian tigers and dragons. And with an increasingly more sophisticated middleclass, its potential in this regard cannot be underestimated.

It is true that recent events appear to have cast a negative light on the state of its democracy. But Turkey is facing exceptional circumstances caused in no small part by elements within the state bent on destabilize what is essentially a viable democracy under a progressive Muslim government.

Egypt, however, tells a different story. In the aftermath of the 3rd July 2013 military coup which toppled the democratically elected government of Morsi and the missteps in Libya and Bahrain, many have cynically dismissed the “Arab Spring” as an “Arab Winter”.

Indeed, now that the illegitimate government of Field Marshal al-Sisi is going into overdrive to ‘legitimize’ itself with the latest sham elections, all eyes are on America and the EU – how will they respond to this phase of what is essentially a protracted military coup. Will America and the EU repeat the errors they made for decades with Mubarak? That is a question begging for answer.

Speaking of military coups, let us not leave out Thailand which has fashionably slouched back to its old habits. In many ways, the people of Thailand are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. But as a firm believer in freedom and democracy, under whatever circumstances, the military has no business to be in government.

Tunisia, on the other hand, has managed to come out of the storm, walking tall as a new nation liberated from decades of virtual dictatorship. But the Arab spring not only brought down oppressive regimes. It shattered the misconceptions about Islam and democracy. The general view was that it would take some time before we could see a convergence of Islam and democracy in the Middle East. There was the history, the cultural conditioning and the prejudices on both sides of the proverbial divide that contributed to this general scepticism.

Turkey and Indonesia had already settled this issue, nevertheless, the Arab states were always seen as the exception. So, the case of Tunisia should put the matter to rest. It has crossed its first major hurdle with the ratification of its new constitution on 27 January 2014 and we await the general elections due by the end of 2014.

Conclusion
If an Asian century draws nigh, a power shift from the West to the East would appear to be on the horizon. But these are suppositions conditioned by many eventualities. To be worthy of the name such a century should be about more than exercising the fruits of growing economic power. It has to mean more than them or us calculations – calculations driven by insistence on a false dichotomy of West and East. An Asian Century should be built on the solid sustainable foundations of enhancing civil society, delivering good governance and increasingly liberties and freedoms to the people of Asia along with rising living standards. If it becomes a zero sum game of they win therefore we lose – everyone is the poorer. Invest in and support the quality and forget the width. Therein lies our best hope. Thank you.

7 June 2014

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Foreign Policy

The latest military coup in Thailand won’t ensure real stability unless the country’s new rulers address the deeper causes of political conflict.

The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional graveyard: In just over 80 years, it’s gone through 18 failed constitutions in a carousel of military coups and corrupt civilian governments. And, in recent years, the civilians have likewise been fighting among themselves, pitting the so-called Red Shirt movement, strong in the North and rural areas, against the Yellow Shirts of Bangkok and the South, in an increasingly violent conflict that has destabilized the country. Now, as the smoke clears over mid-May’s dramatic coup, Thailand’s new military government has suspended the constitution once again. Though the military has been vague regarding specifics, they will put forth atemporary constitution, which will eventually to be followed by something more permanent: Lucky #19.

With the coup itself now behind us we can still hope that the military government may be able to break the vicious cycle once and for all. To make sure the next government sticks, however, the military will have to make a radical departure from tradition. It must resist the urge to implement a military mindset over the drafting of a new constitution. A top-down approach will be likely to poison the process — and process is everything in constitution writing.

During the decades of constitutional upheaval, Thailand’s civilian political parties remained relatively weak. This changed when billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra arrived on the scene about 15 years ago. Shinawatra and his allies played into the rural sense of exclusion from government, allowing them to win elections time and again — six since 2001. But lacking a deep tradition of democracy, Thaksin’s opponents, including the middle-class, urban Yellow Shirts, have been unwilling to accept the results. In fact, the Yellow Shirts’ refusal to accept the 2013 election victory of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is precisely what sparked the conflict leading to last month’s coup.

Thaksin’s opponents, for their part, are highly influential among Thailand’s strongest institutions — the bureaucracy, the military, the Buddhist sangha, and, of course, the monarchy. These groups exist and function separately from any constitutional government, and tend to be distrustful of electoral democracy. The result has been a series of weak civilian governments, incapable of preserving themselves when the gulf between majoritarian sentiment and elite interest has become too wide.

Thai constitutions have historically been written rather hastily so as to recover a semblance of normalcy in the wake of a military coup or popular uprising. The 1997 constitution made an admirable attempt to break from that trend. The drafing process involved mass participation and created a new set of institutions aimed at ensuring that elected officials did not abuse their power, including a constitutional court and commissions to fight corruption and protect human rights. But by 2006, many within the Thai elite had come to see that system as ineffective, not least because Thaksin’s electoral strength allowed him to wield great influence over these institutions. Following a coup in September 2006, Thaksin fled the country, and the military oversaw the drafting of the 2007 constitution, which watered down some of the perceived excesses of the previous version. They hoped it would serve as happy medium.

One of their revisions, for example, changed the architecture of Thailand’s senate, the gatekeeper to high-level government promotions. Military-dominated constitutions tend to have appointed senates, while democratic ones use popular elections to fill those seats. In an attempt to compromise, the military-backed drafters of the 2007 constitution split the difference, establishing a system in which half the senators would be appointed and half elected. Such “compromises” were defined unilaterally, however, based upon the military’s own notion of a “fair deal,” without having undergone bipartisan dialogue beforehand.

And bipartisan dialogue is exactly Thailand needs to break the vicious cycle. The failure of the 2007 “compromise constitution,” clearly illustrates the futility of any attempt to form a viable system merely by tweaking constitutional text. The polarized factions within the country must come together to create a constitution that will be widely seen as representing the whole country. That way, down the line, no party can say that the constitution was drafted according to an enemy’s design.

Establishing a productive dialogue will not be an easy task. There are no institutions credible and neutral enough to mediate the deep class and regional divides that cause the country’s current political crisis. King Bhumibol has been the supreme arbiter of political conflict for decades, but as his physical power wanes, so too does his ability to step in. The looming monarchical succession also adds a sense of urgency to the current crisis.

The military junta should call together all the major players, including leaders of both the Red and Yellow factions, for a genuine discussion about the principles and institutions that should guide the country going forward. Cases in which the military has successfully played the role of neutral arbiter anywhere are exceedingly rare. That said, the three-month “reconciliation” period recently announced by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha represents good start. (In the photo above, a poster depicts the general as Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.) But it is not yet clear exactly who will be invited to the table, or how the reconciliation will proceed.

For a resolution to be viable in the long term it will require frank dialogue, leading to a bargain that is palatable to both factions. For the discussion to be successful, the negotiators will have to settle on two key issues: 1) how to ensure that both factions respect the democratic process in the future, and 2) how to come to terms as a nation with the political violence of the past few years.

The broad outlines of such a grand bargain are not inconceivable, even now, even if getting both sides to agree may be challenging. It should include a commitment on the part of the reactionary Yellow Shirt partisans to respect electoral results; a constitutional provision prohibiting political amnesties (although the military will almost certainly get a pass); a reconstituted set of accountability institutions; and a strong recommitment to the monarchy. Such a deal would leave Thaksin Shinawatra out of the country, but still allow room for democracy to be respected.

Given the geographic nature of the Red-Yellow divide, Thailand might also benefit from greater decentralization. This would reduce the stakes of controlling the national government, but could also encourage economic development within the poorer regions of the country, ameliorating some of the inequality that has to date fueled the conflict.

And yet, getting to a constitutional agreement will require patience and no small modicum of trust, and trust can be slow in coming. Outside pressures — including U.S. insistence that the country return to constitutional norms so that bi-national relations can resume — might incentivize the military to rush the process. Even under the best of circumstances, establishing rapport between foes can take time, and these are hardly the best of circumstances.

7 June 2014

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Publishers Weekly

In her new biography, Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, Nancy W. Sindelar introduces the reader to the individuals who played significant roles in Hemingway’s development as both a man and as an artist. Sindelar ranks the fiction works of Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway created memorable characters in his short stories and novels by drawing on real people—parents, friends, and fellow writers, among others. He also drew on real places and events to create settings and engaging plots. Whether revisiting the Italian front in A Farewell to Arms, recounting a Pamplona bull run in The Sun Also Rises, or depicting a Cuban fishing village in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway relied on his personal experiences, friendships and observations for the content of his work.

Since Hemingway’s works reflect interests and adventures at different stages of his life, creating a ranking for his fiction is difficult. However, the following ranks his most broadly acclaimed works and comments on their contribution to the Hemingway legacy.

1. The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway’s first novel is at the top of my list because it reflects his reliance on his traditional Midwestern values as he encountered new experiences and values in post-World War I Europe. Using friends and acquaintances that populated the cafes along Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris, he reveals his concern about the valueless life of these Lost Generation characters and begins his personal and literary search for meaning in what appears to be a godless world. In the midst of their heavy drinking and meaningless revelry during a fiesta in Spain, Pedro Romero, the matador, becomes a hero. He conducts himself with honor and courage, and it is here we see the beginnings of what will become the Hemingway Code.

The book also tops my list because it reveals Hemingway’s courageous attempt to write in a new and different way by portraying the bad and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Though The Sun Also Rises was well received by the critics, it was not well received by Hemingway’s acquaintances who saw themselves portrayed as self-indulgent, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous in his unflattering, but honest, characterizations. Nor was it well received by his mother, who said he had produced “one of the filthiest books of the year.”

2. A Farewell to Arms - Hemingway’s second novel is a high on my list because it is the fictional account of events that changed and informed his world view. When Hemingway left the security of the Midwest and went to Italy looking for adventure as an ambulance driver in World War I, he got more than he had bargained for. The idealistic Midwesterner joined the war to end all wars, ready to display honor and courage, but was blown up in a trench. Then he fell in love, contemplated marriage and was rejected by the woman he loved. His confrontation with death, his subsequent wound, and his first experience with love all became catalysts for developing a code of behavior for facing life’s challenges.

A Farewell to Arms was the fictional result of Hemingway’s experiences in Italy and initiates what would become one of the most dominant themes in his novels, the confrontation of death. Though Catherine Barkley’s character seems dated to contemporary female readers, the book still demonstrates that Hemingway used what he learned in Italy to show that war brings out the best and worst in men and women.

3. The Old Man and the Sea - After the unsuccessful reception to Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel to defend his reputation as a writer. Based on his experiences in Cuba, he created a character of an old fisherman. Alone in a skiff, the old man catches a great marlin, only to have it destroyed by sharks. The old man, who had been a champion arm-wrestler and a successful fisherman, was, like Hemingway, trying for a comeback.

The old man embraces the code for living that Hemingway first developed based on his experiences in World War I—the experiences in which a man confronts an unconquerable element. In fighting the sharks, the old man exhibits courage and grace under pressure, believing “a man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”

The reviews and success of the book were nothing less than phenomenal. Appropriately, Hemingway was aboard his boat and out on the Gulf Stream when he heard via the ship’s radio that the book had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

4. To Have and Have Not - Hemingway’s growing awareness of financial and social strata are reflected in To Have and Have Not. The characters are based on people the now famous author met in Key West—the working class he encountered on the docks and at Sloppy Joe’s, the rich who moored their boats in Key West harbor, and the illegal Chinese immigrants who were being smuggled from Cuba to Key West to promote tourism in newly formed Chinatowns.

In this Depression-era novel Hemingway comes close to arguing for social and political changes needed to help the working man. However, Hemingway does not see the New Deal remedies as the solution. As a result, the fate of the novel’s main character, Harry Morgan, outlines the limits of personal freedom, self-reliance and the absence of grace under pressure, and the closest Hemingway comes to a solution is for Harry to say, “No matter how a man alone ain’t got no f—— chance.”

5. The Nick Adams Stories - This collection of short stories is a favorite because it provides insight into the life of the young Hemingway. As a child Ernest would accompany his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, as he provided pro bono medical services and attended to injured Indians, women in child-birth, and individuals in a variety of life-threatening situations in the Indian camps of northern Michigan. The memory of one of these trips appears in “Indian Camp.” Young Nick is with his father on a medical mission to deliver a baby. A Native American woman’s been in labor for two days, and Nick observes his father perform a Caesarian with a jackknife sterilized in a basin of boiled water.

Similarly, the reader gains insight into the relationship of Hemingway’s parents in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and understands Hemingway’s feelings of separation from his family and life in Oak Park after returning from World War I in “A Soldier’s Home.”

6. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Based on his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, this novel contains the classic Hemingway elements—a main character demonstrating grace under pressure and a plot that combines the interest and conflicts associated with love and war. As with his other works, Hemingway uses his friendships and personal experiences. Robert Jordan is modeled after Robert Merriman, an American professor who left his research on collective farming in Russia to become a commander in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was killed during the final assault on Belchite. Maria is based on a young nurse of the same name who was gang raped by Nationalist soldiers early in the war. The novel’s three days of conflict takes place near the El Tajo gorge that cuts through the Andalusian town of Rondo, where a political massacre like the one led by Pablo occurred early in the Spanish Civil War.

Though some readers find the details of the battles tedious, it is one of Hemingway’s most popular novels. The book was published in October, 1940. By April, 1941 almost 500,000 copies had been sold, and in January, 1942, the movie rights were purchased by Paramount for $100,000.

7 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

Finally, it has dawned on Najib Abdul Razak that Malaysiakinireaders are not worth winning over and he is now going for the jugular by serving the news portal a writ of summons over defamation.

This is the man who, upon assuming the highest political office in the country five years ago, conceded that “the days the government knows best are over”, and went on to introduce a host of ‘reformist’ measures. He also declared unashamedly that he would make Malaysia ‘the best democracy in the world’.

But what evolved in the years after has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that Najib had promised Malaysians gems but delivered worse than pebbles.

Indeed, he abolished the infamous Internal Security Act, but has kept intact, rather cunningly, the Sedition Act which was supposed to be also repealed.

Had Najib been sincere in any reform agenda, his administration would have been refrained from using the Sedition Act pending its replacement. Instead, Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei, the Sri Muda assemblyperson, is still fighting his case at the Federal Court, while Teresa Kok became the latest victim over her, okay, not-so-tasteful Chinese New Year video clip.

Much as I detest the arbitrary law, it remains morally outrageous to see the Umno-friendly individuals – from Ibrahim Ali, Zulkifli Noordin, Ridhuan Tee to the Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) clowns – above it. The shameless double standard only debunks further the myth of national unity as Najib has mendaciously pledged.

Still, the mainstream newspapers praised him to the skies back in April 2009 as if Malaysia’s elevation to a full democracy was nigh. Just look at Tay Tian Yan of Sin Chew Daily who wrote unabashedly of Najib as being “confident and capable… ready to be a prime minister for all Malaysians”. Yes, go laugh your head off before reading on.

But Najib’s desperate move only exposes his vulnerability within the party. When he sought to exert his authority as party president and prime minister by removing Ahmad Said from office, the former Terengganu chief minister pulled off a last-minute coup over, amusingly, his daughter’s wedding and the s**t hit the fan.

Prior to that, Najib had come under enormous pressure from the ultras within the party and a vengeful Mahathir Mohamad from without. His inability to rein in Ahmad Said is just another indicator of his untenable position, and so livid was he that he decided to punish Malaysiakini for his own failings.

Waging war with all parties except…

Truth be told, it is Umno’s mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia that has been churning out defamatory stories and waging war with all parties except its own political masters.

For DAP, is it ‘a Christian agenda’; for PKR, it is ‘DAP’s poodle’; for PAS, it is ‘selling out the Malays’, for Nurul Izzah Anwar, it is ‘apostasy’; for Ambiga Sreenevasan, it is ‘a threat to Islam’; for Anwar Ibrahim, it is ‘sexual deviation’; for Malaysiakini, it is ‘the habit of defaming others’ and, for peace-loving Malaysians who took part in the Bersih rallies, what else but a bunch of ‘samseng’ who came with ‘knives, guns and stones with an intention to kill’!

If there is one person who should feel the righteous wrath at being insulted, humiliated and defamed on a daily basis, it should be the ordinary Malaysian who is yearning for change but is made to suffer all the innuendos and racist statements at the hands ofUtusan and other Umno-controlled media, on which Najib has been conspicuous by his silence.

And Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK - right) has the nerve to accuse Malaysians of humbuggery in acquiescing to Anwar’s lawsuits against those who have defamed him.

I am pretty certain RPK has sold his soul to the devil and now chosen to see only what he wants to see. Anwar, or any potential rivals to Umno for that matter, is compelled to resort to court to clear his name precisely because his right of reply is persistently denied and even suppressed by the powers-that-be.

By contrast, not only that Malaysiakini has afforded Najib a right of reply, but Umno has also the entire state machinery to rebut and even distort whatever that is reported by online portals. Can RPK who is purportedly wise and discerning not see the crucial difference?

Be that as it may, the public should welcome Najib’s lawsuit, for it will once and for all shatter his image as a pseudo-democrat.

I would say: Bring it on Najib, but make sure you will not be dodging critical questions in court. After all, it is you and your government that will be put on trial for the whole world to see, your advantage of having some malleable judges on your side notwithstanding.

7 June 2014

Pendapat

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Telegraph

Flight MH370 has been missing for nearly three months, but a fresh ‘sighting’ and underwater noise are fuelling conspiracy theories

The failure to find wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane and the slow release of official information has left the troubled hunt mired in uncertainty and continues to spawn a growing range of sightings and conspiracy theories.

Almost three months since the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers went missing, the search has found no debris and criminal investigators have found no evidence of terrorism or a motivation behind the apparently deliberate sabotage of the plane.

The search has focused for months on a stretch of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, but the entire operation is relying on satellite data that was never intended to chart the course of the plane.

Meanwhile, distraught families across the world hold hope that their loved ones may have survived and have led a push for the release of all information about the flight.

Authorities in Australia continue to believe the plane is somewhere in the south Indian Ocean and have pledged to press ahead with the underwater operation, releasing a tender calling for companies to conduct the search.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lack of firm evidence of the plane’s final resting point and the failure to find debris has led to a growing number of conspiracy theories and possible sightings.

In recent days, a British woman claimed to have seen the plane while on a sailing voyage from India to Thailand.

This followed various other sightings shortly after the plane disappeared, including claims the plane flew low over houses in the Maldives or near an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam.

Others have speculated that military authorities must have access to radar data which has not been disclosed; indeed, there has been surprisingly little data made available despite the plane disappearing in a part of Asia that has become increasingly tense in recent years.

Others have gone further, claiming the plane may have landed on an airfield in troubled or overlooked parts of the world, from Afghanistan to the Andaman Islands.

Meanwhile, information continues to trickle out.

In the past two weeks, authorities in Malaysia released the cargo manifest and the satellite data used to plot the apparent course of the plane after it made its unexplained turn south.

A scientist in Australia is investigating a noise detected by underwater equipment which has been traced back to a location somewhere off the tip of India.

Authorities leading the search in Australia have been forced to make the embarrassing admission that they searched the wrong area for months and that there was no debris in a zone in which apparent black box pings were heard.

But they continue to insist that the satellite data is an accurate guide to the plane’s whereabouts, even as they shift to a new uncertain phase in the search. The next phase, to begin in August, will cover more than 23,000 square miles.

It is due to take 12 months – leaving plenty of time for further claims, theories and official data.

6 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim talks about his legal battle, opposition politics and Malaysia’s missing airliner.

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