22 February 2016

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The Diplomat- Luke Hunt (21.2.2016)

There is growing evidence that the region’s economic prospects are dimming.

Regional economic prospects are dimming in Southeast Asia, with unemployment expected to rise and increasing concerns over job security preoccupying many – with Malaysians in particular being the hardest hit – a survey by the Financial Times has found.

The survey of jobseekers by the FT Confidential Research found that unemployment was expected to rise in ASEAN after significant job losses were recorded last year as the economy turned.

It surveyed 5,000 people — one thousand each from Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — ASEAN’s five major economies in terms of population and financial clout.

It also found that more than half of respondents were “finding it either hard or very hard to land a new job”.

About two-thirds of the people surveyed in Malaysia, where the oil and gas sector and the aviation industry have been prominent in shedding jobs, described the employment market as tough.

Despite this and a major contraction in lending, Prime Minister Najib Razak has insisted that Malaysia still performs “pretty well.”

His tenure has been blighted by corruption scandals amid calls for his resignation and the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who won the popular vote at the last election in 2013 but lost on a seat count. He was subsequently jailed.

Like most regional leaders, Najib has a tendency to blame China for the economic issues at home as opposed to focusing on the fiscal and monetary policies initiated by his own government that underpins his country’s economic future.

As an indicator for what might happen next, the FT findings were not good given that the crisis in China is still unfolding. There is always a lag between an economic event and its full impact on the broader economy.

As a rule of thumb, it can take anywhere up to 18 months for a simple interest rate hike to make its way through an entire economy. The impact of increased government spending or spending cuts can take just as long to take effect.

That’s a major headache for central bankers when weighing-up the short, medium and long term prospects for an economy in its decision-making process.

The Chinese economy began its descent on August 11, with a two percent devaluation of its currency, the renminbi, which astonished the world. Like an interest rate hike, that decision, along with all the monetary and fiscal policy adjustments made since then, are still to work their way through the regional and global economies.

Other countries were also forced to follow suit and devalue their currencies. Then, resources prices collapsed as the Chinese stock market began an uncontrollable slide which has gone global and spread from mining companies and commodities to banks and finance houses.

Importantly, another survey by The Economist found about $1 trillion, at an annualized rate, had been taken out of China in the last six months of last year. That’s an enormous figure and one Beijing can ill-afford to let continue.

Chinese debt stands at about $27 trillion, and it’s GDP at about $10 trillion. Do the math. Add a recent interest rate hike in the United States and a fall into negative interest rate territory in Japan to the mix and the economic landscape that emerges is as unique as it is telling.

ASEAN governments have spent decades crafting their reliance on the Chinese economy, with a strategic relationship shaped by geography and exports into China that achieved double digit growth for the last two decades.

That growth has ended, the outlook for Southeast Asia is intimidating and the latest surveys contain just a hint of what’s probably to come.

18 February 2016

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Myanmar TIMES by Roger Mitton

18 February- The sages said the Year of the Monkey would be lively, unpredictable and even mischievous, but few expected the fantasyland funny business to start so quickly.

Rarely, if ever, has this region witnessed so many surprising and often downright quirky developments as it has in the past couple of weeks.

In hindsight, the signs were evident last month, when the leadership conventions in Laos and Vietnam, normally so staid and predictable, stunned everyone.

When Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made a much-anticipated bid to become boss of the ruling Vietnam Communist Party, he was brutally cut down by disaffected party cadres who voted en masse against him.

Dung was so shamed that he initially cancelled his scheduled trip to attend this week’s Sunnylands Summit of ASEAN leaders in the United States and was ready to send his deputy instead, until party elders ordered him to go.

There were equally startling changes in Laos, where the party chief and prime minister were both dumped and replaced by reformist figures who are more open and internationalist in outlook.

That cheered those who hope Laos, as this year’s ASEAN chair, will curb its usual pro-Beijing slant and perhaps help mediate some middle-ground accord with China to regulate conduct in the South China Sea.

Sure, it’s unlikely. As Stanford University’s Asian expert Don Emmerson said, “That goal has become an institutionalised mirage, invoked hopefully year after year in ASEAN communiqués to no meaningful avail.”

It was invoked again on February 16 at the strange Sunnylands shindig hosted by President Barack Obama.

The event was where this year’s real monkey business began, and to understand why, it pays to peruse some of the bizarrely disparate opinions expressed about the value of the leadership conclave.

To begin with, many struggled to comprehend why Obama, who is keen to make his last year in office a productive one, took time to host a bunch of guys he’d just met three months ago in Kuala Lumpur and Manila.

What was the purpose? A nice photo op for posterity? Actually, even the photos were diminished, given that President U Thein Sein did not attend.

Still, purpose or not, the event was touted as the greatest thing for regional relations since Washington avoided repeating then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s infamous snub of ASEAN in 2005.

Back then, Rice decided she had more important things to do than fly halfway round the world to take part in photo ops and song-and-dance routines with foreign ministers from small Southeast Asian nations.

She was right. But the region’s leaders took the snub badly and Obama has spent the past seven years trying to make amends.

Sunnylands was supposed to prove he has succeeded, although the gathering merely reiterated superficial expressions of chumminess and did not embellish either side.

One trenchant analysis of the event was written by Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, who called his artlcle “Obama’s Sunnylands Summit: Does ASEAN Really Matter?”He appears to think it does not.

And it was hard to disagree with him when he sliced apart the old wishful thinking of other ASEAN-centric analysts who had tried to argue that Sunnylands was a reaffirmation of a regional strategic partnership.

It was not. And Manning was right when he said it was delusional to portray ASEAN as a viable collective body that has more than a marginal role in the region’s political and security setup. It does not.

If the group’s key bodies like the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit were eliminated tomorrow, no one would notice and the region would remain just as safe.

As Manning said, to view ASEAN as anything more than “a loose coalition of disparate nations, economies and cultures is to buy into its own fantasyland narcissism”.

Talking of fantasyland: The much touted ASEAN Economic Community, launched on January 1, has changed our lives, right?

Wrong. They said it would consolidate trading rules, allow free movement of workers and introduce a single market for goods and services. All a pipe dream. Nothing has happened and nothing will for years to come.

If you think this is unduly pessimistic just check out another analysis by Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, who also skewered this week’s fantasyland summit.

His article, “The Dark Heart of ASEAN”, was even more devastating than those by Manning and others, for he argued that by hosting the ASEAN leaders, Washington allowed its interests to overwhelm its principles.

He noted that since the US pivot to Asia in 2011, the region’s political systems have regressed significantly, as best shown by Thailand’s sad slide “from flawed democracy to military rule”.

Just as poignant has been the way Malaysian democracy has been stunted by the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the repression of critics and the financial shenanigans of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Cambodia was headed toward a two-party democracy after the 2013 general election, but since then Prime Minister Hun Sen has forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy into exile and cracked down on other critics.

As for Brunei, Laos and Vietnam, Kurlantzick calls them “among the most repressive states in the world, with no evidence of political opening at all”.

Only in Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines has democracy and civic society advanced in any way; the rest of the region is going backward.

It is no exaggeration to say that this anti-democratic regression lies at the dark heart of ASEAN.

Until this changes, the grouping really will not matter – and nor will any silly Sunnylands summits held in the future.

16 February 2016

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UK Parliament

That this House is very concerned about the continued imprisonment of Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who has now served one year of his five year sentence for sodomy; notes that his conviction and subsequent imprisonment on politically motivated charges has undermined Malaysian democracy and confidence in the Malaysian justice system; further notes that almost 20 opposition hon. Members and a number of activists in Malaysia are subject to legal proceedings, under the Sedition Act and other legislation, for exercising their legitimate political and civil rights; calls on the relevant Malaysian authorities to release Anwar Ibrahim, and in the interim, to ensure he is able to access appropriate medical care, including the medical specialists of his choice, even if that necessitates travel abroad, and access to his lawyers; and urges the Government to make such representations to its counterparts in Malaysia.

10 February 2016

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(New York, February 9, 2016) – On the first anniversary of Anwar Ibrahim’s incarceration on politically motivated charges, the Malaysian government should unconditionally release the former deputy prime minister and political opposition leader, Human Rights Watch said today. The Malaysian government should also ensure that Anwar can access appropriate medical services while imprisoned and facilitate necessary overseas travel to treat the serious ailments he reportedly suffers from in prison.

“Malaysia’s conviction of Anwar Ibrahim was politically motivated, and he’s already suffered through a year in prison from this travesty of justice,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Every day that Anwar is behind bars, confidence in the Malaysian justice system further erodes. The government should release Anwar and repeal the country’s abusive and archaic sodomy laws.”

On February 10, 2015, Malaysia’s Federal Court upheld a Court of Appeal verdict that Anwar was guilty of sodomy under the Malaysian penal code. Anwar was taken into custody and immediately began serving a five-year prison term. A request for a pardon was turned down in March 2015. An appeal of that denial has yet to be decided.

In November 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Anwar’s imprisonment violated prohibitions on torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Specifically, the Working Group found that an “adequate remedy would be to release Mr. Ibrahim immediately, and ensure that his political rights that were removed based on his arbitrary detention be reinstated.”

Police arrested Anwar on July 16, 2008, based on a complaint from Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a political aide, that Anwar had consensual sex with him. The original trial was plagued with serious fair trial concerns, including the prosecutors’ unwillingness to provide defense lawyers with access to medical and other evidence against their client. Nevertheless, the High Court acquitted Anwar on January 9, 2012, ruling that DNA samples that were central to the prosecution’s case had not been handled or maintained properly and thus were possibly contaminated. The High Court judge said the only other major evidence was the alleged victim’s statements, which were uncorroborated.

The government appealed and on March 7, 2014, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and sentenced Anwar to five years in prison. The appeal court hearing, originally scheduled for April, was hurriedly moved to March 6-7. The verdict and sentencing hearings were conducted on the same day despite defense counsel requests that they be given more time, including provision of medical evidence. The sentencing hearing was conducted after a one-hour recess on a day of proceedings that had lasted until 5 p.m.

Anwar’s conviction disqualified him from running for a state assembly seat in Selangor on March 23. Had he been permitted to run and won the seat, he would have been eligible to seek the position of chief minister of Selangor state, a development strongly opposed by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Anwar’s five-year sentence also carried a subsequent five-year ban on running for office after being released from prison under Malaysia’s elections law, which imposes a ban on anyone who is imprisoned for more than one year – effectively ending his elected political career. Soon after Anwar’s imprisonment, the multi-party Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance he had led fractured.

“Anwar’s conviction and imprisonment removed a major political threat to the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak,” Robertson said. “The conviction effectively removed a charismatic opposition leader, already in his late sixties, from politics for a minimum of ten years.”

According to his lawyers, Anwar suffers from serious health problems, including a major rotator cuff injury with torn muscles and tendons, which has not received proper treatment in prison. The lawyers and Anwar’s family raised health concerns for Anwar if he were to have the condition treated in an operation in Malaysia, and have tried to persuade the government to let him travel overseas for treatment. They have also sought guarantees that if Anwar did depart the country, the government would permit him to return and not seek to permanently exile him.

The anniversary of Anwar’s imprisonment comes five days before United States President Barack Obama is set to host a major summit with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the US. The invitation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also embroiled in a major corruption scandal involving the deposit of hundreds of millions of dollars in his personal bank account, has provoked outrage within civil society in Malaysia.

“President Obama should not conduct business as usual at the US-ASEAN summit with Prime Minister Najib,” said Robertson. “It would be a betrayal of the people of Malaysia if Obama does not publicly call for Anwar’s release, and the dismissal of politically motivated charges for sedition and other crimes that so many activists in Malaysia face today.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Malaysia, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/malaysia

For more information, please contact:
In Bangkok, Phil Robertson, (English, Thai): +66-85-060-8406 (mobile); [email protected] Twitter: @Reaproy
In San Francisco, Brad Adams (English): +1-347-463-3531 (mobile); [email protected] Twitter: @BradMAdams
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); [email protected] Twitter: @johnsifton
In New York, Mickey Spiegel (English): +1-212-472-8723; [email protected] Twitter: @MickeySpiegel
In London, Linda Lakhdhir (English): +44-(0)77-8969-2780 (mobile); [email protected] Twitter: @LLakhdhir

10 February 2016

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FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

and its member organization for Malaysia

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) 

Joint press release 

Paris, Kuala Lumpur, 10 February 2016: Malaysian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, FIDH and its member organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) said today on the one-year anniversary of Anwar’s latest imprisonment. Anwar is currently incarcerated in Sungai Buloh prison, Selangor State.

“It’s time the authorities put an end to the persecution of Anwar Ibrahim and immediately and unconditionally release him. Any additional day Anwar spends behind bars is one more day of shame for the Malaysian government and further tarnishes its battered reputation,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

On 10 February 2015, the Federal Court in Putrajaya upheld the Court of Appeals’ conviction of Anwar on charges of sodomy (Article 377 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to five years in prison. Anwar’s imprisonment was the result of a politically motivated prosecution and the ensuing criminal Court of Appeals and Federal Court proceedings failed to meet international standards for fair trials. FIDH observed the Court of Appeals’ and Federal Court’s hearings of Anwar’s trial.

In an opinion issued at its 73rd session on 1 September 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) deemed Anwar’s detention arbitrary. The UNWGAD called for Anwar’s immediate release and for his political rights to be reinstated.

On 17 December 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that urged the Malaysian government to release Anwar.

“Authorities must heed the UN and EU calls, immediately free Anwar, reinstate his right to run for political office, and award him compensation for the protracted injustice he endured,”said SUARAM Executive Director Sevan Doraisamy.

FIDH and SUARAM reiterate their call for the Malaysian authorities to guarantee Anwar his prisoner rights – including the rights to receive adequate medical care in accordance with relevant international standards.

Anwar requires intensive physiotherapy for a serious shoulder injury, which has worsened since his detention. Anwar also suffers from various gastro-intestinal problems, chronic arthritis, and irregular blood pressure. His prison doctor has denied him timely access to doctors of his choice and necessary medical testing.

The UNWGAD’s opinion considered that Anwar’s treatment during his detention “may have violated the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 5 of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights].

Press contacts:

FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66886117722(Bangkok)

3 February 2016

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The Guardian, 31 January 2016

There is, rightly, widespread concern over Najib and a democratic deficit.

Dato’ Sri Mohamed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak was born to rule. Son of Malaysia’s second post-independence prime minister and nephew of its third, he entered parliament at the age of 23, inheriting his father’s seat and was handed several senior portfolios before being appointed prime minister himself in 2009.

Najib heads the powerful United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the pre-eminent political force. His national and personal dominance symbolises the bumiputera (ethnic Malay) ascendancy in a country with large, constitutionally disadvantaged ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.

But as the intense firestorm sparked by last week’s arbitrary dismissal of potentially career-ending corruption allegations against him suggests, Najib is also seen by growing numbers of fellow citizens as unfit to rule the country whose leadership he inherited as if by right. His time in government, especially since the 2013 general election, has brought an expansion of repressive laws, multiplying human rights abuses and curbs on media freedoms more reminiscent of Russia than of a supposedly functional, pro-western democracy closely allied to Britain and the US.

Human Rights Watch summed up Malaysia’s crisis of governance in its 2016 World Report and country-file: “The ruling Umno-led coalition has remained in power since 1957 through electoral manipulation, censorship, intimidation and use of criminal statutes to punish political opponents. After losing the popular vote in the 2013 elections – but maintaining a legislative majority through gerrymandering – the government renewed its crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and passed new laws permitting preventive detention without charge… Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim remains imprisoned on trumped-up sodomy charges after a politically motivated, unjust trial.”

The latest furore besmirching Najib’s shaky reputation concerns a 2013 payment of $681m into his personal bank account, a transfer that only came to light thanks to a Wall Street Journal report last July. After months of closed-door investigations and Najib’s repeated denials of wrongdoing, Mohamed Apandi Ali, Malaysia’s attorney general, declared last week that the money was a private gift from the Saudi royal family and there was no evidence of improper or corrupt activity. Nor was there any connection with graft allegations swirling around the debt-laden state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which Najib oversaw, he said.

This has been met with widespread scepticism. Why was the gift made to Najib and what was it for? Why was most of the money apparently later returned to the Saudis, and what happened to the $61m that was not? Why was the transfer routed circuitously through the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong? And why, particularly if, as Najib claims, the money was a political donation to boost Umno election campaign funds, was it deposited in his personal bank accounts?

Those taken by surprise by Apandi’s act of absolution include the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (Macc), which investigated the affair. An anonymous source there subsequently told the Reuters news agency that the commission recommended last month that Najib be charged with criminal misappropriation. Apandi rejected the advice. The Macc is now seeking a review of the attorney general’s decision, while those in Najib’s camp want an inquiry into the leak.

Saudis also found the decision surprising. The royal family would “never” place political funds in a private individual’s account, officials told the Malaysia Chronicle. This may or may not be true. A “well-placed Saudi source” told the BBC’s Frank Gardner that the money was paid direct to Najib, on the orders of the late King Abdullah, to help him defeat Islamist hardliners in the 2013 election.

Najib says he has been vindicated and Malaysia must move on. This is fantasy. The scandal will live on in the minds of voters who have more reason than ever to distrust those who presume to lead them on the basis of privilege, wealth and inequality. It lives on in the minds of the FBI and investigators in Switzerland and Hong Kong still probing 1MDB. And it shines a spotlight on Malaysia’s worsening democratic deficit, whether defined in terms of shady campaign finances, electoral manipulation and foreign interference, human rights abuses, weak and unreliable governance – or downright venality.

18 January 2016

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Malaysiakini- Ooi Heng (Executive Director of the think-tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU)

Former Leader of the Opposition of Malaysian Parliament, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2016. He is currently serving his five-year jail term for his second conviction of sodomy, since 10 February 2015, after the Federal Court upheld the decision made by the Court of Appeal. His nomination is being backed by 10 non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Malaysia so far.

Before arguing on the reasons Anwar Ibrahim deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, we decided to look into the background of Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar/Burma, as well as Lech Wa??sa from Poland, who respectively received their Prize in 1991 and 1983. We believed that these two Laureates are similar enough to be compared with Anwar Ibrahim, for they have created a great impact towards their own nations and a certain degree of impact on democratisation.

We do think that Anwar Ibrahim deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, as he is wrongfully convicted for sodomy twice in his lifetime, in the context of a “politically loaded case”, while sacrificing his own freedom for non-violent struggle of democracy, and fighting against injustice and corruption done by an authoritarian regime, making him a prisoner of conscience.

In the past, the Nobel Peace Prize has been won by several figures who were prisoners of conscience, such as Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar, Liu Xiaobo from China, Nelson Mandela from South Africa, and Lech Wa??sa from Poland. These political dissidents have sacrificed their own freedom, in order to, either fight for democracy, or fight for the rights of the people, or even both.

This is the second time Anwar Ibrahim is being jailed as a politician, and for both of the jail terms the Amnesty International had declared him a “prisoner of conscience”. During Anwar’s first jail term, Amnesty International had stated that the trial proceedings “exposed a pattern of political manipulation of key state institutions including the police, public prosecutor’s office and the judiciary”. And as for the current jail term, Amnesty International said that the charges and trial were politically motivated. They called for immediate and unconditional release of Anwar Ibrahim. Furthermore, Anwar’s health has been deteriorating in Sungai Buloh Prison, and he is facing difficulties in receiving proper medical attention.

Before this, on 7 March 2014 Court of Appeal overturned the ruling made by the High Court which acquitted him (thus reinstating this second sodomy conviction), disrupting Anwar from contesting in the Kajang by-election on 23 March 2014. Human Rights Watch criticized the court decision for being politically motivated.

Anwar could choose to leave the country just to avoid another jail term, probably seeking for political asylum. Even by doing that, Anwar could still continue leading the opposition forces from abroad, with the advanced telecommunications and internet technologies we have now.

However, Anwar has chosen not to do so. He felt that if he fled the country, he would not be making a good example in our struggles to democratise the country. Anwar has chosen to sacrifice his own freedom and probably even his own life, as his health is deteriorating in prison. For sure, it would also mean separation with his family, though his family members may occasionally visit him in prison, albeit not without problems.

Anwar Ibrahim and Aung San Suu Kyi

This may be comparable with Aung San Suu Kyi, who had chosen to stand with her people by turning down the Burmese military regime’s offer to join her family abroad. The condition of the offer was, she would never be able to return to Myanmar. And after 1995 her husband was denied by the military regime to visit her, who was under house arrest, and he himself died of prostate cancer in 1999. Aung San Suu Kyi’s sacrifice has apparently paid off, as her consistent struggle for her people and democracy has finally helped her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), achieve great electoral victory in the 2015 General Election, winning 86% of the seats in the Assembly of the Union, which is more than 67%, the requirement to have their preferred candidate elected as President and First Vice President. Though the constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President (as her husband and children are not citizens of Myanmar), she declared that she would hold real power in any NLD-led government. In order to amend the constitution, there must be approval from at least one military legislator.

The situation of Anwar Ibrahim and Aung San Suu Kyi are somewhat similar. Both of them have been under political persecution by the ruling regime while their parties achieved electoral success by winning popular support under their leadership. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for the first time a year before her NLD won the election on 27 May 1990 with 82% of the parliamentary seats and 59% of the popular votes, but the military junta refused to recognise the results. And she remained under house arrest until 10 July 1995. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. And she was placed under house arrest again on 23 September 2000 until 6 May 2002. And she was placed under house arrest for the third time from 2003 until 13 November 2010, being extended a few times, including one illegal extension done on 27 May 2008.

As for Anwar Ibrahim – the Reformasi movement initiated by him, his supporters and civil society after being sacked as Deputy Prime Minister by then-Prime Minister Dato’ Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 – eventually gave birth to Parti Keadilan Nasional, the predecessor of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (KEADILAN). And this party went on forming a new opposition coalition, Barisan Alternatif, together with Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM). This is the first time in history secular DAP had an official cooperation with the hardline Islamist PAS, as there was no other party before KEADILAN that could bring these two parties together. (However DAP withdrew from Barisan Alternatif in 2001 due to their irreconcilable differences with PAS.)

Anwar’s Reformasi movement has created new dimension for democratisation with important legacies. It showed that a cross-ethnic alliance was possible despite the divisive racial politics practised by the ruling regime over the past several decades. It also showed that non-violent struggle of democracy was possible despite the authoritarian regime’s repressive rule against the people and injustice towards Anwar and other defenders of democracy.

Anwar Ibrahim played major roles in leading several demonstrations against the authoritarian regime, such as those during the Reformasi movement, as well as the Bersih rallies in 2007, 2011 and 2012 (demanding for fair and clean elections), and also the Blackout rallies after the 2013 election, protesting against election frauds. Even before Anwar entered politics, he was already an activist during his student years, and was once detained under the controversial (now abolished) Internal Security Act (ISA) for his involvement in a protest against rural poverty and hunger. He was once notable for being the president of Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) before joining the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant component party of BN, and moved up the political ranks quickly, before being sacked and expelled from the party in 1998.

Anwar Ibrahim and Lech Wa??sa

On the other hand, the Polish trade unionist Lech Wa??sa had also led in several workers’ demonstrations and strikes, demanding the Communist regime for better living conditions and workers’ rights. As a result, he was once fired from his job in the Lenin Shipyard (now Gda?sk Shipyard), though reinstated 6 years later. He was frequently detained by the Communist regime and also underwent surveillance. His actions even earned support from the Roman Catholic Church and the intellectuals. He eventually made his way into negotiations with the authorities which resulted in the Gda?sk Agreement on 31 August 1980, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent unions. However his movement, Solidarity, was once banned in December 1981, and later his Nobel Peace Prize was announced in October 1983. Another negotiation he made with the authorities, upon worsened economic conditions, eventually brought to an end of the authoritarian rule and democratized Poland, enabling his Solidarity to win election in 1989 and have himself elected as President in 1990, until his defeat in November 1995.

In the 2008 General Election, KEADILAN won 31 Parliamentary seats and became the largest opposition party in the Parliament. KEADILAN, together with DAP and PAS, formed a new opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat. Back then this alliance had 81 seats in combined, breaking BN’s long-standing two-thirds majority in the Parliament. In the 13th General Election, Pakatan Rakyat obtained 50.9% of the popular votes (while BN had 47.4%) but was only able to win 89 out of the 222 seats in the Parliament (thus BN won 133).

As an opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim has been critical of the BN government’s distorted policies, notably his problematisation of the New Economic Policy (NEP). He also called for the need of democratic accountability, an independent judiciary and free media, in order to combat corruption.

Though Anwar failed to get BN parliamentarians to defect to his side on 16 September 2008, this nonetheless made the entire nation awaken and began to appreciate the importance of the date 16 September, for it was the date of the formation of Malaysia in 1963 (between Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore). Since then, from 2009 onwards, 16 September, being “Malaysia Day”, became a public holiday for the entire country, as it was previously a public holiday only for Sabah and Sarawak. And politicians from both sides of the political divide began to realise the need to address the rights of Sabah and Sarawak (together called “East Malaysia”), as many people from these two states felt that their rights and interests have been compromised by the federal government based in West Malaysia, up to the extent that the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, an international treaty, is being violated.

Anwar Ibrahim made a revolutionary impact towards Malaysian politics, as he formed the Malay-dominated multiracial party KEADILAN, while previously there was no similar party that could achieve such success. KEADILAN is a party which its racial composition matches the national racial composition the closest, as compared with other major political parties in Malaysia, therefore making it the “most multiracial” party here. Before the formation of KEADILAN, the Malays were mostly divided into UMNO and PAS for several decades, with a mere few years of Semangat 46 (S46), a splinter party of UMNO. UMNO and S46 are restricted to Bumiputera, while PAS is restricted to Muslims.

Before KEADILAN, there was never a Malay-dominated multiracial party that could achieve such great electoral success. Other multiracial parties such as DAP and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (a component party of BN) are dominated by Chinese and other ethnic minorities. The emergence of KEADILAN has practically provided a good political platform for the moderate Malays, for UMNO has been based on Malay nationalism, while PAS has been based on Islamism. KEADILAN has practically filled a political gap between UMNO and PAS, which effectively provided an alternative voice apart from the Malay nationalist and Islamist sentiments by UMNO and PAS, and bring the entire nation into attention on democratisation and good governance and cross-cultural issues such as corruption or abuse of power, rising of living cost, and freedom of speech.

With KEADILAN under Anwar’s leadership, there were chances for DAP and PAS to work together as one alliance against BN, though the ideologies of secular DAP and hardline Islamist PAS seem irreconcilable. They formed a formidable force against the authoritarian regime by uniting opposition forces of difference races and ethnicities, and challenge the racist policies of the oppressive regime. And it is evident that without Anwar, DAP and PAS would eventually break apart over their own differences, which other than what happened in Barisan Alternatif in 2001, Pakatan Rakyat has broken apart in 2015, a few months after the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim. (Later, KEADILAN and DAP, together with Parti Amanah Negara, a splinter party of PAS, formed a new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan)

This is unlike Aung San Suu Kyi who failed (or perhaps unwilling) to defend to basic human rights of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, who have been persecuted by the government. Her NLD even refused to send Muslim candidates for election. She bowed down to the anti-Rohingya or anti-Muslim sentiments in her country. This somehow shows that Anwar Ibrahim is better than Aung San Suu Kyi, who refuses to bow down to the racist sentiments among Malay nationalists, but rather strive for a middle path and bring the people from different races and religions together.

Based on the political success and sacrifices done by Anwar Ibrahim, we do think that he is comparable with at least some of the Nobel Peace Laureates, therefore deserves the Nobel Prize. After all, there were also lesser figures who have won the Prize as well, such as Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan who won in 2014. Additionally, some cases were quite controversial as well, such as Barack Obama who won in 2009 – less than a year being the President of the United States – had been quite controversial.

If they could get the Prize, why not Anwar, who has been tirelessly fighting for democracy – himself an indefatigable defender of human dignity and against injustice – even from prison? Now that the international community’s appeal for releasing him is growing, just as what they did for Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on the background of Anwar Ibrahim, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Lech Wa??sa, we should be able to notice that these three of them created a massive impact onto the politics of democracy and reform of their respective countries.

Under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim and Aung San Suu Kyi, their respective political forces managed to win popular support in their respective countries. As for Lech Wa??sa, being a trade unionist, his leadership of the workers’ movements successfully pressured the Communist regime of Poland to bow down to their demands and gave more rights to the workers, and eventually democratising the country upon the end of the Cold War.

Anwar Ibrahim’s involvement in political activities and social movements have been characterised by a determination to solve his country’s problems of democracy through negotiation and cooperation – without resorting to violence. We believe his own sacrificing of freedom and continuing struggle to seek non-violent political change in the years ahead, will eventually democratise the country.

15 January 2016

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Just two days after the attack on Istanbul, ISIS has struck again to open a new front in a region where Muslims have lived at peace among themselves and with communities of many faiths for centuries. This attack at the heart of the world’s most populous Muslim country was also an attack on Southeast Asia.

I extend my profound condolences to the families of the victims. I salute the courageous response of the leadership and the security forces. I would like to express my admiration for ordinary Jakartans who have shown the world how to respond to terror. They have spoken up on social media to share their refusal to be afraid, #KamiTidakTakut, and to treat terrorism with the ridicule it deserves.

Indonesia and Malaysia share a common history, long pre-dating our present borders, of the peaceful transmission and practice of Islam in plural societies. We face the common threat of our young people being indoctrinated into a global ideology of hatred violently opposed to our love of peace and our aspirations to democracy. We must work together to face the immediate threats posed by terrorist groups with their international and networks across Southeast Asia, but we must also face together the ideological and leadership challenge posed by violent and totalitarian ideologies. Indonesia and Malaysia must together aspire to become anchors of peace, prosperity and democracy in the Muslim world.

Let us pray for the victims of terrorism in Jakarta and everywhere in the world. And let us refuse to fear or to hate.

I am confident that Indonesia will recover from this outrage stronger, more united and determined to be a beacon of democracy and peace that will reflect our shared spiritual legacy.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
Mahkamah Shariah
Malaysia

12 January 2016

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Turkish Weekly- P Prem Kumar

A former senior United Nations (UN) official has urged Malaysia to reconsider joining the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, warning that it could result in inequality and net job losses among the 12 participating countries.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former UN assistant secretary-general and prominent economist, said Monday that the negative impact would incur over a ten-year period after the ratification processes were completed.

“The economic gains from the TPP would only be negligible at 3 percent over the span of 10 years for developing countries in the pact while developed countries would only see gains of less than 1 percent in the same period,” he said at a forum in Kuala Lumpur about the regional pact with the U.S.

The economic gain findings were part of a yet-to-be released UN study on the impacts of the TPP that Sundaram had been leading.

The full study uses the UN’s own global policy economic model – or GPM – to anticipate the trade deal’s impact on its 12 member countries.

Sundaram warned Monday that the TPP would also “significantly cut the government’s ability to craft national policy.”

He said it was “unlike previous trade pacts” due to its introduction of “new rules for how a country manages, among others, intellectual property rights, labor affairs and the operations of government-linked companies.”

It also allows foreign investors to sue governments through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism for loss of business and potential profits as a result of national policy decisions.

Before joining the UN, Sundaram was widely recognized as an outspoken intellectual in Malaysia with unorthodox non-partisan views.

During the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, he had advocated for appropriate new capital account management measures, which were adopted by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – who is currently among the leading critics of the TPP.

Sundaram was also vocal against the detention without trial in 1998 of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim – Malaysia’s former opposition leader currently serving jail time in a case widely criticized as politically motivated – under the Internal Security Act.

While the TPP is expected to open up a market with a gross domestic product worth $27.5 trillion to Malaysian companies, the emergence of anti-TPP movements in the country has battered efforts to justify the agreement’s benefit to the general public.

The main areas of concern include state-owned enterprises, labor and Bumiputera rights — privileges granted to ethnic Malays considered economically weaker than the minority ethnic Chinese.

A draft of the final agreement will be presented alongside two cost-benefit analyses to Malaysia’s parliament later this month.

In addition to Malaysia and the U.S., the TPP was negotiated between Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei — which represent more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

Their negotiations were completed in early October in the U.S. city of Atlanta.

Leaders of the 12 countries involved are set to sign the deal in New Zealand on Feb. 4, subject to the approval of their legislatures.

The world’s largest economy, China, has initiated a counter Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, however, between ten Southeast Asian countries and Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

6 January 2016

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The Straits Times

The establishment of the Asean Economic Community means growth prospects for the new common market of 625 million people have never looked better. Rupali Karekar looks at what 2016 may have in store for five of the biggest economies of the 10-member bloc.

Last year was one that Malaysia will be keen to forget. Biggest trade partner China slowed down, global oil prices slumped, the new goods and services tax curbed consumer spending, and the 1MDB sovereign fund saga turned into a political scandal.

There will be more headwinds this year, say economists, with the same negative factors continuing to weigh on the economy.

The fiscal deficit may swell over the oil-price plunge, the political crisis surrounding 1MDB may worsen, and uncertainty over a successor to outgoing central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz is a concern, noted Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts.

“We assign a high probability that the fiscal deficit in 2016 will miss the target of 3.1 per cent of gross domestic product, given probable weaker corporate income tax and GST collection,” the analysts said.

Fiscal revenue will likely be hit by weak oil and gas revenues, with Petronas’ dividend contribution slashed to RM16 billion (S$5.2 billion) from RM26 billion last year.

“Higher palm oil prices will provide some support… along with continued government investment in the infrastructure sector,” BMI Research analyst Shuhui Chia said.

The open Asean market provides an opportunity as well as competition. Ringgit depreciation remains a concern due to rising interest rates in the United States and depreciation of the yuan.

Prime Minister Najib Razak may focus on 1MDB and politics, so attention on growth and the economy may remain diluted and tensions continue to simmer, Ms Chia said.

4 January 2016

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January 1

Zunar is the pen name for the Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

I’m a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a$700 million “donation” made to his personal bank account.

Last February, police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.

I was accused of sedition over a series of tweets I sent out opposing the jailing of a prominent Malaysian opposition leader. Now I’m facing nine charges under my country’s archaic, colonial-era Sedition Act, which could result in a 43-year prison sentence . The court proceedings against me begin this month.

I was in the United States in November to receive a press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. While I was discussing my case with American journalists and cartoonists, President Obama was in Kuala Lumpurmeeting with Najib — the third time they met face to face.

Obama is eagerly courting Malaysia in his efforts to fight extremism and to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his meeting reportedly focused on that to the virtual exclusion of everything else. That’s a grave disappointment and a missed opportunity. Obama has a responsibility to put the issue of human rights on the table.

The legal assault against me is nothing new, but it marks a major escalation. The authorities have repeatedly sought to silence me. My office has been raided multiple times since 2009, and authorities have confiscated thousands of my cartoon books. In 2010, five of my books — including “1 Funny Malaysia” — were banned by the home affairs minister, who declared the contents “detrimental to public order.” Later that year I was detained by police and locked up for two days after the publication of “Cartoon-O-Phobia.” To say the least, the Malaysian government has no sense of humor.

In late 2014, my webmaster was called in for questioning, and three of my assistants were arrested for selling my books. I was also brought in for questioning by the police, and the company that processes orders for my website was forced to disclose my customer list. In January, the police raided my office and then opened two investigations in February under the Sedition Act. That’s when they really threw the book at me.

The government hasn’t just targeted me and my associates; it also has cracked down on the entire ecosystem of free expression. Three companies that printed my books were raided and warned not to print my books in the future or their licenses would be revoked. Likewise, bookstores that carried my book were raided and their licenses were threatened. As a result, no one dares print or sell my books.

In such an environment, people like me must turn to the Internet to share our opinions and art. But now that space is under attack as well.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey recently proclaimed that the platform is a bastion of “freedom of expression” and speaking “truth to power.” With my personal slogan of “How Can I Be Neutral, Even My Pen Has a Stand,” I embrace his vision. The reality, though, is quite different.

If a person can face sedition charges for stating a belief in 140 characters or less, then there is no freedom of expression. The Malaysian Sedition Act is incredibly broad, banning any act, speech or publication purported to bring contempt against the government or royal sultans. In 2012, Najib pledged to repeal the act because, he said, it “represents a bygone era.” He’s since reversed course and moved to strengthen it.

I’ve been charged with one count of sedition for each supposedly seditious tweet. I could successfully fight one, or maybe two, counts, but nine counts and a potential 43-year prison sentence make clear that the government wants to make an example of me. I need help from people around the world who share my commitment to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International is highlighting my case as part of its Write for Rights campaign, the largest human rights effort on the planet. You can personally write to Prime Minister Najib and call on his government to drop the charges against me and to abolish laws like the Sedition Act that squelch freedom of expression. Public pressure from around the globe can make a big difference in my case and beyond. I hope you’ll join with me to take a stand.

29 December 2015

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Malaysiakini- Yee Siew Meng

There are some in PKR who forget quickly; perhaps their amnesia is hastened by politics and blind loyalty to factions?

There are some who follow opposition politics from a distance and echo the statements of those in PKR who say that party president and opposition leader Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is allowing her emotions and personal agenda to free Anwar Ibrahim, to take over the main agenda of the party and the coalition.

This cannot be further from the truth. Anwar Ibrahim is still relevant, and I will explain why.

In a report by Free Malaysia Today last Monday, Sepang PKR branch chief Arffain Mohamed insisted that deputy president Azmin Ali should instead helm the party – which only reveals his political intentions.

It appears that only Umno knows and understands the severe threat that former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim still poses to the ruling BN coalition. Sadly, many in the opposition have declared that it is time to move on from Anwar or insist that Anwar is now irrelevant.

Looking at the diverse political ideologies within the opposition ranks, and the ambitious leaders within some parties, there is still a critical need for Anwar – who has played peacemaker before, bringing the many ideologies to unity.

Prior to 1998, Umno and BN had a free hand to use race and religion to manipulate the electorate. The opposition leader then was DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and it was so easy to make it look like a fight between a Malay government vs a socialist Chinese party.

The opposition was fragmented beyond imagination. There had been right-wing religious group PAS that was made to look like fundamentalist fanatics, and the leftist DAP whom BN portrayed as “communists”.

The situation was ideal for the BN government to pit these two parties against one another and to divide the opposition – such that they will never have more than one-third control of the Parliament. It looked like BN would rule forever.

The divide between the two main opposition parties existed right up till 2004. Then, Anwar – having spent six years in detention under former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s regime – made a comeback in 2006 after fixing his back and taking a stint as a lecturer in the UK and the US.

In two years, Anwar was able to rally the diverse political parties to face off with the BN government, denying them for the first time a two-third majority in Parliament during the 2008 GE.

The incredible feats of Anwar

When you think about the polar opposites of DAP and PAS, it truly is an incredible feat that Anwar was able to unite the opposition towards a single vision. Up to then, DAP and PAS were satisfied in their separate roles and agendas as opposition noise-makers. Anwar painted a picture of a new federal government and the possibility of winning the general elections.

Apart from uniting the political parties, he had painted a picture of a truly united Malaysia. He gave the masses a vision of “hope for a new Malaysia”. Following the 2008 victory, Malaysians from all walks of life celebrated the new-found freedom and boldness to voice out against corruption and injustices.

In all his rallies, he cast the vision of a new Malaysia for all Malaysians. There was no turning back for the rakyat. This boldness later spun off into Bersih rallies, solidarity marches and mushrooming civil societies, seeking greater civil liberties for all Malaysians.

In 2013, Anwar held the fragile opposition together to ensure two-cornered fights against BN. The hunger for change was in the air, and the BN government had little confidence of their own victory. Without the help of government agencies, indeed victory may not have been theirs.

Still Anwar, as opposition leader, led the coalition into gaining more ground in Parliament. He was a real and present danger and a serious threat to the BN government. They had to remove Anwar from the picture and they set out to do whatever they could to return him to jail.

The future of BN rested on the ability to remove Anwar as opposition leader. His ability to unite the opposition and rally the masses were frightening for Umno and BN.

Is Anwar relevant? He is, and remains, the most dangerous weapon the opposition has against the BN government. I have been at the fringes of opposition politics for 17 years since Reformasi, and am of the opinion that the power struggle for the position of opposition leader is intense because he or she may very well be the next prime minister after the GE14.

This jockeying for position may tear the fragile opposition apart before they even capture Putrajaya. Anwar, however – with his statesman stature and the respect he commands from Gerakan Harapan Baru as a religious man and from DAP as a man of integrity and strength – will be the respected choice of all for prime minister.

Apart from that, he has the experience and international clout to lead Malaysia its premier. Anwar, therefore, is really the catalyst to unity for the opposition.

Unfortunately, the BN government acknowledges this threat and is bent on keeping him in jail. Factions in his own party are obvious and the vying for party president position is intense for this very reason. If Anwar is out, many would be silent just out of reverence for the man who most deserves and is most qualified for the position.

Some say, PKR and Pakatan Harapan should move on from Anwar. On the contrary, why should we allow the BN government to force us to abandon the most powerful and unifying factor of the coalition? Anwar is the icon of the resistance. He is the Mockingjay.

We should shout for his freedom and demand that all the wrongs done to him be corrected. We should demand for the truth, for justice to be carried out for him, and for the many cases that have found no resolution or justice.

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