Across Asia, judges are having too much say in politics
AFTER nearly three years, Yingluck Shinawatra’s stint as prime minister of Thailand drew this week to its inevitable close. The end came not with the bang of a people-power revolution that at one point seemed likely to unseat her; nor with the muted rumble of tanks in a coup like the one that toppled her brother Thaksin from the same job in 2006; still less with the raucous clamour of a contested election, though one had been called for July 20th. Rather, it petered out in the whimper of a court order. Not for the first time the Thai judiciary has intervened to solve a problem that a broken political system could not fix. And not for the first time its intervention was to the Shinawatras’ detriment.
However, Thailand is not alone in fighting political battles with legal weapons. A number of Malaysian opposition politicians find themselves in legal trouble, with potentially serious consequences. In Myanmar the opposition is planning demonstrations this month to demand reform to a constitution that places legal obstacles in the way of the country’s democratisation, and of the right of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, to stand in a presidential election she would surely win. Even in China a purge of potential opponents of Xi Jinping, the president and party leader, takes the form of a series of prosecutions for corruption. More hopefully, in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, a former army chief and military dictator, is fighting a charge of treason, in a trial testing the army’s willingness to cede privileges and immunity to an elected civilian government.
Various trends are at work. One, evident in India and Pakistan, is an enduring tradition of activism by a robustly independent judiciary. Often this has made the courts popular by comparison with the perceived lethargy, incompetence or malice of politicians. Public-interest litigation and its ability to make rulings suo moto (off its own bat) have encouraged India’s Supreme Court to meddle in environmental and social policy. It has forced Delhi’s buses, taxis and tuk-tuks to convert to compressed natural gas from dirtier fuels and has taken charge of India’s trees. The court’s green interests might please liberals, but they rued a ruling last December that overturned a Delhi High Court decision lifting a ban on homosexuality. In Pakistan the courts helped bring down Mr Musharraf, but then proceeded to hound his civilian successor, Asif Ali Zardari, through his five-year term.
Elsewhere, however, governments use the law as an instrument of political control. That is most obvious in one-party dictatorships such as China and Vietnam. But the suspicion of judicial persecution lingers even in countries whose governments present themselves as relatively liberal—such as Malaysia’s, which has lifted some repressive colonial-era legislation. Yet, after a close general election last year, a number of opposition politicians face charges for sedition or for breaches of the law on assembly. The most serious case has nothing to do with politics. It is the five-year sentence on a charge of sodomy against which Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition, is appealing.
When Barack Obama visited Malaysia last month, Najib Razak, the prime minister, stressed that the Anwar case was a judicial matter in which the government had no part. Yet it was the government’s own appeal which led to Mr Anwar’s earlier acquittal being overturned. He is the figurehead who unites a diverse opposition torn at present by disagreement over the plan of one of its components, an Islamic party, to introduce fierce hudud punishments, such as amputations, in Kelantan, a state it governs. His disappearance into jail would be most damaging.
Thailand is illustrative of a third trend: for conservative judiciaries, when a time-honoured political dispensation changes, to find themselves, in effect, part of the opposition. Like much of the civil service, army and other pillars of Thailand’s royalist establishment, the judiciary abhors the Shinawatras’ alleged corruption with a special intensity in part because it fears their popularity, and hence their ability to overturn the accustomed order. In the Maldives, too, the courts helped get rid of a popular leader in 2012. Mohamed Nasheed was the first directly elected president after a long dictatorship. He threatened to shake things up, but lost a power struggle with a judge.
The Singapore sting
The lesson drawn from all this by authoritarian ruling elites facing pressure for reform is how important it is to have the courts on your side. Not only does it avoid awkward stand-offs; it helps foster the impression that you are moving towards “the rule of law”. So, in Sri Lanka, the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa early last year impeached and sacked a troublesome chief justice. And in Cambodia laws now being considered would have the effect of emasculating judicial independence.
Cambodia’s strongman, Hun Sen, is known to cast an envious eye at an unlikely role model: Singapore. There, the ruling People’s Action Party has been in power even longer than his own Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). And it has managed this without resorting to the thuggery and coups that have ensured the CPP’s grip. Part of the PAP’s secret is its use of the law. Strict defamation and contempt-of-court laws inherited from the British were invoked against foreign critics and domestic opponents, forcing some into bankruptcy. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister, whose son now holds that job, justified this as necessary to protect Singapore’s leaders’ reputations, rather than as a way of hounding the opposition. But it had the same effect.
However, those in Cambodia and elsewhere make two mistakes when they see Singapore as a model of efficient authoritarianism applied in large measure through the legal system. One is that Singapore is an international city seen as under the rule of law. Its courts are respected, if not always the use the government has made of them. The other is that many Singaporeans are turning against the PAP, which is even trying to change its image.
Kepada seluruh penganut agama Buddha di Malaysia saya ucapkan selamat menyambut Hari Wesak bersempena kelahiran Gautama Buddha ribuan tahun yang lalu.
Sifat mulia dan kasih sayang sesama manusia yang didokong oleh Gautama Buddha sepanjang hidupnya merupakan prinsip yang penting yang wajar diamalkan oleh seluruh rakyat Malaysia. Sejajar dengan nilai yang kami perjuangkan selama ini, kepedulian terhadap hak dan kebajikan rakyat jelata, khususnya golongan miskin dan yang terpinggir, harus dibela.
Sebarang percubaan untuk menimbulkan kebencian atas nama agama mahupun kaum terhadap kaum dan penganut agama lain harus ditentang sama sekali kerana keadilan sosial dan perpaduan negara hanya dapat direalisasikan dengan adanya ruang demokrasi dan kebebasan untuk berdialog, bukannya dengan menghina dan mencerca.
Saya menyeru agar seluruh rakyat bersama menghayati falsafah ajaran Buddha yang menitikberatkan unsur kasih sayang, toleransi dan kemuliaan insan.
Having bashed Malaysia over the missing flight, China is now making up
THERE will be no let-up in the efforts to find the missing Malaysian Airlines jet Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, vowed on May 5th. Despite his promise, however, there is growing acceptance that it will take months even years to find any trace of flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8th. Hopes that any of its passengers might still be alive must also be cast aside. The new search area in the Indian Ocean will alone cover 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square miles)—and that is on top of the 4,600,000 square kilometres already scoured. Because the focus of the search-and-rescue mission has now moved to the west coast of Australia, Malaysians have some breathing space to reflect on a traumatic two months in the glare of the world’s attention. The country has taken a battering, but the longer-term damage is another matter. The saga has emphasised how much Malaysia matters in the geopolitics of the region: the two Pacific superpowers, America and China, have both come to play big roles in the search for the missing plane, if in very different ways.
In any reckoning, Malaysia’s handling of the loss of MH370 has been a public-relations disaster. The tone was set during the first week by the authorities’ confusion, stonewalling and contradictory messages. One of the gravest flaws has been a deep reluctance to release information, however innocuous. This antagonised the victims’ families. And the problem persists. On May 1st the Malaysian government published a much-heralded report on the disappearance of the plane. This turned out to consist of just five pages, containing little new information. But, as one government adviser admitted: “If we had got this out there in the first week, there wouldn’t have been a nine-week drumbeat of everyone calling us lying bastards.”
Opposition politicians and critics of the government say that the damage to Malaysia’s reputation is a result of the country’s poor governance. Malaysia, the argument goes, is more authoritarian than democratic, with little transparency or accountability in government.
There is some truth to that. But government officials are justified in feeling frustrated that the failures of communication have overshadowed their success in efficiently putting together an extraordinary coalition of countries to look for the plane. On the technical side, many acknowledge that Malaysia has done an adequate job with the relatively limited means at its disposal. It has also gone beyond the call of duty in opening up to its search partners, sharing sensitive details of its military radar system, for example, with the Chinese.
One person who has stood up for Malaysia over MH370 is Barack Obama. During a recent long-scheduled visit to Malaysia, the American president went out of his way to laud the country’s leadership of the search operation. America has contributed a vast amount of equipment, man-hours and money to the search for the missing plane, out of all proportion to the three Americans (out of 227 passengers) lost on the flight. This has brought the two countries closer, at a time when America is searching for new and reinvigorated alliances in the region. Historically, there has been a good deal of anti-Americanism in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but for the time being that seems to have been stilled. Mr Obama got a hero’s welcome from everyone.
That in turn may help account for the zigzag course of China in the MH370 affair. The flight was en route to Beijing, and over half the passengers were Chinese. But rather than support the Malaysian government in the first month or so, China seemed to incite the distraught families into ever fiercer, often histrionic, criticism of Malaysian officialdom, perhaps to deflect attention from the possibility that the plane might have been downed by home-grown terrorists. The Chinese did nothing to dispel some of the alternative, wilder conspiracy theories circulating in Beijing.
In recent weeks, however, the tone has changed. The Chinese ambassador to Malaysia has told the Chinese-language press in Kuala Lumpur that his country accepts that the disappearance of MH370 was not some dark conspiracy and that Chinese-Malaysian relations are unaffected. The wave of criticism in the official Chinese press has largely abated. Perhaps China feels, in the regional battle of wills with America, that it needs good relations with Malaysia and that these were threatened by its attacks. Malaysia is China’s largest trade partner in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). It also has a large ethnic-Chinese population, and thus could be helpful in its disputes in the South China Sea with other ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, both firmly backed by America.
Mr Najib makes an official visit to China at the end of this month, marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, initiated by Malaysia’s then prime minister, Abdul Razak, Mr Najib’s late father. With power so finely balanced in the region, China will strive to make the visit go smoothly, including keeping angry families at a face-saving distance.
Eulogy by Anwar Ibrahim on the occasion of the memorial service for
the late Irene Fernandez, on 30th April, 2014
Except for family members and fellow activists of the era then, many
are not aware that Azizah and I were close friends with our dearly
departed sister Irene Fernandez. Our friendship goes back to our Youth
So, her passing on was a deep personal loss.
Today, we mourn her absence. We have lost a champion of the weak, the
poor and the marginalized. We have lost a fighter of true grit in the
face of persecution and constant harassment by the authorities.
Yet, while mourning for our loved ones is good for the soul, nothing
should hold us back from rejoicing in the memory of the good times, of
the moments of joy and of the great contributions she has made to our
I remember the very emotional moments during the launching of KEADILAN
at the Renaissance Hotel. Well, I use the word ‘remember’ in a special
sense because I could only get a second hand account. At that time, I
was still lodging at Sungai Buloh. But that’s Irene for you – no airs,
no pretensions, no-holds barred of course and no holding of emotion
Very headstrong and by virtue of her convictions, very gung-ho at a
time when this phrase wasn’t that much in use yet.
Who would imagine that even then in the 70’s during my ABIM days when
I got to know her, for study groups comprising Sixth Form students,
Irene was handing out xeroxed copies of passages from Frantz Fanon’s
The Wretched of the Earth?
That’s how far ahead she was; and so imbued with the sense of
idealism that in that innocent and naive way but with a heart full of
kindness and sincerity, she felt that these students were ready for
the profound message of Fanon.
That preoccupation with the role of class, the struggle for national
liberation against colonial domination, and oppression of the weak and
the marginalised came eventually to define her work.
That was why she wouldn’t budge an inch when fighting for the
downtrodden and exposed herself to criminal charges when she published
that now famous report on the migrant workers.
When she was found guilty in 2003 and sentenced to one year’s jail, I
was looking forward to having ‘working sessions’ with her at the
Sungai Buloh conference hall for political prisoners! But as we know
Today, there is so much religious tension being fuelled by
irresponsible groups and the compliant media. Back then, Irene and I
used to have very engaged and healthy inter-faith discussions. ABIM
was always reaching out to the others and vice versa. Irene was at the
centre of the discourse.
I know for sure Irene, emotional as she was prone to be at the right
time, was not the type to indulge in self-pity. Pity on others yes,
but never on herself. So, I think it is only fitting that I close my
eulogy with a short poem from one of our favourite Asian Renaissance
poets Rabindranath Tagore.
This is entitled Farewell My Friends from the Poems of Gitanjali :
“It was beautiful as long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets whatsoever
Save the pain I’ll leave behind.
Those dear hearts who love and care…
And the strings pulling at the heart and soul…
The strong arms that held me up
When my own strength let me down.
At every turning of my life I came across good friends,
Friends who stood by me,
Even when the time raced me by.
Farewell, farewell, my friends
I smile and bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears for I need them not
All I need is your smile.
If you feel sad do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like when you live in the hearts
Across the region, power struggles mask a more fundamental divide over the meaning of the modern nation-state.
After the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, a debate raged among Egyptians and Tunisians over the very nature of their societies. How much of the ongoing “Islamization” was imposed and manufactured, and how much of it was an “authentic” representation of society? Without the stifling yoke of dictatorship, some reasoned, Arabs would finally be able to express their true sentiments without fear of persecution.
The ensuing—and increasingly charged—debate over the role of religion in public life put Western analysts and policymakers in the uncomfortable position of having to prioritize some values they hold dear over others. In the Western experience, democracy and liberalism usually went hand in hand, to the extent that “democracy” in popular usage became shorthand for liberal democracy. Liberalism preceded democracy, allowing the latter to flourish. As the political scientists Richard Rose and Doh Chull Shin point out, “Countries in the first wave [of democracy], such as Britain and Sweden, initially became modern states, establishing the rule of law, institutions of civil society, and horizontal accountability to aristocratic parliaments. Democratization followed in Britain as the government became accountable to members of parliament elected by a franchise that gradually broadened until universal suffrage was achieved.” In contrast, they write, “third-wave democracies have begun democratization backwards.”
Getting democracy backwards has led to the rise of “illiberal democracies,” a distinctly modern creation that Fareed Zakaria documents in his book The Future of Freedom. Zakaria seeks to disentangle liberalism and democracy, arguing that democratization is, in fact, “directly related” to illiberalism. On the other hand, “constitutional liberalism,” as he terms it, is a political system “marked not only by free and fair elections but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.” “This bundle of freedoms,” he goes on, “has nothing intrinsically to do with democracy.”
Michael Signer makes a similar argument in his book charting the rise of “demagogues,” who accumulate popularity and power through the ballot box. Like Zakaria, Signer acknowledges the inherent tensions between liberalism and democracy, noting that early generations of Americans were particularly attuned to these threats. He writes, for instance, about Elbridge Gerry, a representative from Massachusetts who declared that “allowing ordinary Americans to vote for the president was madness.” Drawing on such examples, Signer argues that “at its simplest level, democracy is a political system that grants power based on what large groups of people want.” And what these large groups want may not be good for constitutional liberalism, which is more about the ends of democracy rather than the means.
The emergence of illiberal democracy in the developing world saw democratically elected leaders using popular mandates to infringe upon basic liberties. Elections were still largely free and fair, and opposition parties were fractious but viable. But ruling parties, seeing their opponents more as enemies than competitors, sought to restrict media freedoms and pack state bureaucracies with loyalists. They used their control of the democratic process to rig the system to their advantage. In some cases, as in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, a cult of personality became central to the consolidation of illiberal democracy. Sometimes it bordered on self-parody, taking the form of highway billboards announcing that “Chávez is the people.”
Illiberal democracy has risen to prominence in part because Western Europe’s careful sequencing of liberalism first and democracy later is no longer tenable—and hasn’t been for some time. Knowing that democracy, or something resembling it, is within reach, citizens have no interest in waiting indefinitely for something their leaders say they aren’t ready for. Democracy has become such an uncontested, normative good that the arguments of Zakaria seem decidedly out of step with the times. Zakaria argues, for instance, that “the absence of free and fair elections should be viewed as one flaw, not the definition of tyranny…. It is important that governments be judged by yardsticks related to constitutional liberalism.” Interestingly, he points to countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Jordan, and Morocco as models. “Despite the limited political choice they offer,” he writes, “[they] provide a better environment for life, liberty, and happiness of citizens than do … the illiberal democracies of Venezuela, Russia, or Ghana.”
The phenomenon of Islamists seeking, or being in, power forces us to rethink the relationship between liberalism and democracy. Illiberal democracy under Islamist rule is different from the Venezuelan or Russian varieties for a number of reasons. In the latter cases, illiberal democracy is not intrinsically linked to the respective ideologies of Hugo Chávez or Vladimir Putin. Their illiberalism is largely a byproduct of a more basic, naked desire to consolidate power. In the case of Islamists, however, their illiberalism is a product of their Islamism, particularly in the social arena. For Islamists, illiberal democracy is not an unfortunate fact of life but something to believe in and aspire to. Although they may struggle to define what exactly it entails, Islamist parties have a distinctive intellectual and ideological “project.” This is why they are Islamist.
* * *
Under autocracy, leaders can more easily insulate themselves from the popular will. Islamists, to the extent they are tolerated, are so busy with mere survival that ideological demands are pushed to the side and postponed. They counsel patience, telling over-exuberant followers to wait, that the application of sharia is simply not possible now. Democracy, for both the secular and Islamist opposition, becomes the overarching imperative, because, without it, nothing else can really happen. Repression brings them together, giving them a shared enemy and a shared goal—toppling the dictator.
After their revolutions succeed, Islamists, liberals, and leftists find that they have less reason to work together. At best, they become bitter adversaries but agree to resolve their differences within the democratic process. Other times, they become implacable enemies in a zero-sum battle, one that can descend into political violence and military intervention. Either way, both sides become consumed by a struggle for the spoils of revolution, including, most importantly, control of the state and its resources. Sometimes, then, it is about power. But underlying the battle for power is a more fundamental ideological divide over the very meaning of the modern nation-state. Before the uprisings, most Arabs hadn’t really had this conversation. The intellectual and political elites who did, did so in the abstract. None of them were going to be in power any time soon; it was a debate for their children or their grandchildren after them. But with the Arab revolutions, the essential questions of identity and ideology, of God and religion, of the conception of the good, assumed a newfound urgency.
In short, democratization does not necessarily have a moderating effect on Islamist parties, nor does it blunt the importance of ideology. There are no easy answers and, at some point, it may very well come down to a matter of faith. What if Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, or Syrians decide, through democratic means, that they want to be illiberal? Is that a protected right? For its part, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is clear on the matter. A United Nations background note discusses the “red line”: “The right to culture is limited at the point at which it infringes on another human right. No right can be used at the expense or destruction of another, in accordance with international law.” For Western policymakers and Arab liberals alike, the notion that there should be supra-constitutional principles binding on all citizens seems self-evident. Liberal democracy depends upon the recognition of inalienable rights. But if Islamists do not consider themselves party to this consensus—and many do not—then the matter becomes a more basic one of colliding worldviews. This divide was evident in the contentious debates over first constitutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt’s first post-revolution constitution, passed by referendum in December 2012, seemed to violate the UDHR or at least failed to offer sufficient rights protections in numerous instances, including on gender equality, freedom of expression, and freedom of conscience and religion.
Even what may have seemed, in retrospect, like minor quibbles—over the particular wording of sharia clauses, for example—reflected fundamental divides over the boundaries, limits, and purpose of the nation-state. For liberals, certain rights and freedoms are, by definition, non-negotiable. They envision the state as a neutral arbiter. Meanwhile, even those Islamists who have little interest in legislating morality see the state as a promoter of a certain set of religious and moral values, through the soft power of the state machinery, the educational system, and the media. For them, these conservative values are not ideologically driven but represent a self-evident popular consensus around the role of religion in public life. The will of the people, particularly when it coincides with the will of God, takes precedence over any presumed international human-rights norms.
As much as Islamist groups moderated their rhetoric and practice from the 1970s through the 2011 uprisings, they did not become liberals (here, as ever, the distinction between being a “liberal” and a “democrat” is worth emphasizing). There was a time when the notion of “post-Islamism” gained popularity in academic circles. Turkish Islamism—which had ceased to be Islamist in any real sense—showed the way to a brave new future where Islamists would agree to work within the framework of secular democracy. However, such hopes, when applied to the Muslim Brotherhood and like-minded groups, were misplaced.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to view Islamists as radicals bent on introducing a fundamentally new social order. Even the Brotherhood’s most controversial positions—such as its opposition to women and Christians becoming head of state—fell well within the region’s conservative mainstream. The irony of Islamist victories at the polls is that they did not announce a break with the past; they confirmed something that was already there and had been for some time. The goal of Islamists is the Islamization of society, in thought and practice, and in the standards that people hold themselves to. In some countries, like Egypt, the extent of Islamization on the societal level was striking well before Islamists even came to power; in other countries, Islamists were creating something from nearly nothing. In post-revolution Tunisia, the level of Islamization was remarkable, considering how much ground Islamists had to cover in such a short period of time. In Tunisia, Ennahda had been effectively eradicated in the early 1990s. After that, the group had no organized presence in the country, with its leaders in prison or in exile.
After the demise of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, the changing character of society was immediately apparent, with a growing number of Tunisians dressing, speaking, and living differently. Mosque preachers, not accustomed to large crowds, reported rows of the devout lining up for prayer. It was almost as if the removal of a dictator allowed society to return to a more natural equilibrium. Certainly, the return of Ennahda members and leaders to Tunisia helped spur these changes, but the party’s quick return to prominence reflected a seemingly widespread desire to reconnect with the country’s Islamic roots. Just months after Rachid Ghannouchi and other leaders returned, triumphant, to Tunis in early 2011, they won by a landslide in the country’s first elections, with 37 percent of the popular vote and 41 percent of the seats. (The second largest party, the secular Congress for the Republic, won only 8.7 percent of the vote and 13 percent of the seats.)
Tunisia, with its sizable middle class, high level of literacy, and one of the region’s best educational systems, was thought to be less hospitable to the specter of religious politics. Ennahda’s success couldn’t simply be explained by superior organization, as the party could claim virtually no preexisting organizational structures. To be sure, Ennahda members proved far more effective at campaigning than their secular counterparts. They drew on the legitimacy of their decades in prison under the previous regime. But they also drew on a latent Islamization of attitudes and a popular predisposition toward the mixing of religion and politics.
Immediately after the revolutions, Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia were careful to portray themselves as responsible actors. This relative sobriety was in constant tension with their stated, and unstated, ambitions for their respective societies. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, spoke of a comprehensive “civilizational” project. While this vague aspiration, embodied in the Brotherhood’s so-called Renaissance Project, had technocratic reform components, it also sought something more transformational. This part was less defined, in part because the Brotherhood had not given it the careful thought it deserved. Or perhaps, for them, it was so self-evident that it needn’t be detailed in a program. Within the framework of democracy, they hoped to offer a spiritual and philosophical alternative to Western liberalism. For Islamists as well as their liberal opponents, it was a question—one that was intensely personal—of how societies would be ordered. Any moral project could be counted on to intrude on private conduct and personal freedoms, on the very choices that citizens made, or didn’t make, on a daily basis.
In their original guise, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements believed in a bottom-up approach, beginning with the individual. The virtuous individual would marry a virtuous wife and, together, they would raise a virtuous family. Those families, in turn, would transform culture and society. Once society was transformed, the leaders and politicians would follow. No one was quite sure exactly what this looked like in practice—it had never actually been done before.
Taking the long view, the struggle for and within political Islam is not just important for understanding the evolution of Arab societies; it is important for what it can tell us about how beliefs and ideology are mediated and altered by the political process. At the end of history, Francis Fukuyama wrote, “the state that emerges … is liberal insofar as it recognizes and protects through a system of law man’s universal right to freedom, and democratic insofar as it exists only with the consent of the governed.” But what Fukuyama failed to grapple with is whether a state could claim the latter without enjoying the former. The question here is whether the democratic process, in the long run, will blunt the ideological pretensions of Islamist groups, forcing them to move to the center, back into the confines of the liberal democratic consensus.
In the modern period, religiously based states are rare. The few that do exist, or have existed, do not have a good track record. Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the obvious examples, but they are of limited value in making sense of Islamism after the Arab Spring. None of them were democratic. Although they enjoyed various degrees of popular support, there was no, in Fukuyama’s words, real consent of the governed. In contrast, Islamist parties today are interested in fashioning religiously oriented states through democratic means and maintaining them through democratic means. They took this to levels of near self-parody in Egypt, where elections became a sort of crutch. Whenever the Brotherhood faced a crisis, its immediate instinct was to call for elections, thinking that electoral legitimacy would stabilize Egypt and solidify its rule. (It didn’t.)
Throughout the 20th century, alternative ideologies, such as socialism, communism, and Christian Democracy, all attempted to secure power through the ballot box. But these were movements with built-in limitations. Islamist groups, particularly insular and secretive ones like the Brotherhood, are divisive for other reasons, but they do not struggle with the same limitations. The vast majority of Arabs have no a priori ideological opposition to Islamism as such. Most, after all, support a prominent role for Islam and Islamic law in political life. On the other hand, the natural constituencies of socialists and Christian Democrats—workers and social conservatives, respectively—were inherently limited. To win elections, these movements needed to de-emphasize ideology and move to the center, where presumably the median voter would be found. This is how democratization produced ideological moderation, leading many analysts to assume that the same process might tame Islamist parties.
* * *
Where it is allowed to proceed, democratization will reorient political life in Arab societies. But how? In a country like Tunisia, the center of Arab politics shifted to the right. In Egypt, it shifted to the right before retreating in the face of mounting opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists more generally.
Some “liberal” Islamists have made the case that religion should no longer be such a divisive issue. During his insurgent campaign for president, former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh explained it this way to a Salafi television channel: “Today those who call themselves liberals or leftists, this is just a political name, but most of them understand and respect Islamic values. They support the sharia and are no longer against it.” In a creative attempt at redefinition, Abul Futouh noted that all Muslims are, by definition, Salafi, in the sense that they are loyal to the Salaf, the earliest, most pious generations of Muslims. He seemed to be saying: We are all, in effect, Islamists, so why fight over it?
Abul Futouh, for all his purported liberalism, believed that the Egyptian people (and perhaps all Muslim-majority populations) had a natural inclination toward Islam. Here, the tensions between liberalism and majoritarianism became more evident. When I asked Abul Futouh in 2006 what Islamists would do if parliament passed an “un-Islamic” law, he dismissed the concern: “Parliament won’t grant rights to gays because that goes against the prevailing culture of society, and if [members of parliament] did that, they’d lose the next election,” he said. “Whether you are a communist, socialist, or whatever, you can’t go against the prevailing culture. There is already a built-in respect for sharia.”
Over the course of my interviews in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia—both before and after the Arab Spring—this particular sentiment was repeated so often that it began to sound like a cliche: freedom and Islamization were not opposed but rather went hand in hand. As Salem Falahat, the former general overseer of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, once told me, “If they have the opportunity to think and choose, [the Arab and Muslim people] will choose Islam. Every time freedom expands among them, they choose Islam.” In other words, Islam didn’t need to be enforced. The people, to the extent they needed to, would enforce it themselves—through the binding nature of the democratic process.
This notion has a long pedigree in Islamic thought: The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “My umma [community] will not agree on an error.” Depending on where exactly you stand on the political spectrum, this sort of belief in the wisdom of crowds is either reassuring and somewhat banal or mildly frightening. It either hints at a new conservative consensus or at an exclusionary politics that has little space for liberal dissent.
Putrajaya must be transparent about the circumstances that led to flight MH70 vanishing two months ago, and should apologise for shortcomings in the search for the missing plane, the husband of one of the passengers wrote in an open letter to the prime minister.
K. S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on the Malaysia Airlines plane with 238 other people, said the families have lost their loved ones but Malaysia had lost its credibility in the search for the Boeing 777-200ER.
“Perhaps the most serious casualty second only to the loss of the plane is the severely impaired credibility of your Government and the airline’s handling of the crisis.
“The skimpy Preliminary Report released to the public this week, supposedly based on your guidelines does little to enhance your government’s commitment to transparency, and therefore only adds fuel to doubts, suspicion and speculations,” he wrote in an email to Datuk Seri Najib Razak dated May 4, 2014.
Narendran, an Indian citizen, also asked Najib to act like a statesman in the hunt for the plane, which has yet to be found after going missing on March 8, 2014, while en route to Beijing.
“I have heard you speak thrice now, the first time on 15th March when you referred among other things to the MH370′s ‘turn back’ as ‘deliberate action’ by someone on the plane, then on 24th March when you delivered an unpalatable, cryptic message that MH 370 had ended in the Indian ocean, and a third time a little over a week ago – you in conversation with Richard Quest wherein you spoke of mistakes made.
“Each time, I experienced you as measured, sombre in a way that could be easily taken as sincere, and as a man with good intentions. You and perhaps your managers have ensured that you are statesman-like. The time has come now for you to actually be the part,” he wrote in the email.
Narendran asked the prime minister “to go deeper into what was unprecedented and when did the event enter unprecedented territory or proportions.”
“This will help separate the misjudgements and negligence of your civil aviation and military establishments from very early in the MH 370 saga: these we know from history have precedents and were avoidable.
“The rest that followed has confounded the best among experts. Therefore to invoke the lack of precedent and disclaim any direct responsibility all the way is being somewhat disingenuous,” he added.
He said that the findings could help avoid a repeat of the incident, adding that “for Malaysia’s sake and for the sake of the affected families is a sincere, heartfelt apology that things have come to such a pass.
“I would imagine that for wounded Malaysian pride, it will serve as a point from which to refashion a new set of commitments unto itself and people at large.
“For the families of passengers, it might begin a healing process and a fresh start free of rancour, accusation and suspicion,” Narendran said in the email.
He also urged Putrajaya to be transparent about the investigations into the lost plane.
“My hypothesis is that the lack of transparency that has come to define your government’s engagement with the rest of the world is because your government wants to hold onto a pretence of competence, mask the guilt and shame of initial lapses and a fear of the scorn and contempt that may be heaped on it from round the world.
“The burden of this only grows. The burden of a heavy conscience will weigh on your people for a long time if you fail to not own up,” he added.
Narendran also asked for an apology to the families of passengers and crew aboard the plane.
His wife, Chandrika, was the executive secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fish Workers and was heading to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to attend a regional conference for Asia and the Pacific hosted by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
The couple have one daughter.
“A heartfelt apology to my mind is an admission of direct responsibility for a set of lapses that were entirely within the control of the government and the airline, taking responsibility for consequences of such responsibility, holding oneself publicly accountable for the conduct of the search and rescue/recovery, invoking humility to include or hand over to others who are competent some or all parts of the investigation, and being facilitative of the families access to detailed information at every stage.
“No doubt there is a price to pay. It must be paid. However, an apology and an appeal for forgiveness would enhance Malaysia’s standing amongst nations and peoples in a way that no amount of protestations or grandstanding will,” he added.
Narendran said for the families, “a lot rides on how diligently and persistently your government pursues the truth through investigation, how compassionate it is towards all the affected, and how humble and receptive it is in taking the waves of criticism from interested parties.
“It needs to measure up to the international benchmarks of transparency, public scrutiny and challenge, and assure the sceptical world that there is indeed no cover-up, no attempt to be creative or economical with the truth. After all, the world is watching, waiting…,” he said.
Narendran said that while the truth sometimes hurt, it would also be liberating.
“The loss of trust I alluded to earlier threatens this for me personally and I suspect for many others. It is disturbing to consider that self-centred deceit and duplicity to get ahead, move on, or self-preservation could be at work in the present instance.
“We do need a fresh start here, Mr Prime Minister. You have a part to play in shaping what we believe in, and what world we create. For us to trust you and your government, we need you too to take a leap of faith and do what is right and not just what is safe.
“So cast aside the cravings and compulsions of office and try being the statesman. Malaysia will emerge stronger, and others would be willing to give it another chance in due course,” he said in ending the letter to the prime minister.
On May 5, 2014, the first anniversary of the 13th general election, Malaysians were torn by grave disillusionment with the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for a year of failed policies and the dire prospect of a break-up of Pakatan Rakyat over hudud.
The next day, the beginning of the second year of Najib’s second administration as prime minister, could not have started on a more ominous note, heralding that Malaysia is heading for a new dark age.
This is with all the grandiloquent pledges and slogans of 1Malaysia, World’s Best Democracy and Government Transformation Programme being consigned to the dustbins of history and replaced by undemocratic, repressive, unjust and draconian rule.
In the morning, the Pakatan/DAP MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok was charged in a sessions court in Kuala Lumpur with sedition for her Chinese New Year “Onederful Malaysia” video, a 11-minute clip lampooning and criticising various failures of government policies.
It is supreme irony that one of the five criticisms in her video alleged to be seditious was about the security situation in East Sabah, especially after the abduction of the Taiwan tourist in an island resort off Semporna in November last year.
And, on the morning that Kok was charged, news was received of another abduction of a Chinese national, in a nearby island off Lahad Datu at 2.45am the same day!
Kok was telling the truth, but telling the truth has become sedition in Najib’s 1Malaysia, fopr the prime minister has forgotten his promises to repeal the draconian and colonial Sedition Act.
Kok’s prosecution for sedition is meant to serve as a warning by the Najib administration to all critics, whether from Pakatan, civil society or the ordinary citizens, that they face the possibility of being charged with sedition – not for telling lies and falsehoods or inciting hatred and conflict – but for legitimate criticism of the BN government for its failures and weaknesses.
Worst seditious statements of late
But irony of ironies, yesterday saw the fulmination of the most and worst seditious statements in recent memory – as testified by the following media headlines:
1. Isma: Chinese migration into Tanah Melayu ‘a mistake” which must be rectified (Malay Mail Online)
2. Chinese are intruders who bully Malays, says Isma (Malaysiakini)
3. Chinese brought to Tanah Melayu are ‘trepassers’, says Muslim group (The Malaysian Insider)
4. If Christians continue to grow, they will outnumber us by 2100, says Muslim group (The Malaysian Insider)
5. Undercover Christian priests here as football coaches, Muslim NGOs tell forum (The Malaysian Insider)
6. Books warning Muslims about ‘Christian agenda’ distributed at Allah forum in university (The Malaysian Insider)
7. Gospels are ‘fake’ as Jesus was ‘human slave to Allah’, don claims (Malay Mail Online)
8. NGO warns of Christian Malays posting as Muslims (Malaysiakini)
Never before in more than four decades has the fabric and integrity of the multi-racial and multi-religious character of the Malaysian nation been undermined by such irresponsible spewing of racial and religious hatred and conflict, threatening to plunge Malaysia into a new dark age.
The impunity and immunity of the perpetrators of these merchants of hate in our multi-racial and multi-religious community is all the more incredible, as it goes against the very grain of Najib’s 1Malaysia signature policy and the Global Movement of Moderates that he had launched as prime minister.
Why has Najib given full and free play to the merchants of hate, lies and falsehoods to perpetrate their worst to tear the Malaysian nation asunder?
It would appear that there are two movements under Najib as prime minister, the Global Movement of Moderates, which is good for national and international image, but which has little traction and progress to boast about; and the Movement of Racist and Religious Extremists, which is allowed full liberty to vent racist and religious venom, fully seditious and subversive of the very fabric and integrity of Malaysian unity and society.
Najib must take a clear stand: is he with the moderates or the extremists, as is he for 1Malaysia or for the very antithesis of 1Malaysia?
While the world’s attention has been riveted on Ukraine and what move an emboldened Vladimir Putin will make next, diverse threats to democracy have intensified on other fronts as well. The story is not new. According to Freedom House, 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which more countries experienced declines in political rights or civil liberties than improvements. Since 2005, democracy has ceased its decades-long expansion, leveling off at about 60 percent of all independent states. And since the military coup in Pakistan in 1999, the rate of democratic breakdowns has accelerated, with about one in every five democracies failing.
The downfall of several Arab autocracies in 2011 seemed to augur a new burst of democratic progress, but that progress has not materialized. While Tunisia has emerged as the first Arab democracy in 40 years, Egypt is more repressive now than at any time in the last decade of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Since the end of 2010, more Arab countries have regressed in freedom and political pluralism than have advanced.
The democratic recession we’re witnessing has been particularly visible in big “swing states”—the non-Western countries with the largest populations and economies. Since the late 1990s, democracy has broken down in Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Kenya. The Philippines is the one relative bright spot in the group today, with a democratically elected president, Benigno Aquino, committed to serious governance reforms. Russia has become not just a venal and despotic state, but a neo-imperial menace to its neighbors as well. Nigeria has reverted back to tragic levels of political kleptocracy and fraud, feeding political polarization, ethnic resentment, citizen alienation, and an increasingly virulent Islamic terrorist movement in the north. The grip of “Bolivarian socialism” has weakened in Venezuela as governance has deteriorated, violence has exploded, and the opposition has unified behind a liberal challenger first to Hugo Chávez and then to his designated successor. But it will be a pyrrhic victory for democrats if the Chavista regime falls and social order collapses alongside it.
In January, democracy in Bangladesh suffered a major setback when the principal opposition party boycotted parliamentary elections after the ruling party abandoned neutral arrangements for electoral administration, and trust between the two parties collapsed. While Freedom House judges that democracy has returned to Pakistan, Kenya, and Thailand, these governments are so illiberal and corrupt that it is difficult to say what exactly they are.
In Thailand, enmity between the “yellow shirt” urban, middle-class backers of the monarchy and the “red shirt” partisans of populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has paralyzed the government and increasingly veered toward violence. Instability has been a chronic issue since the military ousted Thaksin in 2006, suspending the country indefinitely between resilient majority support for Thaksin’s party and the yellow-shirt camp’s continuing control of key levers of the “deep state.” Since November, more than 20 people have been killed and over 700 injured in fevered street confrontations between the two camps. And the worst may be yet to come. In January, one Red Shirt militant vowed, “I want there to be lots of violence to put an end to all this…. It’s time to clean the country, to get rid of the elite, all of them.” As in Nigeria, renewed military intervention won’t solve the country’s problems. Yet if things continue to degenerate, the military is waiting in the wings.
During his 11 years in power, Turkey’s domineering prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has managed to politically neutralize the military and the independent press, along with many other countervailing forces in politics and society. Those who hoped his authoritarian drift might be slowed by local elections in late March were severely disappointed, as his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a convincing victory across Turkey’s municipalities. Erdogan’s victory speech that night was anything but magnanimous. He threatened those who had exposed the mounting corruption of his government (and reportedly his own family), assured his supporters that “we are the owners of this country,” and portrayed his victory as a “full Ottoman slap” to all his opponents.
As Erdogan prepares to run either for prime minister or president (if he can amend the constitution to enhance the latter’s powers), Turkey is in deepening trouble. Journalists fear to report the truth, and with good reason; more of them are jailed in Turkey than in any other country. Businesses fear to support opposition parties, judges fear to rule against the ruler, and the AKP—long hailed in the West for its success in reconciling Islam and democracy—is increasingly looking like an old-fashioned hegemon bent on securing its dominance. With every passing day, Turkey looks more like the fake democracy of Malaysia than any real democracy in Europe. Meanwhile, Malaysia failed to record the democratic breakthrough many expected in 2013. Even though the opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, won a clear majority of the vote in general elections, brazen gerrymandering and over-representation of ruling-party strongholds nullified the preference of most Malaysians.
Nor should we take India, the world’s biggest democracy, for granted. In the parliamentary elections that are rolling across the sub-continent between early April and mid-May, a great pageant of democratic choice and accountability is once again unfolding on a scale never before seen in human history. It is happening largely free of violence, and with impressive administrative skill. And it will do what democracy should: Punish the corrupt, under-performing incumbents by evicting them from power. But the likely victory of the opposition BJP will bring to power a paradox. In his 12 years as chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has not only delivered vigorous economic development, but also a style of politics so intolerant of criticism, so demanding of fawning obedience, that many Indian liberals now shudder at the prospect of his becoming prime minister.
The news is not all bad. 2014 is a year of critical elections in many places. In Indonesia, many democrats are pinning their hopes on the dynamic reformist mayor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, who is the odds-on favorite to win the presidency. In South Africa, the spiraling corruption and lackluster performance of the ANC and its leader, President Jacob Zuma, is spawning more pluralistic politics and growing support for the liberal opposition, the Democratic Alliance. Even Afghanistan seems to be in the midst of a reasonably credible and popular electoral process that will produce a significantly more purposeful president than Hamid Karzai.
In the long run, economic development, globalization, and the growth of civil society will induce democratic change in a number of autocracies, including China and Vietnam, and, well before them, Singapore and Malaysia. But if democracy cannot be reformed and revived in the world’s key swing states, the “long run” will be a lot further off than it need be—and the near term won’t be hospitable to the advance of freedom.
Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and directs the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University
The Diplomat’s Jarni Blakkarly spoke recently with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim about the likelihood that he will return to jail, political oppression in Malaysia, and the upcoming visit to Malaysia by U.S. President Barack Obama.
You’ve recently had your prior acquittal on sodomy charges overturned by the courts and been sentenced to five years in jail. As this case has been going back and forth for many years now, how likely do you think it is that you will find yourself behind bars again?
Looking at the names of the judges and the way they expedited the process, they even disallowed me to ask for just a few days to get medical documents. So looking at the judgment I think it is clearly fundamentally flawed, because they did not deal with the facts that were abused. So I think that it is clear that the executive is acting under the instruction of their political masters.
Therefore I’m not too optimistic that I will get a fair hearing and I think that it is a foregone conclusion. Notwithstanding we are of course doing our very best to get the best team of lawyers to expose the whole fiasco in the courts. Since Karpal Singh died in the accident I am now faced also with the problem of getting new lead counsel.
So you do think it is quite likely you will go to jail again?
Yes. In fact colleagues I was with in London for the Al Gore group meeting as well as some friends and Muslim groups in the U.K., all of them without hesitation tried to persuade me to remain in London instead of coming back. They all know and assume that because of the opaque system here and the judiciary that I will go to prison. But I said to them, thank you very much, but I have made my decision, I will continue the fight from within Malaysia.
What do you think will be the political ramifications if you are sent to prison? Would we see Refomasi-like protests on the streets again?
Well the system is still oppressive and there are serious signs of it. It’s not just me and Karpal Signh they are trying to haul to prison, but also a few other MPs, assemblymen, party leaders and protest leaders and I think this trend will continue. Therefore you are giving people hardly any option for recourse. Where do you go if you have a problem? Are you going to go to the courts? You will not get a fair trial. So I think what the authoritarian leaders fail to realize is that there is a limit to what people and the society can endure.
However I think with the ineptitude in dealing with MH370, the international community and the international media are becoming aware of the opaqueness of the system and the failure of governance. So I think we are left with no option but to demand our rights not within the prescribed method of elections that are fraudulent or the courts.
So are you saying that Pakatan will be calling people to the streets if you are sent to jail again?
Well I’m not suggesting that; that is for people to decide. For now we are just organizing a series of meetings to explain what is going on. As you know, even the funeral of Karpal Singh—one of the great opposition leaders and icons—was not reported at all in the mainstream media. And during the final funeral possession not one leader from the ruling party or the government attended, so you can see the tendency to consider opposition leaders as the enemies of the state and I think it is very unhealthy. I can’t predict exactly what will happen. There is also this movement on the first of May for example. There is already this call to protest in opposition to new taxation, fraudulent elections, and the beginning for Reformasi 2.0 will be on the first of May.
Do you think the persecution of politicians like yourself, Karpal Singh prior to his death, Tian Chua and other politicians is strengthening or weakening the positions of Barisan National?
I think that when they become more desperate they become more ruthless and this series of measures is unprecedented. We’ve seen it under Mahathir, we’ve seen it under Abdullah, but under Najib now it has gotten worse. The number of people denied entry to Sabah and Sarawack, even during a by-election, can you believe this? The election commission is just completely muted, when party leaders are denied entry to come and campaign, because they say this is the law, but this is the Election Commission acting like a small government department.
Now for example the number of MPs and State Assemblymen being hauled to court over unlawful assembly and sedition just keeps on increasing. It is also a sign of desperation, when the ruling party becomes weak they will resort to creating this enemy of the state business. I mean I’m for now [not being called] an “American CIA agent” only because Obama’s visiting. So now they are downplaying the American agent thing. In fact the ruling party UMNO’s paper Utusan even inferred that the MH370 is the work of the Americans and the CIA. They have now downplayed that too because of the Obama visit.
Do you think the ongoing infighting within your own party PKR will end after the party elections this coming month or will they continue?
These are democratic elections, there are of course major contenders for all the seats and all the major positions, which is very healthy. Initially in the formative period you have this consensus among the whole team of leadership. Now there are more qualified personnel, they are more critical and the environment is very democratic and I believe we will go through this process. Sure it will be messy and some may feel a bit disheartened but we are going through this, there may be one or two that say goodbye, but the rest will continue. But what is important to see is this huge groundswell of people coming to vote because it is the only party in the country that had one member, one vote.
Isn’t disunity within PKR a worrying sign for the unity of the broader opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition?
I can’t see that, just because there are competing groups and factions vying for the deputy presidency or challenging the incumbent – I don’t read this as a sign of division. We have had problems with the leadership in the state of Selangor in the past and there have been criticisms, but still during the by-elections it went very smoothly and the whole party was together intact during the past month and I don’t foresee any problems. Because this is a democratic party, which is not too familiar here within the ruling establishment, we allow everyone to give their own agenda, speeches, and public meetings. That is not a sign of disunity; that’s a sign of healthy competition in a democratic party.
At the last general election you said that you would stand down if Pakatan lost. Do you have any plans for retirement or will you be leading the coalition in the 14th General Election?
I don’t know; GE 14 is some way to go. For now, I am the leader coordinating the efforts of the opposition. Yes, I did say that in the event we lose the election I would retire, but we won the election, both the popular votes and the seats had there not been this fraudulent Election Commission. Thirty seats would have been won without early voting. Thousands of voters came in five days early and all the ballot boxes were kept under police custody and there was no monitoring by any other people. Then when these votes are being counted eighty percent go to the government. It’s not reflective of any of the constituencies.
So well technically, yes we lost, not that we accepted the result, but we said well we have to move on otherwise there will just be chaos. However this has not been reciprocated by Najib and his administration and their display of arrogance is just excessive. They know the votes we got, and they only blame the ethnic Chinese. Until today all calls for meetings with the prime minister or leaders of the government have been rejected. Can you talk about democracy when the leader of the opposition cannot have one minute of air time on television? Cannot have any meetings with any ministers?
So there are no plans for retirement then?
No, of course, I’ve been going on some time. Just because they are putting me in prison now I can’t announce my retirement. If I retired during the Federal courts deliberation then they would say it is a matter of conceding defeat. I have to then declare that I will fight.
The protests around GE 13 have died down and your move to become Selangor Chief Minister has been blocked by your conviction. Faced with at least another four years now till the next general election, what are the plans for Pakatan?
Well the general mood is not just to be complacent and wait for the next election; we should challenge the corrupt system now. That is why we are having this rally on the first of May and we will continue having rallies. Rallies to question the attempts by the Election Commission to reinforce the strength and dominance of UMNO through the re-delineation of constituencies, which is going to be crudely and clearly favoring the ruling party. Also the introduction of the GST, I’ve always seen the GST as a taxation system as transparent and efficient but not when there is so much wastage and so much corruption. Whereby the Attorney General’s remarks suggest that there is almost close to twenty billion ringgit in leakages, you can’t start by talking about taxes. You should start by talking about wiping out corruption and the amassing of wealth by the UMNO leaders and their cronies. These issues are now being highlighted and we are just focused on the next elections and challenging the authoritarian regime now.
Since your move to become Menteri Besar [Chief Minister] of Selangor has been blocked, what are your plans personally, moving forward?
I’ll continue the same. I’ve never been Menteri Besar. I’ve been out of prison since 2004, I’m still leader of the opposition, I’m still general advisor to Keadilan [PKR], Azizah [Wan Ismail] is still the president now. Today I stepped aside, the UMNO leaders they think there is going to be a contest between Anwar and [his wife] Azizah. They get very excited and will drown the country with talk of division between husband and wife. The reason is of course purely legal because UMNO used the judiciary to first deny me a seat at the state elections and now to deny me the post of president in the party. I was prepared to take the risk personally but then they would use the Register of Societies to deregister the party
PKR and Pakatan in general had a very poor showing in East Malaysia at the last election. Why is it that East Malaysians are so hesitant to embrace Pakatan? What if anything will be done differently leading up to Sarawak’s state election next year and further on into GE14?
Well I think the question assumes that everything is clean, that the electoral process is transparent, which it is not. When you’re dealing with the rural heartland, the Dayak, the Bajau and the Kadazans, [they] do not have the alternative media. At least in the urban base we won 90 per cent of the seats, including in Sabah and Sarawak. Primarily because people have the choice and they do not rely on the mainstream media, which is controlled by the government. You’re talking about the rural heartland, they don’t have that alternative. Secondly they are the poorest and most vulnerable and 500 ringgit handouts by the government affects them. But there have been major inroads into Sabah and Sarawak and understand that there has never been that sort of a challenge in the past.
We have leaders that can’t go and campaign, we have had one after the other being denied entry into Sabah and Sarawak. So these curbs are being put in place because they know people are coming to listen. I don’t have a problem gathering crowds in Sabah and Sarawak which means people are now eager, and there is a hunger for information, news and change. But I do concede it is more problematic because we don’t have the alternative media and secondly because the grinding poverty which makes them vulnerable to government power.
It has been reported that U.S. President Barack Obama won’t be meeting with you on his visit to Malaysia later this week. Is this a disappointment? And would you like to see the us become more involved in promoting democracy in Malaysia?
The U.S., Australia and Europe have been harping on about democracy and freedom. My view has been quite well known that there should be a consistent and coherent message. You can’t be like the Australians sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and then being completely muted when there are efforts for example to forestall democratic reforms in your own neighborhood. So our expectation of President Obama particularly after the very significant Cairo address is to give a clear, consistent and coherent message. Meeting Anwar is not the issue here but give a clear consistent message—that was our message in meeting with Susan Rice and we will keep sending key prominent party leaders to meet her with that message.
For example in his visit to Burma last year Obama met with Aung San Su Kyi and there was in a way a recognition that she was a leader in waiting and that there are fundamental flaws in the democratic system. Is that what you were hoping to see in Obama’s visit to Malaysia?
Yes of course, because if you are true to your foreign policy objectives then you cannot ignore the expression of 52 per cent of the Malaysian population and pretend that nothing is happening, everything is all right, this is a moderate Muslim country, democracy is at work and everything is all right like some of the Australian leaders express when they come here. This is not something that would be well received by the general public here. But I would say that Susan Rice clarified by her remarks in D.C. some days back said that though they are not meeting [me] there will be some clarity of the message, which means I think they will be true to the consistent position of the United States in promoting democracy and freedom.
Why is it that you think the U.S. have been inconsistent with their message in Malaysia? Do you think it is out of concern for Chinese influence in Malaysia and the region?
I’m not sure of the reason, but of course Obama is obsessed about the TPPA. Najib is quite unique in that he supports virtually every single policy objective or initiative of the U.S. Whether it is sending troops or civilians to support in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Iranian nuclear program, or the TPP, I think Najib has been consistent in supporting the U.S. line and therefore they see him as a very important major ally and as always they will be willing to close one eye when it comes to political oppression, as of course we have seen in U.S. relations with [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak in the recent past.
The Jakarta visit on the 2nd and 3rd May 2014 was organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) where DSAI is currently a board member.
DSAI arrived in Jakarta around noon on the 2nd and was greeted by Mr Adi Sasono who was the former Co-operative Minister for Indonesia under Soeharto’s era.
At 3pm, DSAI delivered an Executive Lecture at the Al-Azhar University of Indonesia (UAI) entitled “Islamic Value and the Revival of the Muslim Ummah” together with Prof Dr Ir Sardy Sar (UAI Rector) and chaired by Dr Hamad Lubis (Deputy Rector Academic). The former Indonesian ambassador to Jordan, Mr Zaenul Baharnur was also present. The lecture centred on the importance of Muslims to practice a discipline of knowledge, whereby the excellence in science and technology should always be laced with the inculcation of Islamic values.
At 5pm, DSAI engaged the District Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah) on a dialogue entitled “Kebangkitan Asia dan Dinamika Integrasi Global”. He was introduced by the DPD speaker Mr Irman Gusman and Mr Farhan Hamid who is the Deputy Speaker of MPR (Majlis Pemesyuaratan Rakyat). Mr Irman expressed the support of Indonesians for him. In his speech, DSAI lauded the culture of Indonesia that values tolerance and stressed on the importance to elevate leaders based on ideas and not personality, the importance of democracy and a free, liberalised economy.
On the 3rd of May at 930am, DSAI attended a closed door meeting with Muslim Organisations at the Dewan Dakwah Islamiah (DDI) together with Mr Wahid Alwi (Deputy Leader DDI), Mr Kamarudin Jaafar (from PAS Malaysia), Mr Shabrimi Sidek (IIIT Malaysia co-ordinator), Mr Adi Sasono and Mr Amidi Abdul Manan (ABIM President). The meeting was to re-invigorate relations and also to discuss current issues in Malaysia.
There are no ideologues in a financial crisis, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke once said. Clearly the same doesn’t hold true for political crises, as a comparison of Malaysia and South Korea very quickly reveals.
Tragedy has struck both nations in recent weeks, their travails played out in horrifying detail on the world’s television screens. Fairly or unfairly, the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner and the desperate attempt to rescue and now recover victims from the sunken Sewol ferry are being viewed as tests of the governments in Putrajaya and Seoul, if not of Malaysian and South Korean societies. The grades so far? I’d give Korea an A-, Malaysia a D.
In the two weeks since the Sewol tipped over and sank — almost certainly killing 302 passengers, most of them high school students — Korea has been gripped by a paroxysm of self-questioning, shame and official penitence. President Park Geun Hye issued a dramatic and heartfelt apology. Her No. 2, Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, resigned outright. Prosecutors hauled in the ship’s entire crew and raided the offices of its owners and shipping regulators. Citizens and the media are demanding speedy convictions and long-term reforms.
And Malaysia, 55 days after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished? Nothing. No officials have quit. Prime MinisterNajib Razak seems more defiant than contrite. The docile local news media has focused more on international criticism of Malaysia’s leaders rather than on any missteps by those leaders themselves.
Both countries are democracies — Malaysia’s even older than South Korea’s. The key difference, though, is the relative openness of their political systems. One party has dominated Malaysia since independence, while Korea, for all its growing pains and occasional tumultuousness, has seen several peaceful transfers of power over the past quarter-century. Unused to having to answer critics, Malaysia’s government hasresponded defensively. Korean officials, on the other hand, are reflecting, addressing the anger of citizens, and delving into what went wrong with the shipping industry’s regulatory checks and balances.
That’s why Korea is likely to come out of this crisis stronger than ever, unlike Malaysia. The two nations responded similarly after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, too. Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sought to prove Bernanke’s axiom wrong, bizarrely blaming some shadowy Jewish cabal headed by George Soros for the ringgit’s plunge. Malaysia didn’t internalize what had gone wrong or look in the mirror. It didn’t admit it had been using capital inflows unproductively and that coddling state champions — including Malaysia Airlines — was killing competitiveness. Never did the ruling United Malays National Organization consider it might be part of the problem.
Contrast that with Korea’s response to 1997. The government forced weak companies and banks to fail, accepting tens of thousands of job losses. Authorities clamped down on reckless investing and lending and addressed moral hazard head-on. Koreans felt such shame that millions lined up to donate gold, jewelry, art and other heirlooms to the national treasury.
South Korea’s response wasn’t perfect. I worry, for example, that the family-run conglomerates, or chaebol, that helped precipitate the crisis are still too dominant a decade and a half later. But the country’s economic performance since then speaks for itself.
Now as then, Korea’s open and accountable system is forcing its leaders to look beyond an immediate crisis. Ordinary Koreans are calling for a national catharsis that will reshape their society and its attitude toward safety. Park’s government has no choice but to respond.
Malaysia’s government, on the other hand, appears to be lost in its own propaganda. To the outside world, acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Husseinperformed dismally as a government spokesman: He was combative, defensive and so opaque that even China complained. Yet Hishammuddin is now seen as prime-minister material for standing up to pesky foreign journalists and their rude questions. The government seems intent on ensuring that nothing changes as a result of this tragedy.
As hard as it seems now, South Korea will move past this tragedy, rejuvenated. Malaysia? I’m not so sure.