Archive for December 31st, 2016

Malaysian Leader Najib Razak Promised Openness, but Dissent Over 1MDB Stifled

Wall Street Journal
Dec. 30, 2016

Government uses assortment of laws to silence critics of its handling of global scandal over state fund

KUALA LUMPUR—Graphic designer Fahmi Reza is facing up to two years in prison. His problem? He painted red clown lips on a picture of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and sent it around.

Mr. Najib pledged a new era of civic freedom when he came to power seven years ago in a country known for penalizing political foes. Instead, his government has become increasingly intolerant of critics as it tries to limit fallout from a sprawling corruption scandal related to a state economic-development fund.

International investigators believe associates of the prime minister siphoned billions of dollars from the fund, known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The U.S. Justice Department has moved to seize $1 billion of assets prosecutors say were purchased with money misappropriated from the fund.

Mr. Najib and 1MDB have denied wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with lawful investigations. The Malaysian attorney general early in 2016 cleared Mr. Najib of wrongdoing.

While pledging to investigate 1MDB fully, Mr. Najib’s government recently has silenced critics under an assortment of laws, arresting dozens. It has barred some from traveling abroad. The government also shut down a probe related to 1MDB by Malaysia’s anticorruption agency, which, according to a person familiar with the matter, had called for criminal charges against Mr. Najib. Read the rest of this entry »

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Democracy in Southeast Asia: A Conversation Between Michael Vatikiotis and Bridget Welsh

ASEAN Studies Program
The Habibie Center

[Journey through the ebbs and flows of democracy in ASEAN via a conversation between Michael Vatikiotis, a veteran journalist and writer living in Singapore, and Dr. Bridget Welsh, who is a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta. Their conversation on the state of democracy in Southeast Asia traces the history of the push for democracy in the different countries of the region, current challenges and future prospects. (This article is first published in special issue.)]

Michael Vatikiotis is a writer and journalist living in Singapore. After training as a journalist with the BBC in London, he moved to Asia and was a correspondent and then editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He has written two novels set in Indonesia.

Dr. Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University; a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta; and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Bridget Welsh (BW): Michael, why don’t you begin. Where do you think the state of democracy is in the region?

Michael Vatikiotis (MV): Well, if you take a glass half-full approach, then I suppose you would look at the long arch of history of democracy over the last 40 years. I argue that in many countries of Southeast Asia there has been a gradual improvement in the forms of governments that have begun to look more and more institutionally like functioning democracies.

So to break that down, you have of course a wave of democratization that began with the People’s Power revolution in the Philippines in mid-1980s which was itself an outgrowth of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in the mid-1970s that sparked what Samuel Huntington called the ‘third wave of democratization.’ This eventually reached the shores of Southeast Asia and manifested itself initially in left wing movements, student disruptions and protests in mid 1970s. Thailand saw a crackdown on student movements that led to people fleeing into the jungle and joining the communist insurgency. Similarly in Indonesia, there was the Malari incident which led to a crackdown on campus politics. In Malaysia too, there was a student agitation in the mid-1970s. By the early 80s things had come to a head in the Philippines with the implementation of martial law, the corruption of Marcos’ rule and the deep sense of unease that many people felt because of the way that they were treated by Marcos, either arrested, detained or worse. In 1983, with the murder of Benigno Aquino as he stepped out of a plane from Taiwan at Manila Airport, these finally weld up into a massive popular protest.

At the time I was a young journalist in BBC. I remember covering it from London, and it was a very exciting time, especially the whole notion of ‘people’s power.’ This was well before any of the colored revolutions that have taken place in this century. This was before the end of Cold War. It was also the very first time that CNN had covered this sort of story so far away with live camera shots of the protests. There was a sense that nothing like this had really happened before in postcolonial Southeast Asia. It was shown and reported in a very vivid manner and it also very quickly brought an end to very despotic ruler. Within a matter of weeks Ferdinand Marcos was on a plane to Hawaii.

As a side note, I think it was also very important time because up until the mid-1980s, the United States and other Western powers firmly back autocratic regimes because they were anti-communist. This changed with the ‘people’s power’ revolution on the streets of Manila. The color of the revolution was yellow, not red. You had this mild-mannered widow of Benigno Aquino who took over. She was not threatening. She didn’t seem to be communist. This allowed the United States and other Western powers to embrace a popular revolution without having to abandon their sort of anti-communist credentials. There was a sense of relief that they didn’t have to support an autocrat, because he was anti-communist. Read the rest of this entry »

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by Rev. Datuk Jerry Dusing
Borneo Today
December 25, 2016


As we bring 2016 to a close, we thank God for His love, blessings and protection on us throughout the year. We thank God for the strengthened unity amongst the Church and the people of Sabah of various beliefs.

In the midst of the political and economic challenges of our nation, this Christmas season reminds us that there is hope in God for Sabah and Malaysia. We are a Malaysian family and what we truly desire is for peace within us and amongst us.

The underlying chord that keeps us united as a family is our innate moral sense of love for one another, compassion, respect, honour, fairness, truthfulness and integrity endowed upon us by the Almighty.

These are the qualities of our nation’s moral soil that will allow us to dynamically progress as a pluralistic nation. We should continue to nurture our soil towards a stable political and economic structure now and for our children’s generation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Game Changers for 2017

Koon Yew Yin
31st December 2016

As we enter into 2017, I am hopeful that the new year will finally bring positive change to Malaysia. But this positive change must begin with voting out the BN government and the installation of a new government.

For now, we see the BN big guns using the media to criticise the opposition for being divided and lacking cohesion. They also allege that there is no agreement on who is to be Prime Minister if the opposition wins. Or which opposition party will take over which portfolio.

Frankly, I do not see these as being big issues or problems. In fact by raising them, it shows how frightened the BN is over the prospect of losing power so that they will use all kinds of scare tactics.

Don’t forget that in the last GE the opposition won more than 51% of total votes. BN ended up with more state and parliament seats because most of the Malay rural areas voted for UMNO. But in the next GE, we have Pribumi, headed by Dr. M, Keadilan headed by Anwar and Amanah headed by Mat Sabu and the PAS moderates.

I believe PAS will eventually work with the opposition when they realise UMNO is making use of them to win. In any case we will definitely have more Malay parties competing for the rural seats. Read the rest of this entry »


Corruption Trends in 2016: Southeast Asia’s Governance Plight

[Bridget Welsh highlights persistent corruption trend in Southeast Asia through revealing data, including the Asia Barometer Survey. Indeed, 2016 reveals that corruption remains a major challenge for the region emerging economies. (This article is published in Thinking ASEAN 2016 Kaleidoscope special issue)]

Serious corruption scandals continued to plague Southeast Asia as the monies involve reach record levels. In December 2015 Indonesians were riveted by the US$4 billion extortion attempt of Freeport McMoRan involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Setya Novanto. He later resigned amidst ethics concerns. Next door in Malaysia, the multi-billion 1MDB scandal has made headlines since July 2015. At issue are kleptocracy allegations against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak involving the deposit of nearly USUS$700 million deposited into his personal bank account, through an investment vehicle that has been tied to money-laundering and embezzlement being investigated in six international jurisdictions. The actual losses involved extend beyond US$3 billion. Najib clings to power to avoid international prosecution. In mainland Southeast Asia an assessment this year by Global Witness alleges that Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has taken at least US$200 million for his own personal use and claims that the actual amount pilfered may extend to above US$1 billion. He too appears to be using his office for protection and wealth. The amounts in the abuse of office for personal gain is just one of the many worrying trends involving corruption across the region. Read the rest of this entry »

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Message of wind-down of MACC special operations division is clear – MACC should catch more “ikan bilis” but leave the ‘ikan yus” alone!

2017 New Year Message

    In his 2016 New Year message exactly a year ago, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak told Malaysians that his RM50 billion 1MDB and RM2.6 billion donation twin mega scandals had been resolved and were no more issues.

    Najib could not be more wrong as Malaysia’s international repute and standing suffered an even worse battering this year with the ferocious pounding of the twin mega scandals in the international marketplace of opinion, to the extent that Malaysians felt embarrassed in admitting that they are Malaysians when abroad.

    In the past 12 months, Malaysia went from the third “worst corruption scandal of 2015” by international website in the last week of last year, to second worst example of global corruption by Time magazine in March, second place in the index of crony capitalism by the Economist’s ranking in May, and full-blown “global kleptocracy” when in July, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the largest kleptocratic lawsuits to forfeit US$1 billion of 1MDB-linked assets in the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland from US$3.5 billion international 1MDB kleptocratic embezzlement and money-laundering scandal.

    These were not the only woes for the country for this year – as the country is going through the worst multiple crisis of confidence as evidenced by the worst plummeting in the value of the Malaysian ringgit, the worst racial and religious polarisation in the nation’s history and the unspeakable shame in being excluded from Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)2015 because of data cheating and bungling by the Ministry of Education.

    We are ending the 2016 year with news of the downsizing of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) special operations division, which had handled high-profiled cases related to the 1MDB and Felda.

    The message is very clear – MACC should arrest and prosecute more “ikan bilis” but it should leave the “ikan yus” alone. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pensiangan Formula to address the political and constitutional stalemate created by UMNO’s support for Hadi’s private member’s bill motion on RUU355

An idea came to me during my visit to Pensiangan and Sook in the last three days on a formula which could address the political and constitutional stalemate which had haunted Malaysia for the best part of this year as a result of the initially surreptitious support of key UMNO leaders for PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Awang Hadi’s private member’s bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355).

I was visiting Pensiangan as part of my visit to the Sabah Interior which also include Tenom and Keningau together with DAPSY leader and Perak DAP State Assemblyman for Canning, Wong Kah Woh; National DAPSY Publicity Secretary Henry Shim; Sabah DAP Chairman and MP for Sandakan, Steven Wong; Sabah DAP Adviser and MP for Kota Kinabalu, Jimmy Wong; Sabah DAP Deputy Chairman and Sabah State Assemblyman for Kepayang Dr. Edwin Bosi; DAP Sabah Vice Chairman and Keningau DAP Branch Chairman Peter Saili; Sabah DAP Publicity Secretary Phoong Jin Zhe; Sabah DAP Director of Political Education, Adrian Lasimbang; Melalap DAP Branch Chairperson Grelydia Gillod; Pensiangan DAP Assistant Co-ordinators Clare Taunek and Robinson Rusikan.

The majority of the people in Tenom, Keningau and Pensiangan are Christians.

The MP for Pensiangan is Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of national unity.

But Kurup was not in any “national unity” mindset when he warned Putrajaya in May this year that Sabahans and Sarawakians may demand to split from peninsular Malaysia if Hadi’s private member’s bill is passed in Parliament.

Kurup said Hadi’s private member’s bill risks dividing East and West Malaysia and called for its withdrawal.

He said: “If it is forced into Parliament and passed, I’m afraid it will trigger more feelings among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways.

“They [Federal government] shouldn’t have the slightest thought of introducing this law.”

On the last day of the Budget meeting in November when Hadi’s private member’s bill was expected to come up again, the MCA mouthpiece, The Star, devoted the whole of its front-page to Hadi’s private member’s motion with the headline “Solid ‘NO’ to Hadi’s Bill”, featuring the quotes and pics from leaders of five Barisan Nasional leaders, namely from MCA, Gerakan, MIC, PBB and PBS. Read the rest of this entry »

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DAP Sabah to create a “political earthquake” in Sabah in 14th General Election through the ballot box to peacefully and democratically start the process of political change in Sabah and Malaysia

The message I have taken to Tenom, Keningau and Pensiangan in the past three days is to call on the people of the Sabah Interior to join the urban voters to create a “political earthquake” in the 14th General Election expected next year through the ballot box to peacefully and democratically start the process of political change in Sabah and Malaysia in order to save Sabah and to save Malaysia for our children and children’s children.

My three-day visit to Tenom, Keningau and Pensiangan with National DAPSY leader and Perak DAP State Assemblyman for Canning, Wong Kah Woh, in the company of the Sabah DAP Chairman and MP for Sandakan, Steven Wong, Sabah DAP Adviser and MP for Kota Kinabalu, Jimmy Wong and the Sabah DAP Deputy Chairman and Sabah State Assemblyman for Kepayang Dr. Edwin Bosi, has been an eye-opener for me.

I see the greatest contrasts in Sabah – its great wealth and rich natural resources on the one hand and the abject poverty and shocking socio-economic backwardness of the people, mired in a world-class system of corruption and kleptocracy!

Sabah’s own Watergate scandal has only sharpened and highlighted this immoral and unacceptable contrast in Sabah. Read the rest of this entry »

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