- Malaysia’s democracy is in worse shape than we thought
- Photos: Huge crowds rallied against Malaysia’s leader—including a predecessor who helped put him in power
- Judge to recuse herself from Anwar’s pardon case
- Can we move forward with Bersih 4?
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:44 PM PDT
Malaysia’s pro-democracy rally shows a country deeply divided along ethnic lines.
The human sea of yellow swarming though the streets of Kuala Lumpur on the weekend looked, at first glance, like an overwhelming show of people power directed against a government and a prime minister deeply imperilled by political and financial scandals.
But the rally, smaller in number than hoped for and lacking a representative ethnic mix, served only to show that democracy in Malaysia is more troubled than many previously thought.
A splintered opposition failed to mobilise supporters on the scale hoped for and those who did turn up – and without a doubt, there were tens of thousands of them – were predominantly from the minority ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.
That these groups have legitimate concerns is a valid reason to protest. But to the large ethnic Malay support base of the beleaguered Prime Minister Najib Razak, this was a startling show of opposition towards the status quo and the rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition. This, of course, is exactly what Najib was hoping for.
Malay culture under threat?
The paucity of Malay protesters played directly into Najib’s hands, strengthening his core Malay support base with a mass visual display claiming that ethnic Malay heritage and culture are under threat.
The prime minister, who was not in Kuala Lumpur during the protest, deemed the protesters “shallow and poor in their patriotism and love for their motherland“. Malaysia’s ethnic groups, and thus Malaysia itself, are looking more and more divided.
The timing of the rally, which was the fourth held by the Bersih civil society group that campaigns for free and fair elections, is also no coincidence.
On Monday, Malaysia will celebrate Merdeka Day, the annual celebration marking its independence from Britain in 1957.
For those taking part in the rally, this patriotic holiday is a chance to look back at the past and focus on what kind of Malaysia people want for the future. For the government that has been the sole holder of power since independence, however, patriotism means a chance to display their Malay identity and reinforce the nationalist narrative that surrounds independence celebrations.
Public dissatisfaction has been brewing in Malaysia for the past months as the economy slows and political scandals escalate.
The street protests come amid allegations of Najib’s mismanagement of the debt-laden 1Malaysia Development fund (1MDB), a faltering economy with a plunging currency, and allegations of impropriety over a 2.6 billion Malaysian ringgit ($700m) “donation” deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts. Najib denies allegations that he used public money for personal gain.
In the lead-up to the protest, the government used almost every lever available to deter protesters. They ruled the rallies illegal, saying correct permissions had not been sought, banned internet sites that mentioned the protest, and even tried to ban the yellow shirts that were to become the colourful symbol of the protest.
These heavy-handed scare tactics may have served to keep some protesters away. But the rally’s failure to mobilise a crowd representative of Malaysia’s ethnic groups highlighted the widening religious and ethnic polarity in Malaysian politics, as well as the weakness of opposition groups plagued by infighting and disagreements over the place of religion in multiethnic Malaysia.
In the past, Bersih rallies could count on numbers mobilised by opposition parties for a good turnout. The Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), with one million members nationwide, is no longer part of the opposition after a fallout with former opposition allies, who represent mainly ethnic Chinese and Indian interests.
Perhaps the best result in the aftermath of the Bersih 4.0 rally is to instil in the ruling UMNO leadership a sense that the prime minister is no longer electable. But the UMNO party leadership conference, the forum that could vote him out as leader, has been delayed for 18 months.
The other hope is in a vote of no confidence that could be moved by opposition politicians when parliament resumes in October. However, it seems unlikely that it will garner enough support.
Malaysia has shown repeatedly that the prime minister does not need the people’s support to survive. Patronage politics is deeply ingrained, and the recent sackings of senior politicians are a stark reminder of what lies in store for those whose loyalty is questioned. For now, it seems Najib is likely to survive and lead his party into the next election.
Despite the show of force, with military hardware and armoured water cannon trucks lining the protest route, there was little violence and few arrests. Previous rallies saw street scuffles, the use of water cannon and tear gas along with hundreds of arrests.
Whether intentional or not, the Malaysian police have managed this rally with a light hand, perhaps driven by a belief that the protest is essentially harmless. After cracking down hard before the rally, the authorities seemed content to sit back, show the world that they can effectively manage public discontent – and then do nothing.
Democracy in Malaysia is the poorer for it.
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:42 PM PDT
This weekend tens of thousands protestors gathered in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere calling for political reform in Malaysia. They were joined twice by 90-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the nation for more than two decades and has—like many of the protestors—called for the removal of embattled prime minister Najib Razak, whom he helped put in power.
The rallies ended just before the nation's Independence Day, which takes place today (Aug. 31).
Najib is under pressure after last month's revelation that nearly $700 million found its way into his bank accounts shortly before the close-fought 2013 general election. He claimed the money was donated by an unnamed Arab family. He sacked his deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who called for the truth on 1MDB, and he's worked to silence publishers, journalists, and others.
The rallies called for clean elections, clean government, the right to dissent, a strengthened parliament, and the rescue of Malaysia's faltering economy. They were named Bersih, after the Malay word for "clean." Organizers put the number of protestors in Kuala Lumpur at 200,000 on Saturday and 300,000 on Sunday, while authorities—who had declared the rallies illegal beforehand—said the number was closer to 25,000.
With the gap between estimates so glaring, one post shared drone footage from an anonymous source showing the crowds from above.
Malaysians and their supporters were also marching around the globe, including in London, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and other cities:
The amounts involved in the transfers to Najib's accounts have captivated Malaysians being asked to tighten their belts to help reduce the nation's budget deficit. In April Najib's administration implemented a highly resented consumption tax of 6% on all goods and services. Late last year it removed subsidies for gasoline, diesel, and sugar, and it plans to continue cutting others, including for liquefied petroleum gas and cooking oil.
Meanwhile Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor—dubbed "the first lady of shopping"—has been likened to Imelda Marcos for her extravagant buying binges abroad.
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:36 PM PDT
Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Asmabi Mohamad has agreed to recuse herself from hearing Anwar Ibrahim’s judicial review application for him to challenge the Pardons Board petition disallowing his and his family’s petition for his pardon.
Justice Asmabi made the decision in her chambers after hearing submissions from lawyers Latheefa Koya and Shahid Adli Kamaruddin, as well as from senior federal counsel Suzana Atan.
With the decision today, the case for leave (permission) for judicial review will be heard before another judge.
“Basically, the judge agreed with the application and the ?matter will now be referred to the managing judge for it to be brought before another judge,” Latheefa (photo) said.
“Justice Asmabi gave the order in terms and no orderwas made on costs. She also recused herself in Anwar’s suit against Election Commission for not being allowed to vote in the Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election,” she added.
Anwar has applied to recuse Justice Asmabi on grounds that she was the senior federal counsel ?representing the government and then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his suit for unlawful dismissal and sacking when he was deputy prime minister in 1998.
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:35 PM PDT
The massive Bersih 4 rally that took place in the heart of Kuala Lumpur on on Aug 29 and 30 can be described as tremendous success considering the number of people who took part in it.
It is estimated about 500,000 people were involved and many spent the night sleeping on sidewalks and pavements. Bersih also took an international profile, with similar rallies held in some of the cities worldwide.
Yes, Bersih succeeded in highlighting its objectives of: reforming the corrupt and decadent electoral system, reviving institutions that have become defunct and most importantly, the removal of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for his involvement in massive corruption related to the disbursement of 1MDB funds.
Unlike earlier Bersih movements, this time there were no untoward incidents involving the police or other law enforcement agencies. The police were surprisingly well-behaved and disciplined.
The actual Bersih rally is over, at least for the time being. Whether Bersih 5 will take place or not will depend on the whether the government takes initiatives to speed up reforms in the country.
Of course, the hardest thing will be to expect Najib to resign from his post. There are no indications that Najib will resign from the pressure exerted by Bersih.
In fact, there are already overt and covert signs that Umno and other Malay extremist organisations will use the large presence of the Chinese in the rally to drum home the point that Bersih was a Chinese-initiated movement to topple the Malay leadership.
Former DAP vice-chairperson and the current adviser of MACC, Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim has provided a completely racial twist to the recent Bersih rally. He lamented that the large presence of Chinese in the rally indicated that it was attempt on the part of them to humiliate and dishonour Malays during Merdeka celebrations.
Needless to say, the sizeable presence of Malays and Indians probably, or conveniently, never caught the eyes of Tunku Aziz!
In the coming days, weeks and months leading up to Umno division general assemblies, we can expect Utusan Malaysia to build up and propagate its racial theories about how Chinese are going to take over the leadership from the hands of Malays, in other words from Umno.
Was Mahathir's presence of any help?
We can't say for sure whether the presence of the former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was something that was helpful to the Bersih movement as whole. The man who had nothing but contempt for protests and demonstrations suddenly turned to support the “cause of the rakyat” in this Bersih rally.
Mahathir said he supported the people’s cause but not Bersih. His attendance at Bersih 4 was a classic case of taking the opportunity to ride the wave to remove Najib and revive Umno, but he showed no interest in the reforms that the country badly needs.
Participants could have welcomed his presence, but are fully aware that his sole purpose in attending the rally was to revive Umno, an Umno that will behave and dance according to the tune he sets!
Now, with the rally over, what is going to happen? Are we going to expect major changes to the nature of the country’s administration? Will Najib’s days in office be numbered? There are no clear answers to these and many other questions that are foremost in the minds of Malaysians.
Changes not expected overnight
Bersih leaders do not expect changes to take place overnight as these will take time to gain momentum. But at least the Bersih leaders have played a role in bringing together thousands of Malaysians to the streets in wanting change and a better future for them and their children.
Bersih, whatever, its limitations, has defied norms by telling and emboldening Malaysians to come together as one in demanding for change. For Bersih, politics should not be left to the politicians, however, well-meaning they are.
Even if the majority of the participants were Chinese, it does not negate the fact that they were there as Malaysians and citizens. They did not flock together as a Chinese group organised by some Chinese leaders.
In fact, many of them members of the middle-class and not even members of the DAP! Sorry, DAP does not have the monopoly on how the Chinese behave.
Chinese and Indians were eager to participate not because they belong to particular ethnic groups, but because they are victims of the political, social and economic system. It is only normal for Chinese and Indians to take up a more active role in the Bersih movement, given their own predicament in the country.
Years of independence have not assured these two communities a meaningful place that they call it home. Often being reminded as “pendatang”, the stigma alone is enough to galvanise these two communities to spring to action!
It was noticeable that the lack of Malay participation was conspicuous in Bersih 4. In fact, Malay participation increased on the second day and a variety of factors were responsible for this.
First, the absence of PAS in Pakatan Rakyat was the major factor behind the lack of large-scale participation of Malays. Second, confusion in Malay circles about the split in PAS and the process toward the formation of a new party could have added a damper on their participation in Bersih 4.
Rally essentially an urban phenomenon
Third, related to this was the absence of concerted mobilising strategies on the part of the Malay opposition forces to galvanise Malay support for the Bersih rally. Fourth, the incarceration of Anwar Ibrahim in Sungei Buloh could be another reason why Malays were not mobilised enough.
Fifth, the Bersih rally was essentially an urban phenomenon. It was the inability to attract rural Malays that could explain why non-Malays outnumbered Malays!
In actual fact, examining the Bersih rally from the point of ethnicity does not make sense at all. Thousands of Malays, Chinese and Indians who attended the rally in yellow were merely interested in political change. They attended the rally only with this in mind. They did not go to Kuala Lumpur as Malays or Chinese or Indians.
They went as Malaysians and citizens of the country. It isunderstandable and not understandable as to why some so-called learned persons, like Tunku Aziz (photo), would stoop so low and beyond imagination to provide a racial twist.
Were Chinese, Malays and Indians there to question Malay political power in the hands of Umno? What about the speeches by some prominent Malay leaders? Were they there to question Malay political power?
Let us not question the integrity of Malaysians who took part in the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur. Let us not put Malaysians in the familiar and dangerous ethnic pigeon-holes!
It is the inability to capture of dynamics of societal interaction that allows racists and extremists to cast doubts and aspersions against a movement that has sprung up to take Malaysians to a new and more progressive level of thinking, away from the primordial sentiments!
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