Sunday, 30 March 2014

Post Kajang By Election

Sin Chew Jit Poh
28 March 2014


The Kajang by election is now over. It did not capture the imagination of Malaysians as a whole because naturally we were more concerned about the fate of the tragic flight MH370. Now that it is all done and the PKR has won as expected, what can we learn from this little political episode?


Very little actually. The result was not a surprise as I don’t think many people thought that the BN would win. Neither did anyone really think that the BN would lose their deposit. Lim Kit Siang’s call for the by election to be a referendum against the BN and its treatment of Anwar Ibrahim was perhaps a tad optimistic. The fact of the matter is that the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim is not going to convince BN supporters to switch sides.


No matter how unjust it may seem to his supporters, the shock of his first trial and poor treatment at the hands of the authorities is something that lies in the past. The lines are now already drawn and those who support the Opposition and those who support the BN are more or less fixed as can be seen by the almost identical results of the Kajang by-election.


Of course both sides have decided to spin the results in their favour. The MCA claim that they are slowly getting back Chinese support while the PKR has pointed to the fact that they have obtained a bigger percentage of the votes and that there are signs that the Malay vote and the youth vote are in their favour.


They both may well be correct, however the numbers we are talking about are very small plus the low voter turnout also means that any analysis could not be very accurate. So where does this leave the political situation in Selangor?


Actually, as far as I can see it is back to square one. The whole reason that PKR forced the by election was to get Anwar into the Selangor state legislature and then hopefully have him appointed Menteri Besar. That can’t happen now and so everything remains the same as before.


Anwar cannot be the white knight to take over the state government and in doing so be on hand to directly deal with the sensitive political situations that their enemies will be raising (like the Allah issue). Neither could he now be the head man and therefore put an end to the supposed Azmin/Khalid rivalry.


We are left exactly where we started except a lot of time, expense and effort has gone into a by-election. What happens now is completely up to the PKR and their Pakatan partners. If there is a feud in PKR between Azmin and Khalid, are they going to let it get out of hand? Will the lust for power get in the way of the bigger picture? And what is the bigger picture? It is both pragmatic and ideological.


The pragmatic aspect is to continue to show the country that the Pakatan can rule (albeit at the state level) and do a good job of it. On the ideological level, it is up to them to show that they are concerned more about the positive development of the country rather than any petty political infighting and power grabbing.


It sounds so simple, but human nature has a way of making simple things complicated. The ball is now in the Pakatan’s court. It is up to them to provide an alternative the nation can embrace or they can show that politicians will always be nothing more than politicians, regardless of their party.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Time to come together

Brave New World (The Star)
19 March 2014


I HOPE that MH370 is found soon. I hope against hope that by some miracle, it is intact and all on board are safe.
That is all that matters. Now is not the time for excessive finger pointing and blaming. The fact of the matter is that nobody knows what happened to flight MH370, so seeking villains to blame at this time is pointless because we simply do not know what caused the disappearance of the flight.
That is not to say that a proper investigation does not need to be done. Of course it does. We need to know not just what happened but how it happened. And most importantly, we need to know if there is anything that can be done to make sure that such a thing does not occur again in the future.
But that is for another day; surely the most vital thing now is to find the plane.
The media is filled with nothing but speculation.
To a certain extent that is to be expected because there is such a paucity of real information. This is a big story and the media cannot be seen to be saying, “we don’t know what happened” again and again.
So “experts” from all over are brought in to give their opinion as to what happened. And let us be clear, it is all nothing but opinion at this stage. And everyone seems to have one; from pundits on the telly to folks in the coffee shop.
You can’t stop people talking and speculating but all it does is add to the white noise surrounding this tragic event. It is not really what is needed right now.
What is needed and lacking is a clear and strong stand taken by those in charge. We don’t expect the relevant agencies to know what has happened or where the plane is, because nobody does. What we do expect is that they carry out their duties in a competent, authoritative and transparent manner.
They have to know what is happening at all times as well as what is being said. I understand the need for verification before they come out with statements, but is it too much to ask them to let us know that there are leads they are seeking to verify?
Long periods of silence followed by defensive and sometimes contradictory press conferences do not engender confidence or any sort of comfort for the families and friends of those missing.
Surely that is the second most important thing right now; that those who are grieving are given priority by being kept in the loop. They need to know what is being done as well as to have unsubstantiated rumours investigated and quashed if necessary.
Finding the plane, and bringing comfort (no matter how slight) to the loved ones of the missing, are surely the priorities now. And this is a time for the nation to come together to deal with a national issue.
Where this issue is concerned, let’s put politics on the back burner. Be it from politicians themselves or their proxies, this is simply not the subject with which to be scoring points.
This is a time for hard work, compassion, hope and prayer.

What Now for Pakatan

Sin Chew Jit Poh
19 March 2014


With all the attacks on Pakatan leaders, namely Karpal Singh and Anwar Ibrahim, being conducted via the judicial system, what does the future hold for the opposition?
In the short term, I think that their immediate concern of the Kajang by-election is not an issue. It would be very surprising indeed if PKR were to lose this seat. The question is; if two of their top leaders are put away or disqualified, can the coalition hold together?
I don’t see why not as long as they put up a united front. Much has been said about how Anwar is the glue that binds the PKR, DAP and PAS together. There is truth in that statement. His charisma and political nous, as well as his being able to straddle both the liberal and religious elements of the coalition does make him a formidable leader as well as an important one.
The thing is, are the respective parties so immature and petty that they need a father figure to hold them together? Are they so driven by self-interest that they are not able to come together with a common agenda that is acceptable to the majority of Malaysians.
As far as the second point is concerned, they have already shown that they can appeal to the voters of the country. The fact that they won the popular vote in the last election is clear proof of this. Furthermore, the Pakatan has also demonstrated that they are more than competent managers and administrators, seeing as how Selangor and Penang are going from strength to strength.  This is not to say that governance in either of these states is perfect, but it would be churlish to not concede that they are generally doing quite well.
As long as they can stick together with a clear agenda for the nation, then the loss of a few leaders should not be a problem. If they allow party politics to rule and become power hungry for their own “gang” then they would lose the war and all that has been achieved so far will come to naught.
This grab for power will take its most obvious form in the question as to who shall lead the coalition and thus who will be their candidate for Prime Minister in the next general election. It is a big question indeed and frankly at this point I can’t think of any one of them who is obviously the best choice.
If however, we work on the premise that in the Westminster system, the Prime Minister is little more than the first amongst equals, then although it is desirable to have a strong and popular individual to be leader, surely what matters more is the team behind that individual. If the Pakatan can stand firm on their agreed manifesto and show that they are, as a team, capable of living up to their promises, then there should be nothing to hinder their progress. After all, it would be na├»ve to think that the support they received over the last two elections has been purely on Anwar’s ability to pull in the crowds at ceramahs. Nor are their successes strictly speaking about the individual parties. Their appeal has been in the fact that as a coalition they put up a feasible and attractive alternative government, and that is what they should remember.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Some good news amid the smog

Brave New World (The Star)
5 March 2014

Indonesia is ready to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, so member countries should now work together to resolve the problem once and for all.


YESTERDAY, with all the good intentions in the world, I planned to go for a run. When I say “run” what I mean is actually galloping in an ungainly fashion with a pained expression across my face; a movement and countenance that bring to mind a dying moose careering across a frozen Alaskan lake.
However, upon gazing outside, I came to the conclusion that any health benefit that I might gain from pushing my poor heart to its limits would be totally counteracted by the punishment my lungs would suffer from breathing in the dreaded haze.
Ah yes, the haze. It is back again. But at least there has been some good news. Twelve years after signing the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, it is reported that Indonesia is finally ready to ratify it thus making its provisions binding upon them. It appears that all this time, they were reluctant to ratify the treaty for fear that it would somehow challenge their sovereignty.
I have read this treaty many times (because it’s part of my job and not because I am a sad git who gets excited from reading dry international conventions) and it is an Asean treaty through and through. By this I mean the idea of state sovereignty is protected to the nth degree.
Its main objective is the monitoring and prevention of fires. There are also provisions for the co-operation between parties in the event of a fire.
But this can only be done if a state where the fires are requests it, and any sort of assistance is to be co-ordinated by the requesting state. Furthermore the provision for dispute settlement in the event of non-compliance is through negotiation and consultation. In other words, if a party does not play by the rules the others will invite them for tea and a chat.
It is all so friendly, with hardly any element of hard obligations, that I don’t know what the Indonesians are so worried about. In fact, in the past I have gone so far as to call the treaty toothless.
However, let us not be too cynical. It is indeed a positive step that Indonesia has decided to ratify this treaty. For one thing, full use of the co-operation measures should be taken. All Asean members should now go all out to work hand in hand with Indonesia to find ways to solve the problem once and for all.
There is a provision for a fund, for example, and this should be donated to generously by the parties. The money can then go towards scientific co-operation between the countries (also provided for in the treaty) to find economically viable alternatives to burning.
The information sharing provisions should also be utilised to the maximum in order for action by treaty parties to be taken at home.
By this I mean, if the Indonesians have information about foreign companies doing the burning, then such data can be used by the home countries of those companies to keep them in check.
That is, if there is the political will to do so.
Speaking of political will and naughty companies, aside from the actual treaty provisions, what member states can do is name and shame their own companies that break Indonesian law.
What we don’t want is some sort of cover up where perpetrators are hidden from the public view. If governments are not willing to do something about companies breaking the law, then perhaps the consumers with their spending power and voice can.
The treaty is a weak one; there is no doubt about that. For example, although all parties are duty bound to create laws that ban open burning practices that can cause transboundary haze, there are no sections in the law that punishes them for not implementing such laws.
However, it does provide a workable framework within which substantive co-operation towards a long term solution can be done. It is time that all Asean members, particular those most affected by this environmental blight, do just that.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Kajang By-Election

Sin Chew Jit Poh
28 February 2014
There is so much speculation about what is really happening in Kajang. Malaysian love to speculate; especially in political matters.


Of course Keadilan have come out with reasons why they have forced this by election. Their main argument is that although Khalid is a good Menteri Besar and that he has run a clean and efficient state government he does not have the political savvy to deal with sensitive issues such as the Allah fiasco.


Critics point out that if he is so un-savvy, why select him as Menteri Besar after the last General Election? To be fair to Keadilan, a lot of these politically sensitive issues only reared its ugly head after the elections, so there could be credence to the argument that Khalid suddenly found himself in choppy waters that he did not expect.


Then there is the theory that all this is done in order to settle the feud between Khalid and Azmin Ali. Somehow with Anwar in charge then the internal bickering would magically be kept in check. I have no idea whether this is true or not and besides I find thinking about Keadilan’s internal squabbles makes me want to take a long hot shower. It makes me feel dirty.


And there is the crux of the matter: Anwar wants to be in charge of Selangor. The party and the man himself have been very coy about this. Deflecting questions about whether he is aiming for the Menteri Besar post by telling us that it is early days and that he has to win Kajang first. But any man and his dog can tell you that that is the end game here.


With Anwar in charge then he can prove that he can run Selangor well and that the smooth governance of the state then becomes a mirror of his ability to run the whole country from Putrajaya. So in effect it is like an audition for his Prime Minister-ship.


It is early days of course, and the by election is far away. Furthermore who knows what could happen. The BN candidate could win or maybe Zaid Ibrahim will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and surprise everybody. And even if Anwar does win the by election, Khalid needs to step down, the state legislative assembly will have to be fully behind Anwar as the new Menteri Besar and the Sultan would then have to do his constitutional duty and select the person with the confidence of the house as the new leader of the state executive.


So much can still happen, but at the end of the day, my feeling is that if Anwar gets what he wishes for, which is the post of Selangor Menteri Besar, then he has taken a very huge gamble. He really must prove himeself by doing an outstanding job. Although I do not see anything illegal in what has happened, you have to admit that all this political manoeuvrings and shenanigans does leave a sour taste in the mouth.


Because of that the ends must justify the means. Anwar must be able to prove that his leadership qualities are outstanding so that sour taste can be washed out. And seeing as how it is an audition for the biggest job in the country, he really can’t afford to mess up. The trouble is there will be plenty waiting around to try to make him do just that.