Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ignoble Rot and Racial Realpolitik in Malaysia

In Happier Times
Increasing disgust with the impunity and capture by Beijing business interests of the Najib Razak regime have opposition forces willing to accept the lesser of evils - including the conflation of racial politics with reform

Sheridan Mahavera outlines the extent of Chinese commercial soak:
1MDB, which is Najib’s brainchild and whose advisory board he heads, racked up RM42 billion in debts within five years of operation ... China’s purchases of 1MDB assets had helped reduce its debts to RM40.4 billion, Najib said in his 2016 New Year’s Day address ... The sale of 1MDB’s power assets to China General Nuclear Power Corp would have breached the limit of foreign ownership rules for local electricity companies. 1MDB critic and opposition law maker Rafizi Ramli had campaigned unsuccessfully to block the sale, claiming that it would threaten local jobs in the energy sector ... Another parliamentarian, Wong Chen, said in the end the cabinet allowed an exemption to the foreign equity rules so that the deal could go through. "The government had made an exception because it was desperate to bring in money to pay 1MDB’s debts," Wong said. “There will be long-term geopolitical repercussions for Malaysia because of this intense interest in embracing Chinese money,” Wong told This Week in Asia ... The RM50 billion Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail project is another venture that could involve either expertise or money from China, he said. “The Najib administration had also floated the idea of a nuclear power plant and this too could involve money from China.” In Sarawak, a region that straddles the island of Borneo in East Malaysia, China’s pull in Malaysia is already affecting the incomes of local fishermen.

JD Lovrenciear describes how the battle lines leave the cosmopolitan multiracial parties compromised:
... Najib is already digging in with a long list of sworn and self-confessed as well as silent loyalists within the Malay community of leaders and followers. On that same account we are now witnessing past leaders and their followers who are opposed to Najib, branding themselves as champions of the Malay cause in mapping out their war strategies... The war cry from both corners is ‘Save the Malays’ from being betrayed ... The Chinese- and Indian-based parties, MCA and MIC respectively (as well as several other smaller parties that are in allegiance with Umno), are being enlisted into the Najib war camp. Given the ‘common enemy’ for those against Najib’s leadership, the Democratic Action Party as well as Amanah and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), will see that aligning with Bersatu makes more sense, for they have pursued a long battering on the 1MDB debacles while eyeing for the voters’ catch. True, too, all civil society champions fighting a long and hard war against all sorts of corruption-tainted leadership and governance cannot sit back and watch the titans clash ... So the political landscape in Malaysia is well carved out to see a titanic clash between two Malay parties. On the one hand is Umno with its enlisted Chinese and Indian parties; and on the other side of the battle line will be Dr M’s team with alliances roped in from the opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations championing democracy, justice and good governance.

Mahathir himself breaks it down, as reported in FMT:
In his latest blog post, the former president of Umno writes: “The sophisticated and highly educated urban people may believe that racial politics is not in keeping with the times. “But on the ground it is different. For the rural people who largely are poor, race is not only important but they believe (it) is essential for their well-being. Umno’s popularity is because it is a racial party. “If the new party is to compete with Umno, it must give the people in the rural constituencies and the unsophisticated urban constituencies the kind of comfort associated with Umno’s kind of racism.”
Still, he hastens to add, the new party is not confined to Malays but is open to all bumiputeras and it is ready to accept non-bumiputeras as associate members.

Finally, Dennis Ignatius tells everyone to Stop Whining:
Take the formation of the new Mahathir-inspired ... (BERSATU). Apparently torn between wanting to be more inclusive but fearful of antagonizing its potential support base, the leadership settled on the asinine idea of opening the party to non-Malays but not allowing them to hold office or vote ... Given the prevailing political culture, surely it would have made better sense to have kept it a purely Malay party while making clear its intention ... to cooperate fully with other interested parties not just to oust Prime Minister Najib but to defend the constitution, work for national unity and fight for good governance... Besides, another multiracial party in an already crowded field might hinder rather than help the opposition. As it is, the DAP and PKR can hardly agree on how to work together as recent events have made clear... A new Malay-based party, particularly one that can appeal to disaffected Malays and working in tandem with Amanah, on the other hand, might pose a more direct challenge to UMNO in competing for the critical Malay-Muslim vote without which victory is impossible.

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