Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ex-member 0000001 still wields clout

Umno Member No. 0000001 may have given up that honour, but there is no doubt that former premier Mahathir Mohamad remains an unseen ghost at the party’s assembly that began yesterday.

Tun Dr Mahathir had resigned from the party last year in a final gamble to force out his handpicked successor Abdullah Badawi.

Very few followed him out of the party, but it was one of those iconic moments that piled so much pressure on Datuk Seri Abdullah that he eventually agreed to hand over power to Deputy Premier Najib Razak, who will become party president tomorrow.

But do not think for a moment that Datuk Seri Najib, who is Dr Mahathir’s choice, will escape the former premier’s acerbic attention. Dr Mahathir has already expressed an opinion on Mr Najib’s past performance (“didn’t shine”) and his future Cabinet (“has to be clean’).

Dr Mahathir was Umno’s most powerful president – a post he held from 1981 to 2003 – and he still wields enough influence that the party felt compelled to invite him to the opening of the assembly tomorrow.

“I haven’t decided. I have been invited, but I’m not an Umno member, you know. Besides, the opening is only the president’s speech,” he was quoted as saying in The Star on Sunday.

That deft stab at his nemesis was vintage Mahathir.

His aide told The Straits Times yesterday that the former premier has still not decided. The last time he attended an assembly was in 2004, before he started his bitter attacks on Abdullah. He has not turned up since, but in 2006 sent a letter to the delegates with his apologies.

He signed off as Member No. 0000001, a membership number obtained after Umno re-registered as a party following a bitter episode of party infighting in 1988. It now has 3.2 million members.

His wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali, was Member No. 0000002. She, too, resigned from the party, along with their son Mokhzani Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir has said he will not rejoin Umno until Abdullah is no longer president. But in the meantime, his shadow looms large.

Political analyst Rita Sim, who is also with the Malaysian Chinese Association’s think-tank, said Dr Mahathir still has indirect influence within Umno, although he no longer controls the levers of power.

For instance, many believe that it was his prodding that prompted Minister of International Trade and Industry Muhyiddin Yassin to openly call for Mr Abdullah’s early retirement, setting the ball rolling.

And it was Dr Mahathir’s constant carping at former Minister of International Trade and Industry Rafidah Aziz that eroded the Iron Lady’s standing so much that she was dropped from the Cabinet. She now faces an unexpected challenge from former women and family development minister Shahrizat Jalil for the presidency of the women’s wing.

“Dr Mahathir still does have impact, although more in shaping public opinion than directly in Umno,” said Sim.

It is also the perception that he is the silent power behind Najib that is giving his views so much weight.

So far, there has been no suggestion of a formal role for Dr Mahathir despite his suggestion that Umno set up a presidential council to advise the party’s leadership.

Do not be surprised if he rejoins Umno again, very soon. – The Straits Times


KUALA LUMPUR, 24 March 2009: Umno, which started its general assembly today to plot the party's renewal under a new leadership, showed the first sign of its resistance to reform - it barred the internet media from covering the five-day event.

Initially, no word was issued officially but checks by the press corp and online media agencies with one another revealed that several news websites have been denied the red-coloured press tags required to cover the general assembly.

The online media affected are Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, Siasah, Merdeka Review, and The Nut Graph. According to Malaysiakini, Chinese website Laksou has also been barred.

The traditional print and foreign media, however, have been issued media passes.

Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor confirmed at a press conference that a total of six news websites were barred from covering the assembly.

"All these websites have been irresponsible in their reporting. If you report responsibly about Umno's leaders, then we will allow you to come in. But the way they report is sickening," Tengku Adnan said at the Umno general assembly.

Outgoing Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was also present at the press conference.

Umno media officer Abdul Hamid Satar had earlier today told Malaysiakini that these media were considered "bloggers". He added that the decision to bar them was made by a higher party authority, believed to be Tengku Adnan.

The ban on the internet media comes despite these organisations' reporters having submitted their applications to cover the general assembly in advance. The online media have also been given government accreditation by the Information Department.

Umno has a right

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who is running for a seat in the Umno supreme council, said he did not know of the party's ban of the new media.

He said even though the websites had been accredited by the Information Ministry, it was still up to Umno to decide whether to allow them coverage.

"What we do as government in giving accreditation is a separate matter from Umno's decision to allow the new media. They have the right to allow or deny, just like how PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat have banned newspapers like Berita Harian or Utusan from covering their events," Shabery told The Nut Graph when met at the general assembly.

The Nut Graph editor Jacqueline Ann Surin earlier said that to be fair, Umno should be given a chance to explain its decision to bar the online media.

"After all, they do have a right to choose who to bar and who to allow into their assembly. But the implications of their actions and what it says about the dominant party in the Barisan Nasional is then something that they may have to deal with."


Siasah editor Zulkifli Sulong said they only realised their reporters had been banned today, the first day of the general assembly.

"For the past three to four days whenever we called to check on the status of our press passes, we were told that they were 'KIV'. Only today we realised upon checking with the Umno secretariat that they were not planning to issue us the passes," Zulkifli said.

The Nut Graph had a similar experience. Each time a query was made with the party's public relations division, the reply was either that the tags were "KIV" or "not yet ready".

Additionally, the website's reporters were told to refer to Datuk Abu Khamis, Tengku Adnan's special officer. Calls to his office went unanswered.

Malaysian Insider consultant editor Leslie Lau said they did not get the press passes either. "No reasons were given," he said today in a phone interview.

Zulkifli said the ban won't stop Siasah from covering the assembly. "It's an important event. It's not just for Umno but it's about the country's future. We'll find ways to do it," he said.

All the other banned new media are expected to do the same. Reporters from the banned organisations still turned up at the Putra World Trade Centre where the Umno general assembly is being held.

"We will try to report as best as we can from the Putra World Trade Centre. All good journalists are resourceful and The Nut Graph journalists no less. We also expect that there is enough media camaraderie for information to be exchanged among the media corp covering the Umno general assembly," Surin said.

Though access will be denied into the main halls where the proceedings take place, the events will be televised through close-circuit television in the main lobby. It has been common in past general assemblies for non-delegates to follow the proceedings from outside the hall via television.

Media crackdown?

At the press conference, Abdullah was also asked about the three-month suspension of Suara Keadilan and Harakah, the party organs of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and PAS, respectively.

Abdullah brushed off questions by reporters on whether this would mar his legacy as he prepares to leave office.

"Why are you asking me? There must have been a very good reason [for the suspensions]. What has it to do with me?"

Najib rehashes old ideals, no new frontiers at Umno assembly

Under pressure to appease members, incoming Umno president Najib Abdul Razak found it expedient to admit that the current voting system in his party was flawed.

But he stopped short of declaring what many other leaders have urged - a one-man one-vote system to rid the once-mighty party of corruption and to return sorely-missed democracy to its members.

“As it stands the deciders are a delegation of some 2,600 delegates from 191 divisions. Clearly the choice of these delegates cannot correctly reflect the preferences of more than three million grassroots members,” Najib told a meeting of the Umno women and youth wings.

“To my mind the time has come for us to review the constitution of Umno so that the selection of Umno leaders will be more inclusive.”

He also rehashed a call for change but failed to ignite any excitement, having antagonised party colleagues a week before with a ruthless purge of leaders aligned to a rival faction.

Najib urged his party to embrace new technology, in particular new media, or risk being left behind by an increasingly well-educated electorate. However, he did not mention that only hours earlier, he had barred six online news providers from attending the assembly.

“There must be some introspection on our part followed by renewal and rejuvenation. If we do not undertake this process, Umno will continue to be seen as a party still in denial,” he said.

No new frontiers

The distinct lack of bite in his address was widely expected and thus the insignificance of the comments taken in stride. His Umno-controlled media did however make efforts to gloss over the fact and hailed him for going where no other Umno leader has ever ventured before.

But neither Star Trek nor Captain Kirk is Malaysia’s scandal-plagued deputy premier.

He may be notorious both locally and internationally for alleged complicity in the sensational murder-and-commission case of slain Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu. But when it comes to politics, Najib has long been regarded as Mr Status Quo.

Even the most recent crackdowns on dissent ordered by him, going into the last lap of the power transition, are believed to have been conceived for him by his mentor, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, and former economic adviser, Daim Zainuddin.

Their objective - to ensure that Najib makes it to the topmost rung safely. Their motive - self-interest and a return to the front-line of power on the coat-tails of their protege.

“Najib should avoid becoming the next Dr Mahathir,” said political analyst Gavin Khoo. “There are indications that he is more willing to use the public institutions, controversial laws and coercive forces to get what he wanted than the previous administration. If he continues to disregard the rule of law, the losers will be the Malaysians, the normal people.”

The King

The 55-year old Najib is slated to take over the party presidency from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi this week and the premiership of the country early next month.

But despite the proximity of the transition deadlines, only the former is considered confirmed, while a question-mark still hangs over the second.

“Nothing can stop what has already been decided. Najib will become Umno president soon. And when there is confirmation, there will be a transition,” Abdullah told reporters.

But even so, he was vague about when Najib would become prime minister, a post the latter has long coveted.

Meanwhile, calls to the King, urging His Majesty not to confirm Najib as premier are gaining strength across the country. Despite heavy odds, most Malaysians cling to the hope that their King will resist the far-reaching arm of the Najib-Mahathir camp and stand up for his subjects.

“Whatever undertakings the present prime minister has made with his deputy or with his party about his successor are external to the constitutional process. To think otherwise is to imagine that the prime ministership is a private property to be passed on from one potentate to another at whim,” said Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

“The King has sole and absolute discretion in how he forms his judgment as to who in the Parliament commands the confidence of the majority. The choice is his alone,” Razaleigh added. -SuaraKeadilan

Monday, March 23, 2009

Batang Ai - Jawah Gerang named as Candidate

Abdullah: The missed opportunity

The contrast yesterday could not have been more striking.

There he was looking tired, spent, raiding a bare cupboard to justify his 5 ½ years in office and looking forward to a life of gardening with his wife. At the age of 73.

There he was looking sprightly, combative, ready to clock 12 hour days in the office and looking forward to another shot at public service, another short of salvaging his legacy. At the age of 84.

The contrast could not have been more striking.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi looked and sounded like a defeated man in his farewell interview with Mingguan Malaysia, a man exiting the main stage with a whimper.

The man who forced him out, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad looked and sounded like a politician ready for another tour of duty in his series of newspaper interviews and address to Malay right-wing group Perkasa.

The attempt to put a gloss on Abdullah’s years as prime minister has started.

From his replies, it is clear that he truly believes that Islam Hadhari, fiscal prudence , the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and opening up of discourse here will burnish his legacy.

Newspapers are ready to publish articles on the high points of the Abdullah era.

Utusan Malaysia is proposing that he be feted like a statesman when he leaves office on April 3. But if Malaysians are honest; if his supporters are honest; if Abdullah is honest, his five years in office should be headlined: The Missed Opportunity.

If it seems that he and his supporters are scrapping the barrel to prop him up as a top notch leader, it is because they are.

His failings become obvious when his time in office is measured against the likes of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Historians may rank him joint fourth or fifth in terms of achievements, fulfilling promises and utilising a mandate.

Look at what his competition achieved:

Tunku Abdul Rahman — Delivered independence for the country, embraced the idea of the Alliance and never once forgot that he was the leader of all Malayans/Malaysians. Because he and other early Umno politicians like Tun Dr Ismail and Tun Abdul Razak were fair and honest men, non-Malays were happy to accept the leadership of Umno.

The independence of institutions was respected during his time and there was a respect for the separation of powers by the government.

Tun Abdul Razak — He crafted policies and ideas which helped Malaysia navigate itself through the dark days after the May 1969 riots. The New Economic Policy, Rukunegara and Felda were born during his short term inoffice. Barisan Nasional and concept of power-sharing among different races was introduced by him.

Some of the most prominent politicians whom he selected and nurtured in the 1970s still dominate the scene today. In short, a prime minister who left an indelible mark on Malaysia.

Tun Hussein Onn — He largely continued Razak’s economic policies but pushed for the creation of a Malay business class. During his short term, NEP policies exceeded their targets, so soon after he left office in 1981, Dr Mahathir reaped the rewards and was credited with most of its achievements.

Some say he was a meticulous man, others claim he was indecisive. He took six months to go through the 403-page Third Malaysian Plan.

A lawyer by training, he was a stickler for rules. During his time in office, he was challenged by elements in Umno, communist insurgency and secession from Sabah.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad — He transformed Malaysia from an agrarian society to one of the top trading nations in the world. His economic policies helped create the large middle class we have in the country today.

Built the national car, the Petronas Twin Towers, Putrajaya and gave Malaysians a sense of confidence. His 22 years in office also witnessed the controversial round up of some 100 people under Operasi Lalang, the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim from government, the clipping of the power of the royalty and the hollowing out of the institutions.

On the world stage because of his willingness to go against convention, Malaysia punched above her weight. Umno became bigger, more assertive and less accommodating during his time.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — He won the biggest mandate in history. Introduced Islam Hadhari; reduced the budget deficit to 3.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product; allowed more debate and opening up of democratic space; set up the MACC and JAC and introduced the five economic growth corridors.

On the surface, Abdullah looks to have done a decent job. But remove a couple of layers and a sorry picture emerges.

He is leaving a country fractured by racial and religious polarisation. Anyone listening to the rabid speeches at the Perkasa function yesterday would have wondered whether Malaysia is home to Malays, Chinese, Indians or home only to Malays.

If there is growing chauvinism among Malaysians, it is because the Abdullah administration took a cavalier attitude towards the festering sores in Malaysian society.

It leaned too heavily on “the time will heal every problem” approach, putting off solving vexing issues of religious freedom and the abuse of the NEP to another day, hoping that the embers of anger in each community would douse itself out.

He is leaving behind institutions a significant number of Malaysians do not have trust in. The Police. The Judiciary. The Civil Service.

The early signs from the MACC are not promising. Government lawmakers believe that it has been invested with too much power and the Opposition feel that the commission will do the bidding of the BN government.

A survey by the Merdeka Centre shows that the majority of Malaysians do not believe that either the MACC or the JAC will be effective in tackling corruption and improving the standing of the judiciary.

Abdullah’s third initiative — a tribunal for enforcement agencies — is currently in limbo. Government lawmakers have blocked its passage through Parliament, arguing that more work needs to be done before the legislation is rubber-stamped.

That is the official reason.

The real reason is that BN lawmakers are suspicious of the tribunal, and do not believe that any independent body should be empowered to lord over the police, customs, immigration and other uniform services.

Looking back at his term as PM, Abdullah told Mingguan Malaysia that he made a couple of strategic errors.

He should have pushed ahead with all his reforms just after winning the 2004 elections.

With a solid mandate, momentum and with the pro-status quo powers cowed into silence, he could have reformed Umno and the country.

Instead, he waited and waited and the establishment forces in Umno recovered their poise and strength. Knowing that he could not control the party, he became a prisoner to its wants.

For example when the party rejected the open tender system, he went along with it.

Not surprisingly, 80 per cent of all government contracts during his term were direct negotiations.

Abdullah also lamented that while he encouraged more discourse on sensitive topics and openness during his time as PM, he should have redrawn the out-of-bound markers for Malaysians.

True, he should have better managed the opening up of democratic space in Malaysia.

True, he should have had more resolve in tackling excesses by his party.

True, he should have done more to ensure that a more equitable system was put in place.

True, he should have made good all his promises in his first term of office.

He did not.

And as a result, his goal of serving two terms in office was cut short, dramatically by the party he served so slavishly.

Historians may be kinder to him.

His party men will bid him farewell this week in glowing terms.

But for many Malaysians, the Abdullah years will be remembered as the Missed Opportunity.

Federal Court returns Perak case to High Court

The Federal Court here today ordered to send the Perak menteris besar case back to the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

It also ordered that a suit filed by three former Pakatan Rakyat state assemblymen against Speaker V Sivakumar sent back to the Ipoh High Court.

The Federal Court’s decision today means a quick resolution will be unlikely for the Perak constitutional crisis. The cases are likely to meander its way through the different courts because any decision is likely to be appealed by the losing party.

The five-man panel of judges ruled the apex court could not resolve the constitutional question referred it by the high court as the judge Lau Bee Lan of the Appellate and Special Powers division failed to follow the proper procedure. -MalaysiaInsider

Lau had on March 10, framed four constitutional questions it wanted the Federal Court to answer to resolve the Perak crisis.

But Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who insists he is still the lawful MB as he has not quit his post or been voted out or made redundant in the dissolution of the state assembly, objected to the referral and to the questions asked.

“The High Court does not have the power to transfer to the Federal Court under Section 84 of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964 because the meaning of ‘constitution’ is restricted to the Constitution of Malaysia,” announced Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Alauddin Sheriff, who headed the panel.

Nizar’s lead lawyer, Sulaiman Abdullah, who had from the start objected to the high court’s decision to move the case to the apex court repeated his arguments before the Federal Court.

Sulaiman contended Lau had been wrong to do so as the case was a state constitutional issue, not a federal constitutional issue and there were no laws that gave her the power to move the issue to the higher court on her own.

“The court is not at liberty to stretch or pervert the laws on the constitution to suit its purpose,” he said, pointing out that despite the urgency of the issue, no shortcut was allowed; the rule of law must be followed every step of the way.

The other members of the bench, comprising Chief Judge of Malaya Datuk Arifin Zakaria, Datuk Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin, James Foong and Datuk Seri Augustine Paul, agreed with him.

The Federal Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decisions last Friday, including granting leave to menteri besar Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir which allows him the right to be a party to the court proceedings.

But it rejected a request from Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin’s lead lawyer, Sulaiman Abdullah who asked the Federal Court to appoint a different high court judge from Lau to hear the case.

The Federal Court also ordered the related suit filed by the three elected state representatives against the Perak Assembly Speaker V Sivakumar to be similarly returned to the Ipoh High Court to be decided.

Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi (Behrang), Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu (Changkat Jering) and Hee Yit Fong (Jelapang) are suing Sivakumar for falsely declaring their seats vacant to pave the way for by-elections after they went independent.

None of the three were present.

Nizar, who was in court today for the hearing with several Pakatan Rakyat leaders, was relieved.
“This is another seed for the democratic victory for the rakyat,” he told reporters later, smiling widely.

He admitted that while he had worn a confident look on his face earlier, he was fearful the judges may rule against him and had been praying silently “all the way” while his lawyers argued his case.

Zambry too appeared in court today, for the first time. Unlike Nizar, he came alone and left early.
Speaking to reporters later on his behalf, Zambry’s lawyers Firoz Hussein Ahmad Jamaluddin and Hafarizam Harun said they accepted the court’s decision and maintained “nobody won, nobody lost” in today’s ruling.

They admitted they were “disappointed”.

“We preferred to deal with it at the Federal Court and resolve the issues on the constitution as quickly as possible,” said Firoz, the chief counsel for Zambry.

Asked to comment on the four questions referred to the Federal Court, Firoz pointed out it was drafted by the Attorney General’s Chambers and the “unilateral decision of the judge to refer the questions.”

But he said they had no problems with the questions as “it addresses the heart of the issue”.

“They forget it was His Royal Highness that appointed Zambry,” Firoz noted, referring to the stout objections from Nizar’s lawyers who steadfastly insists they are not challenging the Sultan of Perak’s authority but are suing Zambry for usurping the powers of the menteri besar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Disqualification leads to disquiet in Umno

Malacca Chief Minister Ali Rustam was ironically at a meet-the-candidates session on Tuesday when the news broke that he was disqualified from contesting the Umno deputy presidency.

He was already prepared for the news, and betrayed no emotion. His supporters were emotional, and some were seen crying.

About 150 of them headed for the airport to await Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi"s return from Indonesia.

"We appealed to the Prime Minister to reconsider the decision to prohibit Ali from contesting and he gave a positive response," Mr Yusoff Kassim, a Malacca divisional chief, was
quoted by Bernama as saying.

Datuk Seri Ali, 59, is hugely popular with the Umno grassroots, and this had given him an advantage in the race for the party's No. 2 post - which traditionally also means becoming Malaysia"s deputy premier.

The next closest challenger, International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, is better qualified but with far less of a people's touch. Rural and Regional Development Minister Muhammad Muhammad Taib was a distant third, but his position has suddenly improved, thanks to Mr Ali's disqualification.

He now stands a fighting chance to win next Wednesday because Mr Ali's men may throw their support behind him. They are angry, not just at the outcome but also at the perception of selective prosecution.

This turn of events has turned out to be a bit of a mess for Umno.

Its members do not seem to believe in the impartiality of the party's disciplinary board. They see the findings as a move to block certain candidates, disguised as reforms to stamp out vote-buying.

On Tuesday, it found Mr Ali liable for vote-buying carried out by his political secretary and two other campaign agents, and banned him from contesting.

It also found Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, guilty of the same offence in his bid for the Umno Youth presidency. But he was let off with a warning because there was not enough evidence to tie him to those allegedly buying votes for him.

This seeming inconsistency - and the coincidence that both are seen to be linked to Datuk Seri Abdullah - has fanned outrage among the Umno grassroots.

"It has created internal turmoil. The public already does not believe Umno is serious about reforming; now even party members doubt it," said Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, a Johor divisional leader.

Mr Khairy told The Straits Times on Tuesday that "it was not a coincidence" but refused to elaborate.

Just last week, Federal Territory Umno Youth chief Norza Zakaria, who is seen as close to Mr Khairy and his father-in-law, was charged in court with money politics.

Tourism Minister Azalina Othman Said, who was also allied to Mr Khairy at one time, came under a cloud after her political secretary was found with RM70,000 in his car, allegedly for campaigning purposes.

Both are contesting a seat in the Supreme Council.

Regardless of the outcome, both are now left with a taint that will mar their political future, including future appointments to the Cabinet.

Critics have accused Deputy Premier Najib Razak of carrying out a purge of Mr Abdullah"s loyalists as he gears up to take the party presidency.

"Ali Rustam is being singled out because he is not in the Deputy Prime Minister's camp," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was quoted as saying on his party's website.

But Datuk Seri Najib"s supporters rubbish this. They point out that he has never shown any preference for any candidate.

"People merely assume that his choice will be those who are not Abdullah's men," one of them said. They also point out that there were hundreds of complaints about Mr Ali from the grassroots, although his supporters blame Tan Sri Muhyiddin for orchestrating this.

The fallout will take a lot of damage control to manage, within Umno itself. It has left suspicions, and may result in Mr Najib inheriting a party with deep rifts.

"It's a double whammy," Mr Nur Jazlan said. - The Straits Times

Time for Najib to let go as calls grow not to make him PM

The writing is on the wall. It is time for incoming Umno president Najib Abdul Razak to stand down. The calls are coming in fast and furious for the King to seriously consider a unity government, or another other acceptable alternative to appointing him Malaysia’s sixth prime minister.

Said Ramon Navaratnam, president of Transparency International Malaysia: “A unity government - a form of power-sharing between the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat - would be the ideal at this current stage of national development and particularly in the face of the looming economic crisis.”

Zaid Ibrahim, the well-respected former Law Minister, too did not mince words when he asked the King to review alternatives other than the scandal-plagued Najib.

“There is no constitutional obligation on His Majesty to appoint the president of Umno as the prime minister. There are still well qualified Members of Parliament from Umno who can be appointed PM to bring us back from the brink,” Zaid said in a speech to the Rotary Club.

Both he and Ramon are the latest to openly express the wishes of a large majority of Malaysians, who do not want the 55-year old Najib to lead the country. Other prominent leaders who have done the same in recent weeks include top civil society groups, Islamic leaders and opposition politicians.

“A prime minister must have the confidence of the majority of the rakyat. For this to be the case there cannot be anything in the mind of the greater public that, correctly or otherwise, associates him with matters of criminality, wrongful action, improper conduct or abuses of power,” Zaid stressed.


The greatest grouse that Malaysians have against Najib is that they simply don’t trust him. This despite the fact that most have known him since he was 22 years old, when his father, the second prime minister died, and he was spring-boarded into the national leadership.

Protected by his mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysians could only frown at the eldest son of the late Tun Razak, when allegations of graft surfaced throughout his 33-year political career.

But as they say - spare the rod and spoil the child. If one were to gauge by the number of misconduct complaints piling up against him, Najib has only gotten worse with time.

Not only has he become entangled in a high-profile sex-and-commission scandal involving murdered Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu, he has also been resorting to heavy-handed use of the police, the courts and even Parliament to stay in power - the same oppressive methods that Mahathir used to employ.

“I can only say that Najib is getting more and more worried. The situation for him is still very uncertain and fluid. The only thing that is clear though is that the people are very uncomfortable about him leading the country,” said Pakatan Rakyat leader Tian Chua.

Six months ‘probation’ confirmed nation’s worst fears

Barely six months ago, Najib was the hope of Umno. The shock loss of a long-held two-thirds parliamentary majority created insecurity and fear that bordered on mass hysteria in the once-mighty party.

Najib played his hand well, taking advantage of the leadership vacuum present. Egged on by a Mahathir eager to return to power, an internal rebellion was hatched that culminated in Abdullah being forced to take responsibility for the poor electoral performance. The 68-year old Pak Lah accepted early retirement and is due to step down early next month, although his term officially ends only in 2013.

But the fear that gripped Umno and the Malay community has since been dissipating. Malaysians, including the Malays, have learnt to appreciate the advantages of a two-party system. They have become aware that the checks and balances wrought by the rivalry of two large political coalitions actually work to their benefit.

Now, what they fear is Najib. In a bid to stay on top, he has become increasing aggressive. Knowing that his popularity was on the slide, Najib tried to regain the respect of his community by staging a power grab in Perak state, against the wishes of the majority of Perakians.

But the political crisis there - just as in the rest of the country - has gotten out of hand and a prolonged impasse looks likely unless he recapitulates and accepts the wishes of the people.

Said Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: “BN has the numbers in Parliament to hold onto the federal government without reaching out to the Opposition, but without some kind of a unity government solution, at least in the interim, the Malaysian rakyat will not have a government that can do more than hang on grimly to a deteriorating status quo.”

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country

Other clampdowns have followed, including a bold but again misguided purge in his own party aimed at weeding out Abdullah loyalists such as vice-president Mohd Ali Rustam. More can be expected if Najib insists on clinging to power.

But instead of helping him, the suppressions have sparked even greater public condemnation. For example, the recent suspension of Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo for daring to question him about Altantuya served only to lower him in the esteem of the nation and create greater suspicion about his involvement with her.

Another crackdown - this time against bloggers and netizens of cyberspace for insulting the Perak Sultan - was immediately denounced by Amnesty International. “This development is a serious blow to the freedom of expression in Malaysia. For a country that claims to be on the cutting edge of communications technology, this is a very troubling step backward,” said AI director Sam Zarifi.

Nothing that Najib does seems to be right, everything is wrong. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Hard as it may be for him to accept - the people just do not want him to be their prime minister. Even though they may have known him for more than three decades.

Yes, the truth does hurt. But it is high time that he comes to terms with the fact that as far as they are concerned, he is just another Malaysian - the same as they are. Not super-born to rule just because of who his dad was, not super-empowered to bully just because his mentor was lucky enough to get away with it.

The time has indeed come for him to call it a day. That would be his best contribution to his country as it sits on the brink, and Malaysia is well and truly sitting on the very, very brink. -SuaraKeadilan

Zaid appeals to King not to appoint Najib as PM

This is the second time I have been invited to address a Rotary Club. Thank you for the honour. Given the times we live in, perhaps it might be appropriate for me to speak about the leadership transition that has been foisted upon us Malaysians.

I say ‘foisted’ because neither me nor anyone in this room had any role or say in the choice of the person who will lead Malaysia next. We were mere bystanders in a political chess game. And yet the transition is a subject of great consequence to the nation, one I would say is of great national interest.

Leadership is definitive; the individual who assumes the mantle of leadership of this nation, whomever that may be, is one who for better or worse will leave his mark on us. His will be the hand who guides us to greater success, or possibly gut-wrenching disaster.

Save for the dawn of Merdeka, never in the history of this country has the choice of prime minister been so crucial: Malaysia is in crisis. We are facing tremendous economic challenges with unavoidably harsh socio-political consequences. Our much undermined democracy is once again being assailed by those who would prefer a more autocratic form of governance.

Our public institutions are hollowed out caricatures, unable to distinguish vested party interests from national ones, unable to offer the man in the street refuge from the powerful and connected.

Our social fabric that took us from colony to an independent nation and on through the obstacles of nation building has reached a point where it sometimes feel like we are hanging on by a thread. This is the Malaysia we live in.

Abdullah should not leave at this juncture

This is the Malaysia which Abdullah Ahmad Badawi leaves behind. Our prime minister will resign later this month - an ill-fated decision. I say ill-fated not because he has been a great prime minister and we would lose irreplaceable leadership, that is regrettably not the case as all things said and done, Abdullah could have done much more for Malaysia.

Rather, I say that his resignation is ill-fated because his departure will expose the country to forces which may take us down the road of perdition faster than ever. Much has been said of Pak Lah being a weak leader. However, what his critics have not adequately addressed are the consequences of replacing him as prime minister with the anticipated incoming president of Umno, Najib Abdul Razak.

It is an undeniable truth that the average Malaysian is anxious about the anticipated transition. Many would prefer it did not happen.

There are two reasons why this is so. The first has to do with the reasoning underlying Umno’s demand for the transition itself. The second has to do with Najib personally.

We must recall that after the 2008 general election - a great success for the nation but a fiasco for Umno - one of the chief complaints by the powers-that-be within Umno was that Abdullah’s feeble leadership led to the concept of Ketuanan Melayu being challenged and ultimately undermined.

His critics also lashed out at him for the latitude given to civil society, a move which they believed weakened a key aspect of Umno’s political leverage. It followed in Umno’s mind that in order to regain lost ground, it was necessary to reassert its ideology with greater strength.

There was nostalgia for Mahathir’s heavy-handed style of leadership and a return to the times when the party cowed many into subservience and submission.The conservatives in Umno yearned for a return to Mahathirism, hoping that it would become a cornerstone of the leadership transition plan. There has been much speculation and punditry on whether a return to the Mahathir era would be good for Malaysia.

PM must have confidence of rakyat, does Najib?

Let me offer some of my own insight to this debate. The major difference between then and now is this: in most instances, Mahathir was harsh and dictatorial if he believed it was good for the country. But an authoritarian style of government under anyone else would be dictated by the need for self preservation and very little about the country’s interest.

The evidence is all around us. After March 8, (2008) when the prime minister ceased being the home minister, the threats of reprisal have escalated and a climate of fear re-cultivated. The detention of Raja Petra Kamarudin, Teresa Kok and Tan Hoong Cheng exemplify this turn for the worse, this appetite to use the sledgehammer.

The shameful power grab in Perak and wanton disregard for public opinion over how BN wrested control of the silver state make many people shudder at the prospect of a return to the dark days. If that was not depressing enough, we have had to bear witness to the police and the newly-minted Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) displaying their allegiance and support to the BN when all we needed and craved for were honest brokers.

It stands to reason that in the mind of the average Malaysian, having suffered a significant loss last March, Umno is on a rampage to regain what it lost by any method available and the man who is expected to lead it to victory is the man who succeeds Abdullah: Najib Abdul Razak.

A prime minister must have the confidence of the majority of the rakyat. In order for this to be the case, his integrity must be beyond question; not only must he be such a person character, he must be seen to be such a person. The office of prime minister is one of great trust, he who holds that office cradles the nation in his palms.

For this to be the case, there cannot be anything in the mind of the greater public that, correctly or otherwise, associates him with matters of criminality, wrongful action, improper conduct or abuses of power. In short, he must be beyond reproach in his dealings both official and private.

Without intending any accusation, it is regrettable that in the collective mind of the rakyat, Najib is not such a person. If a referendum were to be conducted on the subject or if the prime minister was to be elected directly by the rakyat, I do not think Najib would succeed. The reason for this is obvious: the rakyat has doubts, fuelled by the unanswered allegations against him and his unwillingness to confront these allegations.

It is not a mere trifle in the minds of the rakyat that despite a direct challenge from a member of parliament in the august House recently, the deputy prime minister remained silent, not even denying the implicit accusation made against him and demanding that it be repeated outside the chamber in the tried and tested method of refutation employed by parliamentarians throughout the world.

It has not assisted the cause of the incoming prime minister that the MP concerned was suspended for a year on a motion tabled by a fellow minister without the member having been afforded an opportunity to defend his position.

Allegations are over serious crimes and must be explained

Consider this. Commissions were paid to an agent for the procurement of submarines through the Defence Ministry, Najib (then) being the defence minister. It is unthinkable that he had no knowledge that the agent was his adviser and aide, Abdul Razak Baginda. The commission paid out was exceedingly large, in excess of RM400 million.

The defence minister was duty-bound to direct enquiries to see if there had been any impropriety in the way the contracts were awarded when news of the commission surfaced; after all the price of the submarines would be considerably lower without the need for such commissions.

Taxpayers, you and I, have paid for those submarines at a price that in all probability factored in the commission. Taxpayers are yet to be told of an inquiry let alone the result of such an inquiry.
Consider the Altantuya Shaariibuu affair. A young woman was brutally murdered, her corpse destroyed by explosives.

These explosives are not the usual type of explosives, yet no inquiry was held to determine how they were available to these killers. Those accused of her murder are police officers serving in the Unit Tindakan Khas, a highly specialised unit who amongst other things serve as bodyguards to the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.

Amidst evidence that the accused were employed to protect the PM and the DPM, they were directed to (Abdul) Razak Baginda through the aide of the deputy prime minister. Amongst other things, we have heard of the senior investigating officer admitting that the deputy prime minister was an important witness and yet no statement was taken.

It is not unreasonable to think that this is irregular, more so when evidence of SMS text-messages from the deputy prime minister concerning material matters have surfaced. The text-messages cannot be ignored, proverbially swept under the carpet.

Even if they do not establish - or are not capable of establishing - any culpability on the part of Najib, these issues must be addressed.

The air must be cleared, it is thick with accusations and doubts which can only undermine the office of the prime minister if he were to assume it. The deputy prime minister’s cause has not been aided by the fact that charges were preferred against (Abdul) Razak Baginda only after public outcry, the manner in which the prosecution was conducted and the decision of the High Court acquitting Abdul Razak Baginda not having been appealed.

Perak coup is a clear signal of megalomania

The Perak affair was an unmitigated disaster for the nation. It is no secret that Najib led the charge there and is still overseeing matters.

In the minds of Malaysians, Perak is synonymous with the deputy prime minister. They now equate him with the high-handed tactics that were employed to seize power, tactics that included the disappearances of the three crucial assemblypersons and the blockading of the legislative assembly by the police.

In doing so, they equate the DPM with the hijacking of democracy, the only persons saying otherwise being those persons who have associations with Umno. In their minds, no responsible leader would allow for the undermining of the institutions of state and the constitution of this nation.

They ask, rightly so, whether this is the kind of leadership that Malaysians can expect from Najib when he becomes the prime minister.

With all of this, and more, how are we not to feel anxious? How are we to sleep peacefully at night? I know that I cannot. The situation is desperate and the air is pregnant with tension. We need the state of affairs to be resolved in a way that is in the best interests of the nation and the rakyat.

To an extent, this is a matter for the Barisan Nasional. I urge its members to put politics aside and think things through. We all want a better future, a safer and more prosperous life for our children, all of them, a Malaysia where our children can reach for the stars with the certainty that there is nothing to stop them from being the Malaysians they want to be.

The King must protect his people

I do not believe that the Barisan Nasional will do what is necessary. Politics has a tendency of making those who embrace it cynical. The answer lies elsewhere, with His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In this case, His Majesty plays the role of ‘kingmaker’. The discretion to appoint the prime minister who succeeds Abdullah lies with His Majesty. Though His Majesty is required under the constitution to appoint the person who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of parliament, it is a matter for His Majesty’s judgment.

Never before has such a heavy burden being laid on His Majesty to make a brave and correct choice.

For King and country, I urge His Majesty to take into consideration the prerequisites to appointment and the concerns of the rakyat. There is no constitutional obligation on His Majesty to appoint the president of Umno as the prime minister. There are still well qualified members of parliament from Umno who can be appointed PM to bring us back from the brink.

Malaysia needs someone who the rakyat can throw their weight behind without reservation. Someone they can trust and respect. Someone who has no scandal to distract him and thereby gain respect from the international community.

These are difficult times and be prepared for worst times to visit us. Malaysia needs a leader who will unite the country in the face of the adversity. Divided, we are weak. I am loath to say it, but for the reasons I have set out am compelled to say that Najib will most certainly divide us and in doing so, will nudge us closer to the edge.

Some of you may say that all efforts to promote the national interest are at this stage an exercise in futility. If truth be told, I am tempted to slip into cynical hopelessness too. I am fighting the temptation to give up for one simple reason: Malaysia and all that it represents. This is a blessed country, a country too valuable for us to turn our backs on. -SuaraKeadilan

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ali Rustam Appealing Against Umno Decision

Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam is appealing the Umno Disciplinary Board's decision barring him from contesting for the post of deputy president in the party elections next week.

"The appeal letter will be submitted today," the Umno vice-president told reporters at his residence, Seri Bendahara, here today.

Present were his wife, Datin Seri Asmah Abdul Rahman, Melaka Umno leaders and his supporters.

Umno Disciplinary Board chairman Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen announced the decision yesterday after the board found Mohd Ali guilty of involvement in money politics.

Mohd Ali said that if his appeal was accepted he would be able to contest the post.

He said he would also submit the appeal letter to Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. -BERNAMA

The Malaysia model

As Group of 20 leaders prepare to meet in London early next month, they face an unprecedented challenge.

The global economy is likely to shrink this year for the first time since the Second World War. The World Bank predicts that during 2009 world trade is likely to record its largest decline in 80 years, with the sharpest losses in East Asia.

My country, Malaysia, is one of the most trade-based economies in the world. Our ratio of foreign trade to gross domestic product exceeds 200 per cent, the highest of any economy except Hong Kong and Singapore.
We have prospered by recognizing the power of trade and the value of markets. But this embrace has been pragmatic, not ideological. It has always been complemented by our recognition that government, too, has a critical role to play.

The global economic crisis has demonstrated anew that relying on the behaviour of markets alone is insufficient to promote stable, long-term economic development.

When economic crises hit, one has a choice. Those steering national economies can either stand aside, or use public capital to take the place of private capital that has gone into hiding, thereby
investing in the country's human capital.

In the short term, this kind of action provides jobs and opportunity. In the long run, it provides the foundations for recovery.

Stimulus packages should not be about resorting to popular policies or handing out cash. And they should not target one group or area, but benefit the whole country. It is about achieving maximum impact.

With the global economic crisis still unfolding, we have focused on boosting investments and credit flows while providing government guarantees and infrastructure expansion. Foreign investment in Malaysia is expected to fall by 50 per cent to 26 billion ringgit (US$7 billion) in 2009.

That means we must either respond domestically, or allow our country to waste precious years during which we should be working to build a better society.

That is why on Nov. 4 last year, I announced a first stimulus package of RM 7 billion. And why on March 10, I announced a historic second stimulus and mini-budget of RM60 billion.
Accounting for 9per cent of Malaysia's gross domestic product, the RM60 billion alone is the biggest stimulus package in our history.

Some may say this is too much. But with our low foreign debt, large international reserves and ample banking sector liquidity, we have the capacity to fund it.

Given the magnitude of the still evolving global crisis, I am convinced the risk isn't that we do too much, but that we don't do enough.

We know that ultimately the world will recover, and normal trade levels will resume. When it does, we want Malaysia to be best positioned to take advantage of that recovery. That is why we have decided to balance short-term requirements with building for the future.

The mini-budget is designed to provide a quarter of the stimulus funds as a boost to meet people's immediate needs, with the remaining 75 per cent for medium- and long-term development goals.

It is vital for countries to remain competitive. Malaysia's corporate tax of 25 per cent is comparable with others in the region. However, taking into account the many incentives offered to investors, the country's effective tax rate is between 3 per cent and 7 per cent.

Efficient implementation is vital in the success of any country's stimulus package. We have set up a technical committee to monitor the implementation of ours.

It will meet regularly and report to a steering committee that I will personally chair. I will then report to the ultimate beneficiaries of the effort, the Malaysian people. They are the appropriate judges of the mini-budget's success.

In Malaysia we learned fundamental lessons from the 1997 financial crisis.

Our financial sector and corporations realigned as a result. We are fortunate today to have good national infrastructure, technical know-how, a diversified economy and a quality workforce. Overall, post-1997 we are far better placed to weather this new storm.

Yet in the long run, further transformation of the Malaysian economy is needed. We will use the current downturn to forge a new economic model that puts knowledge first.

We will invest in education and technology, further strengthening Malaysia's capacity to lead in information technologies, renewable energy and emerging sectors of the new economy.

Our goal is to harness the talent, energy and drive of all of our people.

We will be aided in our efforts to provide lasting prosperity by working to spread mutual tolerance and respect between genders, cultures, races, religions and nations. We will champion inclusiveness not just because it is a foundation for political stability and economic growth, but because it is right.

As a nation in a hurry, with millions dependent on its development and progress, Malaysia is picking itself up and moving on. We are remaking Malaysia once again.

When G-20 leaders meet next month, I hope others will take similar positions. It is time to turn words into deeds. The world's economic recovery will depend on concerted and coordinated efforts by economies large and small, and we in Malaysia will play our part. - The Wall Street Journal

Anwar Ibrahim on BCC World News

Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim appears on BBC World News to discuss the progress made by Pakatan Rakyat since the 2008 General Election and the shortcomings of the RM 60Bn stimulus package announced recently.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gay activists march in US ahead of showdown

Same-sex marriage advocates are pinning their hopes on California’s highest court as it prepares to hear arguments on a trio of lawsuits seeking to overturn the state’s voter-approved ban on gay unions.

Today’s three-hour hearing was expected to draw an audience much larger than the California Supreme Court’s courtroom can accommodate. Gay rights groups rented out a nearby auditorium and a big screen television for the outdoor plaza where a group of clergy scheduled a pre-argument prayer service.

“It’s important to show the Supreme Court justices history is on our side,” said Paul Sousa, 22, of Boston, who flew to San Francisco on Wednesday and planned to camp out by the courthouse overnight to be closer to the action. “Courts often can be a couple steps ahead of the curve on civil rights issues. We just have to help them get there.”

The ballot initiative, which passed with 52 per cent of the vote in November, changed the California Constitution to trump last year’s 4-3 Supreme Court decision that held that denying same-sex couples the right to wed was an unconstitutional civil rights violation.

Last night, several thousand people marched from San Francisco’s pro-gay Castro District to City Hall both to demonstrate public support for invalidating Proposition 8 and as an outlet for their anxiety. The Supreme Court’s seven justices have 90 days after the oral arguments in which to issue a ruling.

“This is really about what the rest of the world sees - the rest of the world seeing there are huge numbers of people this issue touches,” said Cherie Tony, 52, of San Francisco, who was among the crowd carrying candles and chanting “What do we want? Equal rights! When we do we want it? Now!”

Similar vigils were held in Los Angeles, other California cities, and as far away as New York. At the Los Angeles event, gay and lesbian couples decked out in wedding finery participated in a public “recommitment” ceremony.

Todd Barrett said he and his partner Joe Witmore, who were married during the 4 1/2-month window last year when same-sex couples could wed in California, brought their 5-year-old daughter to show that Proposition 8’s passage affected families.

“I don’t know how I would explain to her that Daddy and Pappa aren’t married anymore,” Barrett said.

The coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ballot initiative organised a statewide day of prayer five days ago to rally support for upholding the measure and encouraged supporters to peacefully join same-sex marriage advocates outside the Supreme Court today.

“Our only purpose is to remind the media, Californians and Americans everywhere that support for traditional marriage is the majority position in the state,” Ron Prentice, chairman of the ProtectMarriage coalition, said in a statement. “We won the Prop 8 election. The constitution has been amended. The will of the people should now prevail.”

Gay rights groups, couples and more than a dozen local governments are urging the court to overturn the measure on the grounds that it was put before voters improperly, or at least prematurely. Under state law, the Legislature must approve significant constitutional changes before they can go on the ballot.

Attorney General Jerry Brown has taken the unusual step of refusing to defend the gay marriage ban in court. His office argues that because the court has already recognised marriage as a fundamental right and gays as a minority group deserving of judicial protection, outlawing same-sex marriage is a constitutional breach.

Both Brown and the parties behind the lawsuits also claim that the ballot measure abrogates the court’s role as the ultimate guardian of civil rights and if allowed to stand would leave other groups vulnerable to having their liberties curtailed.

The Supreme Court has asked the attorney general and lawyers for the couples, local governments and Proposition 8’s sponsors to limit their arguments to three specific questions:

- Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?

- Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?

- If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

Proposition 8’s sponsors are being represented in court by former Pepperdine law school dean Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He argues that the ballot initiative was approved correctly and that it would be a miscarriage of justice for the court to overturn the results of a fair election. — AP

Altantuya allegations flare up again for Najib

For Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his alleged links with the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder trial just will not go away.

Today, influential blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin put up on his website a police cautioned statement from Sirul Azhar Umar, who is a co-accused in the murder trial of the Mongolian woman, detailing how he and co-accused Azilah Hadri were expecting to be paid between RM50,000 and RM100,000 to “settle” the matter.

On the same day, French newspaper Liberation also published a story detailing grisly details of how Altantuya was allegedly killed.

According to the “cautioned statement” published by Raja Petra, Sirul claims Azilah told him of a payment of between RM50,000 and RM100,000.

But it is the article in the French newspaper which is particularly damaging to Najib’s image, and which will not be welcome as he prepares to take over the leadership of Umno and become Malaysia’s sixth prime minister at the end of the month.

The article in the Liberation details how Altantuya allegedly begged for her life before she was shot.

According to Liberation, Altantuya was allegedly shot on the left side of her face, and a second time when her assailants noticed her hand was still moving.

The newspaper says it obtained the information from a “cautioned statement” which had been leaked to its writer.

Altantuya was eventually stripped of her clothes, and explosives were placed on different parts of her body. Her assailants then allegedly set off the explosives.

But these were not the parts of the article which were particularly damaging to Najib.

The newspaper claims that Najib had indeed met with Altantuya, who was the mistress of Abdul Razak Baginda, his close aide and associate, in Paris in 2005.

A photograph was allegedly taken showing the three in a Paris nightclub, the Liberation said without providing any evidence.

The Liberation also suggested that Abdul Razak had been Najib’s intermediary for arms purchases.

In October 2006, the newspaper claims that Altantuya was informed that the commission paid by Armaris, a Spanish company involved in Malaysia’s acquisition of three submarines for one billion euros (RM4.7 billion), had been deposited in a bank account in Malaysia.

The commission of 114 million euros was allegedly paid into the account of Perimekar, a company Razak controlled.

Altantuya then allegedly flew to Kuala Lumpur to demand her share of the commission, which was to have been US$500,000.

The Liberation provided no documentary evidence of the sensational details.

But the resurfacing of these links with the Altantuya murder appears designed to embarrass Najib.

Najib has consistently denied any involvement in the murder and has also said he had never met the woman.

But the issue just will not go away, and has been used by rivals to damage his credibility and has proven to be a significant liability for the ruling Barisan Nasional government.

The Shah Alam High Court is set to deliver its verdict on Azilah and Sirul on April 9.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Batang Ai joins two Bukits on April 7 vote

Nomination for the Batang Ai, Sarawak, has been set for March 29, with polling on April 7, concurrently with both key days for the two other by-elections in Bukit Gantang, Perak, and Bukit Selambau, Kedah.

The Election Commission (EC) has expressed confidence that it can handle three by-elections simultaneously.

The latest by-election was prompted by the death of assemblyman Datuk Dublin Unting Ingkot on Feb 24 after suffering a stroke several months earlier. Unting, 55, was the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) vice-president and state sports and agriculture assistant minister.

The Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election in Perak is necessitated by the death of Roslan Shaharum of Pas on Feb 9 because of a heart attack while that for the state seat of Bukit Selambau in Kedah because its assemblyman V. Arumugam of Parti Keadilan Rakyat resigned on Feb 8.

Nizar maintains ‘tree assembly’ is valid

As far as Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin is concerned, he has been reaffirmed as the legitimate mentri besar of Perak, and he will go ahead with his plan to seek an audience with Sultan Azlan to seek a dissolution of the state assembly.

He told The Malaysian Insider late last night that the vote of confidence in his administration given by an emergency sitting of the state legislature was valid, despite Umno legal advisor Datuk Hafarizam Hassan’s insistence earlier in the day that the meeting under a tree was illegal.

The order obtained by Umno lawyers from the Ipoh High Court yesterday restraining Perak Speaker V Sivakumar from holding assemblies without the Sultan’s consent will be served on him today, and it will then become clearer what transpired in court yesterday.

Yesterday, Umno’s lawyers obtained the order in chambers, without the presence of Sivakumar’s lawyers who were removed earlier by the judge who ruled that only the state legal advisor could represent the Speaker, even though legal experts contend that the Speaker is not constitutionally a public official.

For now, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders are defiant and appear unwilling to accept yesterday’s court ruling.

“Yes, it is still valid,” Nizar told The Malaysian Insider when asked about the morning’s sitting.

“No court in the land can challenge the Speaker,” he declared defiantly.

After being refused entry into the state assembly building by police acting on the instructions of the state secretary, Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers proceeded to gather under a shade of a nearby tree where Sivakumar convened what he contends was a legitimate sitting of the state assembly.

The 20 minute sitting saw three votes passed – to reaffirmed that Nizar remained MB; to ask Nizar to seek a dissolution of the assembly; and to endorse the suspension of de facto mentri besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir and his executive council from the assembly.

Nizar said last night he would still request an audience with Sultan Azlan Shah to ask his consent to dissolve the assembly and that the police reports by PR representatives against the Ipoh OCPD and the state secretary for obstructing the electoral process would be pursued.

DAP leaders also echoed his sentiment, and claimed they would continue to pursue “the rule of law” despite the “repugnant” events of the day.

Its Perak chief Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham listed a seemingly unending list of violations when speaking to The Malaysian Insider.

The laundry list included the police taking instructions from the state secretary instead of the speaker regarding matters of the assembly, but Ngeh reserved the main focus of his contempt for Judicial Commissioner Ridwan Ibrahim’s rulings yesterday.

He said that a court could only grant an interim relief pending the outcome of a case, and not an indefinite order.

Furthermore, natural justice was not being observed by allowing the state legal advisor, who insists he is Zambry’s lawyer in a separate case, to also represent Sivakumar who is a respondent to Zambry’s suit.

“The legal advisor should himself not accept (the situation),” Ngeh said, adding that the ruling denied Sivakumar the proper access to the right of representation in court.

“He can cite the judge for contempt of the assembly,” said Ngeh, who was senior state executive councillor in Nizar’s government.

Both Ngeh and Nizar hold that the court’s ruling can be quashed in an ex-parte injunction.

Thomas Su, another of Nizar’s executive council members, also feels the ruling must be challenged or PR will be seen to be tacitly accepting the “repugnant ruling against the doctrine of separation of powers.”

“The court has made a repugnant ruling,” the lawyer said, adding that a more drastic option would be to go to the Court of Appeals.

Clearly, PR is in no doubt that BN has strong-armed the institutions onto its side and has set a dangerous precedent.

“BN has shown it has no regard for the rule of law,” said Ngeh.

“Now no legislative assembly is safe,” Su summed up.

Certainly, yesterday’s outdoors assembly was safe neither from the elements nor legal dispute.

But as evidenced by members of the public posing to take pictures with the tree after witnessing the unusual assembly, the tree may very well become a symbol of democracy for PR supporters.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Under a tree, assembly votes for fresh polls

In the shade of a rain tree with the State Secretariat just 200 metres away, Perak Speaker V Sivakumar convened an emergency sitting of the state assembly today which effectively voted to end the de facto Barisan Nasional (BN) government of Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

Across town at the same time in the Ipoh High Court, BN lawyers were arguing to stay the proceedings of the state assembly, pending a law suit against Sivakumar for suspending from the assembly Zambry and his six executive council members.

On an eventful day, Perak’s administration has been thrown into chaos with both BN and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) questioning the legitimacy of each other’s actions.

The State Secretary’s directive to close off the building which houses the state assembly had added to the confusion over the administration of the state.

The directive resulted in riot police barring state assemblymen from entering the building.

All the lawmakers that had turned up this morning were from PR parties. BN legislators, not surprisingly, did not show up as they contend the assembly was invalid.

Sivakumar was the only person given permission to access the building, but he chose instead to walk nearby to convene the assembly with the presence of the PR assemblymen.

Dressed in his ceremonial black robes and songkok, the Speaker presided over a sitting, which on the face of it appeared legal as long as he was present.

The sitting proceeded to pass three votes – expressing their confidence in Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin as mentri besar; calling on Nizar to seek a dissolution of the state assembly; and endorsing Sivakumar’s suspension of Zambry and the de facto BN executive council.

Nizar told reporters later that he would seek an audience with the Sultan to ask for consent to dissolve the assembly.

At the Ipoh High Court, Judicial Commissioner Ridwan Ibrahim ruled that five lawyers, including constitutional expert Tommy Thomas, had no locus standi to represent the Perak Speaker in court.

He said the Speaker must be represented by the state legal advisor because he is part of the state government.

Thomas told reporters the team had no choice but to withdraw from the case.

Earlier this morning, a minor scuffle broke out when a group of unidentified men tried to stop Nizar and other PR assemblymen from entering the state assembly compound.

Subsequently, Nizar and the assembkymen were prevented from entering the state assembly by riot police, backed by two trucks with water cannons.

Yesterday, Zambry declared any attempt to hold an emergency sitting of the state assembly a “threat to national security.”

-Malaysia Insider

Monday, March 2, 2009

Perak’s political drama heightens

THE political drama in Perak, which has escalated from one height to another, is set to spike tomorrow with an emergency state assembly sitting to vote on two motions related to the state's constitutional crisis.

However, even if the emergency sitting is successful, it would not immediately solve the impasse. It would, in fact, be the latest in a series of planned steps by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to turn the matter back to Perak's ruler, Sultan Azlan Shah, in the hopes of forcing a snap poll.

The two motions expected at the emergency sitting are to reaffirm support for the PR's Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as Perak menteri besar, and to seek dissolution of the state assembly.

Speaker V Sivakumar, the DAP assemblyperson for Tronoh, invoked Standing Orders to call for the emergency sitting. As the all-powerful speaker of the state assembly, he is the PR's trump card in the state's political impasse despite the Barisan Nasional (BN) having taken over the state government.

Sivakumar has already flexed his muscles by suspending the BN's Menteri Besar Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir and his six executive councillors. They will not be allowed to enter the assembly for the emergency sitting. Neither will the three independents who left the PR to support the BN be allowed into the state assembly, as Sivakumar deems their resignations from their state seats effective.

With 10 representatives on the BN's side out, the numbers in the 59-seat state assembly would be in the PR's favour at 27 to 21. The PR's 28th seat is Sivakumar's, who, as speaker, cannot vote.

Zambry with his executive councillors and special advisers

Back to the palace

Barring any attempts of forced entry by Zambry and the BN excos into the state assembly house, and any potential ruckus or situation that may thwart the emergency sitting, Nizar will quite easily be given the vote of confidence as MB.

Following that, two scenarios could take place.

One, Nizar could quickly seek an audience with Sultan Azlan to request the dissolution of the assembly.

Two, the impasse would continue because Zambry and the BN would certainly not take affirmation of Nizar as the legitimate MB sitting down.

Nizar may opt not to hurry to the palace seeking the assembly's dissolution, but be content to let the deadlock and the uncertainty drag on until the assembly's next sitting, which must be called by May.

The limbo could be intentional to force Sultan Azlan to call both Zambry and Nizar for an audience to decide a way out of the situation.

"Under the present circumstances, the ruler could call both parties to the dispute, he could consult both menteris besar and ask them if they feel fresh elections would be the best way out," says Mohamed Asri Othman, the Perak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) legal adviser.

"The sultan cannot decide alone; he must take into account relevant factors through listening to both sides," Asri adds.

Appealing to the sultan's discretion

It appears that the latest situation is being engineered by the PR, which has the upper hand in the house through the speaker. The intention would be to appeal to the sultan's personal discretionary powers that he has under Article 18, Clause 2 of the Perak Constitution.

Such discretion is applicable to two functions, namely, the appointment of a menteri besar, and the withholding of consent to a request for the dissolution of the state legislative assembly.

According to the clause, the sultan's personal discretion is allowed when deciding whether to dissolve the assembly upon request by the menteri besar.

This is consistent with Article 16(6) of the state constitution, whereby the MB can request the ruler to dissolve the assembly. This is what Nizar tried to do earlier, but failed.

There is another provision that touches on dissolution as well: Article 36(2) which simply states, "His royal highness may prorogue or dissolve the legislative assembly".

Although Article 36(2) does not specify any conditions (such as a request by the MB) for the dissolution, it is still deemed by some legal experts to be discretionary power subject to Clause 2.

"'Dissolve' as stated in 36(2) is discretionary according to the wording of Clause 2, where consenting to dissolution is based on request," says Universiti Teknologi Mara's constitutional law expert Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi.

"As a general rule, the sultan acts on advice except for areas where discretionary power is mentioned, such as under Clause 2, where a request for dissolution must be made," he explains.

Says Mohamed Asri: "As a constitutional monarch, he has to act on the advice of the menteri besar. If the ruler decides unilaterally, then he would be an absolute monarch."

Based on their explanations, this means the ruler can still only decide whether or not to dissolve the assembly, upon on the request for dissolution from the menteri besar. It does not mean he can decide on his own, independent of any request, to dissolve the assembly.

In this context, if Nizar succeeds in being affirmed as MB in the emergency sitting tomorrow, he would have legitimate grounds to seek an audience with the sultan.

Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari of the International Islamic University says the sultan's role is as a facilitator of democracy.

"The sultan, as protector of the constitution, [has] to facilitate democracy and not otherwise. He needs a government that has a clear mandate, so in dissolving the assembly, he would be assisting democracy to establish that clear mandate," says the law lecturer.

Obstacle course

There are kinks in PR's plan, though, and that is the suit Nizar has filed against Zambry to declare himself as the legitimate MB.

It's not inconceivable to think that the sultan might prefer to wait for the court's decision before deciding to grant either side, or both, an audience to discuss the assembly's dissolution, or the next course of action.

The BN, too, is planning a counterstrike by seeking the opinion of a Queen's Counsel in London on the validity of Zambry's and the excos' suspensions, and Nizar's suit against Zambry.

As inevitable as snap polls look, the road to elections is still littered with many mines that the PR must dodge.


Perak exco accuses Speaker of abuse of power, files complaint

Perak executive councillor Mohd Zahir Abdul Khalid has referred state assembly Speaker V Sivakumar to the Rights and Privileges Committee.

A notice was served to Sivakumar’s political secretary this morning, accusing the Speaker of abusing his power to commit contempt by showing disloyalty to the Perak Sultan under Article 47 of the state constitution.

Zahir, who is also Kamunting MP, told reporters his complaint centred around Sivakumar’s decision to suspend BN Menteri Besar Zambry Kadir and six executive councillors, including himself on Feb 18.

Trying to block Tuesday’s sitting

Sivakumar has called for an emergency sitting of the state assembly on Tuesday to vote on two motions. One is a vote of confidence in PAS leader Nizar Jamaluddin as Menteri Besar and the other is to call for a dissolution of the state assembly.

Umno-BN is trying all ways and means to fend off this development, which could see the reinstatement of the Pakatan state government.

PAS vice-president Husam Musa has said Umno-BN would do better to seek a dissolution of the assembly rather than resort to cheating to cling to power.

Deputy Premier Najib Abdul Razak, the incoming Umno president, and his party should not fear fresh state-wide polls even if they were not confident of winning, he sadded.

Stressing that there were three options open to Umno, Husam said: “The first is to dissolve the assembly, the second is to detain Pakatan Rakyat leaders involved under the Internal Security Act and the third is to place Perak under a National Operations Council.

“However, I think if Pakatan leaders are detained under the ISA, their profile would be even higher and if the state is placed under a National Operations Council, the government’s image would be tarnished. Dissolution is the only option.”


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Nik Aziz says ‘bumiputera’ term is racist

In extraordinary remarks today, Pas spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said the use of the term “bumiputera” smacks of racism and deprived other races of government aid.

His comments, made in Kota Baru today, will certainly spark debate, especially since it comes from a Malay leader who is widely respected even by his foes in Barisan Nasional and Umno.

In calling the term bumiputera racist, he appears to be drawing a clear line between his Pas party and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) from that of Umno, which has been championing the special rights of Malays.

Nik Aziz’s remarks was made in response over growing criticism from the conservative spine of Umno against comments made by DAP’s Dr Boo Cheng Hau, the opposition leader in Johor.

Dr Boo was reported to have compared “bumiputeraism” with apartheid.

Umno leaders have demanded an apology from Boo, and say his comments were a challenge to Malay rights and the constitution.

Umno’s Utusan Malaysia also described Boo’s remarks as a part of DAP’s agenda to form a republic.

But Nik Aziz was reported by Bernama as saying today that not only did the term smack of racism but deprived other races sharing similar rights and having the same identity cards of government assistance.

“In an election, other races are allowed to cast one vote, so are the bumiputera," he said.

Nik Abdul Aziz said the government should form a body to manage aid for the poor in the country and not cater only for a single group known as the bumiputera.

“I don’t like the (use of the) word bumiputera. What I like is (use of the word) poor, for all races,” he added.

He said the poor, regardless of their race, should be given assistance.

His statement appears to be also in line with Anwar Ibrahim’s concept of “Ketuanan Rakyat,” or supremacy of the people, which has been used to diffentiate PR parties from Umno’s “Ketuanan Melayu,” or Malay supremacy.


Showdown Perak - follow the rule of law !

Civil society groups have called for transparency and rule of law to prevail in Perak, as lawmakers there gear up for what could be a key turning point in the political deadlock that has crippled the state for nearly a month now.

In particular, Transparency International has warned of the hardening and harmful perception amongst Malaysians that the Umno-Barisan Nasional was using the federal apparatus unfairly to hang onto power both in the state and in rest of the nation.

“This episode has washed up a lot of dirt and the debris that we are seeing is the result of democratic processes not being allowed to find expression at the ballot box and elsewhere,” said Ramon Navaratnam, president of Transparency International Malaysia.

“Increasingly, it has become apparent that the federal apparatus is being abused to further the position of the politicians of the day. But this is a very dangerous precedent and bears a very heavy cost - not least to the image of country at the international level but also at home.

“To the extent that the rakyat perceive that their rights to freedom of expression and democratic practices have been dented, that will be the extent to which they will find recourse in the law courts - and if even that institution fails - to the streets in the form of protests and demonstrations.”

More cheating to follow

Perak legislative Speaker V Sivakumar has called for an emergency sitting of the state assembly on Tuesday to file a motion of confidence in Pakatan Rakyat leader Nizar Jamaluddin as Menteri Besar and also to dissolve the state assembly.

The move is aimed at paving the way for fresh state-wide polls, which would return the mandate to the Perak people to vote in the government and leadership of their choice.

But given the intense rivalry from Umno-BN, the plan may be sabotaged by the far-reaching arm of Deputy Premier Najib Abdul Razak - who is also incoming Umno president.

Dogged by a string losses at recent by-elections, Najib will fight hard to escape the embarrassment of a probable large-scale defeat as he ascends to power next month. Already, the Perak legal adviser has tried to block Sivakumar from sending out notices of the Mar 3 sitting to all eligible assemblymen.

“It behoves all parties to follow the advice of Raja Nazrin Shah to follow the rule of law,” said Ramon. “The situation in Perak has reached a stage where all parties - even the Palace - must display the utmost transparency and neutrality in their actions.

“Just pronouncing precepts is not enough, there must be follow-through and one must practice what one preaches. Only then can one regain the respect and confidence of the rakyat.

Crunch time - are we a democracy or what?

Raja Nazrin, the regent of Perak, a day ago called for regard for the law and respect for lawful institutions.

“A lawless system breeds a lawless culture, which in turn suggests lawless governance and lawless government,” he said at a conference for youths.

Perak is in a state of crisis - both politically and constitutionally. The stalemate will start to seriously harm its economy if steps are not taken to resolve the situation brought about by the Sultan’s decision to transfer power from the Pakatan to an unpopular line-up backed by Najib.

The Feb 5 decision was lambasted by the Pakatan, which has taken their battle to the courts and launched a barrage of legal action against Najib’s line-up. It was also condemned by nearly all civil society groups in the country including the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), Transparency International, the Bar Council and scores of others.

But most importantly, Sultan Azlan Shah’s decision was against the wishes of his own subjects - the Perak people. And till today, they have not accepted BN Menteri Besar Zambry Kadir as their new leader.

74 percent of Perakians said in a recent Merdeka Centre survey that they wanted fresh polls rather than the Sultan’s choice - no matter how wise - forced upon them. 62 percent of them felt that their democratic rights had been trampled on by their Ruler.

“It has come to boil - and the question that must be answered now is - are we a democracy?,” said Ramon.

“If we are, then the rights and wishes of the people must be respected above all else. This is what a democracy is about - if they are not, then we are not a democracy. Full stop, it is as basic as that.”