The incredible silence and welcome to China’s effrontery to Malaysia

Something incredible, unprecedented and potentially dangerous happened in Malaysia last Friday that most Malaysians do not seem to have paid much notice to.

In fact many of the Malaysian Chinese actually welcomed it, fed up as they were by Malay hooligans trying to stir up Malay supremacist and anti-Chinese sentiments in Malaysia.

Photo from Free Malaysia Today: “He was there to assure Chinese traders that they will be safe tomorrow and that the police were watching over them in the event there was trouble.”

The incident took place in Petaling Street, an enclave of Chinese traders and shopkeepers right smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, that has become the symbol of Chinese presence in Malaysia ever since the Red Shirt Rally on September 16.

Before we go on, a bit of context for those that don’t follow Malaysian political developments closely. The Malaysian Prime Minister is in trouble, not least because of his own stupidity. Already unpopular, he was caught with a smoking gun – US$700 million deposited in his personal account.

His refusal to explain how a large sum come to be in his account, apart from it being from a mysterious Middle East donor, has added to the attacks on him and his government. Adding on the pressure was a huge rally of about 500,000 people that was organised by Bersih, originally an elections watchdog grouping on August 29.

Besieged, Najib or his followers retaliated with a Red Shirt Rally on September 16. The Red Shirts ostensibly were rallying to protect “Malay dignity” and the disrespect the Chinese (the predominant ethnic group in the Bearish rally) have shown to the Malays and their leader, Najib. During their rally a group of the Red Shirts attempted to enter Petaling Street but they were stopped by Malaysia’s Federal Reserve Unit, a specialist division of the police that deals with crowd control.

They were left licking their wounds but threatened to stage a comeback on September 26 where the Red Shirts would enter Petaling Street to stage a protest and demand better conditions for Malay traders so they can also do business there. That was the ostensible reason but in the meantime the organiser Jamal Yunos threatened violence and was, rightly arrested by the police on September 25, a day before the planned rally.

In the meantime, though, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Hui Kang made a bizarre visit to the traders at Petaling Street on the evening of September 26 where he calmed the nerves of the traders by saying, as reported by Free Malaysia Today:

PETALING JAYA: China’s Ambassador to Malaysia has stated his firm belief that all Malaysians, save a handful, already enjoyed racial harmony and appealed to those bent on causing trouble tomorrow, to kindly refrain from doing so.

At a press conference, after distributing mooncakes to those present, Huang Hui Kang said, “I believe that 99 per cent of the Chinese and Malays live harmoniously and only a small number of them want to cause trouble tomorrow.

“We told businesspeople here that they can open as usual tomorrow if they want but if they feel unsafe, the choice is theirs to close instead.”

He also said that the traders at Petaling Street only wanted to carry out their business in peace and that for those who chose to open tomorrow, the police would be on standby to offer security in the event there was trouble.

“So far, about 50 per cent of traders, which equals to around 600 in number, are still fearful of opening tomorrow. However we will keep abreast of the news and act accordingly,” he said.

If you look at the social media feeds, his actions have been lauded and praised. The Chinese welcomed his comments and visit as a show of solidarity and brotherhood. Some even gave the impression that they would welcome China being their benefactor.

Others, including Chinese and Malay leaders in the Government and Opposition have been strangely silent. Only Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry, Wisma Putra, seems to be concerned by this development and has leaked the news that they will be summoning the Chinese Ambassador  for a discussion.

Where foreign relations go this is an incredible development on some levels.

On one level you have China blatantly meddling in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. The ambassador was making statements more appropriate for a Malaysian Minister than an envoy. Who begs the question of whether his message and gesture was sanctioned by China’s government. If it had been we should all shudder as you ask what China has to gain by stoking the racial fire. If it had not, was the Ambassador totally out of line and why has he not been recalled yet? The Chinese Embassy’s explanation sounds as credible as Mao doing a hip hop song. 

On another level, the Malaysian Chinese are making a grave mistake by accepting the Ambassador’s words and deeds as a sign of solidarity and empathy. The ancestors of the malaysian Chinese have been migrating out of China for at least the last couple of centuries – and for good reason, China is not a place that they would want to live in because of the socio, political and economic hardships. IN the intervening years, whole generation of Malaysian Chinese have grown up in a different political and social environment. The last thing they would want is China dictating their politics and social norms. China’s interest is not necessarily the same as those of the Malaysian Chinese and they should never forget that. Yet no prominent Chinese leader has come forward to denounce the Ambassador’s blatant assault to Malaysia’s sovereignty. And why? Because what’s popular now among the Chinese is anything slamming Najib and Umno. They won’t do the right but popular thing. 

 

On the third level is the response of the government. Has it become so weak that Wisma Putra has to leak stories to the media that it was summoning the Ambassador to chastise him? His offence has very clearly broken diplomatic protocols. Will this weakness lead to even bolder moves by China? The only criticism so far has come from the Government mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia and Umno Youth but no officials?

 

The talk about Chinese-Malay participation in Bersih 4

As a Malaysian who has lived overseas for most of his adult life, the last two decades spent in Indonesia, Unspun cannot help but marvel at the racial divide in Malaysia, even during a unifying event such as Bersih 4, that took place over this weekend.

For those not familar with Malaysian politics Bersih 4 is the wildly successful and popular rally of Malaysians over the weekend to protest the rotten system of political patronage and corruption among the elite in Umno entering on its leader and Prime Minister Najib Razak (for a primer on this issue see here).

So  hundreds of thousands of Malaysians turned up for the rally in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend. Smaller groups of Malaysians all over the world also gathered in their cities to show support and solidarity with their compatriots. This included Jakarta that held their gathering at a restaurant at Epicentrum (see photo below).

IMG_9466
Malaysians in Jakarta demonstrating support for and solidarity with the Bersih4 protests in Kuala Lumpur

What’s interesting is how one major threat of the conversation about Bersih 4 is going. And it’s all about race. There are those that say that most of the protesters in Kuala Lumpur are of Chinese descent, and that those of Malay descent were under represented. (But I do a disservice to the Malaysian nomenclature – careful phrasings of Chinese descent, ethnic Chinese and ethnic Malays are all abbreviated into Chinese and Malays).

Just Google Bersih4+Chinese+Malay and you will see how obsessed with race Malaysians have become
Just Google Bersih4+Chinese+Malay and you will see how obsessed with race Malaysians have become

Such observations have given rise to inferences and polemic. Some say that this reflect the political conservatism of the Malays, others say that the Chinese have now become politically dominant at the expense of the Malays; still others disagree and say that the Malays were actively participating, that the overwhelming population in Kuala Lumpur is Chiese, and that many Malays earned less and therefore they had to work serving everything from KFC to McDonalds to Starbucks to the bearish 4 protesters.

Without getting into the merits of their inferences, Unspun  it is telling about Malaysian society how race remains the single most important factor of their lives. It is difficult to imagine such conversations gaining so much play in Indonesia, where protests can happen often and often with the numbers that can make even the Bersih 4 rally a middling event.

That Malaysians are so aware of their race is a testament of how damaging and polarising the Government’s policies have had on the populace. Everything revolves around race and interpreted through the racial prism. Even the most well meaning Malaysians who proclaim that they did not see Malays, Chinese or Indians among he protesters but only Malaysians belie the fact that they are conditioned by this polarisation to have such mindfulness of race.

So where does this leave Malaysia, assuming the Bersih 4 protest achieves its objective and they get rid of Najib?  A bit of a better place but still sitting on a powder keg. Race is polarising, emotive and easily stoked as an issue. It is so entrenched that it will take much effort and many years to undo the harm that the Umno-led government (beginning with Mahathir Mohamad) has done.

But it needs to be addressed. So perhaps when Najib is shoved aside the focus should move toward a depolarisation of race, rather than anything political on the agenda?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you try to PR the un-PR-able…

This is what happens. Told’ja so here

 

Nowhere2Hide: Dr M’s man blasts Kok Wing

kok-wing

FMT Reporters | June 6, 2015

Najib’s PR team in tatters, says blogger, and warns image man Lim that his own legacy in danger

KUALA LUMUR: Najib Razak’s new image consultant, Lim Kok Wing, has been urged to beat a “quiet but hasty retreat” in a sharply-worded blog posting by Syed Akbar Ali, an ardent supporter of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Syed Akbar Ali gave Kok Wing a double-barrel blast, blaming him for the “PR disaster of the century” when the prime minister did not show up at the Nothing2Hide public forum where Najib was expected to answer criticisms about his government’s handling of national affairs.

In addition, Syed Akbar warned Lim that “some people are not going to forget you for this” for his having warned Dr Mahathir at a personal meeting to lay off his campaign against Najib and for Dr Mahathir to expect his legacy and reputation to be torn to shreds.

Syed Akbar relied on unnamed sources to accuse Lim of having bungled by coming up with the idea of the forum. It had become “the biggest PR disaster of the century”, and people were calling it Nowhere to Hide instead of Nothing2Hide.

After Najib failed to show up at the forum, Dr Mahathir began to speak but the police intervened to stop him and turned off the microphone and video projector.

Syed Akbar said “some serious finger pointing” had begun inside Najib’s public relations camp because those responsible for telling the prime minister not to attend the forum were from another part of the PR team.

The blogger said Najib was “a PR disaster” and warned Lim that he could not “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.

As an example, he cited Najib’s failure to say anything about Friday’s earthquake in Sabah, a first in Malaysia, until five hours later “because he was too busy running and hiding from Dr Mahathir all of yesterday morning”. Najib had also failed to visit the state and instead was going for an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Syed Akbar warned Kok Wing that his own legacy (as an adman, image consultant, and founder of a creative design school) was now in danger.

Lim Kok Wing rose to prominence by being the Barisan Nasional’s principal image consultant in charge of all election campaign advertising during the 22 years of Mahathir’s several terms in office. He also founded a design school which eventually achieved university status under Dr Mahathir’s patronage and spread internationally.

Dr Mahathir, in his blog yesterday, alluded to Kok Wing, describing a visit by “a friend” and the friend’s advice to stop his campaign of criticising Najib. Dr Mahathir has asked Najib to step down as Umno president and prime minister.

Reminding Lim that Dr Mahathir had concluded by calling him an “ex-friend”, Syed Ali said pointedly: “I don’t know how else to say this but so late in life you have assumed a very stupid role for yourself.”

The blogger said he himself had visited Dr Mahathir on Friday evening and “from our conversation at Dr Mahathir’s office yesterday, I think some people are not going to forget you for this. A crime has been committed by some people. All the ‘levers of power’ (to borrow your words) are not going to help them. It is best for you to beat a quiet but hasty retreat. Don’t say I did not tell you.”

He warned Kok Wing that the only legacy that would go down the drain “is your future as well as your past”.

Ominously, Syed Akbar pointedly said “You don’t know what we discussed yesterday” at his own meeting with Dr Mahathir on Friday evening.

via Nowhere2Hide: Dr M’s man blasts Kok Wing | Free Malaysia Today.

Dream on Malaysia while Indonesia takes stand against “Islamic” crazies

I’ll never forget how wistful my Malaysian cardiologist was when he found out that I was from Indonesia and that we now have Jokowi as the President.

“He seems a good guy, isn’t he?” he said of Jokowi as I lay prone and half naked on the examination table.

“Yes he is,” I said.

“Ah, if only we can have a leader like that, simple, honest, straightforward…” he said as his stethoscope hovered over me and his mind conjured up the same qualities for his national leader.

Then he looked sad as reality bit. “Too bad, we can only dream what you have in Indonesia…” Perhaps he was conjuring images of his own leaders?

The sad thing about my cardiologist is that he is not alone among Malaysians. In my last trip back a few weeks ago my friends and acquaintances also reflected this sentiment. It seems that they are close to despair that the winds of change that have prevailed in Indonesia will ever reach them.

This despair is understandable though when you look at Malaysian society today and how religion, mainly Islam, is being used by an increasingly emboldened group to assert the superiority of the Malays overt the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia.

These groups have tacit, and sometimes not so tacit, backing from the Government and the ruling Umno party. A bit like the FPI (the Islamic Defenders Front) in Indonesia during the previous administrations.

Before the changes that swept the likes of Jokowi, Ahok, Riduan Kamil and other progressive leaders to power in national and municipal governments. The only power centre was the Government, made up of political brahmins out to rip off the country.

As the main interest of these brahmins was to enrich themselves by securing their political positions, they tacitly, and sometimes not so tacitly, supported organisations like the FPI and Laskar Jihad, essentially thuggish gangs abusing the name of Islam as a cover for their  extortion, intimidation and coercion of others, Muslim or not.

During Ramadhan the FPI would, for instance, conduct raids on licensed drinking establishments and turn those places upside down — unless they were paid protection money.

At other instances, depending on who paid them, they would harass whatever targets even to them.

For a long while many Indonesians despaired but there was little they could do. The police was reluctant to move against these organisations as they knew that their political masters were behind them. Companies went unheeded or left to wither in some mouldy file on some dusty desk.

Many Indonesian Muslims also felt trapped as to criticise them could be construed as criticising Islam. All a bit like Malaysia today, you just have to substitute the names of the organisations into Perkasa and other Malaysian organisations.

But while Malaysia still wallows in this unhappy state of affairs, Indonesia has moved on and have called the bluff of the bullies.

Jakarta Vice Governor Ahok, an ethnic Chinese and Christian, has borne the brunt of the FPI’s wrath over the past few months as they sought to block his swearing in (they didn’t succeed. He was sworn in yesterday). They called him an infidel and other names and say that he should not be allowed to lead Muslims.

But instead of keeping quiet or avoiding the issue Ahok has done something really brave. he took the FPI full on head-to-head. He has now filed a complaint with the Home Ministry asking that the Government ban the organization.

But what is heartening to note too in Indonesia is how the ordinary Muslims from all sectors of society are also speaking up against these self-proclaimed defenders of Islam and Islamic values.

All over social media, in small protests and in social settings they are making their voice heard that the real Islam is one of compassion, tolerance and understanding – and the FPI do not represent them.

It is through widespread groundswells like these that the tyranny of bullies like the FPI can be checked. Wouldn’t it be great if such groundswells can take place in Malaysia as well?

Najib and the PSYchology of BN persuasion

Unspun mudik-ed to his kampung in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year and was tickled pink by the desperate efforts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s attempt to shore up his support among the Chinese community for the upcoming national elections that must be held  in the first half of this year.

The context to this desperation is that Najib, who heads the Barisan Nasional, a coalition of race-based parties, that has ruled Malaysia in one form or another since Independence in 1958, has been losing popularity.

In the early days when Malaysians were easier to be duped the party, particularly under Mahathir on, played the nationalist card and fears of mayhem if the coalition lost their two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The formula for electoral victory was simple and effective. Gerrymeander the electoral districts so that a party that had the support of the Malays as a solid voting bloc would always win. The calculation was that if most Malays voted for the Barisan Nasional or BN, and the votes of the Chinese or Indians living in the electoral districts were split, the Barisan Nasional would win.

They then spiced up the electioneering by playing on the fears of the populace by spreading rumours that an opposition victory would destabilise the country and cause racial riots, ad hominem attacks and lots of money and a smooth-running electoral machine.

This all worked when the economic pie was working for Malaysia. But somewhere in the early 2000s the growth of Malaysia began to slow down. The pie shrunk and the inner circles within Umno (the Malay-based dominant partner in the coalition) began to scramble for the limited resources. Corruption escalated.

The fortunes of the Barisan Nasional began to slide even further after Mahathir stepped down and was replaced by Abdullah Badawi, who did not have the vision and the ruthlessness of Mahathir to drive the country forward and keep the Umno elite from their rapacious scramble for mollah.

Badawi, predictably, did not last and was quickly replaced by Najib, son of second the late Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Razak. Like many scions of the elite Najib grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, went to the best schools in the UK and had no clue about the rough and tumble of realpolitik.

The feeling that Malaysians have about Najib is that he’s smart enough to figure out that corruption is eroding the support of Umno and the Barisan Nasional, and ruining the country. But he’s so hemmed in by the Umno elite whose main preoccupation these days is to rake in as much as they can while the ship sinks that he’s helpless to do anything.

Their rapacity has resulted in even the Malays withdrawing their support for the Barisan Nasional ruining the age-old formula of victory that the BN had relied on through gerrymeandering and social engineering.

Which leads us to the extent of desperation that Najib is showing in courting not only the Malays but also the Chinese, the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, a task usually outsourced to their junior BN partner the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). The probem with the MCA, however, is that it can’t deliver any votes because it has lost all credibility with the Chinese. The president of the MCA, for instance, is Choi Soo Lek a 60 plus Chinese whose most notable claim to fame was to star in a leaked video of him and a prostitute in a cheesy hotel.

So Najib now has to court the Chinese themselves. Unspun doesn’t know who’s advising him but it would make a Public Relations professional cringe at the bad advice that he’s getting and the horrible execution of events.

For a joke Unspun’s friends gave him this “any pow” (literally Red Packets containing money  that Chinese give to their juniors during Chinese New Year). Najib’s answer?

Image

An “Ang Pow” with his face on the cover (the moustache and weak mouth is a turnoff to most Malaysian). But the juxtapositioning of his face and the year of the snake (they couldn’t get their English right even then) seems to suggest that Najib is a snake. Doesn’t his PR people pay attention to things like that?

Serperntine travails aside Najib also tried a different beat in his new year TVC to the Chinese. So you have here a so called Malay leader whose record has been one of championing the rights of Malays (against the Chinese who would swamp them with their economic prowess if their rights are not protected) doing something very Chinese-y, some would say cheesy. Notice the bad editing where the weak mouth and moustache gets a cameo role.

As if that was not enough, the BN sought to cash in on the popularity of PSY and his Ganggnam Style that has take the world and Malaysians by storm. But Najib forgot that while you can bring the horse to water you can’t make it drink (no pun intended). It resulted in this embarrassing what they hoped to be the rallying of the troops.

 

All goes to show: you can fool some of the people all the time; all the people some of the time; but never all the people all the time.

Najib should change image consultants. Better still, he should just resign and enjoy retirement and no amount of image making can help him increase his and BN’s electoral chances in the short span of time they have left before the next elections.

 

Kompas berated by Malaysians experts

Ouch! This must hurt. The grand old Kompas being lectured by observers and “experts” via a newspaper from a country with no press freedom.

For the background to this story, read my previous post.

Also read the comments here for more Malaysian views about Kompas’s apology to Najib.

Kompas perlu berwaspada tidak cemarkan etika kewartawanan

Oleh ZULKIFLI JALIL

pengarang@utusan.com.my

DI Jakarta, akhbar-akhbar di sana bebas mengutip apa sahaja berita yang terpapar dalam blog-blog untuk disiarkan di laman mereka. Sama ada berita itu menghentam pemimpin tempatan atau luar negara, segalanya ‘bisa’ belaka.

Itulah yang diakui oleh Pengarang Berita Antarabangsa Kompas, Jimmy S. Harianto kepada seorang pegawai Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak di Putrajaya, Khamis lalu.

Harianto sebelum itu menemui Perdana Menteri untuk menyampaikan permohonan maaf kepada beliau dan keluarganya berikutan laporan akhbar itu memfitnah Najib dan isterinya, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor yang disiarkan 4 Ogos lalu.

Namun Kompas, sebagai sebuah akhbar besar dan terkenal di Indonesia, seharusnya tidak menyebarkan berita palsu atau perkara-perkara tidak benar yang direka oleh pihak tertentu.

“Itulah kesilapan akhbar ini, yang saya maksudkan kenapa siarkan sesuatu berita atau perkara tanpa siasatan.

“Sebagai akhbar yang bertanggungjawab, siasatan sebelum menyiarkan sesuatu berita itu amat dituntut. Tetapi selepas disiarkan dan kemudian memohon maaf, maka jelas Kompas tidak menggambarkan profesionalisme,” kata Profesor Pengajian Global Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Dr. Chandra Muzaffar kepada Utusan Malaysia semalam.

Read entire story here

Kompas’ strange apology to Malaysian PM Najib Razak

In Indonesia Kompas is the most respected newspaper in the land. It has the highest circulation (observers put it at about 500,000 but its difficult to tell as no paper is subjected to the Audit Bureau of Circulation here). It is very conservative and very careful about what it writes, so much so that sometimes its readers have to wade through lots of ho-ing and humming just to get at the meat of a story.

So it is with great surprise then that Kompas printed a story on August 4 that alleged, among other things that democracy did not exist in Malaysia; that Najib’s wife, Rosmah, had bought a US$24 million ring and that Najib’s family was somehow related to the “Russian Mafia” and when it was called to the carpet was unable to defend it.

Yesterday Kompas, in an article entitled PM Najib Razak: Demokrasi juga terjadi di Malaysia (PM Najib Razak: Democracy also exists in Malaysia) apologized to Najib for the August 4 article. It was, however, a strange apology though.

The article quoted Najib at length refuting the August 4 article in nine paragraphs and a short 10th paragraph quoting its chief editor Rikard Bangun offering an apology to Najib and his family.

The rest was quoting Najib elaborating on the BN’s chances during upcoming elections (good) in a largely Q&A format that seems more a compensation for wrongs done to the man and his family rather than real reporting.

It is no reflection on Najib, of course, but shouldn’t Kompas, as the nation’s most respected publication, explain to its readers how it could either have got things so wrong about Najib and his family, or couldn’t substantiate what it had written and thus had to apologize. At either case Kompas should not have carried the story but it did.

So now we all are left wondering how it came about that the most respected publication in the country could have fumbled so badly, apologized so strangely and what sort of checks and balances it exercises to ensure that people are not the victims of misreporting?