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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hindu American Foundation Critical of Obama Canceling Golden Temple Visit

Washington, D.C. (November 2, 2010) – The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed concern over the White House’s announcement that President Barack Obama would not be visiting Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab -- the holiest shrine for Sikhs -- on his upcoming trip to India. According to some sources the decision was made due to concerns that photographs of the President with his head covered -- a requirement for all visitors to the Golden Temple -- could revive claims that he was Muslim. Yet, within a matter of days of the Golden Temple cancellation, the White House announced that the President would visit the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, the largest Muslim place of worship in Southeast Asia.

“Many of us are confused and concerned, to say the least, by the apparent contradiction. If President Obama’s primary concern is to allay continued rumors of his being Muslim, then why would he agree to visit a mosque after reversing his decision to visit the Golden Temple?” said Sheetal Shah, HAF’s Senior Director. “We regret the message this may send around the world. A visit to the Golden Temple, a place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths in India, would have helped educate a global audience about Sikhism, amongst India’s other Dharmic traditions, and provided the President an opportunity to witness India’s vibrant religious pluralism. We hope that the Administration will reconsider its decision.”

The President’s trip to India also coincides with Diwali, one of the most widely celebrated Hindu holidays. There has been no mention, however, of the President visiting a Hindu temple while there.

“It would indeed be a welcomed gesture for the President to include a visit to a temple especially if the Administration finds it appropriate to visit a mosque in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. It seems it would follow that he would extend the same courtesy to Hindus during his stay in the most populous country of Hindus,”” said Dr. Mihir Meghani, HAF Board member. “Through various public addresses, the establishment of the Faith Based Advisory Council and numerous White House celebrations, the President has articulated a commitment to religious inclusiveness. We hope he will continue this trend on the global scene, where it is imperative to foster a deeper understanding of the world’s faiths, their complexities and most importantly, the respective roles they play in ongoing conflicts and may play in reconciliation.”

Blackouts in Parliament

The power supply in Parliament was interrupted twice during the ongoing sitting of the Dewan Rakyat, bringing the proceedings to a halt.

The first power failure occured at about 11.50am when Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Noh Omar was winding up of the Supply Bill (2011).

After the electricity supply was restored shortly after, another blackout occurred which was promptly resolved.

By then the audio and visual equipments are unable to function and are currently being repaired.

Prior to power disruption, the Dewan Rakyat had resolved to extend today's sitting to 10.30pm. It is unknown whether there will be further extensions due to the blackouts.

BN wins on paper, but Yong wins hearts

BY FMT Staff

KOTA KINABALU: Gauging local sentiment in Batu Sapi is easy. Distaste for Barisan Nasional runs deep. According to conventional wisdom, that should translate into a protest vote? Not so fast.

Predicting the outcome of the Nov 4 parliamentary by-election is a dicey business.

Suffice to say whatever the outcome, the margin of difference between the three battling parties -- BN, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and PKR -- will set the stage for the 13th general election scheduled for before 2012.

After all as a much respected Sabah leader Jeffrey Kitingan has pointedly told voters, “this is a only a by-election, vote for the opposition -- give any opposition a chance -- and we shall see if the government of the day will do something to recapture the trust of the people and show Sabahans that they are sincere.”

On paper, BN's looking good -- with some 4,000-odd votes seemingly “already in its pockets” courtesy of postal votes and 3,000 Muslim Bumiputera loyalists.

In the final thrust, which began yesterday, generous lacings of cash, citizenships and infrastructure such as jetties, mosques and solar lights are promises being quickly fulfilled.

But on the ground, the rumblings and rousing welcomes are reserved for SAPP's Yong Teck Lee, whose “Sabah for Sabahans" slogan is stirring the imagination of the weary poverty-stricken constituency.

Yong is aiming for 80% Chinese votes and 25% Muslim Bumiputeras votes to create that Sibu-style upset that BN does not want to see.

Still, measuring how far the electorates' support for Yong and disgust for Chief Minister Musa Aman's regime will translate into votes, is a task best left to self-professed political observers and the clairvoyant.

Promises that never materialised

Meanwhile voters, especially the Muslim Bumiputeras who constitute some 60% of the electorate in this vast constituency that is half the size of Johor, appear resigned to their fate.

First, it was the all-powerful and now defunct United Sabah National Organisation (Usno, which by the way, is trying to make a comeback), and then came Berjaya Party in the 1970s.

Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) grabbed the baton in the 1980s and Umno and the BN stole it in the 1990s.

All had something in common. They promised something better but that “something” never came. The people are still poor, lack basic facilities and face a bleak future.

But they persevered with hope and repeatedly voted these same parties that were giving them nothing despite the state's riches.

That's the way it has always been. But they have not been cowed and latest ground reports are whispering change.

Yong the candidate is also the rebel-rousing president of SAPP and he's being lifted by a wave of anti-establishment, anti-federal government sentiment akin to what was first seen when Usno and then Berjaya fell.

Unfortunately, all it means is that the people of Batu Sapi and Sabahans are fed up with being dictated to by non-Sabahans.

And that's bad news for the Kuala Lumpur-based Umno-BN and PKR -- which is testing its influence here in Sabah for the first time.

In 1985, PBS won because of that same sentiment -- a feeling that Sabah should have its own way. Now, if the annoyed talk is any indication, that sentiment is back.

"There's no one else to turn to… Going back to the founding fathers of PBS, who is there? Yong is one," said a local who has followed the political meanderings of the various parties.

"SAPP is the key to getting back at KL for all the broken promises. It (the local sentiment of Sabah for Sabahans) is boiling up again. It used to be with PBS… people were attached to PBS. But they lost (the) sympathy (of Sabahans) when they joined BN.

"You go and ask people. People don't respect Pairin (PBS leader Joseph Pairin Kitingan). They don't trust Dompok (Bernard Dompok, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister and the president of the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation) and Maximus (Ongkili, the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation Minister).

"They are all seen as BN and federal government proxies. There are no good Sabah leaders left," he said.

'What have we got after 16 years?'

Adding to that, he said many of those locals from the west coast who migrated to the east coast of the state are frustrated with PBS.

"They won't support PBS now even if its the Huguan Siou (paramount leader) asking them... now there is only Yong. He is still seen as a bona fide Sabah leader who the people hope has the courage to speak out on Sabah issues."

Yong's continued attack on Sabah BN leaders for failing to fight for the state's autonomy despite holding top positions in the ruling coalition at national level as well as the recent expose that the federal government had allegedly surrendered some of its oil wealth to Brunei for little in return, has swelled his base.

That's the way Sabahans are. Like anyone else, they will give you a fair chance and sometimes even more than a fair chance and punish you if you take them for granted the way Musa's BN seems to have done.

"What have we got after all these years (16 years of Umno/BN rule to be exact?)," asked a local attached to a semi-government agency in Sandakan.

"We've got a few flyovers, lots of small cell phone shops, a few more empty malls… what else? There's still power cuts, water shortages, petrol prices have gone up. Food is more costly… Is this development? Sixteen years and this is all? I hope BN falls," he said angrily.

Questioned a little more and he said: "I don't like BN but they will win. I have put five RM5,000 on them to win and I think I will make some money but if I lose, I will still be happy."

If Batu Sapi voters deliver the winning result that strategists in both opposition parties expect, the implications for Sabah remain a mystery.

An opposition victory or even a good showing will reflect a repudiation of the Umno-BN rule in Sabah.

Ku Li plays gentleman against rising attacks

By Teoh El Sen - Free Malaysia Today

GUA MUSANG: Galas Barisan Nasional election director Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah today casually dismissed the latest allegations that Umno workers are giving out cash and gift hand-outs on the second last day of polling day (Nov 4) of the Galas state by-election.

Remaining too cool to care about the latest PAS attack against his campaign, Razaleigh replied coyly:" Really? Is this true? I don't know, I wasn't there."

Asked why he was not defending himself from several allegations hurled against him that may sway voters, the Gua Musang MP said that he only replies to things that are true and would not entertain
absurd allegations.

"Let them talk. If they want to attack, let them. Those are things that are untrue. If they are true, then I would reply. We don't give out money; if we do, we will admit to it, but we don't. I have never played money politics," he told reporters at a Deepavali dinner at Bukit Cekati here last night.

When asked about the chances of a win for BN, Ku Li smiled and said: "Fifty-fifty".

Previous attacks include state PAS election committee adviser Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah singling out Razaleigh, who is affectionately known as Ku Li, as the main cause why land deeds and titles were slow in being awarded in Galas.

Slow-moving mood

Wan Abdul Rahim had claimed that Razaleigh had decided to hide the files, a claim that the latter had dismissed as "lies".

Commenting on the slow-moving mood of the by-election, Razaleigh said that he liked to see such election style being practised.

"I see that our workers are spirited, yes, there may be a few problems because there are a lot of people involved. But there is good cooperation and we are united in our campaign."

"We are very moderate. We don't hold ceramah, just small talks and door-to-door visits. We do not disturb the rakyat. The police are also not so much involved and there are no traffic jams. This brings harmony to the people," Razaleigh said, adding that in future there should be television and radio broadcasts replacing ceramahs.

"This is the information age. We live in modern times. Maybe once in a while we can come down and greet the voters... this is the new way being practised by modern countries. There is no need for the old ways that burden the rakyat," he said.

Meanwhile, Razaleigh said there would be no last-minute surprises in the Galas campaign.

Asked if he had any message for the voters, he smiled: "Undilah Barisan Nasional."

‘Betrayal’ theories keep voters riveted

By Joe Fernandez - Free Malaysia Today

ANALYSIS The campaign for the Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election is turning into a story of competing “betrayal” theories. They are being flogged by various parties who have entered the fray in a desperate last-minute push to garner support for their respective candidates.

Sabah Umno veteran Karim Ghani, who recently quit his party in a huff over the allegedly continuing disenfranchisement of local Muslims, was first off the mark. He is urging voters in Sekong to reject both Linda Tsen and Yong Teck Lee. Muslim-majority Sekong is one of the two state seats in Batu Sapi, the other being the overwhelmingly Chinese Karamunting.

Tsen, points out Karim, is from Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) which, according to him, “betrayed” the United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) in the 1985 state election. The betrayal, as Karim explains, is the refusal of PBS to form a coalition government with Usno after the former vanquished Berjaya in snap state polls called by Sabah strongman Harris Salleh. Karim swears that PBS and Usno had a pre-election coalition agreement which was not honoured by the former.

Karim also wants voters to reject Tsen because her party PBS is linked with Umno in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). Umno, swears Karim who claims to have brought the party to Sabah “to fight PBS”, betrayed Usno members when it subsequently teamed up with PBS in BN.

Yong is on Karim’s blacklist too in Batu Sapi since his Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) is a 1994 breakaway from PBS.

Karim is also sore that Umno had Usno de-registered and has subsequently resisted all attempts to revive the party. Hence, his plan to join PKR along with mostly ex-Usno members who are still to join Umno or who plan to quit the party over the “betrayal”.

It was PBS, says Karim, who betrayed Umno and BN when it pulled out from the ruling coalition on the eve of the general election in 1990.

PBS campaigners point out in rebuttal that it was Yong who persuaded fellow deputy president Bernard Giluk Dompok to stand together with him to persuade party president Joseph Pairin Kitingan to make that fateful pull-out decision.

The younger Kitingan in politics, Jeffrey, objected but was over-ruled by his brother. Yong’s role in the 1990 PBS pull-out from BN gave Umno the excuse it had been waiting for to enter Sabah.

PBS, at the time of the pull-out, claimed it had felt betrayed by Umno which treated the Sabah party as if it didn’t exist in the BN.

Not so subtle message

The not so subtle message from Karim, in any case, is that local Muslims, ex-Usno members whether within or without Umno, should vote for Ansari Abdullah, the PKR candidate from Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition.

Karim is yet to join PKR but hopes to garner at least 1,000 ex-Usno votes for Ansari and negotiate his way into PKR. He has already held two rounds of talks in late August and mid-September with de facto PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim in Kota Kinabalu.

Meanwhile, PBS campaigners in Batu Sapi agree that their party had a coalition agreement with Usno in 1985.

But it appears that the agreement would be activated – Karim denies this as a PBS afterthought – only if PBS needed Usno to form a state government. PBS, however, did not need Usno as the election results proved. Nevertheless, it still contemplated taking in the Muslim-led and dominated party into the state government despite the former (PBS) having a sizeable number of Muslim representatives and over their objections.

Usno apparently incurred PBS’s wrath when Suluk chief Mustapha Harun had himself sworn in as chief minister in the wee hours after election day based on his theory that “the early bird catches the worm”.

Earlier, Mustapha who had 17 seats in 1985 vis-à-vis PBS’ 25 came to an understanding for a coalition government with the vanquished Berjaya which could only manage six seats. The hope of the two parties was to appoint six nominated assemblymen, a little used provision in the state constitution, to eclipse PBS in the state assembly.

After being sworn in, Mustapha, however, invited PBS to join his coalition government.

Karim claims that this invitation was in keeping with the spirit of the coalition government.

Also, he claims that Mustapha only teamed up with Berjaya after PBS indicated that there would be no coalition government. It’s unlikely that between the final election results coming in amidst celebration in PBS and the wee hours of the next day, that Pairin would have called Mustapha to announce “no coalition government”.

Pairin was first waiting to be sworn in the next morning. Mustapha jumped the gun when he virtually scrambled over the walls of the Istana and woke up the governor at an unearthly hour to have himself sworn in as the chief minister.

Backed by then deputy prime minister Musa Hitam, PBS president Joseph Pairin Kitingan was sworn in nevertheless as chief minister, Mustapha’s appointment being considered null and void. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was then overseas and upon his return, upbraided Musa for Pairin’s appointment.

Mustapha immediately went to court to test his “early bird catches the worm” theory but lost his bid to have himself reinstated as chief minister. The court pointed out that Pairin, with 25 seats, should have been invited first by the state governor to form the government and not Mustapha who had less than a majority in the state assembly of 48 seats.

Under heavy fire

Then there is Yong who is under heavy fire in Batu Sapi from PBS campaigners for defecting from the party on the eve of the 1994 state election and getting SAPP approved within 24 hours in cahoots with Mahathir. Yong subsequently teamed up with Umno in the state election but their combined total of 23 seats including three from Yong fell short of the majority in the 48-seat assembly.

One month later, Yong enlisted the help of Sarawak tycoon Sng Chee Hwa who had earlier flown him in Kuala Lumpur tycoon Vincent Tan’s private jet to see Mahathir and get SAPP registered. Yong also enlisted the help of Labuan tycoon Joseph Ambrose Lee. Both tycoons helped Yong to lure several state assemblypersons away from PBS to bring about the downfall of the Pairin government.

Yong subsequently went on to become chief minister for two years (1996-1998) in a state government which has since been dominated by Umno.

Then on Sept 17, 2008 SAPP pulled out from the ruling BN claiming loss of confidence in the federal leadership and the coalition party. Umno, however, is not flogging this betrayal in Batu Sapi unlike PBS which doesn’t want SAPP back in the Sabah BN.

SAPP refused to join PR in the wake of Sept 17, 2008 election and instead has been holding on-off talks with emissaries of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

Yong’s plan is to return to Sabah BN provided all the Chinese seats would be allotted to his ostensibly multiracial party. Hence, his outing in Batu Sapi is to demonstrate to the BN that the majority of the Chinese is with him. Alternatively, he hopes to negotiate for lesser terms for re-entry into BN on the grounds that he still has substantial Chinese support.


1. When the 5th PM took over, it became obvious he was incompetent and unable to govern the country and grow its economy. He was seen as weak by the Malays as well as by the Chinese and Indians. He flipped-flopped, making decisions and policies and reversing them, arresting opposition members under the ISA and then releasing them shortly after, claiming that he wanted to protect them.

2. Extremists among the Chinese and Indians felt they could safely challenge the Government, particularly over racial issues. They demanded that provisions in the Constitution favouring the Malays and the NEP quotas be removed. Even Barisan Nasional partners took up the call.

3. Normally UMNO leaders and UMNO generally would take up the defence of the Malays. But Abdullah as UMNO President and PM was silent (elegant silence) causing the other leaders and members of UMNO to become silent also.

4. As the attack against the Malays escalated and UMNO remained silent, the Malay public felt they were being let down by UMNO. Losing faith in UMNO, they began to set up NGOs to take up the challenges by the Chinese and Indian activists.

5. Perkasa as an NGO gained the most support because the founder was more vocal and willing to take risk and to rebut the views of the Chinese and Indian extremists.

6. Meanwhile Malay support for UMNO was silently eroding. In the 2008 elections the loss of Malay support for UMNO became evident. Many either abstained or voted for PAS.

7. Demands were then made for Abdullah to step down. Najib took over and he tried to regain Chinese support by apparently giving in to Chinese demands on several issues. The new UMNO leadership also opted to remain silent and failed to defend the Malay position. Instead of going back to support UMNO, Malays including UMNO members continue to flocked to Perkasa.

8. In the 2008 elections, many UMNO and BN candidates won only by small margins even in their strongholds. If in the next election defections by even a small number of supporters in some constituencies can result in a reduction of the Barisan Nasional majority or even cause the BN to lose altogether.

9. Because of the poor handling of the Perak crisis, the Chinese who considered the Pakatan Government of Perak as a Chinese Government, swore not to support BN anymore.

10. The situation of UMNO and BN looked bleak. They have not regained the Malay support lost in the 2008 elections and they face the prospect of the Chinese not supporting the Barisan Nasional in the 13th General Elections. Striving to regain Chinese support is not enough. They must also regain Malay support.

11. UMNO may think that all the Malays are supportive of the party. But UMNO cannot be sure of that. Their silence before the 2008 Election was deceptive. We now know that many supported the opposition. Can UMNO disregard or antagonise any Malay group? I think it would be dangerous to do so.

12. Perkasa has not indicated that it is against BN and UMNO. In fact it has hinted that it is for UMNO. Looking at the strength of Malay support for Perkasa antagonising them would not be to the benefit of the Barisan Nasional or UMNO.

13. Perkasa is accused of being racist and should be rejected on that ground. Is Perkasa racist? If anyone cares to study the statement by Perkasa he will not fail to note that it has confined itself to rebutting allegations that the non-Malays have been discriminated against, that the Malays need to retain their present position. If it is really racist then it would be demanding the abolition of the special treatment of the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia. This it has not done except when defending the Malay position.

14. It is illogical to expect that when the Chinese and Indian activists demand for the removal of policies and schemes to help the Malays, they, the Malays should remain silent or to agree. Surely the natural thing for them to do is to defend themselves. If their anointed protector, UMNO, refuses for whatever reason to voice disagreement against the demands of the Chinese and Indians, then the beleaguered Malays will have to find a champion elsewhere.

15. They could form a political party and undermine UMNO. But they did not. The Malays are already fragmented. And so they formed NGOs instead which leaves them with the option to support or not to support UMNO and the Barisan Nasional.

16. True there are a few Malays in Pakatan who seem to agree and support demands to do away with the affirmative action in favour of the Malays. But they are doing this simply to fish for Chinese support for their parties.

17. Whatever may be the feelings of UMNO, I have decided that the NGOs have a big enough following which could do damage to UMNO and the BN in the next election if they want to. Accordingly I have decided to stay close with Perkasa especially and to ensure that it does not swing over to the opposition. I would like to ensure that Perkasa supports the Barisan Nasional in the next election.

18. Does this make me a racist? I had at one time the opportunity and power to be a real Malay racist. But I won elections with strong non-Malay support. In fact in1999 it was Chinese support which gave me my 2/3 majority.

19. I was obviously not regarded as a racist then (except of course by the DAP). So why am I regarded as a racist now when all I want to do is to ensure Malay support for Barisan Nasional parties, especially UMNO.

In TI CPI of past 16 years, Malaysia is perceived by the world as becoming more and more corrupt while other countries have become less corrupt

By Lim Kit Siang,

Despite the “1Malaysia People First Performance Now” slogan and the alphabet soup of GTP, NKRA, MKRA, SRIs, ETP etc and one Roadmap after another of Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the National Integrity Plan of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia is the worst country in the Asia-Pacific in Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in past 16 years since the start of the annual ranking in 1995.

In the first TI CPI in 1995, Malaysia was ranked No. 23 out of 41 countries or the 6th highest-ranked nation in the Asia-Pacific after New Zealand -1, Singapore – 3, Australia – 7, Hong Kong – 17 and Japan – 20, with a CPI score of 5.28.

Sixteen years later, after numerous anti-corruption campaigns, two major anti-corruption legislation and “transformation” of the former Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) into Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) with massive infusion of public funds and increase of staffing, Malaysia has continued to remain in the lowest TI CPI ranking of No. 56 as last year but with the lowest CPI score of 4.4 – falling to No. 11 country placing in the Asia-Pacific.

In the past 16 years, Malaysia had lost out to five other countries in the Asia-Pacific, namely Taiwan now ranked No. 33 with CPI score of 5.8; Bhutan (No. 36 – 5.7 ); Brunei (No.38 – 5.5); South Korea (No. 39 – 5.4) and Macau (No.46 – 5.0).

Even more serious, other countries which had been down on the list of the TI CPI ranking are fast catching up while Malaysia is fast falling down!

Thailand, China and Indonesia are three examples in Asia. China was ranked No. 40 with a CPI score of 2.16 in 1995. In 2010, China is ranked No. 78 with a CPI score of 3.5.

At the annual average rate of China’s improvement and Malaysia’s regression of their CPI scores in the last 16 years, China will not only catch up but will leave Malaysia behind in the TI CPI, both in ranking and in score in a matter of six years – come 2017!

Another Asian country set to overtake Malaysia is Thailand, which was ranked No. 34 with CPI score of 2.79 in 1995, and is now ranked together with China at No. 78 with CPI score of 3.5.

Breathing down Malaysia’s neck in the TI CPI is India (No. 87 – 3.3), having climbed from No. 35 with CPI score of 2.78 in 1995.

Even Indonesia is making significant strides in the anti-corruption front. Ranked at the very bottom of No. 41 in 1995, with CPI score of 1.94, Indonesia is now ranked No. 110 with a CPI score of 2.8 in 2010.

Malaysia is the worst country in the TI CPI in the past 16 years, falling from No. 23 with CPI score of 5.28 to No. 56 with CPI score of 4.4 in 2010.

Malaysia is also losing out to other countries in other regions. For instance Turkey, which was ranked No. 29 in 1995 with CPI score of 4.4 has caught up with Malaysia in 2010, equally ranked No. 56 with 4.4 CPI score.

It is heart-rending to see Malaysia losing out to Middle East countries. Jordan was ranked No. 30 with CPI score of 4.89 in the 1996 TI CPI when Malaysia was ranked No. 26 with CPI score of 5.32. In TI CPI 2010, Jordan has shot ahead of Malaysia, ranked No. 50 with CPI score of 4.7.

Saudi Arabia, which was first ranked No. 46 with CPI score of 4.5 in 2003 (when Malaysia was ranked No. 37 with CPI score of 5.2) is now ahead, with ranking of 50 and CPI score of 4.7.

In the past 16 years, Malaysia is perceived by the world as becoming more and more corrupt while other countries have become less corrupt!

The NKRA on “fighting corruption” had set the target to increase the TI CPI score from 4.5 last year to 4.9 this year, but the reverse has taken place, falling to a new national low of 4.4!

What is most unacceptable and reprehensible is the attempt by the Minister for NKRA Datuk Idris Jala, Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit) and the MACC to whitewash the shocking failures of anti-corruption measures this year by claiming that the TI CPI ranking and scores are not correct or reliable.

Pemandu claimed that in the past year, Malaysia had bettered the graft score from 5.2 to 6.3 in the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, from 3.6 to 4.6 in the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy’s (PERC) Asian Intelligence Newsletter and from 4.5 to 4.6 in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report – and that based on the “average score of the four surveys, it is clear that Malaysia’s index has improved from 4.45 in 2009 to 4.975 in 2010”.

Pemandu, which is being staffed by highly-paid consultants and professionals, is being most dishonest, unethical and unprofessional in trying to engage in an unacademic PR exercise to gloss over the abject failures on the anti-corruption NKRA front as TI CPI had not changed its methodology from previous years.

Malaysia’s CPI 2010 is calculated by TI using nine sources by six independent institutions – the same as in previous CPIs. Unless Pemandu challenges the validity of previous CPI scores, it cannot selectively dispute the validity of the 2010 CPI.

The worst TI CPI score for Malaysia in 2010 should be a top issue in Parliament for the government to explain in the 2011 Budget winding-up stage of debate. Instead, this subject has been avoided like the plague, although many MPs had spoken about it in the debate.

The two Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon studiously avoided the subject of Malaysia’s worst TI CPI in 16 years in their winding-up, further undermining public confidence in the political will and commitment of the Barisan Nasional government to declare war on corruption, particularly grand corruption of the “Ikan yus” as distinct from “ikan bilis”, as well as the real worth and utility of expensive Government Transformation Programme run by highly-paid professionals and consultants with their NKRAs, MKRAs, SRIs, etc.

Press Release: RMAF’s threat is shocking and unwarranted

ImageN Surendran, a Member of the Malaysian Bar, is acting for N Tharmendran, an (ex-) Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) officer, one of the accused persons in the theft of two jet engines.  

The RMAF’s blatant demand that lawyer N Surendran advise his client to surrender, failing which he should turn his client in or otherwise face potential criminal proceedings, is an explicit and unambiguous threat.  It is an appalling and unacceptable interference in a solicitor-client relationship.

The Malaysian Bar is outraged at this act of coercion, which is an intolerable incursion on the independence of the Bar and the freedom that a lawyer must have to advise and act for clients without fear or favour.  RMAF’s offensive order, in writing, seeks to fetter N Surendran’s duty to his client, as it suggests that a lawyer should act in his own personal interest, rather than in his client’s best interest.  It is an intimidatory manoeuvre that encroaches upon the ability of a lawyer to perform his duties effectively and to the best of his ability.  

Both litigants and their lawyers must be protected from any form of intimidation in the exercise of the right to take any matter to the courts for determination.  Any interference with their rights and duties respectively is an affront to the dignity of the courts and the administration of justice.  

To our knowledge, N Surendran’s client has been in regular attendance during the court proceedings, and has not attempted to evade any efforts by RMAF to contact him.  Regardless of any allegations against him, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and to legal representation without any harassment of, or threat against, his legal counsel.

It is internationally recognised that lawyers perform a vital function when they act for their clients in the pursuit of justice, and that they must be permitted to carry out these functions freely.  

The Malaysian Bar calls on the RMAF to immediately withdraw its demand, and to allow N Surendran to carry out his professional duty without hindrance.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar

Yemen hunts for cargo plot suspect

A major military and intelligence operation is under way in Yemen as authorities attempt to track down an alleged Saudi bomb-maker who is a key suspect in a foiled air cargo bomb plot over the weekend.

The hunt for 28-year-old Ibrahim al-Asiri was launched in the provinces of Maarib and Shabwa on Tuesday, a security official told the Reuters news agency.

"Asiri is believed to be hiding and moving with senior al-Qaeda elements such as Nasser al-Wahayshi [the Yemen al-Qaeda leader]. Security intelligence are still tracking them down to exactly identify their whereabouts," the official said.

Yemen is under immense pressure to find those responsible for planting two explosive devices found in air cargo destined for the US late last week.

Al-Awlaki on trial

In a sign that it is taking tougher measures to crack down on what it sees as radical elements, Yemen put Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Islamic cleric on trial in absentia on Tuesday, accusing him and two others of plotting to kill foreigners.

The charges against al-Awlaki came as part of a trial against another man, Hisham Assem, who has been accused of killing a Frenchman in October.

Assem, 19, was present in court, but al-Awlaki and a third suspect, Osman al-Awlaki, were charged in absentia. The hearing was held amid tight security at a courthouse in Sanaa, the capital.

Al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based cleric, has previously been linked by US investigators to an army psychiatrist accused of last year's killings at a base in Frot Hood, Texas.

They also say he helped prepare Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian accused in the Christmas airline bombing attempt, and that he had links to the failed Times Square bombing.

Governments around the world have tightened security surrounding freight coming from Yemen after two parcel bombs, addressed to synagogues in Chicago, were discovered at a UK airport and in a cargo terminal in Dubai on Friday.

Qatar Airways said the Dubai parcel had been transported on two of its passenger planes from Sanaa via Doha.

Flight restrictions

Britain banned unaccompanied cargo freight to the UK from Yemen and Somalia, the Netherlands and Canada suspended all cargo flights from Yemen, and France and the US banned air freight from Yemen in response to the plot.

Germany also extended its ban on cargo aircraft from Yemen to include passenger flights, sparking shock from Yemen which described the decision as a "mass punishment".

An official said that such a "rushed and exaggerated reaction to suspicious packages will harm Yemen's efforts in combating terrorism and serves no one but al-Qaeda terrorists who always sought to ... hurt Yemen's interests".

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has warned against knee-jerk reactions to the incident, saying governments must not make rash moves to improve air security.

"We have seen many cases where [solutions] have unintended consequences," Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the global airlines body said at a meeting in Frankfurt on Tuesday.

"Over the weeks and months, as governments learn more about the threat, we must continue to work together to implement appropriate solutions," he said.

Earlier, US authorities said that they knew that al-Qaeda had planned to use international cargo systems several weeks before last week's foiled plot.

Authorities are reported to have intercepted packages shipped by the group in September.

"Several weeks ago, we identified packages in transit that appeared to have a connection to al-Qaeda," a US official told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

"We looked at them very closely, and determined they did not contain explosives. We obviously took this earlier event into account in dealing with last week's cargo threat."

The parcel, which was hidden inside a computer printer with a circuit board and mobile phone SIM card attached, was said to contain pentaerythritol trinitrate (PETN), a highly potent explosive, which is difficult to detect in security screenings.

Al-Qaeda tip-off

A leading al-Qaeda fighter in Yemen who surrendered to Saudi Arabia last month provided the tip that led to the thwarting of the mail bomb plot, according to Yemeni security officials.

The officials said Jabir al-Fayfi, a Saudi who had joined al-Qaeda in Yemen, had told Saudi officials about the plan.

"The latest announcement about al-Fayfi brings to the fore two major issues," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanaa, said.

"One, that Saudi Arabia enjoys unlimited influence and leverage in Yemen. Number two, is it shows that Saudi managed to infiltrate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Ahelbarra said that this was something unheard of in the history of al-Qaeda.

"Usually, when they plan an attack, it is only a small circle of al-Qaeda that is familiar with all the details of the operation," he said.

"The Yemenis don't seem to be happy with the revelations that Saudi was the key player in tipping off the Americans."

Source:Al Jazeera and agencies

Report: Iranian authorities give go-ahead to execute woman

Authorities in Iran have given the go-ahead to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani says a human rights activist.

Authorities in Iran have given the go-ahead to execute 
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani says a human rights activist.
CNN) -- Authorities in Tehran, Iran, have given the go-ahead to execute a woman who initially was sentenced to death by stoning, according to an activist working on her behalf.

However, what method will be used to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is unclear, said Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee Against Stoning. The execution could happen as soon as Wednesday, she said, citing information received from a source in Tabriz, Iran, who is close to Ashtiani's family.

Ashtiani initially was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. The Iranian government later said she was also convicted of murdering her husband, but her lawyer and family dispute that.

A letter from Tehran was delivered to the prison in Tabriz where Ashtiani is being held three days ago, Ahadi said, giving the go-ahead for Ashtiani's execution.

Ashtiani, 43 and a mother of two, drew international attention when she was sentenced to death by stoning. She concedes that she was convicted of adultery, as initially reported, but says she was acquitted of murder. "The man who actually killed my husband was identified and imprisoned, but he is not sentenced to death," she said in August.

The Iranian government's claims that she was convicted of murder are a lie, she told the Guardian newspaper through an intermediary. "They are embarrassed by the international attention on my case, and they are desperately trying to distract attention and confuse the media so that they can kill me in secret."

Ashtiani's son and her attorney are still in jail after being arrested last month, Ahadi said. Also still detained are two German journalists.

"The International Committees against Stoning and Execution call on international bodies and the people of the world to come out in full force against the state-sponsored murder of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani," as well as the release of the others, Ahadi said in a statement.

Before his arrest, Ashtiani's son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, said court officials stole documents and files pertaining to the murder of his father in order to "promote his mother as a murderer." And Ahadi's committee said the murder charges are "fabricated" by the Iranian regime.

In August, Ashtiani appeared on state TV confessing that she knew about a plot to kill her husband but felt she had been misled. Amnesty International condemned the interview.

Ghaderzadeh and attorney Hootan Kian will not be issued an attorney, because the government claims they do not need one, according to Ahadi.

Ashtiani's other former lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, is being protected by European diplomats after he fled to Turkey from Iran.

Mostafaei claims that Iranian authorities tried to arrest him without cause.

Pengaruh Ku Li masih kuat di Galas

Dr M says not racist for backing Perkasa

Dr Mahathir says Perkasa is not racist. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that he is not a racist for backing Perkasa, arguing instead that he is only working to ensure Malay support for Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN).

He also defended Perkasa from charges that it was racist, suggesting instead that “if it is really racist then it would be demanding the abolition of the special treatment of the Chinese and Indians”.

The former prime minister did not, however, specify the special treatment given to the Chinese and Indian communities.

Writing in his blog today in a posting entitled “Perkasa and me,” Dr Mahathir stressed that Umno needed Malay support to win the next general election and pointed out that ignoring Perkasa’s large following would not benefit the ruling party.

Perkasa claims to have a membership of 300,000, 80 per cent of whom are said to be disillusioned Umno members.

“Accordingly, I have decided to stay close with Perkasa especially and to ensure that it does not swing over to the opposition,” Dr Mahathir wrote.

“Looking at the strength of Malay support for Perkasa, antagonising them would not be to the benefit of the Barisan Nasional or Umno,” he said, pointing out that Malay support for Umno has been decreasing.

“Umno may think that all the Malays are supportive of the party. But Umno cannot be sure of that. Meanwhile, Malay support for Umno was silently eroding,” said Dr Mahathir.

He pointed out that the loss of Malay votes for the ruling coalition was shown in Election 2008 when BN lost its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament.

“In the 2008 elections, the loss of Malay support for Umno became evident. Many either abstained or voted for PAS. In the 2008 elections, many Umno and BN candidates won only by small margins even in their strongholds,” he said.

The former prime minister rejected the notion that Perkasa was racist.

“If it (Perkasa) is truly racist, then it would be demanding the abolition of the special treatment of the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia. This it has not done except when defending the Malay position,” said Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir said that groups with a big following could damage BN politically.

“Whatever may be the feelings of Umno, I have decided that the NGOs have a big enough following which could do damage to Umno and the BN in the next election if they want to,” he said.

In September, Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor noted that the party should distance itself from Perkasa as any association with it would cause BN to lose votes in the next general election.

Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali then warned Umno not to be complacent about its vote bank and threatened to give “guidance” to his members on how to vote in the next general election.

Several Umno leaders later joined in the anti-Perkasa chorus and agreed that it was time to openly renounce links with Perkasa. MCA leaders then quickly jumped in to laud their colleagues’ decision.

In an apparent about-turn, however, Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that Umno was not in conflict with any NGO.

Following Najib’s statement, Tengku Adnan immediately denied that he had ever asked party leaders to sever ties with Perkasa.

Dr Mahathir had previously warned Umno against alienating Perkasa as the move would cost the largest Malay party at the ballot box.

Today, the country’s longest-serving prime minister lashed out at the Najib administration for failing to uphold Malay rights and warned that even a small number of angry supporters in certain constituencies could cause BN’s ultimate defeat in the upcoming polls.

“Najib took over and he tried to regain Chinese support by apparently giving in to Chinese demands on several issues. The new Umno leadership also opted to remain silent and failed to defend the Malay position,” he said.

“If in the next election, defections by even a small number of supporters in some constituencies can result in a reduction of the Barisan Nasional majority or even cause the BN to lose altogether,” warned Dr Mahathir.

He added that Perkasa has hinted that it backed Umno, although the group has repeatedly denied links with the ruling party.

“Perkasa has not indicated that it is against BN and Umno. In fact it has hinted that it is for Umno,” said Dr Mahathir.

'Defective AES': Cancel award, says Wee

By Teoh El Sen - Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: Wangsa Maju MP Wee Choo Keong has demanded that the government cancel the award of the Automated Enforcement System (AES) contract, saying that it was awarded on “dubious grounds”. He instead urged the government to call for an open tender.

The AES is multi-million ringgit speed camera system to nab traffic offenders. It is set to be implemented nationwide.

"I ask the government to immediately cancel the AES contract to Beta Tegap Sdn Bhd and Commercial Circle Sdn Bhd, on the grounds that the award was made in dubious circumstances through a request for (selective) tender. It should be through an open tender," Wee said.

He questioned why an open tender was not called “for such a large project” that would "change the whole enforcement system".

He warned that the possible failure of the system would be detrimental to the government, as fines slapped on the public would need to be returned.

"I'm sure the government does not want this system to fail and public funds wasted just because of negligence or 'willful blindness'... of certain officials at the Road Transport Department (RTD).

"The moment we heard that this was a request for tender project, we smell a rat," said the former PKR MP-turned-independent.

Special panel
Wee wants a “special panel” to be formed, comprising Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officials and other experts.

"But those who were previously involved in this (contract) should not sit in the panel. This to show fairness and transparency.

"The AES should be awarded through an open tender. A detailed study of the AES must be made so that it is free of damage.

"It must be prepared by companies with calibre and financial stability, not just those selected by the RTD as was done by (former transport minister) Chan Kong Choy," said Wee.

Wee alleged that one of the companies awarded the contract, Betap Tegap, had failed to submit its account to the Companies Commission Malaysia since 2004.

In his recent speech in Parliament, he claimed that "some RTD officers” were instrumental in getting the transport ministry to amend the Road Transport Act, but the amendment was withdrawn due to protests.

"I believe that Mohamad Solah Hassan, the RTD director-general, was disappointed with this withdrawal," he said.

Wee also asked why Solah was quickly promoted from his previous position as an enforcement
director. He called the unscheduled promotion a "road transport bypass".

He also trained his guns on Chan.

"Why was the Cabinet in a rush to award the AES project to these two companies at the very last seconds of Chan's tenure as transport minister and also before the Road Transport Act was tabled and approved by Parliament?"

"This raises a lot of suspicion and that something is wrong or that there is abuse of power or corruption going on."

Questionable system

Wee said Chan was also the one who initiated a selective tender through a “request for proposal" when he was the minister in 2006.

"Solah cannot say he is not aware of this at all. He must answer. Why the request for tender? The current minister, Kong (Cho Ha) is duty-bound to provide answers," he said.

Wee claimed that the accuracy of the system used by both these companies was also not properly evaluated for its effectiveness due to a "few personalities" who were involved in the assessment process.

Beta Tegap would be using the Redflex system from Australia while Commercial Circle would be using the German Robot.

"If Solah and his RTD officers, who were entrusted with the AES project, had done a detailed study of the AES, they would have surely found that the Redflex system used by Beta Tegap is inaccurate as was reported in the United States in 2007 and 2008 and also in Australia in 2010.

"I was also informed that the Robot system used by Commercial Circle also faces the same problem in Australia.

"There are many more states in Australia that had reported similar problem (of inaccuracy) and it ultimately forced the government there to refund the fines issued to the public," he said.

Wee added that the government should not rush into awarding the AES contract as the two systems have a proven record of failures.

'Covert' ties could hand BN win in Batu Sapi

By Stephen Winfred - Free Malaysia Today

KUCHING: As the campaign moves into overdrive with less than 48 hours to go before polling on Nov 4, the spotlight has shifted to the Chinese voters and a probable 'covert' PKR-Barisan Nasional alliance which could hand BN's Linda Tsen a win.

Based on a voter turnout of between 65% to 70%, all three parties have assessed their chances.

If the voter turnout hovers between 65% to 70%, then about 12,000 to 13,000 registered voters are expected to cast their ballots on Nov 4.

Batu Sapi has 25,582 registered voters of which 9,737 are Chinese voters and 1,535 postal voters.

BN is only targetting 25% of the 9,737 Chinese votes and relying on the 60% Bumiputera Muslim votes.

Based on this 'simple expectation', BN is expected to win the seat by a 1,000 to 1,500-vote majority.

Backing this projection is BN's believe that it has about 1,000 staunch Chinese voters in the bag.

It is secretly hoping that rival candidate PKR's Ansari Abdullah will be able to 'steal' between 1,500 to 2,000 Chinese voters from third contender, Sabah Progressive Party's Yong Teck Lee, splitting the Chinese votes significantly three ways.

If PKR does manage to swing this, then together with BN's 'in the bag' 1,000 votes, Yong would only stand to get 3,000 to 3,500 Chinese votes. This would not be enough for SAPP to capture the seat.

"We believe Yong will garner only about 3,000 Chinese votes. If he manages to get more than 4,000 Chinese votes, we will be in trouble.

"The best indicator is that, if by 2pm on Nov 4, the Chinese voter turnout does not surpass 40%, then we will have to work hard on the Bumiputera votes. We have to bring out every single Bumiputera voters to cast their ballots," said a BN election campaigner.

Insignificant PKR

PKR, which is unlikely to make an impact in this by-election, on the other hand is hoping to get 40% Bumiputera votes and 20% Chinese votes.

On the paper, BN has in its grasp some 5,500 votes, which includes 1,500 odd postal votes and 3,000 Bumiputera voters living in the constituency, concentrated in water villages and surrounding islands.

The BN election machinery is said to have located and convinced these 3,000 out of the 5,000 Bumiputera voters in the constituency and are on the hunt for the remaining 2,000 Bumiputera voters.

This, observers claim, would provide the BN a sense of confidence going into the final round of the battle knowing very well that it has 60% of Muslim Bumiputera support.

This Muslim Bumiputera support has come from the Suluk, Bajau, Orang Sungai, Bugis, and Brunei Malay communities.

To add to this tally, fishermen living along the coast and on the islands are also expected to come to the aid of the BN.

All of them make-up 60% of Batu Sapi's electorates.

Yong's strategy

However there is fear that Yong could slice away more than the 25% Chinese vote which BN is targetting.

SAPP is targeting 80% Chinese voters with its “Sabah for Sabahans” campaign. It is also banking on at least 20% Bumiputera votes.

The party is using Nahalan Damsal, a former state minister and ex-PKR Batu Sapi chief, who has openly declared his support for Yong rather than Ansari.

Nahalan is said to command some respect in Sekong, one of the two state constituencies that make up Batu Sapi. The other state seat in the constituency is Karamunting.

At the 2008 general election, Nahalan garnered 2,082 votes when he contested the Sekong state seat, which he lost to incumbent Samsuddin Yahya (BN).

While SAPP seems to be confident on the outside, it is concerned with DAP's "whispering campaign" that Yong will take the SAPP back to the BN fold if he wins the parliamentary seat.

This, observers note, can inflict massive damage on Yong's chances.

Apart from that, the DAP also has about 1,500 members in Batu Sapi and if these members were convinced to vote for PKR, it would dampen Yong's chances of creating an upset in this by-election.

Sleepless in Batu Sapi, sleepy in Galas

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid - Free Malaysia Today

ANALYSIS GUA MUSANG: There is a disconnect between media reports and the ground reality in the contest for the Galas state seat. The media frenzy is disproportionate to what stakeholders themselves describe as a tepid contest.

If the streets of this sleepy town were not extensively decorated with party flags, the usual they-are-bad-we-are-good banners and the heavy police presence, you would rather drive pass it and head straight across the state border to touristy Cameron Highlands.

The campaigning is a tame and dull affair characterised by a cagey and rather sleepy performance by the two contesting parties, Umno and PAS.

The lack of vigour in the bout can be attributed to three factors: the absence of bigwig politicos from both sides of the divide, the inconsequential nature of the by-election itself and the involvement of Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, whom PAS is reluctant to attack because he supports Kelantan’s claim to oil royalties, which the BN government rejects.

But there may be a simpler explanation: a concurrent by-election in Batu Sapi, Sabah. There is more at stake in that contest for a parliamentary seat, which became vacant with the death of BN’s Edmund Chong.

Although many of  its top guns were present at the beginning of the Galas campaign, Pakatan Rakyat is now more focused on ensuring a victory for its Batu Sapi candidate.

A victory for PKR's Ansari Abdullah means a continuation of the opposition's winning momentum following its historic victory in Sibu, Sarawak. It will also signify a shift in voting trend in the two East Malaysian states. Conquering the two states, which the ruling coalition regards as its vote bank, is key to the opposition bloc's Putrajaya ambition.

Ansari faces Chong's widow, Linda Tsen Thau Lin of Parti Bersatu Sabah, and Yong Teck Lee, a former chief minister and current president of the Sabah Progressive Party.

Pundits believe PKR has no grassroots influence in Sabah to ensure it a victory.

The appointment of  Razaleigh as BN's ad hoc election director in Galas was already a hint to a tame campaign, given the position he has taken in the oil royalty issue.

Oil a major factor
PAS leaders have been treading the campaign trail gingerly, careful not to jeopardise its crusade for oil money by alienating the influential prince, affectionately known as Ku Li. He has been subject to only minimal criticism in ceramah events throughout the constituency.

And while BN have been zealously exploiting this, PAS remains convinced that most of the more than 11,000 Galas voters would not be swayed by the escalating attacks on its party and candidate, local medical practitioner Dr Zulkefli Mohamad.

Dr Zulkelfi faces Abdul Aziz Yusoff, secretary of Umno’s Gua Musang division and a loyal Razaleigh follower.

Ku Li himself has pointed out that the outcome of the vote would be inconsequential to the power structure in Kelantan.

This was readily admitted by PAS' top echelons although their Umno counterparts understandably differ, given that their party has failed to pick itself up since it was forced to surrender the state to the nationalist-turned-Islamist party 20 years ago.

Prior to the death of Galas assemblyman Che Hashim Sulaiman, PAS controlled 38 of 45 state assembly seats while BN held only five.

Nevertheless, PAS election director Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman has hinted at a possible last minute all out assault in light of the latest fuel price hike. RON97 petrol went up 5sen a litre last night.

Pakatan bigwigs will speak at a major ceramah event tonight and will probably use the fuel price hike to its advantage and give, at last, some real glitz and buzz to the by-election.

Clinton steers clear of Anwar trial

By Stephanie Sta Maria - Free Malaysia Today

PUTRAJAYA: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today maintained her administration’s stand of  'non-interference' on the sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

At a joint-press conference with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman here, she reiterated that the US is keeping close tabs on the case and expressed hope that it would be conducted in a fair and transparent manner.

She, however, remained coy when asked whether she had raised US concerns over the case with Anifah and whether she would do so during her meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin later.

“It is part of an ongoing dialogue ... It is well-known that the US believes it is important that all aspects of the case be conducted in a way that increases confidence in the rule of law here.

“Our embassy maintains good relations with both the ruling coalition and the opposition as important participants in Malaysia’s democratic process. And we will continue to support Malaysia’s progress in strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law,” she said.

When pressed as to whether she would be meeting with the PKR de facto leader later today, she merely said: “I have been unable to meet with Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak today because of his illness and that has had an impact on my schedule.”

At this juncture, Anifah jumped in to clarify that he had no opposition towards Clinton meeting Anwar as it is customary for visiting leaders to meet politicians on both sides of the political divide.

No persecution

But he added that, in this instance, such a meeting would not bode well for two reasons.

“First Anwar's trial is already before the court and we don’t want to give people the wrong message.

"Secondly there are two on-going by-election campaigns and we don’t want individuals or parties to misconstrue such a meeting as Secretary Clinton assisting these people,” he said.

Anifah also gave his assurance that that it is in his interest that Anwar receives a fair trial.

He pointed out that if there really was such a thing as ‘political prosecution’ and if it could happen to Anwar, then it could happen to anyone else.

“I also want to stress that this is a private complaint by a former employee of Anwar and it would be great injustice to deny him his fair share of justice.

“Other world leaders have called on the Malaysian government to intervene in this trial but that would be a gross misdeed on our part to interfere in the judicial proceedings.

“It doesn’t bother us one bit whether Anwar gets a federal judgement or otherwise. What we are concerned about is that he gets a fair and open trial," he said.

Clinton arrived yesterday on a three-day visit to Malaysia, her first to the country.

Sky high risks in Malaysia

By Anil Netto

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's recent announcement that a 100-storey tower will be built in the capital by a government investment fund comes as global liquidity is flooding the region and raises concerns the project could represent the front end of a coming new crisis.

Najib unveiled the plans for the tower, to be known as the Warisan Merdeka, or Independence Heritage, on October 15. Two weeks later, Asian Development Bank chief Huruhiko Kuroda warned of two risks facing developing Asian economies like Malaysia: that the recovery in developed economies could be elusive and speculative capital inflows into developing economies could prove volatile.

The United States Federal Reserve is expected to announce a second round of quantitative easing this week, which could


prompt the flow of even more speculative capital in search of higher yields into Asia’s developing economies.

Last month, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, in a joint statement with its Thai counterpart, expressed concern that "unbridled speculation and inflows of hot money that impact on financial markets will work its way through the real economy to adversely affect output, trade and jobs".

Share prices on the local bourse have rallied to near-record levels. The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia Composite Index, which closed at 1,505.66 last week, is expected to test soon its historic high of 1,524.69. Prices of commodities, including some of Malaysia’s top exports, have also surged, driven by cheap speculative money.

Property prices have rocketed this year in urban centers like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, prompting the central bank, Bank Negara, to state that it would clamp down on any speculation that could lead to a property bubble.

The proposed 100-storey tower, to be built by state-managed Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) - the country's biggest fund manager - next to the Merdeka (Independence) Stadium and the Indoor National Stadium, will easily surpass in height the city's 88-storey Petronas Towers (at 451.9 meters, including spires) and is scheduled to become the second tallest in the world.

Flash back two decades, Malaysia had only just emerged from a recession in the mid-1980s when the government of prime minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed the Petronas Twin Towers. Work began in the early 1990s at a time when the country was enjoying an economic boom, driven by hot money pouring into the region. On their completion in 1998 they were the world's tallest buildings.
Even during the 1990s boom years, there were concerns about who would occupy all the office space created by the Petronas Towers. At that time, office occupancy rates in Kuala Lumpur were well above 90%, the average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth was over 7%, and the country was regarded as something of a regional economic powerhouse.

Just as the Petronas Towers were completed, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis struck. With additional space from the towers and other skyscrapers coming online, Kuala Lumpur’s office occupancy rate slumped to just over 80% and dropped even further into the 70% range in subsequent years. In the event, state-owned oil and gas giant Petronas moved its offices into one of the twin towers, while the other tower was gradually occupied by Petronas subsidiaries and other firms involved in the oil and gas sector.

The Petronas Towers' experience was echoed earlier this year with the opening of the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, in the middle of a financial meltdown in the United Arab Emirates. A couple of years ago, when the Burj was being constructed in the midst of a property boom there, the business press in Malaysia had hailed UAE as a model for Malaysia to emulate.

No longer. Today, Malaysia bears some similarities with the 1990s when the Petronas Towers were mooted. Once again, Malaysia is emerging from a recession. Hot money is flowing back into the region with economic stagnation and more quantitative easing in store for capital-rich developed nations.

But there are major differences as well. This time Malaysia's economic growth has slowed to just over 5% in recent years. Unlike the confident boom years of the 1990s, Idris Jala, a cabinet minister tasked with outlining economic policy reforms, has warned that the country risks a Greece-style economic crisis by 2019 if it doesn't take immediate steps to restructure the economy.

And instead of hordes of foreign investors beating down the door to establish factories and offices, they are generally headed elsewhere in the region where labor costs are lower, such as China and Vietnam. Unlike the pre-1998 near full occupancy of Kuala Lumpur’s office space, the occupancy rate now has only just topped 80% - and this before the mega-tower is built.

Glutinous worries
Once again, there are market concerns of a possible future glut. Like Petronas, PNB is expected to move its offices into the mega-tower when it is completed, but that will leave the investment fund with the task of finding a profitable use for its existing PNB tower in Kuala Lumpur.

Other huge property projects in Kuala Lumpur are also planned. A government outfit, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), is bringing in Abu Dhabi's Real Estate and Hospitality to jointly develop a 26 billion ringgit ($8.4 billion) financial district Kuala Lumpur designed to cover 36 hectares. 1MDB will also partner with the Qatar Investment Authority in another large property development project on an air force base in Sungai Besi, part of the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur.

This means an enormous amount of office space will become available at a time when Malaysia's medium-term economic prospects are not exactly bright - even though the property and stock markets may be bubbling now. Though the mega-tower is expected to cost 5 billion ringgit, critics worry that the actual cost could balloon beyond that, as mega-projects often do.

Malaysia aims to reduce its fiscal deficit from 7% of GDP in 2009 to 5.6% or lower this year. The federal government's debt to GDP ratio rose to 53.7% in 2009 - exceeding 50% for the first time in recent years - though most of it was domestic rather than foreign debt. External debt now stands at 34% of GDP. A rising source of financial concern is household debt levels, which hit 76% of GDP last year.

The government knows it can count on the nation's piggy bank - Petronas - to tide it over any immediate economic turbulence. But that insurance policy is faltering. For the year ended March 2010, the national petroleum corporation's profit after tax fell by 23.6% to US$13.1 billion. The fall was driven by an 18.8% drop in revenue to $62.5 billion due to lower global fuel prices. Return on capital employed by Petronas dropped to 24.9% from 36.8% over the same period.

The proposed mega-tower has come under strong public criticism, including on social networking site Facebook. At the time of writing, over 216,000 people have endorsed a "Malaysians Reject 100-storey Mega Tower" Facebook page - an extraordinary number considering it's been only two weeks since it was set up. (To put this in perspective, Najib himself has 456,000 Facebook page "likes" while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has just over 200,000 "likes" - but both built up over a much longer period.)

Najib has defended the proposed tower, denying that it would be an economic waste, and he has claimed the construction will benefit many business sectors. "There are many contract works which we can give out to spur economic activities. The area can also become a center of attraction and a business center." He said the project was proposed by PNB, which manages some 150 billion ringgit in funds, rather than the government itself.

PNB was set up in 1978 as a key instrument of the government's New Economic Policy, which aims to promote corporate equity ownership and investment opportunities among bumiputeras, a Malay term used for indigenous people of the Malay archipelago. Under PNB, substantial shares have been acquired in large local corporations from funds provided by the Bumiputera Investment Foundation. These shares, in turn, were transferred to trust funds and sold to the bumiputera public in smaller units.

"I did not ask PNB to undertake the project. It is something which the PNB management wants to see implemented," said Najib.

Critics, however, point out that while PNB is managed by a board of directors, its board of trustees is helmed by Prime Minister Najib and his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin.

Many Malaysians thought they had seen the last of this fixation with the tallest and the biggest with the end of the Mahathir era - so the general reaction to Najib's announcement was one of flabbergasted disbelief. Opposition leaders have taken the mega-tower controversy to the hustings, especially with two by-elections in constituencies lying in the less-developed states of Kedah and Sabah coming up on November 4.

"Why do you need a 100-storey building to be undertaken by a bumiputera agency?" asked opposition leader Anwar before a dinner crowd in Penang. "This by itself proves beyond reasonable doubt that UMNO [the ruling United Malays National Organisation] leaders are completely oblivious - there's a clear disconnect between the thinking of the cronies and the ruling elite and the sentiment of the Malay masses."

Other parliamentarians have joined in the criticism. "If tall buildings will bring us out of this low-income or low-middle-income trap and make us a high-earning society (as the government hopes), then we should have achieved it because we have the twin towers, which were built years ago, but it didn't happen," said opposition parliamentarian Khalid Samad of the Islamic party PAS.

Anil Netto is a Penang-based writer.

Launch of BERSIH 2 on 10th November, 2010

DNBN Kuburkan BN : A call to the reluctant politicians to national service

“And what reason have you that you will not fight in the way of God and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, who cry out, ‘Lord, deliver us from this town, whose people are oppressors. Give us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper” – Surah 4 verse 75 of the Holy Qur’an.
“Your riches and your children may be but a trial, but in the presence of God is the highest reward” – Surah 64 verse 15 of the Holy Qur’an.
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits of your toil, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity, ‘To God we belong, and to Him is our return’. They are those on whom descend blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance” – Surah 2 verses 155-157 of the Holy Qur’an.
Of late, much of my time is spent getting in touch with some of the finest people I know to implore them to offer themselves as independent candidates in the next general election.
By finest, I mean persons who, in my estimation and yours, too, if you knew who they were, are of unquestionable integrity.
Persons who, if elected as independent candidates in the next general election, can be counted on to not sell their souls when BN comes a calling with millions, maybe even billions, of ringgit as inducements to betray the rakyat.
If we are to have any chance of seeing a regime change post the 13th GE not capitulate to the filthy, corrupt overtures that BN will surely make to re-capture federal power, we will need a buffer of the finest Malaysians in Parliament as independent MPs to frustrate BN’s efforts to topple the new regime ala the Perak crisis.
In my estimation, 20 such independent MPs might just about be enough.
More will not hurt the cause.
Most of these individuals I have approached, though, are truly the reluctant politicians.
Good people, with good ideas, but with little desire for power.
The type of people we need in parliament.
I have urged them to see a term in parliament as a term of national service to aid in rehabilitating our national institutions.
The judiciary.
The police force.
I have shared with them the details of the initiative and most see it as a worthy effort.
Most, though, offer reasons why they cannot step forward.
I received this sms 5 days ago from one of those persons : “Haris, I have thought about this very carefully. Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately I have to decline due to some personal issues that need my attention over the next 6 months”
Most reasons come down to the same thing : ‘I see the need for that which you propose but I can’t get involved. Let someone else’.
My father’s generation said the same.
As did my own, for a long, long time.
That’s why this country is where it is today.

Another Malaysian By-Election

Razaleigh: Caught in an UMNO trap?
(Asia Sentinel) A longtime dissident returns to the tricky job of leading UMNO efforts in Kelantan

The result of Malaysia's 12th by-election to occur since tumultuous national elections in 2008 is in practical terms irrelevant. Whether or not Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) retains the state seat of Galas on Nov. 4 by-election will make no difference to the Islamic party's control of the state legislature.

But it will be a test of the influence of the United Malays National Organisation's most distinguished internal dissident, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, and his calls for sweeping reform of Umno. Galas is part of Razaleigh's federal parliamentary constituency and is centered on his home town of Gua Musang in the south of the state. And, together with a federal seat by-election on the same day, the election is expected to play a role in whether Prime Minister Najib Razak will go to national polls in early 2011.

But interpreting the Galas result will not be easy. The 73-year old Razaleigh, usually known as Ku Li, is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand the Kelantan aristocrat knows that his calls for reform of Umno are unlikely to make much progress if the erosion of support for the Umno-led Barisan Nasional ruling coalition that was seen both in the 2008 federal election and in subsequent bye-elections is stemmed or reversed.

On the other hand Razaleigh has no choice but to support his own party and the candidate he himself chose in this local election. Recognizing his difficult position, Razaleigh has been playing down the significance of the election. But there is little doubting the attention it has been getting in the media because of him.

Ministers in the government that Razaleigh relentlessly criticizes have been trooping to Gua Musang to kiss his hand and try to shore up Barisan support among the voters. They too doubtless have mixed feelings, one the one hand needing to show Umno making a comeback, on the other worried about the enhanced reputation Razalaigh may acquire should Umno poll well here but not elsewhere.

Razaleigh, once billed as bapak ekonomi or "father of the Malaysian economy" for his role running Pernas, which was created to encourage Malay-controlled businesses in 1975, as well as creating the national energy company Petronas and then as Finance Minister, but who has been out of power since narrowly losing to Mahathir in 1987, may have little clout in today's UMNO or following in its higher echelons. But his stringing criticisms of corruption in the Barisan and of Umno's hypocritical attempts to compete with PAS on religious issues have found a ready audience in a wider community. For all of Prime Minister Najib's talk of his 1Malaysia slogan, many in Umno continue to pander to more extreme views of Malay and Muslim supremacy that are being peddled by the chauvinist Perkasa movement and aided and abetted by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Razaleigh's criticisms of the Barisan have been getting plenty of media coverage, a privilege not so available to opposition parties.

The odds are certainly stacked against a national comeback by Razaleigh. Yet in the event that Anwar Ibrahim ends back in jail at the same time the opposition still does well in the election, moderate elements from all races might look to him as representative of an older and more tolerant version of UMNO as existed, at least in many minds, before Mahathir's reign.

What is far from clear is whether the voters in Galas, and particularly the Chinese (20 percent) and Orang Asli (aboriginals, 16 percent ) who deserted the Barisan in the last election come back to it. On the one hand both are known to respect Razaleigh personally and like his inclusivist views on racial and religious issues. On the other hand the Chinese may have yet to be convinced that at the national level the 1Malaysia slogan is more than rhetoric, or that the Malaysian Chinese Association is a credible member of the Barisan.

As for the Orang Asli, traditional Barisan supporters, they have been wooed by a state government which promises to prevent further shrinkage of their traditional lands as a result of acquisitions by members of the Kelantan royal family and other well-placed persons.

As it controls the state government, PAS itself has been buying loyalties through grants of state lands and has been vigorously attacking the federal government for its denial of the Kelantan state government's proper share in oil royalties. This ill-conceived Mahathir-era punishment for electing an opposition government does UMNO no favors. But at least Razaleigh is not tainted by it. As the author of the 1974 legislation that provided for a royalty to the states he has backed Kelantan's claim against the federal government.

However, Nov. 4 will test whether support for Razaleigh overrides deep national dissatisfaction with the Barisan, which Razaleigh himself believes shows no signs of abating. Indeed within Umno there are now those who think that it could lose control of the majority of state governments.

But others believe that Najib has sufficiently steadied the Umno/Barisan ship that he can look to an election in the first half of 2011, perhaps to coincide with state elections due next year in Sarawak. The economy is doing well enough thanks to high oil, rubber and palm oil prices – and government spending. There have been no major racial incidents such as Hindu temple destructions and cow head displays to upset minorities.

Anwar is preoccupied with his legal problems and without him the opposition has no unifying focus. So the issue is whether people will just vote against the Barisan rather than for the opposition. An election two years before one is due would be a risk for Najib, but even modest success would strengthen his position in Umno and in particular make it less difficult to translate the One Malaysia slogan into policies.

However, reading the results of the by-elections will not be easy given the Razaleigh factor in Galas and that politics in ethnically diverse Sabah, as in Sarawak, are not necessarily a guide to what happens in Peninsular Malaysia. So whatever the result, the significance of a by-election involving just 11,553 voters may be debated long after Thursday.