The Asian Voice

Looking for light in Malaysian politics, the thorny Thaksin issue and mass extinctions

Commentaries and insights from newspapers from the Asia News Network (ANN).

1. New political party in Malaysia: A case of sore losers or new hope? 
A new Malay political party formed by disgruntled PAS leaders aims to take on PAS and change the political landscape. Will they succeed? 

by Joceline Tan in Kuala Lumpur 
The Star/ANN 

The buka puasa gathering at the posh home of PAS politician Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar was more than just a breaking of fast among friends.

Kamaruddin, better known as Dato KJ, had also invited several DAP leaders including Lim Kit Siang, Liew Chin Tong, a self-styled PAS expert in his party, as well as DAP’s most powerful woman Teresa Kok. There were also several PKR leaders including vice-president Shamsul Iskandar among the 30 or so guests. The PAS politicians present were leaders who lost in the recent PAS election.

It seemed like Kamaruddin, who is MP for Tumpat, Kelantan, was trying to maintain the fraternity among various personalities in the broken Pakatan Rakyat.

It was also a hint of what might be the genesis of a new version of Pakatan or what Kok had termed as “Pakatan Rakyat 2.0”.

The PAS leaders, about a dozen of them, had arrived several hours earlier for a pre-planned meeting. It is no longer a secret that the defeated PAS leaders are planning to leave PAS to form a new Malay political party that will be a direct rival to PAS and Umno.

Kamaruddin, a long-time acolyte of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has kept quite a low profile especially after he remarried following the death of his first wife, but it looks like he is the ideal person to help bring the diverse personalities together. This is the second meeting of the group that has been referred to as G18. The first was in Bakri, Johor, where they also held a ceramah on the theme of “Jasamu Dikenang” (your deeds will be remembered).

These are still early days but it is clear that DAP is spearheading a new coalition that will exclude PAS.
The PAS Islamic agenda of hudud law has become detrimental to DAP. The party lost the Teluk Intan parliamentary to Gerakan last year and it was alarmed to see the shift in Chinese votes during the Permatang Pauh by-election.

DAP leaders know there will be more bleeding of Chinese votes if they go into the next general election with PAS in tow.

The first step for DAP was to declare that Pakatan had ceased to exist. It shocked everyone but it has turned out to be a divorce where the partners still live like a married couple. The second step was for DAP to quickly find a new Malay party to work with and to replace PAS. The PAS splinter group could not have happened at a better time.

In fact, some even claimed that the attacks on PAS by the DAP father-and-son had caused the group to lose and now DAP has become the beneficiary of their defeat.

The group used to be big names in PAS – Mat Sabu was the deputy president, Salahuddin Ayub was a vice-president and Suhaizan Kaiat was the former Youth chief.

The others were central committee members and a number of them are MPs and assemblymen. One of them, Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof is the son of a former PAS president. The group also aims to be the new Islamist party but is that possible without a respected Islamic scholar at the helm?

They also claim that their struggle is not against PAS, it is to bring down Umno. But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – everyone will be watching whether they will take on PAS in the general election.

PAS has been quite unshaken by all this. One reason is that the separatists are no longer holding any posts. Moreover, they have only 20% to 30% support in the party, going by the votes they got in the PAS election. More important, the PAS culture does not look kindly on those who turn against the party.

The party’s mursyidul am Datuk Dr Haron Din used the analogy of goats who are secure in a herd but risk being devoured by wolves when they venture on their own –no prizes for guessing who he meant by the wolves.

Several of those who lost had blamed it on the chai or “menu voting”. They said it was unfair of the winning side to resort to block-voting. Mat Sabu, for one, took his defeat badly. He was shocked to get only 24 per cent of the vote against the new deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man and he blamed thechai.

But block-voting is a common practice when campaigning in a democracy. All successful campaigns tend to present a team to show that they mean business and it is not wrong or unethical. There is some degree of self-denial going on among the G18. The chai was only part of the problem. Mat Sabu struggled because the contest for the deputy presidency was basically between a popular orator/activist and an established ulama who is seen as a potential successor to Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

Moreover, sentiments in the party had shifted, and those aligned to Mat Sabu were seen as “kuda DAP” or DAP apologists. They failed to defend their president against attacks by DAP and a few of them even joined in the attacks. It is really quite hard to extol people who walk out of a party to form a rival party after losing an election. It is not the action of a gentleman politician. It is not a trait of first world politics, and it is reminiscent of a less civil era of politics.

“It’s clear that they cannot accept their defeat. They are not showing respect to the mandate from our party delegates and that is contrary to our upbringing.

“Those of us who have gone through Tarbiyyah (the inculcation of Islam in everyday life) would know that we cannot demand victory, it is Allah who grants us victory,” said Roslan Shahrir, the former press secretary to Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

Roslan wrote in his Roslan SMS Corner blog that PAS is not going to lose one bit with them leaving.
“They caused a lot of problems in the party, I hope they take the problems with them,” he said.

The last time that a splinter group occurred in PAS politics was in 1990. A group led by several firebrand ulama had opposed PAS’ alliance with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Semangat 46. They formed Islah and using the logo of a book, they put up candidates against PAS in Kelantan and Selangor.

The G18 also reminds some old-timers in PAS of the time when Datuk Mohd Asri Muda was ousted as president of PAS. He founded a party called Hamim which went nowhere but is still around somewhere.

“Any party that is not in a hurry to change the Constitution, is against corruption and for inter-faith dialogue and good governance is to be welcomed,” said Penang lawyer Khaw Veon Szu. However, Khaw does not see a party of ex-PAS leaders doing well in states like Kelantan, Terengganu or even Kedah. The PAS die-hards will send them into oblivion.

“The core appeal of such a party lies on the west coast belt. That means it may end up competing with PKR rather than with PAS or Umno,” said Khaw.

DAP has maxed out on Chinese and Indian votes and its ambitions can only go further if it can win in Malay areas. The new party will help DAP hold on to Penang and Selangor and make another bid for Johor where Pakatan had won 18 out of 56 state seats.

DAP will expect the new party to deliver the Malay votes as well as Malay seats.

It can also help DAP soften its Chinese image. DAP’s efforts to recruit Malays has been more shock and awe than anything else. Its support base is still extremely Chinese in numbers and outlook, and is also quite chauvinistic.

For instance, some of its members still question why the party’s annual congress needs to be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia. Up to a few years ago, Mandarin was the lingua franca at its annual congress.

Some of them, including a Yang Berhormat, have written letters to the Chinese vernacular papers to argue that the party must be sensitive to its Chinese-speaking members who cannot understand Bahasa Malaysia.

Splinter parties rarely make an impact and do not last very long. But this is a different era, the political landscape has changed and the G18 has a few compelling personalities. They are going where angels fear to tread but who knows, they might succeed where others have failed.

Kota Baru PAS chief Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah is planning to join the new party. The former Kelantan Assembly Speaker admitted that it would be emotional after spending 40 years in PAS.

“It will be like taking a knife to chop off one limb after another. It is tragic but when I look at the present PAS leaders, I know I have overstayed my welcome,” he said.

There has not been a dull moment in Malaysian politics since the 2008 political tsunami and things are about to get even more exciting.

2. It's time to get past Thaksin and focus on things that matter 
For the last decade, Thailand has been a tormented country. That predicament has coincided with the political fate of one man, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. 

by Pornpimol Kanchanalak in Bangkok
The Nation/ANN

For the last decade, Thailand has been a tormented country. That predicament has coincided with the political fate of one man, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For many diverse and complex reasons and motives, his own problems have been turned into the country's problem.

Enormous damage has been inflicted on the nation, and it's time to say "enough is enough". This obsession has got to go. In life, things only matter if we make them matter.

Whatever name you choose to call it, the fact of the matter is the country is in the economic doldrums, and the majority of Thais are feeling it in the pocket. 

It would not be fair to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the current government's economic team. As a country, we do not exist in isolation, and few economic issues are controllable or predictable. We cannot stop the euro from depreciating, thus making our exports more expensive. We cannot stop China from churning out cheaper and in many cases better-quality basic goods for the world market. We cannot make it rain more, to prevent severe drought from withering the livelihoods of our farmers, making them poorer, more hopeless and angrier.

We cannot make taxpayers, individual and corporate, want to pay their dues. They have seen their tax money being unscrupulously squandered in public subsidy schemes that failed to help the intended sectors and people. We have no way to recover the stolen goods, or punish all the thieves involved. The latter know well how to cover their trails and buy loyalty.

Economically, it is fair to say that Thailand is collectively in a pessimistic mood. It's only a matter of time before the depressed outlook sets in over every major aspect of national affairs. 

The time seems ripe to rip a page from Bill Clinton's presidential campaign strategy and declare, "It's the economy, Stupid." The bottom line for measuring the success or failure of any government comes down to one thing - its effectiveness in improving the livelihoods of its citizens.

It is always the lowest rung of the economic ladder that is hit hardest in difficult times, and financial destitution can lead to political instability. People who have no obvious hope, no discernible exit from hardship, tend to harden and become defiantly ungovernable. If there is no way to offer them immediate relief, they should at least be given hope that something is being done to better their condition, so that they can reap the fruits at a later date.

One root cause of the country's economic woes is the widespread systemic and systematic public corruption. In our open society, it is not possible for the government to impeach everybody involved, and our leadership cannot impose the death penalty against corrupt officials, as do certain other countries. Instead, like the bloodless abolition of slavery by King Rama V, the obliteration of corruption may take an entire generation. But it must start today. 

A new set of values should be inculcated, that would reject the practice of kickbacks and gradually make corruption unpopular and reprehensible. A day should not pass without citizens being made aware of the hidden impact corruption has on their lives and those of their children. People should learn to associate bribes with condemnation and shame, and to take responsibility for stopping the practice whenever they encounter it.

We cannot regulate morality, but we can invigorate it by education, leadership and setting examples that send a clear and concise message that looting of public money will not be tolerated. 

Reform is a big concept, yet the task it involves is even bigger and hugely onerous. This current government, being an SPV - a Special Purpose Vehicle, with a limited shelf life - cannot be expected to launch the reform battle on every front. It must confine its energies to the ones that truly matter. It can lay the foundation for paradigm shifts that will take the country in a new and better direction. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Margaret Thatcher of Britain are two examples of how leadership with vision and strategy can change the course of a country for the better.

Just as it is not fair to blame Thaksin Shinawatra for Thailand's every woe, it is not reasonable to expect the current government to right all the wrongs that have accumulated over time. We should realise there is no such thing as a panacea, and that life is no fairy tale. As for "democracy", those who shallowly equate it with a general election will get their wish very soon. But whether the country then escapes the jaws of the political trap to become a more stable and bona fide democratic nation with a regained sense of purpose and moral compass depends on the foundations being laid down by this government. 

But building those foundations is easier said than done. The prime minister's heart and head are in the right place, but the legs and the arms have not been cooperating too well. Vision and strategy are necessary conditions for achieving success, but hardly sufficient for it. Moving the country forward on a firmer footing is a tall order, both for our leadership and for the Thai people. For the country to break out of its vicious cycle of political instability, we have to let go of the ghost of one particular man, in the same vein that post-war Japan let go of the carnage wreaked by nuclear bombs and found a new and prosperous path. The Japanese rolled up their sleeves and got down to the business of rebuilding their nation and shaping their future, and never once looked back.

That's also the way our energy and time can be better spent.

3. Are we fulfilling our role on earth?

The accelerating rate of species extinctions calls into question humanity's role in maintaining biodiversity on our planet.

by Bharat Dogra in New Delhi
The Statesman/ANN

A study released on June 20 has re-emphasised what has been suspected and feared for quite some time - that the extinction of various species has escalated rapidly in recent times.

This widely-discussed study has pointed out that under the natural rate of extinction, two species per 10,000 are expected to go extinct in 100 years. On this basis, extinction of around nine vertebrates would be expected since 1900, but the actual number is a shocking 477.

In fact the rate of the extinction of species taking place now may be up to 100 times higher than normal times.
What may appear alarming are actually conservative estimates. As this study says: “We emphasise that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity's impact on biodiversity.”

One of the authors of this study, Dr. Gerardo Caballes has commented: “This is very depressing because we used the most conservative rates, and even then they are much higher than the normal extinction rate.” In a chain reaction, extinction of one species can lead to further losses. This extinction has been linked to climate change, deforestation and pollution, but a complexity of many factors is at work. The number of species on the verge of extinction or threatened with extinction is of course much higher. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 41 per cent of all amphibian species and 26 per cent of all mammals are threatened with extinction. This extinction caused by human-made factors poses many threats to human beings as well, apart from providing a warning to human beings about the impact of human-made environmental threats. As Prof. Paul R. Ehrich, a co-author of this study says, “We are sawing off the limb we are sitting on.”

Highly significant as this latest study is, similar warnings of a massive extinction of species have been given many times before.

Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity summarised the current state of other forms of life in an article in Time magazine several years ago. Biologists generally agree, he said, that, “on the land at least and on a worldwide basis, species are vanishing 100 times faster than before the arrival of Homo Sapiens”.

“The ongoing loss in biodiversity is the greatest since the end of the Mesozoic era 65 million years age. At that time, by current scientific consensus, the impact of one or more giant meteorites darkened the atmosphere, altered much of earth’s climate and extinguished the dinosaurs. Thus began the next stage of evolution, the Cenozoic era or age of Mammals. The extinction spasm we are now inflicting can be moderated if we choose. If not, the next century (the 21st century) will see the closing of the Cenozoic era and the start of a new one characterised by biological impoverishment. It might appropriately be called the Eremozoic era, the age of loneliness.”

Thus due to a complex of reasons, we are in the middle of -  to use the words of John Tuxill and Chris Bight writing in State of the World Report - “a mass extinction - a global evolutionary convulsion with few parallels in the entire history of life”. As this report adds, unlike the dinosaurs, we are not simply the contemporaries of a mass extinction, “we are the reason for it”.

In 1992 as many as 1575 of the world’s most distinguished scientists, including more than half of all living scientists awarded the Nobel Prize, signed a statement titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”. This statement issued a clear warning: “We the undersigned, senior members of world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

This statement said, “The environment is suffering critical stress”, and added that “The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious.”

Emphasising the need for significant change, the statement went on to say: “If not checked, many of our current practices put at risk the future we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdom.”

Clearly human beings have to take responsibility for checking this extinction and maintaining earth as a planet where diverse life-forms can survive and flourish,

Among millions of life-forms, human beings alone have the capacity to work in a planned way for the welfare of all forms of life. Human beings alone have the capacity to work to protect the environment and habitats that sustain such diverse forms of life. Human beings alone can perceive the threats to the coming generations and take timely measures to protect future generations of human beings and other forms of life. It is this unique capacity of human beings which defines their role on earth. The essential role of human beings on planet earth is to protect and promote the welfare of all life forms, including of course human beings, now and in future generations.

During the last century, the tendency to violate this aim has dominated. Further massive technological changes have increased the capacity to cause distress and destruction to such an extent that for the first time in the history of earth, human-made changes threaten the survival of many, perhaps most forms of life. Climate change and nuclear weapons (or other WMDs) are just two manifestations of this destructive capacity. This means that the need for establishing the protective role of humanity so that human beings fulfill their essential role on earth is greater than ever before.