The Asian Voice

Playing politics in Malaysia and India

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

At the expense of the rakyat

Brian Martin in Kuala Lumpur 

For The Star/ANN

This appears to be a surreal time to be in Malaysia. Recent events point to political upheaval on an unprecedented scale. We seem to have been bombarded with one political crisis after another – so much so that you can hardly catch your breath.

The situation in Selangor appears to be the worst because the state government hangs on a knife-edge after the alleged break-up of Pakatan Rakyat. The DAP has declared that Pakatan has died, PAS says the coalition has only fallen unconscious while PKR has agreed to disagree. 

The losers here are the people of Selangor who voted in the coalition in 2008 and gave them a stronger mandate in 2013. The break-up had an air of eventuality about it, because Selangor has been reeling from one crisis after another ever since Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim initiated the “Kajang Move”. 

Recent events point to political upheaval on an unprecedented scale. We seem to have been bombarded with one political crisis after another – so much so that you can hardly catch your breath.

Hoping to remove the then Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and install himself in the post, he expected to get the support of all three parties in the opposition pact.

His jailing foiled that, so his wife stood in his place. Then, PAS did not support the move and the Selangor Palace would not sanction it. The first strains were there and the rift widened further when the Islamist party pushed for the implementation of hudud. The only surprise is that it took so long for the breakup.

The country’s largest Indian party, the MIC, is also in turmoil. Former president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu led the party for more than 30 years with a firm hand and survived many attempts to unseat him, but his successor Datuk Seri G. Palanivel is facing the biggest test of his career.  Never has the party seen so much in-fighting, even harking back to the days when Samy Vellu staved off rival Datuk S. Subramaniam.

The current impasse sees two people claiming the presidency –Palanivel and his deputy Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam. The Registrar of Societies (RoS) has called for fresh party elections, but these are dire times for the 69-year-old party because even elections may not be a way out of this mess. The worst-case scenario could see the party being dissolved.

Some party stalwarts have called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to step in and put an end to this fiasco. The problem is, the PM did propose a peace settlement a few months ago, but it was rejected outright by both factions in the MIC.

The other reason why the PM may be reluctant to intervene is because he has his hands full mana­ging the 1MDB situation and fending off the incessant attacks from former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

I quote from Najib’s blog: “Tun created a crisis when he recklessly claimed that RM42bil was missing from 1MDB and that the company’s financial assets, worth approximately RM16bil, were worthless. These statements are false and have created unnecessary panic."

So, is there a political crisis in Umno too, one stemming from Tun Dr Mahathir’s constant sniping at the PM? 

I think the answer to that is inconclusive, because even though some senior Umno leaders have broken ranks and criticised the PM, by and large he has the support of the majority of the Supreme Council as well as the divisions.

The most recent “political” development was the story of how Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, the PM’s brother and chairman of CIMB, was going to launch a new political party. This party would be non-partisan and would reach out to all races.

Nazir, of course, denied this online article, although he admitted that he was considering setting up an NGO. Though the story about the party proved to be false, it’s interesting to note that it generated a huge response on social media.

These series of political shenanigans may have dominated the front pages of newspapers, but I believe the average Malaysian is more concerned about the bread and butter issues such as cost of living, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), increased fuel charges and the depreciation of the ringgit. Make no mistake, all these issues have impacted Malaysians directly.

The recent “leak” that the cabinet had discussed a proposal to increase the toll rate was met with a storm of protest on social media. Not a surprise, because this is absolutely the worst time to contemplate such a scenario: the proposed toll increase would have a domino effect on the economy, just like the fall of the ringgit and implementation of GST.

As the holy month of Ramadan is here, perhaps it’s time for our country’s leaders to rein in the politics. This is a great time to reflect on the need to be moderate and to take on sacrifices and it is also a good time for all of us Malaysians to think about how we want to shape our future. Politics must not be at the expense of the rakyat. 

During this season of Ramadan, I wish all our Muslim brothers and sisters a blessed month ahead.

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own. 

India's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in a difficult space

By Kalyani Shankar in New Delhi
For The Statesman/ANN

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam met Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on Feb 25, 2015. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The BJP is caught in a bind with the ongoing Lalit Modi controversy involving two of its top women leaders - External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara RajeThe two were alleged to have helped the ex-IPL chief Lalit Modi, who has been living as a fugitive in London since 2010 after the IPL expose. Initially BJP managers thought that the controversy would die down but with juicy information coming out by the hour, the crisis continues. It is surprising how the two experienced politicians had helped Lalit Modi without thinking of the consequences of bypassing government channels. Or did they think they would not be caught?

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj at a function in New Delhi, India. -- EPA

Ironically, both women leaders seem to have a history with Lalit Modi and have family and business connections with the ex-IPL boss. Politically, both are mass leaders and have support bases in the party and that is why the BJP is in a Catch-22 situation even though some in the party are aghast at the level of impropriety. But the party knows that this is not the time to sack them bowing to opposition pressure and has therefore decided to back both as brazening it out is thought to be the best strategy.

The decision was not an easy one as the crisis has hit the two bright stars of the party at an awkward time in their careers when both were struggling to keep their space in the Modi dispensation. It is a well- known secret that Sushma had opposed Modi’s prime ministerial bid till the last and Raje also did not have the best of relations with him. As counterparts in Gujarat and Rajasthan they had competed with each other for space in the party.

The two women occupy top slots in the party and the government and had risen to the top over the years in a male-dominated party. The BJP is not known to encourage women politicians. Sushma is perhaps the only woman in the BJP’s Parliamentary board, the top policy-making body while Vasundhara is one of the two women chief ministers.

The BJP had given importance earlier to Gwalior Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia who was also the

Politically, both are mass leaders and have support bases in the party and that is why the BJP is in a Catch-22 situation even though some in the party are aghast at the level of impropriety. 

patron of the party. Then she brought her daughter Vasundhara Raje in 1984. Sushma also joined the party in 1984 just when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and had knocked around waiting for her due. L.K.Advani became her mentor and helped her in going up the ladder. Sushma had seen highs and lows in her career but went on to become Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and was poised to bid for the prime ministerial position. In the present Modi dispensation she has kept a low profile as Foreign Minster. It would finish her politically if the party does not back her.

Vasundhara was pushed to state politics after being a minister in the Vajpayee government. She has often rubbed the RSS the wrong way with her appearances at fashion shows and her modern, regal lifestyle. Although she was an able administrator, there were controversies surrounding her and Lalit Modi in her first stint (2003-2008).

Lalit Modi was called the super chief minister then and outside cricket he had become a huge embarrassment for Raje. The BJP lost the polls narrowly in 2008 and Raje was blamed for it. She was accused of having mishandled the Meena-Gujjar controversy, and adopting an ivory-tower approach. She took on powerful leaders like Jaswant Singh and the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Realising the heavy political price she paid for her friendship ever since she became CM in December 2013, Raje has surprised many by keeping a distance from Lalit Modi. The alleged shady business deals and other details slowly coming out from Lalit Modi’s PR managers will certainly damage her reputation if proved right.

The fallout of the crisis is definitely damaging to the party and the prime minister apart from the two women leaders. They have dented the image of prime minister projected as a superman who even knew who wore what kind of clothes. How come he did not know what his two senior women leaders were doing? It will also affect the legislative business in Parliament. The problem for the BJP now is how to push the important legislation on GST and land acquisition.

The opposition has already given notice that it will not allow the ensuing monsoon session to function. In the past 10 years when it was in the opposition, the BJP had forced the resignations of several UPA ministers, including A Raja, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Shashi Tharoor and Ashwani Kumar when allegations of corruption surfaced against them.

The Prime Minister and the BJP have to do some urgent damage control and come down from riding the moral high horse. One way to get over it is to isolate the Congress and use the divided opposition to BJP’s advantage. Already there are signs that parties like S.P. and Trinamool Congress are supporting Sushma in her hour of crisis.

The worst case scenario would be if more uncomfortable facts come out in the next few days. Then the government will have to think of setting up an enquiry as demanded by the opposition. After all this strategy had been adopted even by Vajpayee. There are several unanswered questions and loose ends even as the political drama unfolds. It is too early to say that the crisis has ended.