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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dubious backers of regime change


AS Malaysia prepares for a general election, distrust of the political opposition and accusations of foreign interference have been major talking points in the political frequencies emanating from Kuala Lumpur.
Premesh Chandran, the chief executive officer of the nation's most prominent alternative media outlet, Malaysiakini, is a grantee of Soros' Open Society Foundations and launched the news organisation with a US$100,000 (RM300,000) grant from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance, another organisation with dubious affiliations to the US State Department.
Nile Bowie, RT 
Umno leads the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, and has maintained power since independence in 1957.
One of Malaysia's most recognisable figures is former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has been credited with ushering in large-scale economic growth and overseeing the nation's transition from an exporter of palm oil, tin and other raw materials, into an industrialised economy that manufactures cars and electronic goods.
The opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, is headed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who once held the post of deputy prime minister in Dr Mahathir's administration, but was sacked over major disagreements on how to steer the economy during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Today, the political climate in Malaysia is highly polarised. Malaysia's current leader, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, has pursued a reform-minded agenda by repealing authoritarian legislation of the past and dramatically loosening controls on expression and political pluralism.
Najib has rolled back the Internal Security Act, which allowed for indefinite detention without trial, and has liberalised rules regarding the publication of books and newspapers. During Malaysia's 2008 general election, the Barisan Nasional coalition experienced its worst result in decades, with Pakatan Rakyat winning 82 parliamentary seats.
For the first time, the ruling party was deprived of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, which is required to pass amendments to the Federal Constitution.
In the run up to elections scheduled to take place before an April next year deadline, figures from all sides of the political spectrum are asking questions about the opposition's links to foreign funders in Washington.
Dr Mahathir has long captured the ire of officials from Washington and Tel Aviv, and though he's retired, he has channelled his energies into the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, which recently hosted an international conference in Kuala Lumpur calling for a new investigation into the events of 9/11 and has sought to investigate war crimes committed in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr Mahathir has been an ardent critic of Israel and organisations, such as AIPAC, and has recently accused US-based organisations, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Institute (OSI), of holding a concealed intention to influence Malaysia's domestic politics through the funding of local non-govrnmental organisations (NGOs) and groups directly linked to Anwar's Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
In an article the former prime minister published in the New Straits Times, a leading mainstream newspaper, Dr Mahathir accuses financier George Soros and his organisation, OSI, of "promoting democracy" in eastern Europe to pave the way for colonisation by global finance capital. Dr Mahathir acknowledges how OSI pumped millions into opposition movements and independent media in Hungary, Ukraine and Georgia under the guise of strengthening civil society, only to have like-minded individuals nominated by Soros' own foundation come to power in those countries.
The former prime minister has also pointed to how Egypt (prior to Mohamad Morsi taking power) had cracked down on NGOs affiliated with NED, namely groups such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Freedom House, which are all recipients of funding from the US State Department.
In Malaysia, high-profile NGOs and media outlets have admittedly received funding from OSI and satellite organisations of NED.
Premesh Chandran, the chief executive officer of the nation's most prominent alternative media outlet, Malaysiakini, is a grantee of Soros' Open Society Foundations and launched the news organisation with a US$100,000 (RM300,000) grant from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance, another organisation with dubious affiliations to the US State Department.
Malaysiakini has come under pressure from local journalists for the lack of transparency in its financial management and hesitance in revealing the value of its shares. Additionally, Suaram, an NGO promoting human rights, has borne heavy criticism over its funding and organisational structure. The Companies Commission of Malaysia launched investigations into Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, a private company linked to Suaram, and found it to be a conduit for money being used to channel funds from NED.
The German embassy in Kuala Lumpur had reportedly admitted that it has provided funds to Suaram's project in 2010. Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman followed by making strong statements to the German ambassador and declared that Germany's actions could be viewed as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.
Since 2007, Bersih, an association of NGOs calling itself the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, staged three street protests in which thousands of yellow-clad demonstrators took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur demanding electoral reform. After coming under heavy scrutiny for obfuscating funding sources, Bersih coalition leader Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan admitted that her organisation receives funding from the National Democratic Institute and OSI.
Ambiga herself has been the recipient of the US State Department's Award for International Women of Courage, and was present in Washington in 2009 to receive the award directly from the hands of Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While  Ambiga's organisation claimed to be non-partisan and apolitical, members of  the political opposition openly endorsed the movement, and some were even present at the demonstrations.

While a large percentage of urbanites with legitimate grievances are quick to acknowledge the government's shortcomings, many are hesitant to back Anwar because of his connections with neo-conservative thinkers in Washington and general disunity within the opposition. Anwar maintains close ties with senior American officials and organisations such as NED. In 2005, Anwar chaired the Washington-based Foundation for the Future, established and funded by the US Department of State at the behest of Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of then vice-president Dick Cheney, thanks in large part to his cozy relationship with Paul Wolfowitz.

While Anwar was on trial for allegedly engaging in sodomy with a male aide (of which he was acquitted some time later), Wolfowitz and former US vice-president Al Gore authored a joint opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of Anwar, while the Washington Post published an editorial calling for consequences that would affect Malaysia's relations with Washington if Anwar was to be found guilty. Anwar enraged many when he stated that he would support policy to protect the security of Israel in an interview with the Wall Street Journal; this is particularly controversial in Malaysia, where support for Palestine is largely unanimous.

Malaysian political scientist Dr Chandra Muzaffar writes: "It is obvious that by acknowledging the primacy of Israeli security, Anwar was sending a clear message to the deep state and to Tel Aviv and Washington that he is someone that they could trust. In contrast, the Najib government, in spite of its attempts to get closer to Washington, remains critical of Israeli aggression and intransigence. Najib has described the Israeli government as a 'serial killer' and a 'gangster'".

Members of BN have addressed Anwar's connections to NED in Parliament, including his participation in NED's "Democracy Award" event held in Washington in 2007. Independent journalists have uncovered letters written by Anwar, two of which were sent to NED president Carl Gershman in Washington that discussed sending an international election observer team to Malaysia and general issues related to electoral reform.

A third letter was sent to  Soros, expressing interest in collaborating with an accountability firm headed by Anwar. Pakatan Rakyat's communications director Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad verified the authenticity of the documents. This should come as little surprise as Anwar's  economic policies have historically aligned with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, in contrast to Dr Mahathir, whose protectionist economic policies opposed international financial institutions and allowed Malaysia to navigate and largely resurface from the 1997 Asian financial crisis unscathed.

An issue that concerns secular and non-Muslim voters is the role of Pas as part of the opposition. In sharp contrast to the moderate brand of Islam preached by Umno, the organisation's primary objective is the founding of an Islamic state.

Pas has spoken of working within the framework of Malaysia's parliamentary democracy, but holds steadfast to implementing syariah on a national scale, which would lead to confusing implications for Malaysia's sizeable non-Muslim population. The debate around the implementation of hudud is something that other Pakatan Rakyat coalition members, such as figures in the Democratic Action Party, have been unable to agree on.

Pas  enjoys support from rural Malay Muslims in states such as Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, though  it has limited appeal to urbanites. While certain individuals in Pas have raised questions about NGOs receiving foreign funding, Dr Mahathir has insinuated that Pas' leadership has been largely complicit: "They (foreign interests) want to topple the government through the demonstration and Nik Aziz (the spiritual leader of Pas) said it is permissible to bring down the government in this manner. They want to make Malaysia like Egypt, Tunisia, which were brought down through riots and now Syria. When the government does not fall, they (Pakatan Rakyat) can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring down, even if it means using firepower."

It must be acknowledged that the current administration led by Najib  has made great strides towards improving relations with Washington. At a meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010, Najib offered Malaysia's assistance to cooperate with the United States to engage the Muslim world; Najib also expressed willingness to deploy Malaysian aid personnel to Afghanistan, and allegedly agreed on the need to maintain a unified front on Iran's nuclear programme.

Najib has employed a Washington-based public relations firm, Apco, to improve Malaysia's image in the US and has embraced American economic leadership of the region through his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Some would argue that Najib is perhaps the most pro-American leader Malaysia has ever had.

Despite Najib having good rapport with formal Western leaders, it is clear with whom the think-tank policy architects, Zionist lobbies, and foundation fellows have placed their loyalties.

Sentiment among Malaysia's youth and "pro-democracy" activists, who constitute a small but vocal minority, tend to be entirely dismissive of the "regime change" narrative, viewing it as pre-election diversionary rhetoric of the ruling party. While bogeymen of the Zionist variety are often invoked in Malaysian political discourse, it would be negligent to ignore the effects of Washington-sponsored "democracy promotion" in the global context, which have in recent times cloaked mercenary elements and insurgents in the colours of freedom fighting, and successfully masked geopolitical restructuring and the ushering in of neo-liberal capitalism with the hip and fashionable vigour of "people power" coups.

As the United States continues to increase its military presence in the Pacific region in line with its strategic policy shift to East Asia, policymakers in Washington would like to see compliant heads of state who will act to further American interests in the Asean region.

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room; the real purpose of America's resurgence of interest in the Asean bloc is to fortify the region as a counterweight against Beijing.

The defence ministries of Malaysia and China held a landmark defence and security consultation in September, in addition to frequent bilateral state visits and enhanced economic cooperation. It was Najib's father, second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, who made the landmark visit to Beijing to normalise relations in 1974, and under his son Najib, Sino-Malaysian relations and cooperation have never been better.

Following the global economic crisis of 2008, Najib looked to Beijing to revive Malaysia's export-oriented economy, emphasising increased Chinese investment in Malaysia and expanding the base of Sino-Malaysian trade in areas like education and student exchange, finance, infrastructure development, science and technology, yielding lucrative and mutually beneficial results. In asking the question of regime change in Malaysia, Chandra reflects on Washington's moves to bolster its military muscle and dominance over the Asia-Pacific region:

"Establishing a military base in Darwin (Australia), resurrecting the US' military alliance with the Philippines, coaxing Japan to play a more overt military role in the region, instigating Vietnam to confront China over the Spratly Islands, and encouraging India to counterbalance Chinese power, are all part and parcel of the larger US agenda of encircling and containing China.
"In pursuing this agenda, the US wants reliable allies -- not just friends -- in Asia. In this regard, Malaysia is important because of its position as a littoral state with sovereign rights over the Straits of Malacca, which is one of China's most critical supply routes that transports much of the oil and other materials vital for its economic development.
"Will the containment of China lead to a situation where the hegemon, determined to perpetuate its dominant power, seek to exercise control over the straits in order to curb China's ascendancy? Would a trusted ally in Kuala Lumpur facilitate such control? The current Malaysian leadership does not fit the bill."

Pakatan Rakyat has yet to offer a fully coherent organisational programme, and if the coalition ever came to power, the disunity of its component parties and their inability to agree on fundamental policies would be enough to conjure angrier, disenchanted youth back on to the streets, in larger numbers perhaps.

What is ticklishly ironic about reading op-eds penned by the likes of Wolfowitz and Gore, and how they laud Malaysia as a progressive and moderate model Islamic state, is that they concurrently demonise its leadership and dismiss them as authoritarian thugs.

Surely, the ruling coalition has its shortcomings; the politicisation of race and religion, noted cases of corrupt officials squandering funds, etc -- but far too few, especially those of the middle-class who benefit most from energy subsidies, acknowledge the tremendous economic growth achieved under the current leadership and the success of  its populist policies.

Najib has acknowledged the need for broad reforms of Malaysia's state-owned enterprises over concerns that crony capitalism may deter foreign investment; this should be rolled out concurrently with programmes to foster more local entrepreneurship. To put it bluntly, the opposition lacks confidence from the business community and foreign investors; even the likes of JP Morgan have issued statements of concern over an opposition win.

It should be noted that if Islamists ever wielded greater influence in Malaysia under an opposition coalition, one could imagine a sizeable exodus of non-Muslim minorities and a subsequent flight of foreign capital, putting the nation's economy in a fragile and fractured state. And yet, the US has poured millions into "democracy promotion" efforts to strengthen the influence of NGOs that distort realities and cast doubt over the government's ability to be a coherent actor.

Malaysia does not have the kind of instability that warrants overt external intervention; backing regime-change efforts may only go so far as supporting dissidents and groups affiliated with Anwar.

According to Ambiga, Malaysia's electoral process is so restrictive that a mass movement like Bersih is required to purge the system of its backwardness. These are curious statements, considering that the opposition gained control of four out of 13 states in 2008, including Selangor, a key economic state with the highest gross domestic product and most developed infrastructure.

In response, Najib has adhered to Bersih's demands and has called for electoral reform, forming a parliamentary select committee comprising members from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional.

As elections loom, Ambiga is already dubbing them "the dirtiest elections ever seen" -- unsurprising rhetoric from a woman being handed her talking points by the US embassy.

1 comment:

  1. Aren't these all truth? Over here, we have Russia Today news on our TV and mostly its non-biased reportings all around the globe. Are you surprised a foreign journalist interfering in Malaysian politics?

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