BY PRABASI NEPALI
Malaysia: Victory for Democracy
In Malaysia, for the first time since independence from Britain in 1957, the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its government coalition Barisan Nasional was ousted from power in a major election upset. The opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition of several parties surged to victory in the country’s first real government change. Hope for lasting transformation after the historic election win will now depend on the charismatic Mahathir Mohamad — now the world’s oldest elected executive leader at 92 — who made the decisive difference in the current election and who enabled a rising opposition movement to break the UMNO’s six-decade grasp on power. Will and can the wily former authoritarian leading politician change his ways and possess the vigor and clout to heal national divisions ?
Public aspirations are high in Malaysia for wholesale change, including protection of human rights, press freedom, anti-corruption initiatives, changes to divisive race-based policies (favoring the Malays, the so-called sons of the soil), and introducing true democratic rule. It remains to be seen whether a real ‘people’s tsunami’ has been ushered in. This significant election upset could rank up there with Brexit and Trump’s improbable win. However, Malaysian politics can lead to head-spinning changes, not least of which was Mahathir Mohamad’s own metamorphosis from autocrat to progressive grandfatherly opposition darling, and the future remains obscure. Some real hard work is now essential.
The influential political website “Malasiakini.com” wrote: “No one should be under the illusion that a new government would be able to reverse the rot that had taken root for decades.” Furthermore: “For a country that is so divided, it would take time to heal the wounds and for Malaysians to rebuild the trust for one another and for the many institutions that have failed them.” Multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia has been increasingly torn asunder by political and racial tension under now-toppled UMNO-leader Najib Razak, exacerbated by a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal of international dimensions. Najib was accused of presiding over the plundering of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and had responded with harsh denials and increasing repressive measures.
Without doubt, much now depends on Mahathir, whose 1981-2003 tenure as UMNO leader and premier is credited with creating a modern and prosperous Malaysia, but also tarnished by the incarceration of opponents and entrenchment of the political dominance of Muslim Malays, the country’s major ethnic group, over the sizable Chinese and Indian minorities. After retirement, mentor Mahathir had strongly criticized his former protégé Najib for loosening the reins with political liberalization moves, which he warned would lead to chaos. Najib later nullified the reforms and tightened the screws over 1MDB. In an opportunistic move, Mahathir started fulminating against the system he helped create and sustain. He has now promised reforms such as leadership term limits and scrapping an unpopular sales tax imposed by Najib. “Malaysiakini called the upset vote a reminder that politicians are elected to serve the people “and not lord over them” and that “It would be wise for the incoming government to remember this” – a gem of an advice that our Nepalese ‘netas’ [leaders] should very much take to heart!
In a major move, Mahathir ordered that immigration authorities prevent Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor from leaving on a week-long holiday to Indonesia after his thumping electoral defeat. He also sacked the attorney general who had cleared Najib of wrongdoing in the graft scandal at state fund 1MDB.
Trump Wages War on Peace
Fareed Zakaria, CNN host of the segment “Global Public Square” (Sundays, 19.45 NST), has written in “The Washington Post” that the only real way to make sense of Trump’s decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal is to see it as part of a strategy of regime change. However, if that is the goal, then he is likely to be greatly disappointed and has dramatically escalated tensions in an already unstable part of the world. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by overthrowing a regime that it considers to be repressive and virulently anti-American is more than fanciful. This ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region, has withstood US pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. Even if it were somehow possible to oust it, severe problems would remain: “The lesson of the past two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora’s box in a [region] already rife with woes.”
Iran has said it would try to salvage the agreement, but would restart uranium enrichment if it could not. President Hassan Rouhani stated: “If we achieve the deal’s goals in co-operation with other members of the deal, it will remain in place.” However, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was more than skeptical, saying he did not trust Britain,
France or Germany, and would need “guarantees” before continuing the nuclear agreement. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited his counterparts in China and Russia, and is set to visit Europe in order to seek “assurances” from the backers of the country’s nuclear deal after the US pulled out.
In his comments to French radio, the foreign minister Le Drian said: “the deal is not dead. There’s an American withdrawal from the deal but the deal is still there.” UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson went on record to say that the UK won’t walk away from the agreement. Russia said it was “deeply disappointed” by Trump’s decision while China expressed regret. But Trump’s move has been welcomed by Iran’s major regional adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a prominent critic of the accord (even during negotiations), said he “fully supports” Trump’s withdrawal from a “disastrous” deal. However, there are voices even in the US – like “The New York Times” – that are demanding that Europe stand up to Trump and his nonsense. After all, the EU has a GDP roughly equivalent to that of the US and may feel compelled to acknowledge the harsh reality that it must secure its own economic interests. If the US were to impose secondary sanctions on Europe, EU could also slap its own penalties on American multilateral corporations – with enormous pressure on Trump’s White House.
The US is now at collision course with its major European allies. Trump said he would re-impose economic sanctions on Iran that were waived when the deal was signed in 2015. The sanctions would target industries mentioned in the deal, including Iran’s oil sector, aircraft manufacturers exporting to Iran (Boeing, Airbus). Major European and US companies are likely to be affected. The new, hawkish US National Security Adviser John Bolton is reported as saying that European companies doing business in Iran will have to stop doing so within six months or face US sanctions. It thus seems that the US is attempting to dictate economic/financial/trade terms to the world at large. The question is whether this will at all be feasible and sustainable – in the short term, and above all in the long run.
In addition, with his catastrophic Iran nuclear deal ‘collapse’, Trump has now worsened his starting negotiating position with Kim Jong-un considerably. For all intents and purposes, the wily North Korean autocrat is taking him for a very nice ride!
The columnist can be reached at: [email protected]