When does silence become complicity? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh now stands at the thin edge of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability arises from the doctrine of respondeat superior (the responsibility of a superior for the acts of his subordinates).


Najib has an onerous task ahead of him because the Barisan Nasional coalition, which he heads, won only 140 out of 222 lower house seats in the last election in 2008. This simple majority of 63.5 per cent was the coalition’s worst performance since Malaysian independence in 1957.

Najib’s leadership qualities will be severely tested this time around, but he is well aware of the daunting challenge ahead. In fact, his awareness of the problems on the ground might be his strongest suit. So far, it has enabled him to take the first steps toward repairing the damage the Barisan Nasional suffered over the years since the 2008 debacle.

Two notable efforts in this direction were the launching of the New Economic Model and the 1Malaysia concept, both in 2010. These campaigns show that Najib understands that addressing issues relating to inclusiveness and governance are key to winning the upcoming 13th general elections by a convincing margin.

1Malaysia was an initiative to foster ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance, but the idea was strongly criticised by detractors from within Najib’s own party, the United Malays National Organisation, and by Perkasa, a group that focuses mainly on Malay rights. In short, 1Malaysia was a worthy project that could not grow for lack of support.

By contrast, the New Economic Model started off with a bang. The initial document (Part One) was published in 2010, and was a frank admission of where Malaysia stood, and what needed to be done to get it moving forward. Part Two, however, was less than spectacular, and it lacked the vision and candour that characterised its predecessor.

The discrepancies between the two documents indicate that Najib’s high expectations were crippled by political realities that he had no way of navigating. It shows that Najib has a clear picture of what ails the country, but has equal difficulty in executing his vision.

The April 2012 protests by BERSIH 3.0 and recent claims of gerrymandering, malapportionment of constituencies and irregularities in the voter lists do not make the situation any easier for Najib. The BERSIH 3.0 attempt to gather at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) was a sign that the election process has lost some of its credibility — a view that many seem to share. The fact that 80,000 people (250,000 according to non-official sources) are willing to run the risk of being arrested or beaten by the Police to attend a demonstration is a clear sign that public discontent is on the rise.

In addition to underscoring the need for electoral reform, the protests alsocast doubt on Najib’s commitment to free speech and assembly rights. Najib has raised these issues in the past, and has voiced his support for the abolishment of the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial or criminal charges. The allegations of Police harassment of media personnel at the BERSIH3.0 rally do not show Najib in a good light, despite the fact that Police excesses — even if true — need not have been on his direction.

On the economic front, there has been a great deal of prevarication on fiscal responsibility. Najib had promised to work toward fiscal balance, but the record suggests scant regard for Malaysia’s continuing fiscal deficit. For instance, Malaysia’s 1.3 million civil servants have benefited from a salary increase in the range of 7 to 13 per cent. Then there was the RM500 (US$162) one-off cash aid for households earning less than RM3000 (US$974) per month, which was announced under the 2012 budget. It is estimated that 3.4 million households will have benefited from the handout, amounting to RM1.8 billion (US$583 million).

The generosity on the expenditure side has not been matched with equal agility in increasing revenue. The proposed goods and services tax (GST) has been kept on hold, and will not be introduced before the forthcoming elections. An instrument as unpopular as a GST cannot be introduced in an election year and, moreover, the moral right to introduce this tax is called into question when allegations of corruption abound.

A case in point is the scandal surrounding the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), which was run by the husband of the then-cabinet minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat. It has been alleged that NFC funds were used to purchase two luxury condominium units and pay for Shahrizat’s family’s credit card bills in 2009, to the tune of RM600,000 (US$194,500).

Najib might have a clear idea of what needs to be done to revitalise Malaysia, but his credibility will be questioned in the months leading up to the elections. And that is his greatest challenge, because voters will judge Najib on the strength of his performance, rather than on his good, but unrealised, intentions.

More union ministers have been jailed (and bailed) on Dr. Singh’s watch than in any other government since independence. The Prime Minister’s reputation for personal honesty has been shredded by his unwillingness to stand up for upright governance.

A Prime Minister bears moral  responsibility for the actions of his ministers. He is the “first servant” of the union cabinet. The term Prime Minister was first used in Britain in the 18th century. Till then the leader of the British cabinet was called First Minister which, translated literally from Latin from which the term is derived, means first servant.

Dr. Singh knows that his reputation for personal integrity has been used by the UPA government to mask the corruption that has pockmarked its 97 months in office. For long those pockmarks remained camouflaged by Dr. Singh’s pristine halo. The scars, however, are now too deep to cover up.

The curious question remains: why has the Prime Minister allowed himself to be used? In UPA-1, he distracted himself with the Indo-US nuclear deal, leaving political management to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. In UPA-2, he attempted to build his legacy around tong-term peace with Pakistan. All the while, the subversion of India’s natural resources proceeded under his watchful, distant gaze.

A Prime Minister’s constitutional duty is to protect the national interest, not the private interest of the Congress party or the Gandhi family. Once it is clear who is going to be India’s next President, Sonia will decide who will lead this tainted government in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Will Rahul Gandhi be persuaded to step up as Prime Minister? The short answer: no. Rahul does not want the responsibility that today burdens Dr. Singh. Power without direct accountability is a heady brew. Sonia has drank from it and he will too.

Rahul will first want to prove himself afresh as a vote-getter in the vital Gujarat assembly election due in December this year. If he can dent Narendra Modi in his backyard, Rahul will have the luxury of either choosing to be the Congress’ Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election or adopting a Sonia-Manmohan model with a new loyalist Prime Minister-CEO in the run-up to 2014.

Indian politics suffers from twin tragedies. First, that its largest party, the Congress, is still run like a fief. The regressive dynastic example first set (and legitimised) by the Congress in 1959 when Jawaharlal Nehru made daughter Indira Gandhi party President, has been blithely copied by the Thackerays, Abdullahs, Karunanidhis, Hoodas, Pawars, Badals, Yadavs, Reddys, ad nauseum. Dynasty is a contagious disease. It has infected India’s polity, spawned corruption, reduced accountability and devalued merit.

The argument in favour of political dynasties in India, as I pointed out in an earlier article in The Times of India, is superficial. It goes like this: the sons and daughters of lawyers become lawyers; ditto doctors, businessmen and actors. So why not politicians? Because professionals in medicine and law earn their degrees. Businessmen owe their position to specific financial shareholding. Actors are made and unmade every Friday. In a desperately poor country like India, however, political dynasties are easy to build. The electorate is divided by caste, religion and region. Votes can be bought wholesale. Dynasties restrict a voter’s choice instead of enlarging it.

The second tragedy of Indian politics is that the opposition has failed to deliver a viable alternative. The BJP and the Left are not dynastic parties in the sense the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, RJD, SP, DMK and the Shiromani Akali Dal are. But they have not created the depth and width of talented leadership necessary to fill the vacuum at the national level.

India clearly needs a strong new leader. He must not have the baggage of dynasty. He must reward merit, not sycophancy. He must not be corrupt. And he must promote real secularism which treats all Indians – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians – as Indians first, relegating every other identity to second place.

Credibility is a prized asset for any government, and with general elections fast approaching in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak has lost the credibility to this rule.

Question: when do we know that a government policy or decision is dumb and ill-conceived?

When Muhyiddin Yassin and Noh Omar are in agreement that the decision is brilliant!

I am of course referring to the decision by the Higher Education Ministry to freeze PTPTN scholarships to Unisel students. The Umno government thinks that this move will turn students against Pakatan Rakyat and lay bare the opposition’s plan to scrap the PTPTN scheme if it wrests control of Parliament.

Members of the public have become victims of political confrontation and the best example here would be the recent move by the National Higher Education Corporation Fund (PTPTN) to freeze loans to students studying in Selangor-owned Universiti Selangor (Unisel).

Unisel students have not been able to get the loans since April, resulting in them being unable to pay their tuition fees and living expenses. Is this a so-called people first policy?

Earlier, Parliament had opposed Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s open appeal to abolish the PTPTN scheme. How could Anwar call on students not to repay their loans since Pakatan Rakyat has not being elected the ruling party and Anwar is not the prime minister yet? It is equivalent to encouraging lenders to repudiate loan debts. It has also affected the confidence of businesses and banks in Pakatan Rakyat.

However, the move to freeze loans to Unisel students to prove that the Pakatan Rakyat does not have the ability to implement free education in its ruling states is indeed too emotional.

It is Anwar’s problem to make such remarks, and the consequences should not fall on the students. The PTPTN cannot prove that all 1,000 students are supporting Anwar’s free tertiary education idea. Even if they do, they should not be punished for that as it is contrary to the spirit of democracy.

PTPTN’s move would bring a negative effect as the affected students and parents would not think that they could not get the loans because of Anwar. Instead, they would accuse the government. Also, Pakatan Rakyat would take the opportunity to attack BN.

Using students as a bargaining chip is absolutely wrong. Just like the people of Selangor have become victims of the battle between the federal government and state government.

Selangor’s water restructuring plan has been delayed for more than three years. The plan to transfer water from Pahang to Selangor has not been able to be implemented and the state government did not approve the Langat 2 treatment plant on condition that the restructuring hurdle must be cleared first.

The problem is the demand for tap water supply has surged due to the rapid development of housing and industry in Selangor, but the supply has not been improved accordingly, causing a possible water shortage crisis in the future.

Selangor BN co-ordinator Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed has warned that Selangor might face a water shortage next year while Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said that among the 33 water treatment plants in Selangor, 62 per cent of them were not well managed.

Selangor residents can only hope that after the general election, regardless of who wins the election, it would still not too late to solve the water problem. Otherwise, not only the people would have to suffer, but manufacturers and businesses would also have to shut down and it would bring a direct impact to the national economy.

Unisel students have been turned into victims of political struggles but politicians would never wake up. They continue to calculate and find ways to beat their rivals, including playing with issues like the PTPTN loan, the Bersih 3.0 rally, Chinese education and the WWW 15 number controversy. When would they stop?

When the fight for power is placed in the middle, the people would be placed on both sides. Who would still care about social order and law? —

The thinking (if you can call it that) is that the students and their desperate parents will be so upset that they will turn out in droves to vote against Khalid Ibrahim’s government.

The freeze is wrong on so many levels that it ultimately tells us that Umno is desperate, bankrupt of ideas, deeply vindictive and morally wanting. More shockingly, it shows us that this government will go to extreme lengths to cling to power, even stir up violence should poll results not go its way.

Khaled Nordin, Muhyiddin and Noh refuse to accept certain facts: they serve the rakyat; that when the opposition put up alternative suggestions, they must counter these ideas through persuasion and that government funds belong to the rakyat.

Pakatan says that if it comes to power, it will abolish the PTPTN scheme, BN says it cannot be done. So go out there and convince Malaysians why Pakatan’s scheme is not doable.

Instead they decide to punish the students. What a morally deficient bunch of ministers we have! So are we to expect that various communities will be punished if they don’t support Umno in the polls?

Will Chinese areas be neglected? Will the Indians be marginalised?

More importantly, will Malaysians continue to suck up all the punishments and morally-suspect decisions by a government which has lost its ability to discern between right and wrong.Nor Omar go and look after your Agric Ministry well instead of interfering with the Ministry of Education Affairs. What has happened to your Bumi Hijau/Buku Hijau programme to encourage planting of vegetables, short term crops and fruits. Apparently the programme has run out of funds to even distribute seeds and fertilisers forbackyard planters.the ruling government has always cut off fundings to state governments in opposition control. we’ve seen it happen with kelantan for decades. terengganu’s oil royalty’s was only given back after BN took back control. and now Penang has had to make do with damn little of the northern corridor money, even when it’s the most important center of commerce and industry in the area. Don’t think any logical-thinking Malaysians can stand for such stunts. The fence sitters are getting down the fence

It is reassuring that Paul the Octopus, arguably now the most famous contemporary resident of Germany, has entered the Indian political discourse. When the revolutionary leader Jayalalitha promised at a spirited rally in Coimbatore this week that the end of DMK rule in Tamil Nadu was nigh, a government spokesman asked whether she thought she had become Paul the Octopus. Paul, as our learned readers will fondly recall, predicted the results of eight World Cup matches on the trot. Had Paul been a betting man instead of a playful ink-squirter, he would have been a millionaire.The DMK, however, might have missed the moral embedded in the crowning glory of Paul’s fabulous achievements: he retired at the peak of his career. Paul knew when to stop. A statement has been issued from Paul’s home, the Sea Life Aquarium at Oberhausen: “He won’t give any more oracle predictions either in football, in politics, in lifestyle or economy. Paul will get back to his former job, namely making children laugh.” It was news to me that Paul was giving lifestyle tips, but who can argue with the multiple collateral benefits of success? If the judicious display of cleavage can make you a sports commentator, why can’t Paul provide some thoughtful advice on the hemline? 

However, we are wandering from the point. Paul has said goodbye from the pinnacle. His memory will never be tarnished by the possibility that while sketching out a scenario on the economy he messed up on the prospective value of the euro in 2011, thereby tanking Europe’s economy, sabotaging the re-election of Nicolas Sarkozy and driving Greece out of the European Union.

A perfectly timed exit is the key to history’s judgment. How much greater would India’s greatest Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, have seemed today if he had announced, just after he won his third consecutive general election in early 1962, that the time had come to write a few more books (which he did superbly; he and Churchill were in the same class as writer-politicians). Instead, wooed by suggestions of indispensability, he hung around till October and got clobbered by China in a war. Jawaharlal was already in the last phase of a long life; he would die in another 20 months. Two years of defeat, dismay and decline marred an epic career spread that had begun before the Khilafat movement.

Consider how much more glorious would have been the image of his daughter Indira Gandhi had she resigned as Prime Minister in the second week of June 1975 after the Allahabad high court judgment, and gone to the people instead of imposing an Emergency. She would have been re-elected by an unprecedented margin. Or if Vajpayee had trusted his instincts and told his coalition that poetry was preferable to politics after the Gujarat riots. All these were rational options. One does not include Narasimha Rao, who should have quit after abdicating his Constitutional responsibility on December 6, 1992, because India’s most ruthless Prime Minister did not have regret in his DNA.

Witness Nelson Mandela: he topped a life of supreme courage and commitment by leaving office after one term of five years. The most charismatic visionary of our age had no delusions of grandeur, unlike far lesser leaders in Africa who destroyed the very freedom they won from colonial rule. Mandela placed his party and country above himself. He understood that institutions secure the future; individuals can only serve as the spur.

Indian politicians are never tired enough to retire. They do not leave the chair even when it has become a wheelchair. Old age has been famously described as being fifteen older than your age. This happy law keeps Karunanidhi in office. He has done great service to his state; time has eroded his physical strength. This is his moment to laugh with children, not wait until children begin to laugh at you. His own children are untroubled by sentiment. They want him to campaign in a wheelchair because his charisma is their only insurance against defeat; and they want to win so that they can indulge in the unchecked appropriation of wealth that has become a privilege of power — for all parties.

This is a central dilemma: power is too lucrative for anyone to walk away without a shove from the electorate. Some parties have also begun to believe that they can purchase enough voters to ensure victory, but such are the illusions that money tends to induce.

Perhaps our politicians should learn to laugh. It is a good antidote to self-importance. Clemenceau, prime minister of France during World War 1 and a hero to his nation, said, wistfully, upon seeing a pretty girl when he was 80, “Oh to be 70 again!”

Like a good Frenchman, Clemenceau had interests that were larger than politics.readmore


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