The ghosts of Kerala met with the ghosts of Gujarat

Deforms lead to extremism.
Reforms lead to moderation.
Racism is a product of UMNO’s inculcation of racism as part of their divide and rule agenda. Mahathir, what you are expressing as your fear is actually the storm before the sunshine. There is nothing to fear, it is the natural adjustment, the adjustment phase when thing changes. Don’t use this to frighten people.PR stands for eradication of racism. Dr M is simply out of touch with reality

What happens in the unlikely event that Pakatan Rakyat wins control of the federal government after the 13th general election?

This is a question which few people have tried to address systematically. In this article, I want to highlight what I think will be the five main challenges facing a Pakatan federal government as a way to contextualise the policy options which such a government will have to address.

I have summarised these five main challenges into five ‘P’s:

*Dealing with the ‘Past’.

*Distributing ‘Power’ between the federal and state governments.

*Coming up with a new set of ‘Plans’ in the economic, political and social arenas.

*Focusing on a smaller number of ‘Priorities’ which can be delivered within 100 days and one year.

*Finding a set of ‘Procedures’ to deal with disagreements within the Pakatan coalition.

1. Dealing with the past

Having been in power for 55 years, there are bound to be a whole list of ‘legacy’ issues which a new government has to figure out how to deal with.

It would not be practical for a new federal government to conduct a massive witch-hunt to weed out all those who have paid bribes to the previous government to obtain contracts, to find evidence to convict all BN politicians who have received bribes or have amassed wealth beyond their means or to sack all civil servants who have been complicit in corrupt deals involving the previous government.

But at the same time, it makes sense for a Pakatan government to outline a clear set of rules with regard to how it will, for example, deal with dubious contracts which the government has signed with private companies.

This is important because there is a great temptation for Pakatan to blame the previous BN government for many of the problems that it will face when it is governing. Instead of blaming BN in an ad-hoc manner throughout its first term in government, it would be better for Pakatan to outline a place to clear out the skeletons in the cupboard early in its tenure in power.

Pakatan has already given some indication as to the contracts it will attempt to cancel or renegotiate when it comes to power, namely the contracts with toll operators and independent power producers.

There are bound to be many other smaller contracts which are potentially disadvantageous to the government which could be renegotiated or cancelled. The criteria for contract renegotiation or cancellation need to be spelled out as soon as possible as a way of assuring the markets and the many companies which have large contracts with the government.

Similarly, Pakatan needs to figure out the extent to which it wants to change the government procurement process.

It will be a tricky balancing act since many of the current contractors have well-established relationships with Umno, who are also Malay entrepreneurs who will question Pakatan’s commitment to protecting Malay entrepreneurship if they are cut off from these government contracts.

At the same time, this also presents an opportunity to introduce open-tender processes that could potentially save the government billions of ringgit in expenditure.

More important than mere contracts is the fate of those who wrongly benefitted from the awarding of these contracts and other government-related concessions and favours.

To what extent will a Pakatan government go after the likes of Tajudin Ramli (right), those involved in PKFZ (Port Klang Free Zone), NFC (National Feedlot Corporation) and the Scorpene submarine scandals? Will a Pakatan government try to recover as much revenue as possible and will it try to convict the individuals involved in these scandals as well?

Similar questions surround the fate of BN politicians who may have amassed ill-gotten gains through their government positions. Will Pakatan go after the ill-gotten gains of the individuals in question or will it also go after the individuals in question? Is there a cut-off mark under which some cases may not be investigated?

Here, it may be useful to establish an equivalent of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee established in South Africa after the abolishment of apartheid. In exchange for amnesty, politicians, civil servants and even businessmen who have amassed ill-gotten gains can use this platform to ‘confess’ their past wrongdoing and return a percentage of their wealth to the taxpayers.

Similar actions can be taken by individuals who want to blow the whistle on themselves and admit to past wrongdoing, not just in terms of financial gain but also in terms of other past abuses of power including granting citizenship to foreigners to allow them to vote, wrongfully jailing innocent victims, beating up protestors, just to name a few.

This may be a cathartic experience for the nation for past mistakes to be revealed and for the nation to move on and firmly establish itself as a democratic nation with regular alternations in power.

The question is, will a Pakatan government subject itself to the same levels of scrutiny, including admission of past mistakes among those in Pakatan who were formerly high-ranking politicians in the BN government?

2. Re-distributing power

The second major challenge to a Pakatan government is in the re-allocation of power between the federal government and the states.

Right now, the Pakatan state governments in Kelantan, Kedah, Penang and Selangor say that their hands are tied because of the lack of funding and cooperation from the federal government on key issues including the consolidation of water assets and pricing, the consolidation of wage management, the responsibility for public transportation and road maintenance and the proper allocation of federal funding including the oil royalties paid to Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak.

With a Pakatan government at the federal level, such excuses will no longer be valid. A Pakatan federal government will have to pick the low-hanging fruit in terms of distributing power and funds back to the states in areas which are clearly defined to be under state jurisdiction.

This may not be as easy as it sounds. Even increasing the oil royalty from 5 percent to 20 percent will entail a redistribution of as much as RM10 billion ringgit from the federal government to the states. Hard decisions will have to be made with regard to where some of these cuts have to be made at the federal level.

Other issues concerning decentralisation of power from the federal to the state governments, a cornerstone of Pakatan’s promises both in the Buku Jingga (Orange Book) and more recently in the Tawaran Jingga (Orange Offer), will require achieving an internal consensus within Pakatan.

DAP will want to push for the restoration of local council elections, something which PAS and PKR seem lukewarm about. PAS will want to push for the implementation of hudud, especially in the states which it controls, especially Kelantan. Needless to say, DAP will object to this vehemently.

A Pakatan federal government would also be under some pressure to apply some of these decentralisation measures consistently among the states, including those governed by the BN.

For example, it would be inconsistent for the BN to give an increased share of oil royalties to Kelantan but not to the BN-governed states of Terengganu, Sarawak and Sabah. Nor would it be consistent for Pakatan to promise to pass this money back to these states on the condition that voters in these states vote in Pakatan state governments.

It actually makes long-term sense for a Pakatan federal government to decentralise as much as is economically and politically plausible as an insurance policy in the likelihood that it loses control of the federal government in the future.

Having greater democracy and decentralised power means that the states and local authorities which Pakatan still controls can have more independence and hopefully, be more effective as well.

3. New set of plans

While one can question their effectiveness, there is less doubt that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put in place a comprehensive transformation plans to address various shortcomings in the political, economic and social arenas.

Most politically aware Malaysians are already familiar with the alphabet soup which is associated with Najib’s transformation programmes – 1Malaysia, ETP, GTP, NEM, PTP – even if they are unsure about the achievements of these programmes.

Pakatan is not likely to follow in Najib’s footsteps in designing a similar ‘transformation’ programme but it will still need to come up with concrete and well-thought-out plans of its own in order to shape the country’s political, economic and social agenda according to the vision and philosophy of Pakatan and its leaders.

Pakatan is better placed in some areas to deliver substantive positive change compared to the BN.

It would be relatively easy for Pakatan to deliver on promises of reform in terms of political rights and civil liberties by abolishing any laws which allow for detention without trial such as the Security Offences Special Measures Act (Sosma), abolish the need to have a permit to print a newspaper and to allow political parties to have a presence in university campuses, just to name a few.

But Pakatan would also have to resist the temptation of using their power in order to intimidate and threaten the mainstream media newspapers and television which are owned or closely associated with BN parties. Similarly, it also needs to resist the temptation of using RTM1 and 2 as a government mouthpiece.

Pakatan can also deliver significant institutional reform such as making the Election Commission (EC) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) independent and allowing them to carry out their jobs without political interference.

It would also have to tackle the tricky task of reforming the police force including finding new roles for existing Special Branch officers, assuming that their services will no longer be needed or needed less often. It is also needs to strengthen the civil service’s resolve to be professional and accountable rather than to force it to change its political allegiance from BN to Pakatan.

In terms of the economy, Pakatan will have to find new sources of economic growth as well as enhancing current sources of growth. Some of this can be realised by the freeing up of certain monopolies so that competitive forces can be released in currently protected sectors.

Other initiatives require a longer time period to come to fruition such as increasing the innovation and R&D (research and development) capacity in the country. One way in which this process can be expedited is to tap on the large Malaysian diaspora, some of whom may be interested to come back and invest their time, expertise and money under a new non-BN federal government.

One of the biggest policy areas for Pakatan to tackle would be in education since this is something which almost all Malaysians care about and where there is a widespread consensus that something drastic needs to be done in order to arrest the decline in the standard of public education in the country.

Pakatan has said that it would respect the rights of vernacular (Mandarin and Tamil) and religious schools to flourish in the country. It will have its hands full in taking on the civil service as well as some within the Pakatan who do not want to strengthen vernacular and religious education, especially in allowing more Chinese primary and independent secondary schools to be established.

These are only a few of the key policy questions which Pakatan has to address if it comes to power at the federal level. The list can easily be longer. Pakatan’s challenge is to design a strategic plan or plans in order to fulfill a set of political, economic and social goals.

4. Urgent priorities

Not all of the plans outlined above can be fulfilled in a short period of time. Some may even take more than one term to deliver the desired results. Pakatan does not have the luxury of taking its time to deliver once it is in control of the federal government.

It needs to prioritise its various objectives so that some immediate quick wins can be given the proper focus.

Some of Pakatan’s promises in its first 100 days in government have already been outlined in the Buku Jingga such as providing free Wifi to the rural areas in the country and abolishing certain corporate subsidies such as the gas subsidy to the independent power producers (IPPs).

These deliverables may have to be adjusted if a Pakatan federal government realises that some of the initiatives may take longer than 100 days to fulfill.

It is important for Pakatan to show it can deliver concrete results and initiatives early in its administration so that it can build momentum for other initiatives later on. Without clear, focused priorities, Pakatan may fall into the trap of wanting to do too much but failing to deliver anything significant in a timely manner.

5. Procedures to overcome disagreements

Finally, Pakatan will have to come up with certain procedures, both formal and informal, for dealing with disagreements between the Pakatan component parties on key policy issues. I have already pointed out that local government elections and hudud are two potential flashpoints within the Pakatan.

There is no doubt that other controversial disagreements will emerge from within the Pakatan coalition. Unlike the BN, where Umno can dominate and control major policy directions, the parties within the Pakatan coalition are much more equal in terms of stature and also control of parliament and state seats.

Even though the prime minister from Pakatan, most likely Anwar Ibrahim, will yield considerable power, it would be difficult for him to ride roughshod over his component party members in the same way as for example, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, within the BN context.

The Pakatan supreme council needs to be strengthened and proper procedures identified in order to solve conflicts emerging from within Pakatan on issues of national and sub-national importance.

Just the tip of the iceberg

This article has barely scratched the surface of what a Pakatan government may look like and the main challenges which it will face as a new ruling coalition.

But hopefully, it has been helpful in outlining the major issues of contention and providing some guidelines as to how these challenges may be addresses so that Pakatan can effectively deliver positive change to the country.

The man who would be king; The Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi is seen as as frontrunner to become the next prime minister of India. -AFP Photo

In April 1903, when present day Moldova was firmly in the grip of the Russian Empire, an incident occurred in the small town of Dubossary, which was located in the capital Kishnev. A young Christian boy named Mikhail Rybachenko was found murdered in the town, while at the same time a young girl had committed suicide by taking poison. Both bodies were taken to a Jewish hospital, where inevitably rumors started to spread that the Jews had a hand in their deaths. Anti-Semitism was an accepted prejudice at that time and had tacit sympathy from Russian officials.

After loud cries of retaliation and revenge from the local Russian Orthodox priest, the people of the town streamed out of their churches on Easter Sunday and launched a three day orgy of violence and destruction that left nearly 50 people dead, hundreds of houses looted or burned and a small minority thoroughly traumatized. No attempt was made to stop the violence until the third day. The Russian Interior Minister, Vyacheslav von Plehve, reportedly looked the other way, while the mayhem continued.

This infamous episode was known as the “Kishnev Pogrom”. The New York Times summarized the entire episode in one haunting paragraph;

The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken- up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.

 Flash forward to 2012 and an investigative team appointed by the Indian Supreme Court has just cleared Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi of any involvement in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Zakia Jafri filed the complaint against Modi and other government and police officials, accusing them of involvement in the mob burning of a house colony. That incident killed former Congress lawmaker Eshan Jafri, the husband of the plaintiff along with 68 other people.

The court ruled that “According to SIT, no offence has been established against any of the persons listed in Zakia’s complaint”.

In response to the report Zakia Jafri said: “In the court of the lord above, just can get delayed but not denied. I am sure that truth will come out and I will get justice”.

As for Modi himself, one more irritant has been brushed off as he moves ahead on the road to becoming the next prime minister of India.

Making comparisons is not usually a sound approach, and in no way does the above historical incident mean that India’s robust and vibrant democracy should now be compared with the oppression of Tsarist Russia. Nevertheless some comparisons can be made when a great or rising power fails to uphold the values by which it stands by. There is one stark difference between the two incidents. Most if not all the Russian papers of that time actually urged the rioters to commit acts of violence. Many Indian newspapers and members of civil society were highly critical of Narendra Modi’s conduct during the Gujarat riots. They still hold him responsible for being if not directly involved, then almost certainly giving support to the perpetrators.

Narendra Modi has achieved a great deal of success in transforming Gujarat into an economic miracle. But his critics find him to be an unlikely inheritor of the tolerant legacy left by Gujarat’s most famous son, Mahatma Gandhi. -AFP Photo

Modi’s membership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a militant Hindu organization, may appeal to a certain section of the Indian electorate, but it certainly doesn’t make him attractive to India’s Muslim minority, or to those who firmly believe in the secular values propagated by Jawaharlal Nehru. Having said that, it cannot be denied that Modhi, for all the negative perception surrounding him, has been trying to change his image from a Hindu nationalist to that of a highly effective administrator. His working style may be described as autocratic, but it has got the job done. Modi has been credited for turning Gujarat into an economic hub. Indian industrial leaders like Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal have hailed him as India’s next PM due to his successful administrative skills.

But despite these achievements, the ghosts of Gujarat will continue to haunt him. If he becomes the BJP candidate for prime minister in the 2014 elections and does in fact win the coveted position, then those ghosts will rise once again under an even bigger spotlight.

India is one of the rising powers of the global community; its economy is growing by leaps and bounds and has secured itself a place among the top ten economies of the world. As it moves ahead in the 21st century and will remain the world’s largest democracy for many years to come, it must remain true to the secular values laid at the foundation of the republic. Democracy means not only that majority rules, but that minority rights are protected as well.

As we in Pakistan have learnt, mixing religion and politics is always a dangerous thing. It’s bad enough when a state patronises people who have bigoted views and are intolerant towards others. But when officials themselves are intolerant and bigoted, they tend to look the other way when fanaticism rears its ugly head. The 2009 Gojra riots, or Gojra Pogrom as it should be called, is a case in point.

A polarising figure like Narendra Modi becoming the inheritor of religious tolerance advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and fierce secularism of Nehru seems an oxymoron. But if Modi does manage to do that, it will be the first time that a leopard has successfully changed his spots.

  Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today voiced his doubts over the veracity of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reformist credentials, warning the prime minister that his bid to increase civil liberties in Malaysia would only lead to extremism.


In his typical no-holds-barred fashion, the former prime minister told French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an interview here that Najib’s formula for racial unity was “not clearly defined”.

“What happens, of course, is that when you open up things — you become liberal — it is the extremists, the aggressive ones, who project their views,” he was quoted by the agency as saying.

Dr Mahathir, who has been seen as Najib’s most vocal critic in Umno, was speaking in reference to the latter’s decision to remove the federal government’s powers to jail an individual for his or her political beliefs.

Najib, the country’s sixth prime minister, made a historical promise on the eve of Malaysia Day celebrations last year to repeal the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA), a long sought-after demand of civil society groups and opposition leaders.

He delivered on his promise this year and scrapped the 1960 British-enacted legislation from the country’s statute books, tabling in its place a fresh security law — Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 — that removed the government’s power to detain a person without trial for his political leanings.

This was among the slew of notable reform measures taken by the Najib administration, which has been seen as the ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) attempt to widen its appeal in middle Malaysia.

But Dr Mahathir, who helmed the nation for 22 years until 2003, believes that too much freedom would result in ethnic tension, according to AFP.

“Now that we want to be liberal, what has happened is that now we are more race-conscious than before. Today, people are accusing each other of being racist.

“There is more antagonism between the races (now) than before there was this liberalisation,” he was quoted as saying during the interview.

“Where there was no problem, now there is a problem,” he added later.

Dr Mahathir has been widely criticised for employing hard-handed, almost authoritarian tactics to clamp down on the spread of dissent against his leadership during his tenure in government.

There is more antagonism between the races (now) than before there was this liberalisation. — Dr Mahathir

It was during his administration that Operasi Lalang occurred, when a whopping 106 individuals were arrested in Malaysia’s second largest ISA swoop in history.

But Dr Mahathir insisted today that Malaysia needs a government to be “firm” apart from being fair.

“We need a government that is firm. It should be fair, it should be firm,” he told the AFP interview.

Najib’s government had come under heavy condemnation from local and foreign critics for purportedly using excessive force to stifle the rising civil society movement calling for fair elections.

Bersih 2.0’s July 9 rally for free and fair polls last year had resulted in much chaos and a record over 1,000 arrests after riot police fired tear gas canisters and water cannons to disperse protesters who had gathered peacefully.

Following the negative backlash against his administration, Najib decided last year to enact a special law for the purpose of regulating public gatherings, in keeping with the constitutional right of Malaysians to assemble peacefully.

The government adopted a hands-off approach at first when Bersih 2.0 announced plans to hold another electoral reforms rally in the city centre, with government leaders saying the group could proceed provided it rallied within the confines of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011.

But chaos again broke out in the capital during the April 28 event after protesters breached a police barricade around Dataran Merdeka, which had been cordoned off as the government had deemed it an unsuitable location for the rally.Narendra Modi is one of the most loved and hated politicians of India. He is the Chief Minister (Equivalent of State Governor in the US) of Gujarat, touted as one of  the most industrialized states of India.  He is loved by those who prospered and became wealthy, and hated by those who cried out for read more


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