Friday, 10 April 2009


Straight after Prime Minister Najib got sworn in, Tun Mahathir rejoined UMNO, the ruling party in Malaysia. As an outsider, and having read about Tun M's resignation from UMNO and his constant attacks on Badawi, Najib's predecessor, one can't help but conclude that Tun M had an active and pro-active part in forcing Badawi to resign prematurely.

Among the reasons cited for Badawi's incompetence, the most striking was that of corruption and his enriching of his family through his son-in-law, Khairy. But didn't Tun M also practise his patronage system when he was in power, helping to dole out government contracts to his trusted aides and supporters?

Already my business friends in Malaysia are talking about the changing of guards in Malaysia and starting to recall long lost contacts - aligned with the Tun M clans but sidelined when Badawi came to power.

I believe what the Chinese say about "crows are all black in this world". Have you seen a white crow in your life? Have you come across a "clean" and objective politician or minister in Malaysia who will award a government contract to the most competent with the "best value for money to the Malaysian people" tender bid? Where do the funds for UMNO's campaigning come from?

They don't seem to have much of a choice I don't think. Even the Americans - touted as the most democratic nation in the eyes of the Western world - have to take heed when dealing with donors of their political campaigns. Look at what happened to the awarding of security contracts to private firms for Iraq etc. It's not proven; but somehow the fishiness smells in each and every living room of discerning folks there. Maybe that's why Obama was voted in.

Through all these ramblings, I really have no solution as to how politicians can resolve their "chicken and egg" scenarios in this part of the world or in the affluent Western worlds. I just feel like politicians invent their benchmarks along the way. And what fits them best is what they will promote - maybe even pass into law - and us common folks are looked after with the occasional doling out of benefits or tax breaks or populist initiatives. Look at what's happening to the trillions of dollars spent in the USA now to get the economy back on track while making the voters happy (somewhat).

Crows are black, no matter which sky you're looking up on.


Can't help but notice how the Red shirts compare with the Yellow shirts of the PAD in Thailand. Basically I think they're being too gentle. But that could be because they know that the Yellow shirts have the upper hand due to support from the old elites in Bangkok and the army.

That shows - maybe - that Thaksin is prepared to mobilise the masses for political gains or perhaps to protect democracy in Thailand - but is not prepared to make the masses suffer through economic deprivation like what the PAD did when they closed off the airports in Bangkok some months ago.

To an outside observer, the PAD don't seem to give a "hoot" as to what the common folks in Thailand feels or have to suffer by their actions. They have no qualms whatsoever in paralysing the tourism industry to achieve their political agenda. From what happened a few months ago, it seems like their efforts at paralysing the economy had a swaying effect on the judiciary in disqualifying a Prime Minister, and hence scaring off otherwise Thaksin loyalists to defect.

Now that Thaksin has raised his stakes in daring to attack the one behind the coup two years ago and the one backing the Bangkok elite and the PAD - it's General Prem I'm referring to in case you haven't been following Thai politics - it's anybody's guess as to what can happen to Thailand over the next few weeks. Thaksin is far away in exile. But what he can garner in the form of resistance to the government and the institutions propping up the government is anybody's guess. Even if the government accuses him of "les majeste", he's in exile and nothing can be done. He already has a considerable amount of assets frozen in Thailand as a result of corruption accusations, and has lost Manchester City, so what else can he lose?

The Chinese like to say that if you force a dog into a dead end lane, be prepared for the consequences. Is this beyond the UK-born Premier Abhisit who looks like he's of Chinese-origin although not necessarily have had the benefit of traditional Chinese Confucianist teachings?

Whatever, I thought! It's Thailand. My friends in business there tell me that Thaksin has been too greedy, not unlike the friends in Indonesia who used to lament about the Suharto clan trying to gobble up every deal up for grabs in Jakarta.

For those of you who are purists and idealists, maybe this is a lesson - at least in Asia - in that politics is not always about equality and welfare for all citizens rich or poor. Politics seem to be about power followed by wealth followed by more power! And that's before we look at what's happening in Taiwan and Malaysia.

So for those of you in the West who are used to your Western ideas and ideals about democracy, these are interesting times for you to chart in your history and economic journals.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Fasting month in Jakarta

It's that time of the year again. My drivers are fasting,the maids are fasting, so are the rest in my office.

In Indonesia, which prioritizes religion over everything else, fasting is a God given right. Efficiency and productivity is down; people call in sick; people arrive late for work - all these are "acceptable" and "understandable".

I've been told by a Moslem friend in Indonesia that fasting is God's test of one's resolve. He says that things are different in the Middle East, where everyone works only half a day at most during the Ramadhan fasting month. But in Indonesia, the Moslems supposedly believe differently - during Ramadhan, one is supposed to carry on life as usual.

There are numerous interpretations - understandably. I'm not a Moslem so it would not be fair for me to comment on their practises.

However, if we go by the norms promulgated by renowned economists and theorists, I would expect that Moslem nations observing the holy month of Ramadhan should have devised policies which will ensure that their working population contribute more during the other months just so they can make up for the losses in productivity and efficiency of the fasting months.

I don't have statistics to delve further into this; but from observation, I don't think any policies have been put in place. At least not in Malaysia and Indonesia. I'm not even sure that Malaysia and Indonesia have any yardsticks or benchmarks to effectively measure productivity, fasting or not fasting.

Perhaps that's something the authorities can consider and come up with an effective solution in this era of globalisation and supposedly fair competition?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tumultous months ahead for ASIA

So, what's all this news about Thailand and Malaysia? Why are they hogging the headlines?

With Thailand's re-inventing of democracy, and Malaysia's reconciling of the balance between Malays and the other races living in that country, we in Asia are left where we started.

The Philippines has its problems, but they are contained in a way. Who in Asia gives a shxx about what happens in Makati or Mindanao these days? We all have our hands full in our own countries with our own issues.

Internal Security Act?

So be it. It's not democratic; but who cares these days?

Can Anwar maneuver himself out of his sodomy allegations? Can Samak find a replacement whom the DAP will be happy with? We don't know. Just like this unknown Palin out of Alaska who is facing the American public now!

We all know (or should know) who Hillary Clinton is. McCain was from the last campaign, so again, no excuses. Obama? Well OK also, since he's had the benefit of that political machinery behind him. But, to be honest, their running mates are a cast out of heaven.

But that's politics out of the USA! Period. Anyone care to dispute that?

So why can't we in Asia be the same?

Why can't we in Asia have politicians with the same flair as those in Uncle Sam? Why can't we be... simply what they can be?

We are new to this thing called democracy - I gather. We are new economies. We are immature countries without a stable political system, like what Uncle Sam has. We are we.....

So why are we pretending that "we are not we" ....?

Why are the Badawis and Mahathirs pretending that we are different? Why is the PAD behaving like they are the God of the Thais?

Even the likes of Hu Jingtao and Wen Jiabo have come to terms with this new world (in their own ways), so why are people still re-inventing the wheel?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Thai democracy - where they're at now

I wrote about the Thai style of democracy last June. And guess what - they've just declared a state of emergency.

The PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) in Thailand isn't that democratic after all. They want the constitution changed so that the Parliament comprises elected representatives as well as appointed reps, such as those from trade unions etc. How can that be democratic? Who is authorised to appoint reps to Parliament other than the citizens of Thailand?

One of their justifications is that Thais in the rural parts of the country are illiterate or less literate than those in urban centres; and these are the people most culpable to voting for people who give them money - what they call vote buying. But aren't these rural folks a part of their populace with the same rights under the constitution?

Their proposals smell of the Indonesian parliament under the rule of President Suharto where there are fixed number of appointees from various organisations, such as the military etc.

If Thailand can get away with this, then Malaysia can also say that the rural Malays do not deserve the same vote as the urban Chinese. Malaysia can also say that the rubber tappers who are so essential to their economy also do not deserve the same vote as the more educated people. Should we redefine democracy such that one university degree gets one vote? Or one higher school certificate gets one vote? Maybe Singapore should dictate that those who do not have two kids cannot vote. Or that democracy is only for the elite; and anything which the elite doesn't like is not democracy?

Although absurd - I believe - these are the notions the 10,000 or so people illegally occupying the government's office, and the same group who closed off the airports to their main tourist destinations are proposing for their country. Is Thailand heading back to the stone age? Only the Thais know.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Indonesia putting corruption suspects in uniforms

Came across an article about Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Committee, the local equivalent of ICAC in Hongkong and CPIB in Singapore. They're advocating putting corruption suspects in special uniforms. From pictures published, they look similar to the orange jumpsuits of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

The virtues of Guantanamo and its treatment of suspected terrorists aside. Corruption suspects are not dissimilar to criminal suspects, and that is, they're innocent until proven guilty - a basic tenet around the world. Why would the Indonesians who have supposedly been through 10 years of reformation want to treat their "suspects" differently and to the point of humiliating them?

Has the Indonesian authorities lost faith in their judicial system to the point of desperately trying to "get even" by shaming their suspects before they're let off the hook too easily by the time the courts finish with them? Administration of some form of summary justice perhaps?

The Indonesian parliament is hesitant about verifying the ASEAN Charter primarily on grounds of inadequacies in the protection of human rights, directed - for the moment - at the "injustices" they see in Myanmar. Is this hypocrites at work or is this reformation?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


Time flies. It's interesting - at the same time scary - to think about what's happened in our world over the last six months of this year.

The biggest news is probably the sub-prime overhang causing havoc in stock exchanges around the world and fueling expectations of a slow down in the US economy.

Then there's spiralling oil prices. Besides downwards revisions of economic growths, political implications of fuel subsidy reductions are taking its toll around the world.

Grain and commodity price rises aren't away from the limelight as well. Shortages of staple food like rice and wheat are creating havoc in world economies and all sorts of problems for World Bank planners in poverty alleviation programs. (What poverty alleviation? Feeding all those who can afford on this planet is already a problem).

Inflation is at an "almost" all time high with no signs of abating. The poor's getting poorer and more impoverished. The rich will be spending less in anticipation of that "rainy day".

Is this the end of the world?

Most prophecies on the world's end originate from conflicts of some kind, with differing religious views at the forefront. None (I've heard of) attributed the struggle for survival as a possible cause for nations to destroy one another.

Will China infiltrate and control Saudi Arabia in order to assure themselves of oil? Will Uncle Sam install puppet governments in South American to ensure that Americans are fed? Will Japan attempt to take control of South East Asia (again) just so they can survive? Will corrupt governments in African nations sell out their countries' resources to enrich themselves? Will Russians feel that their oil resources are much more powerful weapons than their nuclear warheads in a new "cold war"? Will Indonesia and Australia awaken to their new found powers of having basic minerals which the world needs?

Uncle Sam is going through a transition. Whether Barack Obama or John Mccain gets into office, they will be so pre-occupied with their own political survivals that the rest of the world will be on the back burner for a while. But the world really needs someone, anyone, to lead it out of this quagmire. And if the US can't or won't do it, I don't see who else can.

What we need is a concerted global effort to bring all vested interests together for the common good - the survival of this planet. Although none of us will like this, but the USA seems to be the only one who can lead this initiative.

The Amercians can influence the Saudis and that would appease China and India who need their oil. The Russians may feel isolated and try to influence oil states like Libya and Iran as a counter weight; but the sheer dominance of Saudi's oil resources is unlikely to give the Russians enough weight to deal with the rest of the world.
The Europeans, South Americans and Japanese can also be easily influenced by the US to at least sit down on a round table and discuss the resolution of issues facing the planet. So what do we need?

A new American president who can see the light, really.

Not someone who can only deal with domestic issues and think that such issues dictate his popularity ratings. Not someone who thinks that America makes the world evolve because high pump prices and wheat shortages won't make many happy Americans. We need someone who can see the bigger picture of a world in economic equilibrium making life easier and happier for the average American voter.

If Osama Bin Laden had that vision, he would have spent his resources choking off America's supplies of oil and commodities rather than weaving that intricate plan to bomb the World Trade Center. But then again, he could have known that American presidents aren't that smart and forward thinking; and that the only way to make his point with immediate effect was to do what he allegedly did.