April 15 - 21, 2013
IT has been said that thedefinition of frenzy is agroup of women working in afishprocessing plant.Right now, it might be moreapt to say that it is a bunch of Malaysian politicians running for election in the southernstate of Johor.Frenetic is the right wordfor their behaviour since April3 when Prime Minister NajibRazak, 59, finally dissolvedparliament.Likely to be held in the lastweek of this month, the nation’s13
general election willfeature some of the most hotlycontested battles in Malaysia’shistory and the outcome isanybody’s guess.The victor may be Najib’sNational Front, which won 137seats in the 2008 election, or itmay be the ascendant People’s Alliance helmed by formerdeputy prime minister AnwarIbrahim, 65, which won 75seats.Everyone is on tenterhooks,as indicated by the unseemlyfrenzy in Johor, the birthplaceof the Front’s dominant party,the United Malays NationalOrganisation.Normally, UMNO and itscoalition allies would sweepmost of the seats in thissouthern state bordering Singapore, while the oppositionwould focus on other areaswhere the prospects look morepromising.Not this time. Such is theconfidence of Anwar’s men thatlast week it stunned observersby revealing that some of itsheavyweight candidates willforego their safe seats and runin UMNO’s bastion of Johor.It sounded bonkers at first,but upon further considerationit becomes clear that there ismethod in this madness.Who dares, wins. Andthis, the most astonishinglydaring move in the annals of Malaysian politics, may well bethe pivotal move that wins aslew of seats for the opposition.One of its veteran leaders,the pugnacious warhorse LimKit Siang, has announced thathe will not only switch fromhis safe Perak constituency toJohor, but that he will fightfor the fortress seat of Gelang Patah.That means he will likely faceJohor Chief Minister GhaniOthman, the most powerfulpolitician in the state.On the surface, it looks likepolitical harikiri but Lim is nofool, nor is he prone to suicidaltendencies.He knows that the decent, butbland Ghani is vulnerable, andhe knows that Geylang Patahis 52 percent Chinese and 12pcIndian. And he knows that thosenonMalays have turned againstthe front and that if he can winmost of their votes, and justget a little support from theconstituency’s 34pc Malays, heis in. As well as Lim, formerMalaysian army chief, HashimHussein, will fight for Anwarin the state capital, JohorBaru, and other “big name”oppositionists will also contestthroughout UMNO’s heartland.The move has spooked Najib’smen and they sent former PMMahathir Mohamad down southto stiffen sinews.He urged Johoreans tocontinue to make their state thegovernment’s “fixed deposit” of seats and called on them to endthe political careers of Anwarand Lim.While Mahathir, 87, deridedLim for being in politics too long and being biased, there weresigns that many voters thoughtbeing called old and biased bysomeone like him was like being called ugly by a warthog.Perhaps an even moredisturbing sign for Najib’s teamwas the way one of its brightestnew stars, the electrifying UMNO youth leader KhairyJamaluddin, announced that hewill not run in the election.Naturally, people assumehe did this because he knowswhich way the wind is blowing and that he is distancing himself from imminent defeatand the dispatch of Najib to theglue factory.That prospect still remainsa long shot, and it would be alittle unfair on Najib, who hasdone a halfdecent job and ismore likable, if less incisive andvisionary, than Anwar.But then, life’s not fair. If itwere, Anwar and Lim wouldnever have been jailed andTuya would still be alive.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak holds a copy of his coalition’s election manifesto during a politicalrally at a stadium in Kuala Lumpur on April 6.
Close race has Malaysia in a frenzy
For Myanmar,lessons fromthe transitionin Indonesia
By Jim Della-Giacoma
INDONESIA, with its free media,rambunctious democracy andfrequent elections could well bethe most democratic country inSoutheast Asia. Its robust economicgrowth is something others want toemulate. It is not surprising thatit is regarded as something of aglobal success story and has beenstudied by those leading Myanmar’stransformation as they also try tocreate a stable, prosperous anddemocratic postauthoritarian nation.But Indonesia is neither a perfectnor model democracy. Its transition15 years ago was incredibly violent.The sudden end of 32 years of authoritarian rule brought aboutdramatic political change, but it alsounleashed a series of deadly ethnicand religious violent conflicts acrossthe archipelago. It is easy to forgetthe first dark years of “reformasi”and how many feared that thisdiverse country would break upinto its component ethnic parts.The lessons from this period provideMyanmar with the opportunity tolearn from Indonesia’s mistakes. According to one study, between1998 and 2002, six Indonesianprovinces, including East Timor,experienced largescale extendedviolence that killed almost 16,000people. This is a conservativeestimate, and the death toll wasalmost certainly higher. But thegood news is that in the last decade,four out of the remaining five of Indonesia’s extended violent conflictshave ended. How did this happen?For answers, it is useful to lookat how the government haltedcommunal fighting in Poso in theprovince of Central Sulawesi.Between 1998-2001, this conflictwas one of several outbreaks of Muslim-Christian fighting in easternIndonesia that had its origin insomething else – political struggles,land disputes, elite competition for jobs – but ended up with partiesidentified by religious affiliation.The imperfect 10-point MalinoDeclaration brokered by thegovernment in 2001 did not endthe killing but it was the turning point. It led this community awayfrom deadly conflict to a wary butdurable peace. Each communitysent representatives to talks ina resort area outside the conflictzone. The government did its bestto get those in command of militiascommitting violence or otherwisedirectly involved in the conflict to thenegotiating table. After three days,an agreement was signed.When trying to distil lessons fromthe Malino agreement for Myanm-ar’s recent intercommunal violence,it is important to look not at thenegotiations but the agreement’spragmatic substance. Conflictwearycommunity leaders pledged to ceaseall disputes, abide by the law andpunish wrongdoers. The signatoriesrequested the state take firm andimpartial measures against thosewho broke the law.Leaders made a publiccommitment to respect one anotherin an attempt to foster an atmos-phere of religious tolerance, a pledgethat has for the most part held. Theyrecognised that any citizen had theright to come and live peacefullyin Poso as long as they respectedlocal habits and customs. It wasimportant in this multiethnic andmultireligious country that theagreement reinforced respect forfollowers of all faiths to practice theirrespective religions as stipulated bythe constitution.The agreement said propertywould be reinstated to its rightfulowners and those displaced by theviolence returned to their place of origin. Government support wasgiven to rehabilitate the economyand damaged infrastructure. Analysts studying Indonesia’sconflicts believe that one reasonwidespread intercommunalfighting persisted for so long waspoor law enforcement. The policeand government lacked experienceand did not act quickly enough tocontain violence before it escalatedout of control. The reluctance of law enforcement agencies to actmeant either that violence wentunpunished to the point that peoplelost faith in police and courts, orthat people took the law into theirown hands. In the end, the centralgovernment had to reassert itself in provincial conflicts, rather thanleave it to local leaders to resolve.The Indonesian experience shouldbe instructive for Myanmar as itlays some practical, if difficult steps,that are in line with President UThein Sein’s speech on March 28.In the long term, the country needsto imagine itself as a modern staterather than dwell on the gloryof ancient kingdoms. Looking toIndonesia, another multiethnicnation with ethnic and religioustensions unleashed by the easing of tight central control, may help.The mosaic of cultures and religionsthat is modern Myanmar mustbe the foundation upon which itsdemocracy is built and the state mustbe unequivocal about protecting allthe people inside its borders.But to succeed in achieving anational vision of unity andprosperity, resolving local conflictsis essential. There cannot bedevelopment if violence spreads.To succumb to mob rule at thispoint in the transition will onlyencourage the spread of violence andthe postpone any future democraticdividend.(
Jim Della-Giacoma is the South East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org) and is based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The government hadto reassert itsel inprovincial conficts,rather than leave it tolocal leaders.