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The proposed Strait of Malacca bridge: Linking or breaking the region?

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 09:48 PM PDT

The Strait of Malacca bridge project connecting Teluk Gong in Malacca and Dumai in Indonesia. Source: Strait of Malacca Partners Sdn Bhd. 

Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli & Wan Izatul Asma Wan Talaat

(TMI) - Plans have been mooted to construct a bridge to link the Indonesian port-city of Dumai in the Sumatran province of Riau with Malacca. This bridge will obviously result to any of these two circumstances; linking or breaking the region.

The groundwork for the project started since 2006 and studies show that the bridge project is technically feasible. If the project is carried out, the bridge has been estimated to cost US$12.5 billion. The Import-Export Bank of China has agreed to finance 85% of the total cost of the bridge project.

This proposed 127.92km-long bridge is said to be capable of fostering new economic opportunities between the two countries particularly in stimulating trade and the tourism industry. Malaysia will undertake to build 48.68km of the bridge while Indonesia will construct the remaining 79.24km.

However, the Indonesian government has announced that they would give priority to the construction of Strait of Sunda bridge over the Strait of Malacca bridge. The Indonesian government intends to first integrate Java-Sumatra as a centre of economic development with the Sunda bridge project.

The Oresund Bridge

The proposed Strait of Malacca Bridge is likely to resemble the Oresund Bridge that connects the Danish capital of Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden. The 16km combined bridge and tunnel stands over the Oresund Sound and connects both nations by road and rail, and it was officially opened to public in June 2000.

When the construction of the bridge over Oresund Sound was proposed, it received adverse criticism from the shipping community as it was thought that it would hamper shipping flow in the Oresund Sound. As a result, Germany submitted a proposal to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to suspend the construction of the bridge.

As a compromise, Sweden suggested that the bridge should be designed in two features; half a bridge and half a tunnel. This compromise was advocated to allow bigger ships to navigate across the Oresund Sound.

It resulted in the increase of the construction expenditure of the bridge to three times more than the cost that was budgeted for in the original plan. Currently the Oresund Bridge carries six million vehicles per year with the railway link transporting eight million people annually across the Oresund Sound.

Besides the Oresund Bridge, the proposed Strait of Malacca bridge will also resemble the proposed 18km Fehmarn Belt Bridge that will connect Germany and Denmark and cut journey times between Copenhagen and Hamburg. This project, that has received opposition from environmentalists and local authorities in German, calling it to be unnecessary, is expected to be completed in 2018.

Given the busy nature of the Strait of Malacca, it is likely that similar impacts to the Oresund Bridge experience, would occur if the Strait of Malacca bridge plan were to be implemented and it is likely that any proposed modifications to the plan would also substantially increase the price of the construction of the bridge.

Environmental implication

It is anticipated that such a huge project would not only adversely affect the coastal ecosystems on both shores of the bridge; it would also affect the Strait as a whole, from hydrological, environmental and economic perspectives.

The movement and speed of currents would be changed by the existence of pillars holding up the bridge, and could potentially alter the nature of the Strait. For example, the seabed ecosystems of the areas where the bridge would be erected would suffer from adverse impacts as a result of piling works and the placement of construction materials.

From the environmental perspective, the project would encroach the nesting grounds of the hawksbill turtle as the construction site of the bridge on the Malaysian side would be around Padang Kemunting, an important nesting area for this species of marine animal.

Given the fact that the construction of the Bridge would itself alter the seabed ecosystems of the Strait, it has the potential to negatively impact the fisheries activities and the marine and coastal tourism industry in that area.

Disrupting shipping traffic

The construction would have the effect of closing down a large portion of the TSS areas of the Strait of Malacca, which would result in potential navigational hazards for ships and thus, hamper traffic flow through the waterway.

The construction and presence of the bridge with its many concrete pillars would not only reduce the speed of vessels sailing through the Strait but would also cause difficulty for large container vessels and oil tankers navigating through this area. Slower movement of shipping traffic would cause congestion in the Strait and this may eventually lead to maritime accidents.

Spills of oil, chemical and noxious substances from such accidents could jeopardise the sensitive marine environment of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. It would also mean that transits by shipping traffic would take a longer time higher shipping costs increases prices for products sold in markets worldwide.

Tsunami and earthquake threats

Upon completion, the bridge would connect the Malay Peninsula with the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Malay Peninsula is located on a stable continent which is outside the Pacific Ring of Fire. Sumatra, however, is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area with major seismic activities, and is exposed to the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis.

The 2004 tsunami incident that ravaged Aceh manifestly demonstrated that the region is exposed to these kinds of natural calamities. Should the bridge take a direct hit from another tremor or a tsunami, it is likely to be badly damaged.

The economy of both Malaysia and Indonesia would suffer adversely should the bridge collapse entirely or in parts. Shipping transits in the Strait would be hampered with the debris of the shattered bridge dispersed through the Strait and economic activities such as fisheries and tourism would be heavily impacted.

However, the proponent of the project, the Strait of Malacca Partners Sdn Bhd contended that the site of the bridge is located on a Eurasian plate outside any fault line. Though there is an unfavorable seismic zone approximately 100 km away from the project site, there has been no known record of active or frequent seismic activities in the last ten thousand years.

Linking or breaking?

Another issue which arises is whether the bridge could really foster economic benefits for both countries. Would the level of cost involved in constructing the bridge be justified by subsequent usage?

The cost of constructing the bridge would result in high debt liabilities for both Malaysia and Indonesia which would be passed on to bridge users in higher tolls. In contrast to the Oresund Bridge in the Scandinavian region, both Malaysia and Indonesia are developing States and do not enjoy the relatively high standards of living of Scandinavia.

If the toll imposed on the bridge is too expensive, the public at large may refrain from using it and may revert to using ferries and boats to cross the Strait of Malacca.

In terms of tourism, the bridge may attract more tourists into both countries but this cannot be guaranteed. With the tropical weather conditions which are common in both Malaysia and Indonesia, thunder storms are a natural phenomenon in the evening. Driving across the Strait would be dangerous in this type of weather.

If there is not much vehicle traffic on the bridge, drivers may likely then be exposed to hijacking and other criminal activities like highway robberies and carjacking. The substantial length of the bridge which is likely to be up to 127.92km would make it difficult for the authorities to maintain the safety and security of drivers. 


Australia's U-turn on human rights?

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 09:39 PM PDT

This is in stark contrast to an important speech by the Australian Ambassador to China Frances Adamson affirming Australian concerns about human rights in Tibet in Lhasa just a week before the federal election.

Murray Hunter, Asia Sentinel 

Australia's Sept. 20 refusal to grant the Malaysian political activist and lawyer Haris Ibrahim a temporary visa may indicate a new attitude on the part of the Abbott government to go out of its way to placate Southeast Asian governments on human rights and civil liberties in the interests of government-to-government relationships. 

Haris was turned down for a visa by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur although he was scheduled to speak to academics at the Australian National University in Canberra on Sept. 29. He was also scheduled to visit Sydney on private business and to attend another speaking engagement in Melbourne. 

Haris is the founder of ABU or Anything But UMNO, a reference to the main political party in the ruling coalition. He along with two opposition members of parliament have been charged with sedition over remarks made at a May 13 forum about the recent election in Malaysia, a law almost defunct in Australian jurisprudence and much of the rest of the world. 

It is standard practice for Australian Immigration not to divulge the reasons for rejecting any application for an Australian visa, although speculation from an unnamed source from the organization Global Bersih, a body concerned about free and fair elections in Malaysia cites an Australian government belief that Haris poses a "high risk" if he is allowed to enter Australia, as many issues he may bring up could be very sensitive to the Malaysian government. 

This case shares some parallels with the case of the British historian and holocaust denier David Irving a few years ago. Irving holds strong dissident views about the holocaust and his proposed visit was strongly opposed by the Australian Jewish community on the grounds that allowing him to air his views in public would give merit to them. Ironically their opposition gave Irving a high public profile for a lecture tour that may have otherwise been very low-key. Australian Immigration denied him a visa but upon challenge in the High Court, the decision was unanimously overturned on the principal of allowing "free speech". In this case the then-minister Gary Hand personally made the decision to deny Irving a visa, but his decision was faulted on procedure, i.e., It was not likely Irving would instigate direct violence, but other groups in Australia opposed to his views would more likely be the culprits, making a legal difference. 

What is important here is that the notion of free speech was upheld by the highest court in the land in the case of applications for visas to enter Australia. Thus it could be asked: does Haris' proposed visit to Australia pose a "high risk," and to whom?

Australia does not have a formal extradition treaty with Malaysia and it could be deemed that Haris is a 'risk', if his intention is to flee Malaysia. However Haris was actually away from Malaysia at the time he was informed of the visa decision, and has freedom of entry and exit to and from Malaysia without interference by the local authorities. There is no risk of violence or of inciting violence in the case, and it appears the only risk on Australian territory is that Haris Ibrahim might actually say something that could be deemed sensitive to the Malaysian government. 

More likely, this visa decision in the first few days of the new Abbott administration indicates a new government attitude and policy in action towards governments in the region. Based on this decision, what we may be likely to see during this administration is the government going out of its way to placate Southeast Asian governments in the area of human rights and civil liberties. 

The new Abbott government did not want to rock the boat with Kuala Lumpur in these early days. This decision comes very quickly after the Australian government's remarks on asylum seeker policy, which have riled Jakarta. 


Umno's directions

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 09:17 PM PDT 

Another factor that will determine the party's future is whether it will cooperate with PAS. If PAS were to withdraw from the opposition pact, the extreme rightists within the party will be even more fearless. 

Lim Sue Goan, 

Whether you like it or not, over the next five years the helm of the country is still held in the hands of Umno.. The upcoming Umno elections will decide how the party is going to respond to its loss of support from urban, Chinese and young voters, and which way will the party be headed to come the 14th general elections.

Firstly, Najib has won unchallenged, showing that he is tactically smarter than his predecessor Tun Abdullah.

Having failed to secure two-thirds majority in 2008 general elections and the state administrations of Selangor, Perak, Penang and Kedah, Abdullah was facing threats of unseating him. He later handed over the stewardship to Najib a year later.

In the 13th general elections, Najib not only failed to get back the two-thirds majority, BN also won seven fewer parliamentary seats than in 2008 while Selangor remained strongly in the hands of Pakatan.

However, Umno's overall performance was better than in 2008, winning 88 seats (nine seats more) while recapturing Kedah and retaining Perak.

Voices against Najib were heard after the elections, including those accusing him of trying to please non-Malay voters, but like former PM Mahathir has said, there are no more suitable persons to lead Umno now besides Najib.

Najib has tried to keep at bay opposing forces from the conservatives within the party, keeping at very low profile over various sensitive issues while throwing out the bumi economic empowerment policy on the eve of the nomination day, allowing him to finally win unopposed.

Najib has displayed a very high level of political mastery, patience and political mobilisation to smoothly sail past the first GE under his steersmanship and party elections.

Although the two top posts remain unchanged, given the overall younger trend in the leadership, Umno inevitably enters a new phase of takeover, but who will be the heirs to the future leadership?

The deputy president, in accordance with party traditions, will naturally take over the baton and Umno has all the time avoided to see contests of top party posts with the rare exception of the party elections in 1993 where Anwar's "Wawasan" team managed to force deputy president Ghafar Baba to a corner. As if that is not enough, Mahathir changed three deputies during his presidency.

The power to challenge the deputy president has always lied with the PM. When Tun Hussein Onn was the prime minister, he picked Mahathir over Tengku Razaleigh. Consequently, Muhyiddin, who is older than Najib, could be challenged three years from now.

To become the rightful heir to the throne, a person must be firmly seated in vice presidency. There are six candidates vying for the three positions in this year's party elections, namely the three incumbents home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, defence minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and rural and regional development minister Mohd Shafie Apdal, along with three challengers Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir, former Negeri Sembilan menteri besar Mohd Isa Abdul and former Melaka chief minister Mohd Ali Rustam.

The three incumbents have an edge, being from the major states of Perak, Johor and Sabah. That said, a chief minister or menteri besar has better control over the votes in the state than a federal minister because many local officers have been appointed directly by the state chairmen. Moreover, there is the tradition of vote swapping in Umno's elections. For instance, state "A" and state "B" will reach some accord in private where central delegates are instructed to support each other's candidates.

Is money politics dead in Umno?

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 01:14 PM PDT

Nur Jazlan in his posting noted: "I remember my late father Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat as party secretary-general at one time revealed that in the 1993 Umno elections, the then rising star Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim invested RM1 million each to 90 division leaders in his bid to become deputy president of the party and also to put him in line for No 1 and prime minister."

Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, MM

Ultimately the maths is out: It takes around RM13 million to win a seat as vice-president in Umno and about RM1.6 million as supreme council member.

This is of course on the assumption that "money", like many times previously, will fly around when 146,000 delegates set out to vote for their leaders next month in the all new broad-based Umno election process.

And it begs the question: Is this really the end of money politics in the country's most dominant party with the new "electoral college" type of polls?

It does not appear so and the possibilities look endless though there has been no complaint as yet. Some party members, in denial as always, would in fact be angry at the suggestion that money politics and vote-buying would still reign.

The sum above is among the numerous estimates put up by many people who are not convinced that money politics could be fully eradicated even with a revamped system that has a wider voting base compared with just 2,500 previously.

In fact, the RM13 million figure needed for vice-presidency came from no less than Pulai division chief Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed when he wrote in a news portal the other day.

"It is an estimate. But the Umno divisions play a crucial role," he said last week when I asked him where he was coming from with that write-up.

Yes, it is all about the divisions holding the key as always, and by extension, the division heads having great influence in the outcome.

Overall there are some 20,000 branches in 191 divisions. The 146,000 delegates will be picked from these but the point to note is that their votes would not be aggregated in determining the outcomes. Rather their votes would only be tallied at the respective divisions and in the end only count as one, representing that division.

Example: 800 delegates in Jelutong division cast their votes for vice-president (each is allowed to pick three) — 600 votes for Candidate A, 500 for B, 300 for C, 300 for D, 150 for E and 150 for F. It means Candidate A is the pick from this division but it will not carry 600 votes — only one vote, that is representing Jelutong. This is where the maths comes in since it is all about winning over the respective division, not individual delegates.

And Nur jazlan was told of the calculations: "If there are six candidates contesting for three vice-president's slots, a candidate only needs to secure support from just 64 of the 191 divisions (one third) to be assured of a win.

"If a candidate goes out to seek assistance from a particular division leader to get that one vote from his division and forks out an investment of, say, RM200,000 for one division,  the candidate only needs to invest slightly less than RM13 million to win (RM200,000 x 64)."

If the same formula is used for supreme council, an aspirant needs solid backing from just seven or eight divisions to secure one of the 25 elected places in the panel. (RM200,000 x 8 = RM1.6 million).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who has been returned unopposed as party president, gave a stern reminder on Saturday when he told party members not to resort to three things in this election — abuse of power, personal attacks and money politics. But knowing the stakes, people can be very resourceful nowadays.

It must be remembered that a place as Umno vice-president puts a person in a comfortable position for the next level should anything happen to anyone of the top two.

Hence, the assumption that some investment is needed to secure it.

Records show that money politics is quite entrenched in Umno. In the last party election alone we saw prominent candidates being forced to pull out due to the menace. The deep pockets of some candidates as well as affluent connections among many have given rise to the deep-rooted patronage system in the party.

Former party president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad did everything, including shed tears on stage, to coax members out of the habit but it never really died. Nur Jazlan in his posting noted: "I remember my late father Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat as party secretary-general at one time revealed that in the 1993 Umno elections, the then rising star Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim invested RM1 million each to 90 division leaders in his bid to become deputy president of the party and also to put him in line for No 1 and prime minister."

Yes, we remember the Wawasan Team and the start of serious money politics. So, Umno members who may be upset at suggestions that money politics could be alive still, don't be angry at me or this paper. Just deal with it.


Maznah - a classic dark horse

Posted: 23 Sep 2013 12:50 PM PDT

Datuk Maznah Mazlan's entry into the race for the Wanita Umno leadership has changed the game and incumbent Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil cannot take things for granted.

Joceline Tan, The Star 

PAHANG politician Datuk Maznah Mazlan (pic) has turned out to be the classic dark horse in the contest for the Wanita Umno leadership.

She had kept things so close to her chest that even her own Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob had not known about it.

In fact, when her representative walked in with her nomination papers last Saturday, the PWTC team handling the Wanita nominations had already packed up and were sitting there waiting for the 5pm deadline. They had to quickly unpack their stuff to register her candidature. That was how close she was cutting it.

Everyone had assumed that the Wanita leadership contest would boil down to a face-off between incumbent Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil and underdog Raihan Sulaiman who is from the Kulim Bandar Baru division in Kedah.

But Maznah's 11th hour entry has changed the game for the Wanita leadership race.

Adnan, for one, appears to have changed his stand on the Wanita contest. A couple of weeks ago, he had reportedly endorsed Shahrizat for the top post.

But yesterday, the macho Mentri Besar told an Umno gathering in Temerloh that Pahang would support Maznah. The event was organised by Temerloh Umno chief Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin for delegates who would be voting in the Umno election to meet some of the candidates vying for national posts.

"She did not discuss it with any of us. It was a shock to all of us," said Sharkar who won his Temerloh chief post uncontested.

Adnan admitted as much during the Temerloh event.

"I only knew about Datuk Maznah's decision on Saturday evening. She did not consult me but this is a democracy and it is her right to contest," said Adnan.

There was thunderous applause from the audience when Adnan invited Maznah on stage to give her the Pahang endorsement.

Maznah is not a superstar like Shahrizat but she is certainly more credible than Raihan who has no track record in the wing or even Datuk Azalina Othman Said who has backed out from the contest. Shahrizat will now have to be on her guard.

Both the Wanita ladies and the men in Umno had been lukewarm about Azalina. They simply could not visualise the former Puteri Umno chief as the next Wanita leader.

On the other hand, Maznah, who is currently a Senator, is seen as someone in the Wanita mould.

She is a member of the Wanita exco and has also been an assemblywoman, Pahang exco member and deputy minister.

Yesterday, at her first major press conference since entering the race, Maznah denied that she is a proxy of Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

She was anxious to dispel the notion that this is a grudge fight between Shahrizat and the camp that had been with Rafidah.

Maznah probably has the support of Rafidah but it is unlikely that Rafidah put her up to the fight. The Iron Lady has no time for petty politics even though she can be very unforgiving of those whom she feels have done her in.

Rafidah had apparently given Azalina a piece of her mind when Azalina sought her support.

She dislikes Shahrizat but not to the extent of simply giving her support to any person challenging Shahrizat.

In fact, the camp that used to support Rafi­dah had also found it hard to accept Azalina but they will now throw their support behind Maznah.

Both of Maznah's proposer and seconder were from the Cheras division of Umno and the representative who submitted the nomination papers on her behalf was from the Federal Territory Umno.

The evidence trail seems to lead back to Cheras Umno which is headed by the powerful warlord Datuk Seri Syed Ali Alhabshee who is not on good terms with Shahrizat. Moreover, the former Cheras Wanita chief and now the division treasurer is Datuk Faridah Abu Has­san, who has an axe to grind with Shahrizat.

Maznah is nowhere as popular as Shahrizat. Her PR also falls short when compared to Shahrizat who makes time for all the ladies whether they are somebody or nobodies.

Shahrizat smiles at everybody, exchanges hugs and air kisses with the ladies and stops to chat with everyone even when she is in a hurry. Maznah, according to some of the ladies, sometimes walks past them without even saying hello and little things like this matter in politics.

But Maznah, according to insiders, should be able to capitalise on Shahrizat's latest headache – the incumbent Wanita chief's former political secretary Datuk Suhaimi Ibrahim is being investigated by the MACC for alleged misappropriation of funds from the 1Azam welfare programme for the poor.

The timing of the investigation is bound to cost her some votes.

The other surprise in the Wanita contest came in the form of Datuk Hamidah Osman joining the fray for the wing's No. 2 post alongside Sabah's Datuk Azizah Dun and Datuk Suraya Yaakob of Kedah.

Hamidah is the Wanita information chief and a former Perak assemblywoman and her candidature was not exactly welcomed by Shahrizat's camp who had endorsed Azizah for the No. 2 post.

Hamidah has been under pressure from the Shahrizat camp to pull out but she is standing her ground.

Some said she jumped in because she was upset by reports alleging that Azalina had been promised the information chief post after the polls. But Hamidah told her friends that she is contesting because the post was vacant and that she intends to be a loyal deputy if she wins.

In the meantime, Shahrizat's campaign is in full swing. She was campaigning in Seremban on Sunday and many were surprised to see Azalina among the team of women that she brought along.

Azalina has gone from being a challenger to being a member of the Shahrizat juggernaut, and that says a lot about Shahrizat's political clout. 


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