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Winds of discontent over Borneo

Posted: 06 Oct 2013 09:12 PM PDT

The problem seems to be that there is no dialogue going on and this is leading to greater frustration among those who want a 'new deal' for Sabah and Sarawak. Rather than any engagement, anonymous sources within the government indicate that if the current talk continues then stern action may be taken. 

Murray Hunter, Asia Sentinel 

Since Malaysia's general election last May, UMNO has been attempting to redefine its electoral base to include
bumiputera or native groups across the country, most of them in East Malaysia in Sabah and Sarawak, and not just ethnic Malays.

Malays and Muslim bumis today account for 59.7 percent of the population, with non-Muslim bumis comprising another 7.6 percent. That is expected to rise to 67.9 percent by the next election. UMNO strategists believe that if the party can successfully capture this constituency, it would garner enough votes for the Barisan Nasional, or ruling national coalition to continue governing Malaysia into the foreseeable future, simply disregarding Chinese and Indian voters on the Malaysian peninsula, who turned soundly against the Barisan in the May election, delivering a majority to the opposition for the first time since 1969 although gerrymandering kept them in power with a 133-89 seat margin in the Dewan Rakyat, or parliament. 

A recent statement by Sabah Mulfti Bungsu @Aziz Jaafar calling for the government to classify all Muslim indigenous people as "Malays" seems to support this view. This has attracted criticism from some components of the ruling state Barisan Nasional coalition, as it ignores the differing histories and elements of cultural identities of peoples of the peninsula and Borneo, and creates many complications around native land ownership because of provisions in state constitutions. 

However, this strategy faces problems, with rising discontent in Sabah and Sarawak becoming more and more public. On the eve of a conference organized last weekend by the Borneo Heritage Foundation, former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh personally entered the debate through the local media, saying all Sabah leaders are responsible for the current situation. 

This led to a public reply by the State Reform Party Chairman Jeffrey Kitingan, saying that Harris himself should be blamed for what he sees as Sabah's downtrodden and subservient position vis-a-vis the Malaysian federal capital of Putra Jaya, now effectively Malaysia's 12th state. 

More than 300 people turned up the foundation-organized International Forum on "Malaysia 50 years on: Expectation vs. Reality" in Kota Kinabalu to discuss and debate many of the issues related to the relationship between Sabah and Putra Jaya. 

At the center was a litany of grievances including the Malayanization of the civil service; the former Sabah-owned island of Labuan, which was taken over in 1984 and made a federal territory; Project IC. the alleged systematic granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants, most of them Muslim Malays from Indonesia, to dilute native voting power; illegal immigrants; border security; the oil agreement, which gives the federal government a healthy proportion of East Malaysia's crude profits; freedom of religion, and native land rights. All were highlighted as reasons why urgent change is needed in the relationship between Sabah/Sarawak and the federal government.

Sabah and Sarawak didn't enter Malaysia as passive states, according to the conclusions at the forum, but rather were equal parties along with Malaya and Singapore, forming the new entity of Malaysia in 1963. Consequently, Sabah and Sarawak should be equal rather than subservient partners within the Federation of Malaysia. The relegation of Sabah and Sarawak to being mere states within the Federation in 1974 is regarded as effective colonization. Consequently according to Jeffrey Kitingan, Malaysia Day on Sept. 16 is a day of shame rather than celebration for Sabah. 

Kitingan told an emotional audience that it is now time to re-evaluate the relationship to bring back the original intentions and assurances given in the original Malaysia agreement, which combined North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore with the existing Federation of Malaya to form the modern country. 

If one travels around Sabah and Sarawak talking to people, it quickly becomes apparent that many of the sentiments highlighted in the forum are of broad concern to people of all walks of life. 

In much more subdued Sarawak, where open discourse is much more low-key, similar sentiments also exist, even within high ranks of the civil service. Although the older generation is loyal to the leaders, younger voters are much more widely exposed to the outside world as they have left longhouses to work in cities and they use social media heavily. They are coming home during festivals and sharing new ideas and values with the older inhabitants. 


Sliding towards oligarchy

Posted: 06 Oct 2013 04:44 PM PDT

The view that people decide who they vote for is convenient and comforting but totally fictitious, claims the writer.

Selvaraja Somiah, FMT

Democracy as it is generally understood sits uncomfortably in Malaysia. True democrats believe that dissent is an essential part of democracy, and that the country would only be enriched by debate and discussion, even by agitation if that became necessary.

In Malaysia, democracy is linked to feelings of "unease" even as politics and economy slide towards oligarchy.

In the past we had true statesmen such as Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Hussein Onn, John Aloysius Thivy, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Tun Fuad Donald Stephens, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Peter Mojuntin, Tun Mustapha, O K K Sedomon and Ahmad Boestaman who led or were with political parties committed to democracy.

In which case what has since happened to the parties and institutions that these stalwarts built and nurtured?

One facile answer is that political arguments got stronger and power shifts from one group to another when elections are held.

In other words, the people decide who will have the responsibility to manage the state, removing those whom they consider incapable and bringing in those they think can do the job.

This is very convenient and comforting but unfortunately totally fictitious.

The fiction lies in the belief that the "people" remove those who do not perform and bring in those who they think can perform.

'People' don't decide, strategies do

Let's look at this belief.

First, the concept of "people" is simplistic. The vast numbers of individuals in the country are an infinitely complex entity consisting of a vast number of groups and sub-groups.

This enormous mass of individuals do not come together and decide anything.

What actually happens is that a strategy is "formed" aimed at finding acceptance with a "focused" group of individuals and that this plan be better than the rival's.

In the 2008 general election, the Third Front strategy did not work. Most individuals did not trust it.

In a muddle of strategies, five states fell to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat but this was as a result of a plan.

Pakatan had tried to win the federal government, but its plans were wide off the mark. When it won five states and 82 parliamentary seats it was a surprise to them as to others.

Today, both at national and state levels, the structure of democracy is being subjected to forces that may well change it completely over time.

Today the democratic process – at least in Malaysia – is not representing the "people's" will.

Democracy process today is about control and power.



GST is payment for 'free dinners'

Posted: 06 Oct 2013 11:31 AM PDT 

But if the government cannot cut expenditure because it has to give "free dinners" every five years, Woo quipped, then it is basically imposing such taxes to make people "pay for their dinners" after the election is over.

Himanshu Bhatt,

Slowly but surely, across the nation the jitters are rising as the days inch closer towards Oct 25 – when the Prime Minister is expected to announce a new Goods and Services Tax (GST) while tabling Budget 2014.

Many quarters are of course very worried about the burden of double or multiple taxes with the introduction of such a tax. There are also concerns that businesses will increase their prices and thereby create a spiral inflation effect.
Certainly, the burden will be biggest on the poor.
According to a study by the Penang Institute, the GST is expected to raise RM7.5 billion from households alone.
Assuming that the tax rate would be 7%, each household would end up paying RM104 per month on average.
This is based on the latest Household Expenditure Survey which says that the average household pays 4.41% of expenditure or 2.6% of income.
But there are wider implications, including inflation spiking by 3.86%.
Whatever the rate is, there is going to be a secondary impact, the study shows.
Dr Lim Kim Hwa, a fellow with the institute and a fellow in Finance and Financial Reporting at the University of Cambridge, recently said that passing on costs to consumers is a very likely consequence of the GST.
"It's the secondary impact, where people start passing the amount by charging more," he told a forum on the GST organised by the Penang Institute here, recently.
"After the implementation of the GST we expect there will be a sustained period of high inflation."
One important element is commercial property, Lim pointed out.
While residential properties will not be subjected to GST, nothing has been said of commercial properties.
"And that has implications," he said. For example, when owners add GST to rentals, it would definitely increase the cost of doing business in Malaysia.

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