The Malaysian Economy: Real Figures and Alternative Facts

Alternative facts are provable falsehood – they are pure and unadulterated damn lies.

Two days before the Chinese Lunar Year 2017 of the Rooster, the Malaysia Prime Minister was cockily reported by Bernama – the Malaysian National News Agency – that the country’s economy, as measured by its gross domestic product (GDP), is expected to grow between 4.5% and 5% in 2017 from the previous year which was regarded as an improvement from the estimated 4% to 5% expansion mentioned in his Finance Ministry’s latest economic report, (theedgemarkets.com, January 26, 2017).

It is clear that if this trend continues, the financial position of the country will further strengthen and more programs to ensure the well-being of the people can be implemented,” Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also the Finance Minister, was quoted saying to his staff in Putrajaya.

Real figures shall expose these distorted facts and convenient lies.

On 4 January 2017, the Malaysian currency ringgit had tumbled to an almost 20-year low as prospect of higher U.S. interest rates triggered capital outflows from emerging markets. Malaysia is particularly vulnerable to any sudden capital outflows as a sizeable share of its government bonds is held by international investors, just as after independence in 1957, nearly 60% of share capital was then still owned by foreign transnational corporations. 

Indeed, the national gross international reserves stood at US$94.3 billion as of Jan. 13, 2017 down from US$94.6 billion on Dec 30, 2016 which was its lowest in a year at end-December, matching levels seen in December 2015.

In November 2016, consumer prices had jumped 1.04% from the previous month, which had followed the already 0.35% increase registered in October, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. This situation is a reflection of higher prices for food, following the removal of a subsidy for cooking oil and limited supply of vegetables owing to the torrential rains during the north-east monsoon period.

Concurrently, the inflation had also risen from 1.4% in October to 1.8% in November 2016 instead of the market expectations on a 1.6% rise. Indeed, the FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast is expecting an inflationary rate to average 2.6% in 2017, which is unchanged from last month’s projection. For 2018, the inflation rate is expected to be rising to even a higher level of 2.7%.

Even the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) is not optimistic on Malaysia economic progress. The Institute has projected the country’s Real GDP forecasted growth with a lowered average annual rate of 4.5% only in the 2017-2021 periods whereas during the pre-millennium decades the country was accelerating at +6% annually.

Some other unpleasant factual figures are:

Private consumption is expected to grow at 5.4% only in 2016, below an average growth of 7.1% a year for the past six years. It is not just the slowing down pace, but the contribution of private consumption towards GDP growth is nowadays regarded as more important in place of, and to tighten, the slack of private investment from local and foreign capitals.

The high dependency on private consumption to boost domestic demand, however, comes with an adverse price to the national economy and a negative effect upon rakyat-rakyat specifically:

Firstly, private debt level accumulated to almost 90% of GDP as a result of an easy consumption credit from the last three decades as a resultant of financial capitalism incursion (see monsoonsstorms.wordpress.com on Financialization Capitalism: Penetration of neo-Imperialism in Malaysia). This will increase debt servicing burden to households and this in turn will limit future spending prospects.

The seriousness of the household debts can be seen in this set of figures: as of March 2016, more than 148,000 borrowers have joined the debt management programme conducted by the Bank Negara Malaysia’s agency Credit Counseling and Debt Management (AKPK), (Malaysian Reserve, May 25th. 2016).

Secondly, the current policy to boost consumer spending via transfer payments (subsidizing petroleum, electricity and essential food) is good for improving current spending but it shall, and will, impede future growth prospects because these are not investments to generate capital accumulation and growth but populist expenditure that would constrict, and deplete, the forthcoming income of future rakyat-rakyat generation.

What these mean are that such direct income transfer will strangle competing public investment allocation instead of capital formation and productivity enhancement to increase the wealth of this nation.

Already, the average monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate for the first eleven months of 2016 was 2.1%; whatever the Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister had said shall indivertibly tilt off-balance the projected growth rate of 4.5% in 2017. Indeed, Bank Negara Malaysia had indicated that the CPI inflation for 2018 is anticipated to be higher at 2.7%, (BNM, 2016 Annual Report).

 

[The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measurement that examines the weighted average of prices of a basket of consumer goods and services, such as transportation, food and medicines calculated by taking price changes for each item in the predetermined basket of goods and averaging them].

 

That this inflation, especially food, remains higher than the overall inflation has caused most public anxiety particularly among the low-to-middle income households.  The ‘aspirational group’ that’s neither poor or vulnerable, but has yet to join the middle class now makes up the majority (51%) of Malaysian society, (World Bank, Malaysia Economic Monitor, December 2014: Towards a Middle-Class Society). Till today the country is still blurring in vision trying to solve this problem as definitive measures to rein in the continually rising costs are evidently lacking. It is futile, if not hopeless, for a prime minister to say that he understands the difficulties faced by the rakyat when, on the other hand, nothing holistically is being done to resolve these pestering economic problems.

Compounded to this dire situation is the furthering of possible ringgit devaluation from imported inflation that shall eventually have an indirect effect through input prices into domestic production chain when this process is spread over time.
Thus, it is not unsurprisingly that consumer confidence level remains low as MIER fourth quarter’s Consumer Sentiments Index (CSI) has published that it continues to be below the demarcation level of 100 points:

 

The fourth quarter 2016 CSI slipped further continuing its downward trend. It shows that in general consumers are still pessimistic about the economy. The survey results revealed that the situation of consumers’ current incomes in the fourth quarter 2016 deteriorated a bit from the previous quarter. Likewise, the survey indicated that consumers are feeling pessimistic about their future incomes as compared to the third quarter 2016. Consumers are also still pessimistic about the employment outlook. As their confidence level is still lacking, consumers indicated cautious and selective spending plans.

 

To complicate the present deplorable economic situation with the CSI figures, MIER’s Business Conditions Index (BCI) also had indicated that there is a further drop in the fourth quarter 2016 by 2.7% as compared to the previous quarter after it had taken a double-digit quarter-to-quarter dive of 22.5% in the third quarter. In fact, it had depressed under the 100-point threshold of optimism, which was briefly achieved in the second quarter 2016. By the fourth quarter of 2016, the expected index plunged further downwards by 12.4% as compared to the previous quarter.

Both the above-stated sub-indices from MIER had also indirectly portrayed a relatively sharp decline in expected production and expected export sales from the previous quarter by 4.8% and 7.6%, respectively; indeed, new export orders had dropped significantly 6.6% by the third quarter of 2016.

 

Therefore, the BCI sub-indices revealed that external demand is still weak even though new domestic orders in the fourth quarter 2016 rebounded by 8.2% as compared to the previous quarter with the overall sales and production improving due to strong domestic demand, but overall, the economic scenario is not that pleasant as capital investment had dropped by 10.7% and capacity utilization rate declined from 79.3% in 3Q2016 to 76.5% in 4Q2016, responding to a weakened and continuously weakening export demand.
The fourth quarter 2016 Vistage-MIER CEO Confidence Index also remains below the 100-point threshold of optimism for 12 consecutive quarters since 3Q2013. The Vistage-MIER CEO Confidence Index is based on quarterly surveys on CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses in Malaysia. The 4Q2016 index fell by 6.8% from the previous quarter, the second consecutive fall.

 

This analysis shall suggest that there is a lack of confidence among businesses – from the IMDB financial siphonings to the FELDA’s mismanagement cases – spawning multiple overhanging negative sentiments that continue to plague the Malaysian economy.

 

These real economic statistics and present real economic situations contradict whatever statements made by the Prime Minister or issued by the Finance Ministry on the fortunate economics performance in the years ahead.

More pessimistic outlook from MIER Indices had recorded a rather drastic decline as compared to the previous quarter, except the expected change in employment index remaining stable. The five components belonging to currents economic conditions, expected economic conditions, planned fixed investment, expected revenue growth and expected profit growth have all negative perspectives.

 

Generally, CEOs continued to be negative about the current as well as the expected economic conditions, as both indices remained below 100-point threshold of optimism. Almost 70% of the CEOs surveyed were in the opinion that the overall domestic economic conditions have worsened in the 4Q2016, compared to 57.0% for the previous quarter. Indices for another four components, namely expected change in employment, planned fixed investment, expected revenue growth and expected profit growth, however, recorded above 100-point threshold of optimism, although not improving, (MIER, 2016).

 

The national banking institution, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) is expected to continue pursuing an accommodative monetary policy favoring bureaucratic-Capital and Comprador-businesses. With this type of financialized capitalism environment, it is only conducive continually to foreign penetrative investment and in furtherance of domestic exploitation by local capitalists on the working class (see monsoonsstorms.wordpress.com, Precarious Labour in Industrialization Capitalism). The immediate consequence is that household debts are evidently creeping up (op.cit.  “Financialization Capitalism: Penetration of Neo-imperialism in Malaysia”), and that the income inequality  shall persist as it is still high compared to OECD countries with a Gini coefficient at 0.42 in 2014, World Bank, op.cit.).

As a reflection, in 2005, the ratio of total household debt to GDP amounted to 72.6%, of which nearly 85% was provided by banks according to the Bank Negara Annual Report 2006 and that between 1999 and 2006, total Malaysian household debt grew at an annualized rate of 15%. From a base in 2000 over RM$160 billion in household debt, this amount had risen over a short period to nearly RM$400 billion by 2006.

 

Now, even PETRONAS, the national oil prospecting and extraction agency, is not going to assist the national economic development widely as in previous years because with the oil prices are expected to be sticky upward as production agreements among oil-producing nations are fragile, and even consequent concessionaires’ attempts have failed to bring down the supply glut.

 

With such an unfavorable world economic situation, the southern Peninsular Malaysia Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex’s (PIPC) goals to be the regional oil and gas (O&G) storage hub by 2035 could be postponed (thestar.com 2016/01/27), according to Johor Petroleum Development Corp Bhd. (JPDC), (Malaysian Reserve, January 26, 2017); see also the JPDC website: http://www.mprc.gov.my/our-businesses/pengerang-integrated-petroleum-complex-pipc).

 

This comes at a time, under current challenging environment, whereby investors are holding back their investments with, for instance, Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco) scrapping its investment plans for the Pengerang project, (TheEdge, 27 January 2017).  Saudi Aramco had concluded that the RM$89 billion project would not generate sufficient returns (Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2017).

 

Petronas nine-month 2016 cumulative net profit has in fact plummeted 49% to RM$12.25 billion (TheEdge 27 January 2017); for a history on foreign oil exploitation in the country and its impact upon the national economy, see monsoonsstorms.wordpress.com PETRONAS, PERNAS, Peasantry and the Proletariats.

On the Question of Muslim Democracy

Recently, there is much discussion and many a discourse on the emergence of Muslim Democrats in the pulsating Malaysian political environment (see the rise of Political Islam in Malaysia during this era in https://monsoonsstorms.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/the-ascendancy-of-ethnocracy-and-rise-of-political-islam-in-malaysia/ ). There are narratives whether the country shall continue with present secularism as defined within the Federal Constitution or progress towards a post-Islamic undertaking (see Farish Noor Islam vs Secularism? The New Political Terrain in Malaysia and Indonesia, ISIM Newsletter 4/99, page 13)  underpinning a Muslim society based upon Muslim Democratic principles, and if so, whether to adopt the Indonesian and/or Tunisian models.

A brief introduction and subsequent exploratory documentations laid out the terrains ahead.

Within the Islamic cultural spheres, there are possibly 8 identities: the Arab and Persian varieties, the Indian sub-continent model, Nusantara of southeast Asia, the Sino-Islamic, Turkish, Sudan-Afrika besides amongst the diasporas migrants in “Western countries” where each has its distinctiveness within its own religio-socio and cultural conformation paradigm.

If one is to embrace the Indonesian model, a religio-political perspective with the difference praxis of Islam there is a need to be understood within the context that Indonesia (Indo {Majapahit and Srivijaya} as historical and cultural background) in Benedict Anderson contention that Indonesians are an imagines’ community trying to build a nation. They do not have a significant “other” in the form of a sizable ethnic minority wanting to fortify themselves in a castle of race distinction; the politics of identity is less urgent.

Pluralism (ta’addudiyya), nationality (muwatana), upholding human rights (iqamat al-huquq alinsaniyya), democracy (demuqratiyya), public benefits (maslaha), and gender equality (al-musawa al-junsiyya) had been championed by Muslim democrats by different spectrum of Indonesian political parties.

Indeed, there are feminist groups who had advocated state’s guarantee of freedom of religion taking into an argument that pluralism in Indonesia’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society is a sine qua non and that the state should not regulate matters of religion and beliefs.

From that angle, one can present that it gives room to the politics of economic distribution which is secular in nature. Not unlike Ennahda, political parties can no longer has a “significant other” to justify their struggle, their jihad. Neither can these entities claim that their fellow Muslims are all jahiliyah; nor can they label their home grown political opponents who started the Arab Spring as kafir.

The Indonesian model is one towards Reconciliation – tagrib al-madhabid – a culture of forgiving; a culture of having dialog strengthened with a culture of peace.

Secondly, wasatiyah Islam is to justify a balanced approach to nation-building with the tawazud adil tasamuh concept.

However, against the back-drop of changing geopolitical alignment, a post-Islamism had developed out of the decline of US imperialism and its pivoting strategy. Movements with Muslim Democracy like Ennahda and Indonesian parties have nationalist element in their aspiration in that respective country does not seek to form a Pan-Islamic movement unlike the Nasserite or the Baathist or the IS Caliphate models or the Wahabist-Salafist pan-Sunni in outlook.

 

At the centre of this Muslim Democracy discourse is the debate between the different forms of Muslim society and Muslim governance in our country, too. The momentum shifting from a Political Islam posture towards a Muslim Democracy positioning by emerging nationalistic political parties with a Malay Islamism ideology contrasted per the PAS exhortation which the latter Islamic Documents may well split our country. Whereas, a Muslim Democracy ideology maintaining some semblance to the current status quo could possibly unite the opposition under one banner; these could embrace the likes of Ikram, Amanah, the Bangi crowd, pious but apolitical and the silent majority in Setiawangsa and Shah Alam.

Already, the premier of Malaysia, Najib Razak had declared that Malaysia–Saudi Arabia relations have reached unprecedented heights (see subsequent article below:Ahmad Fauzi Abdul HamidThe Radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia; and The Extensive Salafization of Malaysian Islam, in ISEAS 2016)There is a height of discomfort expressed in many a public forum about “Arabization” that is symptomatic of Wahhabi-Salafi intrusion which is defining the terrain of Malay-Muslim society in manners that are decontextualizing, de-historicizing and deculturating. Indeed forbearing a resurgence of traditionalist ulama who might yet provide another abrasive counter-narrative, and at the same time strategically attempt a capture of the commanding heights of Malaysia’s power centers, the roadmap towards a Muslim Democracy could be a better and, a safer route ahead.

Since consultative governance is the preferred form of governance in Islam, and a Muslim who stays true to his faith sources cannot but prefer a democratic structure that justice and well-being promised in Islamic sources prevails. Indeed, Islam is not a barrier to, but instead a facilitator of, democracy, justice, and tolerance in the Muslim society.

 

 

 

The Indonesian ModelPart 1

 

What are these Indonesian parties, their political programs and ideologies? What can we learn from the end of Suharto authoritarian era and the subsequent reformasi period? The 1990-onwards political developments in Indonesia – what could we dissect from them? Is the Indonesian type of democracy being seen as a challenging choice to us or an opportunity on something that we can reflect and/or practice upon?  Specifically, what insights can the Indonesia’s experience with Islamic parties offer us some reflections to the tasks ahead? Taking into account the differences in population, geographical and ethnic diversity, cultural, historically and political differences, in what ways can we be entrusted through the promotion of a vision of justice, equality, inclusiveness and secularism in any of our future play role?

 

What are the similarities and differences between Indonesia and present-day Malaysian political entities and principled practices within their eco-environment?

To begin, though Islamised by Indian traders in the 16th century, Indonesia does not have an Islamic system of government nor is it an Islamic theocracy, and its official state ideology of Pancasila explicitly permits six religious confessions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Diversity is seen as one of Indonesia’s defining characteristics, a precious heirloom from its abundant history of seafaring traders and trailblazing religious missionaries from all corners of the world.

Indonesian children are taught about diversity of their country as the archipelago is home to countless ethnicities, cultures and languages. The national symbol, the Garuda Pancasila, proudly displays the motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika under its wings, affirming that despite differences everyone is one.

Though politically suppressed by Sukarno and successor Suharto (during this 1945-1998 era), and Islam was repressed and marginalized as a political ideology it was not declared an arch enemy of the secular political elite.

With the demise of the Orde Baru, foundation of 42 parties with Islamic or Islamist ideology arose, though only 20 contested the first election in 1999.

The most successful Islamic party with the most members, and most influential currently, is the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party, PKS) vis-a-vis PKR and the latter generated reformasi generation. Indeed, the founders had looked to Muslim Brotherhood, and later Turkey’s APK, for its program inspiration (cadre systems, ideological/religious indoctrination with meditation and exercises in confession) with many parliamentary careers seeded by the educated urban middle classes in Greater Jakarta, though it has increasingly garnered votes from traditional agricultural areas. Till 2004 election, PKS fought for implementation of Syari’ah law, but had since been focusing on fighting corruption and nepotism.

The Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (National Awakening Party, PKB) originates from a traditionalist, Javanese social and religious-practice background with connection to ulama families who run pesantren boarding schools controlled by its mass organisation Nahdatul Ulama. This party – electorates mainly from rural area of East Java – is inextricably linked to first elected president Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur.

Then there is Partai Amanat Nasional (National Mandate Party, PAN), an Islamist party, in the previous government, and like PKB its ideological and inspirational roots derive from the Muhannadiyah mass organisations with chairman Amien Rais as a Suharto critic; a voice of well-to-do middle classes fighting against corruption and fraud, belief in democracy and the values associated with it such as tolerance and the protection of minorities. Its political diversion and an aberration on a “holy war” in the Moluccas led a significant Muslim and Christian moderates leaving the party in 2001.

These parties practice and their phenomenal rise and political demise are as followed:

 

The Indonesian Model     Part 2    Political Problems, Priorities and Paradoxes

This part analyses the different approaches as undertaken by some selective Islamic parties within the newly democratized environment post-Suharto.

One contributing aspect in the reformasi movement, and the subsequent loosening of authoritarian rule is that the orientation of the state-political Islamism is gradually replaced by an individualised focus on modern Muslim lifestyles, with a political ideology  transforming itself into a life philosophy of systematised personal piety (similar to what Dialog’s Fuad had indicated is happening within the Malaysian context)

Looking at just PAS and its Youth Wing, the latter had become disillusioned with classical Islamist political convictions, leading Islamism to transform itself into post-Islamism – the PAS pop-Islamism generation.

INDONESIA’S SOCIAL ISLAMISATION

In Indonesia’s oldest Islamic party, the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (United Development Party, PPP), it allied in Suharto’s party block system as a smaller entity, but commanded substantially greater votes due to the growing Islamisation of Indonesian society, often able to capture a quarter of the electoral votes, even though they are members of the middle class, differentiating itself with the introduction of Syari’ah law as one of its objectives.

Under Suharto’s regime, retreating from political demands, many Muslim mass organisations dedicated themselves to social and humanitarian activities financing and managing hundreds of hospitals, social institutions and schools. With the end of the Suharto rule in 1998 and during the political liberalisation led by interim president Habibie, hundreds of political parties were founded, many with an Islamic or Islamist orientation so that in the first free elections after 30 years of the New Order, five of them immediately won seats in parliament and together they attained more than 33 per cent in these first democratic elections.

Through astute coalition negotiations one of their own, PKS Gus Dur was appointed President of Indonesia (for two years at least). Indeed, subsequent elections in 2004 brought additional votes, with the Islamic parties increasing their ballot-box approval to 35 per cent. The PKS achieved the largest increase, boosting its votes by 450 per cent from 1999 to 2004, and also became the most successful party in the megacity of Jakarta, propagating good governance and honest, ethical politics.

However, in the 2009 elections the Islamic parties began losing votes and collectively garnered only 26 per cent of the votes. There were various debates on this loss of political significance as these parties acknowledged their Islamic programmes to deal with new voters’ preferences even though election victories in provincial and governor elections had demonstrated that religious parties are still a force to be reckoned. Nevertheless, some analysts had expressed that the Islamic parties are experiencing a distinct general downward trend.

And, the contradiction is that if one measure the strength of Islam as a measure of social identification, then it is growing. In 2004, about 40% stated their affiliation with the Muslim religion as the most important criterion of their identity (with nationality, occupation or affinity to a particular ethnic group tagging way down). Recent survey concluded that 72% are in favour (vis-a-vis Dialog’s Fuad’s observation and our Merdeka Centre survey among Malaysian youth during the Allah and Hudud episodes that had indicative high cultural Islam affiliation).

Though recent surveys had not been clear whether the majority of Indonesians fundamentally support prominent role of religious principles and regulations in social and legal matters, the increasing social Islamization has found political expression, and its political deliverance, in that a large number of laws and regulations clearly benefit the Muslim majority, thus positioning Islamic legal and religious ideas a prominence within Indonesian state and social systems. (Again, correlated phenomena and practices in Malaysian socio-politico environment had demonstrated similar positive response and receptive acceptance – more about this aspect, and related issues, in Part 3).

On the other hand, and in this a paradox, these Islamic parties have not been unable to benefit from this Islamization trend in the society as a whole, nor were they successful in claiming authorship of the Islam-oriented laws and regulations (vis-a-vis PAS experience). Indeed, this collective entity was not able to translate these two developments into a political mobilisation fest (exception in Acheh where women had to wear a headscarf, alcohol consumption and gambling prohibitions, and the enforced zakat payment). One positive reason – that could be beneficial in our subsequent search-and-seek synthesising sequence – is the opening-up of traditionally secular-nationalist parties whose programs and strategic political initiatives are increasingly pivoted towards moderate Muslims. Thus, in the 2009 elections, Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) focused specifically on prominent liberal and moderate Muslims, persuading them to run for election under the PDIP banner, thus marginalising those interpreting specifically Islamic political content.

A further factor behind the Islamic parties’ lack of political success lies in the positive economic development of the country since recovering from the 1997/1998 Asian crisis and the beginning of the reformasi whence Indonesia economy had progress with consistent 6% annually. This resulted in a political dividend for the Yudhoyono government that came into office in 2004 enabling to increase its voting proportion in 2009 on the back of this economic upturn. The fact that economic development influences the Indonesian population’s voting behaviour was demonstrated in 1999 when more than a third of those questioned in a survey named “the economy” as the top priority topic.

Indeed, more than 2 decades on, and Indonesian Islamic parties are still unable to present innovative concepts in the area of economic policy to build credibility, trust and governing competence (Is PAS “welfare state” a slogan or staled welfare?). The creation of social equity is a core component of Islam, and this is demonstrated not least in the activities of the Muslim mass organisations in Indonesia. Therefore it is not inconceivable that Islamic parties could regain favour with the voters by confronting current socio-economic challenges as their authentic programme based on this Islamic background. Thus, currently the rather vague equation “Islam = social equity” would need to be transformed into concrete and convincing problem-solving strategies if they intend to progress forward.

Further, increased commercialisation alongside extremely costly election campaigns make it practically impossible for less wealthy candidates to stand for a seat in parliament let alone the top position in a party. It is stated that these factors, which have become systemic, have created a situation in which the mobilisation through political programmes with religious contents has become virtually impossible.

Upon this new real economic landscape, over the years, Indonesia’s Islamic parties have distanced themselves increasingly from previous, in part, radical positions such as the introduction of an Islamic state or aligning all areas of life with Islamic religious beliefs and behavioural ideals. They have all become more pragmatic in recent years, with a clear departure from politics strongly dictated by Islamic ideology becoming apparent. While the introduction of Syari’ah law was the main objective of the PKS’s party programme at the beginning of the democratic transformation, issues such as pluralism, fighting corruption, political reforms and democratisation have taken its place over time.

Indeed, the slogan of the PKS was Bersih dan Peduli (clean and caring).

In the next part, we shall attempt to identify some existing conservative and radical Islamist political parties that may affect Indonesian democratic maturity, and try to ask whether these emerging and rising entities would have a new dimension upon our political scene, too.

To continue with the next section:

  

 

The Indonesian Model – Part 3

Islamism and Political Islam – threats and opportunities

Are Islamic parties compatible with democratic forms of government?

Would democracy be undermined by anti-democratic actors like Islamists?

What opportunities can we gain from the Indonesia model experience?

In Indonesia today, only an insignificant number of parties campaigns for anti-democratic policies such as the establishment of an Islamic theocracy whereas a majority of Islamic parties are satisfied with, though often ineffective, demands for a society based on Islamic values and morals.

However, it is the Islamic forces external to parliamentary arena that poses an ongoing and nationwide threat to Indonesia’s democratic and constitutional framework.

One manifestations of political Islam outside the party spectrum is the missionary movement Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which forms part of a transnational Islamic network that would want to establish a so-called Islamic state in Indonesia. Despite its radical, anti-democratic objectives, the HTI explicitly renounces violence. Instead, it relies on preaching and doctrine.

The Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Ulema Council, MUI) is a council of scholars founded by the Suharto regime in 1975; it does not use violence either, but it can issue (not legally binding) fatwas, thereby often portraying and acting as a spiritual instigator.

All of these organisations oppose a “westernisation” of society, which they equate with decadence and immorality, and they oppose greater freedom for women. They strive for the establishment of an Islamic state and the implementation of Syari’ah law as ordained by Allah.

On the other hand, the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender’s Front, FPI) is currently the most active and well-known group; successful in controlling public discourse time and again, like instrumental in causing the cancellation of a concert by pop star Lady Gaga in 2012.

On the other hand, in Indonesia, the Jaringan Islam Liberal, or JIL, started as a loose intellectual forum where the ideas of Islamic liberalism are discussed and then promoted through books, syndicated columns, radio talk shows, and televised public service announcements (PSA).Vital to JIL is a small number of young, urban, well-educated liberal Muslims who believe that the entire corpus of Islamic teachings needs to be contextually reinterpreted.

Whence we missed the Islamic cultural renaissance locally in Malaysia, the well established Paramadina Foundation in Jakarta has been actively promoting Islamic pluralism since its inception in 1985. Also, in Yogyakarta groups such as the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue (Interfidei) and the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKIS) had advocated inter-faith dialogue and peaceful resolution to conflict. More than these institutions, there are the traditionalist Muslim organizations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (the Awakening of the Religious Scholars, NU), which claims more than 50 million members, and the modernist Muslim organization Muhammadiyah (the Followers of Muhammad), which claims 35 million members. These two mass social organizations are well known for their moderate stance of Islam. Politically speaking, these two organizations are also known for opposing any attempt to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia.

Otherwise, not unlike ISMA and Perkasa, Indonesian Muslim groups had demanded for the official adoption and implementation of the syariat (Islamic law), particularly the reintroduction of the so-called “Jakarta Charter” in the preamble of the 1945 constitution.

[The “Jakarta Charter” is the seven words (dengan kewajiban menjalankan syari’ah Islam bagi pemeluknya,“with the obligation to carry out Islamic law for its adherents,” that the Islamist group insisted to be incorporated in the preamble of the then drafted 1945 constitution].

In the 1920s (two decades before becoming Indonesia’s first president), Sukarno strongly appealed to fellow Muslims to separate the “essence” of Islam from its Arabic, Middle Eastern

“form,” to an Islam relevant to Indonesia and not simply to imitate (or dominated by Wahabbism like in Malaysia today). In fact, Mohamad Hatta, Indonesia’s first vice president, tirelessly worked to convince Islamist groups to accept the pluralist principles of Pancasila and to give up the agenda of an Islamic state at a crucial stage of the country struggle for independence (gist of concept in Pancasila was freely incorporated within our Rukun Negara).

What do we learn?

With power to mobilise society these stated entities often succeed in exerting influence on people in politics and in the administration in such a way that they accede to the Islamists’ goals and demands (cf Malaysia).

Secondly, this “external” influence means that democracy seems to lose partly a portion of its attraction and legitimacy because we tend to interpret that the state is stagnated or static with an inability to safeguard its monopoly on force thereby creating an impression that democracy is an incapable and easily manipulated form of government.

Thirdly, owing to historical and cultural events, Islam in Indonesia is comprised of a mixture of ideas from different religions and denominations in many segments of its society. We have these features in Malaysia, too, but the emergence of a more moderate form of Islam seems to be missing. Why? And, a more pertinent analytical question is how to reclaim and/or encourage the past existence is thus demanded.

Fourthly, the Indonesian model illustrates that political Islam in the form of parties based on Islamic values and goals does not nor automatically equate to radicalism, fanaticism and anti-democratic politics.

Fifthly, the political aspirations of Islam were repressed by a secular military regime not only in the Arab Spring countries, but in Indonesia as well. Could a politico-militarised entity, not necessarily even secular, happen here?

 

Lastly, one should not angrily refuse contact with those Islamic parties that are fundamentally tolerant and open to principles, but instead actively seek out partners in the area of party cooperation and commit them to democratic values long term, with qualified criteria for collaboration including an explicit commitment to democracy and the rule of law, to a pluralistic society and religious tolerance as well as the safeguarding of national peace and stability through justice and equality.

 

The Indonesian ModelPart 3 an appendix toIslamism and Political Islam – threats and opportunities

Radicalized Islamist groups in Indonesia – some perspective outlooks and activities

Reasons for Indonesian Muslims to radicalize could be generalized by stating underlying feelings of injustice to Muslim community and resentment to western domination.

Around 1800, Indonesian hajji’s brought with them the Wahhabi ideology, aimed for reviving Indonesian Islam. (Wahhabism, a very strict interpretation that aims for a return to the true nature of the Islam as it was practiced during the days of Prophet Muhammad, was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia in the mid-18th century).

Another radical movement that would gain much influence in Indonesia was the Salafi-movement that stems from Egypt at the end of the 19th century.

With Indonesia independence, conservative Muslim groups under Soekarno’s secular government there was not much maneuvering for an Islamic state. Part of the radical Indonesian Muslim community joined the Darul Islam rebellion – this movement was started in 1940 – targeting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia, but was eventually crushed by the Indonesian military in 1962. However, segments of the Darul Islam went underground and would inspire and nurture other radical movements.

Considered a threat to Suharto’s political New Order power, some such as Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (leaders of the Jema’ah Islamiyah), fled the country to seek a living in Malaysia. The radical religious groups that stayed in Indonesia kept underground and were mostly concentrated around the university campuses in the bigger cities.

Some contemporary radical organizations since the reformasi period are the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (Council of Indonesian Jihad Fighters), the Front Pembela Islam (Front of Islam Defenders), the Jema’ah Islamiyah (Islamic Congregation) and the (already disbanded) Laskar Jihad (Warriors of Jihad). Each of these organizations share the aim for the implementation of Syari’ahh law, are anti-western and its members profess and use violence. Another feature these radical organizations share is the Arab background of its founders.

The Jema’ah Islamiyah vicious attacks included the Bali’s 25 December 2000 and Bali 2005, 2009 at JW Marriot Hotel and Ritz Carlton Hotel in 2009.

Another new extremist organization in Indonesia is the Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (co-founder of Jemaah Islamiyah) in 2008. The Aceh Training Camp was allegedly funded by Bakar Ba’asyir whose 51 members were arrested in August 2010.

In short, religious intolerance in Indonesia (sometimes culminating in violence) was on the rise. The Setara Institute, an Indonesian research and advocacy group, counted 216 cases of violent attacks on religious minorities in 2010, 244 cases in 2011 and 264 cases in 2012. Target of these attacks are often Christians and their churches or followers of the Ahmadiyah (a stream within Islam) and their places of worship.

 

 

 

The Radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia

(see also, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, The Extensive Salafization of Malaysian Islam, Yusof Ishak Institute, 2016 ISEAS, Singapore; ISBN 978-981-47-6252-6 (e-book, PDF)

Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid is ringing the alarm bell.

Having studied political Islam for years, he says it is time to alert the authorities that Muslims here are “surely but slowly becoming radicalised”.

“Before the situation deteriorates further to what we see in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is better that we take the necessary precautions and do whatever we need to do – whether it is a revamp of the school curriculum – to correct the situation,’’ he says.

He says the essence of Islam as a loving, compassionate and tolerant faith is as good as destroyed in those countries and he does not want to see that happen here.

For Dr Fauzi, extremism and radicalisation in Malaysia did not happen over a short five- to 10-year period but actually germinated over more than a generation.

He says since the 1990s, the traditional Islamic theology taught in Government schools has gradually shifted to a view of theology derived from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. What this does, he says, is that it moulds a certain kind of mindset, one that is exclusivist, supremacist, with less respect for others, so minorities and dissenting voices are viewed “in a certain way”.

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution sparked an increased interest in Islam all over the world, including in Malaysia. Iran follows the Syiah tradition of Islam. So oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which follows the Sunni tradition and wanted to counter Iran’s influence, tapped into this global interest in Islam by offering many student scholarships and donating money to numerous institutions and charities in the developing Muslim world.

This helped them stamp their strand of ultra conservative Islam – commonly referred to as Wahhabism or Salafism – all over the world, including in Malaysia.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many Malaysians went overseas for their higher education. Due to the interest in Islam, many headed to the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular – thanks to those generous scholarships – to study religion and were exposed to the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking.

When they returned, Dr Fauzi says, they brought back the Wahhabi/Salafist way of thinking – and that way of thinking makes it easier to radicalise someone because it is intolerant and exclusivist.

He says some of the students who returned became religious teachers and ustaz, so they went on to instil this way of thinking within the younger generation.

And over a span of 30 years or so, he says, the students who grew up imbibing the Wahhabi/Salafist-oriented curriculum in schools are now in the work force. Some are in the civil service, some have become influential bureaucrats, scholars, academics, lawyers, others hold positions of power while some have joined politics. So they hold the levers in administration that allows them to make decisions.

“People don’t realise it but this way of thinking has now become mainstream,’’ says Dr Fauzi who recently published a research paper on “The Extensive Salafization of Malaysian Islam’’.

Shaped by history

Dr Chandra Muzzafar explains that Wahhabism is a puritanical notion of trying to restore a “pure and unadulterated” Islam.

One thing that he finds “very dangerous’’ about Wahhabism is the “takfiri” attitude.

Concerned: Dr Chandra feels people here are ‘very comfortable in their ignorance’.

Takfiri is the labelling and accusing of a Muslim of apostasy or being impure because that person does not adhere to the Wahhabi/Salafist way of practicing Islam.

“They think, ‘We are the only ones who are pure and the only ones who represent Islam’. Takfiri is dangerous because it allows Muslims to take very extreme positions. It actually legitimises killing. They might think spilling this person’s blood is halal (permissible) because he is not really a Muslim or because his wife doesn’t use a hijab (head scarf) or because he does all these things (that Wahhabis/Salafis disallow),” says Dr Chandra, who is a political scientist and the president of the International Movement for a Just World.

Dr Chandra says one interesting fact to note about the founder of Wahhabism/Salafism, Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab, is how his thinking was shaped by what he saw in Istanbul during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, which spanned 600 years, ending only in 1922.

“The Ottoman empire was actually the most important political entity within the Muslim world at that time but when Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab went to Istanbul and saw the lifestyle there, he was revolted. He saw it as the Ottoman’s corruption of Islam.’’

This led him to propagate “his version of ‘pure and unadulterated’ Islam”.

Dr Fauzi believes that what Malaysia is experiencing right now with troubled interfaith relations is the result of this exclusivist Wahhabi/Salafist thinking that has crept into the education curriculum and mindset.

He says this explains why incidents in which members of other faiths are treated insensitively keep cropping up, like Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s use of slides demeaning Hindus in one of its courses, or school principals making Hindu students watch the slaughtering of cows (which Hindus consider sacred) in the school compound for Hari Raya Haji celebrations.

“It shows the exclusivist line of thinking. They can’t think along the lines that a particular action will aggrieve a part of the school population even though they are the minority.

“When the Holy Prophet practised justice, justice is most meaningful when it is practised on those who are not a majority,’’ he says.

Dr Fauzi also points out how the Holy Prophet engaged Christians in dialogue and this was done without agreeing with the Christian view of Jesus, which means there was tolerance during the Holy Prophet’s time.

He also notes that during the Holy Prophet’s time, when it was time for a visiting delegation of Najran Christians to pray, they prayed in the mosque.

“The tolerance of the Holy Prophet is just amazing. Can you imagine the Saudis and the orthodox Muslims of this day agreeing to this?’’

Dr Fauzi says it is of concern too when there is also a closing off of Muslim discourse, debate and the mind.

Closing off: Dr Ahmad is concerned about the lack of debate and closing of minds.

He says some respected international Muslim scholars are labelled “secular” or “liberal’’ to keep the Muslim masses from hearing them out; others who are deemed to be not toeing the establishment line are banned or find it hard to book venues in which they can speak.

All this means that only one way of thinking is allowed to perpetuate. And that, says Dr Fauzi emphatically, is not healthy.

He was disappointed when the debate on religion between Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin and Home Ministry religious officer Dr Zamihan Mat Zin in February was cancelled. He says allowing such exchanges and differences of thought to come out should trigger more research, more thinking and a flourishing of ideas – but, unfortunately, this is not happening currently in Malaysia.

He also questions why when fatwas (religious edicts) are issued, no one offers an explanation and rationale for them so that people can intellectualise, argue and understand or accept.

“The religious establishment gets very irritated when they are criticised,’’ he adds.

The genie’s out already

Dr Chandra knows all about the lack of debate in Malaysia.

In 2010, he organised an international conference in Malaysia and managed to get the attendance of the Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, “who is 100% Sunni’’, and one of the world’s leading experts on Imam Syafie (whose Sunni school of jurisprudence Malaysia follows).

According to Dr Chandra, Sheikh Ahmad has been described as the “Mufti of Humanity” and is very much against hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Since Dr Chandra thought it would be good for all the muftis here to meet with the Syrian Grand mufti, he arranged a meeting but no one turned up.

“They didn’t want to meet him. I think it’s a classic case of ‘katak di bawah tempurung’ (frog under a coconut shell, an idiom meaning to live a sheltered life).

“They are very comfortable in their ignorance. They don’t want anyone to tell them, ‘Look maybe you are not right’. They don’t want dialogue.”

Dr Fauzi adds that because of this closed mode of thinking, many Wahabis/Salafists have joined Umno including 40 ulama muda in 2010.

And, he says, they are already influencing the party.

Although Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has given the assurance that Umno will not turn into an extremist party, Dr Fauzi feels there are no guarantees it will not happen some time in the future when Najib is no longer in office.

“It is like taking a genie out of the bottle. You can’t put it back in,’’ he says.

Dr Fauzi also cautions against closing the gates on discourse because this might have adverse effects.

“In this age of social media where there is easy access to all sorts of information, when you repress and people are not able to release their intellectual curiosity and youthful energy, they may gravitate towards IS and radical movements online.

“They want religion. They want Islam but they don’t want something that is identified with the establishment. Youths get fed up and this could be another cause of radicalisation.’’

Dr Chandra simply wishes people would engage.

“I hope there will be discussions of things like this rather than allowing one particular stream of thought to establish a monopoly and say that everyone else should keep quiet.’’

 

 

Umno in danger of being taken over by extremists, warns academic

28 Ogos 2016 | MALAYSIA DATELINE

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid

Umno is in danger of being taken over by extremist ideologies who claim to represent true Islam, warns an academic.

Universiti Sains Malaysia political scientist Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said this was because the party had received membership from those with Wahhabi/Salafist tendencies, a branch of Islam which claims to bring back the purity of Islam but which considers many other schools of thought as having deviated.

“It is like taking a genie out of the bottle. You can’t put it back in,” said Fauzi as quoted by The Star today, explaining that even if Umno president had vowed the party not to embrace extremism, the existence of such a group within the party meant there was no guarantee the promise could be kept once he was out of the scene.

Fauzi was referring to some 40 “Muslims scholars” who formed the so-called “Ulama Muda Umno” in 2010.

Leading the pack was Datuk Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya, who has been at the forefront of attacks on Muslims who do not share the Wahhabi way of thinking.

Fathul has stirred controversy over the years with his religious ideas, and has become a main source of Islamic reference for Umno Youth.

Fauzi, who published his paper on “The Extensive Salafization of Malaysian Islam”, was asked about the worrying trend of extremist ideas becoming mainstream among Muslim scholars in the country.

He said such a radicalisation did not happen over a short period, but attrubuted it to various factors including the influence of Saudi Arabian petro-dollars in the 1980s in its effort to counter the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

“People don’t realise it but this way of thinking has now become mainstream,’’ The Star quoted Fauzi as saying.

He said many Muslims had gone to the Middle East in the hope of deepening their Islamic knowledge, only to come back with intolerant and exclusivist ideas.

Some of them later joined the civil service, and got government positions of influence.

“They can’t think along the lines that a particular action will aggrieve a part of the school population even though they are the minority.

“When the Holy Prophet practised justice, justice is most meaningful when it is practised on those who are not a majority,” he said.

 

 

 

Political Islam and Post-Islamism Era

JUN 02, 2015  HIT: 329

The debate on the term of Islamic state will constantly reappear in the political discourse in country that Islamic Party exists. It used to be a phenomenon during the post colonialism era when the Egyptian Islamic scholars (Muslim Brotherhood) were driven to bring back the institution of Islamic Caliphate. In 2009, I happened to write an essay entitled “Searching New Substance of Islamic Movement of the First Post Islamic Rise” in which I set out to discuss the articulation of remarkable social trends, political perspectives, and religious thought in Malaysia following the extension of Islamism era in 1960s-1970s from Muslim Brotherhood.

I had outlined some main points the Islamic revival in the year of 1970s. Among the major treasures including scattering of Islamic heritage, especially knowledge of materials and guidelines in solving the current problems and challenges, and the deep confidence of Islam as a potential solution to all diseases and healing of individuals and society. The Phenomena that occur during the era of 70’s is often referred to historians as the era of Islamic Revivalism Rise / Islamic Resurgence.

According to Gordon P. Means in his book Political Islam in South East Asia, the persistence of some Islamic movement like Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) and Dar Al-Arqam in united the energy of da’wah finally yielded success a lucrative generation today. The Islamism era in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s dominance of global Islamist activism perceived by orientalist as a big failure.

Apart from due to undemocratic dictators who inhumanely persecuted Islamist, Esposito and Oliver Roy articulated the problem of vast majority of them when the Islamic Revivalism (Islah & Tajdid) was dragged into political Islam without preparation of complete blue print of the good governance as alternative to the so called secular state. The failure of Political Islam?

In a book The Failure of Political Islam, Roy shows that the recruitment of large numbers of alienated young men without much hope in the future has transformed political Islam into what he calls “neo-fundamentalism.” Unlike the actual Islamists, many of whom were serious intellectuals who tried to adapt to aspects of modernity, the neo-fundamentalists do little more than channel the discontents of urban youth into political opposition. Neo-fundamentalists worry about morals, mixed education, veiling, and the corrupting influence of the West, but they have no real political or economic program.

If they come to power they will resemble the repressive, one-party regimes that they are likely to replace, and will in turn face the opposition of these same disaffected classes. The evidence to date, however, from Iran and Sudan supports his view that Islamists in power are far from finding solutions to the social and economic problems of their peoples. Roy sees contemporary Islamic movements not as serious efforts to return to the classical paradigms of Islamic governance, but rather as a result of a failed modernization.

The poor ethics and attitude of the Islamists who run the politics contributed to the failure of political Islam. Implementation of Syariah for example, it is perceived as embarassing when the essential objectives of Islamic Law (Maqasid Syariah) to achieve justice is obstructed by the double standard and selective prosecution policies practiced by the official in the ”Islamic state”.

The late 1990s and early 2000 the trends had primarily shifted in stages when the Islamists no longer articulate the term Islamic Revivalism or Islamic state as the main idea of their movement but rather to conceptualize and strategize the rationale of transcending Islamism in social, political, and intellectual domains. Asef Bayat considered the transformation of this societal trend as “post-Islamism”.

Islamist becomes aware of their system’s inadequacies as they attempt to normalize and institutionalize their rule. The continuous trial and error makes the system susceptible to questions and criticisms. Islamism becomes compelled, by societal pressure to re-invent itself and the tremendous transformation in religious and political discourse by En-Nahda movement in Tunisia and AK – Justice and Development Party in Turkey exemplifies this tendency.

Rashid al-Ghannushi and Erdogan decided to follow the system which the mainstream familiar without irrationally imposed the Islamic rules or terms to alternate the policy. En-Nahda and Turkey post-Islamism were embodied in remarkable social trends – expressed in religiously innovative discourse by youths, students, women, and religious intellectuals, who called for democracy, individual rights, tolerance, and gender equality.

The advent of post-Islamism does not necessarily mean the historical end of Islamism but it means the birth out of discourse and politics. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism by emphasizing rights instead of duties, plurality in place of singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than fixed scriptures, and the future instead of the past.

Falling into Islamism net A paradox is how still certain of the Islamists, used to be more creative when under pressure, tend to loss perspective or fighting among themselves when confronted with a situation that is somewhat deals with the notion of liberalism, moderation, openness and equal rights.

Perhaps, the idea of some cleric-Islamist who fails to aware the tremendous change in the era of Post Islamism resulted in the movement to fall into Islamism net. They proudly subscribe the idea of rigidity, claim others who denounce their leadership as un-Islamic, bring the idea of Islamic Revivalism at the most extreme line, and often articulate the terms of Islamic state/rules without providing a tangible blue print as alternative to the society.

The scenario eventually recruits the young people to be irrational and perceive Islam as religion that cannot compromise at all with the individual choice and freedom, democracy and modernity in order to achieve what some have termed an “alternative modernity”. Worse still, this failure to appreciate the change of global trend indeed have reversed them back to the era of extremist Jihadist believing extremism as the only solution for Islam rather than mercy and compassion.

The extremist Jihadis around the world highlighted by media for instance indeed rooted from this failure. Perhaps, the prevalent perception among them is that idea of post-Islamism is an attempt to extremely dilute the Islamic principles. Post-Islamism is neither anti-Islamic, nor is it secular. Rather, it represents an endeavour to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty.

PREPARED BY: MUHAMMAD FAISAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ SECRETARY GENERAL MUSLIM YOUTH MOVEMENT MALAYSIA (ABIM)

 

Can there be Democracy in Islam?

http://www.meforum.org/1680/can-there-be-an-islamic-democracy

 

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher of the Enlightenment, made clear that his law-governed state could not be a democracy, because in a democracy there is no check on the popular will. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French social theorist whose “Democracy in America” (1835) remains a masterpiece, feared that democracy tended toward an egalitarian “tyranny of the majority” over the individual. John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher, was impressed with Tocqueville’s conclusion and argued that government should be elected by all but run by the enlightened few.

 

Is Islam compatible with democracy?

It can be. Millions of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims live in democracies, ample proof that there is no inherent discord between the two ideas, most scholars say. But Islam, like almost all religious traditions, can be interpreted in different ways, and some interpretations–such as those favored by al Qaeda and radical Islamists–conflict with democratic ideals. The validity of the different interpretations is a complex question debated by religious scholars.

 

Is Islam the reason many Muslim countries are not democratic?

Most scholars say no, and point to a mix of historical, cultural, economic, and political factors–and not Islam as a religion–to explain why democracy has failed to take root in many Muslim countries, especially in the Arab world. Recent Pew Global Attitudes surveys, in fact, show that majorities in the Arab world favor democracy as a form of government.

Which Muslim nations are considered democracies?

Most experts cite Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mali, and Senegal as democracies. (Indonesia, with 196 million people, is the world’s largest Muslim nation). Other countries, such as Malaysia, Nigeria, and Iran, are nominally democratic, but to a greater or lesser extent lack many of the attributes of fully functioning democracies, such as protections for civil liberties and legitimate opposition parties. Most of the world’s 47 Muslim-majority nations conduct elections; some are relatively free and fair, some are not. In any case, elections alone do not make a country a democracy, according to most scholars.

Which countries in the Arab world are democratic?

The Arab world, home to 18 percent of the world’s Muslims, is a democracy-free zone, according to many scholars. Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia are the least democratic nations in the Arab world, according to a study by Daniel Brumbergof the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Other Arab nations fall somewhere between autocracy and democracy: they may have legislatures, labor unions, and political parties, but their ruling party, president, or king exercises final control. On a spectrum from most to least democratic, these countries are: Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Qatar, and Yemen. Lebanon was a fully functioning democracy in the early 1970’s, but years of civil war and conflict have transformed it into a more repressive nation.

How does the record of democracy in Muslim countries compare to that of other regions of the developing world?

Poorly. According to Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that tracks democracy worldwide, “the last 30 years have seen a trend diametrically opposite to the global trend toward political liberalization” in Muslim nations. This is particularly true for nations in the Arab world, many of which have taken steps backward in terms of political liberties and electoral democracy in the last 10 years. However, some scholars argue that the “democracy gap” that appears to separate Muslim nations from the rest of the world applies only to the Arab world. In other regions, argues Alfred Stepan in the July 2003 issue of Journal of Democracy, Muslim nations are on par with–or outpace–comparable non-Muslim developing nations in terms of civil liberties and free and fair elections.

What are the main reasons so few Muslim nations are democratic?

There are many, says Marc Plattner, the co-director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. In the Arab world, for example, oil has been a factor, entrenching elites and slowing the development of market economies and the political freedoms that can accompany them. Tribalism and patriarchal social systems also play a role. Political manipulation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Muslim leaders channel domestic unrest into criticism of Israel and the West, is also a factor. Other scholars point to additional issues: repression by monarchies and military governments; the lack of independent secular political parties; traditional mindsets that consider Western-style democracy a foreign, non-Islamic invention; an ideological obsession with unity; and a long-standing policy of U.S. and Western support for many autocrats in the Arab world.

Why have Western nations supported Arab autocrats?

Because they are friendly to Western interests, which mainly have to do with oil and other national security concerns. Another key reason has been the fear that, if autocrats fell, they would be replaced by radical regimes. The most powerful opposition to entrenched leaders in many Arab nations are Islamists, groups that embrace a political view of Islam and reject secular forms of government. In many cases, these groups are anti-Western in outlook; some advocate the use of violence to bring about change.

What are the religious ideals within Islam that could favor democracy?

The Koran, the holy book of Islam, contains a number of ideas that some Islamic scholars say support democratic ideals. One is shura, or consultative decision making. The other is ijma, or the principle of consensus. However, Muslim scholars disagree about whether these terms have political applications. Is shura obligatory or merely desirable? Binding or non-binding? Another powerful argument for democracy emerges from the principles in the constitutionof Medina, which was written by the prophet Mohammed in 622 A.D, according to Muqtedar Khan, the director of international studies at Adrian College in Michigan. The document sets down the rules of the community of Medina, as agreed to by Muslims and Jews of the city–and grants equal rights to Jews and Muslims who follow its laws.

What are the religious ideals within Islam that may oppose democracy?

At core is the fact that in Islam, God is the giver of laws, and men have only limited autonomy to implement and enforce God’s laws. These laws, known as sharia, apply to all aspects of religious, political, social, and private life. Interpreted literally, they can clash with Western democratic ideals. An Islamic democracy has to navigate tensions created by Islam’s traditional rules, such as those that give lesser weight to women’s testimony in Islamic courts and those that dictate corporal punishment, such as death by stoning for female adulterers. Modern Islamic democracies have reinterpreted or chosen not to enforce some or all of these laws.

Some Muslim scholars argue against democracy because they see it as a system in which the whim of the majority is the source of law. The counterargument to this, says John O. Voll, professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University, is that all nations create laws–whether they are monarchies, dictatorships, or democracies. And in a democracy, more checks exist on man’s whim than in an autocracy.

Are these tensions delaying the acceptance of democracy?

In some countries, yes. But scholars differ about whether democracy for the Muslim world can wait until these theological questions are better resolved. “There’s an interesting argument happening among Muslims about sequencing,” Plattner says. “Some say you first have to reinterpret Islam, then you can build a democracy. There are others who say that if you establish a democracy first, that’s the best way to get a reformation in Islam. It’s kind of a ‘chicken and egg’ problem.”

Are democratic interpretations of Islam gaining ground in the Muslim world?

So far, it’s difficult to know for sure. Among Muslim intellectuals, they are certainly having an impact, but “it’s not a political trend,” Brumberg says. Liberal Islamists have had problems building an organized political base in the Muslim world, he adds–in part because they are often restricted from participating in politics by the same laws that ban more radical Islamist political parties. “Clearly, they haven’t been winning the population as a whole over,” Plattner says.

Is the desire for democracy gaining ground?

It appears so, but at the same time support for organized Islamist parties with inherently anti-democratic views is also strong, Brumberg says. The complexity of the political situation in the Muslim world is reflected in the recent Pew survey, which found both that majorities in the nine predominately Muslim nations surveyed believe that democracy can work in their countries–and that Osama bin Laden is one of their three “most trusted” world leaders. Respondents also favored a prominent–in many cases expanded” role for Islam and religious leaders in national politics, but majorities in most countries also said they valued ideals associated with democracy, such as freedom of the press.

In many Arab nations, Brumberg says, Islamist parties command the support of between 35 percent and 40 percent of the population. “When people say they want democracy,” he says, “you have to ask, ‘What would that mean? Whose interests would the democracy serve?’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaysia as a Secular State

 

 

What is a secular state?

A secular state is whereby a country is officially neutral in matters of religion.

A secular state treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion.

A secular state avoids preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion over other religions.

A secular state maintains national governance without influence from religious factions.

 

Who govern a secular state?

Secular law governs contracts, commerce, international relations and trade and every aspect of lives of a citizen.

What is the position of Malaysia regarding religion?

In the Alliance memorandum (the unequivocal original intention of UMNO, MCA and MIC) to the Reid Commission on September 27, 1956 stated that:

“The religion of Malaysia shall be Islam. The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practising their own religion, and shall not imply the State is not a secular state.”

What is the basis of this statement?

Colonial Office dated May 23, 1957 at the London Conference Talks which said: “The members of the Alliance delegation stressed that they had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular state”.

Is Malaysia constitutionally being a secular state? 

The constitutional position of Malaysia being a secular state has also been confirmed in the 1988 Supreme Court decision in the case of the Public Prosecutor versus Che Omar.

As the religion of Malaysia shall be Islam, what is the status of those not professing this religion?

The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practicing their own religion.

Islam is not an overriding factor which can deny Malaysians their fundamental rights and liberties which are enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

What are these fundamental rights and liberties of a Malaysian citizen?

Malaysians are guaranteed the freedom of speech, expression and religion.

These are all clearly written in the Federal Constitution.

Even as Islam is the religion of the Federation, freedom of religion remains a most fundamental human right of every citizen recognized and protected by the Federal Constitution.

So fundamental is this right that even when a state of emergency is proclaimed under Article 150 of the Constitution, among other things, our right to freedom of religion cannot be tampered with or removed.

Sub-clause 6A of Article 150 is clear: “nor shall Clause (6) validate any provision inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution relating to any such matter or relating to religion…”

This plainly means freedom of religion remains protected and guaranteed by our Constitution even under emergency rule.

Then, what about Islamic laws in the country?

Islamic law governs specific matters set out in the Federal Constitution in relation to persons professing Islam.

Are non-Muslims in the country bind by any edicts issued by state rulers or the National Fatwa Council on issues concerning Islam?

Edicts and fatwa cannot be applied on non-Muslims as it will violate their legal and religious rights.

Further, any edict, be it from the National Fatwa Council or state fatwa committees, did not possess any legal status as it was advisory in nature .

It does not have a legal force.  It is not binding on Muslims and non-Muslims.

How does the National Fatwa Council works ?

The National Fatwa Council submits its opinion to the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs which is then sent to the Conference of Rulers.

Whatever edicts could only be issued by the state fatwa committee and it has to be gazetted to have a legal effect.

And an edict is binding only on Muslims in the respective states.

Can a non-Muslim be charged in a Syariah Court?

Non-Muslims cannot be charged in a syariah court.

Can any decree by the National Fatwa Council apply to non-Muslims?

Any decree by the National Fatwa Council cannot be applied to non-Muslims.

Why?

National Fatwa Council had no legal standing as issues concerning Islam are a state affair.

An edict has no legal effect in secular Malaysia, adding that non-Muslims were only bound by federal laws.

The religious rights of non-Muslims were protected under the Federal Constitution and federal laws.

What is the basis of the above statement?

Fatwa rulings or edicts were only applicable to Muslims as decided by a three-man Federal Court bench in 2009 in the case of Sulaiman Takrib v Kerajaan Negeri Terengganu; Kerajaan Malaysia (intervener) & Other Cases.

Has the National Fatwa Council any legal power to override the Federal Constitution?

NO.

Why?

National Fatwa Council had no legal standing as issues concerning Islam are a state affair.

Islam is a matter for the states, and the National Fatwa Council has no constitutional status.

This federal-state division of powers which put Islam in the hands of the states is upheld by the Federal Constitution.

There were supposedly “several words including ‘Allah’ that are the exclusive rights of Muslims”, in a 1986 decree by the National Fatwa Council – is this wrong?

The 1986 decree or fatwa is ultra vires the Federal Constitution.

Who gave the National Fatwa Council the authority or power to do what the Prophet himself would not do?

No one has quoted any verse from the Quran wherein the Prophet had told his followers to restrain others from using any words that were used by Muslims in their prayers.

Neither did the Prophet restrict the followers of other faiths from practicing their faiths in any location.

More important, Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution states that state and federal laws could only control or restrict the propagation of religious doctrines or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

[ see Article number: 11 – Freedom of Religion below ]

When the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) or the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) issues an edict, does it affect non-Muslim?

If the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) or the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) issues an edict, it does not affect non-Muslims.

There is nothing that any of the Islamic religious authorities can do against non-Muslims.

Further, opinions given by state clerics on a personal basis, and not according to the procedure required by law in that particular state, are not binding.

They differ from the court decisions which form part of Malaysia’s laws.

What about an edict issued by the Sultan or Yang di-Pertuan Agong?

Whatever edict is issued, be it from the Sultan or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, it is certainly not applicable to non-Muslims and it is non-binding.

Anyway, edicts for Muslims come from the state religious councils and rulers could not interfere.

This is the consequence of a constitutional monarchy. The ruler must act within the constitution and on advice.

Religious freedom is enshrined in the constitution and therefore the decree by The Agong or state rulers on religion cannot override the constitution.

Besides, one needs to understand that Malaysia has no head of Islam, and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is only the head of religion in his own home state and in states without rulers. Furthermore, The Agong is appointed on a five-year rotational basis among the nine Malay rulers and is head of the religion of his state, Sabah, Sarawak, Penang, Malacca and the Federal Territories. As such, these rulers, despite being the head of religion, had no power to lay down the laws of Islam.
Why is this so?

According to the constitution, Malaysians enjoy constitutional rights such as the right to personal freedom, freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of expression; freedom of association; and equality before the law without discrimination.

OUR Federal Charter’s guarantee of religious freedom

Article 11 of the Constitution on the Freedom of Religion states as follows:

Article number: 11Freedom of Religion

(1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

(2) No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own.

(3) Every religious group has the right –

(a) to manage its own religious affairs;

(b) to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; and

(c) to acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law.

(4) State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

The Prophet had proven that diversity in society, regardless of whether it is in terms of religion, culture or language, is not a problem and obstacle to unity so long as the approach of ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderation) is adopted as a practice in life.”

Negeri Sembilan Yang di-Pertuan Besar Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir, at his investiture ceremony in conjunction with his 66th birthday had urged Malaysian Muslims to respect each individual’s religion to avoid disharmony.

In a Malaysian context, the Constitution has set Islam as the official religion of the country without hindering others to practise their own religions, Tuanku Muhriz had said.

With that, I urge Malaysian Muslims to continue living in harmony with each other and ensuring respect is given to others who practise different religions.

Tuanku Muhriz also called on leaders of every community to cast aside sentiments which can destroy the harmony the country is thriving in.

Freedom of religion and belief for all, and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation between faith communities, are essential foundations for social cohesion and human dignity and rights in all countries,” the World Council of Churches general-secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit had stated.

A citizen had expressed, “I don’t like the Malaysian system where politics is mixed with the religious because these are two different things………………

 Wallahua’lam

KangKungnomics

The kangkung (ipomoea aquaticas, sometimes also known as “swamp cabbage”) – a leafy vegetable with hollow stems found commonly on roadsides, near ponds and padi fields – is typically regarded as a ‘windy’ vegetable that can weakens one’s legs if it is taken on a frequent basis. Our kangkung premier is on a weakening political root since (s)talking this food diet to the Malaysian consumers, “I like to eat kangkung, you all like to eat kangkung. As such, I gave an example which everybody eats. If I use quail as an example, only certain people eat it,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama; of course, quail eggs he and his entourage had consumed on Perdana One jaunts to Paris and Milan.

This prime minister – a 1974 University of Nottingham industrial economics graduate – being also the Finance Minister, is senselessly daft; it only makes the rakyat-rakyat ashamed that they have such a simple-minded leader. Further, to be supported by the likes in Tengku Adnan, secretary-general of Barisan Natiosal and the Federal Territories Minister, who said that whoever harps on the kangkung issue is stupid, then more obvious than any articulated statement, it would have to be the person who mentioned it in the first instance.

Silly, silly.

Refresh that this chap in December 20th 2013 was reported to have stated, “Women are like property, their price increases with make-up and drops without make-up”, when explaining the valuation for property in Kuala Lumpur.

Sillier than ever.

Penang Umno secretary Datuk Musa Sheikh Fadzir and Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya had uttered that “Insulting the PM is like insulting the Malays” and “Penang Malays survive by eating kangkung” (such squat quality of Umno members during these hug-hunger days) forgetting that not necessarily all Malays ever support the premier and his kangkungnomics leadership. Many analysts had noted that despite the increase in Chinese support for Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the political tsunami had also swept with it large numbers of the Malays, many among them forming part of the country’s middle- to upper-class voters. Political analyst Dr Lim Teck Ghee had even pointed out that since PR won more than half of the popular vote, showing that the coalition had received support from “large numbers of Malay and other non-Chinese voters”, too.

At a time of a stagnant economics, and the dire situation of national economic mismanagement with a rising in fuel prices, the removal of sugar subsidy and an increase in the electricity tariff, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good when an IMF projection indicates that Malaysia’s public debts are expected to top US$187.4 billion this year, or about 57.7% of the country’s projected GDP of US$324.5 billion for 2014, exceeding the government’s 55% ceiling. This statistic, together with the dwindling current account surplus, it is not unlikely for international rating agencies shall again cut our sovereign ratings.

This shall mean possibly even lesser foreign direct investments to the country in the coming years. Already, Vietnam, Indonesia and even Myanmar are surpassing Malaysia’s FDIs by 2013 (see various reports in OECD: Southeast Asia: the role of foreign direct investment, 1999; UNCTAD: Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to East Asia and South-East Asia, 2013; CERDI: Foreign Direct Investment in Southeast Asia: Determinants and Spatial Distribution,2013).

To compound the national underdevelopment, across in Sarawak and Sabah, the 30-year old cabotage policy is crippling these states whereby only Malaysian-flagged ships are allowed to transport locally-manufactured goods from the peninsula to Sabah, for instant. This means only a small segment, probably less than 200 containers a month, may be coming into the state. Indeed, the higher transportation costs lead to higher trading costs even more so now with the recent 20 cents per litre oil increase.

There is no reason why petrol and diesel from Sabah’s oil and gas resources cannot be sold to Sabahans and Sarawakians at a 20-sen discount compared to the prices in the peninsula. The RM300 million subsidy is more than covered by the RM26.6 billion and RM45 billion in oil revenues siphoned off from Sabah and Sarawak respectively in 2014.

A definitive approach to our rakyat misery is to tackle wastage, excessive spending and curb rampant corruption in government contracts which would have saved RM9.3 billion in 2014 based on 20% competitive price by way of open tender with the development budget of RM46.5 billion; the saved operational expenditure could even be more as that conservative 20% figure is often regarded by many analysts to be well below the actual “rent-seeking commissions” in many tendering bids.

But then, our PM is on high-in-the-air kangkung topped with quail eggs onboard the Perdana One Airbus ACJ320 (9H-AWK).

Image

Let’s end with a belachan stirring from the net:

This kangkung obsession is fast becoming a laughing stalk!
Lettuce get to the root of the problem,
we have mushroom for improvement,
everybody wants a celery increase but it’s like the government doesn’t carrot all,
sorry for being grump-pea.
He should just apologise and move on but sawi seems to be the hardest word.
These price increases don’t matter to the big shots but to the rakyat it tomato.
There must be a lady’s finger with a ring behind this.
Don’t worry.
While the rakyat suffer these cronies become like potatoes and may develop cauliflower like tumours.
In the meantime let’s enjoy all these jokes and remain cool like cucumber.

 

The Budget and The Buffoons

The 2014 National Budget is fulfilling the promises of those ethnocratic buffoons in this banana state.  With an Operations Expenditure of M$217 billion (82% of The Budget) only RM$46.5 billion (18%) is allocated for national developmental purposes.

This means that the masses have to foot out $4.60 for every $1 dollar to develop the country. Saying it in another way, we need to support each and every civil servant RM$180,000 yearly for every goods and services to be delivered, if at all.

Only 15% of our working population is paying income tax, yet those ethnocratic buffoons in the perdana residence complex are burning electricity like Petronas has unlimited wells gushing with petrodollars. Everyday, $8,500 is spent to light up these buffoons’ cosmetic lighting whereas that amount could supply electricity to rural folks in clusters of longhouses in Sarawak for a year – if ever the TNB power-lines even reach them.

While JP-4 fuel is burnt – and it’s capital flight when fueled abroad – by the Prime Minister, between 2010 and 2013, this UMNO-plutocrat spent RM$86.4m for his private jets with an addition of RM$16.5m million in maintaining them. Additional to this cost of private jetting, a whopping RM$42 was spent annually on the Prime Minister’s foreign trips since 2008. Besides the Prime Minister’s jet, the country has six other VVIP executive jets for official use by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and the Deputy Prime Minister “to carry out official businesses of the nation”.

Remember that Najib made a ‘private trip’ to Milan despite concealing the destination when asked in Parliament. His official Royal Malaysian Air Force plane Perdana One [pix here: http://www.airliners.net] – an Airbus 319-115X(CJ) registered as 9M-NAA – flew to Milan from Washington on the 20th of May, 2012 and stopped at Dubai before returning home, all tracked by http:/flight-radar-24.

On this particular trip alone, his two-day plus stays in London and New York cost the Malaysian taxpayers RM$849,175 and RM$1,606,402, respectively, while his remaining days spent in Washington was another whooping RM$452,985.

Time to have a teh-tarik to calm ourselves? Only it shall cost 20 cents more today.

Why?

The sugar subsidy has been withdrawn after The Budget. And, who are the possible duopoly $1 billion-in-profit beneficiaries, but crony-capitalists like Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary’s Central Sugar Refinery and oligarchy Felda Global Venture’s Malaysian Sugar Manufactuing.  Yet, FELDA has already siphoned off owner-settlers’ RM$495 million in the purchase of an 198-Unit Grand Plaza service apartments in Bayswater, London, that was valued by Savills and Knight Frank at only RM$408 million in the past few years…………….

China and Sabah

Reflecting on China’s President Xi Jinping recent Southeast Asia tour before the APEC Conference in Bali, it is more than the firming of shared prosperity on signed economic agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia.

According to G. Wade’s article in The Strategist, published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the President was supposed to visit Sabah, too on the 5th.-6th. October 2013. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had set up that scheduled visit after a late August meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

However, the Sabah visit was cancelled informally on 6 October, without an explanation.

Why?

US President Obama was scheduled to visit Malaysia after the China’s President visit; it was cancelled due to his financial management troubling time, and the subsequent USA government shutdown. However, since 2012, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the US-Malaysia relations have been growing and glowing:

Relations between the United States and Malaysia are at an all-time high. Since President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Najib Razak entered office in 2009, both countries’ governments have committed to a new beginning and moved to establish closer ties through increased political, economic, and people-to-people cooperation.

This naturally raises questions on how Malaysia would manage its relationship with USA vis-à-vis China.

According to Shariman Lockman, a Senior Analyst in the Foreign Policy and Security Studies program at ISIS Malaysia, it is a belief that Malaysia has a “special” relationship or at least, more special than its neighbours in the region can claim, with China.

In general, China’s treated Malaysia with kid gloves on their overlapping maritime claims. Unlike in the case of the Philippines and Vietnam, China hasn’t publicly objected to Malaysia’s oil and gas explorations in the South China Sea. Looking at the bigger picture, China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, and no other Southeast Asian country trades as much with China as Malaysia does. In 2012, the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was the second-largest issuer of Chinese visas in the world. Given the intensity and benefits of the relationship, it hardly makes sense for Malaysia to depart from its current policy, which puts a premium on quiet diplomacy with China.

Therefore, when on 26 March 2013, the People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted a major naval exercise in the South China Sea, close to what China calls Zhengmu Reef, the Malaysian Navy did something quite unusual. Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia sailed in a puny naval offshore patrol vessel, the KD Perak, to observe and monitor the exercise.

News of the exercise would have been lost amid the cacophony of reports on the disputed waters had it not been for the fact that Zhengmu Reef, which is known as Beting Serupai in Malay and James Shoal in English, lies at the southernmost tip of China’s expansive maritime and island claims in the South China Sea. More specifically, it is a mere 80 kilometres away from Malaysia.

“It was a surprisingly strong message in sending out this task force, on such a new operational role from previous PLAN [PLA Navy] patrols in the region,” said Gary Li, a senior analyst with IHS Fairplay in London.

“It is not just a few ships here and there, but a crack amphibious landing ship carrying marines and hovercraft and backed by some of the best escort ships in the PLAN fleet,” he said, adding that jet fighters had also been used to cover the task force.

And, though this piece of real estate is more than 1,800 kilometres from the China mainland, the Chinese PLA Navy had brought into the region with such firepower as to awe any Southeast Asian country. There were four vessels led by the latest amphibious landing ship, the Jinggangshan.

With a displacement of 19,000 tons, the amphibious landing craft Jinggangshan is 210 meters long and 28 meters wide, and can carry helicopters, armoured fighting vehicles, boats and landing craft as well as carrying onboard nearly 1,000 soldiers. Further, according to an earlier report on china.com, Jinggangshan is the second of the Type 071 dock-landing ship built by the Shanghai’s Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard. The first one, Kunlunshan – of the Yuzhao class, also categorised as the 071 amphibious craft was launched in 2006 with a displacement of 18,000 tons. Subsequently, Kunlunshan was deployed in anti-piracy work off the Horn of Africa; then, it was the largest warship of the PLAN to be commissioned outside the Zhanjiang Naval Base.

The ship  Jinggangshan was christened “to show the love of for the revolutionary base inherited and to carry forward its revolutionary spirit”. Jinggang Mountain range is located in Jiangxi province, eastern China and it is the birthplace of China’s People’s Liberation Army – and the cradle of China’s revolution.

(It was later reported in early September 2013 by infowars.com that the Jinggangshan was seen passing through the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal, the waterway in Egypt that leads to the Mediterranean Sea and waters off the coast of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. According to the report, the ship has not been sent to engage in any aggressive actions but is merely there to “observe” the actions of Russian and US warships).

Insofar as international relations between Malaysia and China are concerned, the perception is that, at least on the Malaysian side, that this relationship is highly prized and historically significant.

That significance is derived from the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China in 1974. Indeed, Malaysia was the first member state of ASEAN to have formal relations with China. Remember during that time when Malaysia and many other ASEAN member states had to contend with communist insurgencies – all supported in varying degrees by Beijing – rapprochement with China was then regarded as something of unthinkable. Nonetheless, the Malaysian prime minister at the time, Tun Abdul Razak (Najib’s father) engaged to establish relations with China, partly with a hope that Beijing would stop supporting the insurgent Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

The Chinese Consul-General in Kuching, Li Shugang, has suggested that China’s activities in the area will double if a consulate is opened in Sabah.  Former PRC foreign minister Yang Jiechi visited Sabah in August last year to boost Chinese investment in infrastructure, palm oil processing and agriculture.

Even without a consulate, Chinese tourism to the area has boomed, with probably 300,000 PRC tourists expected to arrive in Sabah this year, on charter flights, which have increased by 90% over a year. The PRC naval training ship Zheng He has also just made a visit to Sabah.

The question we shall ask is whether this posturing may limit in the Malaysia–US relationship, and may even be eroded over time, perhaps as China’s military might increases, and expands?

Let us consider these facts:

The burgeoning defence ties between the two countries are perhaps best illustrated by the increasing number of US naval ship visits to Malaysia, which grew from single digits annually in the previous decade to over 30 in 2011.

In June 2013, both the USMC and the Malaysian Army have jointly conduct an amphibious landing assault exercise as part of the annual bilateral military exercise known as CARAT 2013.

At sea, the guided-missile Destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) and the first-of-class littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) spent three days conducting combined maneuvers, submarine familiarization events, visit, board, search and seizure evolutions, small craft attack drills and other events with the Royal Malaysian Navy vessels KD Jebat and KD Kelantan.

The capstone exercise of CARAT Malaysia combined sea and shore-based forces in a pair of simulated amphibious landings on Batu Beach over a two-day period. It involved 300 Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit and Malaysian Army paratroopers, nine amphibious assault vehicles and five aircraft, the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and the USS Freedom (LCS 1).

A typical CARAT exercise – Co-operation Afloat and Readiness and Training – may embrace a joint anti-submarine exercise with a joint amphibious landing exercise with simulation practice to repel the imagined invading enemy. In CARAT 2011, the offered scenario as reported by China Press was:

On 11 June’s CARAT naval operation on the sea, the United States dispatched the US Navy attack submarine USS La Jolla (SSN 701) to conduct a combined military exercise with the Malaysian Navy. In order to carry out the joint anti-submarine operation, Malaysia sent out Malaysian Navy frigates KD Lekir (F26), KD Lekiu (FF30) and KD Terengganu (F174), a new generation patrol vessel and the United States sent out US Navy ships USS Howard (DDG 83) Aegis destroyer and USS Ford (FFG 54) frigate in this joint military rehearsal.
The appearance of the US attack submarine USS La Jolla (SSN 701) in the South China Sea signifies that the United States has further expanded the presence of its military power in the South China Sea. On 13 June, CARAT Malaysia joint military exercise on the sea entered its final climax. After the end of the joint anti-submarine operations between the US and Malaysian navies, Malaysia’s No. 10 Airborne Force and the US Marine Corps re-grouped into a combined landing force and boarded the 11 ‘AAV-7’ amphibious assault vehicles to attack the strategic positions of 
Imagery enemies on shore. The 11 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles came out from US Navy’s amphibious assault landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46). They waded through the water and landed on the pre-designated landing spots; launched direct attack and occupied the enemy’s valley.

On 12 June at 1.00 p.m. (GMT 0500) after the combined military landing rehearsal was completed, the media took the AAV-7 amphibious landing vehicle and returned to the amphibious assault landing ship USS Tortuga for overnight rest………

Given these highlights, the geo-political situation underpins the argument that this nation is clasped between two military vices that shall attempt to maintain military dominance, and eventual imperialist hegemony over country.

The persisting question is whether China was seeking a naval base in Sabah. To some observers, it was hard pressed to believe that Malaysia (or any of the major ASEAN member states for that matter) would allow a Chinese military base in any of the ASEAN countries. On the other hand, it is worth considering that China had offered Sri Lanka new loans for infrastructure projects, worth US$ 2.2 billion dollars. In a reply to a question, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr. Hong Lei had told the news media that in addition to infrastructure loans, both countries agreed to further deepen defence cooperation and maintain exchanges between two defence ministries, whilst they continue to carry out in cooperating defence technology, personal training and other fields. Yet, the spokesperson did not reveal further details regarding the nature of the new strategic cooperation.

However, the growing China-Sri Lanka relationship has raised US-Indian concerns over Sri Lanka’s strategic priorities in the Indian Ocean and according to some analysts, Sri Lanka is becoming a key player in China’s “String of Pearls” strategy, which is understood as aiming at encountering the American maritime power along the sea lines of communications (SLOC) and connecting China to vital energy resources in Africa and the Middle East.

As it is understood, there are several “pearls” in the Chinese “String of Pearls”: a Hainan Island’s upgraded military facility, a Woody Island airstrip, a container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, a fueling station in Hambantota harbour, Sri Lanka and a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan. The country’s top oil and gas producer – China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), has recently completed the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to China, a strategic link which will allow China to avoid any possible military blockade in the Malacca Strait.

Returning to the pertinent question on why was President Xi Jinping visit initially proposed ?

One may possibly conjecture on one dimension – the imminent importance of Sabah for the Chinese government. The importance of Sabah in China’s future plans may derive from its location as the strategic centre of maritime Southeast Asia, more so if a naval base being located in Sabah would consequently allow China an unparalleled access to the to the Southeast Asia region in general, and the South China Sea specifically.