Politics & government

[2928] Rationalizing the camps in Umno

I had a conversation yesterday, where we tried to make sense of the political situation in Malaysia. It is a confusion situation all-around and the intricacies could only be understood by understanding the disputes in Umno, the one of the major sources of instability in Malaysia.

A systematic way to understand the troubles within the party is to ask two questions:

  • One, do they want Zahid to remain as the party president?
  • Two, do they want to remain part of Muhyiddin’s government?

The combination of the answers provides a clean division of the camps in Umno. See the graphics below:

Theoretically, there should be 4 camps.

But realistically, there are 3 camps only. This is because if a person prefers Zahid to remain as the party president, chances they would parrot his position. That means if they said yes to Zahid, it is likely they would also want out of Muhyiddin government. To signify that, I have struck one of the boxes out.

The 3 camps are:

  • Najib-Zahid camp (Yes to Zahid but no to Muhyiddin). This is the camp suffering from multiple corruption charges.
  • Hishammuddin camp (No-Yes). Hishammudin was one of the Sheraton Move architects.
  • Tengku Razaleigh camp (No-No). Possibly the weakest camp among the three.

The names listed might be inaccurate because it is based on my readings and possibly their sentiment as reported in the press.

Additionally, there are names I put in the unknown brackets, but if the questions are right, then they would eventually be pigeonholed into a camp once the time comes.

And clearly from the chart, it is not exhaustive. It is difficult to know beyond the top names who sits where. This is especially when some of these people like Noraini Ahmad and Zahida Zarik Khan seem awfully quiet, and in some ways irrelevant despite being part of the party leadership.

Finally, some people in DAP have told me it is all about power (who has what and those without are making noises). However when I look at the problem closely, it is a bit hard to systematically rationalize the division through “power.” “Power” does not reveal the camps as clearly as it should. Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss “power” as a factor. It might very well be an underlying dimension beneath the two questions I am proposing for benchmarking purposes.

Economics Politics & government

[2617] Is the Selangor state government being a hypocrite by owning a stake in IPPs and highways?

Member of Parliament for Rembau, Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday repeated the accusation he made at a forum organized by Chevening alumni association last week. He said that Pakatan Rakyat is being hypocritical about its criticism of government policy regarding highways and independent power producers. As he pointed out, PR opposes these policies to the point that they want to nationalize those highways and power plants but at the same time, the Selangor state government holds shares in those private companies which operate the assets in Selangor. So, the state government enjoys dividend from the investment.

First off, I oppose government involvement in these matters and I balk at nationalization. At the same time, I dislike monopoly. These two concerns force me to adopt a gray area because while these highways and power plants are now operated by private companies (the definition private is increasingly blurry these days with state funds owning significant shares of these private companies), they were granted excessive monopoly power or overly generous concession at the expense of consumers, especially in terms of electricity generation in the past.

So, I do not want the government, state or federal, to nationalize highways or power plants, and I do want to see those monopoly power granted by the government curb. So, I am stuck. On these matters, I will bark at both both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat’s policy. The former is responsible for granting the monopolies and perpetuating the status quo with limited improvement possibly because of political entanglement with the business community and the latter trying to do too much to overcome those monopolies with too much state power.

And I do not really trust BN in fighting PR because BN has proven to oppose PR’s proposal only in words but in action, they would do what PR proposes anyway. Proof: the Eastern Disperal Link in Johor which the government took over and abolished the toll. The EDL has another disturbing dimension to it: it is really a bailout of MRCB by the government. MRCB was in trouble because the government did not have the political will stick to its words. This by far is not the only example.

But, on the issue at hand, I am unsure if it is hypocritical of the Selangor state government to hold a stake in companies operating the same highways and power plants that PR proposes for the government to take over, as Khairy accused.

Would it not be wise for the Selangor state government under Pakatan to own interest in these power plants and highways in Selangor so that the state has a say in the respective companies’ board of directors?

One has to remember that the reason PR proposes to take over these assets is that PR claims that the companies or rather the arrangements which allowed these companies to profit in the first place are burdensome to Malaysians. PR claims that nationalization is a cheaper option to the status quo. As far as I understand it, it is not really about some socialist dream. It is really a matter of which is cheaper, which I think is a technocratic approach. Technocratic in the sense that it is number driven.

I actually am swayed by that technocratic argument but not to the point of nationalizing those private assets. I say so because nationalization is not the only conclusion to that technocratic argument. I am sure if we sit down and think about it, there are multiple ways which any party can achieve so.

One way is to have a say in the Board of Directors of those companies. The state government can voice its discontent over any possible revision to prices charged to consumer. This has its own conflict of interest issue—if one is profit-driven, then the state itself may want to optimize its returns; in this sense, Khairy is right—but like I wrote, it is also a way to influence companies’ decision from within towards the objective of reducing burden to Malaysian consumers.

Is that hypocritical?

On the net, maybe yes, maybe not.

Now, I do not know whether the Selangor state government has a seat in the Board of Directors or if the state does, then whether that rep’s voice is in line with PR’s rhetoric. If Khairy’s accusation is to be credible, I think he has to go one layer deeper to the dynamics of the Board of Directors.

Politics & government

[1936] Of a superficial retelling of the last day of 2008 UMNO General Assembly

Just got back from the UMNO General Assembly and among top leadership of UMNO, Khairy Jamaluddin will probably have the hardest time to lead, simply because the division within the wing he is leading.

Each time his name was mentioned, a big boo followed. On the contrary, when Mukhriz Mahathir joined the hall to take his seat in the wing, he received a raving applause. Odd indeed because the sentiment in the hall did not reflect the election result.

When Khairy Jamaluddin spoke behind the rostrum, he took a humble tone, probably realizing his unpopularity in the hall.

Ali Rustam was popular. Add the adverb very if I am guilty of underemphasizing the support he enjoyed today. The hall definitely considered the judgment against the politician from Malacca by UMNO diciplinary board as injustice. From my outsider perspective, clearly, there is perverse incentive in UMNO at the moment; a convicted corrupt politician can be a star, the darling of the hall. If there is a lesson from there, it is that do not act unjustly because the victim of unjust act, even if he is less than innocent, can become the prince of heart.

Zahid Hamidi was the first to realize that and to utilize the popularity of Ali Rustam at the Putra World Trade Center, mostly because his turn to speak was right after Ali Rustam’s. He mentioned Ali Rustam a couple of times and each time he did so, the crowd went wild without fail.

Mahathir Mohamad was welcomed whole-heartedly by UMNO members. Muhyiddin Yassin was speaking when he entered the hall and the new Deputy President of UMNO had to take a pause as the crowd gave the former Prime Minister a standing ovation. Muhyiddin Yassin, rather than finishing his interrupted sentence, decided to give Mahathir Mohamad the spotlight by citing his name, almost to the point of too much.

Not as much as Shahrizat Abdul Jalil though. With a divided UMNO, she went on to mention everybody’s name, from Rafidah, to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Najib Razak to more names than I care to remember. She appeared as a person earnestly trying to hedge her bet across the board.

And this time unlike two days earlier, I stayed to the end because while some points are very disagreeable (being a secularist, a passive republican and a liberal in an UMNO pow-wow, what a surprise, eh? The too many mentions of religion and ethnonationalism were dizzying), the quality of the speeches were noticeably better than the previous ones.

Finally, Najib Razak. I do have other reservation, especially about the divergence between his rhetoric and the the rhetoric of so-called UMNO grassroot present in the hall, and between his rhetoric and events I am witnessing in as a citizen of Malaysia. Nevertheless, he appeared as a person that have the ability to lead. I was in the hall and I have to admit he managed to bring out the fighting spirit in UMNO members there. It was as if, an unconfident UMNO finally found the rock they require. He called for unity and showed courage to implicitly inform Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that he is a man of his own.

In my humble opinion, Pakatan Rakyat will have to on their toes because they — if the momentum I saw in the hall continues — have just found their match. In the last general election, UMNO entered the ring wounded. This time, some recuparation had taken place.

Politics & government

[1590] Of Khairy is an economist?

People have been speaking of The Malaysian Insider and I thought it should check it out. The first read however made me frown:

The Malaysian Insider understands that Khairy — who until recently was being touted as the next Umno Youth chief and a future minister — could be looking at giving up his position in the youth movement, signaling probably the end of a meaningful political career for the country’s fastest rising star.

In the days after the Opposition took control of five states and denied the ruling coalition its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament, the knives were being sharpened for the back of the Oxford-educated economist… [Is Khairy Jamaludin on the way out? The Malaysian Insider. March 12 2008]

Oh, c’mon… Khairy Jamaludin is not an economist for the same reason why Tony Pua is not either.

People just need to stop using the noun economist too liberally. There are many economics graduates whom hesitate to call themselves as economists but yet, people like Khairy get the honor just like that without even practicing it professionally. What bull. Who wrote that article?

Politics & government

[1583] Of KJ as Minister of Internal Security?

Words on the street have it that Khairy Jamaludin is up to head the Ministry of Internal Security.

Be prepared because if it is true, we would have a bigger battle ahead of us.