• Ambassador at large Bilahari Kausikan should interpret political developments in Malaysia as part of a larger worldwide trend of regime change among dominant party regimes

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 8th of October, 2015

    Ambassador at large Bilahari Kausikan should interpret political developments in Malaysia as part of a larger worldwide trend of regime change among dominant party regimes

    In his op-ed entitled “Singapore is not an Island”,[1] Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large and R Nathan fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, was quick to interpret the current political struggle in Malaysia as one that pitted the Muslims against the non-Muslims and the Malays against the non-Malays, specifically the Chinese.

    I was surprised by his choice to interpret the political events in Malaysia through this narrow lens, especially given his diplomatic experience, rather than to examine the political forces in Malaysia as part of a larger global trend where regimes that were once seen as impregnable, were brought down through a peaceful electoral route. And it is this route which the opposition forces in Malaysia are committed to.

    Malaysia’s Barison Nasional (BN) coalition is currently the longest ruling government via popular elections in contemporary political history. But it is not the longest. The Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI ruled Mexico unchallenged from 1929 to 2000 with regular elections at the presidential, gubernatorial, legislative and municipality levels. It dominated state institutions, the legislature and every state governorship and its rule was seemingly unchallengeable. But in the 2000 presidential elections, the PRI candidate, Franciso Labastida Ochoa, lost to PAN’s Vicente Fox Quesada, a former Coca-Cola executive and governor of Guanajuato, in a three horse race.

    In 2000, the uninterrupted rule of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in Taiwan was also ended with the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP’s) Chen Shui Bian, also in a three horse race.

    More recently, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had dominated post-war politics in Japan for more than half a decade, lost the 2009 general elections to the Democratic Party of Japan (DP).

    Other less well known dominant party regimes that have lost power via the electoral route include the Socialist Party in Senegal (1960 to 2000) and the Colorado Party in Uruguay (1947 to 2008).

    What did these regimes have in common? Many years of political dominance had led to ever increasing amounts of unchecked corruption. Inter elite splits within the ruling coalition had slowly weakened them over time. And the opposition had consolidated and / or strengthened over time in order to pool their forces to defeat the long ruling regime.

    This is the context in which Malaysia is finding itself today. Given Malaysia’s electoral system i.e. a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, the opposition cannot count on winning power via elite splits in a presidential race. Furthermore, in a grossly malapportioned electoral system, the only way in which the opposition can win a majority of seats is by winning at least some of the semi-urban and rural seats on top of the urban seats it overwhelmingly won in the 2013 general elections. And given that these semi-urban and rural seats are predominantly Malay or Bumiputera (in Sabah and Sarawak), this would mean that the opposition would have to win a larger % of the Malay and Bumiputera vote. No one in the opposition is deluded in thinking that we can win a majority of seats just by winning an overwhelming majority of non-Malay and especially Chinese votes. Nor are we deluding our supporters into thinking this.

    Indeed, Ambassador Kausikan should be reminded that 40 Bumiputera (39 Malays and 1 Kadazan) opposition Members of Parliament were voted into office in the 2013 general elections compared with just 32 Malay MPs in the 1999 general elections which saw PAS emerging as the largest opposition party.

    What we want to do, in fact, what we HAVE to do, is to build a broad-based coalition which can win at last 60% of the popular vote (which would mean winning a significant percentage of the Malay and Bumiputera vote). We can do this not just by highlighting the excesses in terms of corruption and abuse of power by the ruling coalition, the rise in the cost of living due to the ham fisted implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the pathetic attempt by the ruling coalition to raise inter-ethnic tensions but also by presenting a set of clear policy alternatives on how a new opposition coalition can govern better compared to the ruling regime.

    Ambassador Kausikan is right to say that Singapore has “no choice but to work with whatever system or leader emerges in Malaysia.” But one cannot help but wonder if his fears about a possible transition in power in Malaysia, especially one that is peaceful and well-ordered, is driven more by his fears of such a possibility in Singapore in the distant but foreseeable future than for his concern of what might happen in Malaysia?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/singapore-is-not-an-island

  • How can our Natural Resources and Environment Minister be so ignorant about Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA)?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 6th of October

    How can our Natural Resources and Environment Minister be so ignorant about Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA)?

    I was shocked to read a report by Bernama yesterday which quoted Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar as having said: “Singapore recently gazetted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act adopted this year allowing them to take action such as summons on their own companies that caused haze. If (we have) jurisdiction through laws being drafted we can take action against all parties, whether they are from Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore.”[1]

    He was also reported to have said that the laws which Malaysia will propose are different from the current laws in Singapore which allowed action to be taken only against Singaporean companies.

    I was hoping that the new Natural Resources and Environment Minister would prove to be a more capable replacement to his predecessor but it appears that I was mistaken.

    If the Minister had been reading the news, especially coming from the Singapore media, he would have realized that Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) allows the Singapore authorities to go after any companies which were responsible for contributing to the haze problem including non-Singaporean companies.

    I quote a press release by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) on the 25th of September which stated the following[2]:

    “The Singapore Government has written to four Indonesian companies for contributing to haze pollution as provided for under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA). Under the THPA, haze pollution is said to have occurred if the 24-hour PSI remains at 101 or higher for 24 continuous hours or longer. Haze pollution as prescribed under the THPA has occurred for four periods since 10 September 2015.

    From investigations so far, there are indications that the haze may have been contributed by fires in lands held via concessions under four Indonesian companies, namely:

    1. PT Rimba Hutani Mas;
    2. PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries;
    3. PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa; and
    4. PT Wachyuni Mandira”

    While some of the shortcomings of the THPA have been highlighted including the low SGD$2million fine for companies, some of which have revenues in the billions of dollars, the fact is that this law allows the Singaporean authorities to go after companies in Indonesia for contributing to the haze.[3]

    If the Minister is ignorant about the parameters of Singapore’s landmark haze pollution act, one wonders what other shortcomings will be present in Malaysia’s own haze pollution act, if and when it is tabled in parliament?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v8/ge/newsgeneral.php?id=1176890

    [2] http://www.gov.sg/news/content/singapore-sends-notices-to-four-indonesian-companies-and-seeks-information-from-singapore-listed-app#sthash.7Hymm1yS.dpuf

    [3] http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/going-beyond-the-law-to-fight-transboundary-air-pollution-eugene-k.b.-tan

  • Malaysia demonstrates lack of leadership in climate change issues by being only 1 of 2 ASEAN countries not to submit the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as of 1st of October, 2015

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 5th of October

    Malaysia demonstrates lack of leadership in climate change issues by being only 1 of 2 ASEAN countries not to submit the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as of 1st of October, 2015

    On the 23rd of September, 2014, in his address to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak not only reiterated his promise made at Copenhagen in 2009 to reduce Malaysia’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2020, he stated that Malaysia had already achieved a more than 33% reduction in emissions intensity.[1]

    Unfortunately, we were never told where these emission reductions came from. Indeed, one doubts the authenticity of these numbers as well as Malaysia’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions moving forward, especially given our continued reliance on coal powered electricity generating plants. From a parliamentary reply I received from the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHa), it is projected that the generation fuel mix from coal power plants (which contributes far more towards carbon emissions compared to gas fired plants) would increase from 50% in 2015 to 65% in 2022. The percentage of electricity generation from renewable sources is projected to be at a measly 3% by 2020 (See reply below).

    In contrast, President Obama’s recently announced Clean Power Plan provides strong regulations and incentives to reduce the United State’s reliance on carbon intensive power plants (especially coal power plants) and move towards renewable energy sources.[2] While it is acknowledged that Malaysia and the United States are at very different stages of economic development, it is nonetheless shocking to see the lack of leadership in Malaysia on the issue of climate change.

    The most recent example of this lack of leadership is the fact that Malaysia, together with Brunei, are the only two countries in ASEAN which have failed, as of the 1st of October 2015, to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).[3] The INDCs are an essential component of the process leading up to the Conference of Parties 21 (COP 21) which is scheduled to take place in Paris in December where an ambitious agenda to tackle climate change will be negotiated.

    As of the 1st of October, 119 countries (out of 167) have submitted their INDCs including big developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia and other smaller developing countries such as Liberia, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Malaysia finds itself among countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela as those who have not yet submitted their INDCs.

    This not only puts Malaysia in a poor light especially given our position as the chair of ASEAN for 2015 but also calls into question Malaysia’s preparedness heading into COP 21. This is also part of a larger problem in demonstrating lack of leadership in addressing the most important environmental problem facing the country now which is the haze issue. Resolving this issue requires strong leadership by Malaysia especially in our dealings with Indonesia and how we leverage the ASEAN framework on this matter. I call upon our new Minister for Environment and Natural Resources (NRE), Datuk Wan Junaidi, to give an explanation for this embarrassing lack of leadership on the part of Malaysia.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Parliamentary Reply from KeTTHA on Generation Fuel-Mix from 2015 to 2030

    [1] http://www.pmo.gov.my/home.php?menu=speech&page=1676&news_id=736&speech_cat=2

    [2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change#section-clean-power-plan

    [3] http://newsroom.unfccc.int/

  • Statement of Clarification – Pakatan Harapan and PSM

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, and Khalid Samad, MP for Shah Alam on the 24th of September, 2015

    Statement of Clarification – Pakatan Harapan and PSM

    We refer to Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s (PSM) statement issued today, the 24th of September, 2015, stating that we had lied about the reason why PSM was not invited to the meeting on Tuesday, 22nd of September, 2015 involving PKR, DAP, Amanah and certain NGO leaders. The reason we were told at the meeting by PKR President and Opposition Leader, Dr. Wan Azizah, on why PSM were not invited was because they were opposed to Article 153 in the Federal Constitution concerning the special position of the Malays and the Bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak. Our statement to the press was to inform them of what we were told at this meeting by Dr. Wan Azizah.

  • Challenges to Pakatan Harapan (Part 1)

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on 23 September 2015

    Challenges to Pakatan Harapan (Part 1)

    How will history judge the third attempt at forming an opposition coalition in Malaysia? Only time will tell. But the newly formed Pakatan Harapan faces considerable challenges in preparing to face the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the fight for the nation’s future in the next general election. At the same time, there are also opportunities to be grasped in shaping the identity and platforms for the new coalition.

    In this first part, I will go through some of the challenges of forming this new opposition coalition and argue that this is the right time to launch Pakatan Harapan. In part two, I will outline some of the challenges and opportunities for Pakatan Harapan in preparing for the next general elections.

    While the announcement of the formation of Pakatan Harapan by opposition leader and PKR President, Dr. Wan Azizah, together with DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and Parti Amanah Negara Chairman Mat Sabu seemed like a done deal, there were many forces that were moving behind the scenes to delay or even scupper the formation of this new opposition coalition. Some of this was driven by genuine motivations, other less so.

    Arguments against the formation of Pakatan Harapan

    The arguments made against the formation of a new opposition coalition can be grouped largely into three categories with some overlaps between them.

    The first argument revolves around the notion that because BN-Najib will be so unpopular heading into the next general election, all the opposition parties need to do is to avoid three corner fights in order to get to Putrajaya. Including Amanah but excluding PAS from a new opposition coalition would likely lead to some damaging three corner fights that would detract from this larger objective. Hence, the opposition parties should maintain the status quo and not rock the boat.

    The problem with this argument is that GE2018 (assuming the BN Prime Minister goes full term) will be different from GE2008. Winning a majority of parliament seats is a different ballgame compared to denying the BN a two thirds majority. The expectations of the rakyat have changed together with the political landscape in the country. If there is no official opposition coalition with a concrete platform and manifesto, some voters may just opt to stick with the familiarity of the BN, enough to deny an opposition victory. We also cannot discount the possibility that voter turnout will be lower than in GE2013 if voters do not see a viable opposition coalition to take over the BN. This will inevitably hurt the opposition more than it hurts the BN.

    Furthermore, this argument is predicated on Najib remaining as Prime Minister. What if, for some unexpected reason, Najib is replaced by a rejuvenated and invigorated Muhyiddin prior to GE2018? A Muhyiddin led BN would benefit from a Pak Lah GE2004 boost to its popularity. The opposition parties would then have to scramble, in an uncoordinated manner, to try to find an effective counter to this. With a new opposition coalition in place, we would be in a much better position to plan and prepare for such a possibility and to show how we can do better than the BN, regardless of whether it is a Najib-led, Muhyiddin-led, Zahid Hamidi-led, or Khairy-led BN.

    The second argument against the formation of an opposition coalition revolves around the fear of alienating PAS and losing the Malay vote. The notion here is that PAS is the only opposition party that can reach out to the Malay rural heartland and if they are excluded from the opposition coalition, this voter base will also abandon a PAS-less Pakatan Harapan. A further extension of this argument is that excluding PAS will push the party closer towards working with UMNO thereby decreasing the chances for an opposition victory in the next general election.

    Again, this argument is problematic from many angles. The assumption that only PAS can win or hold on to the rural constituencies needs to be re-examined. Of the 15 parliament seats which the opposition won in 2008 but failed to defend in 2013, 10 were in the PAS stronghold states of Kedah and Kelantan. 7 of these seats were lost in Kedah alone partly due to an inept PAS-led state government that failed to deliver. In contrast, Pakatan in Penang as well as Selangor made gains in GE2013 in terms of vote share. Indeed, it may be fears within PAS that it may not be able to hold on to the Kelantan state government post-Tok Guru Nik Aziz that forced it to put hudud on the agenda post GE2013. The inability of the PAS Kelantan state government to come up with any systematic post flood reconstruction and rebuilding plan may very well come back to haunt PAS in GE2018.

    It is undeniable that Amanah’s ability to capture the Malay vote is still somewhat in doubt. But that is to be expected given that it is only a few months old. There are encouraging signs especially the fact that more than 8000 members have signed up in the state of Kelantan. Amanah is also expected to make a strong push in the southern states of Johor, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan, states which PAS’s presence has been traditionally seen as weak. The political support of the Malay community is fluid, just like that of the other communities. Having a new progressive Islamic party to fight for the hearts and minds of the Malay community is a positive development especially given the reluctance of the current PAS President, Tok Guru Hadi Awang, to attack the many weaknesses and shortcomings of the Najib administration.

    The formation of a PAS-less opposition coalition also does not prevent a future electoral pact to be agreed upon with PAS so that three corner fights can be minimized or avoided altogether especially in the marginal seats, if PAS is willing to come to the negotiating table.

    Finally, the possibility of PAS having a closer working relationship with UMNO is already apparent, with or without the formation of a new opposition coalition. It is likely that Hadi Awang will continue to be manipulated and misled by UMNO into believing that the hudud agenda in Kelantan is still a possibility with the cooperation of UMNO. Given these existing tendencies, would it not be better to force PAS to reveal its political position vis-à-vis UMNO before the next general election rather than after? What guarantees do the other opposition political parties have that a Hadi Awang led PAS will not cooperate with UMNO in a post-GE14 context even without the presence of Pakatan Harapan?

    The third argument against the formation of an opposition coalition is that this is not the right time. More discussion needs to take place and the policy positions of the new coalition needs to be firmed up so that the problems which broke up Pakatan Rakyat does not lead to the breakup of any new opposition coalition. The opposition parties should also go to the ground in order to understand the rural voters and form a coalition that will be able to win their hearts and minds. These are well meaning suggestions but are politically impractical.

    That fact is that the opposition has been dysfunctional since the decision by Hadi Awang to push for the hudud agenda in Kelantan which is a direct contravention of the Pakatan Rakyat Common Policy Framework. The need to fill the leadership vacuum which has been vacated by Najib is all the more pressing given the upcoming budget session in parliament, the worsening economic conditions in the country and the blatant attempts by UMNO to encourage and even organize events that raise the racial rhetoric and temperature in the country.

    It would also not be fair to leave our friends and colleagues in Amanah ‘hanging’, so to speak, after making the very painful decision to leave PAS, their party of struggle for many years, and to form a new progressive Islamic party. The expectation was that Amanah would join a new opposition coalition that would provide leadership to the country in a time of need. Forming the opposition coalition at this time would give Amanah a much boost in its legitimacy and demonstrate its commitment to the opposition cause as well as confirm the commitment of the other opposition parties to its cause.

    Discussions can go on endlessly without any resolutions. The fact of the matter is that the Pakatan Rakyat Common Policy Framework already established the common policy commitments of the then opposition coalition. Pakatan Harapan can adopt the same framework and tweak it as we go along in in accordance to the new political and policy challenges which we will face in the run-up to the next general election. The formation of this new opposition coalition will also allow us to present a united front in the upcoming parliamentary session including the presentation of an alternative budget, something which may not have been possible without the presence of a formal opposition coalition.

    Does the formation of Pakatan Harapan means that we have answered all the arguments against new opposition coalition? I would be naïve to assume so. But it is a good first step towards the bigger and more significant fight that will come at the next general election. In the meantime, Pakatan Harapan will have to face many challenges and try to grasp the many opportunities that will come our way. That will be covered in Part 2 of my statement.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    MP for Serdang
    23rd of September 2015

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