SAVING MALAYSIA: FROM REFORMISM TO OPPORTUNISM

SAVING MALAYSIA: FROM REFORMISM TO OPPORTUNISM
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 7 March 2016

Once again in Malaysia we have witnessed the announcement of that trite cliché:  “there are no permanent enemies in politics”. History has shown us that this is typically spouted by desperadoes and drama kings when opportunism raises its ugly head. The latest round in the Anti-Najib campaign has seen the unspeakable spectacle of former Mahafiraun being made the head of the “Save Malaysia” campaign.

The audacity of naivete

To even think that this declaration of intent by this strange collection of bedfellows can depose the evil regime is an exhibition of the utmost naivete and an exercise in futility. Do they really believe the structures set up by Mahathir to make the incumbents in UMNO impregnable will just give way, especially when the UMNO division chiefs are even more well-fed than before?

The downfall of tyrants and dictators cannot be achieved by declarations alone. History has shown that it can only be achieved by mass direct action involving the ordinary citizens of all ethnic groups. Will Mahathir or any of the other leaders lead this mass movement? Unfortunately, Pakatan Harapan has succeeded in pushing out their former allies PAS who at least provided the Malay masses in past rallies and demonstrations against the UMNO/BN regime.

Pakatan Rakyat representatives were elected because of their declared “reformasi” policies. They have just signed a declaration which seems to affirm UMNO/BN rule with some minor changes in order to “save Malaysia”(sic).

The post-Najib scenario

Presuming Najib is forced to leave the scene, what does this ‘Save Malaysia’ coalition hope for? Mahathir has already declared that his main objective is to “Save UMNO/BN” and releasing Anwar is not even part of the deal!

Does the Pakatan Harapan believe that Mahathir will want to or be allowed to make significant structural changes to the democratic institutions in this country while UMNO/BN is still in power?

Do they really think Zahid Hamidi and the others in UMNO/BN will accede to these reforms?

Real Reforms

Opportunism in its crudest form can be seen when politicians target an individual and not the political regime and political economic system that oppresses, divides and exploits the people. This so-called “Save Malaysia” campaign to only expel Najib but maintain rule of the same racist and exploitative dominant party is nothing short of pure opportunism.

Reforms that do not target the neoliberal economic policies that were set in fast motion by Mahathir in the early Eighties are not serious reforms. Taxes on the rakyat will continue and income disparities will continue to widen while the working class will continue to bear the burden of so-called development.

Najib has merely made more extreme the structures created by Mahathir to entrench the powers of the Executive, emasculate the democratic institutions and provide the means for private enrichment of the elite in this country. Racist and racial discriminatory policies were also entrenched by Mahathir in the early Eighties and further manipulated by Najib until today.

No impunity for old miscreants

Apologists for their new saviour, Mahathir, have already started their own “forgiveness” of this former authoritarian Prime Minister who had wreaked havoc on ethnic relations, mishandled the economy through corruption, enriched selected elites, detained innocent Malaysians without trial (including the author) and sacked the former Lord President. They have tried to create the delusion that ‘born again democrats’ who denounce the current Prime Minister can have their record wiped clean!

Who are these politicians to declare which leader can be forgiven for their past crimes against the people of this country? They say that they “do not hate Mahathir…therefore they forgive”.

What’s hate got to do with it?

As Tina Turner reminded us: What’s hate got to do with it? If these politicians know anything about accountability and justice, they will know that the Malaysian people still want to ensure that these former politicians get their just desserts and repay their dues to the rakyat.

Mahathir has to this day not even apologized to all the victims of Operation Lalang or to the former Lord President whom he sacked in 1988 and now, without one shred of evidence of his own transformation, he dares to strut the Malaysian political stage as a “born-again democrat”!

The people must now demand that the Pakatan Harapan leaders come out and say categorically that when they come into office they will re-open the books on all the financial scandals since the seventies and eighties that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit! According to the social scientist Barry Wain, Mahathir squandered close to RM100 billion during his reign as Prime Minister. The leader of the Opposition knows of these scandals more than anyone else in this country.

In human rights, democracy and justice, there is no place for impunity. Impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. It refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. We are familiar with impunity which is especially common in countries that do not respect the rule of law, that suffer from corruption and have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak and the security forces are protected by the powers-that-be.

The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005 states that:

Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

SUARAM has, since the infamous injustice of Operation Lalang, been in the forefront of the struggle against impunity. We do not want to see impunity being entrenched in this country through the rehabilitation of “born again democrats” and we expect any future governments to bear this in mind. Those who have transgressed against the people must prepare to face the charges on their judgement day here on earth.

THREE VITAL REASONS WE OPPOSE THE TPPA

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 14 Jan 2016

The Malaysian government insists that there are no good arguments for opposing the TPPA. For six years, very few knew the contents of the TPPA except for the corporate lobbyists that had been drafting it in total secrecy. All they said was that it was good for you, good for “free trade” and they just wanted you to support it. Critics were told to shut up on the grounds that they knew nothing about it. Meanwhile, the neo-liberal ideologues have maintained that the opponents of the US-inspired trade agreement do so based on “ideological” rather than substantive reasons.

This is surprising when we bear in mind that among the people who oppose the TPPA are a Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and the world’s most notable public intellectual Noam Chomsky. Let us look at just three good reasons why we oppose the TPPA.

  1. US imperialistic design and MNCs’ domination

Lest anyone has any doubts, the main purpose of US President Obama’s two visits to Malaysia within the last year was to try and speed up the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that is so critical to US capitalism in its effort to check the growth of China’s trade relations in the region. It is naïve for neo-liberals to claim that this TPPA is in the interest of promoting free trade in the Asia Pacific when they blithely ignore the elephant in the region, namely China! The TPPA’s blatant exclusion of China from this trade agreement is clearly the next stage of the US’ ‘Pivot to Asia’ after their military encirclement of China with a noose of military bases and warships.

This article is by no means a defence of China or China’s interests in the region; rather, it is a condemnation of US imperialistic designs which are not in the interest of free trade and harmonious co-existence in the region. US imperialistic designs do not just take a military form; they stretch into strategic economic forays by US-based Multi Nationals in an effort to exclude China from this so-called “free trade” agreement.

The TPPA is clearly more than just a trade deal; it also imposes parameters on non-trade areas. This is the point stressed by Joseph Stiglitz. It sets new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and internet freedom, requiring countries to maintain compatible regulatory regimes; facilitate corporate financial transactions; establish copyright and patent protections to govern intellectual property rights and to safeguard foreign investors.

The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism is the extrajudicial process written into the TPP (Chapter 28), whereby governments can be dragged before tribunals by corporate lawyers if they think national (health, environmental, public policy) laws violate their TPP rights or limit the MNCs’ expected profits.   These corporate lawyers can decide whether our national environmental laws, safety regulations, public policy, or labor laws get in the way of the MNCs’ profits. Thus, it has been pointed out that when Egypt attempted to raise its minimum wage recently, a French water concessionaire operating in the country lodged an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) suit against the Egyptian government.

Under the agreement, pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as “advisers” can challenge any attempt to make generic drugs more affordable by claiming that such measures undermine their new rights granted by the (TPPA) deal. In the financial sector, the agreement will water down regulatory safeguards put in place after the 2008 financial crisis and block any ban placed on risky financial products, including those toxic derivatives that contributed to the crisis in the first place.

Chapters 9, 10, 11 of the TPPA provide a free rein to the operations of international finance capital via the dismantling of capital controls, prohibition on financial taxation and by undoing the stabilizing tools set up in certain economies to counter the 2008 financial meltdown. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has warned that the TPPA presents “grave risks” as it “serves the interests of the wealthiest”.

  1. Negative impact on Malaysian SMEs

According to the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) study of the impact of the TPPA on the Malaysian economy and society,

“there is potential for negative impacts on Bumiputera businesses and SMEs but these impacts appear to be largely mitigated based on the concessions secured by Malaysia. The potential negative impacts are mainly due to Bumiputera businesses being domestic oriented, and dependent on Government contracts and vendor programmes. However, there is a need to transform Bumiputera businesses and SMEs to reap the full benefit of the TPPA…Despite the concessions; there is a need for programmes to increase the competitiveness of Bumiputera businesses and SMEs, especially in the areas that will be open to foreign competition.”

According to the same study, only 38 % of the SMEs in Malaysia are Bumiputera owned while the majority are Non-Bumiputera owned and operated. While it is not clear how Bumiputera businesses which are not dependent on Government contracts and vendor programmes are expected to cope, as usual the Government does not elaborate on how, if any, the 62% of the Non-Bumiputera-owned SMEs will be assisted during the onslaught by these multi-national corporations after the TPPA is in place.

In recent years, SMEs in the services sector have been affected by increasing international competition. This is a major concern for SMEs which have not been able to develop their capabilities or to grow when the sub-sectors were liberalised. It is therefore surprising that the Chinese community, especially the mainly Chinese-operated SME sector has not been more vocal in their response to the TPPA.

  1. Erosion of democracy and human rights

The TPPA does not look good for democracy and human rights in the participating countries. First of all, the secrecy of the TPPA negotiation process itself was an affront to the principles and practice of democratic governance.

It has been claimed by the US government that the TPPA will be in the interest of Malaysian workers because the Malaysian government will have to abide by the stipulations relating to labour standards. Organized labour in the United States has criticized the TPPA, arguing that the trade deal would largely benefit big business at the expense of workers in the manufacturing and service industries. Noam Chomsky has also warned that the TPPA is “designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages”.

The White House has said that the TPPA is “a high standard trade agreement that levels the playing field for American workers, and businesses, supporting more made in America exports and higher paying American jobs”. In fact the logic of neoliberal trade agreements like TPPA is to drive jobs to wherever they are the cheapest without a care for labor rights and labor protections as has been clearly evident in the record of MNCs all these years.

Since when have the MNCs championed international standards for workers’ rights throughout the world? Have MNCs suddenly developed a soft spot for “Trans-Pacific” workers compared to workers in the rest of the world? Would the Malaysian Government and MNCs like us to believe that the anti-union laws and policies that have been in place in this country since the Free Trade Zones were established in the seventies will give way to a new deal for all workers in Malaysia once the TPPA is ratified? Can the government spell out in no uncertain terms what workers can expect in terms of organization and workers’ rights when we ratify the TPPA?

The chapter on Labor and labor rights (Chapter 19) offers nothing substantive or meaningful, merely fluffy minimal enforcement of worker’s rights, and mandated “cooperation” to diffuse adversarial relations between workers and employers. It also contains provisions that allow foreign companies to bypass Malaysia’s industrial courts during labour disputes by the setting up of a ‘labour council’ to mediate such disputes, and if a resolution is not reached in 60 days, the case can be referred for arbitration through the ISDS system.

It has also been pointed out that the TPPA will facilitate corporations’ control and possession over what people all over the world have come to expect as their “commons”. Hence, the internet will be increasingly privatized and subject to surveillance while the right to privacy, open communication, reporting, comment, teaching and research will be curtailed. The restrictive interpretation of US Copyright and Intellectual Property laws would become the global standard. This has grave consequences for the freedom of expression and right to information.

The human right to health will be curtailed when the TPPA reduces access to basic life-saving generic medicines and medical procedures while public health measures will be privatised and medicines and medical services become unaffordable. And according to Food & Water Watch, under a TPPA regime, “agribusiness and biotech seed companies can now more easily use trade rules to challenge countries that ban GMO imports, test for GMO contamination, do not promptly approve new GMO crops or even require GMO labeling.”

Thus, the human right to a safe environment and the sovereignty of our nation will be curtailed when the MNCs can sue the local government that tries to put a moratorium on mining or other resource extraction that are hazardous to health of the local community.

We demand full public consultation on TPPA

It is instructive that with the election of the reform-minded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada, the Council of Canadians has demanded a full public consultation before Trudeau goes any further with the deal. They have cited concerns over how the TPPA would impact human rights, health, employment, environment, and democracy. Since our Prime Minister has often professed to be likewise concerned about reform and transformation, we call on the Government to undertake a full public consultation on this potentially disastrous treaty and to answer the questions we have raised.