Malay Speaking Christians: Thank your Great Government For Saving You!!!

I swear to the many alliterations of God, I (a proud godless atheist) will keep this one short. I just wish to question the claims of the self-anointed keepers of the Muslim faith in Malaysia and take it to their own logical conclusion. Specifically the 2 claims (which I have enjoined) that:

Christians using the word Allah will confuse Malay speaking Muslims and also that this is done specifically to convert them.

Ok, can these assertions be tested? Why not? The word Allah has now been used by Malay speaking Christian natives in Sabah and Sarawak for over 100 years, and even longer in Indonesia (but I know nothing about the Indonesians so I'll keep out of that).

Thus, we should have over 100 years of evidence to work with. Shall we proceed? Just two simple questions.

1. How many Malay speaking Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak have been confused and converted to Christianity due to the Christians' use of the word Allah? And remember we are including in this many years of British rule where the self-anointed guardians of Islam would have had to play a subservient role to the Anglican denominated British Christians.

Thousands, hundreds, zero? Answers on a postcard please. Certainly even the greatest guardians of the faith will have to admit the number approaches zero.

2. In this same period of time how many Malay speaking Christian natives in Sabah and Sarawak who had used Allah to describe God in their Bible been converted to Islam?

Just thousands, tens of thousands, or perhaps even more?

I posit to you that in this period, the use of the term Allah in the Malay language Bible has coincided not with the mass conversion of Malay speaking Muslims to Christianity, but indeed the not insignificant (though admittedly not mass) conversion of Malay speaking Christian natives to Islam in Sabah and Sarawak.

Perhaps the government should further encourage the word Allah to be used in bibles? Seems a great way to spread the word of Islam among Malay speaking Christian natives of Sabah and Sarawak if you ask me.

Christians, on the other hand should thank the benevolent government of Malaysia for forcing them to use the word Tuhan instead. Now no longer will you be confused and converted to Islam....

But hey, what does an atheist know anyway?


UMNO's Schlieffen Plan for Electoral Victory-Avoiding a Two Front War

UMNO's behaviour (and by UMNO I am taking a broad perspective by including their radical proxies like Utusan Malaysia and PERKASA) post election has been very focussed. It is about the Malay heartland, and to hell with other issues. The economy, foreign affairs, infrastructure, federal-state relations, have all taken a backseat to this one issue. It is easy to say that this is because of the upcoming UMNO elections, which usually brings forth the nationalistic chest-beating, keris waving antics of defenders of the race, religion and country (all so Netanyahu like....), and that later this issue will suddenly become less pertinent. But I think in this case it is a conscious decision post-election to focus all offensive efforts on one front at the expense of a defensive play on other fronts. I'd like to study this through the prism of the Schlieffen Plan.

The infamous Schlieffen Plan (handsome bastard above) was the German army's plan to avoid fighting on two fronts simultaneously, so as to ensure victory on both the Western (i.e. French) and Eastern (i.e. Imperial Russian) fronts. Finalised in 1905, the plan was made on the realisation that Germany would probably lose a war fought simultaneously on its two borders. It called for a sudden sweep into France to defeat the French while holding minimal troops in the East to await Russian attack (the Russians being French allies). The Germans figured it would take the Russians 40 days to get everything right to attack so the French had to be defeated very quickly. Thus stage one called for offensive action in the West with as many troops as possible and pray the Russians would take their time. Once the French were defeated, troops will be switched to East Prussia and Silesia to take on the Russians. The key was to always avoid wars on both fronts at the same time.

Indeed, this was the main German preoccupation (obsession really) as WW1 kicked off in 1914. The Schlieffen plan kicked off and failed. The French had British help and the Germans expected the Belgians to collapse but they did not. They held their ground and the Russian attacked about 20 days after war was declared, forcing a transfer of troops eastwards. The Germans spent the next 4 odd years fighting on multiple fronts and finally sued for peace. Indeed, the plan was hatched on the premise that Germany could never win a two front war. Some have argued that WW1's fate was decided in September 1914 rather than September-October 1918. The key was to always focus on one front, and be defensive on the other. Being forced to fight on different fronts simultaneously means being unable to be pro-active, and by always reacting, defeat will eventually occur.

Does UMNO have a similar plan? Has it decided that in the last election (indeed in the last 5 years) it has tried to put out too many fires, and succeeded in attaining their worst electoral outcome in their history? Has it now decided to go with their own version of the Schlieffen Plan? I think so, but I feel that here it will succeed because it already faced the very worst and held their nerve unlike the Germans. Now their plan may succeed.

In recent months we have seen the government prepared to make concerted efforts only on the 'Malay' front-a powerful, blitzkrieg to 'shock and awe' the enemy, to sidestep them and leave them pulverised. On other matters, it has, if not conceded ground, at least maintained a defensive posture. Petrol prices have been allowed to rise, making them somewhat unpopular. The TPPA negotiations continue despite popular misgivings, and nothing much, if at all has been done to win back the heart and minds of both urban and minority voters. This seems to me to be somewhat distinct from their pre-election policy of fighting the opposition on so many varied issues. Is this a deliberate ploy, or just an unplanned chain of events? Is this the outcome of electoral events? Have they decided that they have no chance of winning certain groups and must now concentrate on their last bastion of votes? Is this the outcome of fighting on simultaneous fronts?

If it is, I think it is a brilliant tactic. How does the opposition react? Can it out Malay UMNO? How will the 'nons' react? Will the coalition fracture? Or will they choose to launch an attack elsewhere? And if they do, will we see UMNO merely play defensively there and continue their offensive on the front they wish to fight pro-actively?

Certainly their Schlieffen Plan seem more watertight than Germany's for several reasons, which I outline below:

First, Germany had very unreliable allies, who's collapse meant the Germans would face a third front from the Balkans (Bulgaria and the Ottoman's surrendering) and a fourth from the Tyrolean Alps as the Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared. UMNO's allies have already collapsed. UMNO's moment of great weakness was in 2008, when they had to react to MCA, MIC and GERAKAN's demise. When the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgaria sued for peace Germany gave up the fight. UMNO did not. They stood their ground, and held firm. Germany in 1918 found that for all its military strength it was in reality only as strong as its weakest point-its weakest point was its allies, and so was UMNO's. But in 2013 it has only one strong, reliable ally (PBB). The rest are there for window dressing and not expected to contribute. UMNO stands strong, not having to come to the rescue of its lapdogs like in 2008 and 2013 election. Germany found its troops everywhere, facing the British Empire in the Middle East, fighting the Italians at Caporetto and in the Balkans due to the incompetency of its allies (well I'll excuse the Bulgarians but that is another story for another day...). It had to fight its own battles and then some. UMNO had to do the same 2 elections in a row, but now it will concentrate just on its own heartland.

Second, Germany also had to face a new reality-the Allies were strengthened by the late entry of the USA with all its manpower and industrial strength just as German allies started collapsing. UMNO in 2008, on its knees was ready for decapitation but PR could not find their USA. No one from Sabah jumped, and that surely would have finished them off. Again post-2013 election Sabah and this time Sarawak could have jumped again, but that boat has now long sailed past.

Third, while not playing into the hands of the 'stab in the back' brigade, Germany was also defeated by its internal dissension. The socialists, communists, hungry citizens and mutinous troops made the situation untenable for the Kaiser's government. It was simply the final straw given the collapse of its allies, the strength of the opposition post-US entry and budding civil war at home. UMNO also was sabotaged internally in 2008, and to a lesser extent in 2013, but held firm. The Kaiser abdicated and left the country in turmoil, as the Social Democrats tried to take a grip on things. It was an external power transfer as a monarchy gave way to a new (Weimar) republic. Badawi gave way to Najib-it was an internal transfer of power.

Come post-2013 election, the worst has probably passed for UMNO. It no longer relies on its allies, keeping them just for window dressing. The opposition can't find its USA. UMNO no longer tries to please everyone, and simply tries to ensure it does not lose anymore support where they now struggle (e.g. urban areas, minorities), and concentrates on not just keeping its support base but by trying to destroy the opposition's chance of winning the so-called Malay-rural vote.

Thus, I argue that what happened to Germany in November 1918 could have happened to UMNO in 2008 and again recently, but not now. The failure of the Schlieffen Plan rendered events that occurred a logical outcome of its said failure. UMNO's failure in two successive elections was due to it not having a Schlieffen Plan though, when it should have had one. However, it now does (or so I think).

Has Mahathir and co. cracked what Germany never could?


PTPTN Education Loans in Malaysia and HECS in Australia

The issue of education loans for university entry in Malaysia was an election issue with the opposition arguing for free education and the government maintaining that their loan scheme is more responsible, owing to the fact that they need to avoid increasing the budget deficit (well they did not say that but that is understood) and that the current system allows those who could not otherwise pay for tertiary education can still access universities via the loan scheme.

Now we have the issue of high number of loan defaults and this seems to have raised contrary views on social media, with some sympathetic to the defaulters and others insisting they should pay up. So where do I see the issue?

First, it is important to discuss the Economic term 'externality'. What this essentially means is that a certain action or activity undertaken for private benefits will result in a 'spillover' to society. Negative externalities are well understood by society. For example, we argue that that the production of coal results in a negative externality. The producer is only considering his or her private benefit and private costs of producing coal. The benefit is the price received and the cost is the, well, the cost incurred in producing the coal. For the private producer the cost includes aspects like cost of labour, rent, extraction costs, transportation and various govt taxes and levies. It DOES NOT include the cost to society in the form of pollution. In this case social marginal cost exceeds private marginal cost, but since cost decisions made by the producer reflect the latter, too much coal will be produced. This is the thinking behind a carbon tax-to better reflect the true cost of producing carbon products. With negative externalities we produce too much from a societal point of view.

Positive externalities are far less understood. This is where we produce too little of the product from a societal point of view because the producer is only considering the private benefit and the value of the private benefit is less than the societal benefit. A simple example I give my students is a neighbourhood where a particularly keen amateur gardener does wonders to his or her front lawn. It looks beautiful, raises the value of homes around it and gives pleasure to the neighbours when they stroll around with their kids in the evenings. But the gardener is only doing it for him/herself, not for 'society'. Consequently he or she is producing too little 'garden beauty' and should do even more, but he or she is merely doing enough given his or her private benefit and private cost. In order to encourage more gardening the neighbours (as society) should provide incentives to the gardener-buy their tools and fertiliser for example. in other words, subsidise the cost so 'output' will increase such that the outcome will closer mirror societal benefit.

Thus it is with education. Governments everywhere encourage education precisely because they understand that education producer positive externalities-they spillover into society in a good way. Greater levels of education produces more stable societies that value longer-term outcomes and encourages civil society. The education received rubs off on those close to the educated as they pass on their knowledge to others. but the decision to enter into education is based on private costs and private benefits, and ignores societal benefits. I mean who on earth decides to go to university because it will make 'the country better?' Pretty much no one-we do so because it'll make us better off, or at least we think it will. Hence, on private decisions, society will under-invest in education. In order to make education more attractive (either by encouraging more people to study or to encourage current students to study more) we can lower their private cost by subsidising education. This is partially why education is subsidised.

Second, we need to understand the uncertainty of future income streams arising out of investment decisions made at present. Entering university for 3-4 years is an investment decision. We forego current income by not working now, plus we pay fees to study in the hope that our return on investment in the form of better future jobs and salaries will offset the costs incurred. The costs can be substantial for tertiary education, even after the subsidy. And like small business owners or entrepeneurs, credit is difficult to come by, and if they do manage to access credit, face punitive interest rates from the free market that reflect the uncertainty of future investment returns and lack of collatoral. This then makes the potential investment even more unattractive.

Hence government sponsored education loans. They are two types of these: loans that must be repaid at an interest rate lower than the market rate (i.e. PTPTN), or income-contingent loans (i.e. HECS - Higher Education Contribution Scheme. This is indexed to inflation only in Australia; hence no interest rate applies). Both are also schemes that make it more likely that those from poorer backgrounds manage to enter tertiary education by reducing the cost of education in terms of the value of repayments. In this case they are lowering private costs and hence 'subsidising' the private costs and better reflect positive externalities.

However, the former demands repayment whether or not the investment decision worked out or not. Hence, someone who fails to get a job has to re-pay. The latter, on the other hand, better captures uncertain outcomes on future returns to current investments, by making re-payment contingent on a positive return to investment. You re-pay if you actually end up earning more than a certain amount of money only. For example, if you earn less than a threshold income, you simply pay the normal tax rate. If you earn more, you start paying the normal tax rate + a certain percentage reflecting how much more you earn. And this can be quite punitive. Someone doing very well faces a top tax threshold of 46.5%, 1.5% medicare levy and a HECS repayment of 8% for example. If the education investment really worked out extremely well for you, we'll ensure you pay it back very quickly. If the investment was a poor decision, we (the government which represents society, that provided the loan) will kop it sweet.

This ensures that the true costs and benefits of higher education are shared by the individual investor and society as pooled financial investors. This also breeds greater certainty and encourages investment in education at the margins, though perhaps it may just increase investments into education too much such that those not best suited to do so decide to enter into education. If so, this will lead to higher than expected poor returns insofar as these individuals do not earn past the threshold.

How has this worked out? Non-repayment rates can be fairly high, thus meaning that the government burden is high but with the PTPTN is that not also the case? Nevertheless, there is no default; the student is not being chased to repay even if they cannot afford to repay. The 'loan' simply remains to be repaid until such time it can be repaid, if ever (no idea if it is taken from the estate of the deceased loanee though). This works out better for women and those from poorer backgrounds. For the former, this is obvious with time out for childrearing. There is no pressure to pay when earning $0 while taking care of the future generation. I read somewhere a number of years ago that up to 25% of females will never fully repay the HECS loan-this reflects childrearing (though the Australian labour market is highly gender segregated and female dominated jobs tend to pay far less than male dominated work). Also, this encourages those from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds to enter into tertiary study because the cost of failure to earn a return on the investment is lower than under the PTPTN. Also, it does not involve families. The PTPTN nominally excludes family financing but in reality families need get involved to repay the loan if the student is unable to do so. This is a potential consideration for students, or should be at least (though do teenagers think of this?).

Finally, I would argue that the HECS is also fairer insofar as we are asking teenagers to decide on future investments. They can't even decide which nightclub to visit, much less which university, which course and which occupation to go for. They are too idealistic and wish to study what they like, irrespective of what the outcome is. This I know-year in, year out I talk to teenagers who want to study music and the like. I can tell them about how all of my friends who studied music ended up working at the front counter of fast-food restaurants but they do not care. We give out education loans to teenagers who are not really capable of making a proper cost-benefit analysis of their education decision. This is highly irresponsible behaviour, especially when we do not give them proper information on future labour demand and remuneration information. And can we anyway? Demand for lawyers today, for example, could be very different in 5 years time.

Overall, HECS is a system Malaysia should consider. It captures both positive externality AND uncertain investment outcomes. It makes it easier for women and those from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds to undertake the decision to enter into tertiary education, and better reflect the shared burden between the individual and society. In theory it will cost more than PTPTN since there is no actual need for full repayment but I have no idea what the PTPTN default rate is, so perhaps not. It also ensures families will not have to help a defaulter repay.

I am incredibly surprised that this scheme was not implemented in Malaysia. Variants of HECS have been implemented in 24 countries including Thailand. It has recently been implemented in England and Wales as well, one of the biggest tertiary education markets in the world. It s certainly something that needs to be considered. Given the unlikely option of free education, surely this is something some politician in Malaysia can bring up?


The Defenestration of Cairo: Vive la revolution!! (so long as I agree with it thank you very much....)

The recent terrible events in Egypt has had me wondering what history (or my understanding of it at least) can teach us as to what is going on, and to where it is headed.

First, revolutions are messy and often long-drawn out affairs. The French Revolution kicked off around 1790 and pretty much ended upon Napoleon's defeat in 1815. In that period, it spread from Paris and at its height, saw French troops occupying Moscow. At its end, France, and indeed Europe was forever changed but not in the manner foreseen by their protagonists. The Russian revolution pretty much ran for 5 years (1917-22). The collapse of the Eastern Bloc in a frenzy of shouts declaring the victory of capitalism (Francis Fukuyama's now infamous 'end of history') did not bring forth milk and honey to their citizens overnight-indeed, many are now living in economic conditions worse, or certainly not much better than that in the dying years of authoritarian government.

Second, revolutions are rarely controllable in the hands of their protagonists. Gorbachev wanted reform (perestroika), and saw the collapse of the Soviet Union instead. Robespierre dreamed of creating a country of active, virtuous citizens and France ended up with mass executions, and an imperialist, self appointed emperor called Napoleon Bonaparte (Robespierre himself ended up executed). The Protestants who threw the Catholic apparatchiks out of the window in Prague (the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618) surely had no idea they just started the Thirty Years War which ended up with so many religious deaths and social dislocation of a great scale and an end to Catholic supremacy in continental Europe (though the end result was what they wanted, they probably did not even dare dream it possible). Marinus van der Lubbe, a young Dutch communist set the Reichstag on fire, probably to start a communist uprising, ended up giving Hitler a pretense to declare an emergency and suspend parliament. The Nazi dictatorship was born instead. Tarek Bouazizi, the young man who set himself on fire to protest his feeling of helplessness at the face of a bleak future, set the tinder for the now proclaimed Arab Spring-who knows what he would have thought of all the dead civilians in Egypt and Syria, not to mention Bahrain (though he surely did not dream his act would lead forth to such significant change)?

Third, successful political revolutions almost certainly require a degenerative, rotting system that simply needs to be pushed to collapse, such is the weakness of its foundations. This narrative is often missing, replaced instead by the dashing, brave if foolhardy leadership of men (always men) of bravado and indefatigable belief in their righteousness such as Robespierre, Lenin, Castro and Guevara. But would they have succeeded in the face of a powerful state apparatus? All of them faced a weakened government. Louis XVI led a bankrupt state that could not feed its people; Tsar Nicholas II was head of an increasingly bankrupt empire bleeding to death on the Eastern Front in WW1. Castro faced a right-wing dictator in Batista, much reviled by Cubans. The Ayatollah Khomeini's arch-nemesis the Shah of Iran, Pahlevi, was universally hated by Iranians. Successful governments would not face revolutions for obvious reasons, but even unsuccessful ones can fend them off should they maintain a modicum of control; prime upon these the ability to divide the opposition. It is when they fail to do this, coupled with decisive leadership from the opposition that they tend to collapse. Louis XVI was hated by the middle class and the poor together. He managed, almost inconceivably to unite the hungry, the greedy (mercantile class), the ideologues (i.e. the Jacobins and Girondins). All he had to do was take one group out of the equation but he was too blind or incapable of doing even that. Lenin seized power with the aid of not just the far left Blosheviks, but also the Mensheviks, other social democrats and even the middle class, such was their hatred of the Tsar that they put their own enmities aside. The Iranian Revolution was hardly Islamic on its own-it was led by the ayatollah no doubt, but many on the ground were also communists, socialists, reformers and the young wishing for a more democratic future. The Shah was also incapable of dividing this group such that we ended up with the Islamists working together with the atheist communists in concert against a common enemy.

We see all three in Egypt today, though true to form with the rest of the Arab Spring, we are missing the dashing hero of the revolution. This is indeed unusual. Even the collapse of the Eastern Bloc had indirect heroes in the shape of Kohl, Havel, Walesa, Reagan, Thatcher and the buffoonery accidental heroes of Gorbachev and the truly helpless Egon Krenz, the butt of all jokes. But who are the Arab Spring direct or indirect heroes? For a culture full of strongmen over the centuries, this is quite an unexpected turn of events. The hero could indeed be the greatest grandmaster of all-social media. But as I noted earlier, what is more important is degenerative authority.

The collapse of the Mubarak regime led forth to the unraveling of the temporary alliance between competing forces-the liberal middle-classes, the leaderless working class, the well organised Islamists, the opportunists military jumping out of a sinking ship and the Coptic Christians hoping hard to be protected by the new government. For a moment they were uniting by a common hatred and a common enemy. But they fought for their own reasons. Now that the bastard is gone, swords are drawn at 20 paces.

There is a vacuum in place. The revolution's first phase of deposing a corrupt degenerative system has succeeded. But who will take over power? Who's revolution is it?

Robespierre destroyed anyone with even a modicum of an alternate view-the revolution was his, and he fully utilised the arch-propagandist Jean-Paul Marat with his vitriolic, hate filled publication 'Friend of the People'. Basically (for Malaysian readers), this was Awang Selamat writing in Utusan Malaysia. The many views of the revolution could not be accommodated-only one view could be. Lenin also proceeded to turn on his allies, though to be fair they were also turning on him. He was simply put, the winner, though it is clear that he was never ever going to share power with those not of of his worldview. The Islamists in Iran destroyed the communists, socialists and progressives. The Iranian Revolution became instead the Islamic Revolution.

Today's revolutionary is tomorrow's counter-revolutionary, just as today's counter-revolutionary is tomorrow's revolutionary. These become meaningless terms. You are on the right side of history only if you win. To hell with right and wrong. The winner of Egypt's revolution will be the one that plays its cards best. Realpolitik will dictate its victor. The Arab Spring is done-it was merely an early stage in the remaking of the Arab world. hopefully what we end up with is better than what was there previously, but all the good intentions in the world will not make it so. How will this all pan out?

I am particularly intrigued by the thinking of the military. Top military leaders are students of history, such is the importance of studying past battles. The Iranian (Islamic) Revolution will not have passed them by. Islamists with no history of democratic participation have shown little willingness to accommodate it, unlike Islamists in other countries who have been allowed to participate in democratic processes (e.g. Turkey, Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia). Having been excluded from participating in society they are only too willing to return the favour. Accommodation with other groups is only temporary; accommodation with democracy, a la Lenin and Hitler is a matter of necessity. The actions of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt must have been viewed with some alarm at military HQ. The sweeping aside of its temporary allies was one thing, but the forced resignation of Tantawi was another. The mass protests against Morsi by his previous liberal, middle-class allies and the disaffected working class was instrumental in giving them a raison d'etre to act in defense of the revolution. Again, who's revolution?

To the Islamists, they mistrust the military, such was its oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood for decades. They distrust the liberal middle-class. Would they have gone the way of the AK in Turkey and become a moderate Islamic party, or like PAS in Malaysia (less secular, more Islamic but respectors of a pluralist system nonetheless) had they been given a chance? Or did they plan to do things a la Ayatollah Khomeini, destroy their temporary allies and impose their will on the country? Fact is, we will never know. They were never given the chance to prove themselves (though some will say they had plenty of time already, but is 1 year enough?).

The middle-class are natural prevaricators. They go with those who can maintain what is important to them. Stability is important to the petite bourgeoisie, in order to maintain their assets and lifestyles. The Murabak regime had increasingly been incapable of maintaining their standard of living. He had to go. They certainly are no supporters of Morsi but surely had he been able to stabilise the economy and left them alone to run their businesses and provide opportunities for their social activities they would not have acted against him. But he was as much a threat to their lifestyle as Mubarak had been proving to be.

The working class want their bread (literally). Whoever can give them food and jobs have their support. Mubarak failed. His economic reforms failed because of the endemic corruption within the system. Morsi failed, as most Islamists do with Economics. It simply isn't a priority for them (the ayatollah complained bitterly of how housewife's in Iran were going on about the price of fruits after the revolution. 'We did not have a revolution so they can complain about the price of fruits!'). If the next mob fails, do not be surprised to see a worker's revolution. After all, they are the ones with the real power. Pity they do not know or realise this, divided as they are among the Islamists, liberals, unemployed, professionals, rural placed etc....

Lastly, the rural-urban divide should not be under-estimated (as Malaysians are learning....). Popular revolutions tend to be urban led. The French Revolution really should be called the Paris Revolution for example. St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad and Moscow sowed the seeds of the Russian Revolution. Military revolutions (Cuba, China) can eschew that, but popular revolutions are urban revolutions. But they still have to persuade the rural people to support them. In the USSR Stalin simply had millions of them starve to death. In France, the rural areas had to be subdued. In Egypt, these are strongholds of the Brotherhood. The press and media are naturally urbanly biased-we always read and write about city concerns. But what goes on in the countryside seems to be neglected. Lenin recognised the power of the proletariat was limited when faced with large rural populations-he knew the revolution, if it failed to be exported to the industrialised West would fail such was the miniscule size of the Russian working class, and so it proved. Popular urban revolution is an agent of change-but in countries where the rural sector is still powerful that alone is not enough. You can breed a successful one in Hong Kong or Singapore, but in Egypt?

In Egypt, we witness many opposing claims. To the Islamists, it was their revolution and the protestors are counter-revolutionaries. And vice-versa. As they fight each other, the only true counter-revolutionary, the Egyptian military is back in power no thanks to the idiocy of liberal and Islamic leaders. While they squabbled for power they left the gate unlocked for the evil bastard to return. For Mubarak was not the man in power-the revolutionaries had aimed their vitriol at the wrong guy. He was just a facade. The military was his support base, and he fell when they withdrew their support. Would he have fallen otherwise? Who knows? The question is moot.

This can only end with the bitter defeat of one immovable force - presently they are two. The Islamists and the military. Both are going nowhere. Where the middle-class and working class choose to go will decisively defeat the other. But can they act decisively? Unlikely? And this the military know only too well. They will do what they can to divide the middle class and working class should they be unable to persuade or co-opt them to join en masse. For students of history they certainly are. For decades now, the Arab govts have successfully kept the Islamists out of power by force-with difficulty of course. With civil war even (see Algeria). But keep them out they have done. Now the military is back in power, you better get used to seeing business as usual as if the revolution never happened. Cosmetic changes sure, but nothing substantial. The counter-revolution has won. Mubarak wasn't the enemy. His degenerative govt wasn't the power base. They were facades of power. All this while, patient and biding their time, was the military. And now, as they have always done usurping power in Egypt, they are reclaiming their historical role in history.

That is my pessimistic reading of the Egyptian revolution-lights out. Nothing more to see here. The Islamist-liberal-working class alliance will not be repaired the next few years. The counter-revolutionary will win. It will be bloody, it will take time, but win they will. Why? Because they understand the lessons of history better than their enemies, and have acted accordingly. All this while the Islamists and non-Islamists continue to boo and hiss at each other. And as usual with successful governments, the military will continue to divide the opposition. For now the non-Islamists have been co-opted. Later if necessary they will ally with a weakened Islamist power base if necessary and attack the liberals should the latter get ideas above their station, just like Morsi dared to do.

Machiavelli would be proud.


Free Trade Agreements (FTA) - My Overview...

The whole TPPA brouhaha once again highlights the intricacies and complexities of FTAs. But what exactly are FTAs and why should we care?

Essentially liberal economic theory suggests that if we allow the factors of production (i.e. machinery, technology, workers, financial capital) to move around freely so it can be used where it has the highest marginal return, then eventually there will be an equalisation of these returns. In other words, expect a worker in Germany who produces iphones to earn the same as one in China. Of course, that is just theory and even proponents of these theories would not take such a conclusion too seriously. What they would state however is that should we be able to have free trade in not just goods and services, but also factors of productions, the most efficient producers (in terms of comparative advantage not absolute advantage) will specialise in what they are relatively better at, and societies across the world will be better off as we trade to buy and sell efficiently produces goods and services. That is why FTAs are argued to be 'good'. By making it easier for those who are relatively better at something to produce that good and sell it to you while you do the same to them makes both parties better off. Why then are FTAs so controversial?

First of course, FTAs are almost always about the greater movement of goods, services and inputs EXCLUDING labour. Essentially how many FTAs do you know beyond the internalising of the EU economy that allows for a free flow of workers across borders? The theory specifically includes the movement of labour to ensure production is efficient. That labour is still highly immobile across borders is a strong reason to be skeptical of FTAs since most production is conducted by workers. It is one thing then to move the machines to HK for example, while the best workers for those machines are holed up in Guatemala. Efficiency is lost, and the theory breaks-down. Again, proponents will say this is admittedly true but that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. FTAs excluding labour is imperfect but this second-best solution is still preferable to no movement of anything whatsoever.

Second, and continuing with the above to a certain extent, FTAs are controversial because of the exclusions and conditions attached to them. I mean, any FTA signed should be on a 1 page document with one sentence. 'We now agree to an FTA with X beginning from Y". End of story. Instead FTAs take years to negotiate and the eventual document will run into well over a thousand pages. Why? Because of CONDITIONS and EXCLUSIONS, that's why!!! This ain't even second-best anymore. It is, well I don't even know what it is now...

Third, why the conditions and exclusions? Because people and countries are not what economists often refer to as homo economicus, or rational man. In such a world we respond only to incentives and disincentives. If a Japanese realises her best marginal return rests with becoming a coalminer in Zimbabwe, then off she goes. What about family, language, culture, history? What about it? Who cares really? What kind of homo economicus worries about such frivolities? It is all about marginal returns man!!! Ok, I just exaggerated, but you get the message. We are more than economic beings. We are also products of our cultures, histories and societies. We sure as hell respond to economic incentives and disincentives, but we also respond to other stimuli. France will never agree to free trade in agriculture because it will destroy their hugely inefficient farmers. They get criticised for protecting their farmers on the basis that the French farmers are a powerful lobby group that wield disproportionate power in the country. All true of course. Much less reported are the concerns of successive French governments, that the destruction of the agricultural sector will also result in a loss of an important part of French culture. Apparently that is just too bad in the eyes of some people...

Fourth, these conditions and exclusions also arise due to power asymmetry. Essentially this means that we aren't equal in terms of our political and economic power, and the more powerful can throw their weight around. Economics really fails to account for politics in its theories. It is a real weakness of ours. For example, our theories on markets tend to marginalise the role of authorities that rule and regulate markets. With FTAs, we tend to be silent (complicit even perhaps?) regarding the role of power-play. By keeping silent, we are saying that we expect these powerful players to be nice and play fair. Ask the Ecuadorian banana farmers how that went....expect the US to push its weight around regarding its interests in the TPPA and for Malaysia to have far less wriggle room.

Fifth, and related to point 3, is the loss of the past. When we concentrate on say producing shoes rather than handicrafts because that is where our comparative advantage lies, we lose a thousands year old history. But we also lose more than the past. Our present is tied to our past. Expect a loss of culture and other societal aspects related to these change sin production. Rapid industrialisation in the UK, China, Indonesia are clear examples of these. Mind you, this is not all bad. I'd argue that some aspects of the past and some cultural traits should be extinguished. But what we create in their stead are also both good and bad. Things will change, Some will be better off, others not. Power play comes into this too.

Finally, even when FTAs produce a net benefit, how do we compensate the losers? For example, say an FTA creates 200,000 jobs and destroys 150,000. The net benefit is positive as we are 50,000 jobs better off. But how do we compensate the losers? The theory explicitly notes that they'll be winners and losers and notes that the losers must be compensated. How? When? 'Ah, ask the government, we are just economic theorists...' What we often see is that even when the losers are compensated it is inadequate. How do you compensate for loss of culture anyhow?

It is a complex issue. I must admit, I am these days rather agnostic about FTAs. I'll agree to support or oppose each one on their merits. But their merits are subjective. In these TPPA debates I suggest we respect our opponents. You may want to protect 100 coconut farmers with a rich history in country X, even if this means we lose the chance to create 10,000 jobs in the banana sector. That is important to you. The other side may be very exasperated with your point of view. 10,000 jobs man, 10,000 jobs, and you care more about 100 farmers? And vice-versa. See their point of view as well. Best to talk to each other, not past each other...


Insulting Religions and Races: The Government Can Take Most Of The Blame

The recent brouhaha over the Alvivi issue insulting Islam and being hauled up to face action has certainly awakened a hornet's nest. But why exactly have we got this palpable anger on the streets? I argue here that this is mainly due to the government's selective prosecution in the past.

A lot of us who think the Alvivi case is overkill need to understand a few things:

1. Two wrongs don't make a right. Pointing out that Ibrahim Ali, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Zulkifli Noordin were left untouched by the authorities for their Christian,Chinese and Hindu bashing does not absolve these two for their actions. Would we argue that Mr. X should not be charged for statutory rape because that national bowler was let off the hook? No, we won't. That is stupid.

These two are not idiots. The guy was an NUS scholar in Law! He at the very least knew what he was up to. This was not the work of an ignorant bigot. This was the work of a very knowledgeable bigot. WTF was he trying to prove? I am all for free speech, but only if we understand that if we think we can say whatever we want, we must be responsible for what we say and do. They purposefully went out to hurt feelings here. For what only they can tell us but they knew full well what their actions would spark.

2. We all know how sensitive Muslims are about insults to their religion. Too sensitive? Absolutely no doubt. Prone to over-reacting? That is stating the bloody obvious. Understandable? Perhaps, perhaps not. Bottom line is why unnecessarily provoke them then? What did Muslims ever do to these two people to deserve this insult? And a grave insult it is too. I for one will never understand the sensitivity Malaysian Muslims have about pork. I hardly think it is a central tent of the religion. But does it matter what I think? Is it not enough that I do know it is sensitive to them, same as other things are sensitive to me (Manchester United fans talking shit for example....)? Why then do this when you end up insulting so many that you have never even met? Maybe it was not meant as an insult-maybe it was meant to provoke Muslims in Malaysia to think about how Hindus feel when you eat beef in the open. Maybe it was an attempt to get them to think that it is better for Muslims to concentrate on the central tenets of their religion such as not being racist, or not taking bribes, rather than to bother with the marginal aspects of the religion such as dietary requirements. YEAH RIGHT!!! It was meant as an insult, I have no doubt about it. Let's not beat about the bush-these two knew exactly what they were doing.

But equally a lot of Muslims who want action taken against them must also understand:

3. That non-Muslims are asking what about Ibrahim Ali, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Zulkifli Noordin also? And this is excluding those bigots who think Islam (and hence Malays) can be insulted but not their own race or religion. These are those who are asking for consistency. These are not those who are saying don't charge Alvivi. These are those who say charge them, but then please charge all the others to.

If you are angry and want action taken against Alvivi but not these three, why? And the answer to your 'why' will be very instructive indeed. I hope it does not show a level of hypocrisy and sense of religious supremacy which I keep getting told, runs counter to the tenets of Islam. But I will find it hard to believe that if you can do that without, at the very least showing hypocritical (if not worse) tendencies. I congratulate PAS for stating the bloody obvious in this case.

4. Have you let them win by their provocations? Note I did not ask the same question to those who think Ibrahim Ali, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Zulkifli Noordin should have action taken against them. This is because there is an unequal power-play between religions in Malaysia. Same as women-only gyms are not seen as sexist but a reflection of a society that (somewhat) still oppresses women while male-only clubs will be seen as discriminatory and sexist, so it is that we must all acknowledge that non-Muslims have to live under the spirit of the Islamic religion (or the particular Malaysian interpretation of it). When the minority is provoked, having already feeling marginalised, they feel even further threatened. I can hardly say the same when the majority is insulted. What threat is there to Islamic dominance?

Mind you, I understand being provoked. I was quite angry, and I am not even Muslim. It just defies common-sense. But I think ignoring them would have been better. They are wannabes, whereas the 3 'gentlemen' I keep mentioning are men of power who should be held responsible for their race and religion baiting. There could have been bloodshed given what these three have being saying. They have power, unlike Alvivi. These two could easily have been ignored. Now they are going to be heroes in some (probably idiot's) eyes. Have we ('we' being all of us who fight racism and religious intolerance) let these bigots win? In this case I think not-I don't think we have made them look like heroes, though no doubt they will be once the govt charges them but not our three 'gentlemen'.

Ultimately the government must take the bulk of the blame for these idiotic action (Ibrahim Ali, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Zulkifli Noordin and Alvivi). Their non-actions, and silence when these bigots attack non-Muslims provokes others. This is especially so when the attack comes via UMNO's racist mouthpiece in the form of Utusan Malaysia. When some idiotic 'others' respond like the bigots they hate but actually ape, the government hits them like a category 5 cyclone! The latest news is that they will not just be up against the Seditions Act, but also some non-descript penal code charge as well as the Multimedia Act. If they had initially charged our three political wonders, then that will shut people up. At the very least it would have shut up those who are saying 'why charge the non-Muslims but not the Muslims?'

Actually to be perfectly frank, I'd be happy if no one was charged as well. Just let bigots make bigoted statements and hope society is mature enough to deal with it. The law must be applied equally, no? Don't just charge the non-Muslims and let the Muslims off the hook in these instances. This creates a heated atmosphere and when the government asks for cool heads to prevail, they are being the biggest hypocrites of all.


Jeffrey Kitingan: Trapping Himself into a Corner

Jeffrey's recent comment about Najib at least granting East Malaysia more cabinet posts than any other PM (though he criticised him for not creating an East Malaysian deputy PM post) continues to highlight his inherent weakness with regard to Sabah autonomy (and I guess Sarawak by implication).

This is a man who seems to live by simple principles, which in itself is no bad thing should these principles be holistic and encompassing of the effective ideals of autonomy. But in his case, I'd say he is falling flat here. Let's look at some of his weaknesses.

First, he is claims that Sabah and Sarawak should be led by locals. That locals should be masters of their own destiny. Now who on earth can possibly stringently oppose such a view? We would all like grassroots representation, no matter where we are. But his is an absolutely simplistic view by the looks of it. In a way, he wants local leadership because he thinks locals care more and are less likely to cheat their own people. But then he goes  on to say he prefers Taib Mahmud to lead Sarawak relative to a West Malaysian. Let's be clear and unambiguous here-Jeffrey Kitingan, defender of the rights of Sabahans (and indirectly Sarawakians) believes that Taib Mahmud, the biggest crook the Malaysian nation has ever seen, the man who has marginalised the Dayaks and Penans and sold their rights (particularly their land rights) to the highest bidder, is a much better choice to lead Sarawakians then say Lim Guan Eng!!! Let us not mince words here. Jeffrey has serious problems removing theoretical niceties from sad realities. His assumption that local leaders care more for their people is clouded by his naïveté of a certain 'kinship' set of beliefs when one leader of a certain kin will always represent their own people and never take advantage of them. Grow up Jeffrey. Get real. Look at Penang today. Led by a man born in Johore and later resident of Melaka. Lim Guan Eng has made Penang a much better place today despite previously having no ties to the island. Taib Mahmud, on the other hand, has raped and plundered his people's land and riches, whilst helping to keep in power the government that, season in season out has continued to sit on our 20 Points rights. Two further points. One, ask yourself who would you trust to carry out Sabah's rights? Lim Guan Eng or any of today's elected Sabah parliamentarians, bar Jeffrey himself? Two, most of Sarawak's 18 points rights remain intact, and in that time it has been ruled by Sarawakians without too much external pressure from Putrajaya since Kalong Ningkon was overthrown ( if anything, Kuching is the one that helps Putrajaya these days). Have these Sarawak leaders done well for their people? It is about effective leadership, not about where these leaders are from. I'll take a good West Malaysian to lead Sabah compared to a Sabah clown, or a leader beholden to Putrajaya. Take the parochial glasses off Jeffrey.

Second, he thinks 'Parti Malaya' should leave East Malaysia alone. However, they have every legal right to be here, and indeed, they have won seats voted in by locals. DAP and PKR have won seats in East Malaysia despite electoral cheating. Let's not even start with UMNO in Sabah. The locals have told you that they accept them. You may not like it, and theoretically I do not either, but I welcome the competition. Local parties with no competition from leaner, meaner parties from across the South China Sea would have it easy and their leaders would just enjoy their spoils of war (see Taib Mahmud above, though now he has competition). But now local parties must compete with them. Let's see how that works out. Already we have seen SUPP all but annihilated in Sarawak, and SAPP get taken to the cleaners in Sabah. Without BN's banners and phantom voters on the east coast of Sabah, LDP would have disappeared as well. But Jeffrey and Yong Teck Lee think they should be 'protected'. If we use business analogy in politics, then 'profitability' is defined by the ability to close the deal. Seats won tell us that PKR and DAP have maximised their profits vis-a-vis local parties bar PBB and PRS. Local parties are great marketeers, and many enjoy watching their  'advertisements', but they always end up buying their goods online, at the DAP and PKR online stores. This competition is good. Don't tell us not to vote for Parti Malaya because they will not do this or not do that while you will do this or that. Not when they have credibility in standing up to BN. Like it or not, you need to use the resources and expertise they have. Join forces and get rid of the biggest obstacle to our rights, which is BN. This brings me nicely to point 3.

Jeffrey thinks all Parti Malaya are the same. This is his greatest mental block. Anyone who thinks DAP and UMNO are one and the same with regard to their lack of concern for our rights is a fool. And I do not use the term 'fool' likely as I have great regard for Jeffrey. He is a man I respect immensely. But this is a view I hold strongly. He thinks Taib Mahmud's PBB will take better care of Sarawakian rights then Lim Guan Eng. Whatever takes your fancy mate. The only reason PBB and Taib Mahmud have fought to maintain Sarawak's rights is to ensure they can continue to plunder its resources without competition from West Malaysians. PBB, PRS, PBS (sadly, for this was once a great party), UPKO, PBRS, SUPP, LDP (not to mention SAPP's many years within the BN camp) are a greater threat to our rights than DAP (note I never mentioned PKR. Anwar would sell our rights in a second for political expediency). These parties may care about our rights but PBB aside they are part of an UMNO+ coalition. They are there to eat the rice that fell of the UMNO table. All they aim do within the system is to help the people where and when it is not against UMNO's interest. In return their leaders get some posts and are fed more morsels in return for telling their people that they are being represented. No, Jeffrey, not all Parti Malaya are the same. Don't judge by geography. Judge by character, judge by record, judge by actions.

Finally, Jeffrey seems to think all these cabinet posts are good for East Malaysia (I am putting words in his mouth here). What, like in 2008? How did that work out for us? Cabotage policy gone? 20 Points back on the agenda? Borneonisation of the public service accelerated? Yeah right....these posts have gone to reward BN MP's with power and prestige. It is not to help us, but to perpetuate UMNO's rule. These ministers may well have good intentions, but how many will quit when they fail to get our rights? ZERO!!!  Only Zaid Ibrahim (another West Malaysian of integrity by the way, better suited to represent Sarawakians than Taib Mahmud) has in recent years had the guts to stand up to he UMNO machinery and quit the cabinet. No Jeffrey, these posts don't help us one bit. They merely help keep BN in power while they continue to rip us off.

Jeffrey seems to think that he can get concessions from BN if he plays his cards right. He thinks that the opposition are no different from BN. He is dead wrong. PR is far from perfect, but they are not part of a system that has marginalised us. They have indeed promised us far more than the BN does. The cabotage policy will be reviewed seriously, we will get our 20% royalty, Borneonisation. Will they lie when they get in power? Maybe, but only one way to find out methinks. Time for Jeffrey to realise he is in danger of becoming irrelevant. His talk of our rights have been adopted by others. His monopoly has been broken. He must recognise also that the people who are fighting for our rights have options, and part of that option is voting for Parti Malaya. Time to wake up Jeffrey. Time to recalibrate. Time to stop looking at theoretical niceties such as assuming that local leaders are better, or that a higher number of ministerial posts prove our rights are being advanced. Time to be less parochial to get our rights because while we must lead it, the truth is we can't just do it by our own, not when many in West Malaysia are wiling to help us get to the holy grail if we help them throw BN out of the levers of power.


Gerrymandering: Is Malaysia so Unique?

I have edited this post upon the receipt of new information:

For those of you with a subscription to Malaysiakini, you should read Ramesh Rajaratnam's piece on gerrymandering in Malaysia (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/229578). It answers a few of the questions I had difficulty getting information on.
Having said that his piece seems a bit inconsistent with the following (http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/bd/bdy/bdy_my). Thanks to Voo Phin Sang for pointing this out.

First, every 10 years or so electoral boundaries are re-drawn with a simple majority vote in parliament. So BN will continue to pass through its preferred boundaries without some support from PR. However, it will no longer be able to add new seats without a 2/3rds majority. This suggests that PR will continue to face a Herculean task in forming govt, requiring close to 60% of the popular vote to form government (according to Rajaratnam) if the populace remains are divided in the next election as we see today and indeed, during the 2008 election.

In the past, Malaysia's electoral boundaries were set up to ensure that the population difference between the smallest and largest constituencies would not exceed 20% (according to Rajaratnam but 15% according to the other article). This was set up to ensure rural constituencies would not be disadvantaged vis-a-vis urban seats, but constitutional amendments in 1962 and 1973 rendered these obsolete. The latter article suggests that these leads to an advantage to Malays in regard to seat allocations being greater in Malay areas but I would think that the migration to urban areas have probably dampened these a bit. As Rajaratnam shows in his article, the gaps in some cases are not far off 10 times the case. For example the 3 smallest parliamentary seats (all BN held) are 15,800 in Putrajaya, Igan (18,000) and Lubok Antu (19,000). The three largest, all PR held are  Kapar (144,000), Serdang (133,000) and Gombak (123,000).

This disparities must now be heavily highlighted should we wish to see a fairer representation in parliament. Pressure must be applied so as to ensure that electoral boundaries are set up in a fair and transparent manner. Some countries like Australia have done it by removing the decision making power away from politicians into the hands of independent bodies. Of course, in Malaysia we know how 'independent' these bodies are. Nevertheless, they can have little choice but to carry out such reforms if the rules set up for them to follow are clear and unambiguous. 

The worst thing we can do is to let parliament decide. The Economist magazine is always highlighting the gerrymandering of seats in California in favour of the party in power at the time boundaries are due to be re-drawn, thus indicating that this is not just an issue for countries with less accountability. Make no mistakes, politicians are the same globally. If we are to have elections where every vote has the potential to have equal representation, it is imperative that the current parliamentary system which sets the boundaries is abandoned in favour of a non-partisan system of creating boundaries. I can imagine that if PR forms government they will also happily gerrymander the system to suit their interests.


'Unfair' results within a first-past-the-post system: debunking some myths

The unfettered crocodile tears emanating out of the eyes of PR leaders post-election regarding a stolen election when the majority voted for them leaves me perplexed. Did they not know what system we practice? First-past-the-post does requires not just unity in the selection of candidates but also a huge election machinery to succeed everywhere. Just look at the UK elections (let's just use Wikipedia and the election outcomes of the 3 main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats)under this system from 1979 to 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_elections_overview). Brackets denote seats won, and percentages the share of the popular vote.

Two points:

First, the highest % take of the popular vote in any of this time going to the govt is in 1979 (43.9%). In 2005 Labour formed govt with just over a third of the popular vote (35.24%). Yet history notes Thatcher's 1983 and Blair's 1997 wins as humongous victories!

Second, the average vote per party is a misleading indicator of seats that can be won. The LibDems pretty much get roughly the same percentage of votes per seat, but 20-odd% of votes per seats usually result in very few seats won. Look at the 1983 results. Labour got 2.2% more votes relative to the LibDems but 186 more seats!

If you want to form government, best to concentrate on winning seats, not votes. These are the rules of the game of this electoral system. It is an unfair system, and it ought to be changed, but this is the system we have at the moment.

In the UK, this leads to calls for reform. Unsurprisingly it is the LibDems who are most strident for this. Guess which two are the most resistant to wholesale change? For a look at proportional and preferential system see my piece here (http://pkler.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/electoral-reform-increasing-public.html).

PR's moral victory is a pyrrhic one for at the end of the day they knew the rules of the game and failed to do what was necessary, strategy-wise to win enough seats. It is not enough to bark about the great majorities won in urban seats and to call for reforms now. I agree reforms, both in terms of gerrymandering and election systems are required, but don't cry foul now when you were well aware of the shortcomings pre-election.

Face your weakness up-front and don't make stories post-election that suggests you were cheated because of the gerrymandering (my next piece will be on that specific issue). You knew it beforehand but did not even raise a squeak in protest. I cannot understand why when it was such a pertinent issue behind the 2008 results as well. Equally, note that even in the UK where the election is free and fair, parties form government with less than half of the popular vote. It is not a stolen victory in that sense. Not just the UK but Australia, NZ, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands and so forth. And some of these countries get these outcomes even with the fairer proportional and preferential systems.


One man, one vote: democratic or not?

All this new-found interest in seat gerrymandering makes me happy I must admit. It has always been a topic of interest for me. There are many views on how best to set up seat boundaries, and I doubt any meaningful consensus can be found. But this piece is on a related topic, that of the unit of representation.

The theoretically best option, from a democratic point of view would be where each vote counts equally, via the rather sexist catchphrase of 'one man, one vote'. This is usually viewed via a lens of direct elections, such as the US presidential election. Unbeknownst to most is that the US presidential election violates this mantra. The US was set up, like Malaysia and Australia as a federation. The system to elect the American president comes via the use of electoral colleges (something like seats) within states, where the winner takes all. So for example, say Nebraska has 25 electoral colleges. Everyone votes as usual, ticking the box as per normal. Votes are tallied per electoral college. Say Candidate X wins 13 electoral colleges and Candidate Y wins 12. Candidate X is declared as Nebraska's winner and carries ALL 25 seats. Now, don't tell me Malaysia's system is undemocratic and ask the US for help when they have a system even further removed from 'one man, one vote'. Al Gore won more votes than George W Bush in the 2000 election and lost. It does happen people...

The American system exists because the federation is made up of states, not individuals. 'One man, one vote' would also violate the Malaysia agreement where 4 countries (Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak) got together to form Malaysia. It was agreed that Malaya will not get more than 2/3rds of the parliamentary seats, though when Singapore left that was conveniently forgotten and they took 75% of the seats. Now it is inching closer to 80%. This agreement was signed to ensure Malaya, as the most powerful country in the federation would not lord it over the rest. If we are to apply 'one man, one vote' to Malaysia in terms of seats per population, then the agreement is abrogated (it already is to be frank). Malaysia, it seems is also a case of a federation formed by states/countries, not individuals.

Parts of Australia, till not so long ago also had rural votes counting double so as to ensure that country voices would not be drowned out by city voices. The argument was that 'one man, one vote' would over-represent city concerns relative to country concerns and that it would be fairer that the minority has an 'extra' vote.

All this of course matches in with the setting of seat boundaries, where I will next write a short piece on gerrymandering, but for now, we must ask whether 'one man, one vote' is truly representational beyond its theoretical nicety? Two issues to ponder:

1. What about minority rights? In a country like Egypt where Coptic Christians are getting a raw deal their voice is small. Should they receive 'extra' votes? Personally, I think that if the country is truly democratic, minorities will get protected so I fail to agree with such assertions.

2. Who/what is the true unit of representation? In the US it is the state (electoral college), as it is in Malaysia (via watered down safeguards for East Malaysia). But another federation (Australia) has by-passed this by ensuring all seats have equal number of voters with some minor variations. In both the US and Australian cases, an equal number of senate (upper house) seats are allocated per state. Nevertheless in all cases, bigger states have a bigger say via larger electoral colleges and/or seats.

Issue 1 seems to have been marginalised (certainly in Australia) in exchange for democratic safeguards, but I believe it is the second issue that divides people. Who should represent the democratic voice? The people or the states?


How did my predictions go for the election?

RPK put forth 13 correct predictions after results were out. Made me think how I went. Not too bad for a guy living far away from home relying on social media and Internet reportings.

Perlis. 50-50 advantage PR. Outcome, BN whitewash. Dead wrong.

Kedah. 50-50 advantage BN with the Mukhriz factor and pissed off Chinese PR supporters with Azizan's racist rule. Outcome, BN wins. Correct.

Penang. Continued strong mandate for PR but lose some seats. Outcome, status quo largely maintained. PR did better than I thought.

Perak. 50-50 BN advantage due to the fact they had to rule well and scaremongering that a PR govt is simply a DAP, and hence Chinese puppet. Outcome as predicted. Tiny BN win and opposition basically just DAP+.

Selangor. Expecting massive fraud and a close fight but a thin PR win. Outcome, clear victory for PR. Also where the 3 PR component parties are equally matched. Only hope now is that Azmin Ali does not become Menteri Besar.

KL. Status quo but Nurul Izzah gone for sure. What a pleasant surprise! Take that Azmin Ali....

NS. 50-50 with advantage to PR. Dead wrong. Again only DAP did well suggesting that the race fearmongering has had some traction.

Melaka. Status quo. As predicted but see you later Ali Rustam!

Johore. Inroads to be made but defeat for LKS. Seats won as expected and LKS smashes BN!

Pahang. Small gain but still far from ever threatening BN. So it proved though some very small majorities for BN in some seats that probably would have gone the other way had the election been totally free and fair. And I include in that an unbiased EC, a fair mainstream media and proper postal votes.

Terengganu. 50-50 advantage BN. Very accurate prediction.

Kelantan. Status quo but BN to make inroads. As expected.

Sarawak. Status quo of 2011 state election outcome, and so it proved. Rural areas remain a BN stronghold. PKR totally out of its depth.

Sabah. 2 seats max for parliament due to split votes, without which up to 10. 3 seats won and could have been around 7-8. Not too far off. State seats: very few due to split votes but STAR to pick up a few. In the end 12 seats, more than I thought and dearie me, could have denied Bn2/3rds had votes not been split. STAR very disappointing performance. SAPP I expected could not translate grassroots support to votes as their core strength is also DAP's and they went with the party with the greater ability to project power.

Overall prediction. Status quo to remain and so it proved.


Quick Musings of the Aftermath of PRU 13

1. PR needs to concentrate on West Malaysia. It lacks the resources to fight BN nationwide. This means:
2. East Malaysian parties need to stop calling PR as parti Malaya and equating their components to BN. First, it is false because BN includes local parties. Second, because you guys need each other. Suck it up and do a deal. Quite a few seats fell to BN because of he vote split. Happened in 2008 and now in 2013. What's that saying again? 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me'. Up to you guys to learn. If you don't, then why on earth do you expect different results? Finally, like it or not the people have spoken. And they say we are quite happy to vote for parti Malaya. Deal with it!
3. East Malaysia is important because I fear the Malay heartland will never truly be anything other than UMNO strongholds. This leads to my next point.
4. It would be stupid not to talk of racial polarisation. We can call it a city-rural divide but such is Malaysia's reality we cannot run away from this. Time to talk to each other, not past each other.
5. Najib's position. Is he safe? Is a simple majority now enough to keep him in power. If not, what next?
6. Govt is now, more than ever UMNO+. How can Najib set up a representative cabinet? Should he? Democracy suggests he should give almost all seats to UMNO people, and that is only fair. He will then be accused of being a racist. If he gives other parties many cabinet seats he will piss off his people, and rightly so. Can't win on this one.
7. Bad governments should suffer in the polls. A bad BN federal govt lost seats and PAS got turfed out of Kedah. Well done.
8. Seat gerrymandering is the single biggest cause of BN's victory with 4-5 rural seats per urban seat population wise. PR has never made this an issue, I suspect because it is linked to race (or if you are of poor constitution, a city-rural divide). We need more accountability with regard o how seats are created. This should become an issue.
9. The winner was always going to be in big trouble in terms of carrying out their promises. This is a big issue for Najib now. Waytha, see you in he'll. You'll get jackshit now that BN will go for the Chinese vote.
10. Azmin Ali failed to get Nurul Izzah knocked off her perch. His ambition of taking over PKR remains threatened. But will he be the new Selangor Menteri Besar? Bad, bad choice that.
11. I look forward to BN KDM parties continue to threaten a Sabah IC programme. What's that you say? You are busy? Oh, I see....maybe in 5 years ah?


PR and SAPP: A Great BN Victory

I had always feared an internecine struggle between PR and SAPP in Sabah, thus handing the state to BN on a silver platter. As I noted in my previous piece (http://pkler.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/sabah-elections-how-would-i-vote.html) on how I'd vote, STAR is distinct from STAR and PR and as such they were always less likely to be involved in a fight for the same political space. And so it has proven to be, reading the online media and the comments of my friends. SAPP and PR are orthodox political organisations, using whatever slogans to gain power unlike STAR with is an ideologically driven organisation.

I was rather surprised though that this manifested itself as DAP v SAPP when I expected it o be with PKR instead but clearly my thinking was all wrong. Both are chasing the Chinese vote in the main and hence they keep coming up against each other. Recent events have seen Yong Teck Lee being accused (by DAP and PR in general) as a BN mole and a recipient of good tidings from Project IC. In return we have seen the DAP Likas candidate being accused of serial womanising. This all erupted in an apparent Bollywood style scene in Foh Sang where I'm told YTL was a real gentlemen (yeah right!) in crashing the PR ceramah where he was being badmouthed.

I'm not taking sides here. I just wish to congratulate both sides for their sheer stupidity at attacking each other mercilessly while the elephant in the room laughs his head off.

Congratulation to PR and SAPP. Neither of you deserve to lead Sabah. BN does not even need to campaign does it?


Electoral reform: Increasing the public space for democracy

The recent stoushes within all political parties and within coalitions as to the allocation of candidates for seats in Malaysia always bring to mind the opportunity for electoral reform that could widen the democratic space within the country.

The current first-past-the-post system used (most famous case is in Britain) has long been abandoned in many other countries in favour of a preferential system or a proportional system. The arguments for reform are based on the fact that:

1. With multiple cornered fights we can easily end up voting in candidates who secured far less than 50% of the vote. For example, in a 4 cornered fight, Candidate X gets in with 35% of the vote, beating Candidate Y (30%), Candidate Z (25%) and Candidate A (10%). This means that the candidate NOT preferred by 65% of the voters becomes their elected representative in parliament. If we assume a voter turn-out of 50%, then the candidate who gets in actually only got 17.5% of the support of all the eligible voters in the electorate. Not a very democratic outcome, or so the theory goes. A proportional voting system could solve this issue.

2. Let's say candidate Y and his colleagues get 30% on average in the election. In our current system, it is highly unlikely that the party and candidates voted in by 3 in 10 citizens (assuming all vote) will get any representation in parliament. The preferential system will seek to take this aberration of a 'democratic deficit' into account.

Let's look at the proportional system more closely:

Say we have 4 candidates and none got more than 50% of the vote. Then the system comes into play. Let's say we have the same story as described above:

Candidate X = 35%
Candidate Y = 30%
Candidate Z = 25%
Candidate A = 10%

Assuming that the voter has to tick every box (thus, choose candidates by ticking 1, 2, 3 and 4) each voter 'informs' the electoral commission who their first, second, third and fourth choices are. Thus the figures above refer to their first choices.

Now, Candidate A, as the receiver of the lowest first preferences is removed from the list and the ballot of the 10% of voters who chose Candidate A are re-examined to find their second preferences. After preferencing, we may have as follows:

Candidate X = 38%
Candidate Y = 35%
Candidate Z = 27%

Now Candidate Z is removed from the equation and his or hers voters' second preference is examined, plus Candidate A's third preference. Now, with only two candidates, someone is bound to pass the 50% threshold and be the elected representative of the voters. And now it is possible for Candidate Y to beat Candidate X after preferences.

Candidate X = 48%
Candidate Y = 52%

In Australia where the proportional system is used, we see a unique situation. Here, coalition partner need not squabble over seat allocations but can instead stand against each other safe in the knowledge that voters who vote for one coalition partner will preference the other. And may the best man win, as they say...

Apart from being more democratic, this could save political parties from petty squabbles.In the example above, let's say Candidate X is PKR, Y is MCA, Z is UMNO and A is an independent. In the current system the odds are stacked in favour of the PKR candidate, but in the Australian system, unless he or she can get 50%+ outright he or she is actually likely to lose because of preferencing, as I showed in my example above, where the MCA candidate wins on preferences. Indeed, this is how it largely works out in Australia.

Of course this assumes that voters will preference as suggested by the candidates. Australian evidence suggests they will but I wonder how this will work in a far more regionalist and racial Malaysia. Assume that in the example above the PKR, MCA and independent candidates are all Chinese while the UMNO candidate is not just non-Chinese but someone who has previously been seen as anti Chinese education. How sure can we be that the preferences will flow as suggested? In this case, the PKR candidate may just end up winning. While this is more democratic, it does hint at a possibility whereby coalitions may prefer not to compete against each other. A smaller coalition partner may also slowly be eaten up by the larger one by virtue of getting less first-preference votes (like the Nationals who keep losing to the Liberal Party candidates). BN will simply become UMNO for example.

Finally, what if the voters do not have to tick every box? In Australia (or Queensland anyway) the voters don't have to do tick every box in local council or state elections though they have to in the Federal election. Then, if many just tick 1 and walk away preferences are quickly exhausted and we could end up with a winning candidate getting less than 50% of the 'votes'. Never happened as far as I am aware but a theoretical possibility nevertheless.

With the preferential system, we can address the issue of whether one should vote for the candidate or the party. In this system, voters gets two votes. One for the candidate in the electorate (just like normal) and one for the party. New Zealand practices this system, and Germany another variant. Thus one can vote for a good quality candidate who represents a party one dislikes but still vote for the preferred party as well. Thus, BN supporters of Indian origin in Shah Alam will NOT vote for Zulkifli Noordin but can still vote for MIC (or BN since that is the logo used) for the party vote. If BN gets 75 seats from the party list the 75 members will be chosen from a pre-determined party list.

This system is harder to implement because it tends to dilute the power of the major parties-hence such proposals rarely pass parliament. Evidence from NZ shows that neither the Nationals nor the Labour Party have been able to form government without coalition partners since the system was introduced. The threshold for entering parliament on the party list tends to be 5%. This means not only that the marginalised can get seats in parliament (HINDRAF for example probably would get seats) but also that extreme groups could also get in (i.e. PERKASA being extreme for me, and HINDRAF extreme for others). Thus, while the marginalised tend to get a voice, so do the extremists.

So there you go. Two systems that can be considered more democratic than the current one, and worthy of attention. But will it ever come to fruition in Malaysia?