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Category Archives: Politics

Posts that deal with politics and public policy.

Marina Mahathir blogs about a 250-vehicle convoy from London to Gaza being stuck in Aqaba, Jordan, awaiting Egyptian permission to transit through Egypt to Gaza – several Malaysian vehicles are part of the journey, all overland. Which is odd and dumbfounding

Shipping the goods to Israel or Egypt and flying the volunteers in should be much cheaper. The only conceivable reason why a large convoy of land vehicles is preferable is symbolic. As Marina laments the lack of coverage – the symbolism has failed. It’s a bit like the shipment of aid from Cyprus headed directly to Gaza: public relations seems to be the ultimate goal here. The ship was intercepted and diverted to Ashdod, Israel, bunch of people deported, and crucially, the goods arrived anyway in Gaza.

Contrary to what Marina says, the one million in Gaza may be dealing with food and medicine shortages – but they aren’t starving. But if averting a humanitarian crisis is the main agenda, maximizing resources by resorting to the cheapest option should be the goal – even if there is no symbolic defiance against the Gaza Blockade. For all its worth, Egypt won’t allow transit until Israel clears the cargo for Israel anyway.

The cheap symbolism of it all of extremely apparent with the current situation of the convoy. They’re stuck at Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba – the only way to Egypt is crossing about 3-4km of Israel, or more expensively, ferrying the vehicles across the Red Sea to Taba. At this juncture, the cheaper option is to cross into Eilat, Israel and proceed via Israel to Gaza. The symbolic option is to go through Sinai.

If you donated any money to Viva Palestina or Perdana Global Peace Forum, hoping it would feed and medicate Gazans: this is how your money is spent. Unwisely.

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The Malaysian Insider consulting editor Leslie Lau was rather dissappointed at Pakatan’s inaugural platform (I was too, but for quite different reasons).

What PR needs to understand is that it needs to present a clearly define choice to voters as to what a vote for them will mean.

Will there be higher taxes? Lower taxes? Will Bumiputera policies be abolished or amended? What about the country’s immigration policies? Will more expatriates be brought in? Will protectionism be a thing of the past? What about our national car policies? Our education system?

But that’s the bit about Pakatan Rakyat: it is a coalition of very disparate camps – ranging from hardcore Islamists to secular communists. My overarching disappointment of the platform seems similar to Lau’s – the vagueness and ambiguity of positions – but isn’t. Rather than prematurely trying to decide all of the contentious issues at play, Pakatan should have focused on common ground and decision-making frameworks – Zaid Ibrahim’s platform tries to hide points of disagreement in a language that tries, but fails, to signify nonexistant consensus.

The Westminster constitutional framework our country operates on make multiparty democracy impossible – a bipolar partisan system usually emerges. On the Barisan Nasional side, they’re UMNO-dominated but technically working on a ethnic-based consoctional system. Central to their “ideology” (for the lack of a better word) isn’t about taxation, immigration or whatnot.

Pakatan Rakyat has an opportunity to develop an ideologically big-tent coalition. They could share basic, common values (democracy, civil liberties and political rights, and so on) while holding on to different ideologies. Rather than trying to document what they would do if they takeover the federal government, the platform should focus the decision-making framework within Pakatan – more important than short-term policy goals is how those policies are decided at coalition level.

Because, even if Pakatan evolves quickly into a homogenous, politically, entity with firm commitments to certain policy goals, it is inconsequential. Barisan Nasional has an overwhelming dominance in politics, and a strong status quo bias – which makes the next advice crappy:

But the fact is PR parties have not done much to shake off the perception that they cannot rise beyond an “opposition” mindset.

And so long as they see themselves as the “opposition”, the “opposition” they shall remain.

Which is bull. While opposing for the sake of opposing is stupid, without being a good “opposition” coalition, Pakatan can never hope to be a government-in-waiting coalition. While it is nice to think that governments are voted in, in truth, governments are voted out – Pakatan needs to portray the government as corrupt, incompetent, unfair or even dangerous. They cannot hope to portray themselves as a competent federal government – because, by virtue of no experience, they will always be a losing proposition.

Pakatan Rakyat, after all, barely existed in March 2008 when voters handed over four more states to them (they would have been controlling Putrajaya if not for how elections are rigged in Barisan’s favour). Voters obviously don’t need assurances of governing capability – just the idea that status quo is so bad than any alternative will likely be better.

From New Zealand:

The interesting bit is that in the Malaysian Parliament, any such response will be greeted with jeers of “tarik balik” (take it back). And my old time favourite:

William Hague was arguing against the Lisbon Treaty in a way that could have caused him his parliamentary privileges in Malaysia. While our parliamentary humourlessness can be partly explained in part by the fact a substantial portion of members don’t speak Malay as their first language (William Hague would be a lot less effective if he’s speech was in, say, French), the authoritarian tendencies of one side and the persecution complex on the other greatly inhibits good debate.

Though, in actuality, parliamentary debate is kinda pointless – even in multiparty legislatures, persuasion is better done through behind the scenes horse trading than speeches from the dispatch box.

Mohammad Ariff of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research writes:

In the absence of the massive influx of foreign workers, wages would have risen and employers would have resorted to labour-saving technology to boost productivity (to rein in labour costs). Malaysia would then have automated and moved up the value chain through industrial upgrading. Alas, Malaysia took the wrong turn in the early 1990s.

Ironically, the long-term vision was undermined by a short-sighted growth strategy, which was pursed single-mindedly with a high pre- mium on short-term growth at the expense of long-run goals. Malaysia had inadvertently shot itself in the foot.

In a sense, the “High Income Economy” is a watered-down version of Vision 2020, as Malaysia has to settle for a lower GDP (RM887 billion instead of RM1.37 trillion in real terms) and a lower GNP per capita (US$15,340 instead of US$17,000) in 2020.

Nevertheless, if all goes well, Malaysia can still join the league of developed nations by 2020 with a per capita income higher than the projected minimum (US$14,818) for this category. All this would make sense, only if high income is linked to high productivity.

This is ironic, considering Malaysia is just north of Singapore… a country that successfully joined the league of developed nations while employing a more liberal immigration regime than Malaysia.

Here’s the pitfall Ariff fell in: he equated high productivity with development. Even if the high productivity is achieved inefficiently. Employers choose to hire low-wage workers instead of pursuing productivity through capital investments because it is cheaper. But that doesn’t preclude gains in productivity – accountancy firms, for example, hire less accountants and buy more computers because the gains in productivity boosts efficiency.

Reducing economic efficiency does not make it easier to become a developed economy. If Malaysia closes up its borders to people, the damage is immense – higher cost of living and stunted economic growth. Sure, capital intensity will increase – but at what expense? Those hundreds of thousands of households with foreign maids will either give up their maids (less leisure and work time = less income and less consumption) or hire more expensive local ones (less money to spend elsewhere in the economy). Eating out will now be a once-in-awhile affair, as restaurants can’t hire foreigners as cooks, waiters and cleaners. Their costs will go up, with produce being more expensive with the lack of foreigners working on farms and estates.

The strange assumption here is that the presence of low-productivity sectors will somehow preclude high-tech, high productivity sectors. It is a faulty, unreasonable premise that if Taiwan had factories making clothes and dolls, they wouldn’t be fabricating chips. Had Taiwan allowed more mainland Chinese to “flood” its island, Taiwan will be better off economically.

This faulty logic is based on looking at developed countries today: for the most part, they don’t have much low-skill foreigners around today. But that is hardly explanatory – the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a large number of low-skill immigrants – documented or not. In the recovery period after the war, West Germany brought in hundreds of thousands of Turks as guest workers, as another example. In fact, if anything, the current developed status of such countries is despite of, rather because of its immigration restrictions.

High-income countries like Western Europe, United States and Canada all have far much better institutions and economic fundamentals compared to Malaysia. A better education system, for example, means a better and more productive workforce that could survive without immigration. Malaysia could develop to become a develop country without immigration. It’s possible, but so much harder.

Malaysia’s deputy high commissioner warns that our visa-free status in the UK is under threat – and likely will dissappear by 2011. In lieu, Malaysians wanting to snap a few pictures of the Big Ben will have to “RM1,200 in processing fees – which is non-refundable even if the visa application is unsuccessful”, because 12,000 Malaysians who go there choose to stay there without Whitehall’s permission.

Nevertheless, any such move is quite stupid. The only reason why Malaysians overstay is because of strict (and increasingly stricter) immigration law, fueled by xenophobia. Requiring visas won’t change that – after all, a large number of overstayers previously held valid visas (usually student visas). While marginal cases will be prevented from reaching the UK, short of banning a large number of legitimate visitors to the UK, requiring visitor visas only bumps up the costs slightly.

Onerous visa requirements, alas, will cause more harm to the tourism sector than the supposed harm of illegal immigration mitigated. The only long-haul low-cost airline route between Asia and Europe is the Kuala Lumpur-London one, lowering the cost of travelling. With AirAsia X planning routes to the Schengen area, where our visa-free status isn’t under threat, trips that will otherwise go to London may find themselves in Paris or Stolkholm. Onerous visa requirements, after all, kept AirAsia X from Japanese airports. If visas are hard to come by, I don’t think AirAsia will keep sending seven planes of tourists a week. Only so that illegally migrating will become slightly harder, and slightly expensive.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and current opposition leader of Israel, had an arrest warrant issued against her in London – cancelled when the courts found out that she had cancelled her trip to Britain. War crimes is considered so heinous that universal jurisdiction is assumed – yet, unlike murder or rape, anyone in the UK can requests an arrest warrant.

The ridiculousness of such a loophole means that Livni could have been arrested and tried in London – despite being an opposition leader commited to a two-state solution and quick settement with the Palestinians (remember, her party Kadima came to being to bring about the Gaza disengagement). Not only will such a court case weaken the pro-rapproachment side of Israeli politics, it would rhetorically strengthen Israel’s right – particularly its persecution complex.

It isn’t as if a case proving culpability will be easy in a Livni case: her ministerial portfolio is a bit disconnected to alleged war crimes in Gaza. The Goldstone report, issued by a Human Rights Council factfinding mission, was deeply flawed – the resolution creating the Goldstone mission was in itself largely one-sided against Israel. Had the warrant was executed, perhaps the silver lining is that the report will be subjected to the scrutiny of British courts. And Netanyahu likely regrets Livni’s escape – the likely acquittal and court case will be a boon, politically, for him at home.

Joel Koktin has a good article on smart cities. He defines it as not just on environmental and liveability standards, but economic fundamentals. Part of that is best illustrated in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam’s relatively small size–740,000 in the city and 1.2 million for the entire metropolitan area–belies its strategic location in the heart of Europe and proximity to the continent’s dominant port, Rotterdam. The city’s Schiphol airport, Europe’s third-busiest, is only 20 minutes from the center of Amsterdam, a mere jaunt compared with commutes to the major London or Paris airports. Schipol has also spawned a series of economically vibrant “edge cities” that appear like more transit-friendly versions of Houston or Orange County, Calif.

Sounds somewhat familiar, no? Subang Airport used to be close to both Kuala Lumpur and Klang, and right next to Petaling Jaya. Alas, upgrading Subang Airport wouldn’t be the highlight megaproject Mahathir wanted for the pointless 1998 Commonwealth Games (other Commonwealth-related stupid infrastructure investments include our two separate, incompatible, loss-making LRT lines).

Rather than allowing Subang Airport to continue normal operation, it was closed so it won’t compete against KLIA. AirAsia was forced to a more inconvenient, more expensive KLIA – while Terminal 3 (since renamed Skypark) was relegated to handle turboprop airlines (MAS’ Firefly, competing against AirAsia, seems like a key beneficiary).

The airport switch-up mirrors that of Hong Kong (building of KLIA was rushed so the opening preceded Hong Kong by a few days). But unlike the retired Kai Tak Airport, Subang Airport wasn’t a safety hazard and expansion wasn’t a problem. Had Subang Airport been owned by a different operator, and the government didn’t go all out to make KLIA a “success”, Kuala Lumpur would have been better off.

P.S. The article is brilliant on highlighting several aspects of what make cities “smart”. Singapore leapfrogged Kuala Lumpur for a reason. That Changi Airport is about 20 minutes from the CBD is a nice touch.

Since the 1980s, the primary method of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace has been some sort of compromise hammered out by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (pre-Oslo, the PLO). Yet the immense failure of the peace process has never seem to deter more of the same.

The political realities in Israel and the Palestinian territories make it impossible for any solution to turn up (the closest, Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000, was shot down by Yasser Arafat by failing to address the “right to return” of Palestinian refugees and led to the Second Intifada).

Distrust and insecurity on both sides inhibit this. Israel will never trust full autonomy for the territories: Yasser Arafat’s dream Gaza International Airport, for example, was shot down by Israel because there would be no Israeli control over terrorists and weaponry flown in. At the same time, no Palestinian government will accept a compromise of statehood without a military.

International conservatorship, , with a firm plan towards self-governance and a framework to negotiate a final settlement afterwards, over West Bank and Gaza will immediately solve a lot of problems in the short-run, and provide a stable path to a final settlement in the long-run – think Kosovo, East Timor.

Just like UN and NATO having a mandate and mission to pacify Kosovo, a conservator government will have an interest in doing so in the territories, with a far greater legitimacy than if Israel did it. Along with something like a Marshall Plan, the Palestinian territories could very quickly be developed (Gaza, for example, is well-positioned to be an international entrepôt).

Jerusalem could be carved out, in the period, to be ruled by a special local government – Israel could still use it as its seat of government, but that doesn’t prejudice an eventual final settlement. Other settlements could be placed under the conservatorship (what a way to discourage settler activity!) – they can still practice Israeli law, just like how West Berlin applied West German law before unification.

Any eventual self-government in the territories will require strict protections of minority rights – and a large Jewish population on the other side of the Green Line will encourage Israel to open its borders and integrate the territories into a cohesive socio-economic zone – think Benelux.

When both sides come close to negotiating a final settlement, questions like the status of Jerusalem, military or Palestinian refugees should by then be quite academic and inconsequential. It could end up with two (or more) states. Or a single state similar Belgium – a homeland for the Flemish and Walloons, with a special area for divided Brussels.

The only bit is that this plan requires a neutral international organisation or state to be a conservator (neutral as in neither the United Nations or the United States qualifies). But it isn’t as if the international community isn’t already invested in the conflict – and even if that was so, there are international benefits to a solution.

Pacifying Muslims is one thing – a successful settlement, with a liberal democracy on both sides of the Green Line, will improve the lot of liberal democracies in the region (Israel is the Middle East’s only liberal democracy – it isn’t exactly, at the moment, a shining example).

Heh, saw this on Twitter:

WE NEED HELP! we got news Egyptian gov is building a WALL blocking all trafic to and fro Gaza! PLEASE LOOK UP ON THIS AND BLOG/TWEET!

The barrier between Gaza and Sinai has always been there since the Sinai handover, dividing the city of Rafah. What’s funny is that those opposed to a similar wall by Israel find it shocking that their Arab brothers will consider doing the same. If the western banks of the River Jordan is handed over to the Palestinians (presently, it is an Israeli-controlled buffer zone), I’m sure Jordan will build some barrier.

Until, of course, the Palestinians pacify themselves.

The biggest mistake made was striking a deal with the PLO (the Oslo Accords), allowing them backed to the West Bank and Gaza – instead of granting self-governance and eventual independence directly to those residing there. Years of Fatah-led incompetence and corruption, as well as a dose of malice, caused the situation to escalate to this. It’s a bit like London giving IRA control over Catholic-majority areas of Northern Ireland: it simply isn’t a good idea.

P.S. Not to say that the Palestinians were the only belligerents of the Oslo Accords – Israel resumed building settlements sometime before the Al-Aksa Intifada, in contravention of the Accords. It takes two to tango.

It’s always funny when the court acts like this: the Court of Appeals threw Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal because the memorandum of appeal is written in English, not Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia – BM). The justification:

“It requires the appellant to file the memorandum of appeal in the national language. No other language will be entertained and it will not qualify as a record of appeal.” […]

“Everything seems to go wrong with the appellant and the flagrant breaches of the rules seem to be the hallmark of the appellant in this case,” Abdul Malik said.

The amazing bit? The Sun didn’t translate those portions into English. They quoted the justice’s judgement directly. In Karpal Singh’s words:

“I would have thought there was more than a need for him to have written his judgement in Bahasa Malaysia in view of the strong language he uses in support,” said Karpal.