Archive for the Southeast Asia Category

Badawi Countdown

Posted in Southeast Asia on 21 March 2008 by hanafirais28

The National Front’s (Barisan Nasional) biggest political setback few weeks ago is leading to pick its own victim to compensate. It is Badawi who might be sacrificed due to his failure in maintaining the coalition power’s establishment in this recent election.

From outside, Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition of Alternative Front (Barisan Alternatif – by the way, why do they like using this military term “barisan”?) consisting of PAS, DAP, and PKR has been starting to show its leverage. Winning five states including the richest state, Selangor, the opposition has managed to share power accordingly and executed new policies by scrapping the National Economic Policy (NEP). Mahathir implicitly even demanded Badawi to step down to take the responsibility of failing to maintain stability.

From inside, Mahathir’s son being part of UMNO’s Youth wing has also resonated Badawi’s resignation. Though Badawi’s son-in-law being the Youth’s chairman would “take care” of the insider’s demand of resignation, UMNO’s internal politics is just getting more tense. Former finance minister and royal prince Razaleigh Hamzah together with Najib Razak, the deputy PM, are likely to contest Badawi for this August’s UMNO congress for chairmanship.

Even Badawi has come up with his new cabinet this week, he does not show conviction that he would offer something new to overcome issues that voters have been telling him: rising crimes, rising prices, rising ethnic tensions. Badawi is just counting down his power to diminish since nothing is changing.

Prison Break in Singapore

Posted in Southeast Asia on 28 February 2008 by hanafirais28

This is not about Michael Scofield and friends coming to Singapore. This is really a prison break by a terrorist suspect, Mas Selamat Kastari, from Singapore’s Whitley Road Detention Centre. Since yesterday, he is now still at large.

It is a striking news having seen Singapore’s claim as the best defence and tight security country and the strongest in the region. It also took place in an unprecedented, easy way out: the suspect just ran away by deceiving police that he wanted to go to toilet? If true, the suspect is really translating his name into real – “Selamat” is Safe.

The post-escape measures have been deployed very heavily by Singapore’s security apparatus around the Centre and throughout the borders. The momentum to bring back the suspect to prison would only be very short in, perhaps, 2×24 hours since the prison break yesterday.

Longer than that, it may ‘delegitimize’ government’s credibility. And the worst is if the suspect is at large for good. People’s highly-established expectation of “Singapore is the most secure” may then be shaken.

But today (20 March), according to Indonesia’s daily KOMPAS quoting an intelligence expert Dynno Chressbon, Mas Selamat Kastari’s fate is only possible under two scenarios.

First, he has been killed by the authority or will be made killed under a battle against terrorists as in al-Ghozi in the Philippines or al-Faruk in Iraq. Second, he is sent to the US “for loan” since the US is going to conduct trials against the captured terrorists in June for further interrogation. That I think makes more sense now.

Singapore’s Turn to Middle East

Posted in Southeast Asia on 15 February 2008 by hanafirais28

Having read RSIS Commentary on Singapore’s economic relations with Mideast countries, there is something fundamental missed in the article. To read Singapore’s foreign policy in terms of politics or economics is relatively not complicated. The underlying ideology of any Singapore policy is basically pragmatism as long propagated by its sole founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore’s pragmatism in international relations would be very closely identified as realism and neoliberalism: what matters most is Singapore’s relative gain in terms of security and power and her absolute gain of prosperity for her own constituencies. Strategically speaking, Singapore would be threatened by Malaysia and to some extent Indonesia given the stark differences of its social base which might turn any time into conflict – low or high intensity.

Furthermore, in neoliberal terms, Singapore would be hard-pressed by the rapid rising of China and India. In fact, its effect is felt down here in Singapore now. Her bulk of middle-class citizens with skilled labors have been experiencing stagnant wages because having to compete with the latter counterparts in terms of the same skilled labors. Worse, the lower-income citizens have been more depressed by the globalization of China and India that they are becoming poorer now.

It is too low to say that Singapore’s turn to Middle East is just because the latter is now socially, economically led by Western-educated people who know how to make better policy and decisions as implicitly assumed by the commentary writer, Yang Razali Kassim. It seems that he or she discounts the fundamental principle of Singapore’s foreign policy making: Pragmatism.

Changing foreign policy focus starting from 2004 means having evaluated critical impacts of international strategic events. The main cause would be the unexpected 911 tragedy and its consequences by the US – Singapore’s first and foremost trading partner – having launched uncertain retaliation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Iran. Being dependent on the US for Singapore’s achieving of absolute gain of economic prosperity would be a failure.

Given that Singapore now has also accumulated almost the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund (SWF) (a scheme like Indonesia’s reforestation fund under Suharto) on the basis of her citizen’s pension monies called CPF, Singapore has become less dependent on the US. Singapore is now even empowering itself to be one of Asia’s leading investor countries together with China and oil-funded petrodollar Mideast countries.

Take a look at this: Singapore has used her SWF to save Merryl Linch, Citigroup, Swiss UBS, and some other big corporations. If Singapore did not do this, then these huge market would be dominated only by the petrodollar countries which are now rising to seize the US’ declining economy. Singapore will engage more Mideast countries for investment cooperation to substitute the US as well as play as, not any longer a dependent country but a driving country to direct globalization.

One more important thing is that Singapore has been relatively “smart” in selecting the partner countries. Once grown with volatility because of the racial tension which led to political instability four decades ago, Singapore has been now stable due to her single-party “democracy”. Lee Kuan Yew’s reluctance for democracy, something a little bit different with his son PM Lee Hsien Loong who is more open in his approach, seems to have also underlined the way Singapore selecting similar partner countries with more or less same “democracies”. From Singapore’s perspective, it is safer because it will then minimize the risk of public questioning of foreign investment in the same “democracies”.

People in Arab petrodollar countries would never question foreign investments. Same thing investing in Myanmar, and China. Singapore has been facing tough challenges when investing in some democracies as what recently happened in Thailand (Shin Corps) and Indonesia (Temasek-Indosat) and I think also some case in the Philippines.

But anyway, China and India might rise and rise stronger. Singapore is making sure that it is riding on the wave of the rise, not being left behind like its neighboring country – Indonesia. Sad indeed for Indonesia.

A Sea Change in SEA Countries

Posted in Southeast Asia on 13 February 2008 by hanafirais28

Southeast Asia (SEA) countries have been seeing tremendous upheavals especially for these past two years. The political events taking place in these various countries have marked a sea change in the region with the same message: shaking the Establishments. Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia have been facing recent challenges from their people – the Philippines soon too.

Thailand witnessed a military coup two years ago with the generals’ expectations that the country would not be ruled by Thaksin any longer. Thaksin was perceived as a rising threat to the Establishment. In addition to this, he represented no more than corrupt conglomerates who has traditionally plundered national wealth. The military and the King are the two strong political institutions in Thailand which have been considered as the bureaucratic polity that has a very influential role and power.

But last year’s December election showed that their power and influences seem to be diminishing. Diminishing very sharply. Thaksin’s newly-founded party, People’s Power Party, won the majority of the seats in parliament, unexpected by the generals. Most of the supports came from the peasants in the Northern Thailand who have indentified themselves being benefited during Thaksin’s rule due to direct financial help from the central government to villages.

Now, the PPP’s chairman, Samak Sundaravej, who is Thaksin’s closed ally, is running the country. Parallel with Thaksin, Samak represented the same type of conglomerate. In short, bureaucratic polity in Thailand has been fading away.

General Shwe’s regime in Myanmar has also been questioned and even challenged hard by its people, especially and surprisingly by the monks since end of last year. Saffron revolution, as The Economist magazine called of the monks’ anti-junta movement, managed to mobilise Myanmar people nationwide and opened the eyes of the world that the junta’s ruling has been inhumanely oppressive.

The Establishment in Malaysia led by PM Abdullah Badawi has also recently been resisted by growing oppositions led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and also fanned by the Indian ethnics’ protests for the past few months. The decades-ruling of hegemonic UMNO in Malaysia was perceived as unjust to the multiethnic nation and has only privileged national elites in the coalition organization.

Each of these countries surely has its own political characteristics. This would bring different consequences to the respective countries. Thailand might now see a new political setting with the ascendancy of businessman into politics. But if Thaksin’s style of meddling business in politics continues to happen under Samak’s ruling without giving real policies to the peasants or to go unchecked by the parliament, there is always a possibility that another volatility would arise again.

What about Myanmar and Malaysia? The former country just announced that it would hold election by 2010 but most of the Myanmar people were just skeptical about it. International community called it just a joke because it would in the end be a democracy under fear. Whereas the latter country now is about to hold its election in the near future. Let’s see what is going to unfold in this Islamic state. Seems that the opposition might just lose again but would get a new stronger political grips in the society.

Wallahualam bi shawab.

P. S: Can’t wait to see what is going to happen in Indonesia’s election next year.

Singapore’s Respect for Suharto

Posted in Southeast Asia on 2 February 2008 by hanafirais28

As usual, I have been attending Friday prayer here in Singapore in the nearest mosque from where I am in afternoon. For the past few weeks, I have been staying in school till noon since I have got Ed’s class of “Institutional Analysis and Design” from 9-12. Attending the prayer and listening to the sermon by (most of the time) Malay Singaporean preachers are two different things.

The former is a must. But doing something a must might entail some sort of feeling being forced. So one of the ways to avoid being forced in attending every Friday prayer, which should be enlightening, is by listening to the sermon. Not all mosques have enlightening preachers. But in Singapore, it is hardly easy to find good ones.

Most of the sermons are about things we already know that “we have to respect our parents”, “we have to follow what Prophet Muhammad said and did”, and other similar things. I am not definitely going against the teachings. What I always pity here is that it looks that what is preached here in Singapore has nothing to do with our social life as Muslims.

I believe that Islam as brought up by the Prophet has a lot to do with Muslim’s social relations as equally important as to do with their personal upbringing. When we believe that one of Islam’s values is to uphold justice, there should be a lot to discuss in the sermons by reflecting what is happening in Singapore.

I remember how Mr. YEOH Lam Keong once said in the School’s seminar that the poverty gap in the country has been not only widening but “more complicated than that”. If we want to look into it further, Singapore’s development as a multiethnic entity ridden with the more complicated gap should lay out how its social compact deal with it.

Meaning, if seen from the multiethnic perspective, those in the bottom of the gap would most probably be the Malays i.e. the Muslims. I understand very well that things like this would be very sensitive to discuss in the little red dot country-authoritarian as Garry Rodan would term it. That is why no question about it was raised during the seminar.

But at the sermons? No doubt. The voice of the sermons is the voice of the government. This is what is called by our Professor, Suzaina, as the bureaucratized Islam.

And regarding Suharto’s death, I am “amazed” by how Singapore has paid high respect to the defunct former President. Right from the beginning, channelnewsasia reported 24 hours on the death, and The Strait Times ran a coverage of pages on Suharto. Why amazed? Because Suharto was like a “Singapore Idol” here in the country.

Therefore, yesterday I was again amazed that right after we finished the Friday prayer with “salaam”, the imam quickly announced to the jamaah that “Let’s do the virtual prayer (shalat ghaib) for the former Presiden of Indonesia, Suharto”. Seven shafs were full of the jamaah doing the prayer. Incredible! I was right away wondering if that happens in Indonesia, how jamaah would react.

Singapore turning to populist policy?

Posted in Southeast Asia on 24 January 2008 by hanafirais28

The Bukit Timah Dialogues this Wednesday was really thought-provoking. Yeo Lam Keong, the Head of Economic Society in Singapore, laid out very convincingly that globalization has not only been making poverty gap in developed countries wider. Due to the “great doubling” and “great acceleration” of globalization, countries like the US and Singapore are witnessing a more complicated situation for the policy makers i.e. the government.

The top 30% of the population has been growing richer. The 40% of it has been experiencing wage stagnancy. And the last percentage has been becoming poorer. He said that it was inevitable that Singapore government who has been facing such situation must do something.

Such real impact of globalization may lead to people’s restive conscience that any government who would remain the same should be questioned. Meaning, the legitimacy might face a challenge.

Singapore, which has been avoiding the term ‘welfare’ due to the worry that it would only make people ‘spoiled’, has to do something to uplift the people at the bottom of the economic structure. I may say that actually he was saying that ‘workfare’ should be, at least for now, abandoned. The government had to really touch upon welfare programmes and preparing a social safety net.

Given such situation, he said that it was now easy to question our positive belief of globalization. “See what globalization has done to you? Your wages are stagnant. You are becoming poorer. What else can you expect from globalization”.

When this grows wider, it could be very tempting that any government including Singapore would turn to be a populist country to, in the end, protect its citizens from negative effects of this ‘creature’ called globalization.

Pilihan Thailand: Militer yang Diktator atau Bisnis yang Serakah?

Posted in Southeast Asia on 5 January 2008 by hanafirais28

Sejak menangnya Thai Rak Thai, dan dilanjutkan oleh PPP, sejak tahun 2001 sampai dengan sekarang ini, politik Thailand telah mengalami pergeseran yang sangat fundamental. Teori bureaucratic polity yang sering dipakai para akademisi politik untuk menggambarkan Thailand tampaknya tidak lagi relevan. Kekuasaan militer dan kekuatan raja telah tiada, walau belum sepenuhnya. Digantikan oleh naiknya kelompok bisnis, pengusaha kelas kakap yang langsung menjadi penguasa. Thaksin Sinawathra (TRT),  Samak Sundaravej (PPP) adalah contoh nyata.

Jika bureaucratic polity di Thailand (politik berbasis tentara dan birokrasi negara) telah usang, akankah politik Thailand kontemporer menuju pada pola oligarki seperti halnya di Filipina atau Indonesia zaman Soeharto?