Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Re-thinking the PKR Elections

I thought I had written my last article on the PKR elections. In my last article I did say, I want Azmin to win. I gave my reasons. Basically it boils to the contest between political skills and entrepreneurship applied to politics. I speak from observing history when I say we will rue the day we elect to put a business minded person in the position of leadership. They are similar but distinct and operate on different values. Accordingly I cannot place too high a premium on Khalid’s entrepreneurial skills. I don’t wish to repeat myself on this.
But there was one move that puzzled me. Why did Rafizi and Nurulizzah form a team? The team was endorsed in Sabah too.( in the cabang whose MP sits beside me in Parliament) Which means the idea behind the formation has traction in Sabah. Then Tian Chua withdrew from contesting the deputy president. I am expecting the other remaining candidate to eventually withdraw, leaving the battle to become a 3-cornered fight between Azmin, Khalid and Saifudin.
Clearly there was a battle formation.
I have the utmost respect for both these young leaders and even see Rafizi as a prime minister material. Tian Chua has already achieved a legendary status. Plus I don’t want to have my ears bitten. 
They do not make an uncalculated move. To me, the formation of the team clearly indicates and was meant to show to all PKR members, that they should choose Saifudin. Saifudin is the solution to the Mexican standoff between Azmin and Khalid. Both should be reduced to save PKR.
That formation and the comments following my article made me re-look at the issue at hand.
When I read the many comments, there were many who feel strongly against Azmin as deputy president. We must respect their views. Unfortunately not many have rebutted the logic of my arguments, preferring instead to rely on subjective assessments on Azmin. He is greedy, he is that and this. Not persuasive to me. Discerning readers many of whom I suspect are PKR members want to listen to logical rebuttals. And unless there is equally compelling reasoning, the fence sitters are likely to vote in Azmin.
Fortunately, Azmin I think will be the first to disagree with me. People may respond in disjointed fashion but they indicate undercurrents. In response to the formation of the so-called dream team of Saifudin- Rafizi – Nurulizzah, Azmin said that it’s not cartels and groupings that decide the outcome of the contest. It is direct voting by all members.
From experience, I can say this. While that opinion may be true, in practice groupings indicate a consolidation of like-minded forces which Azmin ignores at his peril. Groupings can signal the call for battle formations and helped members make up their minds faster.  Nurulizzah and Rafizi are no lightweights in PKR. Azmin was clearly jolted by that grouping. It showed that senior and powerful PKR leaders are endorsing Saifudin and distancing both Azmin and Khalid.
Then we must remember the unfinished agenda of the kajang move.
Perhaps this was the main objective of the unfinished Kajang move agenda- to diminish both Azmin and Khalid. The war of attrition between both is endangering PKR and so a third person is needed.
Therefore, my own earlier thoughts on the election are not that relevant after all because, in the end, it will be the delegates who will decide. Some will be swayed by objective reasoning and not a few will be influenced by subjective and emotive appeals.
So I have to give space to the dissenters who have strong feelings against Azmin. Last night, I was met up by a PKR leader who admits that he is part of the get Azmin and Khalid out of the way to save PKR. Now, this is a fellow whom I know very well and I don’t take his views lightly. Conceding that I may be wrong in my views, I am giving as much space here to his arguments.
If PKR members were to read this latest article, they may want to use the points here to enhance their decision.
While Azmin’s political skills are appreciated, it is his political character that is a cause of concern. Here is one of the comments from a reader which requires some construction. Construct into what conclusions is entirely up to PKR members.
“I have observed Azmin's actions for a very long time since he came into the PKR picture. He is too greedy to get into power and will go all out to get what he wants or his way. He was willing to sacrifice a parliamentary seat by sabotaging Zaid Ibrahim, although it has now turn out that Zaid and Azmin are in the same boat. Both sore losers and acting like women scorned. In Sabah,he tried to relegate the local warlords to foot soldiers. And Sabah PKR more or less imploded”.
Can this type of comment be representative of the thinking that, Azmin has monarchical tendencies and is an absolutist? That if he comes into power, he will rule close-fisted?
That seems similar to the message that my PKR friend brought to me. That he is meeting me in person indicates that he feels strongly about this aspect of Azmin’s leadership.
The commentator continued:-
Put Azmin into any position of power, whether it is deputy president or president of PKR or MB and Umnoputras will be dancing crazily celebrating on the streets. It is much easier for Umno/BN to floor PR with Azmin in power than Khalid, Nurul or even the street brawler Rafizi.
To get into power by backstabbing, sabotaging and cheating and doing all dirty tricks on anyone deemed a threat to oneself, even to the extent of de-stabilising the party and grassroots supporters is not the one to lead the PR to Putrajaya. What I do expect if Azmin gets to be deputy president and later president is more likely PKR will self-implode before GE14.
Some parts of some comments I have edited to interpret a clearer line of thinking:-
When he did not want to assist MB Khalid in handling certain issues, it only shows his own ambitiousness, his domineering bad leadership hidden behind the sunglasses. Furthest from his mind is Selangor remaining in Pakatan's collaborative leadership, the Selangorians' interests and staying true to fighting harder against the umno baru leaders. We cannot gamble our votes for such a shady politician - who has reigned in Anwar with ghost blackmailing aka demands and too many childish sulking.
Many remember Azmin and Zuraidah showcasing themselves on a huge signboard - the early sign of extravagance, wastage and arrogance, open to the insatiable lust of the hearts and minds - corruptions once they ascend to power.
I could have written those lines in a different style- but who am I to modify what was said coming direct from this person’s heart?
In the end, perhaps what PKR really needs is a compromised candidate. I don’t know Saifudin sufficiently to evaluate him. I wish PKR members all the best. Do what you think is best for PKR.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Do our Armed Forces have a Succession Plan?

In parliament I raised the matter about a white paper on last year’s Lahad Datu Incident. I asked whether MINDEF will come out with a white paper on the incident. The minister of defence gave me a written answer saying that since the matter is in the courts, there will be no white paper forthcoming.
I hope that’s temporary. Once the court finishes with the case on the mischief makers, the MINDEF must come out with a white paper. If they don’t, how can our military form any doctrine as to how to deal with future similar aggression?
The business of coming out with a white paper must be top priority of the Chief of Armed Forces. Why is he dragging his feet on this matter? I am told he has dismissed the idea of coming out with a white paper. This is very not soldierly of him and begs the question is he capable to lead our military? 
Even so, there must be some internal report and analysis on the matter. As an MP concern with the security of the nation as well as other MPs, we should be allowed to look at the internal reports if there are any. This will allow us to gain a better appreciation of the role of the military. We want to support our brave soldiers and that is possible with a deeper appreciation and understanding. If the chief of armed forces is a mercurial fellow branding anyone who questions the conduct of the military as traitors, he is not conducting himself professionally.
As it is, I am very surprised that he has acted more like a tactical commander over the Lahad Datu incident rather than playing the role of a strategic commander. Why was he at the scene of clashes in lahad datu when we have field commanders in Sabah? Isn’t our First Division based in Sabah? A brigadier General is probably there commanding the Sabah theatre.
In the famous Japanese movie Kagemusha- the conduct of a strategic commander is beautifully summed up in the words- the mountain does not move. When Shingen moved, his enemies immediately became aware of his weaknesses. When our PAT or Chief or Armed Forces moved to Lahd Datu- that decision exposed all our weaknesses. First of all, it exposed out organisational weakness. Our field commanders are not entrusted with the task at hand and maybe inadvertently shown as not capable of handling an incursion of over 200 men.
The whole military conduct was unsound. We had to use commercial aeroplanes to ferry out soldiers to Sabah forgetting that we have our First Division Army there. We can’t excuse our logistics weakness by saying that one Hercules transport plane can only fly 92 soldiers and equipment at one time. We are not going to fly there only once a day are we? Don’t tell me one Hercules can only do one trip to Lahad datu per day.  We have to move seven battalions to Lahad datu mostly on civilian aircrafts exposing weaknesses in our military logistics.
I also asked the defence minister how much we spent on Ops Daulat. He gave a written answer saying that since this involves security of the nation, we don’t want to take issue on the costs. In other words, we spent what we need to spend. Yet only days later, it was stated that we spent RM300 million on the formation of Esscom. Presumably a big portion went to defray the costs of defending Lahad Datu.
The Minister didn’t answer whether the purchase of assets and decision to spend on consumables was done though the proper channels or as I asked, done through tender? Because it was easy for the PAT to justify an expenditure during that period as being dictated by the emergency nature.
I understand our PAT is already 60 years old. He has lobbied and the minister has agreed to extend his services for another 2 years. He has served this country well but it is time for others to take over. I want to ask- is there a succession plan of the military top brass?
Why do we need to extend the services of the current PAT by another 2 years? Does this mean that the other services chiefs are not qualified to take over? We have at least four 4-star generals who could easily take over as PAT. we have the Navy Chief, the Air Force Chief, Chief of Amy and the Chief of the National Defence University. Why don’t we appoint any of these fellows?
Our military needs new commanders and new doctrines and needs to be modernized. The Lahad Datu Incident showed many shortcomings. The latest case of the missing MH370 further exposed our inadequacies. We lacked mission capable assets. The Hercules planes participating in Australia are doing exactly what? Hercules is merely a transport plane that is hardly suitable for SAR operations, unless of course we define eye observation as SAR.
The chief of armed forces is always housed at a government quarters somewhere near the old Istana Negara. Recently, the residence of our armed forces chief was renovated at a cost of nearly RM10 million. Hundreds of low ranking soldiers were mustered to do work at the house doing cleaning up jobs I suppose. How was it decided that we needed to spend this amount on sprucing up the official residence of our army chief? Is it proper also for the PAT to call up our soldiers to do domestic work at his residence?


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Azmin Ali or Khalid Ibrahim- Concluding Part.

As promised, here is the second article on the contest between Azmin and Khalid. I will write in street style.
True or not? For a person like Khalid Ibrahim to do what he can do as a business savvy person, political power must be won and consolidated. If PR loses Selangor, then Khalid or a person of Khalid’s calibre has no place to apply his skills.
Therefore what is needed more is a political leader. Now that PR has won Selangor, it needs a leader schooled in politics above all. Since PKR’s man is the MB its leader must be a political man.
Many people out there find it objectionable if Azmin were to continue to be deputy president and maybe later as MB. This seems to be the sole reason behind the stop Azmin movement. Azmin must not win- otherwise he will demand to become MB. Of course if Azmin wins, people should expect him to ask to become MB.
So they come out with the disingenuous argument- Wan Azizah is the president and therefore should take precedence as MB.  It seems to me that people already expect Azmin to be the next MB should he defeat Khalid. So the circumventing argument is put forward. If there is a person superseding Azmin in rank, that person should take precedence. Meaning even if Azmin were to win, he cannot become MB as he is only deputy president.
This argument is put forward only when Azmin is involved. Look- if this man deserves to become MB of Selangor, then he must be supported. He is the head of Selangor PKR already. Not giving his due place in the state administration is already an abuse of reasonableness and propriety. I am surprised than Anwar hasn’t corrected this anomaly. A party that does not observe discipline will crumble.
This argument forgets that even though there is a person outranking Khalid in party hierarchy, people find it not odd to have Khalid as MB and Wan Aizah as ADUN or later exco. This is clearly wrong. The person higher in rank should be the boss. Wan Azizah should become MB after this party election.
If people insist on having pre-election status quo, i.e. letting someone lower in rank to become MB, then no one should find it objectionable to accept Azmin as MB if he wins the deputy president’s post. People should be consistent in their conduct and behaviour. Why is it not odd for someone lower in party rank to be MB but it becomes odd only when that someone lower in rank is Azmin?
This means, the choice for deputy president has nothing to do with the candidate’s credentials. It has more to do with personal preference and personal comfort.
So what do people have against Azmin? Reading the comments I got so far, PKR and the pubic have reservations about Azmin.  They insist he has UMNO DNA. This is unfair I think- Azmin has proven his PKR credentials and his loyalty above all. As far as I remember, Azmin did not hold any posts in UMNO nor did he contest for any posts. His link with UMNO was his service with an UMNO leader and that leader happens to be Anwar Ibrahim.
Khalid Ibrahim has more UMNO DNA. He contested for a post in an UMNO branch in Kuala Selangor and lost. He was then appointed to be in the Biro ekonomi UMNO. Saifudin Nasution too was an active UMNO member. If I am not mistaken Saifudin even served as executive secretary for Pemuda UMNO. He has also served as political secretary to Syed Hamid Albar. His links with UMNO is even stronger. His brother, Sahlan Nasution was the political secretary to PM Najib. Sahlan contested in the last general elections and lost. He now serves as PM Najib’s special officer or something. 
The second objection is the belief that if Azmin were to become MB, he will practise cronyism and nepotism and will fritter away the cash reserves. This is an unwinnable objection as it is indefensible because the wrongs mentioned have not taken place. We have already prejudged Azmin.
Unless PKR members know that Azmin has a bad record in this aspect or Azmin has shown he has already done these things before, then they are entitled to that judgment. If they don’t, then it is all prejudice.
This is what we need at the moment. A political leader above all. We have regretted the day we put in business centric persons in political positions. We had Dr Mahathir for instance. He is a businessman first and foremost. Read what Rais Yatim had to say about Mahathir before Mahathir took Rais Yatim in of course. Rais Yatim went on to become the greatest bootlicker since our independence.
Mahathir, he said, would spend a great deal of time during his overseas trips closing business deals. We all cheered Mahathir on because we thought he was doing a great service to the nation. Lee Kuan Yew would have approved of this explicit application of entrepreneurship on the political stage. He forgets that Singapore could turn out triumphant because he was there and the quality of people in white on his team was different.
But something must have gone wrong in Malaysia because we didn’t turn out to be the economic miracle thought possible as a result of the application of entrepreneurship on politics. Malaysia has oil but didn’t turn out to become the world’s refinery. We had rubber and other raw materials, but didn’t turn out world number one. We didn’t develop our manufacturing sector to compete with the best.
So, I can’t buy the argument we need to have businessmen at the head of politics for a change to do well. Daim was a businessman. He made deals for himself first and the country second. Put any businessman in political positions, he will think of his business.
The mistake by many people is to assume and to then believe that business skills will be put to good application once in political power. History has proven again and again, the skills were indeed put to good application- to entrench private business interests.
The most business-minded person to get into power was Dr Mahathir. He began with all the good intentions and good moves. As he grew more powerful, demolished detractors around him, the feeling of invincibility dulled the idealism which brought him into power. Every decision he made afterwards was underscored with business objectives. So, I am not going to place too high a premium on Khalid’s seemingly good business sense.
He has already begun some questionable moves. What kind of deal did Khalid alone conclude over the water supply in Selangor? Remember – Mahathir did the same thing. It was he alone who decided what was good or otherwise for the country.
We don’t know. This follows after Khalid’s own miraculous resolve of his personal loan with a bank. The bank got a judgement against him and the bank was willing to close the matter by agreeing to a huge haircut.
Most recently, he has entered into a deal selling of over 400 acres of land to Tropicana – already the preferred business partner of Barisan Nasional. The deal may be good as Khalid explained- but was the deal done through open market operations or was the proposal from Tropicana the only one considered and accepted?
We see that hidden forces are working hard to emasculate Khalid Ibrahim, soften him and others up, so that UMNO can stage a coup? Suddenly UMNO is supporting Khalid and MCA is hailing Khalid as the best. Are they afraid of Azmin replacing Khalid? With Azmin in a stronger position, all the behind the scene machinations and intrigues will be shattered? Remember what happened in Perak the last time. Or in a Kedah style indirect coup by allowing a weak leader governed the state?
Without political power over Selangor, Khalid Ibrahim is nothing. I said a person like Khalid- and that reveals what I think about the whole business of making out of business prowess as the trump card for election- is overrated. Khalid Ibrahim isn’t the only person who can achieve what he has achieved. He has been able to do that because PR has the political power. If he doesn’t have political power, what could he have done? Maybe trade privately over the counter and play with his stocks in Guthrie and elsewhere?
I want Azmin Ali to win because I want PKR to have a strong political leader. Before anyone rushes to some ill-judged conclusions, let me state that I know Azmin only a little.  I told a close PKR colleague that I am writing these articles purely based on observations of Azmin in parliament. Allow me to declare, I have no interests in an Azmin victory.
Now, political power is entrenched and secured with the correct political leadership. This is where Azmin’s leadership is needed. If I may say bluntly, PKR is not all about Anwar. If he goes in, and there is every indication that the federal court will uphold the conviction by the appeals court, Wan Azizah will lead PKR. You may argue that Wan Azizah is qualified to lead PKR, but she needs the support of a politically experienced deputy. The deputy will likely run the party on the day to day basis.
I am not buying the argument that only Khalid Ibrahim can run Selangor into what it is now. During the years that Anwar was finance minister, Azmin was also there. He is smart enough to manage a state. As it is, I sense, the only reason why people are against Azmin becoming the deputy president is their personal dislike or disapproval of him. Now, that is personal in nature and should not be used as reason, to not acknowledge him as a good political leader.
I read one comment in my earlier article- which says it is good to have a crook to deal with the UMNO crooks. How do you come to the conclusion that Azmin is a crook? If one comes to that inclusion, then by extension, Anwar is a bigger crook and yet we have no strong objections in accepting Anwar as a leader.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Azmin Ali or Khalid Ibrahim?

Azmin or Khalid?
I am writing this article purely from the point of a political observer. This is how I look at the contest as a keen observer. This is not a DAP official stand on the leadership issues in PKR. PKR is a member of Pakatan Rakyat and an important ally just like PAS is. The DAP leadership has its views on PKR leadership. Their main interest is to see PKR remain strong to be on the same side to displace BN and UMNO.
I shall write in the most general terms hoping the message here is understood. It is hard to write on or against colleagues. There will be a second follow-up article to state the issues clearer. That will be for the benefit of people who prefer brutal candour as opposed to less robust reasoning.
If I were to have a wish list, the top question is, what kind of leadership do I want for PKR? My answer will be: since PKR is a political party not a corporate entity, or a management-centric organisation, I will want a political leader.
The aim of politics is basically that of organising efforts, material and resources to obtain political objectives of securing and retaining political power. The other overriding objective is to have a leadership with the resolve, dedication and discipline to defeat BN. That to me would require a different kind of leadership than one that is required to run a business corporation for instance.
Business leadership may one day find it more profitable to be in mainstream politics and so can decide it is of strategic importance to be in BN. But political leadership sees no profit in linking up with BN because it is driven by different values, namely to stay the course and remain true to its own political objectives. .
I have a problem, with the continued promotion of business success as a qualifier for public office.  Therefore while Khalid’s achievement in obtaining cash reserves for Selangor for RM3 billion is laudable, that to me isn’t a qualification for him to be a deputy president of PKR. Success in the market is not an automatic disqualifier for public service, but it is a far different undertaking with different purposes and different values. And to suggest that government needs people experienced in business reminds me of the old feminist saying that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. In fact, business and government -- while there may be skills involved that are translatable and useful as one moves from one sphere to another, are in some ways polar opposite undertakings.
The business of business is business and the goal of business is to earn a profit in the provision of goods and services. The business of government is service -- well managed, one hopes, and not wasteful, but never at a profit.
As to the money, we must remember there is no such thing as government money. Governments have no money; they have only what they take from their citizens, either in taxes or by inflation and what it gives back in terms of wellbeing of the people. And if government accrues profit it can only have done so by taxing too much or eroding the value of the citizens' income and savings -- in either case doing harm, not good, to the people.
Businesses seek maximum efficiency; governments seek sufficient efficiency. Suppose we desire security of the nation. We can save a considerable amount of money by delegating our national security to mercenary armies drawn from other countries as opposed to keeping a high-cost standing army and paying them wages, thus erasing the need to maintain a perpetual and costly military infrastructure. Zahid Hamidi can always ask the human traffickers to bring in the Ghurkhas from Nepal, serve as our army to achieve maximum efficiency. State governments could close Jabatan Kebajikan offices and require that all transactions with government be conducted electronically, with no recourse to potentially sympathetic human beings. These are choices governments make reluctantly but businesses make routinely.
Politics and Business operate on different ethics. Consider the question of earned merit. In business which is very much a merit-based enterprise, one's employment is continued so long as he or she maintains sufficient production. The productive ones continue to receive pay checks; non-productive workers are cut loose. That may seem unfair to the bleeding-hearted, but it is productivity that provides profit and insufficient productivity that drains profit and therefore survivability. Distinguish that ethic from the commitment of government to provide a safety net for those who are, quite often due to no fault of their own, non-productive members of society. How do you deal with them?
In business, the non-productive are sacked or have their employment terminated; in government, the non-productive are not treated that way.  That is because the society as a whole, believes single mothers, orphans, the mentally or physically infirm deserve sustenance and protection. Men and women whose careers are in business may also share in the value of compassion, but it flies directly in the face of a belief in maximizing profit and winning bonuses. They may say, it is nothing personal, just business.
So PKR has to decide, what kind of leader do they want? Business or political leader?
To be fair to Khalid, I do not mean by this to suggest that the corporate experience is, or should be, an impediment to elective service. It does mean, however, that candidates for public office should not hold out that expertise in business as a primary qualification for election. Yes, okay, so you've run a company and you've made money; it'll look good in your CV. Three cheers, hip hip hooray.
But it is important to spell out how that experience translates into meaningful preparation for service in government. Granted, it may curb the temptation to be profligate, and that's a definite plus, but government is about helping to ensure that the government's economic policies are not inimical to others making a profit. It is not about slashing spending but about meeting society's obligations with efficiency and accountability. For business, forests exist as a source of lumber; for society, forests exist as a source of pleasure.
Business and government are not opposites, but they are distinct; the mind-set is necessarily different; the understandings are different; the obligations are different. Whether you cheer for Khalid Ibrahim and others like him, to win or lose in this coming party election, we should demand of them a downplaying of the business credential and a focus on how they would meet the actual challenges of governance on the specific terms of public, not private, service.
The most keenly watched contest will be for the deputy president’s post. The contest will essentially be between Azmin Ali and Khalid Ibrahim. The withdrawal of Tian Chua is seen as a measure to shore up support for Saifudin Nasution.  This plan may not work.
Votes are not transferable as one would like them to be. Those who were rooting in for Tian Chua who have decided not to support Azmin, may not necessarily vote in Saifudin. Although he is the PKR’s secretary general who has the opportunity to go all over the country and who has the opportunity to cultivate support, members may want to support Azmin. In the end, I think the presence of Saifudin will not derail much of the Azmin’s juggernaut. As to the other contestants for the same post, I don’t think they carry much weightage.


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