Monday, August 31, 2009

DIPLOMATIC DISASTERS FOR UK AMBASSADORS

Dispatches from ambassadors are not always as insightful as they should be. Britain’s man in Iran, Sir AnthonyParsons, got it famously wrong on the eve of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

As the shah’s security forces gunned down protesters in May 1978, he sent a telegram to the then foreign secretary,David Owen, insisting that there was no “serious risk” of the “king of kings” losing his throne. “My honest opinion is that the Pahlavis, father and son, have a good chance and my guess is that they will make it.”

In a more recent embarrassment, our man in North Korea, Peter Hughes, had his blog on the March elections likened to Pyongyang propaganda.

“Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently to select their representatives in the country’s unicameral legislature,” Hughes wrote.

Malaysia Government

Country name:
conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Malaysia
former: Federation of Malaysia

Government type:
constitutional monarchy
note: nominally headed by paramount ruler and a bicameral Parliament consisting of a nonelected upper house and an elected lower house; all Peninsular Malaysian states have hereditary rulers except Melaka and Pulau Pinang (Penang); those two states along with Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia have governors appointed by government; powers of state governments are limited by federal constitution; under terms of federation, Sabah and Sarawak retain certain constitutional prerogatives (e.g., right to maintain their own immigration controls); Sabah - holds 20 seats in House of Representatives and will hold 25 seats after the next election; Sarawak holds 28 seats in House of Representatives

Capital:
Kuala Lumpur
note: Putrajaya is referred to as administrative center not capital; Parliament meets in Kuala Lumpur

Administrative divisions:
13 states (negeri-negeri, singular - negeri) Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Pulau Pinang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, and Terengganu; and one federal territory (wilayah persekutuan) with three components, city of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya
Independence:

31 August 1957 (from UK)

National holiday:
Independence Day/Malaysia Day, 31 August (1957)

Constitution:
31 August 1957, amended 16 September 1963

Legal system:
based on English common law; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court at request of supreme head of the federation; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Politics of Malaysia

The politics of Malaysia takes place in the framework of a constitutional monarchy, in which the Monarch is head of state and thePrime Minister of Malaysia is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the Malaysian government and the devolvedgovernments of the 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak. Federal legislative power is vested in both thegovernment and the two chambers of parliament, the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). Thejudiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature, though the executive maintains a certain level of influence in the appointment of judges to the courts.

However, during the terms of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, many constitutional amendments were made. Henceforth, the Senate can only delay a bill from taking effect and the Monarch no longer has veto powers on proposed bills. Also, the 26 state senators are no longer the majority as another 44 senators are appointed by the King at the advice of the Prime Minister. The amendments also limited the powers of the judiciary to what parliament grants them.

Malaysia is a multi-party system since the first direct election of the Federal Legislative Council of Malaya in 1955 on a first-past-the-post basis. The ruling party since then has always been the Alliance Party (Malay: Parti Perikatan) coalition and subsequently from 1973 onwards, its successor the Barisan Nasional (Malay for National Front) coalition. The Barisan Nasional coalition currently consists of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and 11 other political parties.

The Constitution of Malaysia is codified and the system of government is based on the Westminster system.

Although Malaysian politics has been relatively stable, critics allege that "the government, ruling party, and administration...are intertwined with few countervailing forces."[1]

Political conditionsMalaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties since Malaya's independence in 1957. In 1973, an alliance of communally based parties was replaced with a broader coalition — the Barisan Nasional — composed of fourteen parties. Today the Barisan Nasional coalition has three prominent members — the UMNO, MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). The Prime Minister of Malaysia has always been from UMNO.

The political process in Malaysia has generally been described as taking the form of "consociationalism" whereby "communal interests are resolved in the framework of a grand coalition" "Malaysia: Developmental State Challenged". In Government and Politics in Southeast Asia' The executive branch has tended to dominate political activity, with the Prime Minister's office being in a position to preside "over an extensive and ever growing array of powers to take action against individuals or organizations," and "facilitate business opportunities". Critics generally agree that although authoritarianism in Malaysia preceded the administration of Mahathir bin Mohamad, it was he who "carried the process forward substantially" Legal scholars have suggested that the political "equation for religious and racial harmony" is rather fragile, and that this "fragility stems largely from the identification of religion with race coupled with the political primacy of the Malay people colliding with the aspiration of other races for complete equality."

Like the desire of a segment of the Muslim community for an Islamic State, the non-Malay demand for complete equality is something that the present Constitutionwill not be able to accommodate. For it is a demand which pierces the very heart of the political system — a system based upon Malay political pre-eminence. It is a demand that challenges the very source of Malay ruling elites' power and authority.

In early September 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and accused Anwar of immoral and corrupt conduct. Anwar said his ouster actually owed to political differences and led a series of demonstrations advocating political reforms. Later in September, Anwar was arrested, beaten while in prison (by among others, the chief of police at the time), and charged with corrupt practices, in both legal and moral contexts, charges includingobstruction of justice and sodomy. In April 1999, he was convicted of four counts of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison. In August 2000, Anwar was convicted of one count of sodomy and sentenced to nine years to run consecutively after his earlier six-year sentence. Both trials were viewed by domestic and international observers as unfair. Anwar's conviction on sodomy has since been overturned, and having completed his six-year sentence for corruption, he has since been released from prison. In the November 1999 general election, the Barisan Nasional was returned to power with three-fourths of the parliamentary seats, but UMNO's seats dropped from 94 to 72. The opposition Barisan Alternatif coalition, led by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), increased its seats to 42. PAS retained control of the state of Kelantan and won the additional state of Terengganu.

The current Prime Minister is Dato' Seri Mohd. Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak. He took office following the retirement of Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi(colloquially known as "Pak Lah") on April, 2009.

In the March 2004 general election, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi led Barisan Nasional to a landslide victory, in which Barisan Nasional recaptured the state ofTerengganu. The coalition now controls 92% of the seats in Parliament. In 2005, Mahathir stated that "I believe that the country should have a strong government but not too strong. A two-thirds majority like I enjoyed when I was prime minister is sufficient but a 90% majority is too strong. ... We need an opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes. When you are not opposed you think everything you do is right."

The national media are largely controlled by the government and by political parties in the Barisan Nasional/National Front ruling coalition and the opposition has little access to the media. The print media are controlled by the Government through the requirement of obtaining annual publication licences under the Printing and Presses Act. In 2007, a government agency — the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission — issued a directive to all private television and radio stations to refrain from broadcasting speeches made by opposition leaders. The official state ideology is the Rukunegara, which has been described as encouraging "respect for a pluralistic, multireligious and multicultural society". However, political scientists have argued that the slogan of Bangsa, Agama, Negara (race, religion, nation) used by UMNO constitutes an unofficial ideology as well. Both ideologies have "generally been used to reinforce a conservative political ideology, one that is Malay-centred"

Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. It is nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. Yang di-Pertuan Agong are selected for five-year terms from among the nine Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection. The king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia. The system of government in Malaysia is closely modeled on that of Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative, and the judiciary has been weakened by sustained attacks by the government during the Mahathir era. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2008. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-racial coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly the Alliance).

Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of Parliament and is responsible to that body.

In recent years the opposition have been campaigning for free and fairer elections within Malaysia. On 10 November 2007, a mass rally, called the 2007 Bersih Rally, took place in the Dataran Merdeka Kuala Lumpur at 3pm to demand for clean and fair elections. The gathering was organised by BERSIH, a coalition comprising political parties and civil society groups(NGOs), and drew supporters from all over the country.

On 11 November, the Malaysian government briefly detained de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday and arrested a human rights lawyer and about a dozen opposition leaders, amid growing complaints the government is cracking down on dissent. Dozens of policemen blocked the main entrance to the parliament building in Kuala Lumpur to foil an opposition-led rally demanding free and fair elections. The rally carried out hand with the attempt to submit a protest note to Parliament over a government-backed plan to amend a law that would extend the tenure of the Election Commission chief, whom the opposition claims is biased.

Malaysia's government has intensified efforts on March 6, 2008 to portray opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim as a political turncoat, days ahead of Malaysian general election, 2008 on March 8, 2008 that will determine whether he poses a legitimate threat to the ruling coalition.[1]Campaigning wrapped up March 7, 2008 for general elections that could see gains for Malaysia's opposition amid anger over race and religion among minority Chinese and Indians.[2]. Malaysians voted March 8, 2008 in parliamentary elections.[3]. Election results showed that the ruling government suffered a setback when it failed to obtain two-thirds majority in parliament, and five out of 12 state legislatures were won by the opposition parties. [4] Reasons for the setback of the ruling party, which has retained power since the nation declared independence in 1957, are the rising inflation, crime and ethnic tensions.[5]

Malaysia's government and ruling coalition declared defeat in a landslide victory in by-election by Anwar Ibrahim. Muhammad Muhammad Taib, information chief of theUnited Malays National Organisation which leads the Barisan Nasional coalition stated: Yes of course we have lost . . . we were the underdogs going into this race.[2]Anwar won by an astounding majority against Arif Shah Omar Shah of National Front coalition. Malaysia's Election Commission officials announced Anwar won by an astounding majority against Arif Shah Omar Shah of National Front coalition and over Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's United Malays National Organisation(UMNO).[3] Reuters reported "Anwar Ibrahim has won with a majority of 16,210 votes, according to news website Malaysiakini (http://www.malaysiakini.com): Anwar won 26,646 votes, while the government's Arif Omar won 10,436 votes.[4] Anwar's People's Justice Party spokewoman Ginie Lim told BBC: "We won already. We are far ahead."[5]


Legislative branch

The Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur

The bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All seventy Senate members sit for three-year terms (to a maximum of two terms); twenty-six are elected by the thirteen state assemblies, and forty-four are appointed by the king based on the advice of the Prime Minister. The 222 members of the Dewan Rakyat are elected from single-member districts by universal adult suffrage. Parliament has a maximum mandate of five years by law. The king may dissolve parliament at any time and usually does so upon the advice of the Prime Minister.General elections must be held within three months of the dissolution of parliament. In practice this has meant that elections have been held every three to five years at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. Malaysia has two sources of law.[citation needed] The national constitution, the nation's supreme law, can be amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament. (Since its formation, the BN has never lacked the necessary two-thirds until March 8 2008's General Election) The second source of law is syariah (Islamic law), which applies only to Muslims. The federal government has little input into the administration of syariah; it falls to the states to implement Islamic law, and interpretations vary from state to state.[citation needed]


State governments

The state governments are led by chief ministers (Menteri Besar or Ketua Menteri, the latter term being used in states without hereditary rulers), selected by the state assemblies (Dewan Undangan Negeri) advising their respective sultans or governors. Although Malaysia is a federal state, political scientists have suggested that its "federalism is highly centralised":

Our federalism gives the federal government not only the most legislative and executive powers but also the most important sources of revenue. State governments are excluded from the revenues of income tax, export, import and excise duties, and they are also largely restricted from borrowing internationally. They have to depend on revenue from forests, lands, mines, petroleum, the entertainment industry, and finally, transfer payments from the central government.[6]


Legal system

The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeals; it has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each has a high court. The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications, transportation, and other matters.

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