About the SeminarReligious interaction is one of the significant elements in Malaysia-Saudi Arabia relations. There are two important features in Malaysia’s religious interaction with Saudi Arabia. The first feature is on the implementation of Islamic teachings, Islamic jurisprudence in particular, for both countries. Malaysia is traditionally associated with the teaching of the Shafiite school from as early as the 15th century, whereas the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia largely practices the Hanbalite-Wahhabism school. In religiously interacting with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia is certainly dealing with the Kingdom’s Wahhabism ideology which arguably inspired some Islamic movements during the 19th and early 20th centuries ago in the Malay Archipelago. Malaysia, however, to this date, is less receptive of the Wahhabism ideology due to the dominance of the Shafiite school, the government’s ‘guarded’ religious policies and the own-styled of local da’wah movements which differ with Wahhabism approaches. The second feature is, despite differences in the implementation of Islamic teachings, Malaysia has received a number of capital donations from the Kingdom to financially assist the development of socio-economic projects and religious activities. Until today, the interaction between the two countries has been steadily growing stronger and more collaborative projects have been launched to enhance the scope of their bilateral relations in the future.
About the Speaker
Associate Professor Dr Asmady Idris is an International Relations lecturer at University Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Malaysia. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in International Relations from University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Dr Idris has published numerous articles on the Middle East-Asia Pacific relations, such as “Impact of Mutual Interaction between Civil Society and Conditionality by an External Actor on Democratization: Cases of Turkey and Malaysia (co-authored with Irem Askar Karakir, 2016)”, Malaysia’s Contemporary Political and Economic Relations with Iran (co-authored with Remali Yusoff, 2015), “Malaysian
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Humanitarian Issues in Gaza, Palestine (2012), “Early Development of Malaysia's Relations With Saudi Arabia (2003)”, and others. His latest book is Malaysia’s Relations with Saudi Arabia, 1957-2003, published by University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Press in 2015.
About the Seminar
While Singapore, the US, and Japan have traditionally been Malaysia’s main trading partners, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been the country’s most important trading partner since 2012. Beyond trade in finished products, commerce between the two countries is based on inputs and parts being sent within production networks operating between the two countries. This same trend is visible in investment flows. From a minor investor, China has now become a significant player in the Malaysian economy, investing RM 11.6 billion in manufacturing projects in 2012-15 - behind only Japan, Singapore and the United States.
Beyond setting up manufacturing operations, Chinese government-linked corporations and private consortiums have been active in the real estate sector. Government-linked corporations have stakes in the Malaysia-Kuantan Industrial Park as well as Bandar Malaysia, which will be the main terminus of the planned High Speed Rail. Large-scale private sector concerns such as Country Garden, R&F, and Greenland have a significant presence in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur.
With regard to infrastructure, government-linked corporations have won contracts for the RM 55 bn East Coast Rail Link, the RM 9 bn Gemas-Johor Bahru dual tracking project, as well as provisions of rolling stock. A consortium of government-linked corporations is positioning itself for the High-Speed Rail project, slated to go to tender later this year. There are also large-scale port projects being planned with PRC involvement, two on the Peninsula’s west coast and another on the east coast.
Looking forward, the PRC presence in the Malaysian economy looks set to increase. In December last year, Prime Minister Najib returned from his visit to China, where he and his counterparts signed 14 agreements totaling RM 144 billion, which represents 12 percent of Malaysia’s GDP. However, this trend has not gone unnoticed by Malaysia’s electorate, with polls indicating a growing sense of unease at the rapid increase in PRC presence in the economy as well as foreign ownership of strategic assets.
This seminar will analyze the trends in PRC investment into Malaysia, particularly in the real estate and construction sectors, as well as key aspects of infrastructure such as railways and ports. From there it will examine trends in public opinion regarding the level and different types of PRC investments in the country.
About the Speakers
Topic: PRC Investment in the Real Estate and Construction Sectors in Malaysia
Loong Chee Wei joined Affin Hwang Capital in April 2015 as the Senior Associate Director covering the construction/infrastructure, property and building material sector. He has been covering Malaysian equities since 1997 (including strategy, banking, construction/infrastructure, property, gaming, oil & gas), and formerly worked for CLSA, Nomura, BNP Paribas, AmInvestment Bank and Hwang-DBS Securities. Mr Loong has been a qualified Chartered Financial Analyst since 1999.
Topic: PRC Investment in the Rail and Port Sectors in Malaysia
G Naidu was, prior to his retirement, a professor in transport economics at the University of Malaya and is currently an independent consultant. His main areas of interest have been in transport, logistics and infrastructure. He has worked as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Ministry of Transport and number Malaysian port authorities. He recently served as a subject matter expert for the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC).
Topic: Evolving Public Opinion Regarding PRC Investment in Malaysia
Ibrahim Suffian is Co-founder and Program Director of Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, a leading public opinion polling and political surveys organization in Malaysia. He presently manages Merdeka Center’s portfolio of clients ranging from political parties, government departments as well as local and international institutions of higher learning. Through Merdeka Center,
Mr Suffian has been organizing surveys in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Myanmar. Prior to his role in the Merdeka Center,
Mr Suffian worked as a project finance specialist in a Malaysian investment bank and was project manager in an international development agency.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME
About the Book
Recent census statistics indicate that ethnic Indians comprise a mere 7.4 per cent of Malaysia's total population, with Hindus constituting a 84.1 per cent of that figure. However, the Hindu festival of Thaipusam at Batu Caves outside Kuala Lumpur has become the largest single gathering of any religious festival in Malaysia, and is believed to be the most significant Hindu festival to be held outside India.
Thaipusam has attracted the attention of a number of scholars, but with notable exceptions, most observers of this festival have viewed Thaipusam in Malaysia as a sui generis, and have tended to regard the more dramatic and allegedly confrontational elements of the festival as a cultural aberration. Failure to contextualise Thaipusam in terms of the wider Tamil diaspora or to closely examine the inner dynamics of this complex festival in terms of Tamil Hindu traditions have often resulted in interpretations which are both misleading and/or skewed.
This approach will examine Thaipusam in terms of long established cultural and religious traditions, in the particular those of divine kingship and the rituals of Hindu pilgrimage. it will argue that far from being a merely Malaysian phenomenon, Thaipusam is a feature of the wider Tamil diaspora, and is constructed from condensed coded or Tamil history and culture. However, within the Malaysian context, Thaipusam is not only a continuing political and social assertion of Hindu identity, but as a festival sends a variety of signals, some agonistic, to a range of audiences both within Malaysia and beyond.
About the Author & Speaker
Carl Vadivella Belle obtained a BA at the Australian National University, Canberra, and a PhD at Deakin University in 2004. Between 1976 and 1979 served in the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur. He has maintained a long term interest in Malaysian social, political, religious and political issues, especially Hinduism in Malaysia and the histories and traditions of Malaysia’s Indian community. He has also acted as principal consultant to several television and radio productions focusing on the festival of Thaipusam as it is practiced at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur. Dr Belle was appointed Inaugural Hindu Chaplain at the Flinders University of South Australia in 2005. He has lectured extensively on both Malaysian politics and society, and on south Indian Hindu traditions, as well as wider religious issues, and has published numerous papers on these topics. His most recent work, Tragic Orphans: Indians in Malaysia, published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, constitutes a comprehensive general history of the modern Indian presence in Malaysia.
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About the Seminar
UMNO today is very different from what it was before, and is not suited for the future. In the past, the party’s grassroot leaders were ordinary folks and Malay teachers who were very committed and call themselves ‘Orang UMNO’ (UMNO people) rather than ‘Ahli UMNO’ (UMNO members). Today, they are replaced by businessmen, staff of the Ministry of Rural Development and people looking for opportunities. Volunteerism in UMNO has declined while patronage or money politics, which emerged in 1980s, has deepened further. The 1MDB scandal shows how money politics has corrupted the party to the core. The scandal has badly hurt UMNO and the whole country in terms of leadership, corruption, freedom, rule of law and the economy. The original UMNO is ‘UMNO Berjuang’ (the fighting UMNO). Today, it is ‘UMNO Berwang’ (UMNO with money).
But, why is UMNO (and BN) still in power? Because of four major factors, i.e. unfair election system (e.g. malapportionment and gerrymandering), politics of race (plus religion), patronage and culture of fear. Can these four factors continue to help UMNO/BN win the 14th General Election (GE)? How have the various financial scandals and intra-party conflict in UMNO affected the young, middle class and urban Malays’ support? Will the Felda Global Ventures’ scandal erode UMNO’s staunch support from the Felda settlers? After denying UMNO/BN the two third majority in Parliament in the 12th General Election (GE) in 2008 and 13th GE in 2013, and UMNO/BN lost the popular vote in the 13th GE, can Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) win the 14th GE expected to be held in 2017?
About the Speaker
Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah is Chief Secretary of Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) – Malaysia’s biggest opposition coalition, and Director (Strategic and Social Development) of Institut Darul Ehsan. Previously, he was Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Member of Parliament for Temerloh and Member of UMNO Supreme Council. In October 2015, he left UMNO, mainly because of the 1MDB scandal, to join Keadilan.
He is a progressive politician who advocates the idea of New Politics, youth empowerment and social economy. When he was Deputy Minister of Higher Education, he re-launched the Speakers Corner and amended the University and University College Act to allow students to be actively involved in politics – both items banned since 1975; and was critical of the government’s suppressive ways on freedom, human rights and racism.
Before joining politics, Saifuddin was President of the Malaysian Youth Council, Member of the United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Youth Employment and a student activist. He has published seven books, including New Politics/Politik Baru (bi-lingual) (2008) and ASEAN Peoples’ Agenda (2015); and is columnist at Sinar Harian, The Edge Malaysia and Sin Chew Daily.
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About the Seminar
The original scheme of Malaysia's Federal Constitution was to provide for constitutional supremacy in Article 4(1). Islam was given an exalted position in Article 3(1) by declaring it to be the official religion of the Federation. However it was also provided in Article 3(4) that nothing in Article 3(1) derogates from any other provision of the Constitution. This meant that despite Islam's special position, the shariah was not the litmus test of validity for any laws.
The Constitution divided powers over Islamic law between Federal and State authorities. The States were not given a monopoly over the whole field of Islamic law. The Constitution assigned legislative and administrative powers to the States on only some residual, enumerated areas of Islamic law, mostly of Islamic family law. Shariah courts exercised jurisdiction only in areas permitted by the supreme Constitution. However since the 80s the States are enacting legislation in areas which are outside their jurisdiction. The federal government is a silent spectator. The courts are reluctant to strike down unconstitutional laws by the States. A constitutional amendment bars civil courts from interfering in any matter within the jurisdiction of the shariah courts.
The Constitution expressly forbade the subjection of non-Muslims to the jurisdiction of shariah authorities. But in the milieu of increasing "Islamisation", some shariah authorities are emboldened to break free of this limitation. The superior, civil courts are increasingly reluctant to review the actions of shariah authorities or the constitutionality of laws made in the name of Islam. The imposition of power by the ecclesiastical authorities of one religion over the adherents of another religion is tearing society apart. Conflicts between civil and shariah courts over jurisdictional issues is leaving helpless people with no remedies. Inter-communal relations are frayed.
A silent rewriting of the Constitution is taking place. Article 3 (on Islam) and List II of the 9th Schedule (on state powers over Islam) have overridden constitutional supremacy, the chapter on fundamental rights and the federal-state division of powers. We seem to be heading towards a “one country two systems” model.
On another plane, the country is also moving steadily towards more and more religious authoritarianism in the disguise of Islamisation. The imposition of a very conservative, rigid, literal interpretation of the shariah is having an adverse impact on Muslim intellectuals. There are attempts to impose thought-control. Muslims cannot have a discourse on Islam without the written authority of a tauliah. Muslims cannot criticise a fatwa, and if they do that is a criminal offence! Electoral democracy is being undermined because unelected religious bureaucrats are issuing binding fatwas having the force of law. The fatwas are backed by criminal sanctions against anyone who challenges them. The Arabisation and Salafisation of Malay society is in progress.
Malaysia's system of constitutional supremacy, electoral democracy, rule of law and separation of powers is under stress. At the political level, moderation, accommodation and inter-communal cooperation are under siege.
About the Speaker
Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is the holder of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair in law at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. He is an Emeritus Professor at Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam and an Adjunct Professor at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of New England, Australia. He has authored books in various fields including Media Law; Islam, Democracy and Development; and on Malaysia's Federal Constitution. He is a columnist with Malaysia's leading English daily, The Star.
About the Seminar
The Merdeka Center for Opinion Research recently conducted a survey in Sabah and Sarawak to assess public opinion on the performance of local leaders and of the state and federal governments, as well as potential election issues that concern them the most. These include the relationship between Putrajaya and Kuching/Kota Kinabalu as well as attitudes towards state autonomy, and question of Islamization and Islamic state. The choice of surveying voter sentiments in Sabah and Sarawak forms a critical component towards building a body of knowledge about the electorate there considering how the ruling Barisan Nasional has continuously relied upon voters’ there for support.
The relative weakness of the central government at Putrajaya has spurred political leadership in Sabah and Sarawak to push towards the devolution of power in their favour.
Interesting findings from the survey include: Sarawakians and Sabahans expressed mixed views about the direction the country is heading; Sarawakians were more satisfied with their state government and then chief minister, while Sabahans, on the other hand, held more split views on those institutions; most East Malaysians acknowledge that their respective states were better off being a part of Malaysia rather than without; a large majority of Sarawakians and Sabahans also report that they did not really understand the contents of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement or the 18 and 20 point terms set during the formation of the Malaysian Federation; and a plurality of East Malaysians held warm views towards Singapore although a sizable minority of one in five Sabahans held some negative feelings about the island state leaving the federation in 1965.
About the Speaker
Ibrahim Suffian is a co-founder and programs director of Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, a leading public opinion polling and political surveys organization in Malaysia. Besides undertaking research assignments, Ibrahim is actively involved in briefings for the diplomatic and the financial community about political developments in Malaysia. He presently manages Merdeka Center’s portfolio of clients ranging from political parties, government departments as well as local and international institutions of higher learning. Through Merdeka Center, Ibrahim has been involved in organizing surveys in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Myanmar.
Prior to his role in Merdeka Center, Ibrahim worked as a project finance specialist in a Malaysian investment bank and a project manager in an international development agency.
Ibrahim received education from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and obtained an MBA from the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. Ibrahim was a World Fellow at Yale University in 2011.
About the Seminar
Malay power remains the predominant force in Malaysian politics. Ever since political independence in 1957, a majority of Malays have supported the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a party that advocates what Abdullah Ahmad emphatically called ‘ketuanan Melayu’, Malay supremacy or Malay pre-eminence. The ketuanan Melayu ideology framed the New Economic Policy (NEP) and justified the implementation of race-based affirmative action policies and programmes to redress inequalities in the country.
But, the NEP’s success in reducing inter-ethnic inequalities while increasing the class differentiation of Malay society has revealed the contradictions and distortions of continuing the raced-based preferential policies. Rising intra-ethnic inequalities, especially among Malays, mean that a more inclusive approach is needed to redress the new inequalities in Malaysia.
More broadly, instead of UMNO’s ketuanan Melayu, Malay politics should adopt a diverse approach that recognizes and accepts multiculturalism and multi-ethnic interests. Political parties such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) uphold the need to move away from racial politics and embrace an inclusive, progressive approach.
About the Speaker
Dato' Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa was born on 25 October 1964 in Georgetown, Penang, and educated at Penang Free School. He received a BA (Arabic language and literature) from Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and an MA (Human Resource Management) from Universiti Putra, Malaysia. In 2008, he was awarded a PhD (Political Science) by University Malaya.
Before entering politics, Dato' Dr Mujahid worked as a lecturer at Multimedia University, Malacca. Currently, Dato' Dr Mujahid is a Vice President of Parti Amanah Negara and the Member of Parliament for Parit Buntar, Perak. He was a member of the AIPA CAUCAS Committee at parliamentary level, and in 2011, Dato' Dr Mujahid was elected as the Chairman of Southeast Asia Interfaith Dialogue for Peace. In 2013, he was appointed as a member of the Consultation Council for National Unity.
As a parliamentarian, he has participated in many seminars and represented Malaysia in many international conferences in the US, Niger, Krygystan, Morocco, Indonesia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, and so on. Dato' Dr Mujahid is also an active writer and has published a few books including Rejuvenasi PAS, Menuju PAS Baru and and Berdialog Dengan Gereja.
About the Seminar
Malay politics today frequently provokes surprise (and often criticism) – and yet tends to be discussed in an historical and cultural vacuum. History, when cited at all, usually begins in 1946 – when Malay nationalism took effective form in reaction to the threat posed by the British proposal for a Malayan Union. The term ‘nationalism’, however, fails to capture the different levels of Malay political experience – and the degree of ideological contest taking place in Malay society. What traditionally motivated Malay communities politically was the sense of being part of a ‘kerajaan’ – a kingdom focused sharply on personal allegiance to a ruler. Elements of the old political culture remain influential today, including in UMNO politics, and today’s Rulers – descendants of the pre-colonial rajas – continue to engage in political contest.
How can we best investigate Malay political thinking in earlier times? In what ways does the Malay political heritage help us to appreciate contemporary issues concerning Malay identity, politics and unity – or the lack thereof?
About the Book
“Kerajaan is a classic in Malaysian studies because of its theoretical and empirical elaboration of the state and content of traditional kerajaan Melayu – an elaboration based on hikayat Melayu and dealing with that period in history when European powers began to reshape Malay polities through the colonial ‘define and rule’ approach. For anyone who wants to begin to make sense of contemporary Malay politics, especially the role of the Malay royalties and their socio-historical roots, Milner’s Kerajaan is a must read.”
— Shamsul A.B. (Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; and member of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute’s International Advisory Panel (from the foreword to the 2016 edition)
About the Author
Anthony Milner is Visiting Professor at the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya and Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. In 2014–2015 he was the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia; in 2002 he was Raffles Visiting Professor in the Department of History, NUS. As Basham Chair of Asian History at the Australian National University – apart from producing a series of publications on regional relations – he has written widely on Malay and Malaysian history. His books include The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya (1995, 2002), The Malays (2008, 2012) and (as co-author) Transforming Malaysia (2014).
About the Discussant
Sher Banu is Assistant Professor at the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore. Her research expertise is on the Malay world and Southeast Asia in general in the early modern period focusing on history, gender studies and Islam. She has published in numerous journals and chapters in books amongst which are “Ties that Unbind: the Botched Aceh-VOC Alliance for the conquest of Melaka 1640-1641”, Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 38, no.111, July, 2010; “What Happened to Syaiful Rijal?” in Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, April, 2011; and “Men of Prowess and Women of Piety: The Rule of Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah of Aceh 1641-1675” in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 44, no.2, June 2013. Her forthcoming book, Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641−1699, will be published by NUS Press in 2017.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME
About the Seminar
On 16 September 2015, a group of progressive leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) resigned after being side-lined in its 2015 Muktamar. Together with like-minded Islamic NGOs’ members, they went on to form their own party – Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah). The formation of Amanah is an attempt to save the moderate Islamic political thought that was once embraced by PAS. They claim that the PAS leadership elected in the 2015 PAS Muktamar are embracing an unacceptable conservative position. Amanah, along with the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti KeAdilan Rakyat (KeAdilan), soon established a new opposition loose coalition called ‘Pakatan Harapan’ (PH) to replace the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition that fell apart after PAS pushed its hudud agenda in parliament.
In differentiating itself from PAS, Amanah leaders claim that they are inspired partly by the Turkish AKP and Tunisian Ennahda Party. They thus embrace the thoughts and philosophy of Rachid Ghannouchi, the co-founder and current ideologue of Ennahda. Ghannouchi is known for his acceptance of democracy as part of Islamic thought understood through Maqasid al-Shari’ah (the Highest Objectives of Shari’ah). He emphasizes inclusivity, democracy and openness, and his approach presents a modern democratic age for Muslims around the globe. Recently, he departed from the conventional notion of ‘Political Islam’ to embrace a new discourse on the ‘Democrat Muslim’.
Apart from Amanah, Ghannouchi’s ideas have been quoted by several other Islamic NGOs in Malaysia such as Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (IKRAM) and Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) to explain their departure from the conventional ‘Political Islam’ discourse and their more inclusive political approach. A study conducted on Amanah leaders and members indicates that they are so far consistent in their adherence to Ghannouchi’s idea of ‘Democrat Muslims’ and their disavowal of the conventional ‘Political Islam’ aspiration. Ghannouchi’s approach does bring ‘Islamic’ legitimacy to Amanah’s involvement in non-Islamic, non-Muslim and secular alliances. This development may shape Muslim politics in Malaysia in ways that can overshadow the current race-based and religiously exclusive discourse now widely practised amongst in the Malay community.
About the Speaker
Dr Maszlee Malik completed his BA (Islamic studies) in Jordan in 1994 and then obtained his PhD (Political Science) from Durham University, UK in 2011. He has experienced teaching at Durham University in 2008-9, and was a guest speaker for SOAS summer school on ‘Political Islam’ in 2009-10 on the topic ‘Political Islamic Movements in South-East Asia’. He is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Maszlee is also a senior fellow of IDEAS, a libertarian think tank in Malaysia. Since 2015, he has been invited by the Malaysian government to participate in its rehabilitation program for IS-alleged detainees. Maszlee is frequently invited as guest speaker by many Malaysian media to talk on the issues pertaining to Islam and Muslim politics. Currently, he is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.