AP Interview: EU's outgoing ambassador says Malaysia is a virtual one-party state
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: The European Union's outgoing ambassador has soundly criticized Malaysia, describing it as a virtual one-party state that discriminates against minorities and foreign investors by openly favoring the majority Malay Muslims.
Law Minister Nazri Aziz dismissed the accusations by Ambassador Thierry Rommel, who left his post Tuesday after 4 1/2 years, saying he is an outsider who does not understand the country. "I treat his opinion as uninformed and ignorant," said Nazri.
Yeah, Nazri would. Of course it probably escapes him that he's the very epitome of "uninformed" and "ignorant".
He is joined by another twit, who expresses himself in a more controlled manner by claiming Rommel acted outside his sphere of duty.
If I were the bloody government, I'd be falling over myself to appease the man. After all, he influences and advises the EU on dealing with Malaysia. I can't imagine a spotless report on Malaysia from Rommel, considering this flagrant inability to handle criticism.
Rommel's blunt message — in a recent interview with The Associated Press — comes as Malaysia and the 27-nation European Union are getting ready to start negotiations next year for a free trade agreement. Rommel's advice will heavily influence policy makers in the EU, which is seeking a broad relationship with Malaysia that includes democratic governance, rule of law, human rights, civil freedoms and fair trade.
In the interview, Rommel said the multiracial Malaysia, which takes pride in its ethnic harmony, is becoming polarized due to the Islamization of the society. He said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has allowed ethnic tensions to increase in the last four years he has been in office.
"There is a situation of increasing inequality in Malaysia," Rommel said. "Non-Muslims feel increasingly marginalized and (feel) their constitutional rights (are) jeopardized."
Rommel, whose outspokenness has irked the Malaysian government in the past, gave the interview on the condition that it would be released after his departure from the country to avoid further diplomatic trouble.
I'm sure he hasn't forgotten Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, who blamed her hypertensive woes on him.
Rommel was especially critical of a 37-year-old affirmative action program for Malays, who form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people. The Chinese are 25 percent and Indians 10 percent.
The affirmative action program, known as the New Economic Policy, provides privileges to Malays in jobs, education, business and other areas. It is also used to enforce mandatory Malay equity in companies and in awarding government contracts. Foreign investors have long complained that this amounts to protectionism.
"This is definitely a policy that is discriminatory, that is projectionist and which hinders fair competition and a level playing field," Rommel said, adding that foreign investors are also reluctant to come to Malaysia because the rule of law is not of international standards.
Rommel is certainly NOT the first person to say that. I've had the opportunity to personally exchange words with foreigners who have business interests in Malaysia. They echo his words.
Due to the general lack of meritocracy and subsequently, lack of standards, we are being seen as an incompetent nation.
And we can't do anything about it, much less voice our opinions. Heck, we can't even seem to vote effectively.
We only have one right - the right to "shut up"!
"You don't know as a foreigner, or a Malaysian citizen, where you exactly stand in terms of your rights," he said.
He warned that the NEP could jeopardize the proposed free trade agreement that both sides were hoping to conclude by 2009.
Rommel's comments echo that of Malaysia's weak opposition parties, who say that the NEP has become a vehicle of patronage for Prime Minister Abdullah's United Malays National Organization party.
The UMNO is the dominant force in the ruling National Front coalition, which also comprises smaller Chinese and Indian parties. Critics feel the UMNO will never dismantle the NEP because it would lose its power base.
"The country is not run by three political parties, it is run by one party - UMNO," said Rommel. The Chinese and Indian parties in the coalition "have no real authority and I think, no genuine input in decision making. UMNO runs this country like its own backyard. This is a one-party state," he said.
Bingo again. It's scary how perceptive Rommel is. Then again, there must be a reason why he is actually a powerful EU envoy who advises EU policy makers. And while I'm certainly impressed, I'm also worried about our economic future.
Rommel also said that in Malaysia the executive is "all-powerful and not accountable" while the judiciary remains beholden to the executive because the appointments are directly made by the prime minister.
"The parliament (is) useless. No fair elections, no freedoms. Police is unaccountable. Internal checks and balances? Forget it. So where do you find characteristics that (represent) democracy?"
Democracy? Dude, what are you talking about? We ain't a democratic country! We're a communist-dictatorship. And you haven't figured that out after 4 and a 1/2 years?? What's wrong with you??
Nazri, the law minister, defended the NEP, saying it has helped Malays rise from abject poverty in the last 30 years.
"Without the NEP, it will go back to square one. It will come back to a situation where Malays will be left behind again. This is a social contract for Malaysians to decide, not for foreigners to interfere," he told the AP on Tuesday.
That's right. When criticised, make personal attacks.
And it's very interesting to note that Nazri has such a poor opinion of his own race to assert that without crutches and a wheelchair thrown in, they're inferior to the Chinese and Indians in every way.
I'm surprised there is no outrage from the Malays. I'd throw a hissy fit if someone forced an affirmative-action policy down my throat.
But Nazri still has his yarn to spin.
"I don't think foreigners are concerned about this because whenever there is opportunity to make money, they will come," he said.
Nazri also dismissed complaints that Malaysia is becoming more Islamic. Critics have pointed at a string of recent court cases over religion, in which verdicts have generally favored Muslims. Many Indians, who are Hindus, have also complained that their temples have been torn down without warning.
"If Malays have become more passionate with religion, it is not necessarily a bad thing," Nazri said.
Passion isn't a bad thing. But violent fanaticism is.