Thursday, February 29, 2024

From best to bust: Is it justified to ask Anwar to relinquish Finance Minister portfolio?

Focus Malaysia:

From best to bust: Is it justified to ask Anwar to relinquish Finance Minister portfolio?

YESTERDAY (Feb 27), opposition leader Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin had asked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PMX) to sack himself as the Finance Minister due to failure in addressing the country’s economic woes.

The Larut MP made the suggestion at the Dewan Rakyat by citing the plunging value of the ringgit as among the reasons why Anwar needed to step down.

Politics aside, there are merits in Hamzah’s views. For one, PMX already has his plate full. Steering the Finance Ministry (MOF) requires a full-time commitment which would be impossible for Anwar to devote given the onerous task of being the country’s top leader.

However, Hamzah would do well to remember that the national debt which Anwar is currently grappling ballooned to a record RM1.5 tril when he was part of the backdoor Muhyiddin administration. This happened during the COVID-19 pandemic during which Putrajaya undertook record spending, thus creating record budget deficits.

Anwar may have won accolades in the 1990s for being the Best Finance Minister but the economic ecosystem was much simpler then. This aside, Malaysians’ patience with the current state of the economy has understandably grown thin given so much compromise has been made from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) 15th General Election (GE15) manifesto.

Last year, Malaysia missed its gross domestic product (GDP) growth target, registering only 3.7% as opposed to Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) already revised (downwards) target of 4%.

Unfulfilled promises

The value of ringgit against the greenback and Singapore dollars has plunged to its lowest levels in around 25 years. The last time this happened was during a turbulent period precipitated by the 1988 Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) during which Anwar was ousted as finance minister which led to the mass reformasi protest.

And barely days before the new sales and service tax (SST) regime comes into place on Friday (March 1), there have been so much chaos and miscommunications in the air.

It was recently disclosed that electricity and water tariffs are now subjected to 8% sales and services tax (SST) from the previously stated 6%, thus raising alarm among Malaysians who are already suffering under the yoke of a sluggish economy.

More recently, it was revealed that almost all maintenance and repair services are also subjected to the new SST regime in an eleventh-hour gazette posted on the Attorney-General’s official website.

That the MOF through the Royal Customs and Excise Department is still struggling to finalise the list of sectors affected by the new SST regime barely days before its implementation only suggests chronic mismanagement right at the top.

Nevertheless, the fact that Anwar has appointed Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Amir Hamzah Azizan to assist him in the MOF shows that he is willing to unload some of his tasks in the MOF.

Perhaps Anwar should appoint another Deputy Finance Minister to beef up MOF in carrying out urgent policies and programmes to address the current economic woes. Currently, the Deputy Finance Minister is DAP’s Tanjong MP Lim Hui Ying who is the sister of former finance minister Lim Guan Eng.

This will free up Anwar’s workload so that he could focus on instituting the various reforms he had pledged during his 0pposition days. It was promises of these reforms that saw Pakatan Harapan won sizable support during the last general election that catapulted Anwar to power.

That the Anwar administration has been a letdown in pushing for reforms is an understatement. The slow pace of reforms and unkept electoral pledges has culminated in a rally yesterday by BERSIH 2.0 (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) outside the Parliament yesterday (Feb 27).

Surely, Anwar would not want to go down in history as the PM who failed to deliver on his much-vaunted promised reforms. – Feb 28, 2024

MCA: “Why are dining, telcos exempted from SST hike but not water, electricity?”

Focus Malaysia:

MCA: “Why are dining, telcos exempted from SST hike but not water, electricity?”

MCA’s Economic and SME Affairs Committee has doubled down on its calls for the government to exempt water and electricity bills from the sales and service tax (SST) hike which will commence on March 1.

Its chairman Datuk Lawrence Low said while exemptions have been granted for dining, telecommunications, and parking fees, crucial utilities like water and electricity have been overlooked.

“Why are telecommunications which are considered basic necessities exempted from tax hikes, while water and electricity, equally essential, are being overlooked?” he questioned in a statement on Thursday (Feb 29).

“The Malaysia Madani government is urged to heed the citizens’ voices and address these pressing economic challenges.

“It needs to be stressed that the SST for water and electricity, essentials such as foodstuffs, parking fees, and telecommunications, should be retained at the existing 6% tax rate. Given the current economic challenges, concessions should be considered.”

Low said despite fuel price decreases, electricity costs remained high, exacerbating the rising cost of living and affecting both businesses and consumers.

He stated that the SST hike for electricity and water will have ripple effects, particularly on commercial water charges for hawkers, shops and manufacturing industries which will ultimately be passed on to B40 and M40 consumers.

“Once again, our Committee advocates the reinstatement of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as a fairer and more transparent tax system for businesses and consumers. We urge the government to reconsider reintroducing the GST for the sake of the economy and consumer rights,” Low stressed.

“In challenging economic times, the government needs to support its citizens and businesses. After enduring the inflation of 2023, having to confront increased charges in 2024 is further burdensome.

“Our Committee calls on Cabinet ministers and the Malaysia Madani government to listen to the rakyat’s voices and provide relief by exempting water and electricity from the SST spike.”

On Tuesday (Feb 27) Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Minister Datuk Armizan Mohd Ali told the Dewan Rakyat that the meeting of the National Action Council on Cost of Living (NACCOL) on March 20 will discuss the proposal to exempt water and electricity bills from the SST hike.

Armizan said that matters related to the SST hike were discussed in the Implementation Monitoring Committee meeting two weeks ago.

Armizan also told the lower House that through NACCOL, the government ensures that every policy formulation and programme implemented through ministries and agencies will take into consideration the cost of living elements. – Feb 29, 2024

Plot twist: MACC denies contacting Wan Saiful over claims of RM1.7 mil bribe to back PM

Focus Malaysia:

Plot twist: MACC denies contacting Wan Saiful over claims of RM1.7 mil bribe to back PM

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has denied contacting Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Wan Saiful Wan Jan over his allegation on Wednesday (Feb 28) that he was offered a bribe in exchange for supporting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Nevertheless, MACC chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki said Wan Saiful should file a report over his allegations.

“None of my officers contacted him. It could be anyone who contacted him claiming to be from the MACC,” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (Feb 29).

“But what is important is that Wan Saiful should come to the MACC to lodge a report because when someone is offered a bribe they should go to the police or MACC to make a report.”

According to Azam, the anti-corruption agency wanted more details about the Bersatu lawmaker’s claims and gave assurance that there would be a fair and transparent investigation into the allegations.

Yesterday Wan Saiful said he was contacted by MACC barely an hour after he had made the allegations in the Dewan Rakyat.

Taking to Facebook, he said he had anticipated that the anti-graft agency would dismiss or downplay his earlier allegations.

“It’s all right, We understand that they have no choice but to ‘spin’ stories. Not an hour after my speech (at the Dewan Rakyat) I received a message from an MACC officer requesting that I get in touch with them. I will comply (with the request),” he wrote.

“But I just want to ask, what action will they take to halt the use of public funds as bait for Bersatu MPs? Isn’t it better if the money was used for the welfare of the people?” – Feb 29, 2024

'Stop racist extreme politics,' Tiong hits back at Umno Youth chief

'Stop racist extreme politics,' Tiong hits back at Umno Youth chief

Published: Feb 29, 2024 7:42 PM

Tourism Minister Tiong King Sing has hit back at Umno Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh, urging the latter to stop “racist extreme politics”.

He said this was not the first time the Malacca state executive councillor played up racial and religious issues.

On the bak kut teh issue raised by Akmal, Tiong explained that it was just one of the 10 new dishes included in a list of the country’s heritage foods.

“Bak is referring to meat as I have mentioned a few times. While the herbal soup is halal, the meat can be changed,” said Tiong.

“If add chicken, it will become chi kut teh, if you add seafood, then it will become seafood kut teh,” said Tiong.

Umno Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh

Akmal has called for the minister’s head to roll following several recent issues.

In a statement today, the Umno leader said the issues include bak kut teh being included in the country’s list of heritage foods, as well as the demotion of Tourism Malaysia director-general Ammar Abd Ghapar.

“Rather than recognising bak kut teh as a heritage food, it is better to acknowledge other dishes, such as Nasi Goreng Cina and other types of food that can be consumed by people of all races and religions.

“If the minister cannot think of Malaysians’ sensitivity, it’s time we urge Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to just fire the minister.

“If the tourism DG can be demoted for failing to perform, the same reason can be used for a minister who is not only not performing but is the worst minister in history. Tiong better resign!” he added.

[More to follow]

‘Massacre’: Dozens killed by Israeli fire in Gaza while collecting food aid

al Jazeera:

‘Massacre’: Dozens killed by Israeli fire in Gaza while collecting food aid

Desperate residents under Israeli attack while trying to get flour for families as famine stalks the strip.

Palestinians line up for food in Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 23, 2024 [Fatima Shbai/AP Photo]

Published On 29 Feb 2024

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and more than 200 others wounded after Israeli troops opened fire on hundreds waiting for food aid southwest of Gaza City, as the besieged enclave faces an unprecedented hunger crisis.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned what it says was a cold-blooded “massacre”, reporting that at least 70 Palestinians were killed and 250 wounded.

The ministry said the attack was part of Israel’s ongoing “genocidal war”. It called on the international community to “urgently intervene” to forge a ceasefire as “the only way to protect civilians”.

The citizens had congregated at al-Rashid Street, where aid trucks carrying flour were believed to be on the way. Al Jazeera verified footage showing the bodies of dozens of killed and wounded Palestinians being carried onto trucks as no ambulances could reach the area.

“We went to get flour. The Israeli army shot at us. There are many martyrs on the ground and until this moment we are withdrawing them. There is no first aid,” said one witness.

Reporting from the scene, Al Jazeera’s Ismail al-Ghoul said that after opening fire, Israeli tanks advanced and ran over many of the dead and injured bodies. “It is a massacre, on top of the starvation threatening citizens in Gaza,” he said.

The dead and wounded had been taken to four medical centres: al-Shifa, Kamal Adwan, Al Ahli and the Jordanian hospitals. Ambulances could not reach the area as the roads had been “totally destroyed”, said al-Ghoul.

“The numbers will rise. Hospitals are no longer able to accommodate the huge number of patients because they lack fuel, let alone medicine. Hospitals have also run out of blood.”

‘Beyond words’

One Palestinian man told the Quds News Network the military attack was a “crime”.

“I have been waiting since yesterday. At about 4.30 this morning, trucks started to come through. Once we approached the aid trucks, the Israeli tanks and warplanes started firing at us, as if it was a trap.

“To the Arab states I say, if you want to have us killed, why are you sending relief aid? If this continues, we do not want any aid delivered at all. Every convoy coming means another massacre.”

Jadallah Al-Shafei, the head of the nurses department at al-Shifa Hospital, said that “the situation is beyond any words”, adding that “the hospital was flooded with dozens of dead bodies and hundreds of injured”.

“The majority of the victims suffered gunshots and shrapnel in the head and upper parts of their bodies. They were hit by direct artillery shelling, drone missiles and gun firing,” he told Al Jazeera.
Systematic attacks

The mass shooting was the latest instance of systematic attacks on hungry people waiting for scraps of food. Over the past few days, Palestinians gathered in large groups waiting for aid trucks on Salah al-Din Street near Gaza City have been shot at by Israeli forces, said Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Rafah in the enclave’s south.

Recently, a truck that was supposed to deliver aid to people in Gaza tragically turned into the truck carrying those injured and killed, he added.

With aid agencies unable to deliver supplies to northern Gaza since January 23, many are taking a long trek towards the south by foot.

On Wednesday, Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), told the United Nations Security Council more than 500,000, or one in four people, were at risk of famine, with one child in every six below the age of two considered acutely malnourished.

“The risk of famine is being fuelled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” he said.

He described dangerous conditions for WFP trucks trying to get food to the north earlier this month. “There were delays at checkpoints; they faced gunfire and other violence; food was looted along the way; and at their destination, they were overwhelmed by desperately hungry people,” said Skau.

Aid agencies claim that Israel has been delaying deliveries. Israel denies that charge. It submitted a report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the measures taken to avert suffering in the besieged enclave. Rights groups say Israel acted in breach of the ICJ order issued in January.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said on Sunday on social media that calls to allow food distribution in Gaza amid the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Hamas have been denied or “have fallen on deaf ears”.

Warning against “looming famine”, the UN official said the situation is becoming a “man-made disaster”.

Israel launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip following a Hamas-led attack on October 7. More than 30,000 people are reported to have been killed to date, mostly women and children.


The Anwar – Mahathir feud is a factor in the ringgit’s 26 year low

The Anwar – Mahathir feud is a factor in the ringgit’s 26 year low

The leaders of the ancien régime, will likely be retaliating against Anwar’s action, by selling off their assets in Malaysia in order to trigger a loss of confidence in the ringgit.

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

This week, by touching RM 4.80 to the dollar, the Malaysian ringgit has reached a 26-year low. The last time the ringgit had gone this low, the Asian Financial Crisis was raging, and Vision 2020, or the dream to make Malaysia a developed nation by the year 2020, died as a consequence.

When Vision 2020 died, the fellowship between Mahathir Mohamad, our then prime minister, and his deputy and heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, frayed and deteriorated to a point that Anwar would find himself fired, expelled, humiliated and incarcerated all within a span of a couple of years.

Today, as Anwar and Mahathir prepare to duke it out for the second time, again we find the ringgit to have reached the same level it did 26 years ago.

Is the Anwar – Mahathir conflict to be blamed for the ringgit’s performance?

The answer is most definitely yes.

According to Reuters, the ringgit’s “weakness defies steadiness in oil prices – a Malaysian export – and prospects of recovery in electronics exports. This indicates that the reason that the ringgit is depreciating is because investors have little appetite for Malaysian assets.”

According to Rong Ren Goh, a fixed income investments director at Eastspring Investments in Singapore, the ringgit’s “weakness cannot really be blamed on speculative flows since this has already largely been curbed since a policy ban on ringgit offshore trading since 2016,”.

Therefore, Rong concluded, the ringgit’s “weakness is driven by real flows.”

The question however, is it Anwar or is it Mahathir that is causing investors to flee Malaysia?

Well, the way I see it, they might both be responsible for it.

It is an open secret that the elites of the ancien régime, control billions of ringgits of Malaysia’s wealth either directly or through their cronies.

That Anwar has gone on a warpath against the likes of Mahathir and Daim recently would have both elicited a desire to fight and flee in the members of the ancien régime .

The leaders of the ancien régime, will likely be retaliating against Anwar’s action, by selling off their assets in Malaysia in order to trigger a loss of confidence in the ringgit.

The lower-level cronies of the ancien regime on the other hand, might be moving their wealth out of the country, simply to flee from Anwar’s onslaught. As the proverb says, “when elephants fight, the grass is trampled.” To avoid being trampled by Anwar and forces of Reformasi on one side and Mahathir and the ancien régime on the other side, the minions and cronies of the ancien régime, might simply be selling off their assets in the country and moving out of the country.

Anwar on the other hand, could also have a hand in the decline of the ringgit.

In the last one year plus, the manner by which Anwar has been governing the country, would have likely sent a very clear signal to every investor in the world, that it is Anwar, not any principles or logic, that determines everything that goes on in the country.

If Anwar likes you, you can (seemingly) get 47 DNAA’s or a partial pardon that will halve your jail sentence, even if you don’t even admit you are wrong and have shown any signs that you have turned over a new leaf. If he doesn’t like you on the other hand, your tower might be seized and your children or son-in-law might be investigated by the authorities.

When this is the signal that the Madani government is sending, not only will no foreign investor come to the country, investors who are already in the country will likely be thinking about moving their investment elsewhere as well.

The only people that will be confident about investing in Malaysia are the ones who feel that they can “kamcing” with Anwar, but even these investors will likely be weary, for there is no certainty that Anwar will be able to reign for long.

Legally speaking, Anwar might have been able to make his administration strong, by doing things like getting opposition lawmakers to debase themselves and the parliament, by declaring their support for the government despite being a part of the opposition, but in terms of having a mandate to rule, Anwar’s reign is weak.

At the grassroot level, there is no one in the country, regardless of age, gender or race, that is satisfied with Anwar’s government. Anwar’s administration is offering nothing to the Malays, Chinese, Indians, adults, children, young people, old people, males, females, Muslims, non-Muslims, reformist, conservatives, nationalist, secularist believers, students, business owners or the working class.

If there is one thing good that we can say about Anwar’s administration, it is that it has successfully treated everybody equally, by equally disappointing everybody.

There are two things that are helping Anwar hold on to his reign despite having an abysmal mandate to rule, and they are 1) a still hobbling economy and 2) the absence of an opposition leader that can offer him a genuine challenge.

We don’t know how long the economy will hold, but if you ask anybody on the street, no one has anything good to say about the economy. Nobody wants to be the first to complain about how they are suffering financially, because there is a matter of face involved here, but if the state of the economy keeps declining, to the point that too many people can’t hide their losses anymore, the loss of face and the release of a long-suppressed dissatisfaction, could cause Anwar’s government a serious problem. While most of us have never seen such phenomena as prolonged strikes or debilitating hartals in our country, but if the economy keeps declining to the point that trade unions and employees federation have to argue about each other’s cut of the economic pie, Anwar’s reign will be in serious trouble.

Politically speaking, there are probably three Malay personalities that could upset Anwar if they went toe-to-toe with him. They are, Najib Razak , Khairy Jamaluddin and Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar. For now, none of them look like they have a chance to face-off with Anwar, but if they find a way, they too could cause a real serious problem to Anwar’s government.

Considering all these factors, it is indeed very likely that the ringgit will continue to slide and perhaps even breach the 5 ringgit to the dollar mark, as some experts have already claimed.

State Dept downplays reports of Israeli soldiers sexually abusing, slaughtering Palestinian women


State Dept downplays reports of Israeli soldiers sexually abusing, slaughtering Palestinian women


While falsely claiming to have received “independent confirmation” of since-debunked assertions of mass rape by Hamas, the State Department’s spokesman said he “cannot independently verify” allegations by UN human rights experts that Israeli soldiers have sexually abused and systematically slaughtered Palestinian women and girls in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The US State Department has downplayed the findings of UN human rights experts who received “credible allegations” that Israeli soldiers have raped, tortured, and executed Palestinian women and girls amid their siege of Gaza.

US media has similarly overlooked the UN human rights report, focusing instead on yet another dubious report by the Israeli Association of Rape Crisis Centers alleging the deployment of “systematic sexual violence” by Hamas on October 7, 2023.

As The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal reported, the Israeli report was “short on new research, absent of hard evidence, and reliant instead on clips from factually-challenged articles by the same Western outlets promoting its publication.” Its publication was funded by US-based Israel lobby heavyweights involved in a public relations scheme to justify the ongoing siege of Gaza.

The UN’s Office of the High Commission on Human Rights reported receiving testimonies from Palestinian women and girls in Israeli custody of rape and being “subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers.”

The Grayzone has also gathered video testimony from 39-year-old Abier Mohammed Gheben, a Palestinian abducted in Gaza by Israelis during their ongoing siege. She described being subjected to torture, deprivation and humiliation during over 50 days in captivity. “We had to sleep for a night… out in the open” while “blinded and handcuffed,” she told The Grayzone, adding that her interrogator “would call women dogs.”

Asked by journalists about the UN report alleging Israeli sexual abuse of Palestinian female detainees, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists that he “cannot independently verify the reports.”

*Heated exchange* about the State Department's double standard of UN experts' report on sexual violence of Palestinians women: "I have seen those allegations I can't independently confirm those reports" "Did you ever have [independent] confirmation what Hamas allegedly did to… Show more

Though he insisted the US “strongly [urges] Israel to thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations,” Miller stopped well short of the dramatic denunciations he reserves for Hamas. The State Department flack previously claimed without evidence that Hamas refuses to release female Israeli captives because “they don’t want these women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.”

Miller’s latest pronouncement triggered intensive questioning by reporters in the press gallery, who seemed to pick up on the apparent double standard.

“You said you had no independent confirmation of what the UN experts found,” AP journalist Matt Lee noted, “but did you ever have confirmation of what Hamas allegedly did to Israeli women, girls?”

Miller replied that the US had, in fact, received “independent confirmation” of supposed sexual violence against Israelis by Hamas combatants, citing the findings of unspecified “Israeli medical experts.”

Moreover, “it is a well-accepted fact” that Palestinian militants sexually abused Israelis, the spokesman insisted, “because the investigations produced credible evidence that not just the US accepted, but countries around the world accepted.”

“We have no reason at all to doubt those reports,” Miller concluded.

Later in the the exchange, Miller appeared to dismiss the credentials of the UN experts, telling journalists that the US would not treat the allegations of rape by the Israeli military as confirmed until they’re examined by “a credible medical expert.”

“With respect to these new allegations, we want to see an investigation. And we will of course look at the investigation and make our judgments when that investigation has concluded,” Miller stated.

The UN experts’ findings, which are reportedly “based on accounts provided by Palestinian female detainees, as well as information obtained via human rights organizations,” have been almost universally ignored by the Western press. As of publication, less than half a dozen mainstream outlets had reported on the shocking allegations.

Given the US State Department’s role in fast-tracking weapons to Israel, it may have good reason to downplay credible allegations of the mass killing and abuse of Palestinian women in Gaza. While it may not have been accused directly, Foggy Bottom has been a willing accomplice to any and all of Israel’s crimes.

"PAS Confident Taking Over Selangor?" But How About "Beer, Shorts and Concerts?"

"PAS Confident Taking Over Selangor?" But How About "Beer, Shorts and Concerts?"

28 Feb 2024

JK Joseph
Repentant ex-banker who believes in truth, compassion and some humour

Credit Image: Berita Harian

After steamrolling their opponents in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in the last state elections in 2023 and inflicting considerable damage on its foes in Penang and Selangor, is PAS, riding on its talismanic “green wave” set to engulf and finally conquer the country’s wealthiest state?

Call it confidence or just plain foolhardiness, the Islamist party appears to be in a gung ho mood as it eyes the next general elections due in 2027; and by the looks of things, it may not even want to rely too much on its troubled partner Bersatu!

In fact, according to a recent report in FMT, its Selangor information chief Zurk Ahmad had said the party was banking on its “PAS for All” campaign to capture the state; he added that he was confident Selangor would become more prosperous and be able to provide more job opportunities while vowing to transform it into an economically competitive state, ensuring corruption-free politics, and improving the utilisation of resources.

While sceptics may dismiss all that as day-dreaming, yet remarkably, there are some experts who reckon that PAS’ goal of securing more seats in Selangor is actually realistic; for the record, it currently holds only 10 seats but it did manage to bag 15 seats in the 2013 general election, when it was part of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition with PKR and DAP.

Admittedly, the Islamist party and its leaders may be smart and shrewd strategists, but in this case, is confidence alone enough for it to realise its cherished goal of capturing Selangor - which it may see as the “key” to Putrajaya?

The truth is, with PAS already banning lottery draws and restricting alcohol sales in the four northern states that it now controls, won't non-Muslims have the right to be concerned that their (other) rights may be eroded too, should the Islamist party come to power?

And what about its fondness for calling non-Muslims “kafir” (infidels) which is often seen as an insult to the latter? Haven’t all these generated a phobia in the minds of non-Muslims - and even some urban Malays?

Indeed, if the truth of the pudding is in the eating, then PAS seems to have performed miserably as far as non-Muslims are concerned; this is clearly evident in Kelantan, which it has ruled for more than three decades and where some of its non-Malay residents are known to be frustrated by the way it governs.

For the record, among the common grouses cited by non-Muslims there is that they are often referred to as “kafir”and also the overall, poor governance of the state, especially in managing the economy; in fact, Kelantan has now become one of the poorest states in Malaysia, with absolute poverty levels at an astounding 12.4%! Could Selangor eventually suffer a similar fate if PAS' "green army” did somehow capture the state?

Another mammoth hurdle standing in the way, of course, is its arch-enemy DAP, which has effectively sewn up the non-Muslim vote, not just in Selangor but at national level too, where it forms the second-largest bloc in Parliament with 40 lawmakers.

Besides, there is another huge downside, in that, the Islamist party may lack a credible and respectable leader in the eyes of the non-Muslims; clearly, it needs someone like the late Nik Aziz Nik Mat, its spiritual leader from 1991 to 2015, who played a key role in boosting the party’s popularity among non-Muslims, with his moderate stance - and one who personified the “PAS for All” tagline!

However, as it is, no matter how passionately its party members may deny it, PAS' current leadership is seen as purely Malay-Muslim-centric, often spooking the other races with their extremist rhetoric; furthermore, unlike Pakatan Harapan, PAS doesn't seem to have done anything noteworthy to convince the electorate that they are a party that can uphold the rights of all races.

Another legitimate fear for non-Muslims is that a PAS government would also tighten their personal freedoms. After all, it has often vehemently opposed concerts by foreign artistes and imposed rules on attire for Muslim women, like what was seen in Terengganu last year when they clamped down on the sporting attire for Muslim women-gymnasts - in spite of having a moderate, highly-educated and well-liked menteri besar in Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar?

Incidentally, another big “fear factor” for non-Muslims - especially in a modern state like Selangor - may be the potential imposition of syariah laws; this may be something alien to many non-Malays in the state who may have been accustomed to mainly secular surroundings all their lives.

In fact, many may not have entirely forgotten about the controversy caused by a zealous PAS MP in Penang last year who demanded that a beer promotion event inside a shopping mall in Seberang Jaya be “covered up!”

According to a report in the Star back then, the party's Permatang Pauh MP had reportedly marched into the mall and demanded that the beer promotion not be done openly - even though it was held in conjunction with the Chinese New Year and was not meant for Muslims!

Could such extreme acts play out in the chic, ultra-modern shopping malls in Petaling Jaya should PAS come to power in the state one day? Will clothing store mannequins be ordered to be fully “covered up” too and teddy bears be banned for certain segments of the populace?

Perhaps, in the final analysis, Hannah Yeoh, the popular DAP MP for Segambut may have summed it up perfectly when she pointed out that PAS may “portray” itself as a party that welcomes people of all ethnicities; however, the fact that some of it’s top leaders, including its current president Abdul Hadi Awang, continue to openly sow racial discord and division in their speeches (not caring for the feelings of other races) is enough to make the non-Malays in the state to reject the very notion of a PAS menteri besar.

In fact, she may have hit the bullseye too, as Hadi was once quoted to have said that non-Muslims and non-Bumiputeras made up the bulk of what he called the “roots of corruption” in the country - effectively blaming the Chinese and Indians for the prevalence of bribery cases!

As a seasoned politician, and a born and bred Selangorian, who is popular with non-Malays and Malay-Muslims alike, Hannah should know better - but will the opposition party's grassroots and its top leaders listen?

Maybe, until they fix the elephant in the room (and they have more than one) the Islamist party’s recently rehashed magic mantra “PAS for All”, will most likely remain an empty call!

Singapore Joins Elite ‘F-35 Club’ To Operate Both Variants Of Stealth Fighters; To Acquire 8 F-35A Jets

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Singapore Joins Elite ‘F-35 Club’ To Operate Both Variants Of Stealth Fighters; To Acquire 8 F-35A Jets

Singapore has announced the purchase of eight F-35A Lightning II fighters to bolster its air power. The acquisition will put Singapore in an ‘elite club’ that operates both variants of the F-35 — the US, Italy, and Japan being others.

The announcement was made by Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on February 28 during a Ministry of Defense budget debate in the parliament. The Minister noted that the aircraft would be delivered to the Royal Singapore Air Force by the end of this decade.

This purchase would bring the total number of fifth-generation US-built fighter aircraft in the RSAF’s fleet to 20, adding to the 12 F-35 fighters of the “B” variant it currently has on order. The F-35 aircraft, when operational, will elevate Singapore’s air force to the “premier league,” Ng Eng claimed.

The announcement follows the purchase of eight F-35B aircraft last year after the initial acquisition of four F-35Bs in 2020. Elaborating on why the country decided to buy a different variant of the aircraft, Ng Eng told the Parliament that the RSAF’s capabilities will be enhanced by the distinct strengths of the two F-35 types.

“The F-35As are designed for greater endurance – they have the ability to carry payloads of higher capacity,” he said. “They complement the F-35Bs’ short take-off and vertical landing capability… which provides more operational flexibility (in land-scarce Singapore).

When the country announced the purchase of F-35B jets, experts deduced the decision to be in consonance with the geographical and operational needs of this small island state.

The Southeast Asian island state most likely chose the F-35B because the aircraft could take off fully loaded and land vertically on its 600-foot runway.

Additionally, military watchers noted that acquiring a Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STVTOL) aircraft would reduce the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s reliance on long runways and reduce the possibility that an attack on one of its airfields could have disastrous consequences.

Ng Eng stated that F-35 prices are now more competitive due to a robust order flow for the aircraft worldwide, and the country was exploiting this “window of opportunity” to strengthen its air force.

Although the Defense Ministry did not disclose the cost of the eight F-35As, US government records show that, in its most recent production batch, the cost of an F-35A will be US$82.5 million (S$111 million), while the cost of an F-35B will be US$109 million.

File Image: F-35A Lightning II

He said that with about 2,500 F-35s on order worldwide, the pipeline is full, and the price is now more competitive, on a level with Boeing’s F-15EX.

The procurement of the F-35A may require Singapore’s Defense Ministry to deprioritize other projects. “But we’ve done our calculations, and we think this is the best time to put the order for the F-35As,” he said.

Backing the decision to acquire more F-35 jets, Ng Eng stated that more than 900 F-35s have been used in operations all over the world, including strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as well as reconnaissance flights to find and identify Russian forces’ surface-to-air missile installations in Ukraine.

He further noted that several new states, including Germany and Switzerland, have joined the program as a result of its combat accomplishments, and current clients, like South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom, have placed more orders.

F-35 Proliferating In The Indo Pacific

Along with Australia, Japan, and South Korea, Singapore is one of the four nations in the Indo-Pacific region to purchase F-35 aircraft. Singapore’s aging F-16 fleet, which is scheduled for retirement in the middle of the 2030s, will be replaced by F-35 aircraft.

The F-35A, F-35B, and F-15SG fighter jets will make up the RSAF’s future combat force.

Singapore made it clear at the time of signing the deal for F-35B aircraft last year that the acquisition was for its defense and deterrent and was not intended to harm any other nation. Nonetheless, specialists have pointed out that it does show the nation’s rising anxiety over the assertive Chinese posture in Asia.

Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN, “Singapore probably does not trust China’s assurances that its South China Sea claims are benign, without military intentions and will not result in China taking control of air and sea commerce.”

F-35B STOVL Lightning II aircraft

China, which essentially claims the whole South China Sea as its sovereign territory, and Singapore are at odds over where Singapore is located on the western approaches to the sea. It does, however, have a stake in the maritime routes that traverse the region and may be blocked in the event of hostilities.

The acquisition of additional F-35 jets also reflects a wider inclination for the fifth-generation aircraft in the region. US allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, have their respective operational fleets of US-imported F-35 fighter jets and the US also maintains rotational presence of the jets in the region.

However, Singapore would be the only country to operate the F-35B from land bases. It is believed that the F-35B STOVL variant would be helpful if China attacked the airbases in the region since this aircraft does not need runways to take off.

It helps that the aircraft’s price has plummeted. As previously reported by EurAsian Times, the F-15EX aircraft, which is being acquired by another Southeast Asian country, Indonesia, costs roughly $90 million, which is almost $7.5 million more than the most recent pricing for an F-35A.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin announced recently that it plans to continue producing F-35 stealth fighters at a constant rate despite an increase in demand worldwide and rumors that the US may cut back on its aircraft purchase next year.