Obama’s Double-Standard on Malaysia

Will the US president highlight official racism in Kuala Lumpur in October? Not likely.

US President Barack Obama, constitutional lawyer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, intends to visit Malaysia on October 11 to address the Fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit, according to organizers of the forum.

"The presence of President Barack Obama himself is a boost for the country," said Irwan Serigar Abdullah, secretary-general of the Finance Affairs Ministry and head of the forum's organizing committee. Obama is expected to deliver a keynote address during the meeting alongside Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the premier of what may be among the few countries - including Israel - that have enshrined institutional racism in their constitutions in contravention of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Najib himself is under considerable suspicion for undetermined levels of complicity in the alleged murder by two of his bodyguards of a 28 year old female Mongolian translator. The unfortunate woman may have known more than she should have about scandals among top Malaysian officials, one of whom may have got her pregnant. The two bodyguards were freed earlier this week in a questionable decision by an appellate court, igniting outrage across the country.

The 2006 murder is believed to be connected to a US$1 billion scandal over defense procurement that is said to have netted the ruling United Malays National Organization €114 million in kickbacks in a deal put together by Najib himself and his best friend when Najib was defense minister.

Obama, of course, is the same Nobel Peace Prize winner and constitutional lawyer who on August 7 cancelled plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin after that country offered temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor who pulled back the curtain on massive electronic spying by the National Security Agency in a series of leaks to the media. His excessive zeal in attempting to protect the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guards citizens from illegal searches and seizure, has earned him the enmity of the US government.

"We have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "Russia's disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship."

But you apparently pick your targets for moral outrage. The US considers Malaysia an important Southeast Asian security and trading partner and Obama would like Malaysia's help in securing agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership, the omnibus trade deal that would span the Pacific and include nations from South Korea to Chile - but so far not China.

This closeness ignores the fact that on two separate occasions since 1998, the government has been ruthless with the opposition, seeking - and succeeding once - in jailing Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, on clearly dubious charges of sexual abuse that were denounced worldwide.

Perhaps most disquieting to someone trained in constitutional law, official racism is enshrined in Article 153 of Malaysiacs Federal Constitution, whose first article states "It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong [king] to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak, and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article."

After 1969 race riots that took hundreds of lives affirmative action programs were implemented to benefit ethnic Malays, who make up 60.1 percent of the population, against 24.9 percent Chinese and 8 percent Indians. Other races, mostly indigenous peoples in Eastern Malaysia, make up the rest.

Regulations limit the available slots in state universities that are given to non-Malays. Virtually all real estate sold to Malays, knows bumiputeras, is discounted at rates ranging from 5 to 15 percent. Share ownership in government-linked companies is preferential for bumis. Ethnic Chinese have been forced to divest banking interests to ethnic Malays.

In recent years, Malay-first policies have grown more strident. In the May general election, racism burst out in full force as former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and other Malay-first nationalists spread fear by claiming that if the opposition won ethnic Chinese would end up dominating politics as they have economics, in effect taking the country away from the Malay majority.

Since the election, UMNO officials have openly said that racist policies preserved their majority in the parliament by a 133-89 margin, boosted by extensive gerrymandering, state giveaways to voters and complete dominance of the mainstream media, all of which are owned by ruling political parties. That didn't stop the opposition from winning the popular vote.

Obama visited Africa in June, partly to pay homage to a desperately ill Nelson Mandela, who like Obama is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Obama visited Robben Island, where Mandela spent years in prison under the former white minority regime. Although he wasn't able to see the ailing former president personally, Obama told reporters his message in South Africa would draw from the lessons of Mandela's life.

"If we focus on what Africa as a continent can do together and what these countries can do when they're unified, as opposed to when they're divided by tribe or race or religion, then Africa's rise will continue," Obama was quoted by Reuters as saying aboard Air Force One.

Somehow one doubts that Obama will use his time in Malaysia to make any points about official racism.

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