The Dangerous Thinking That Threatens EU-ASEAN Trade Deal

This article appeared in European Views

By Nik Nazmi, MP of Malaysia

Dangerous scientific thinking may endanger a European Union deal with its third-largest trading partner – the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Worse still, it may increase climate change that will have a significant impact on future generations. Recognition of new scientific studies could reduce deforestation, which drives climate change. However, the EU at present remains committed to a policy of seeing palm oil biofuels as a problem – not a solution to its biofuel woes.

European Union and ASEAN diplomats have been working diligently for over a decade on a trade deal. Such an agreement would bring important economic, environmental, and social benefits to a combined population of over 1.1 billion people. Those plans took another step forward in June with the agreement of a new trade deal between the EU and Vietnam and an agreement with Singapore earlier this year. As the EU works toward a broader agreement with the ASEAN, a difference of opinion on the palm oil remains a major sticking point.

As a member of parliament for Malaysia, the third-largest economy in ASEAN, I support the goal of a free trade agreement which will benefit all of us. However, today, the European Union has adopted a hostility toward palm oil as a source of biofuel which has misrepresented the actual environmental stakes in this question. Agriculture investors with much to gain have supported this distorted science with much to gain if the EU meets its biofuel mandates from rapeseed and soybeans.

There is no doubt that forests play a stabilizing role regarding our climate. However, studies have shown a retreat from palm fuels will drive deforestation around the globe. That’s because to meet EU biofuel mandates rapeseed oil and soybean production will have to be increased.

These alternative crops require even more land (indeed four or ten times more depending on local conditions) according to a report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, such findings stretch back several years.

Deforestation caused by beef and soybean production (primarily in Latin America) account for well over half of carbon emissions from deforestation worldwide — according to a study from Global Environmental Change released last year.

In Malaysia we are deeply concerned about the issue of deforestation and have mandated that 50% of our landmass must remain under forest cover. Some in the current government, including myself are pushing for further mandates on to limit areas of palm oil production.

Rather than slamming the door to palm oil, regulating the industry has a better chance of succeeding if the EU and ASEAN work together. The EU should drop its outright opposition to palm oil and instead work with ASEAN to find regulatory solutions to existing issues. Such a solution will have a significant impact on the global struggle against climate change. One that our grandchildren may thank us for.

Moving Forward Together Progressively

A decade ago, PKR politician Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad wrote his book, Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st, because he felt his community’s future was best assured with progressive politics.

He alIso believed that the fate of such progressive politics in Malaysia was in the hands of the Malays.

At that time, Nik Nazmi was (and is still) pushing for a more progressive paradigm where Malaysians would be at ease with their country’s diversity.

His book, Moving Forward, argued that the state of mind of the Malays was crucial if any change in Malaysia is to be sustainable.

Malays are by sheer number the biggest community in the country; we are also the fastest growing. Constitutionally, historically and culturally, we occupy a special position in Malaysia, ” he wrote in the preface of the updated edition of Moving Forward published this year.

Ten years after the publication of the book, the author observed on WhatsApp groups, Facebook page and mamak shops that the Malay community across all segments have become more worried.

“The issues of LGBT rights and child marriage exposed the deep divide in Malaysian society. This came to a head when the government spoke of ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) – a convention ratified by all Muslim majority countries except for Malaysia and Brunei – resulting in a massive rally combining PAS, Umno and right-wing NGOs, ” he wrote.

“In light of these events, Moving Forward is just as relevant today as it was in 2009. While the content remains largely the same as it was when it was first published.”

On Thursday, I interviewed the Setiawangsa MP at his service centre in Kuala Lumpur to get his insight on his community, their challenges and political future:

> How should the Malays move forward?

We are talking Malay equity being little. The New Economic Policy (NEP) has succeeded in creating a Malay middle class. There’s no question about that.

But if you look at the numbers deeper – there are books like Muhammed Abdul Khalid’s The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia – the NEP has created a gap which it can’t overcome. We see a large gap between rich Malays and poor Malays.

What we need to look at is how to solve the issue. But we need to address the problems that are affecting the B40 (bottom 40% households) which is mostly Malay Bumiputra.

But if we purely apply a race orientated approach, which many of our policies are based on today, the ones who benefit will be rich Malays – the Taman Tun Malays, the Damansara Malays. Whereas the Felda planters, paddy farmers, fishermen, the urban poor will not get the benefit.

What I’m saying is that it creates a gap between the rich and poor Malays. It also creates other issues – the poor Malays have been given this illusion that their problems happen because of the non-Malays. I accept that there are problems with private sector discrimination and all that because our system is a zero-sum game.

But at the end of the day, they will look for a bogeyman to blame. These issues are played up by the elites in a way for them to continue to get the power and to continue to get this preferential treatment.

> What’s the difference between 2009 when your book was published and 2019?

What happened in GE14 is historic. But there is a great sense of insecurity. Malay political identity has various parties representing the community. You have Umno practically splitting up into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and you have PAS splitting into Amanah.

But at the same time, you see PAS and Umno – the original Malay parties – getting closer and closer. So, in the short term, it makes sense for them. They look at what’s happening on WhatsApp, the likes they get on Facebook, and it’s easy to be carried away with that.

But for the future of this country, where do the non-Malays, which still consists of a huge proportion of the country, stand?

Umno’s strength has always been traditionally with Barisan National. PAS’ biggest gain was when it joined Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (which had a loose coalition with Gagasan Rakyat), Barisan Alternatif and Pakatan Rakyat.

The implication is when Umno and PAS get closer whether it can win power, and if it wins power, at what cost?

Now Umno has nothing to lose, in a sense for them, they can try to win power at all cost. Previously, they were leading the government. They were very reliant on the (non-Malays) at a certain extent. Now they feel that it doesn’t matter.

This is bad for the country as a whole.

> Why is the Khat, Zakir Naik and boycott non-Muslim products controversy happening now?

It is the result of political insecurity. As I said, the strategy that Umno and PAS are choosing now is to play up race and religion. This is not the PAS of (party spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat). This is not the 1Malaysia which (former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak) used to talk about. In a way, you can understand where they are coming from. They need to think we need to win first, and if the nation burns, then the nation burns.

With Zakir Naik, some Malays think that they are giving up their identity because it is a DAP-dominated government. That is the narrative created. It stems from their insecurity… this cultural insecurity that religion and race are under threat.

Plus, as I said, fundamentally it is from economic insecurity, so they are looking for who to blame – Chinese bosses or the Pakatan government? And Pakatan government and Chinese bosses tend to overlap.

> Pakatan is getting an average of 30% of the total Malay votes, how can the coalition go beyond that?

We did well in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor. We did badly in Perak, Kedah and we lost Perlis and Pahang. We didn’t win a single seat in Terengganu and Kelantan.

My take is Umno and PAS are always traditionally present in Malay society. From birth to marriage to death, their interactions are with the ketua kampung who is usually appointed by Umno and the imam who is generally from PAS.

But on the flip side, the society is changing. There are more Malays in urban areas, and Umno and PAS do not influence their life.

Umno represents race and royalty while PAS represents religion. Between the two parties they already got the 3Rs which are traditional in Malay politics. It is something comforting and easier to stomach compared to complex ideals like multiracialism and all that.

And simply because they have been there forever. Umno has been around since the 1940s and PAS since the 1950s whereas the Pakatan parties are new.

> In GE15, how can Pakatan maintain the Malay seats it won or win more seats from the community?

How far Umno and PAS unity will take place is also a question. A marriage is always nice at the dating period, which is where they are now. And then who pays how much of the bills – which means who gets the seat and all that?

Najib tried to do it before GE14 but there was a revolt in Umno in Kelantan.

I agree we cannot look at it lightly. If it doesn’t happen, it’s a bonus. But if it happens, how do we face it?

We have to work harder. And I think all efforts should be on the economy. It doesn’t have to be race-oriented. The moment we are talking about helping people at the bottom and the middle of society, the bulk would be the Malays, without leaving behind the Indians, the non-Muslim Bumiputra and some Chinese who were in that category.

I don’t think a Malay who can afford (to buy) a bungalow for RM5mil should get a discount whatsoever. But a working-class Malaysian, who is predominantly Malay, earning RM2,000 to RM3000, should be assisted to afford a house.

Ultimately, we need to address economic issues – bread and butter.

I think GST had a bigger role in Najib’s defeat than 1MDB. 1MDB, of course, provided a nice narrative – ‘Where did our money go? To the super yacht? To the young, pudgy boy? To the diamond?’

But do you think people would care if the economy was doing well?

My Speech At The ‘9 May 2018: Notes from the Frontline’ Book Launch

Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad speaks at the launch of his book ‘9 May 2018: Notes from the Frontline’ by Anwar Ibrahim.

The book is available at major bookshops and online at Youbeli.com for RM25.

9 May 2018 has now etched its place in Malaysia’s history as the day that the Barisan Nasional was finally brought down after 61 years in power. For Nik Nazmi 9 May 2018 was also a personal milestone, it was his first time standing in a general election at the federal level. At GE14 he stood for the Parliamentary seat of Setiawangsa, the only seat in Kuala Lumpur that Barisan Nasional had never lost, but in GE14 they finally did, as seats across the country swung towards Pakatan Harapan.

How did this happen? How did a coalition of parties which fell apart after GE13 manage to rebuild and take on a government willing to use all of the tools it could to hold onto power? In 9 May 2018 – Notes from the Frontline Nik Nazmi gives his behind the scenes take on the political developments in the opposition coalition from the disappointment of GE13 to the ecstasy of GE14.

Recalling the fall of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and the founding of Pakatan Harapan he also gives first-hand experiences of the back room politics, the party conferences, the development of INVOKE, working with then former PM Mahathir Mohamad, as well as insight into the campaigns he worked on in Selangor and Setiawangsa, and in marginal seats from Perlis to Sabah.

More than anything 9 May 2018 – Notes from the Frontline is a first-hand account of what it was like to witness the birth of a New Malaysia.

On The Frontline | The Star Online

by Martin Vengadesan, The Star Online

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/12/16/on-the-front-line-for-someone-who-has-fought-for-change-in-the-pkr-trenches-for-over-a-decade-the-se/

AT 36, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is a relative veteran with a decade’s service as Seri Setia assemblyman under his belt.

Now a newly-elected MP for Setiawangsa in the Federal parliament, he has not been able to resist turning briefly to an old love – that of writing.

He’s just published an account of the May 9 elections to go along with previous works such as Moving Forward: Malays for the 21st Century (2009) and Coming of Age: A Decade of Essays 2001–2011 (2011).

He spoke to Sunday Star recently about why he feels compelled to write his latest book, May 9: Notes From the Frontline.

“Before I became a political activist, and I became one at 19, I was already a writer. I had started writing in online portals, in newspapers and blogs. With the historic change in 2018, I thought that it’s useful that I write things down, because it’s still new, still fresh, the euphoria is still there. Even though it’s getting a little more tricky for the government, the excitement is still there,” he says.

He’s aware that there’s been a fair number of books about the election results and the related 1MDB scandal. However, he is convinced that his book will have something different to offer.

“I have written based on what I experienced on the ground and also in party conferences, backroom, behind the scenes. In politics people only see statements and external communications, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I am not saying that I am telling everything. It’s not a tell-all, because it’s still new and there are some things that I can’t reveal,” he says.

“It’s not about airing dirty laundry. There are certain things in which I don’t name names. People need to know why differences occurred, even how we in PKR could accept Dr Mahathir. People need to understand the story of how the compromise for the greater good happened.”

Because it’s such a fresh event, Nik Nazmi didn’t have a lot of time to sit on his draft.

“I started writing at the end of May, and by September my draft was completed. Then I shared it with some close associates who helped me edit. Four months is fast, but I wanted to capture the mood. Our nation is going through various stages and now that the honeymoon phase is ending, it’s the best time to publish the book. Hopefully, it’s not too late for mine to grab some attention.”

He cites former PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali and former US president Barack Obama as key influences.

“Dr Syed was my dad’s junior in university in Singapore. He was a progressive leader in Parti Rakyat Malaysia and then PKR, and despite being an academic, he writes in an accessible way.

“In his most recent book the People’s History of Malaysia, he wrote about how Tok Janggut and Datuk Bahaman (Malay warriors fighting the British in 19th century Malaya) can be related to our modern life.

“I also think the way President Obama wrote about his problems of identity in The Audacity of Hope really captured the imagination.”

Nik Nazmi doesn’t pretend that he foresaw the dramatic change coming.

“Most pollsters did not give us a chance, saying that Barisan Nasional would pull through. And privately some of their leaders were talking about regaining the two-thirds majority that they enjoyed before 2008.

“On the other hand, Invoke and Rafizi Ramli had consistently been saying that Barisan would lose the election since December last year. Not many believed them; even I had a hard time to believe them.

“When I was campaigning, when people asked ‘Are you sure you can win?’, I was cautious, because I didn’t want to be disappointed.”

He contrasts it with 2013, when people were confident that there would be a change of government but it didn’t happen.

“This time, however, it was beneath the surface, and issues like wages, jobs and corruption really came to the fore. You got the sense people wanted change.

“I wasn’t just a candidate during the election, I was also the Pakatan Harapan Youth leader, so I went down to the ground from Perlis to Sabah, and you could really feel the mood of change.”

With great power, comes great responsibility and Nik Nazmi is keenly aware that the Pakatan government is under pressure to deliver and has not totally covered itself in glory.

“Expectations are sky high. There was a lot of speculation about Cabinet positions, but I think it’s turned out to be good that I am a backbencher because the task facing the first Cabinet is immense.

“I think we need to move beyond the issues of the past. Yes, there are wrongs that need to be exposed so that we learn and the people who are responsible for crimes are punished, but most want to move forward and look at issues like the economy and protecting our unity and peace, which can be very fragile,” he notes.

He concedes that while Pakatan won a majority of seats in GE14, it did not win a majority of the Malay votes.

“Pakatan Harapan parties won no seats in Kelantan and Terengganu and there are large swathes of Malay areas in Perlis, northern Perak and Pahang in which we were not impressive,” he says. “We have popularity in the south and west coast but if it’s not handled well, the country may be more divided.”

Another thing that could affect the popularity of the government among young voters is the constant U-turns over the issue of PTPTN repayments. Nik Nazmi believes that this could saddle the coalition with a lot of problems.

“Ultimately, our election manifesto was written without access to statistics, but even it is not 100% implementable, we should try to deliver as much as we promised. We also have to recognise that higher wages, better jobs and better housing are more important to the rakyat than institutional reforms, electoral reforms and transparency.”

“Even my generation, which was the first recipient of the PTPTN, we need to understand the circumstances (of why they are having difficulty paying back their loans).

“Yes, we took the loans, we agreed to the debt, but then, we are earning very little, and the percentage of unemployment for fresh graduates is higher than for people who do not go to university!

“The degree is sold as a ticket to a better life, but when it’s not delivering that, there is a lot of frustration.”

He nonetheless commends the unlimited travel pass – at RM100 and RM50 a month – that the government launched recently to reduce the cost of living for the people.

“It was the Pakatan Harapan Youth who pushed for the universal transportation pass. To be fair to the previous government, they have improved public transport but costs were still prohibitive. Networks are much better now than they were 10-20 years ago and by lowering the cost, the hope is that public transport usage will increase and that is something that is really important for the younger generation. I know it’s not universal because it’s very Klang Valley-central, but we will work to broaden it,” he says.

Despite his youth, Nik Nazmi is no political novice. He has served in various roles in the last 10 years in Selangor, from political secretary to the mentri besar and a member of the state Exco to Deputy Speaker.

“When I was running as a 26-year-old in Seri Setia in 2008, I had to fight hard to convince the voters to cast their ballot for such an inexperienced guy.

“Now I have had that experience and had the opportunity to work with GLCs, I can carry out specific projects in my constituency. The demographic in my new area includes a big group of urban poor and we need to carry out education initiatives there. I started the Mentari project in Seri Setia to offer tuition to children and build a low cost library in my kawasan. This is where the Federal Territories can emulate Selangor because the Selangor library has done very well,” he shares.

Another factor that has undermined the euphoria of the GE victory is the bruising electoral process that PKR had undergone recently. Surprisingly, Nik Nazmi wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If you look at party history since 2010, we have had a lot of colourful contests. Datuk Seri Azmin Ali vs Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, when we started one man, one vote. In 2014, it was a three-way contest with Azmin, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and Saifuddin Nasution, now it’s Azmin and Rafizi.

“I actually think it’s healthy. It’s not usual in Malaysia, where in parties like Umno there is usually a lot done behind closed doors with a succession plan. But this comes at a cost, because there is no contest of ideas, so are people being promoted because of their capabilities or because they can protect the interests of their predecessor? At the end of the day the party loses its vitality.

“Still, I do accept that PKR can take it too far. I am all for demo­cracy and openness but now it’s all over and done with, let’s focus on delivering. We are capable of uniting and coming back stronger. We are now the most successful multi-racial party in Malaysia’s history,” he says.

Nik Nazmi admits he is far too busy for his liking.

“I have a bad habit of buying books and not having the time to read them. I used to read very fast, but the lack of free time now, and the distraction of smartphone and WhatsApp, have left me lagging behind,” laments the father of one son, Nik Ilhan, seven.

He is also a foodie, says Nik Nazmi, confessing that it is “bad” for him as a politician.

“It’s because people always give you the best food! On my Instagram I use #nikmakan when I go looking for food.”

To relax, Nik Nazmi likes watching television too, when he can.

“Comedies like Modern Family, I find to be great escapism. I do watch a few series like Elementary, and political drama House of Cards – until it became too real and a bit depressing, since I am already living in that world,” he quips.

But as many may already know, football is the young politician’s big love.

“I am a huge, huge Liverpool fan,” he raves.

“And although locally I am running for the KLFA (Kuala Lumpur Football Association) deputy presidency, as a fan I also follow Kelantan and Selangor, which is a long story.”