Indo & Malaysia to keep Democracy alive in SE Asia? Age 92 – all ambition spent… can Mahathir be trusted?

In an extraordinary political upset earlier this month Malaysian voters succeeded in throwing out an entrenched and unpopular government from a party that has ruled uninterrupted for over 60 years, causing shock and joy in equal measure throughout the region.

Democracy, never very well established in the first place, is currently on the rails throughout most of Southeast Asia. The military predominates in Thailand and Myanmar, strongmen call the shots in the Philippines and Cambodia, one-party communist states rule in Laos and Vietnam, an absolute monarchy in Brunei and an authoritarian regime runs things with a firm hand in Singapore. That leaves only Indonesia, still on a more-or-less democratic path, now to be joined by Malaysia.

For now the two Malay nations, which together form the heart of ASEAN, bear the hopes of all those in the 10-country group who long for progress toward full and meaningful democracy in their countries. Government that truly reflects the interests of the many, not merely the prerogatives of the few.

Is it going to happen? There have been so many false dawns, why should it be any different this time? Whenever progress has been made in the past it is co-opted by the region’s ruling elites, who end up with the lion’s share of national wealth and owning the political process.

In Indonesia the struggle for democracy has been in play since 1998 and can break either way. With the dramatic turnaround in Malaysia the game there has just begun. In both countries the problem and the solution are the same. Can the rampant corruption that bedevils both countries be contained and reversed and can the judiciary be made to uphold the rule of law?

The election this May in Malaysia not only removed the corrupt administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak, a rule described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as pure “political gangsterism”, but ended the rule of Barisan Nasional (BN), the coalition led by UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) in alliance with conservative   Chinese and Indian parties since independence in 1957. It has paved the way for the return of Anwar Ibrahim, the twice-jailed progressive Malay politician, who has earned and been waiting in the wings for his turn at the helm for over 20 years. None of this would have been possible had not his former nemesis ex-PM Mahathir now aged 92, returned to the fray to lead the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan, PH) formed by Anwar’s party (People’s Justice Party, PKR), led by his wife Wan Azizah with their Chinese and Islamic allies from the DAP and PAS parties.

On election night 9th May, as it became clear Najib was going to lose, feelers were put out to the army and the police seeking their support for the declaration of a State of National Emergency. Opinion there was divided and the election results allowed to proceed. Were it not for Mahathir’s support within UMNO and his popularity among rural Malays, who credit him with the modernisation of Malysia, it is unlikely that the Alliance of Hope would have prevailed and the following morning seen its leaders in jail.

Najib Razak and his administration had not only engaged in serial corruption on a collossal scale, involving billions of dollars under investigation in both the US and France, but had also been implicated in at least three politically-motivated murders. He and his cronies in UMNO had everything to lose and without Mahathir’s intervention things could well have turned out differently.

For now Mahathir heads the country again, promising to stand down in favour of Anwar at some future date. Anwar’s wife is now Deputy Prime Minister and the Malaysian King is shortly to pardon Anwar and release him from jail, free resume his political leadership.

The big question is… can the leopard change his spots? In the past Mahathir ran a regime that emasculated the judiciary, eviscerated the press, jailed political opponents and operated a system of money politics with its own share of financial scandals. He never, however, brought the country into disrepute in the way that Najib has and he did preside over the modernisation of Malaysia.

Having publicly acknowledged that he made mistakes in his day the hope is that a remarkably fit 92-year old Mahathir can hold the stage long enough for democracy to take hold and the rule of law restored.

If he can, he will truly have earned his place in the history books twice over.



Proof of Virginity…

Tell us where your Olives come from!


Last month I shared where you might get a reasonably priced bottle of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). As I mentioned, finding an acceptable blended EVOO has got a lot harder thanks to the practice whereby most importers give only the barest information on what they’re selling. Enough to comply with the BPOM statutory requirements and no more. Nothing to support the claim the oil is EVOO at all.

This should be a concern since most major European olive oil majors have at one time or another lied about the oil they claim to be EVOO. How then can we believe their claims?

I recommend you only buy EVOO from suppliers who provide provenance. That must mean knowing where the olives come from and that it is obtained by cold pressing (mechanical), not via chemical processing under high heat.

For blended EVOOs the only labels on offer here that appear to go any way toward this are:

Santagata: 1 ltr at Rp.170K obtained from olives grown in the EU, blended and packed in Italy.

Borges: 1 ltr at Rp180K, olives obtained from ‘under the Mediterrenean sun’, produced cold pressed in Spain from olives harvested in September, 2017. Bit of a weasel that ‘Mediterrenean sun’, which I take to mean countries such as Turkey, Algeria or Tunisia. Nothing necessarily wrong with that and since Borges is the only European label giving harvest date I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Until suppliers do give us basic information I suggest avoiding any oil that does not clearly state where the olives are from.

Interestingly, you can now buy genuine EVOO here while paying the same, or very little more, than buying the stuff from the usual suspects in stores.

As mentioned elsewhere you can get a beautiful EVOO from Puglie sold in Massimo’s Restaurant in Sanur at Rp.140K or 750mL (which works out at about Rp.185 p/ltr).

Try also Australian EVOO. What I know now but didn’t then, was you can get a litre of Cobram’s Estate EVOO for as little a Rp.145K p/ltr at the Canggu Shop. To get that price you need to order a 3 ltr can of it – but they will deliver it free anywhere in Bali.

In other words, we can all trade up if we want to and not take a spanking in our wallets. And, at the same time deliver a salutary consumer rebuke where it’s deserved. What’s not to like in that?

If anyone has any further useful information to add on the subject I’d be glad if they e.mail me.


Alternative Voice


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