I intend to open up this country to democracy, and anyone who is against that, I will jail – Joao Baptista de Oliveira, 20th Century Brazilian politician 

Thankfully, Malaysia isn’t like that anymore. 

In what can only be described as retributive karma of the dramatic kind, Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia 10th premier just as his long-time nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad began contemplating a future of political obscurity. 

It’s about time. Dr Mahathir is old enough to know better, yet he conspired to delay Anwar’s ascension to the top for the longest time. His hubris knew no bounds either: right up to the night of November 19, he actually thought he was Malaysia’s best bet for the premiership. 

Alas, how the mighty have fallen. 

The island of Langkawi in Malaysia’s northeast was single-handedly promoted and developed by the physician throughout his 22-year leadership. For all that, its people so rejected him that he lost his deposit. In political terms, that’s about as humiliating as it gets.  

Indeed, his entire party – including a son, Mukhriz – was annihilated.  

Anwar’s triumph underscores his never-say-die, singe-minded perseverance in the face of unrelenting adversity. Sacked in 1988 for “moral misconduct” by Dr M, he was immediately clapped behind bars without bail for seven years until the federal court finally acquitted him of abuse of power and sodomy.  

He was jailed once again in 2013 for sodomy and spent another five years behind bars until he was finally pardoned in 2018.

In contrast, ex-premier Najib Razak spent five years free on bail and was accorded every privilege of a former premier despite being accused of the greatest theft in global history.

The markets endorsed Anwar’s appointment jubilantly with the stock, forex and bond markets all rallying to highs not seen for almost two years. The broader index of the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, for example, leapt almost 4%. 

In contrast, when it appeared, on Wednesday, that a government dominated by the Islamic Party of Malaysia, appeared likely to gain power, all three markets retreated in fright.

Anwar will inherit a government beset with formidable challenges, On the one hand, the country faces serious economic challenges ranging from huge domestic debt and declining investor confidence to rising inflation amid a persistently weak currency.

On another level, the question of education, specifically the type of education being force fed to many children is assuming sinister proportions. 

After Anwar’s victory, news surfaced of Malay children expressing fear that the Democratic Action Party, a partner in Anwar’s coalition, would stop the call to prayer and force girls to wear skirts. 

It emerged only after parents and at least one set of grandparents complained to the newspapers. It’s led to a probe and public outrage. 

More importantly, it’s sparked questions about the level of political indoctrination by religious teachers in primary schools. The “creeping Islamisation” of Malaysia has been long warned about by political analysts and journalists as far back as the late 80s. It seems to have finally come home to roost. 

In many ways, the election revealed a fractured country cleaved along rural and urban lines among the Malays; secular and conservative lines among the races. 

For all the against-all-odds return of the Comeback Kid, Anwar Ibrahim is inheriting serious problems. 

He will need all the help, and luck, he can get. 



The word “politics” is derived from the Latin “poly” meaning “many” and the word “ticks” meaning “blood sucking parasites.” – Dave Barry, news-paper columnist 

I’m not asking for much. Not really much at all.  

All I’m pleading for is a government led by common sense, that gets the little  things right, that’s not always looking around for the next big project.  

In fact, spare us the big projects altogether, thank you very much. It is almost always cost-inflated, wasteful, excessive and, worst of all, probably unnecessary.   That’s why it’s becoming harder and harder not to be cynical in today’s Malaysia. 

Let’s start with the small things, the little repairs  that can actually save lives and mitigate damage. In short, let’s reclaim our maintenance culture and stop our build-new-and-bigger-things mentality immediately. 

City Hall should get its priorities right because the roads in Kuala Lumpur have more potholes than the hairs on Khairy Jamaluddin’s chinny-chin-chin. 

The last time anything was done in that respect was when that famous chin made unplanned contact with a pothole in Banting two years ago. That particular hole was  immediately sealed with great fanfare. However, nothing else has changed. City Hall is back to idiotic projects that cost a lot – the River of Life anyone? – but don’t make much sense one way or the other. 

Some of the potholes along Bangsar or Sri Hartamas can cause serious injuries to  hapless motorcyclists, not to mention expensive damage to car axles.   

Maybe we should await the agency’s release of A Pothole Dodger’s Guide to Kuala Lumpur before venturing out on the streets. 

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I remember being proud of our country’s roads, which the Reader’s Digest once described as the “best in Southeast Asia.” Indeed, we seem to have lost a lot of our “bests” where the region is concerned. 

Let’s get back our once-nice roads, shall we? It’s not rocket science. Not every expensive but oh-so-very-pleasing to the eye and to the health.  

Back to our seemingly-forgotten culture of maintenance. Our capital city has many beautiful buildings that are sadly in disrepair. Examples include KL’s famous Railway Station and the majestic Sultan Abdul Samad Building opposite the Royal Selangor Club.

These are lovely structures  that are being left to nature. They are worth preserving as iconic emblems to our nation’s history. Instead, we treat them with an indifference that’s as cruel as it is ignorant. 

Tomorrow the nation goes to the polls and push will come to shove: we are at a  crossroads.

Essentially, we’re faced with three choices and that’s only because no party can fool everyone all the time. 

But we should know what we don’t want. I don’t want a party that once blindly supported kleptocracy and, in many respects, still seems to. 

I certainly don’t want a side that encourages obscurantism, a retreat into medievalism and a shunning of modernity or liberalism. 

Once you’ve knocked off those, the way forward is apparent. 

What the head makes cloudy, the heart will make very clear. 



In the end Brazil went back to Lula,
The left whooped, a ‘hoot and a ‘hula.
Bolsa felt despair.
Rare, hard to bear
For he was blamed, people yelling you-lah!

Latin A was swinging to the left,
It was why Donald felt bereft.
It was a shame,
He could not blame
Joe or the Democrats for the theft.

He needed a trustworthy coup,
Even the military would do.
If smoothly inveigled,
It might even be legal.
There’d be no sham; it’d be the real poo.

Rishi thought it would be most unfair,
If power was seized in the public glare.
Although his mandate
Wasn’t all that great,
He thought that was neither here nor there.

At home, the circus is coming to town.
It’s almost begun, it’s the countdown.
Scoundrels and thieves, with those who achieve,
Everyone aspires to wear the crown.

Bro ‘Mail must hope to remain Boss.
Anything less would surely be dross.
He can, of course, plead
Nothing’s guaranteed.
Tok Mat might think it time for his toss.

Gather round good citizens, cast your vote.
Let’s get rid of the national bloat.
The bells will soon toll
For our nation’s soul.
Let’s not fail ‘cos we missed the boat.



It was Winston Churchill who got it right. “All dogs look up to you, all cats look down at you.”

He should have left well enough alone and stopped there. Nope: “Only the pig looks at you as an equal.” 

I think not: consider bacon. 

But I digress. 

We are all dog people in our family and the infernal beasts know it. When we lived in  Ampang, for instance, there was a stray cat that patrolled our apartment complex with malicious intent. It generally slept on my car-roof at night and occasionally peed on it in the mornings. For good measure, it sometimes  left a scratch or two. 

So I was  astonished to read that cats actually can understand your words but only those spoken by their guardians according to a new French study.

I’m sure French taxpayer are gratified by this valuable addition into the human understanding of the feline condition. It was discovered  by Charlotte de Mouzon et al of the University of Paris after a painstaking study of 16 cats! 

Sacre bleu!” cried  Louis Pasteur. “Dog my cats,” exclaimed an equally  bemused  Mark Twain but in French so as not to offend Pasteur. It was Twain, after all,  who’d traced the feline’s self-importance to the Egyptians, who’d worshipped them as Gods.  

The cats had never forgotten, that was the problem. 

It’s that kind of incredulity that underscores the notion that cats are generally sly creatures which patronise human beings at best. 

Dogs are different. Your average dog treats its owner with the reverence people generally accord a Beatle.  You can be gone for just awhile but it’s still all wagging tail and unconditional adoration the minute you’re back.   

Call a cat, in contrast, and it gives you that measured, what’s-in-it-for-me stare.  

They aren’t very useful at all. While there are sheepdogs, hunting dogs and police dogs, have you ever heard of a bird cat? 

Ever seen a Seeing Eye cat? 

At their worst, I give you the terror of Ukay Heights, that Cat on a Warm Car Roof,  the scourge of a hundred car washes.  

But there was also Benny. 

It belonged to Annabelle and Sugu, our former neighbours in Ampang.  

You might say Benny was the Dr Mahathir of cats: it was already in its dotage when it  first arrived in Malaysia from New Zealand in the mid-1990s.

He was an imperturbable feline that regarded the world with equanimity: a moth was viewed as indifferently as an axe murderer. 

Or perhaps not: the way it regarded me when I occupied his favourite chair by the balcony, its menacing stillness, was a trifle disconcerting. 

Its longevity could have been due to his fastidious eating habits. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it was ahead of its time, a feline foodie which was especially partial to lemon sole but would settle for New Zealand leg of lamb at a pinch. 

Anything less was an insult. 

Once, Sugu tried switching the sole for Kurau.  The cat regarded its guardian with disbelief even contempt.  

Then it scratched him. 

I rest my case. 

PS: Benny lived on for 18 years, it was truly a feline Methuselah. 



Was it those economic matters
That finally scuttled her status?
It threw Liz Truss
Under a bus
With all the aplomb of a lettuce.

Despite the many ifs and buts
She’d proposed sweeping tax cuts
The rich were cheerful
Everyone else, fearful
And Rishi thought it was just nuts.

There was hell to pay the next day
The pound dived and Teresa may.
While Liz was moping
Bojo was hoping
Perhaps a return; who could say?

Liz finally said she was sorry
No one listened except for Laurie,
Who, while a neighbour remained in Labour
Love never means having to stay Tory.

From all angles it appeared to look
That Liz’s goose had mostly been cooked.
Being in a bind
She had to resign
To obscure history, perhaps a book.

She grabbed defeat from a victory
For the shortest tenure in history.
We are all glad
Moo* wasn’t as bad
It’s a puzzle wrapped up in mystery.

Therein lies a cautionary tale
Of what-might-be, of characters frail,
But in Ah Jib’s case
He was merely base
That was why he ended up in jail.

Like Britain, the polls will soon be on us
And pray we do not repeat a Truss
With lots of pluck
And a little luck
Let’s throw BN** under the bus.


*Moo = the nickname of Muhyuddin Yasin, Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister
** BN = Barisan Nasional, the former incumbent Malaysian government


Live each day as if it were your last. One day, you’ll be right. – British comedian Benny Hill 

Felonious washed the last of the duck confit down with his still-cold 2013 Cristal champagne and sighed with satisfaction. He thought Benny Hill would make an excellent motivational speaker. 

The flatulent fatty formerly known as Low Tack Jho was in China because the communist republic was flexible about corruption. Officially, it was loathed and those deemed corrupt were shot. Unofficially, it could be condoned. Example:  those who’d looted other countries were deemed foreign investors.  

Here, Felonious was in a class of his own. A Colossus among Third World Looters – he made Idi Amin look like Winnie the Pooh – he was afforded Red Carpet Treatment. It was the Golden Rule: he who had the gold made the rules. 

The substantial swindler was affectionately known as Felon to his friends and Shanghai neighbours who claimed, with tears in their eyes, that he was generous to a fault. And he probably was, this champagne swilling, caviar nibbling, government toppling charlatan, because it was Other People’s Money he was throwing about.   

The pleasant pirate was wanted on three continents, yet he hid in plain sight. He has, apparently, a suite of offices on the 20th floor of the iconic World Financial Centre in Shanghai. 

Here was a walking advertisement for the notion that crime did pay; the living proof that the perfect crime was possible. It seems incredible that China might endorse such notions, yet Beijing has kept very quiet. And if the shoe fits…  

In truth, Felonious was preoccupied with weightier matters of state. Malaysia had called for a general election and the last time it had done so he’d received a rude shock.

And he wondered, uneasily, if lightning might strike twice. 

Who knew?

Zahid Hamidi knew or thought he did. He’d even made sure that the election would be in the monsoon season – low turnout, hint, hint – and   put the Fear of Jail into his colleagues to galvanise them, presumably, into even greater effort. 

Zahid, who remains on trial on 47 charges of money laundering, did it by intimating that some of them would face criminal prosecution if the opposition won. 

In truth, none of the people he named faced any such threat. It just showed that Zahid wanted as many of them to feel as threatened palpably as he did. 

It was what kept him awake nights.

Even Felonious didn’t know what kept his trusty, former co-conspirator, ex-premier, Fearless Leader, awake at night. Nothing, he concluded   soberly, because having risen above reality, Fearless slept as soundly as any thief. 

Indeed, you could say Fearless lived in an altogether alternate reality. It was a reality that still provided outriders, swank transportation and Armani suits during court appearances. 

It was a reality that allowed him to insist on being allowed to attend Parliamentary sittings, even to campaign during the general election.

Who, and where, did he think he was, this man who’d once affirmed that “no one was above the law?” 

Was he going stir-crazy?

No, I think he’s just taking Lily Tomlin’s view of life: “I can take reality in small doses but not as a lifestyle.”  



The life of an ordinary men is nasty, brutish, and short – 16th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes 

When my eldest brother was in Form 6, he was asked to write an essay that asked a simple question: “Is man admirable”?

It provoked a lively discussion over dinner. My father won the day by pointing out that tuberculosis had been a deadly scourge in India where he’d grown up but not now, when it was all but wiped out. 

Much later, I found out that Jonas Salk, the vaccine’s creator, had been even more admirable: he donated his patent to humanity which must rank right up there as a perfect 10 on the Scale of Goodness.  

It has taken mankind 2.6 million years to progress from the Stone Age to a nuclear one. 

Progress might be an unfortunate word in the context, but it is accurate as the first test of an atomic bomb was so portentous that geologists marked the day as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch – an age of widespread human influence over the planet. 

That influence is undisputed: cynics might sniff that technological progress has merely equipped us with better and more efficient means of killing one another, but I’d argue it’s been a far more beneficial influence. 

Take disease. Smallpox is the deadliest plague in history because it’s estimated to have killed over 300 million people. Yet, it disappeared by 1977 thanks to a concerted global campaign. 

Such advances have almost always stamped out or negated every life-threatening disease nature’s thrown our way. What’s more, we’re getting better at it. 

It took us 56 years from the start of the 20th century to cure tuberculosis, but it only took two years to reduce Covid-19 from mortal threat to common cold. 

During Lincoln’s time, infant mortality in the US was high with almost half of all babies dying. Now they are as low in Malaysia as they are in the US. And life expectancies keep increasing. 

Did you know it’s 85 in Singapore currently? 

There have always been prophets of doom throughout history, even some with scientific bent. In 1798, for instance, Thomas Malthus predicted that mankind was inherently doomed because food supply only increased arithmetically while mankind multiplied geometrically. Overpopulation, argued Doubting Thomas, was as certain as mankind’s eventual demise from starvation.  

Nope. Food supply has kept growing as technology evolved.  More tellingly, replication rates in all developed countries are well below replacement rates. This is also happening in less developed countries like Malaysia. 

While we can safely conclude that mankind has generally triumphed over disease and famine, the same cannot be said about wars. 

There has been a marked decrease in battlefield deaths over the last century but that doesn’t prove that wars are declining. It might just indicate better medical care.  

Indeed, there is a war currently raging in Europe the first serious one in 82 years. 

But here again, technology has ensured that sanity will have to prevail because the converse is unthinkable. There are no winners in a nuclear war because the outcome is mutual assured destruction, or MAD, and the finish is egalitarian:  everyone will be cremated equal.

What we need are better people, more Salks and less Putins. It could be our next, great evolutionary leap: when we move from man to kind.



Election-talk hung in the air. It was 1999 and fresh from sacking Anwar Ibrahim – he was in prison without bail – Dr Mahathir’s term was nearing its end. 

We’d just returned from Kelantan and Terengganu where the mood seemed anti-government. My colleague, Simon, and I were now heading to meet Deputy Mnister Ibrahim Ali in the Pan Pacific Hotel.  

The place was packed, and Simon spotted Ibrahim having lunch with his officers. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.  But he could always be relied on for the suitably inflammatory comment, the racist dig that Umno believed would always unite the Malays behind it.  

In short, he had Dr M’s complete confidence.  

But the interview was disappointing. The politician didn’t admit there were problems in the party and predicted a thumping win for the government.  He was particularly disagreeable about Anwar, gloating about his imprisonment and waxing lyrical over Dr M’s leadership.

Ibrahim, an MP from Kelantan, then asked me what I thought: we told him of our trip north. 

“You won’t like this,” I began and told him a story about how he, personally, would lose his seat. Indeed, I said we thought Umno would fare dismally, especially in Terengganu. 

The deputy minister turned red and looked furious. Glaring, he slammed his hand on the table and bellowed a profanity.

If my Hokkien’s right, he was referring to a man’s unmentionable, but I digress. His roar must have been loud because it silenced the room, and every eye followed the politician as he stalked out in high dudgeon. 

I was merely lashing out at his boorishness. But it was ironic because Ibrahim not only lost badly but the Islamic Party of Malaysia swept both Kelantan and Terengganu. 

Who knew? 

Political mistakes can have consequence. No, we aren’t talking about Ibrahim, but one made by Dr M’s successor, Abdullah Badawi. 

Let me explain. The in-your-face racism of an Umno assembly can be jarring. I remember a rookie from the Star – a young, Malay girl – being comforted by colleagues from other papers after she was so traumatised, she broke down. 

That’s why, apart from some speeches, the gatherings are never carried live. 

Only Abdullah Badawi thought otherwise. It may have been the error that the National Front continues to rue.  

When thousands of, especially, Chinese -Malaysians witnessed Hishamuddin Hussein brandish a kris (ceremonial dagger) and uttering veiled threats – de rigueur for any Umno Youth leader – they were appalled. 

But they remembered.

It occurred in 2005 and an assembly has never been televised since.  

In 2004, Abdullah took the Front to its biggest win ever. No one thought anything might be different in 2008.  

But I remember Opposition MP, Teresa Kok asking me if anything had changed. When I looked puzzled, she replied: “The crowds at our rallies are 2 or 3 times bigger.” 

Michael Devaraj was a socialist who’d unsuccessfully challenged Works Minister S Samy Vellu in two previous elections.  Like Teresa, he too felt something had changed.  

Not Samy though. In fact, he was brimming with confidence when Nadeswaran and me approached him in his centre in Sungei Siput.

After assuring us that he would, indeed, thrash the hapless Michael, he asked if we knew him. 


“He is a very nice fellow,” said the late, great Samy sadly. “I’d hate to see him lose again.” 

He needn’t have worried. 



When Jho “Felonious” Low recently boasted about losing 10 pounds, Macao remained indifferent. 

Even scornful.

“Hallelujah,” growled the Times’ social-affairs columnist through gritted teeth.  A dour, dyspeptic dragon, she loathed show-offs who snacked on caviar and crackers, and her next sentence was positively dripping with bile.

“That’s like removing a deck chair off the QE2,” she snarled, and all Macao knew there was a trend afoot.

The term “fugitive Malaysian” may soon descend into the realms of hackneyed cliché like a “no brainer” or a “sticky wicket.” 

Indeed, at one dizzying, moment, Malaysia briefly threatened to punch above its weight in the master criminal sweepstakes because we boasted not one, but two fugitives.  

The parallels seemed disquieting enough to give social scientists pause. Both the fugitives were slick, both, fat and both were from Penang. 

Was this the triumph of char kway teow over common sense?

Maybe not. “Fat Leonard” was rearrested Tuesday in Caracas.   

According to Reuters, Leonard was the mastermind behind one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history. 

The Malaysian fugitive’s  alarming propensity for shattering dubious world records is an alarming new trend. Like Charles Ponzi, a future global crime is sure to be named after its Malaysian architect in such florid prose as “a monstrous fraud, huge and epic in all its convoluted, Jho-Low’ian proportions.” 

Now there’s a Malaysian metaphor for the world stage. 

Leonard Glenn Francis didn’t know what Felonious had been smoking but he wished he had some. He’d cut off his GPS ankle bracelet before fleeing from house arrest in San Diego. He’d been awaiting sentence over a bribery scheme that lasted over a decade and involved dozens of US Navy officers.

The flabby flatterer had bribed enough US naval brass to secure  lucrative contracts for his global ship-service business. 

But when he escaped three weeks ago, the US pulled out all the stops. Ten American  agencies searched for him and authorities offered a US$40,000 (RM182,000) reward for his arrest.

The re-arrested reprobate isn’t a happy camper. For one, he wished he’d been 50-lb lighter so the US Press might dub him Lissom Leonard but, fat chance!  For another, he was peeved with the bounty on his head which he felt was too small for a Smooth Criminal.   

Unlike Felonious, Francis had actually pleaded guilty in 2015 for  criminal inducement.  Felonious had merely returned assets – a yacht, a plane, art, houses, jewellery – worth billions in pleas “not amounting to an admission of guilt.” In Leonard’s book, that made Felonious “stupid.” But he was free and he wasn’t.

Fat Leonard had been caught offering prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals and more than US$500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based ship servicing company.

Prosecutors said the company overcharged the Navy by at least US$35 million for servicing ships, many of which were routed to ports he controlled in the Pacific.

The plump ex-Penangite had been contemptuous of the officers he’d bribed – he called them “animals” in one video – while claiming “cover-up” as his tentacles had allegedly reached up to the admirals in charge. Although over 30 officers have been convicted, no one in the Naval High Command has been indicted.  

Meanwhile, the beefy brigand had been a heartbeat away from being forever extradition-free.

In Caracas, he’d been stopped from boarding a flight to Moscow. 


*Revised version folks! A TIME FOR HARD QUESTIONS

During the 90s, my news-editor was V G Kulkarni, a sinfully cynical guy who’d once worked for Indian intelligence. It explained why he was the only Review correspondent barred from Pakistan. 

In any case, VG was in Kuala Lumpur to supervise my first “cover” story for the magazine. We’d just interviewed Dr M – where VG, at one point, addressed him as “Mighty M” through steepled fingers. Even so, it was a good interview as an irritated Dr Mahathir is always good copy. 

Discussing it over beers, Rob Montford, our photographer, suggested that VG might have been harsh as Malaysia was going “great guns.” 

(In 1995, the country was barreling along at 9-plus % annual growth and was being touted as the next “tiger economy”).

The former intelligence officer looked at us incredulously. “This is an incredibly   lucky country,” he retorted and, jerking a thumb at me, continued, “he can lie in his hammock and play the guitar and food will grow around him. It’s so fertile.” 

VG was being outrageously simplistic, of course, but he isn’t the first to venture such opinions. Malaysia is blessed with incredible resources, some of which just keep multiplying. 

Standout example: in 1984, I was told at a Petronas briefing, that the country had enough oil reserves for “24 years.” Those years have flown by, and we are still producing. Meanwhile, our gas reserves have more than tripled. And it will keep rising. Oil and gas reserves generally increase, pari passu, with new technology.

As I write this, on the 59th anniversary of our country’s creation, I am reminded, nostalgically, of the Malaysia Lat portrayed in his cartoons. 

Lat’s great strength was his unfailingly good-humored take on all things Malaysian. And in so doing, he made us feel good about our country and ourselves. 

He portrayed a delightfully, innocent Malaysia, shorn of its ancient race suspicions, devoid of its not-quite-suppressed religious bigotry. It is a Malaysia we long for and no longer believe we will attain.  That notion is now, and perhaps forever, consigned to the realms of what-might-have-been.

But we remain a lucky country. With the scale of waste and profligacy that Malaysia has displayed over the last 50 years, it is something of a miracle that we continue to remain credit worthy. 

But we cannot continue to push our luck. The important thing is to, first, get our government finances in order. The way forward isn’t rocket science either. 

First, make government procurement fully transparent through open tenders. Its current opacity lends itself to corrupt practice, a suspicion borne out during the Rosmah Mansor trial.   

And the New Economic Policy (NEP) must be reviewed. Over the last 60 years. it’s probably the single biggest contributor towards government bloat, waste, and incompetence.

In the 1990s, a minister told me that if the Malaysian people knew how much money had been spent on just one agency – Mara ( an agency focused on the economic, entrepreneurial and educational advancement of the Malays and Bumiputeras) – they would be shocked. And let’s not get started on the state economic development corporations or the 90s push to create a Bumiputera industrial and commercial community. 

These concerns are all known but gets airily swept away under the overarching and not-to-be-questioned banner of the NEP. 

It is time to ask questions. The ringgit isn’t a reserve currency and we’ve been running on empty since 1998.