The Youth as Agents of Change

The Malaysian Students’ Leaders Summit XII will be held on the 11th of August. Session 2 of MSLS XII is entitled Student Activism – Revisiting the Society’s Catalyst of Change. This article focuses on the overarching role of young people to initiate and sustain social progress.

by Shen-Li Teh

Throughout history, young people—in particular students—have mobilised themselves to form a powerful driving force behind social or political change all over the world. Because of the different social, political and cultural circumstances in which vocal civic participation by young people takes place, student activism is a broad term that encompasses any subject matter, size or success.

To provide historical context about student activism and its effects, many movements that resulted in concrete social or political effects such as amendments to national policies or ousted leaders were led by students. In the United States, the 1960 Greensboro sit-in where young African-Americans sat at a segregated lunch counter despite being denied service and its form of non-violent protest brought attention to the civil rights movement, which ultimately led to the desegregation and integration of African Americans. More recently, in South Korea, students made up a large section of hundreds of thousands of protestors that forced their president out of office after months of protest against allegations of abuse of power and bribery were brought to light in a political scandal. These non-violent demonstrations and their permanent effects were propelled by student mobilization that demanded changes to the broken or corrupt system.

Unfortunately, such idealistic movements spearheaded by students do not always fare well. The most famous example would be the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where students protesting in demand for a democratic government were fired at by Chinese troops in Beijing. To this day, the Chinese state does not openly acknowledge the atrocities committed—discussion of the event and online searches are censored, and the National Museum standing in Tiananmen Square contains no mention of this tragic event, though a 2017 article by BBC put the estimated toll of deaths at “at least 10 000”.

However, the Tiananmen Square protest also resulted in one of the most iconic and politically charged images of the 20th century: that of a single, unarmed man staring down a line of military tanks. That image won captured the world’s attention and all of the Chinese student protestors’ youthful idealism, passion and confidence that an individual standing up to the state can make a difference.

What of the youth in today’s Malaysia? Do we also have that deep belief in principles of democracy that allows us to stare down the state even when it threatens us to fall in line with its ideas? Indeed, the general stereotype seems to be that young Malaysians are apathetic or rather, thoroughly cynical when it came to politics, as seen in the #UndiRosak movement on Twitter that propagated by a number of frustrated social media users who saw the recent general elections as a matter of choosing between two evils.

Even as we acknowledge the younger generation’s general dissatisfaction and disillusionment with social justice or the idea of democracy as it stands in Malaysia, it must be kept in mind it is the Malaysian state that has consistently depoliticized the youth. Only last year, JPA’s director-general stated in an interview that students could lose their JPA scholarships for “spread(ing) lies without supporting statistics to taint the Government’s image”. Though it would be reasonable for a scholarship to be withdrawn if a student had been involved in criminal activity or the like, the director-general’s statement sounded like a vaguely worded threat to students dependent on JPA’s funding to refrain from any criticism of the government. Furthermore, JPA scholarship contracts also contain a clause, namely Clause 5.6 (a): “The student shall not take part directly or indirectly in any political or any-governmental activity.” This is vaguely worded enough that even being involved in a peaceful protest against the government would be likely to constitute a breach of that particular clause and lose the student the scholarship.

JPA scholarships are given to SPM top scorers, or rather, the créme de la créme of our local students. In short, JPA scholars constitute many of our nation’s best students grown in the national education system, which also begs the question why the Malaysian governments before seem to dislike and actively discourage the free thought and expression of Malaysia’s brightest youth, even to the extent of making any form of criticism by scholarship students into a matter of loyalty to the state. When the state and the leaders of its public service wield education as a means of oppression and control over some of the nation’s most intelligent students’ free thought and expression, intending to create an echo chamber where no dissenting opinion would be allowed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that young Malaysians have been browbeaten into their current state of indifference.

This strong control of youthful expression was even systematically implemented at a legislative level through the Universities and University College Act 1971 (UUCA) which curbs and controls student engagement with political activities in the campus, or any society, organization, or group deemed unsuitable by the Board. Tun Dr Mahathir, who was Education Minister in 1974, previously defended UUCA as it was supposed to allow undergraduates to focus on their studies. Perhaps, in an ironic realization of the Act’s counter-productive nature, the Education Minister Dr Mazslee Malik serving in Tun Mahathir’s newly minted Pakatan Harapan government has recently pledged to abolish the UUCA. This is an encouraging indicator of possible progress, but is still a baby step in the long road ahead for student activists in Malaysia.

But for every internet user who called for #UndiRosak, there is another who was involved with the political process of the general election and its possible implications for Malaysia’s future generations. Despite many students being unable to vote in this year’s general election, they were not dissuaded from participating in discussion according to the amount of information disseminated and dissected by the youth concerning politics on social media. This is no surprise. 22 million out of Malaysia’s 38 million people are on social media and 88% of the 25-34 year olds access the internet daily. Access to information is mastered by the younger generation, and the digital natives of this age are more likely to be be politically active online where sharing an article or tweeting a stance is easier than the traditional forms of protest, such as taking to the streets.

Student activism as a concept evolves according to young people who mold it to further their purpose of change, and for this generation, student activism has been facilitated greatly by technology. In Bangladesh, protestors demanding safer streets were met with tear gas and a government shutdown on media, young Bangladeshis have turned to social media to share accounts or images that expose brutality and instances of sexual assault on female protestors, utilising this generation’s access to technology to push back against the state’s authority. New tools such as the internet have galvanised, educated and united young people in common causes. Awareness of issues that plague society is at its peak with the near-instantaneous exchange of information through technology and its following conversation, which encourages and coordinates movements to achieve goals of visibility and change. That has been no clearer than the student movement for gun control reform in the United States after multiple school shootings that left 31 students dead as of May 2018, where outraged high school students all over the country coordinate speeches and organised walkouts under the movement March for Our Lives through the usage of social media platforms.

With new alternatives to the mainstream media outlets that traditionally controlled by a certain demographic—older, male, with similar political ideals, or in Malaysia’s case, owned directly by the previous government’s component parties—access to information can no longer be controlled or contained by the state, and students are using that to their advantage to spread their message and calls for action. And perhaps, with the new government’s promise for freedom of speech, the youth can finally have their voices be heard.

The content of this article is comprised solely of the writer’s own opinions and does not reflect the stance of CEKU as a whole.

Do Malays Lack Empathy?

The Malaysian Students’ Leaders Summit XII will be held on the 11th of August. Session 1 of MSLS XII is entitled The Malaysian Dilemma: The Future of Race-Based Politics in Malaysia. This article focuses on a possible effect of the over-focus on Malay-Muslim sensitivities.

by Arveent Kathirtchelvan

We are in an era of a New Malaysia, or so it is said. Sadly, there are still a few problems left that threaten to derail the optimism held by Malaysians for a better, fairer and more inclusive. Chief amongst these is a shaky voter base for Pakatan Harapan, the current ruling coalition, within the Malay demographic. Each day passes with what seems to be a new issue centred on some Malay organisation unhappy with the new state of affairs regarding Malay rights or the position of Islam. Worryingly, a lot of the arguments put forth revolve around a sense of entitlement that appears to indicate Malays putting themselves forward as not only separate but better than everyone else especially when it comes to defining the identity of the country and the type of policies to be implemented by the government.

We shall begin with the unfortunate incident involving Numan Afifi. To the uninitiated, Numan is a strong proponent for LGBTQ rights in Malaysia and was a temporary press secretary to the newly appointed Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq. Once this information reached the masses, pandemonium broke loose. Many Malay-Muslim organisations strongly protested Numan’s appointment, stressing the opinion that should an activist of the LGBTQ community be working so closely to government ministers, it might normalise the LGBTQ way of life. The misunderstandings within this reaction are numerous but they seem derived from a perception of superiority of their own personal opinions. The inability to accept that different people can hold different personal opinions when certain aspects are construed to be threatened comes through.

Note, it is not the individual faith that is challenged here (Muslims are entitled to their religious disapproval of Numan’s activism) but its extension to impose upon the personal life and rights of an individual which should be discontinued (backlash in the form of threats that affect another’s worklife and quality of life). The parallels between this and France’s hijab ban are palpable. Would the people against Numan accept the French who say that the ban is in line with French sensitivities and secular philosophy? In fact Islamophobia is such a sore point with Malay-Muslims that it is surprising the feeling of being discriminated did not temper their feelings towards some who think and live differently to them. Things were even more bothersome with the drama involving Tommy Thomas’s and Tan Sri Richard Malanujam appointments as Attorney General and Chief Justice respectively. Once again, racial and religious sentiments were played up to make it seem like the influence and rights of the Malay-Muslims were being eroded. The over-reliance on these sentiments rather than merit is counter-productive in terms of national growth as well which, as a developing nation, may lead to economic detriment.

So where does this all come from? The answer to that question is probably politics. Over 60 years of race-based politics has caused a lot of issues regarding the integration of races. We now have strong tribalism in Malaysia which is not limited to the Malay-Muslims. According to a research paper done by Dr. Ananthi Al Ramiah, Prof. Miles Hewstone and Ibrahim Suffian, more non-Malays identify with their ethnicities more than being Malaysian. However, amongst those who feel more Malaysian, non-Malays felt more favourably towards all other Malaysians whereas Malays did not feel more favourably towards non-Malays. This shows Malay-Muslims do not associate inter-racial connections with being Malaysian which might lend itself to justifying isolation from other Malaysian races. Interestingly, the aforementioned unwillingness to accept ideas opposing their preconceived opinions and sensitivities might be due to the differing vision of Malaysian-ness, which is attributed more to being Malay and around other Malays in the same paper.

With UMNO and PAS pulling out the tried and tested card of racial politics as Opposition to Pakatan Harapan’s government, the outlook for this getting better is not too positive. Even in the coalition that is Pakatan Harapan, the kingmaker party is PPBM, whose assurance of the Malay-Muslim community definitely helped the coalition to victory. Why else would the smallest party in the coalition hold both the Prime Minister and Home Minister roles? The future of policy-making depends a lot upon this party and how it responds to UMNO and PAS. What may worsen the condition is if there is an arms race between PPBM and the Opposition to shore up more Malay votes to strengthen their claim as the true representatives of Malay-Muslims. That can only lead to more racial separation and a deeply broken society.

Then again, are we being disingenuous by ignoring non-Malays who want to live in their own enclaves? For they do exist. How many companies looking for new recruits or landlords looking for rental tenants emphasize on Chinese-speakers as a requirement? When another research paper found it is so much more difficult for Malay job applicants to receive interview offers compared to Chinese ones in the private sector, how can we absolve the non-Malays of all wrongdoings? We aren’t, they are at fault too. Suspicion and distrust is rife amongst the non-Malays, going so far as viewing their Malay counterparts as entitled and undeserving at times.

The adherence to their own social circles and areas where their own race is concentrated or language is spoken shows an unwillingness to intermix. In fact the only difference between the social separatist mentality between Malays and non-Malays is that Malays have more political clout due to special privileges and sheer numbers. Even the supremacist logic I have lamented before is present in certain groups of non-Malays but is not as openly stated. These feelings manifest themselves as a reaction to an asymmetric governmental support which is greater, more direct and concrete for Malays. The fear of losing out and innate survival instincts kick in due to this which then foster a culture of ‘support your own’ amongst these races. This very culture is then pointed out as proof of non-Malays rejecting and disrespecting Malays, further increasing friction. It is a vicious cycle.

So, it isn’t just the Malays who lack empathy, for all races in Malaysia exhibit that weakness which threatens to derail our much aspired dreams of living together in peace. This is a social problem and will not be solved overnight through political intervention. But in the beginning, some political hand-holding is necessary. The opportunity in Pakatan Harapan for Malays and non-Malays to come together and truly learn about one another is rich. Unlike in Barisan Nasional where separate groups seem to work together yet represent each racial group separately, focusing on their own communities, with less emphasis on a combined approach where problems affecting separate groups can be seen to be indicative of a larger, structural issue. In Harapan, there is more intermingling, especially through PKR and DAP which are strong multiracial parties that involve different races working together to solve universal issues. Even Amanah, with a focus on a progressive Islam more in tune with the multiracial construct of Malaysian society, has its role. As the figurehead of the largest racial group in Malaysia within Harapan, PPBM would necessarily have to lead the charge.

They should not treat Malays as commodities or crops to fertilise with supremacist rhetoric for a higher yield of votes. Rather, engagement between Malays and non-Malays should be actively encouraged. This is not to be just nominal as well, we need deep discussions of difficult topics to really get to the root of issues affecting our society. Will Kelab Bunga Raya, which Wan Fayhsal says he envisions being akin to the Fabian Society, be up to the task? Only time will tell. The rest of us non-Malays should also take it upon ourselves to help in this cause, pushing forward open speech and practising true empathy.

Empathy is when we put ourselves in others’ shoes to understand where they are coming from. Their hopes, dreams, toils and sacrifices all shaping them to be the people they are, all impacting on the way they act and interact with others. Sometimes they might be belligerent or crude, rude or strange but they are essentially people too. When we can identify with the prevailing need to belong within each other, only then alone can we be living in peace and happiness. So before we turn on each other and ask why another person is being the way they are, maybe we should take a step back and reflect if we are being understanding enough of their situation. Malay or not, we all could use some empathy.

The content of this article is comprised solely of the writer’s own opinions and does not reflect the stance of CEKU as a whole.

ELECTORAL SYSTEMS: MALAYSIA VS THE WORLD by Jun Long Goh

Illustration by The Seattle Times.

On the 7th of April 2018, the Malaysian Parliament was officially dissolved. Soon, we Malaysian will hold our 14th General Election.

How do we elect our Members of Parliament (MPs)? And how do other countries elect theirs? Different democracies [1] use different electoral rules, which can significantly affect the outcome. There is often a presumption that there is only one way of electing our MPs, or one way that democracy can work. Differences between democracies are often thought of as minor and insignificant. But peer closely, and one would find a rift of difference in how democracies operate.

Why is it important to know the existence of these varieties? Comparing and contrasting between democracies allows us as citizens to know what electoral system exists and to make judgements on what will work best. Thus, in this article, I will be introducing you to three major varieties of electoral system, which were hopefully improve your horizons greatly.

Three different electoral systems

Political scientists usually divide electoral system into 3 major categories: the majoritarian electoral system, the proportional representation electoral system and the mixed electoral system—a combination of the first two. Even then, these categories hide many details. However, as a first approximation, they will suffice.

Before I continue, some important definitions:

“Electoral District”: A place (usually geographical) where all the votes of the voters are grouped and counted together.

“Legislature” = “Parliament”. I will be using the term legislature because the term “Parliament” has a  slightly different connotation in political science, but in essence, they mean more or less the same thing.

Malaysia – First-past-the-post majoritarian electoral system

The Malaysian electoral system is a standard example of the majoritarian electoral system. Other countries that uses this system includes the United Kingdom and the United States. The lower house of the Malaysian Parliament, the Dewan Rakyat [2] consists of 222 members of parliament. It is a single member district electoral system whereby each member of parliament represents one electoral district, and there is a separate contest for each electoral district. The candidate who obtains the most votes in the electoral district wins the parliament seat.

When there are only two candidates, the candidate who wins the seat must have obtain more than 50% of the votes . This is the origin of the name for the electoral system—the majority wins. However, this name is a misnomer—if there are more than two candidates, the candidate may not need to win 50% of the vote to obtain the vote. (For instance: Candidate 1 obtains 40% of the votes, Candidate 2 and Candidate 3 each 30% of the votes, Candidate 1 wins). Therefore, some political scientists prefer to call this a plurality electoral system.

What are the effects of the first-past-the-post single member district majoritarian electoral system? One effect  is disproportionality—when the vote share of the party does not correspond to seat share of the party in the legislative house. (For example: Last Malaysian General Elections: Barisan Nasional [VS: 47.38%, SS: 60%]; Pakatan Rakyat [VS: 50.87%, SS: 40%]). Another effect is the risk of gerrymandering—whereby politicians draw electoral district lines in such a way that it favours their own political party.

Netherlands and South Africa – Proportional representation (PR) electoral system

The Netherlands and the South Africa electoral systems represent two slightly different PR electoral system. The Netherlands uses an open list PR electoral system whereas South Africa uses a closed list PR system.

Unlike the majoritarian electoral system, which awards the seat to the one with the most votes in a particular electoral district, the PR electoral system awards the seats based on the vote share of the parties. Of course, in a one-seat electoral district, we cannot possible divide the seats, no matter electoral system. Thus, for the PR electoral system, it usually consists of one single electoral district across the whole country which allocates all the legislature seats by percentage of votes. (For example: A 100 seat legislature. Party A wins 50% of the votes, Party B wins 30% of the votes, Party C wins 20% of the votes. They obtain 50, 30 and 20 seats respectively.) In such a system, voters vote for party lists—a ranked list of the party’s candidates instead of single candidates. The votes for the parties are summed up and seats are allocated based on the percentage of votes. (Note: The lists are ranked). Continuing the earlier example, the first 50 candidates, the first 30 candidates and the first 20 candidates of the party list of Party A, Party B and Party C respectively are elected into the legislature.

South Africa differs slightly from this in that it separates its 400-seat lower house (called the National Assembly) into 200 regional seats and 200 national seats. The 200 regional seats are separated into 9 multi-member electoral districts based on the 9 provinces (with seats ranging from 5 to 48 seats for each region) Each party has a regional list for each province and a national list. When voting, the voter votes for one party in the provincial list and one party in the national list. The 200 regional seats are allocated first based on the party vote percentage in each provincial list. Then, the regional and national votes for each party is summed up, and the next 200 seats are allocated in such a way that the percentage of total votes for the party and the seats in the legislature are as similar as possible. The PR electoral system is closed list, which means that voters are not allowed to alter the ranking of the party lists. (However, they can see the lists).

In contrast, the Netherlands electoral system is open list, which means voter can alter the ranking of the candidates. In the 150-seat lower house, it is separated into 19 different electoral districts, but this separation is partly administrative. In essence, the whole country is a single electoral district. But why the administrative separation? The Netherlands has an open list, and voters can cast preference votes for a particular candidate in a party list. If the candidate obtains more than 25% of the national electoral quotient (the total number of votes cast divide by the total number of seats in the legislature), then they are immediately bumped up to the top of the list. If it was single electoral district, the open list would need to have a 150 candidates long list for each party. (And there are many parties in the Netherlands, including a Party for the Animals!). The ballot paper will be extremely complicated. The electoral laws limit the number of candidates for each party that can be placed on a ballot paper.

By its nature, (and its name), the PR electoral system leads to low electoral disproportionality. It also avoids the risk of gerrymandering. However, the party list system gives large power to the party leaders in ranking the candidates. Usually, the top of the list is elected while the bottom of the list chances of election is basically zero. In the closed list, voters cannot change the ranking, even if they do not like a certain candidate in a party that they support. Even with open list, the candidate needs to obtain a high number of preference votes to be bump up the list. Usually, those who are popular enough are ranked high in the list anyways. In addition, by having large electoral district (or even one whole national one), it breaks the link between the geographical link between a member of parliament and the voter. Party lists could be filled with candidates from urban areas, and the rural area is underrepresented.

Germany – Mixed-system — Arguably the best?

In Germany, the lower house of the Federal Parliament, the Bundestag, is elected with 299 single member district, 299 party list seats at the state level, and also additional compensatory seats. Each voter cast two votes, one for the single member district which he is in (the first vote), and one for the party list of the state he is in (the second vote)

The counting of votes into seats are done in the following way:

  1. All candidates who wins the single member districts (SMD) are elected.
  2. All parties that failed to pass the 5% threshold or win at least 3 single member districts are eliminated from the allocation of the party list seat allocation.
  3. Based on the second vote summed up at the national level, the party is allocated a certain number of seats.
  4. The number of SMD seats the party won is subtracted from the total number of allocated seats. The rests are allocated from the party list seats.
  5. If a party has more SMD seats than the number of seats it is allocated too, additional seats are added to the legislature and allocated to the other parties so that proportionality is maintained.

The German system combines the best of both worlds.

It avoids disproportionality, but retains the direct geographical link between member of Parliament and voters. There are still some weaknesses though. For example, in smaller parties who don’t get any SMD, the party list remains in the control of party delegates.

I hope that this short introduction to electoral systems around the world have helped all who have read this article to expand their horizons, and to think deeply about our Malaysian electoral system.

*For more information, fascinating (and weird) facts about electoral system around the world, the book The Politics of Electoral System is great guide. (But it can be a little technical)

References:

  • Andeweg, R. B. 2005. The Netherlands: The Sanctity of Proportionality. In: M. Gallagher, and P Mitchell, eds. The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 24.
  • Gouws, A. 2005. South Africa: One Party Dominance Despite Perfect Proportionality. . In: M. Gallagher, and P Mitchell, eds. The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 17.
  • Saadfald, T. 2005. Germany: Stability and Strategy in a Mixed‐Member Proportional System. In: M. Gallagher, and P Mitchell, eds. The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 10.
  • Louw, V. 2014. The South African Electoral System. [online] Available at: http://hsf.org.za/resource-centre/hsf-briefs/the-south-african-electoral-system [Accessed 8 April 2018].

[1] Speaking of democracies — Is Malaysia a democracy? Even though this may seem like it has an obvious answer, it is much more difficult then it seems. Some measures of democracy suggest that we are, some say we are not (Malaysia is a borderline case). For the purpose of this essay, I will be assuming that Malaysia is a democracy, in the sense it is commonly accepted by most Malaysians as one.

[2] I exclude the upper house, the Dewan Negara from the analysis as its members are appointed. (which means electoral systems have nothing to do with it.)

THE ADVENT OF A SINO-AMERICAN TRADE WAR by Ariff Aiman Emi Rizal

Illustration by The Economist.

The Trump administration announced a 25% tariff on approximately 1300 Chinese goods worth $46 Billion (9% of total imports from China). Trump’s latest move was reciprocated by his Chinese counterpart just one day after with their own 25% tariffs on US goods which included Soybeans, aircraft and cars. The worsening relations between the U.S and China is believed to be caused by allegations of intellectual property abuse which is not wholly dubious. China has practiced a ‘voluntary’ technology transfer scheme which forces American firms to share their cutting-edge technology in exchange for access into the Chinese market. Worse yet, American firms argue that access into the market is often delayed by bureaucratic hurdles which implicitly allow domestic firms to gain a head start and earn market share. China is also accused of heavily subsidizing its exports allowing for a huge excess in capacity.

Many have criticized the Trump administration for its unprecedented legal justification of the Steel and Aluminium Tariff. Unlike previous tariffs on solar panels and washers which were done by self-initiating an Anti-Dumping (AD) and Countervailing Duties(CVD) case against imports which is recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as part of its legal dispute mechanism. The tariffs on steel and aluminium were justified on grounds of national security based on section 232 of The Trade Expansion act 1962 in response to the report published by the Department of Commerce which allows protectionist measures on industries critical to the armed forces. Article XXI of the WTO treaty allows member states to raise any tariffs it deems fit for the protection of its essential security interests but it is rarely invoked. It allows for tariffs even if there is no evidence of surging imports or dumping practices hence, putting the global trade system at stake.

Trump’s policy direction for trade has been confusing at best. He bangs on the rhetoric of striking fairer and better trade deals but fails to realize that world trade is not a zero-sum game. The notable departure of Gary Cohn, president’s top economic advisor was a massive blow to the liberal centrist faction within the administration.  However, it is hard to predict how far President Trump is willing to go in his war against China. China’s latest response is an excellent example of micro-targeting of Trump’s key constituencies. Proposed tariffs on Soybeans and Aircraft parts will indefinitely harm Trump’s key lobbyists such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Soy farmers, crucial lobbyists for the upcoming midterm elections.

The global economy is underpinned by faith in a rule-based system collectively known as the Bretton Woods institutions. These institutions were formed after the second world war to enforce neo-liberal economic agenda and ensure stability. The WTO (previously known as GATT) has its own shortcomings. It used to be the case that rules were updated and issues were resolved every now and then through rounds of negotiation. The collapse of the Doha Development round was a result of a longstanding dispute between rich and poor countries over the issue of special treatments given to poor countries in the name of development. There is a serious need for the WTO to remain relevant, as its inability to curb unfair trade practices has left many member states feeling disappointed towards the system. If left unchecked, it will gradually lead to member states losing faith in the WTO and allow for the rise in economic nationalism.

Trump’s decision on steel tariffs has been interpreted as a signal of a weakened rule-based system that America stood for.

If the US can justify tariffs on grounds of national security, who’s to say other nations will not follow suit. The U.S has displayed arrogant contempt in its pursuit to strike a better deal with its trading partners. It has disregarded conventional rules in favour for drastic and radical measures. Trump is using the threat of tariff as a bargaining chip to reinstate the terms of trade in his favour. The exemption of Mexico and Canada from steel and aluminium tariffs are used as a leverage to renegotiate NAFTA.

Malaysians should not be delighted by this trend especially in light of a recent rumor that the US is interested in rejoining the TPPA. President Trump has proven to be a bully and will continue to do so if left unabated. There is a huge possibility that if the US rejoins TPPA, Trump will renegotiate key issues such as membership of founding member states and state subsidies of local firms. Malaysia should also tread carefully in its alignment to either the US or China. China has been proactive in its ‘One belt one road’ initiative aimed at recreating the silk road. The perception of alignment with China puts Malaysia at odds with the Trump administration which is an unnecessary added risk.

The responses from both countries so far have been tactical and reasonably measured which suggest that neither side wants an all-out trade war. It is hard to predict the outcome of the trade spat but it will be interesting to see how both sides will play it out. The Trump factor has convinced a lot of people that we are returning to an era of mercantilism and “beggar thy neighbour” policies which if true, will leave huge damage on the rule-based global order. Conversely, the Trump factor could may as well merely be a period of adjustment; an outlier which soon will be replaced with the norm. It could be argued that President Trump is alone in his call for greater protectionism. The west and even China have begun to realize the benefits of free trade.

The rule-based system is surely far from ideal, but that does not mean it is not worth defending.

Institutional weaknesses found in the WTO must be corrected because the alternate reality is a “dog-eat-dog” world which promises to be (in the words of Hobbes himself) “nasty, brutish and short”

Across the world, we are in desperate need of strong leadership which should lead to better policy framework and an adherence to the established rule-based system.