Sunday, 27 May 2018

Clean wage, Clean Government, missed opportunity?

We should just let it go, let it go. It has been frozen for years, and now the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) is thawing it.
Come August this year, charging teachers for parking fees will melt into reality and they can expect to pay either a monthly or annual sum for occupied spaces in schools.
However, letting it go or otherwise, MP Seah Kian Peng had recently raised the issue again in Parliament.
He said: "For too long, we have made decisions based more on an economic compass, as if the use of one dollar has the moral equivalence of the loss of another...It is time we recognise money is merely a proxy for value, and at times, a very bad one."
MP Ong Ye Kung's reply to MP Seah is simple. It is about equalizing the civil service. It is about fairness to all. It is about "cleanliness".
He first talked about teachers being flagged by the AGO "for going against the civil service's policy of paying clean wages," that is, wages with no hidden benefits. In other words, he is saying that the government shouldn't "subsidise" teachers with free parking.
And then, he put the matter to fiscal rest when he said: "This finding went against years of MOE practice. Yet, we have to respect our internal system of checks and balances. We cannot pick and choose which (AGO) finding to address or comply with - we take them all seriously. This is about upholding the value of self-discipline."
Now, to be fair to Ong, at one point of his speech, he did resonate with MP Seah's POV when he said that "governance and running a public service system is not always about taking a purist market approach."
Ong added: "Perhaps for the same reason, for a long time, we didn't charge parking for teachers in schools and servicemen in camps".
At this point, I wonder, what Ong meant by "perhaps for the same reason, for a long time, we didn't charge parking for teachers in schools and servicemen in camps"? And this is to be read with: "this finding (that is, AOG's unclean wage) went against years of MOE practice (that is, allowing for free parking)"?
It is tempting to ask: How did MOE (and our servicemen) get away with it for so long? More relevantly, why did they get away with it for that long? What then broke the camel's back of the AGO to finally put a stop to it and charge teachers for parking?
If "governance and running a public service system is not always about taking a purist market approach," a noble sentiment which MP Seah shares, why change now?
Are we then returning to a purist market approach by charging teachers after a long respite, because our government can't stand the cognitive dissonance on the economic front and therefore has come to their dollar and senses?
I ask this because, admittedly, if it has been going on for years, if not decades, for our teachers and servicemen, then it is invariably entrenched, even silently accepted by the majority at large.
So, considering human nature, uprooting it now would surely disrupt expectations, to put it mildly. And it has indeed ruffled many feathers according to the last survey on the social media landscape.
Many are not happy about it, and MP Seah must have felt the anguish on the ground to deem it fit to have the issue canvassed in Parliament.
Yet, Ong came forward to justify the charges as about "upholding the value of self-discipline".
Are they then going to instill further self-discipline by charging servicemen (which they are doing for some camps now), parliamentarians, ministers and volunteers during meet-the-people sessions?
In the end, this is Singapore. This is how the government rolls. This is what Ong calls a clean government.
And in his own words in "defending the clean wage policy as a moral idea," Ong said that "all public servants subscribe to it", adding: "This is one of our core practices to ensure a clean government.
Well, just for corniness sake, it is also a fine city.
But levity aside, I always thought that when a politician answers another in parliament, and if it is a good and sensible answer, it leaves one with less questions than before. It also leaves one thinking about why he had asked the question in the first place.
However, when Ong defended the clean wage policy as a moral idea in Parliament, somehow, it left more questions for me than before. It also made me want to repeat my question I'd asked in the first place (because I don't think he got the point).
I mean, how is returning to a presumably purist economic approach as manifested in the carpark charges for teachers this August considered "a moral idea"?
At best, it is amoral, or a neutral point. As Professor Sandel puts it: "Explaining how markets work is central subject of economics. So why has economics failed to provide a convincing basis for deciding what should, and what should not, be up for sale (or whether teachers or servicemen should or should not be charged for parking)?"
To that, he said: "The reason lies in the conception of economics as a value-neutral science of human behaviour and social choice."
That's the essence of MP Seah's point, which Ong had curiously overlooked.
And if the moral element here is about fairness to all, that is, across-the-board treatment, then it is a slippery slope because the benefits, monetary and/or otherwise, that ministers get - starting with their astronomical paycheck and the other perks enjoyed by them - far outweigh the take home pay of the majority by a considerably unbridgeable margin.
Fairness to all is a parliamentary ideal that once the well-endowed parliamentarians step out of parliament becomes a reality gap that our highly unequal society is hard pressed to bridge.
In other words, one man's clean wages is another man's perception of dirty wages.
Having said that, personally, I don't think Ong even answered (or addressed) MP Seah's concerns directly, or specifically.
You see, it seems to me to be quite obvious that AGO is doing its job to use a fine-toothed comb to scour the nooks and crannies of society to see whether they have left anything out for fair and expedient extraction of revenues. That is their technocratic job to be carried out with exactitude, I fully understand it.
Just as no one is left behind, so no one is left unaccounted for (for economic rent-extracting purposes of course).
But MP Seah's point goes further and deeper than that. In Parliament, he called for a rethink on the role of “economic reasoning” in policymaking here.
To flesh it out fully here, his point is about the larger picture, and not just about some issue of self-discipline (or for that matter, about free parking specifically).
In other words, "in the broader front," as reported, "Mr Seah urged the Ministry of Finance to lead a “reform”, and bring about “an explicit recognition (in the Government) of the limits of price, cost and expenditure as a proxy for value, and to allow for greater use of discretion by public officers in recognising moral reasoning as a legitimate form of argumentation”".
It bears repeating that MP Seah "stressed that his call was “not an appeal to populism”. Rather, it is an appeal to the ideas of justice and community that have informed Singapore policy making at the start of our journey 53 years ago.""
And "instead of taking the “cheap, efficient and quick” approach," he added. "Singapore has to look at what is “fair, just and right” in order to truly tackle inequality and other national issues.""
“We must… make (the) language of morality our vernacular in policy matters. It is time we recognise that money is merely a proxy for value, and at times, a very bad one," so rallied MP Seah.
I believe all that had unfortunately flew pass Ong when he replied in what I felt was a non-sequitur manner about AGO's enforcing internal checks and balances and emphasising that the issue is about self-discipline.
Alas, maybe the real issue is more about more self-reflection?
It is said that the eagle who flies high in the sky does not worry about crossing the river below.
Applying this metaphor here, I think MP Seah was taking the bird's eye view of things in the long run of how our government ought to build trust and confidence and close the income and social divide more effectively.
But Ong seems to me to have let a good point slipped by in Parliament by contending with the technocratic struggle to cross the "checks and balances" river on a purely economic approach by not directly addressing the issue at large.
Personally, and this has to be said, the issue is not just about charging teachers or servicemen for parking.
It really goes beyond that to what growth is our government going for or pursuing, that is, is it about putting a price on every nook and cranny spaces in Singapore so as to extract a pound of economic value in order to put more into the nation's already overflowing reserves, or is it about taking the high road to a more compassionate, humane, sustainable and trust-engendering society along the line of what MP Seah has said, that is, "to rethink the role of the market and of economic reasoning."
For there is a saying that we ought to treat everyone the same by treating everyone differently (because of the different stations, growth and fortune in life).
Alas, in Singapore, it seems like we treat some people differently by paying lip service to treating everyone the same. And this is sadly the result of the ever widening income and social divide between the elitist section of society and the rest of the population. Cheerz.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The trial of the empire of things.

They say the home is where the heart is, and for Lady Rosmah, her home is full of glittering stuff. 

The haul is quite mind boggling, according to Anwar. 

Anwar said: "It is unfortunate. This you cannot defend. You can open a big shop with Birken bags, Hermes bags."

In Najib's mansion alone at Taman Duta, 50 luxury handbags from brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Prada were seized. 

It reports that "the operation also yielded a haul of 10 luxury watches, including several Rolexes, a Hublot and a Patek Philippe, as well as RM537,000 (S$181,700) and 2.87 million Sri Lankan rupees (S$24,440) in cash."

But the haul above, with some items and cash amount being quite expected of a multimillionaire's home, is addition to the haul from three luxury apartments in KL's shopping district occupied by Najib and family. 

The raid loaded up 284 boxes "containing luxury handbags and 72 bags filled with jewellery, cash of various denominations, watches and other valuables...on Thursday night."

It took five police trucks to load the boxes and the director of police commercial crime investigations, Mr. Amar Singh said: "The total sum worth of items cannot be ascertained now. We will be counting and will know by tomorrow. The number of jewellery is rather big."

I guess he is also referring to a pink diamond necklace estimated at about US$23 million, purchased with 1MDB funds according to the US Department of Justice. 

Mind you, the raid on the private condominiums were the result of a tip off by members of the youth wing of PM Mahathir's party where they "received video evidence showing an alleged attempt to "hide" some 50 Birken bags that may have belonged to Madam Rosmah.""

To be fair, Najib and Lady Rosmah have hit back at the raids, saying that it has become a media circus with unwarranted leaks, and some of the officials had "helped themselves to food and chocolates in the refrigerator and further demanded that meals be prepared for them."


Apart from the questionable raid being carried out, which will be investigated by Mr. Amar Singh, one has to ask, does Lady Rosmah suffer from an OCD-like hoarding disorder? 

While the poor who suffer from such unfortunate condition pack the house with discarded stuff of questionable value, making it practically inhabitable, is Lady Rosmah laboring under the same medical blight packing her mansions with stuff of inestimable value, making the same act incomprehensible?

I started this post by saying that the home is where the heart is, and if so, where then lies Lady Rosmah's, and for that matter, Najib's heart when he was the premier promising to put the Rakyat first? 

Now, it has to be said that there is nothing wrong with being rich and filling your home with good stuff to beautify it. 

Even lady Rosmah once said: "When someone gives us something, it is not nice to reject it. This said, there is no reason for me to go around announcing that I have been presented watches, designer bags and the rest. That's just showing off. As a woman and wife of a leader, I have to look presentable, neat and upkeep my appearance. I don't want to look unkempt because if I do, I will be criticised."

Well, it's one thing to look "unkempt" and it's quite another thing altogether when you fill or line the rooms and corridors of your home (or heart) as a politician's wife with branded goods you will never use, jewelleries worth millions you possibly wear only once, and cash that people will never get to earn in their lifetime.

At some point, the excesses become an entrapment, the entrapment turns into the corruption of the heart.

Mind you, Lady Rosmah was once dubbed "the first lady of shopping" after a shopping spree at a Sydney boutique that costs her an alleged sum of A$100,900.

She is also known for her fondness for designer handbags, as the raid has clearly shown, and they command a price of anywhere between US$12,000 and US$300,000. 

And let's not also forget that the MACC have also found about US$10.6 million being transferred from state fund unit SRC International to an account belonging to Najib. 

This is not including the open admission by Najib that the alleged political donation from the Saudi family (of billions in ringgit) first made its appearance in his personal bank account. 

Alas, the Bible admonishes that where your heart is, there you will find your treasure. 

And Najib and Lady Rosmah have a fabulous storehouse of worldly treasures that the Rakyat can only dream of. Indeed, it seems like the treasure of their heart is literally stored up in their houses. 

Last night, I watched The Greatest Showman and there was one part at the end when Hugh Jackman (as PT Barnum) turned to his wife (Michelle Williams) and said that he was doing all that he did (that is, touring the world with a prime donna to secure international fame and wealth) for the family, especially their two girls. 

At this point, Mrs. Barnum replied to the effect that she had never asked for all that. She has enough. She has him. She has her family. 

For her, it has never been about the things or circumstances but the family and the love that binds them together. 

That about sums up the soul and wealth of a family for me. It is about a love that is not distracted by money and a heart that knows where enduring happiness truly lies.

And if the home is where the heart is, then the heart of a home is never about filling it with things, but love, never about keeping up with the joneses but staying together in poverty and in riches, and most relevantly, never about blindly chasing after happiness when it has never left the home in the first place.

And therefore, the greatest irony in life is not being able to see what you have been looking for all your life standing just right before you. Mr PT Barnum learned that lesson the tough way. 

I call that the irony of coming back full circle and looking at things afresh with new eyes. And the privilege of that perspective is not that the things or people around you have changed, but you have.

So, maybe Lady Rosmah does not suffer so much from a hoarding disorder but a heart that is insatiable. It is a heart that finds security in the empire of things. 

Alas, this is the condition of the human heart, and no one is exempt. 

And while Najib and Lady Rosmah are now facing the populist backlash of their undoing, the enduring lesson for me is ironically captured in this whimsical quote: "I would rather carry a plastic bag with $5000 inside, than to carry a Prada bag with only $100 inside.”

For me, it means that you can’t hide the depth of your character (or its lack) behind the shallowness of earthly things…for one day, they will all unravel (in a vacant soul at deathbed or a media circus at public raid). Cheerz.

Corporate Corruption (Keppel Corp).

What I gather from reading the former Attorney General and current law professor's article this morning about punishing corruption (with specific reference to the Keppel Corp) is captured in three lessons. 

I'll dive straight into it here. 

Let me start with the first lesson, and it has something to do with history. 

Walter Woon ("WW") brought us back to Dec 1997 with this Straits Times headline: "Keppel fined $300,000 for giving $8.53m in bribes for contracts".

He then fast-forwarded to 2016 with the former CEO and president of ST Marine "(pleading) guilty in August and got 10 months' jail as well as a $100,000 fine." 

The bribe paid out was at least $24.9m between 2000 and 2011. 

Can you spot the difference in a 20-year time period?

Well, the difference is in who paid for the crime. In 1997, it was Keppel. The company was fined $300k- a slap on the corporate cufflinks. However, in 2016, it was the CEO (and others). They were jailed and fined for corruption.

The question here is, why weren't the people at the top jailed in 1997?
That was the same question JB Jeyaretnam pursued in Parliament when he asked whether action will be taken against the leaders in Keppel.

This was what the then Minister of State for Law (Ho Peng Kee) said:-

"...(the Public Prosecutor had decided) that the company should be prosecuted, not the employees who gave bribes. He did so after considering all the facts of the case, including the fact that they did not act for their own personal gain."

I will return to the issue on personal gain later in this post, but this is what WW wrote in his article about the fine:-

"Just fining companies is not enough; this only trims the weeds without digging out the roots."

And because the roots were not extricated completely then, the weeds unfortunately grew back with an increased in the bribery sum 20 years later. 

In 1997, it was $8.5m. In 2016, it tripled to $24.9m.

Now comes the second lesson of this post led by this inquiry: Is corruption a systemic problem in Keppel?

You see, in the 1997 corruption case, when only Keppel was fined, and the key players were not prosecuted, WW wrote that the CPIB "showed that based on ST Marine's records, this practice stretched back to at least 1996, which raises tantalising questions about how far and deep the cancer had metastasised within the group."

And if a cancer is best treated by early detection, the question is whether jailing the employees then (in 1997) would have at least arrested or control the "cancer spread"?

If "altruism" were the main factor in not jailing them, as the Public Prosecutor felt that "they did not act for their own personal gain," then WW's rejoinder in his article is that "altruism is not a motive impelling corporate employees to give bribes in return for business."

WW elaborated by saying that employees have KPIs to meet, and "more business translates into bigger profits" and this "in turn leads to enhanced bonuses and improve promotion prospects." The corporate package doesn't stop there.

There is also the prestige accorded to the top leaders for running a "successful" company. That's the glitters that shine in their resume. 

So, when you put the rewards in their proper context, you get a sense that "personal gain" comes in many forms, and altruism is furthest in the corporate mind. 

So, reading WW's article, I get the tingling sense that it is not so much the fine or personal gain or dealing with the root cause, but the issue is:-

"Is this a systemic problem? Can we then ever compete in a sterile, incorrupt system? Are we wearing our ideals on the cloak of duplicity?"

Mind you, it bears repeating that "based on ST Marine's records, this practice stretched back to at least 1996". 

That is what we know that we know. But what we don't know that we don't know may just lie far deeper beneath the dead calm. 

This leads me to my third and last lesson from the article, and it has to do with luck. 

WW wrote that "the executives of ST Marine were lucky to have got off lightly" for CBT.

He then mentioned the City Harvest case. 

In that case, "the heaviest jail sentence for CBT was three years and six months...The sum involved was about $24 million, not much different from the amount paid in bribes in the ST Marine case" - so wrote WW.

Of course, the City Harvest leaders were charged with falsification of accounts as well, but they had allegedly made full restitution (minus the opportunity costs and lost interest). 

So, one neutralises the other somewhat?

Yet, the leader of the charismatic pack got 3.6 years for $24m, and the leader of the technocratic pack got 10 months and a fine of $100k for $24m. Indeed, as WW puts it, "the executives of ST Marine were lucky to have got off lightly".

Alas, this post will not be complete without ending it in WW's own words. He wrote:-

"Despite Singapore's supposedly squeaky clean image, corruption does still exist, even among government-linked companies...Eradication of corruption requires that the humans responsible for the offences account for their misdeeds, no matter how influential or well connected they may be. If we want to have standards, we must be willing and able to defend them."

Mm...I'll leave the reading-between-the-lines to your May Day reflection. I hope I have not burdened you too much for the short holiday. Cheerz.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Returning to the Kingmaker's First Choice.

When I read that the King is going to pardon Anwar so as to pave the way for him to become the eighth PM of Malaysia, I thought to myself: "You can't have a better fairy tale ending with Malaysian politics."

If this is not love behind the scenes, that is, twenty years of devotion, dedication and faithfulness to the cause, both to the nation and marriage/family, then nothing is.

One senior fellow and academic, Mr Yang Razali Kassim, said: “Dr Wan Azizah is once again forced to be the reluctant saviour – the loyal wife who has to dig deep into her inner energy to be many things all at once. She is the alter ego of her husband, mother to her children, and the alternate glue that binds the disparate opposition parties together.”

To me, her struggles over twenty years make her not just a reluctant saviour, but the unsung heroine of the whole political revolution that culminated to the most stunning and inspiring landslide victory in Malaysian political history. 

If there were a theme in GE14, it is this:-

"The underdog led by an old dog supported by a mixed group of pariah, that is, persona non grata of the ruling party, with an imprisoned great Dane waiting by the wing while his Lassie-like wife tirelessly working behind the scene". 

It is a metaphorical tribute of canine-like loyalty, integrity, and tenacity. 

And that was how the citadel of defiance, complacency and corruption with a history of 60 years fell on Wednesday. 

This time the opposition did not just bark their way into a resounding victory. They walked the ground and promised to serve and sacrifice for all to turn the country around. 

Now, after the victory dust settles, this alliance confronts their greatest test, and it is the crucible of time to transform a nation they love. 

Mind you, the electoral victory on Wednesday is but the first gunshot fired to start a race and the journey ahead is still a long and challenging one.

I therefore earnestly wish Malaysians all the best in this hardscrabble journey to serve the Rakyat.

But having said all that, I would like to draw out some readily identifiable ironies of GE14. For locked in this anthology of ironies are lessons that I can learn from. Here goes. 

First, two days after the crushing defeat, Umno "celebrated" its 72nd anniversary with a prayer session. 

It was supposed to be a grand affair with much pomposity in anticipation of a win in GE14. But history was not on their side this time. 

The irony is in the words of Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin. At the muted celebration, he said: "To return to the original UMNO, we must undergo a major change within." 

He then said that "changes needed include "absolute honesty, outstanding courage and painful sacrifice."" He called for the "rebuilding of the party" and for members to return to its "original spirit". 

Incidentally, Mahathir's advice for them was this: "Go back to your roots".

The second irony rides on the words of Khairy when he said about "absolute honesty, outstanding courage and painful sacrifice".

When you watch the luxuriant couple, Najib and Rosmah Mansor, whom the papers describe as "the ubiquitous kedai kopi or on the road in taxis", you get the feeling that the only "painful sacrifice" they had offered to the nation was to come out of their palatial comfort once every end of term to campaign in the open sun. 

I guess Rosmah may have to return her 22-carat pinky diamond necklace together with her trolley stuff of Birkin handbag collection, which collectively are worth millions. 

And regarding "absolute honesty", that virtue has somehow been beaten into a pulp under Najib's administration, not only with the 1MDB scandal where billions had allegedly gone missing, but it goes further to poison the roots of the party with the cowardice of last-minute redelineation exercise to dilute the opposition electoral grounds, the temporary ban on Mahathir's Bersatu party, the hasty passing of the fake news bill to suppress genuine voices, "the circumscription of voting eligibility", the last ditch pitch to throw tax exemptions at voters under 26, shameless cash handouts to voters on the street, and to top it up, the new rules on media ban on publicising Mahathir's face on the campaign trail, which led him to say this to reporters after the win:-

"I thought you want to see the paper not my face. Now I would like to tell you that my face is no longer haram. We don't have to tear out the picture of my face. I'm not saying anything against the government, you know. By the way, at this moment, there is no government."

The party's desperation to throw the kitchen sink at GE14 like the tomato fight in Valencia town spilled over into the street and yet they still lost by a considerable margin. 

Imagine if they had been "absolutely honest" to the voters...wouldn't the town be painted in crimson red overall?

The third irony centers around the grand old man of the voting match. At 92, going 93, Mahathir sweeps in like a reckoning force of nature and blows the Umno house down in one swift victorious grab.

The great irony here is that Najib was his choice. He groomed him personally after Badawi lost favour with the kingmaker. 

But Badawi was not as controversial as Najib with the latter's blatant admission that the billions of ringgit entering his personal bank account was a political donation from the Saudis. 

Although the Attorney General cleared Najib of all wrongdoings, Mahathir was not even the least convinced by Apandi Ali's simplistic, and almost laughable, money flow charts, which he proudly held in both hands before the media in 2016 as a triumphalistic vindication of Najib.

I guess those flow charts would be taken out once again and forensically scrutinized by Mahathir's government in the coming months for hidden links and traces that were conveniently left out before.

Can't wait to see how this CSI mystery gets unraveled, that is, is it really a donation to fight terrorism or a corruption to hide a greedy administration? After all, the missing funds belong to the people, Rakyat.

Alas, Mahathir did give Najib a chance to resign so that proper account and investigation could be carried out with him out of the way. 

But Najib not only held on to power in reaction to his mentor's plea, he even went on the offensive and fired all those who refused to accept his self-declared innocence in one broad sweep, including his padawan master.

So, Mahathir took the road less travelled, or in his case, a road no premier before him had never trekked (because it was deemed political suicide).

He quit the party he dedicated 22 years of his premiership to, rallied up an alliance of foe-turned-friends, and led them in a show of unprecedented unity to go against the party he no longer recognises as good for the nation. 

In fact, if a fish rots first from the head, then it is a party that is not even remotely recognisable by him.   

And on Wednesday, the unexpected happened. The people's will sealed it. His newly minted party won by a simple majority. 

His party defeated a 60-year-old political Levithan with effectively a sling and a stone right at the heart of where it truly matters. That sent Goliath in sarong scampering for a quick getaway with his wife over the weekend. 

And the latest is that Najib has quit as BN head and banned from travel. Mahathir has a hand in the latter when he said: "It's true, I prevented Najib from leaving the country...(because) there's sufficient evidence that certain things done by the former PM (require an investigation)."

So, Mahathir not only did the unthinkable, and defeated the unsinkable, he also became the oldest head of state in the history of government to prove that he is still undeniable.'s that for a twist of fates, or more appropriately, the wicked turn of ironies.

The fourth irony is about Dr Wan Azizah and Anwar, the couple who have inspired millions. 

If PH stands for the alliance of hope, then Anwar and Azizah together, especially for the last twenty years, stands for the alliance of love. And it spoke volume.

It has been a great struggle for Azizah, as she admitted that she was not born into the role as a politician. 

In a recent interview, she recalled this conversation she had with Anwar in prison:-

"I went to him and said "I can't stand it, going around campaigning and all that, why don't we change places"...and he said "You will never survive it." Then I knew it was not easy.""

It was indeed never easy, for both of them, including their children.

Their children have no doubt all grown up by now. But before that, that is, after their father was sacked, charged and convicted in 1998 and right through last Wednesday, Azizah lamented that raising the children alone was no easy task. 

She said: "I come back at night and see the children lying asleep, it gives (me) that extra motivation...No matter how tired you are, you are working for (their) future."

But alas, her toil has paid off, fully and most deservingly. Her working for her children's future has culminated to her being the deputy PM of Malaysia and President of PH. 

In fact, to sweeten irony with trivia, here is one fact that comes to mind after the electoral victory.

There are currently two medical doctors leading Malaysia, one a general practitioner from NUS and the other, a trained ophthalmologist who had won a gold medal in obstetrics and gynaecology from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The latter is Dr Wan Azizah.  

Indeed, the doctors are in the house.

And with that, I have come full circle from where I first started in this post. I thus return to the news yesterday about Anwar receiving the King's pardon. The journey has been an incredible one for Anwar (in fact, the latest is that Anwar will be released on Tuesday).

Mahathir said he can't do this for long. He gives himself two years and then, Anwar will take over. 

The kingmaker has finally found his successor, after two of his handpicked stepped down; one voluntarily and the other by force of the will of the people.  

Mahathir said: "It is going to be a full pardon, (he will) be released immediately when he is pardoned. After that, he will be free to participate fully in politics." 

After all's said and done here, the final (and fifth) irony has to be this: the Reformasi movement which took Malaysia by storm in 1998 when Anwar, as deputy PM, was sacked by Mahathir, has bore its first resilient fruit, that is, the fruit of freedom - Anwar's full pardon and return into the fold.  

The dean of comparative and international politics at NTU, Professor Joseph Liow wrote this in yesterday's article "A New Dawn in Malaysia":-

"GE14 was truly an epic tale for the ages, in defiance of history and the powers of incumbency, the Reformasi movement birthed in the wake of the Asian financial crisis 20 years ago appears to have finally come of age, midwifed by the man it was conceived to oppose in the first place."

By a serendipitous convergence of ironies, the prodigal son of Malaysia has finally returned. 

No, he is not Anwar, but the current Malaysian PM, who had realised his errors, made amends for them by (ironically) leading the Reformasi movement (supposedly against him and the system he had left behind) and is now setting the stage for the official handing over of the succession crown to his rightful deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.

A plan 20 years in the making, with blood, sweat and regrets. 

(ps: I have no delusion about Mahathir's past especially the BMF scandals in his early years as the premier. That was a 30-year mystery - some say cover-up - and with the win, I think his tainted past is now a distant smog superceded by the resurgence of an old, wiser man driven more by the existential call of mortality than the desperation of self-expediency).

And when that transition comes, when Mahathir hands over, the house will no longer be occupied by two medical doctors but by the most recognisable couple of Malaysia, whose love for each other and the nation has never waned because they have always been fighting for the hearts and the future of all Malaysians.

And mind you, that might just be another first in the history of government with the wife as deputy PM and her husband as PM. It would be a match made by the will of the people and held together by unfailing love and unsurpassed hope. Cheerz.