The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. Southeast Asia Programme is organising a seminar titled “Governance and Rule of Law in Malaysia and Malaysian Legislative Initiatives” on 24 February 2010.

Dr. Jamaludin Jarjis, Member of Parliament and Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United States, will provide an introduction, followed by a keynote address from Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz – Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (in charge of Law and Parliamentary Affairs).

The panel session is manned by Abdul Gani Patail, Attorney General of Malaysia, and Abdul Hamid Mohamed, a former Supreme Court Judge and currently Chair of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

For Malaysia observers – several of the names are synonymous with two things (i) Najib’s trusted allies and (ii) abuses of power.

Jamaludin Jarjis, the Malaysian Ambassador, a close friend of both the current Prime Minister and Dr. Mahathir, is alleged to be involved in Dr. Mahathir’s attempts to gain favour with Bush Jr. post-September 11, 2001 by utilising the services of discredited Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff (read here, here , here and here) [Did someone say Mahathir hates Jews?]

Nazri Aziz – well this is an interesting character. A lawyer by profession and loud mouth by personality: he is essentially a loyal servant and hatchet man to sitting Prime Ministers. His preferred tactic is to shout down differing views. He has called Dr. Mahathir the “Father of Racists” (read here) and often makes similar reference to colleagues from both sides of the bench in Parliamentary debates. Watch the following videos to understand the man better (In Parliament-1, in Parliament -2, on Al Jazeera).

Gani Patail is the Attorney General of Malaysia. He has been part and parcel of government intrigue since the first Anwar Ibrahim trial (read here). Gani takes the lead on all explosive cases (for the Government) such as the current Anwar Ibrahim trial, the attack on the HINDRAF and BERSIH movements, the Altantunya murder trial (read here), and the “Allah” issue. He has played a role legitimising government actions as well as destabilising civil society and opposition challenge through the judicial process (read here).

It is interesting to note that the newly set-up Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is also represented. This is not a surprise as the MACC has been accused of being the Barisan Nasional’s latest strategy in attacking the opposition. It is most noteworthy for the death of Teoh Beng Hock — an opposition political aide — while in their custody (for more watch an excellent parody of MACC).

Najib must be commended for taking proactive measures to improve his administration’s image. It is reported that Najib has hired the US based lobbyist — APCO — to assist in improving his administration’s image and this seminar is one of the outcomes. No doubt, there will also be plenty of wheeling and dealing in D.C. behind the scenes. Malaysia continues to be held in high esteem by western democracies such as the United States and Australia. This is critical to maintain regime legitimacy while Malaysia is needed by these western democracies for its (waning) influence among developing and Islamic countries (such as on the Iran nuclear issue), trade and of course due its strategic location – which is useful for counter-terrorism, trafficking of people and drugs, and promotion of ideas such as the Asia Pacific Community.

In the final analysis, Malaysia’s failure to uphold governance and the rule of law are well researched and recorded (read here). This “executive panel” only demonstrates the centralisation of power in the office of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law and parliamentary affairs, the Attorney General, the “independent MACC – which reports to the Prime Minister” (read here) and a compliant judiciary suggests that there cannot be governance and rule of law — in a truly democratic sense — in Malaysia until an overhaul of the current system is instituted.

It is hoped that the learned people attending the seminar will point this out to the representatives of the Malaysian government.

Update (1): 25/02/2010 An interesting opinion piece from the Malaysian Mirror on Malaysia’s efforts to improve its image.

Update (2): 01/03/2010 Open seminar turned into a closed one.

Update (3): 01/03/2010 Several reports of what happened at the seminar. I am unable to verify its authenticity.