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Cleared of graft charges, Malaysian PM Najib could now focus on economy

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Malaysia has managed to overcome a recent corruption crisis. As usual, the anti-Islamic media were celebrating, for quite some time, the news about corruption scandal involving Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. And they possibly wanted a quick regime change in Kuala Lumpur so that opposition they sponsor could finish off the stable nationalist government of Najib Razak and put in place a new regime to harass him and promote anti-Islamic agenda that indirectly speed up terrorist atmosphere.

PM Najib was buffeted last year by allegations of graft and mismanagement at the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and by a revelation that about $681 million was deposited into his personal bank account. On January 26, Malaysia’s attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Premier Najib Razak of any criminal offences or corruption, closing investigations into a murky multi-million-dollar funding scandal that his opponents had hoped would bring him down.

It is learnt that the money transferred to Najib’s account by the Saudis was a donation meant to help him combat the “rising threat” of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a part of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition in the 2013 election. Even if the Brotherhood was defeated in 2013, this has not stopped similar organizations from crawling out of the woodwork. Most formidable of these is ISIS, which has recently issued threats against the Malaysian government and extended the call to jihad to the country’s Muslim populace.

Attorney general said the huge sum of $681m transferred into Najib Razak’s personal bank account was a gift from Saudi royal family and not linked to troubled state fund 1MDB and as such there were no criminal offences or corruption involved in relation to three investigations submitted by Malaysia’s anti-graft agency and that no further action would be taken.

The involvement of the Saudi royal family is an unexpected twist in a scandal over the mysterious funds transfer and the troubles of indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board Najib chairs.

The Malaysian anti-corruption commission (MACC) had earlier said the funds were a political donation from an unidentified Middle Eastern benefactor. The attorney general said he would return to the MACC papers pertaining to the three separate investigations with instructions to close all three cases.

Najib, who has weathered months of calls from opposition leaders and establishment figures to resign, has denied any wrongdoing and says he did not take any money for personal gain.

Najib, who denied any wrongdoing and said he did not take any money for personal gain, welcomed the attorney general’s statement. “The findings followed a thorough investigation by the relevant institutions, and he has confirmed what I have maintained all along: that no crime was committed,” Najib said in a statement.

Although there still be a lot of people who may still be skeptical and critical of the government. Attorney general Apandi told a news conference no criminal offence had been committed by Najib in relation to three investigations submitted by Malaysia’s anti-graft agency. “I am satisfied with the findings that the funds were not a form of graft or bribery,” he said. There was no reason given as to why the donation was made to PM Najib that is between him and the Saudi family,” he said. The corruption issue has been an unnecessary distraction for the country. Now that the matter has been comprehensively put to rest, it is time for us to unite and move on.

Malaysian opposition parliamentarian Tony Pua told the Guardian the “basis to absolve the prime minister of any wrongdoing is utterly without merit because the ‘personal affair’ does not preclude corrupt motives or transactions”. He added: “The attorney general has provided no new or convincing information or arguments on whether the massive funds were bona fide, which leads to the question whether the newly appointed attorney general is merely covering up for the prime minister.”

However, opposition party leaders denounced the finding, saying the appointment of the attorney-general by the prime minister in the midst of the crisis suggested a conflict of interest. But analysts said it was a victory for Najib that would allow him to focus on winning the next election in 2018.

In July last year, Najib sacked the country’s previous attorney general, who had led the investigation into the scandal, for “health reasons” in a government reshuffle that also saw the dismissal of several officials critical of the premier.

The involvement of the Saudi royal family is an unexpected twist in the saga over the funds transfer and the troubles of 1MDB, whose advisory board Najib chairs. The scandal has shaken investors in south-east Asia’s third-biggest economy and rocked public confidence in the coalition led by Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, which has held power since independence in 1957.

The Barisan Nasional coalition currently consists of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and 11 other political parties. The opposition is made up of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and National Trust Party (AMANAH) and some smaller parties.

In the March 2004 general election, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi led Barisan Nasional to a landslide victory, in which Barisan Nasional recaptured the state of Terengganu. The coalition controlled 92% of the seats in Parliament. The current Prime Minister is Dato’ Seri Mohd. Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak. He took office following the retirement of Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (colloquially known as “Pak Lah”) on April 2009.

Najib still enjoys the backing of most of UMNO’s powerful division chiefs. Even his fiercest internal critics, such as influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, accept that he cannot be unseated.

Although Malaysian politics has been relatively stable, critics allege that the government, ruling party, and government are intertwined with few countervailing forces. However, since the 8 March 2008 General Election, the media’s coverage on the country’s politics has noticeably increased with a little interference from the government. Judiciary is relatively free and independent.

The Malaysian government intensified efforts on 6 March 2008 to portray opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim as a political turncoat, days ahead of the Malaysian general election, because he posed a legitimate threat to the ruling coalition. Malaysians voted 8 March 2008 in parliamentary elections. Election results showed that the ruling government suffered a setback when it failed to obtain two-thirds majority in parliament.

Malaysia is a major Muslim nation and hence the enemies of Islam target this nation to get it destabilized, people killed as well. Unlike elsewhere in the world, the minorities in the country, especially Chinese and Indians have a major say in the government policies.

Malaysia has had a multi-party system since the first direct election of the Federal Legislative Council of the Malaya in 1955 on a first-past-the-post basis. The ruling party since then had always been the Alliance Party (Malay: Parti Perikatan) coalition and from 1973 onwards, its successor, the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition.

Human rights violations were reported but now the situation has improved considerably. In 2007 the Malaysian government briefly detained de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and arrested a human rights lawyer and about a dozen opposition leaders, amid growing complaints that the government was cracking down on dissent. In fact as the government charged the opposition leader Ibrahim with corruption and other serious charges, these media outlets began searching for opinion makers to malign the government.

Najib’s acquittal has certainly brought a lot of relief in the PM office at Kuala Lumpur, finally.

Economy

Malaysia is a rapidly developing economy in Asia. Malaysia, a middle-income country, has transformed itself since the 1970s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. The Government of Malaysia is continuing efforts to boost domestic demand to wean the economy off of its dependence on exports. Nevertheless, exports – particularly of electronics – remain a significant driver of the economy.

Oil remains a crucial source of revenue in Malaysia, contributing almost 30 per cent of government revenue.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Malaysia expanded 0.70 percent in the third quarter of 2015 over the previous quarter. GDP Growth Rate in Malaysia averaged 1.29 percent from 2000 until 2015.

Economy has been the chief focus of Malaysian government. Security issues aside, Najib’s greatest concerns over the coming year most probably relate to the domestic economy.

On 2 May 2009, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced the government’s plan to develop a new economic model that will speed Malaysia’s transition to a high income country. The plan will emphasize ways to increase the income and productivity of workers by encouraging knowledge industries and increasing investment from overseas. At the time of the plan’s unveiling in 2010, per capita annual income in Malaysia stood at 23,100 Malaysian ringgit, approximately $7,000 in US currency; under the plan that figure would more than double to RM49,500 (US$15,000).

Malaysia has implemented measures to attract and maintain foreign investment, including a moderation of preferences designed to benefit ethnic Malays. Specifically, these reforms include allowing foreign investors to hold majority stakes in most enterprises excluding “strategic” industries such as banking, telecommunications, and energy, easing insurance regulation, curtailing powers of the Foreign Investment Committee and lowering the minimum quota for Malay ownership in publicly traded companies from 30 percent to 12.5 percent.

By being party to organizations such as ASEAN and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), that Najib’s government will be able to achieve its Vision 2020 aims. Although the Vision 2020 is in place to help Malaysia achieve increased incomes, the outlook for 2016 remains uncertain, chiefly due to slowing economic growth in China, affecting South East Asia where Malaysia being the second-largest oil and natural gas producer. The recent slump in global oil prices certainly has its impact on its economy.

The Malaysian economy is stable and among the contributing factors is the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Najib, who is also the Finance Minister, said the Customs Department had collected more than RM51bil in revenue since the implementation of the GST, compared with a collection of RM37.2bil in 2014 without the GST. He described the additional collection as extraordinary as and higher than the original projection, which enabled the government to face the economic uncertainty in the world economy currently. GST does not burden the people, on the contrary the GST is savior of the people. With the drop of crude oil to around US30 per barrel, Malaysia is still able to maintain all economic commitments.

The introduction of this tax could not have been better timed. It has helped raise revenues and has saved the government from an otherwise difficult position due to the massive decline in oil prices.

It has been a rather challenging year for the Malaysian economy. Political disruptions and economic shocks have rocked the nation. Prime Minister Najib Razak has been strenuously committed to undertaking fiscal reform. He has repeatedly stressed the importance of reducing fiscal deficits.

China, Malaysia’s top trade partner, is almost surely going to disappoint Malaysia with its slow growth figures. There are estimates that the Chinese economy may grow at about 6.2 per cent next year, much lower than recent trends. If the US economy does prove to be the one bright star globally, it will only bring darkness to the Malaysian economy as a US economic recovery is likely to be followed by interest rate hikes in the USA.

A country that once experienced consecutive years of high growth will have to be content with more moderate rates. In 2000, Malaysia’s growth rate was 8.9 per cent. In 2016 it is more likely to be around 4.5 per cent. Despite this, Prime Minister Najib is valiantly soldiering ahead.

A revised budget has just been released which aims to accommodate this short term change of fortunes due to low oil prices, attempting to optimize operational expenditure to maintain both long term strategy as well as the welfare of the nation’s populace. With the government being cash-strapped, the fiscal reform process is likely to pick up speed. This indeed is a big challenge.

In the face of depleting government revenues caused by sinking oil prices, there may be no choice but to raise taxes and reduce subsidies. The populace has little time to adjust to price increases and rising costs of living.

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Southeast Asia

Reclaiming our future

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The Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads today – to further breakdown or breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future.

Since the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was established in 1947, the region has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a pacesetter of global economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty.

Yet, as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we find ourselves facing our biggest shared test on the back of cascading and overlapping impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflicts and the climate crisis.  

Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic, with 85 million people pushed back into extreme poverty, millions more losing their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people missing precious time for education and training.

As the pandemic surges and ebbs across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of failing to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C – and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. Throughout 2021 and 2022, countries across Asia and the Pacific were again battered by a relentless sequence of natural disasters, with climate change increasing their frequency and intensity.

More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts, with higher prices for fuel and food increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.

Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has come at a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises have exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, those hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardship. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable is deepening and widening inequalities in both income and opportunities.

The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points beyond which it will be impossible to recover. But it is not too late.

The region is dynamic and adaptable.

In this richer yet riskier world, we need more crisis-prepared policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and shift the Asia-Pacific region back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as the target year of 2030 comes closer — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will only attain the Goals in 2065.

To do so, we must protect people and the planet, exploit digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise financial resources and manage our debt.

The first task for governments must be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector should be acting to conserve our precious planet and mitigate and adapt to climate change while defending people from the devastation of natural disasters.

For many measures, governments can exploit technological innovations. Human activities are steadily becoming “digital by default.” To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments should encourage more robust and extensive digital infrastructure and improve access along with the necessary education and training to enhance knowledge-intensive internet use.

Much of the investment for services will rely on sustainable economic growth, fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.

While trade links have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further lower trade and investment transaction costs through simplified procedures, digitalization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes are proving to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could cut average trade costs by more than 13 per cent.

Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to allow for greater investment in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be raised through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing instruments and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging debt swaps for development, could have the highest impacts on inclusivity and sustainability.

Significant efforts need to be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and work with both young and old, fostering intergenerational solidarity. And women must be at the centre of crisis-prepared policy action.

This week the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, pinning the aspirations of the region on moving forward together by learning from and working with each other.

In the past seven-and-a-half decades, ESCAP has been a vital source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.

To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the choices we make, or fail to make today, will shape our future. We will not have this chance again.”

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Southeast Asia

Return of the Marcos and Great-Power Competition

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PNA photo by Joey O. Razon

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., more commonly known as “Bongbong,” won an outright majority in the recent presidential election in the Philippines. Son and name-bearer of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos paved the way for the country’s most notorious political dynasty’s shocking return to power. In the words of Filipino columnist Benjamin Pimentel, “It’s as if Kylo Ren emerged and the Empire is back in power.”

In announcing his desire to work for all people, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the world should judge him based on his presidency, not his family’s past.

“To those who voted for Bongbong, and those who did not, it is his promise to be a president for all Filipinos. To seek common ground across political divides, and to work together to unite the nation.” saidVictor Rodriguez, spokesperson for Marcos, in a statement.

However, the pragmatic words seem to have failed to sway the opposition as he faces countless accusations of election irregularities. Their opponents are horrified by Marcos’ brazen attempt to reinvent historical narratives from his family’s era in power. A protest against Marcos was staged by approximately 400 people outside the election commission on 10th May, primarily by students.

Human rights group Karapatan urged Filipinos to reject Marcos’ new presidency, which it sees as a product of lies and disinformation designed “to deodorise the Marcoses’ detestable image”.

HISTORY OF MARCOS: People Power” Uprising

Ferdinand Marcos Jr is not a new name in the Philippines’ political scenario. The “bloodless revolution” of 1986 in the Philippines that ousted the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was none other than Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s father.

The world leaders at the time praised the mass demonstration after hundreds of thousands marched along EDSA streets to protest a fraudulent election. Through the People Power” Uprising, Filipinos proved that a peaceful uprising can challenge a ruthless dictatorship and overthrow military rule.

Marcos Jr and his family escaped to Hawaii following the rebellion and after his return to the Philippines in 1991, Marcos Jr served in congress and the senate. With his return to the Malacañang Palace in 2022, the world anxiously watches whether history will repeat itself or democracy will prevail as Marcos Jr. relentlessly defends his father’s legacy, refusing to apologise or acknowledge the atrocities, plunder, cronyism, and extravagant living, which resulted in billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing during the dictatorship.

MARCOS JR’S FOREIGN POLICY: Continuity or Change?

Considering his political alignment with Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing President, who has been exceedingly vocal about his anti-Washington, pro-China stance, it is no secret Marcos Jr. favours Beijing. According to Richard Heydarian, a South China Sea observer and professor of political science, “Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is the only candidate who has signalled almost perfect continuity with the incumbent populist pro-China president in Malacañang.”

However, Marcos Jr seems to be a President that might play the game more strategically compared to his successor. Among Marcos’s many accolades for his father, one was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington. Even though, he is politically aligned with Duterte who sought to pivot away from the United States and towards China, Marcos will seek a balancing act. Philippines under Marcos will continue engaging with China, in-line with Duterte’s Pro-China Policy but at the same time will engage, and even bolster a closer tie with the USA, to safeguard Philippines’ sovereignty amidst an aggressively rising China.

When asked if he would ask the American’s help in dealing with China, Marcos Jr said, “No. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together.” This statement shows a sense of maturity and solid understanding of the ground realties of the region. Marcos Jr. seems to be the President that keeps his country’s national interest at the very core of all his decisions. He understands how easy it is for a small country to be stuck in the middle of a great-power competition, and that more often and not, it harms the small country’s interests. He envisions Manila as neither heavily dependent on Washington for its security needs nor become a pawn in China’s greater geopolitical ambitions. He wants to have an independent foreign policy, regardless of deepening U.S.-Chinese competition. One that predominantly benefits his country, Philippines.

In contrast to Duterte, Marcos Jr has a very warm and embracing approach towards the USA. Being treaty allies, Marcos Jr refers to their alliance as “a very important one.” He maintained that the alliance “has stood us in good stead for over a hundred years and that will never disappear from the Philippine psyche, the idea and the memory of what the United States did for us and fought with us in the last war.”

Marcos Jr seems to be a realist who understands that in International Politics, states must “engage whenever possible, and contain wherever necessary.” On asked about Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, he argued that “Philippines will not cede any one square inch to any country, particularly China, but will continue to engage and work on our national interest.”

To summarise, Marcos will, in all probability, modify Duterte’s foreign policy in a way that maximizes the strategic benefits for the Philippines and avoids confrontation with the USA and China.

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Southeast Asia

President Ho Chi Minh’s reflections about international peace

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President Ho Chi Minh had a dissimilar way of approaching international peace, and he held a view that the way western nations look into revolution and resurgence, particularly in colonial era, was different from what the people aspired. He took note of developments in colonial societies particularly when Turkish women were protesting against the invasion of Western nations and imperialism, and referred to Indian women protests against British domination way back in 1912. In fact, writing way back in 1918, he stated that the defence of India act was the suppression of genuine domestic grievances because it provided the right to arrest and detain suspected Indians. He was always very supportive of the workers and peasants’ movement across the world.

While congratulating the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru on organising the Asian relations conference, he stated that China and India were the big brothers of Vietnam and the most ancient civilizations.  Writing way back in March 25th 1947, he opined that solidarity will make the three countries the mightiest defenders forwards peace and democracy. He argued that Vietnam was aspiring for unification and independence, and hoped that the Asian countries will come to their support. He stated that it is pertinent for the neighbours to have friendly relations, and alluding to the five principles (Panchsheela) of Nehru-Chau Enlai joint statement, he added that the five major principles which were enlisted in the joint statement between China and India, and Myanmar and China need to be replicated in the larger Asian context.

After the conclusion of the war with French in 1954, he clearly stated that the major challenges for Vietnam was proper implementation of the Geneva accords and sustaining the economy to upgrade the living standards of the people of Vietnam. Responding to a question asked by a journalist related to Geneva accords implementation in Vietnam, he stated that France being a major country and a colonial power, it is pertinent that the ceasefire agreement is implemented fully and this will ensure trust between the signatories. It is also important that scrupulousness in such kind of agreement so as to bring about peace and tranquillity.

He had time and again alluded to the five Panchsheela principles whenever he was giving any interview to the journalists and scholars. He clearly stated that there is need to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity, refrain from violation of each other’s territorial borders, non-interference in internal affairs, equal treatment for mutual benefits and peaceful coexistence. He opined that taking inspiration from India-China agreement, Vietnam would be willing to implement a similar kind of five principles with other countries, primarily Cambodia and Laos. Related to the illegal occupation of Goa by Portugal, he criticized the illegal occupation of Goa by Portuguese and the support that the US has provided to Portugal for continuing illegal occupation.

He talked about solidarity among Asian and African people and stated that for peace to exist the Geneva agreement should be implemented in full. After the first Indochina war, he stated that it is important that the peace as per the provisions of Panchsheela should be implemented at all levels. He has always alluded to Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi while talking about peace, clearly demarcating the role of culture and religion in maintaining peace. He was clearly against western imperialism and occupation of territories by force by any major power. He was also very clear and in one of the letters written on the eve of an interview given to New Delhi people in India, he clearly specified that the situation of world development particularly after the independence of many developing countries was beneficial for the peace movement. He stated that more than 1200 million Asian African people were in the line of peaceful forces and these people were liberated including those in erstwhile Soviet Union and other socialist countries. He lauded the role played by Asian African countries in peace protection and always supported fight against colonialism and Asian people’s solidarity. He was completely against military race, prohibition against nuclear weapons and hydrogen bomb, dismissing aggressive military forces and demolishment of military bases in foreign countries.

His views with regard to arms reduction and working together to reduce the scourge of nuclear bomb were very specific. While responding to the welcome address during the banquet dinner hosted by president of India Rajendra Prasad in 1958, he stated that “the pugnacious forces has been conspiring to push the mankind to the destruction of war. They are ceaselessly fighting to keep and consoled at peace, India made a big contribution. Peaceful forces are more powerful able to prevent the war but the pugnacious forces do not give up their conspiracy to wage their war.” He was really appreciative of any of the peace initiatives undertaken by any country and he has repeatedly thanked international committee which was chaired by India for supervising and controlling Geneva accord implementation in Vietnam.

President Ho Chi Minh was appreciative of the fact that the essence of Buddhism and culture would strengthen the spirit of love towards the country, national solidarity, and bring about cultural essence which will bring closer the eastern and western cultures. He stated that in terms of Buddhism the core philosophy is peace and the construction of the country.

President Ho Chi Minh was specifically influenced by Buddhism and he had stated that the people should practice the life of holy learning and Buddhist simplicity. Even though president Ho Chi Minh did not write and reflected about Buddhism but his life and career were intertwined with the core philosophy of Buddhism. He was very much interested in implementing the idea of peaceful humanity under Buddhism and ushering in Buddhist consciousness in every society. Ho Chi Minh had an idea that the human affection would help in self-improving human ethics and closer bonding with a larger population. Ho Chi Minh’s ideology included mercy, non-egoism, altruism, self-improvement, exercise of moral ethics, and solidarity spirit among masses. The acknowledgement of Buddhism as the core fundamental of life was slowly acknowledged by the Vietnamese people too and as per Ho Chi Minh, he had acquired the Buddhist ideas from family, national tradition, and the Buddhist way for liberating the country.

Taken into cognizance President Ho Chi Minh objective of peace, he was very much concerned with regard to ethics, solidarity, guaranteeing supreme benefits of the nation, bestowing rights and benefits to the people and ingrained self-consciousness which would bring about sincere affectionate, straightforward introspection. This will help in self-criticizing and unifying characters for the larger benefit of the society. He stated that the national solidarity should be in Sync with the international solidarity. In this context it is important to reflect on the Russia Ukraine crisis and he has been very instrumental in referring to Mahatma Gandhi for his approach towards peace and self-suffering. However, Ho Chi Minh was very attached to this concept of abhorrence of repression of the people and was very critical of any kind of imperialism which would subdue people from realising their ambitions and goals. Ukraine crisis also shows a new kind of geopolitics which will define the world order but he was also critical of the fact that international solidarity should be progressive and aspire for a long-lasting peace.

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