Friday 31 August 2012

Living in truth

  • Josh Hong
  • 4:44PM Aug 31, 2012

I was sitting in Café Slavia in Prague, looking out the window and watching the trams pass by. The evening sunshine was blissful, to say the least, and the drizzles were only making the whole scene mesmerising.

The classic ambience was engulfing me, as I saw the waiters and waitresses perform the time-honoured ritual of rapidly moving and shuffling between the tables, with some being able to keep their gracefulness intact still.

It is a famous café haunted by artists, poets and intellectuals since the late 1800s, and has survived the vicissitudes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two short-lived republics, Nazi occupation and Communist rule, but also witnessed the end of Czechoslovakia and the birth of a confident and democratic Czech Republic.

Most importantly, this place was a sanctuary for Czechoslovak dissidents fighting against the communist regime with their pen and theatrical works, and the most famous among them - Václav Havel - later became the first democratically elected president.

I stopped a middle-aged, rather chubby waiter and asked him to point to me where Havel used to sit.

“There by the window. He would always sit alone and think all by himself. I was much younger then.” And the waiter returned to his duties in no time.

Perhaps I came a bit too late, more than six months after the courageous poet, dissident and humanist politician had passed on in December 2011. But great men and women continue to speak by conviction, even in death.

Growing up in a country that is constructed on falsehood and mendacity, I cannot help but feel attracted to Havel’s writings. In 1978, he wrote the seminal Power of the Powerless, in which he called on the public to fight against a state that tried to control every aspect of the people’s lives. And the weapon that he proposed was nothing more than an ethical and moral life: living one’s everyday life as if the regime did not exist at all.

In other words, one must strive to live in truth to the extent possible.

Malaysians who earnestly care about the future of their believed country will find that Havel’s powerful words remain relevant today.

In The Power of the Powerless, Havel depicts a greengrocer who has no option but to display a slogan as required by the ruling party, most probably acutely aware also that no-one who passes by or enters his shop would care to read it: the potential customer is perhaps most concerned as to whether there are tomatoes available.

Testing each other’s political loyalty

Transplant the scenario into the Malaysian context, would it not be logical for one to question if the 1Malaysia banner or the Janji Ditepati logo on a taxi can help the driver who has been struggling to make ends meet alleviate his daily burden?

NONEAnd the potential passenger would be right to be concerned if the car is clean and safe enough for him or her to take.

But both the driver and the passenger lift not a finger to protest and choose to put up with the banner or the logo instead because, as Malaysians, they don’t want to test each other’s political loyalty and undermine the ‘social harmony’.

Most crucially, they - or we - are afraid of being identified as non-conformists, and hence risk losing certain privileges or benefits, such as tyre subsidies.

In Havel’s view, and he was vindicated a decade after he wrote it, both the greengrocer and customer ‘are objects in a system of control, but at the same time they are its subjects as well... they are both victims of the system and its instruments’.

This is not only true in regard to the working class, but to the sector that supposedly plays the role of the Fourth Estate as well.

For years, the Malaysian media has been subjugated and degenerated into nothing more than a government mouthpiece. The so-called senior journalists are in full cognisance of the fact that the regime can be devious, brutal and deceitful, yet they choose to play along and work as if the arbitrary government has always been neutral and capable of being honest and fair. They endeavour to be obedient, and would encourage their readers to do likewise.

For instance, on the issue of a Chinese independent school in Kuantan, there is now an approval letter - issued by the Education Ministry  - circulating on the Internet. Contrary to what the MCA has claimed, the letter shows what has been approved is a private school that would use Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction, rather than a new Chinese independent school on top of the 60 existing ones.

As a liberal, I am naturally in favour of maximising parents’ educational options, but I still respect the position of those who argue against more Chinese independent schools. But when what is approved is rather different from what is promised, can one carry on pretending it is a janji ditepati?

Regretably, Tay Tian Yan, the Sin Chew deputy editor-in-chief who has made more than enough blunders in recent months yet maintains that one should settle for second best. Earlier this week, Tay again sought to mislead the readers by portraying a scenario in which PAS managed to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state through a two-third majority in Parliament in 2014, thanks to Umno support.

NONEOn the same day, Sin Chew Daily splashed on its front-page a report headlined ‘PAS will implement hudud if it comes into power’, citing Mat Sabu as saying the Islamic party would seek to enable the Islamic penal code to be implemented through constitutional amendments.

The statement by Mat Sabu was outrageously taken out of context, and the manner in which Sin Chew sought to play on the fear of an Islamic state is clearly no difference from that of Utusan. It was not at all surprising that online readers who have grown deeply disgruntled with Sin Chew over the last few years are now taking umbrage at the sinister agenda.

Tay defended himself by arguing, albeit vacuously, that Sin Chew only sought to have the opposition pact lay its policy framework out “under the sun for public scrutiny”. But the very same writer has failed to call on Najib Abdul Razak to explain in full what had gone wrong with the Scorpene deal and to demand that Rosmah Mansor present an account of the expenses incurred by her trip to London, ostensibly to root for Lee Chong Wei.

Instrument within the system?

In assuming that the regime - and the apprentice prime minister to be precise - is capable of being honest and fair, are Tay and his senior colleagues at Sin Chew not therefore surrendering their autonomy and serving as an instrument within the system?

I wrote a couple of years ago how Sin Chew had reducing itself to being a Chinese answer to Utusan: sucking up to the powers-that-be, spin-doctoring to their hearts’ content, but still insidiously cunning enough to portray itself as a victim of media control ‘walking a tightrope’.

Not many agreed with my analogy then, and I now cannot deny a sense of schadenfreude.

In the scenario that Havel gives, the greengrocer suddenly realises one day that he has been used by the powers-that-be, and decides to speak his mind and refuses to play along. “By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such... he has exposed it as a mere game... he has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain.”

In sum, he “discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity”, and “gives his freedom a concrete significance... His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth”.

Yes, to be a genuine and honest journalist, one must first learn to refuse to lend legitimacy to a regime by saying no. But who in the Malaysian media scene can enable everyone to peer behind the curtain?

azlanToday also marks the end of Merdeka Review. For the past seven years, it has served as a platform for various viewpoints to be exchanged, and allowed a space that is far more generous than what is the case with the self-emasculated Chinese press in Malaysia.

Beginning in 2009, it started a Malay edition that presented alternative views of the Chinese community to its Malay readers, and introduced open-minded Malay activists and intellectuals such as Adam Adli and Mustafa K Anuar to the Chinese.

I am thankful to them for the opportunity to write a column on a regular basis for nearly five years.

Due to the lack of funding and other reasons, the faithful team of people that has made Merdeka Review possible has to call it a day.

Small though the size and the readership of Merdeka Review may have seemed, the impact it has had on the Chinese-speaking community is self-evident.

As Havel argues in Power of the Powerless, it is utterly unimportant how large a space this alternative occupies: its power does not consist in its physical attributes but in the light it casts on those pillars of the system and on its unstable foundations.

I would like to congratulte my friends at Merdeka Review for a job well done, for unlike the likes of Tay Tian Yan and others in the Malaysian mainstream media, they do not pretend the current regime is worth working with, but have chosen to ‘express solidarity with those that their conscience commands them to support’.

In short, they have restored pride and dignity to a profession called journalism, and striven to live an authentic life as Havel did. I wish them all the best, and hope they will remain true to themselves in the years ahead.

Criminal case against Swiss bank UBS for laundering money from timber corruption in Sabah involving CM Musa Aman through nominees opened

Switzerland's attorney-general has opened a criminal case against Swiss banking group UBS for laundering money from timber corruption in Sabah involving its Chief Minister Musa Aman through nominees.

This, according to a statement from indigenous rights advocacy group Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), has been confirmed by the Office of the Attorney-General in the Swiss capital, Bern.

The case against UBS was opened on Aug 29, 2012, following a criminal complaint by the NGO over the bank's close ties with Musa.

NONEMusa and his nominees have been accused of laundering more than US$90 million in corruption proceeds from the tropical timber business through a number of UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong.

He also has a personal account with UBS in Zurich.

BMF is alleging that UBS failed to properly apply due diligence, as is required by Swiss law, when dealing with Politically Exposed Persons (PEP).

Musa is not only head of the Sabah state government but also the brother of the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anifah Aman.

The case is based on Switzerland's tough anti-money laundering legislation, which makes it a criminal offence for Swiss companies to be involved in laundering the proceeds from corruption and other crime in their worldwide activities.

'Kickbacks from timber concessions'

BMF claims that Musa has personally benefited from the large-scale logging in tropical rainforests in Sabah, one of the world's most biodiverse habitat, via kickbacks from timber concessions granted by the state.

London-based website Sarawak Report had earlier exposed how acres of pristine forest have been cleared under questionable concessions allegedly handed to Musa's brother, Anifah

Sarawak Report
cited documents leaked from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) as its source.

UBS has so far remained silent on the allegations, as have the MACC and the Malaysian attorney-general.

However, Musa has denied Sarawak Report's claims, calling them ‘recycled' allegations.

NST article 'pure concoction', says Kit Siang

DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang has accused English language daily New Straits Times of concocting "lies and falsehoods" in its article criticising opposition ruled Penang's proposed anti-party hopping legislation.

NONEHe pointed to the mainstream media's report headed Anti-hopping law unfair and impractical, which hit out at Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's call to introduce a law against party-hopping.

Specifically he highlighted a passage that mentioned him by name:

"The critics pointed out that Lim's father, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, had even praised Sabah members of parliament Datuk Seri Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing of Tuaran and Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin of Beaufort when the duo left Barisan Nasional to support the opposition coalition."

Lim slammed the daily for what he said were clear fabrications.

"This is pure concoction for up to now, I have not said anything about the actions of Wilfred Bumburing and Lajim Ukiin in leaving the BN to support the Pakatan Rakyat coalition," lambasted the veteran politician.
'Throwing journalistic ethics to the winds'

He claimed that with the approach of the 13th general election, the BN-linked mainstream media was "throwing journalistic ethics to the winds and resorting to more lies and falsehoods in their attacks on Pakatan Rakyat leaders".

Lim stressed that his position against party-hopping by elected representatives had been clear and consistent since 1978, when he moved a motion in the Dewan Rakyat to propose an anti-hopping law.

He still believes that such a law is still relevant and important to ensure the political integrity of elected MPs and to prevent political corruption.

He said he has no doubt that both Wilfred Bumburing and Lajim Ukiin would be prepared to resign their parliamentary seats for by-elections to secure the support of their constituents afresh following their political decision to leave the BN and support Pakatan.

The angel you don't know...

  • Neil Khor
  • 3:22PM Aug 31, 2012

COMMENT In this second part of my article in response to the growing criticism of Dr Mahathir Mohamad's "devil you know" remarks, Pakatan Rakyat can counter the BN's war of ideas by describing to Malaysians what sort of government we will get post-BN.

Here are five major issues that we hope Pakatan will address as part of their key policies.

Firstly, making society more equitable, yet more educated and competitive globally. The BN, the Pakatan said, has failed. There are pockets of wealth, education is on the decline in standards and Malaysia is generally not competitive if subsidies are removed.

How will Pakatan better the BN in making society more equitable? Higher spending on education has not worked so long as education is not managed rationally and with a merit-based system in place. More importantly, who in the Pakatan will lead this initiative?

Secondly, race and religion will continue to be thorny issues. More so when coupled with economic development or the lack of it, as in the case of certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community.

Cross-generational poverty

Hindraf leaders are correct when they ask the BN and PR to explain their strategies to alleviate cross-generational poverty and its associated social ills that have plagued certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community. I dare say that there are also equally serious pockets of poverty in Sabah and Sarawak.

Ultimately, effective and sustainable policies to deal with this problem have to take into consideration how Malaysia is predicated on ethnicity and religious divisions.

Inherited from the British, ethnic categorisation has given rise to ethnic profiling. This has resulted in certain ethnic groups getting the rough and short-end of the "stick". In what way will Pakatan deal with this problem that is more systematic and effective than the BN?

Can Pakatan describe these policies and how it will ensure that policies are ultimately translated into practice? The BN also has a raft of very good policies but they are not implemented. If the BN's failure is systemic, meaning that its ethnic-based policies are part of the problem, what is Pakatan's solution?

Ultimately, the real measure of success will be the end of movements like Hindraf, when Malaysians of whatever ethnic complexion find little need to support ethnic-based affirmative action.

NONEThirdly, it has to do with the transformation of the Malaysian economy. There is no doubt that we cannot continue to rely on Petronas to subsidise everything from Proton to sugar. We must get productivity up without spending our children's legacy.

Here, corruption, is only one reason why there is widespread anger against the BN. But how will Pakatan get to grips with the underlying problem? Malaysia is just not as efficient and productive as it should be.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng will be the first to tell you that there is only so much cost-cutting measures and savings from corruption will go. After the honeymoon period is over, how will Penang move forward into the post-industrial era?

Services will be one answer, but how to up standards when three-quarters of the workforce is not properly trained or educated? Penang suffers from a huge brain-drain: so, how to turn the situation around and create brain-gain?

Whatever happens to Penang will happen to Malaysia, except that Malaysia will not do as well. It was so during the days of trade and commerce; and it was so during the manufacturing period where Penang's growth was on average 2% points higher than that of Malaysia.

So, here is a problem that involves both short- and long-term policy changes. Can someone in Pakatan please tell us how they are going to deal with it? Once again, who will lead the charge?

If the 'angel' turns out to be worse?

Next comes the question of BN legacy issues. Pakatan has gone to town listing a raft of BN wrong-doings. From independent power-producers to the judiciary; how will Pakatan overhaul the system to make sure that the goose is not killed in the process of reform?

In most countries that experience regime change for the first time, there are two ways that things pan out. First, like in Kenya, the "angel you don't know", turns out to be worse than the regime you kicked out. It is "our turn to eat" as they say in Kenya.

NONEWith former Umno elements in PKR, including Anwar Ibrahim, this is a very real concern. Next, things turn really bad before they get any better. One sees this in most European countries in the early modern period. Again, how will Pakatan go about instilling discipline among its ranks and making sure that all its members follow the new rules and standards it intends to set?

Finally, democratisation is key to making sure items one to four are kept in good order. The BN is now doing window dressing, replacing odious laws that regulate individual freedom with ones that are worse and even more draconian.

Even the BN's own rank-and-file are not happy with newly passed legislation. Pakatan has highlighted this and a lack of local level democracy like local elections as part of it public manifesto, the Buku Jingga.

How will Pakatan go about guaranteeing the freedoms of its own critics without resorting to the law, courts and police to silence them? Even if they are as "extreme" as Perkasa, how will Pakatan deal with demonstrations, student activism and civil society movements?

If it reintroduces local elections and a strong opposition to it emerges, what will Pakatan vow not to do to make sure that local elections and local government truly become a third level of democratic representation?

Devolving of power from Putrajaya

Equally important and related to democratisation is the devolving of power from Putrajaya to the state capitals. This involves giving states more incentives to balance their budgets and putting greater pressure on non-performing state governments to become more efficient.

At the same time, those states that are doing better should be rewarded with more fiscal autonomy. Will Pakatan make the necessary sacrifices at federal level to give away power to the states?

The five issues above are all inter-related and Pakatan should make a systematic effort to describe how a government it leads can do better than the current BN on all these matters. Of course, there is one thing that Mahathir said, which may be true - if Pakatan comes to power, the BN may never recover.

This is not so much because Pakatan will use its authority to crush the BN but because the BN is a coalition of convenience. Once power is removed, the reason for being dissolves. It is not that Pakatan will use extra-constitutional means to prevent the BN from coming back, it is the BN that, without power, will disintegrate.

That is also an outcome that we do not want for Malaysia. It is best to keep the two political camps alive, competing and in perpetual "gratefulness" to the electorate.

If politicians are all power-hungry and corrupt feral beasts, it is better to have two groups of thieves jealously guarding against each other, rather than being dependent on any one. In the end, there are no angels in politics, just whiter devils.

NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks requires better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia's future.

We will not give up, vows Jalan Sultan group

A lion dance troupe led some 2,000 protesters on a march along Jalan Sultan last night in a bid to preserve the historic area from the effects of the MRT project’s construction work.

The crowd had earlier gathered at Gospel Hall Church at about 8.30pm despite a drizzle to hear their leaders speak.

NONEAt the church’s gates, Himpunan Hijau activists were present to distribute flyers and to promote their upcoming Raub protest against the use of cyanide by a gold mine in Bukit Koman on Sunday.

Some protesters even wore a mask depicting Raub member of parliament Ng Yen Yen, and greeted visitors with, “Ng Yen Yen welcomes you to Raub!”

Meanwhile at a basketball court above the former missionary girl’s school, Preserving Jalan Sultan and Jalan Bukit Bintang Committee (PJSBBC) co-chairperson Tan Yew Sing and several other speakers advocated the preservation of Jalan Sultan.

“The preservation of this heritage area is important. We do not want Kuala Lumpur to be remembered just for KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers.

NONE“We want it to be remembered for the common memory of many Malaysians and Kuala Lumpur’s people, especially Jalan Sultan and the area around it,” Tan (left) said, while stressing that he is not against development.

He also remarked that the rain made for a sentimental mood, and said, “it is true that we are full of sentiment, and that is why we are here.”

Other speakers include local MP Fong Kui Lun, Gospel Hall elder Jimmy Chok, Himpunan Hijau chairperson Wong Tack and NGO Pertahankan Warisan Kita chairperson Ishak Surin.

Three-point declaration

PJSBBC’s other co-chairperson, Stanley Yong then lead the crowd to read the rally’s three-point declaration:

1. To demand that that the prime minister fulfils his promises, withdraw the gazette and stop land acquisition by the MRT Corporation.

2. To reiterate the importance of public consultation and to call for another rally to defend Jalan Sultan if necessary.

3. To urge Malaysians to take their vote seriously and to make a wise decision in the upcoming general election.

The group also chanted their slogan, “Janji belum ditepati, ambil tanah harus dihenti,” (Promises yet to be met; land acquisition must be stopped.)

By the time the organisers had finished drumming up the protester’s spirits at about 9.15pm, the rain had stopped and the crowd headed towards the now-demolished Klang Bus Station.

NONESpearheading the protesters were a lion dance troupe including two lions, accompanied by the heavy beat of drums, cymbals and gongs.

Meanwhile, a team of tens of police and People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) personnel helped to direct traffic for the protesters.

Making several stops along the way, it took about 15 minutes for the protestors to reach their destination, some 500 metres away.

The crowd could be heard chanting “Save Jalan Sultan” or “Merdeka” as they marched.

Upon reaching their destination, Yong led the protesters to read the group’s declaration one more time.
The protesters then held hands, forming a 250-metre human chain from the station, which is adjacent to the Pasar Seni Station, to Lok Ann Hotel just opposite Petaling Street’s iconic gates.

After singing Negaraku, organisers announced that the protest was over and told everyone to disperse at 9.40pm.

However, the dispersal went slowly and many lingered on. Even 20 minutes later, many are still seen on the streets with crowds spontaneously breaking into songs such as ‘Rasa Sayang’, or shouting for others to go to Dataran Merdeka, where the ‘Janji Demokrasi’ protest was about to take place.

‘We won’t give up’

jalan sultan merdeka eve storyWhen met after the event, Yong hailed the event as a success because it drew some 3,500 protestors to the historic area, where they could admire the old buildings for themselves and see what is at stake.

Asked about plans for future protests, he said that it would unlikely be similar to the protest that had just taken place, but would instead target relevant agencies such as the National Heritage Department, Tourism Ministry and even parliament.

He was also asked to comment on the fact that there had been little improvement on Jalan Sultan’s situation despite several protests in the area, to which he said the committee would not give up.

“By garnering the support of the people and bringing up the awareness of the people, we know that people would do what they would wish to do during the general election.

“I think only though general election, the power and wishes of the people could be realised,” he said.

Civil service: ‘Dayaks are not stupid, Zaki’

Dayak leaders have taken offence to Special Review Commission on Civil Service Transformation chairman Zaki Azmi's 'insulting' statement about Dayaks

KUCHING: Dayak leaders including those from the Barisan Nasional and the opposition are up in arms against a proposal to lower the requirements for ethnic minority groups to enter the civil service.

Some even described the recommendation as an insult and mockery to the Dayak community.

The focus of their indignation was directed at Zaki Azmi, the chairman of the Special Review Commission on Civil Service Transformation.

On Tuesday, Zaki said that the commission would recommend to the government to lower the qualification requirements for the Dayaks and other non-Malay natives not only to enable them to be recruited to the civil service, but also to address the imbalance of racial composition within the civil service.

The first to fire the salvo was the president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak and Land Development Minister James Masing. He said he did not agree that the quality of the civil service should be compromised by the lowering of entry criteria for ethnic minority groups.

He said that there were enough qualified people from the minority groups who could be roped in to serve in the civil service.

“Lowering the standard for the sake of the Dayaks is not good. I oppose such a move. But if the main criterion for civil service requirement is merit, then we have enough Dayaks who are qualified to be recruited,” he said.

Masing pointed out that no encouragement was needed to attract more Dayaks into the civil service as long as recruitment and promotion were done purely on meritocracy.

Even an NGO, the Miri branch of Orang Ulu Association, opposed the proposal. Its chief Peter Kallang described Zaki’s move as a “mockery and insult” as if there were too few Dayaks qualified to take up jobs in the civil service.

“We have many qualified Dayaks working all over the world, with some even employed in international companies. What do you mean we are not qualified?” he asked.

Kallang pointed out that there were two reasons why so few Dayaks are in the civil service and these had nothing to do with qualifications.

“One, almost all of the top civil servants are from a single ethnic group.

“And two, without a set of transparent and unambiguous criteria based on merits, promotions are inevitably subject to the personal judgment of those who do the recruitment and promotion.

“The tendency to choose and promote would thus be in favour of those who share a common background with the recruiters, for example, ethnicity, religion, hometown and so on.

“Thus, this boils down to discrimination,” he said.

Dayaks are dedicated

Kallang also said that as far as Dayaks are concerned, once they realised that the majority of civil servants were from a particular racial group, they preferred to be in the private sector “where they may not have to struggle with the hurdle of dealing with discrimination due to ethnicity, religion, and hometown”.

The Piasau division Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) Youth chief James Joshua also expressed similar feelings.

He said that Dayaks were dedicated, hardworking and capable as evident by their excellent services in the military.

Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said that he could not help but feel indignant and annoyed at Zaki’s statement.

“Any reasonable person reading that statement would take it to mean that the ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak do not have the intelligence and qualifications to join the esteemed civil service and are somewhat deficient because of that.

“I wish to ask the commission chairman [Zaki] to produce statistics to justify his stand. Can we please see the civil service racial parity statistics for last three decades?

“It is too simplistic to assume that the percentage of ethnic people in the civil service is low because they do not meet the requirements,” he said.

“If the Special Review Commission is really sincere about wanting to correct the imbalance, let them look at the problem squarely in the face and call it what it is,” Bian said.

He also asked the commission why is that so many civil servants and heads of most federal agencies and services in Sarawak were from Peninsular Malaysia.

“We do not have the exact figures on the number of directors in the civil service. Deputy Chief Minister [Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang] skirted the issue when he was asked about it during the last State Legislative Assembly sitting for a percentage breakdown of ethnic groups who hold ‘director’ posts in the civil service departments.

“He informed the state assembly that Bumiputeras held 88% and non-Bumiputeras held 12% of the director posts and that there are 100 ‘Anak Sarawak’ holding posts as department chiefs in the Sarawak civil service.

“What we want to know is how many of the 88% Bumiputeras holding director posts are Sarawakians.

Although it is nice to know that there are 100 ‘Anak Sarawak’ department chiefs, that is not what we want to know. Anyway, that figure seen in isolation does not mean anything to us.

“What is the figure as a percentage of the total number of department chief posts available in Sarawak?

“What is the rationale of sending civil servants from Peninsular Malaysia to fill positions which Sarawakians are perfectly capable of filling?” he asked, pointing out that most of those transferred are unhappy about being sent to Sarawak.

Election ploy?

Bian also said Sarawak is considered a “hardship” posting, and to compensate those who were transferred there, the government has to spend extra to pay them “hardship” allowances.

“Similarly, Sarawakian civil servants do not want to be posted away from their hometowns to the Peninsula.

“I believe that civil servants will be more motivated and committed to their jobs if they are serving in their home states.

“This is not to say that we are against integration between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak; our main concern is that the director posts in all government departments should be held by Sarawakians,” Bian said.

He added that it was now imperative that the federal government give “immediate effect” to the “Borneonisation” of the civil service.

This is so that Sarawakians can play a direct role in the administration of their home state as was envisaged by the leaders who insisted on the 18-Point Agreement before agreeing to join in the formation of Malaysia.

Questioning the motive of the commission in raising the issue, Bian said: “Lack of qualification is not a factor.

“It makes me wonder whether the ‘magnanimous’ gesture of the commission so close to the election is yet another election gimmick.

“To truly effect a change in the public service requires moral fortitude and resolute commitment, which I hope the Special Review Commission and Public Services Commission possess in plentiful supply.

“However, judging from this initial recommendation, I have my doubts.

“Please do not condescend to the Dayaks by offering this special concession, which purports to address a non-existent issue.

“Besides being a gross insult to the Dayaks, it most definitely does not offer a solution to the real cause of the poor representation of ethnic minority groups in the civil service.

“The people recognise a whitewash when they see one,” Bian added.

On N-Day, PKR heads to Malay heartland

August 31, 2012

PETALING JAYA, Aug 31 — PKR kicked off today its “Jelajah Merdeka Rakyat” nationwide tour to win over the crucial Malay vote ahead of key national polls in a US-style political campaign with its top leaders going on the road in a double-decker bus.

For its first leg, the urban-based multiracial opposition party is heading into rural Malay heartland in four states that have long been regarded as the fortresses of its political foe Umno, the grand old Malay party that has been the lynchpin of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

“For this first leg, the bus will be taking our leaders to four states — Pahang, Kelantan, Perak and Kedah,” PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (picture) told reporters this morning at the launch of the tour outside the party’s national headquarters here, which coincides with the country’s 55th National Day.

“While our overall support in urban and suburban areas is comfortable, we do have limited resources to reach into rural areas. This bus grants us this flexibility,” he said.

He said party leaders hoped to reach deeper into the Malay heartland and create greater awareness about national concerns among rural voters.

The bus would make pit stops at night markets today to enable party leaders to mingle with the locals and better explain the opposition’s various proposed policies to improve governance and boost the economy and their social impact in its bid to wrest federal control from the BN coalition at the 13th general election that must be called by next April, Saifuddin said.

“We will be handing out flyers and leaflets wherever we stop, highlighting our campaigns such as the ‘Turunkan Harga Kereta’ (Lower Car Prices) campaign and our expose of the National Feedlot Corporation scandal,” the Machang MP said.

The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition pact has promised that if it takes power at the next polls, it will cut down the existing heavy triple taxes imposed on imported cars and make them more affordable.

PKR leaders, especially its strategy chief Rafizi Ramli, have been spearheading exposes of several financial irregularities over multimillion public projects, notably the RM250 million National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal that was run by Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s husband Datuk Seri Mohamad Salleh Ismail and the couple’s three children.

Saifuddin also said today’s journey will end with a stop at the Tanah Merah Town Council field in Kelantan, where PKR leaders will be received by the state’s mentri besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

Nik Aziz, who is also PAS spiritual adviser, will be present for a Ceramah Perdana Merdeka Rakyat scheduled to begin at 9 tonight.

The party’s electoral campaign blitz is headed by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is also PKR president.

Others on the bus tour include Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

PKR communications chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad told The Malaysian Insider that the party had planned to kick off its nationwide bus tour in July but was hampered by a lack of funds.

“We thought the bus launch in August, specifically on Merdeka Day itself, was appropriate with the theme,” said Nik Nazmi, who is also a state lawmaker in Selangor.

Khalid, who is also PKR treasurer, said the idea of launching a bus to tour the nation was a PR strategy since before the 2008 elections.

“I lacked the resources then.

“But now, Rafizi and Nik Nazmi have no excuses to not come up with a proper campaign tour,” Khalid said.

Merdeka: The end of the fairy-tale - Mariam Mokhtar

Najib has made a lot of mistakes and has reneged on many promises. His Merdeka slogan, ‘Janji DiTepati’ is an affront to the rakyat.

The nation is 55 years old today. To read some newspapers you’d think that it was Barisan Nasional, and not the people, which achieved independence from Britain.

To learn that the Merdeka Day celebrations at the Bukit Jalil Stadium is “by invitation only”, is appalling.

Who decreed that the rakyat had to be members of the “select” BN club to celebrate Merdeka? If Merdeka is exclusively BN, then the slogan “1Malaysia” is rendered meaningless.

As with many things in Umno, the taxpayers are made to pay for the prizes and the ceremony, but they are denied the opportunity to win any of the prizes or even attend the event.

If the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his Information, Communications and Culture Minister, Rais Yatim, cannot even organise a Merdeka event that is inclusive of all Malaysians, then they are not fit to run the country after the 13th general election.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was not Merdeka we were celebrating but Hari BN. Rais’ foray into composing the Merdeka song makes you wonder: which is he worse at – songwriting or being a Cabinet minister?

The biggest disappointment is Najib. He is weighted by personal and political baggage. Even if he listened and learnt (from his and others’ mistakes), he cannot be rescued politically. He was not elected into office and is now vilified by the man who put him there, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib has made a lot of mistakes and has reneged on many promises. His Merdeka slogan, “Janji Di Tepati” is an affront to the rakyat. He is insecure and is desperate to win the affection of the rakyat. His reputation locally and abroad is tarnished.

Wasting taxpayers’ money

At the beginning of the week, it was reported that The Guardian had sacked its journalist, Joshua Trevino, for conflict of interest and for bringing the media industry into disrepute.

Trevino had belonged to FBC Media, a public relations company, which had been paid by Najib to bathe Malaysia in a good light, to whitewash the misdeeds of its government, and to criticise Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. Using taxpayers’ money, Najib paid overseas PR companies such as Apco, FBC and CNBC millions of ringgit to promote him and his administration.

Why does Najib need to spruce up his image? Why waste taxpayers’ money when he only needs to act responsibly at home? If he is not sure of his duties, they are to lead, to listen and to learn.

Najib holds on to the illusion of power, but the real power is in the hands of a man, who is sitting in The Mines Resort, just outside Kuala Lumpur.

Najib thought he could win the hearts of the overseas Malaysians with the promise of enfranchisement, but his promises have remained an illusion.

The Home Ministry, the police and Pemandu CEO Idris Jala, all gave us the illusion that crime was falling, but the truth is people are being raped, mugged, killed, abducted and robbed, on a daily basis.

The illusion that Najib presents to overseas leaders is that he is a champion of the “moderates”, but Malaysians beg to differ. At home, race and religion are used to divide the nation. Thus, the illusion of racial and religious harmony is just that. An illusion.

Periodically, Malays are scared into thinking that Muslims are covertly being converted to Christianity, en masse. The controversial raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) sparked off the formation of Himpunan Sejuta Melayu to defend Islam.

Himpunan reported that it had the support of four million Muslims and 200 NGOs. Last October, a mere 5,000 people turned up for the rally, at the 100,000-capacity Shah Alam stadium. Another illusion was broken.

Last May, the government held a “Million Youths Rally 2012” in Putrajaya, an event which some alleged was the government’s attempt to try and rival the success of the Bersih 3.0 rally.

The illusion of mass support by the youth was crushed with allegations of money and free food for those who attended. To make matters worse, several people were injured when a drag race car tore into the crowds.

The illusion that the government looks after its youth was shattered when the Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek asked that the event not be politicised. Both he and the organisers refused to be held responsible for the lack of safety at the event.

The 11th National Cooperative Day Expo 2012 held in mid-July at the National Stadium was another flop.

Many seats were unoccupied. Old-age pensioners who had been bused in to fill the seats started to disperse as Najib started to speak. Bored schoolchildren blew their vuvuzelas and were reprimanded by Najib for drowning him out.

The illusion that the prime minister draws crowds wherever he goes is false. It is also alleged that several government servants were transferred because of the dismal attendance.

The doctored photo

Perhaps, the most glaring example of using the media to create the illusion that Najib is a man of the people and a much loved leader, was when DAP Senator S Ramakrishnan alleged that The Star newspaper’s front-page photo of Najib’s Hari Raya open-house, on Aug 21, was a “blatant lie”.

The photo has come under intense scrutiny and the allegations that Bernama doctored the photo, raises serious doubts about the ethics of Bernama. If the allegations are true, why did they do it?

From a personal viewpoint, why would well-wishers wave Malaysian flags at a Raya open-house?

Is Najib so insecure that he needs to be reassured of his popularity (or lack of) by the presence of rent-a-crowd? Najib has failed to live up to his promises – transparency, control of public spending and an end to corruption. Everything he has done in his tenure as prime minister is just a fairy-tale.

For the rakyat, the fairy-tale story of a nation gaining its independence is not quite over. We may have gained our sovereignty, but the Malaysian identity is proving elusive. The plots and sub-plots are about to reach a zenith. Our Merdeka fairy-tale could have a happy ending, but only if we allow it. Or will there be a twist in the fairy-tale?

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

Malaysians have displayed that peaceful assembly is possible — Proham

AUG 31 — Proham congratulates the people of Malaysia who displayed their patriotism at Dataran Merdeka on the eve of independence of Malaya. They came from all walks of life in large numbers and showed that it is possible that Malaysians can occupy the public space in peace, harmony and goodwill.

Democratic freedom provides avenues for ordinary people to organise themselves in peaceful ways not only to celebrate but also express their views and grievances to the general public. This is in the spirit of the Federal Constitution which guarantees “the right to freedom of speech and expression” as well as “the right to assemble peacefully and without arms” as enshrined in Article 10.

Proham also recognises that while the police had initially indicated in writing to the coalition of 47 NGOs barring them from entering the historic Dataran Merdeka, the police did not prevent people to gather in the surrounding areas nor did they disperse the crowd. This discretion and restraint by the police is commendable. It is an example of how citizens’ action for peaceful assembly can be well managed. This is in contrast to some previous public assemblies where excessive force was used in crowd dispersion.

Proham believes that KL City Hall should be more people friendly in facilitating the historical Dataran Merdeka as a truly people’s space for democratic expression. City Hall, which manages this space, must respect the people’s human and constitutional right for free access and use of the public space.

Therefore, in keeping with democratic freedoms, city officials must be more “people friendly and pro-human rights” especially as KL aspires to rank higher in the Global Cities Index (GCI) where KL is currently occupying a low ranking (in 49 position out of 66 cities of the world)

In this context of the 55th year of Malayan independence, Proham calls on the federal government:

● To reintroduce local government elections so that the mayor of KL and the City Hall board is managed by people elected by the people of KL and accountable to them.

● To declare Dataran Merdeka as the democratic space for freedom of expression as this will be reflective of the aspirations of the people of the city.

Proham congratulates all Malaysians as we celebrate 55 years of Malayan independence and 50 years of the founding of Malaysia, that we must strive harder as a nation to live in peace, prosperity and harmony for the betterment of all the people of our county.

* Released on behalf of Proham by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun (Proham chairman), Prof Handan Adnan (Proham deputy chairman), Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam (Proham member) and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham secretary-general).

PKR: EDL takeover proves Buku Jingga is right

PKR has lauded the federal government's move to take over the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) highway in Johor Baru following public complaints on its high toll rates as a vindication of Pakatan Rakyat's Buku Jingga.

NONE"Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's move has validated the economic management principles advocated in Buku Jingga," PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli said in a statement.

The takeover, Rafizi (right) said, was in line with the measures Pakatan in its Orange Book proposes to take with regard to concessionaires in country if it comes into power. These include:
  • Using a pragmatic approach to the financing model in determining the government's financial commitment, possible compensation and profit margins of project concessionaires;
  • Putting the welfare of the public and minimising the impact on their daily spending as core elements of concession agreements; and
  • Not to tax the public with extra payments if the government can bear the costs of national projects.
Though praising Najib for realising the need to takeover the EDL concession based on best economic practices as outlined by the Pakatan document for the good of the people, Rafizi warned that the takeover could be used to smuggle the rakyat's money into the coffers of BN cronies.

He noted that MRCB, which operates the EDL concession, is closely linked with Umno and that the sale of national assets and concessions to business tycoons seen to be close to the ruling coalition at a discount have been raised before.

Rafizi said PKR would move a parliamentary motion to moot the formation of a select committee to study all purchases of major assets from companies to ensure transparency and fairness.

PKR also challenged the government to list down more highways that could be taken over, based on the proposal mooted in the Buku Jingga, which Rafizi claimed Najib had based the EDL take-over on.

Cops, army pull out of Selangor's Merdeka bash

The Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) and Malaysian armed forces pulled out of the Selangor National Day procession last night, allegedly because PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim was given a slot to speak.

NONEAccording to senior Selangor executive councilor Teresa Kok, state secretary Khusrin Munawi informed the council of PDRM's withdrawal last Wednesday during its weekly meeting.

However, she said, the army's withdrawal was made known to the state during the Selangor Economic Action Council meeting on Friday morning.

"Their excuse was that there will be a political speech.

According to the state secretary, they would have participated if only the Menteri Besar spoke," she said when met on the sidelines of the procession at Shah Alam.

"The Pakatan Rakyat secretariat had initially proposed that leaders from each party speak, but we rejected that. Only Anwar was allowed to address the crowd in his capacity as Selangor economic advisor," Kok said.

NONEKok (right), who is also Selangor DAP chief, said the decision by the bodies to withdraw was disappointing as the event was a state event.

"As state officers, they should adhere to what the state has decided. This is an independence day celebration, so speeches would be about independence.

"Are they saying that (Prime Minister) Najib (Abdul Razak)'s speech in Bukit Jalil will not be political?" she asked.

Anwar blames ministers

Meanwhile, speaking to Malaysiakini later, Anwar said that the withdrawal was likely upon instructions by "their minister".

"It's fine. The celebration was great. The police had given cooperation, it's just that the minister had instructed them (to not participate). They should have but it's fine," he said.

The minister in charge of the police is Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein while the Defence Minister is Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Both are Umno vice-presidents.

NONEThe Selangor level National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations at Dataran Kemerdekaan yesterday attracted about 2,000 people.

The celebrations saw fireworks, performances by pop singers and a procession involving 53 contingents, including local councils.

The federal level procession took place at Jalan Raja, Kuala Lumpur this morning. The celebrations will continue at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium starting from 3pm until midnight.

The prime ministeris expected to address the crowd at Bukit Jalil at 9pm. 

Political Awakening: 55 years of Merdeka

  • Charles Santiago
  • 12:36PM Aug 31, 2012

MP SPEAKS All we heard and saw the last few weeks heading into Independence Day were squabbles, open spats over Twitter and Facebook and pure disgust. Simply because the government has tried in every possible way to hijack Merdeka Day.

NONEIts ‘Janji Ditepati’ or Promises Fulfilled slogan is pure propaganda, crafted to send a strong election message to the people as the country gears towards what's most likely to be the most fiercely-fought polls ever.

Dissatisfaction over the government's choice of slogans, logos and song clearly signals the sharp divisions in the society as Malaysia celebrates its 55 years of independence.

These are not the only issues we are concerned about - a gutless democracy, discrimination against women and children, racism, curbing of civil liberties, trampling of human rights, rampant corruption and a government that would bend or amend every law and indulge in a dirty electoral process to stay in power are what the nation is gripped with now.

Organising a glitzy event at Bukit Jalil for Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet, civil servants and selected others won't make pressing problems in the country disappear.

Just days before Merdeka Day, we saw a repeat of a court ruling which shocked the public. A 22-year-old man who had raped a 12-year-old child escaped a jail term. This is the second case in weeks where another perpetrator walked free. In both cases, the court ruled that both men had great futures and the acts were consensual.

This is outrageous. It sets a bad precedent and has failed to look into the welfare of the victims.

Politically awakened

Over the last few months, the fight for power has intensified in the country. Whistleblowers were penalised. Corrupt politicians walked free despite strong proof of corruption amounting to billions of dollars and opposition leaders being targeted in smear campaigns to break the increasing support for Pakatan Rakyat.
Political discourse in the country is almost non-existent and ruling politicians are happy to use devious tactics and gutter politics centering around the private lives of opposition leaders.

azlanWhile the second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.1 per cent has surprised even government optimists, this surge was largely due to pump priming of the economy.

But can the government continue to manoeuver the economy, if there is another downturn brought about by external factors, given its huge spending on mega projects and cash handouts ahead of the polls?

If all this is not enough, we have government-backed water concessionaire Syabas manufacturing a water crisis to hold the opposition-led Selangor government hostage in order to force the state to agree to building a water treatment plant which would cost Malaysians billions of dollars.

Our stand is that there are other pressing problems like Syabas looking at ways to reduce the amount of water wastage lost to leakage and theft, which is about a third of the total production.

While the government is busy scheming and trying to devise new strategies to hoodwink the people, including using the Merdeka Day as a bait, it has failed to realise that Malaysians are becoming politically more vocal.
The thousands of people who turned up at Dataran Merdeka in yellow t-shirts to show support for Bersih, a coalition demanding free and fair elections, and other groups is a clear sign that Malaysians will not allow the government to indulge in shadow play.

And the success of the protest is a signal that as Malaysia enters its 56th year of independence the society, no matter what the government says, is sufficiently mature to hold peaceful political rallies. It also illustrates that the society is politically awakened to ensure their demands are met.

And this is what Najib and his government must remember on this historic day.

CHARLES SANTIAGO is the Member of Parliament for Klang. Twitter: @mpklang

Police probing Janji Demokrasi organisers

Police are investigating the organisers of the Janji Demokrasi rally at the Dataran Merdeka area in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that attracted about 10,000 people.

Confirming this, Kuala Lumpur criminal investigations department chief Ku Chin Wah said the probe is under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

"We will continue to investigate them under the Act," he said in a text message to Malaysiakini.

Last night, Dang Wangi OCPD Zainuddin Ahmad said police will "investigate later" if Bersih's co-chairperson A Samad Said has broken the law by reciting a poem.

Samad, a national laureate, recited his poem 'Janji Demokrasi' last night at the square outside the Kuala Lumpur City Hall headquarters less than 500 metres from Dataran Merdeka.

No mass arrests

Despite declaring the rally illegal at the last minute, no mass arrests took place on the thousands who thronged the area in yellow shirts on the eve of National Day.

However, police detained two people who were allegedly caught lighting fireworks.

At 2.15pm yesterday, Janji Demokrasi organising committee member Maria Chin Abdullah received a letter from the police informing her that the rally was considered illegal.

The letter cited the organisers’ failure to give police advance notice of the rally and failure to obtain permission from the venue's owner, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) as the reasons.

Both conditions are required under Section 9(1) and Section 11 of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, respectively.

The rally was meant to remind the government of unfulfilled promises for clean and fair elections.

Its name plays on the government's official theme for the national day celebrations, ‘Janji Ditepati' (promises fulfilled), which is also the BN’s campaign slogan.

Sea of yellow: 10,000 defy ban for 'Janji Demokrasi'

Despite being declared illegal and the Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein predicting a low turnout, a large yellow-clad crowd descended upon Dataran Merdeka last night for the ‘Janji Demokrasi’ (Promise of Democracy) rally.

Although Dataran Merdeka itself was cordoned off to facilitate preparations for this morning’s National Day parades, the 280-metre stretch from the cordon to a square outside the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) headquarters were packed with people, many of whom were wearing Bersih’s signature yellow.

Even the star of the show, national laureate A Samad Said, confessed that he could not estimate the size of the crowd and hailed the event as a success.

Malaysiakini estimates that some 10,000 yellow shirts were present, with an addition of some 5,000 of the regular Merdeka eve revellers, mostly on the opposite end of the police cordon.

Meanwhile, Bernama estimates the combined crowd at 6,000 and that there was no official Merdeka Eve countdown at the venue as in previous years.

The protest, organised by Gabungan Janji, a coalition of some 47 NGOs, was meant to ‘remind’ the government of its unfulfilled promises to Bersih’s calls for clean and fair elections.

Its name was a play on the official theme for the National Day celebrations ‘Janji Ditepati’ (Promises Delivered).

However, Gabungan Janji working committee member Maria Chin Abdullah received a letter from the police just eight hours before the 11pm rally informing her that it is against the law, but she did not back down.

NONEBy 9pm, people were already trickling into Dataran Merdeka, only to find the historic field and nearby roads cordoned off, with a sign that reads, “this area is closed to all activities, by order of the mayor of Kuala Lumpur”.

Enforcing the order that night were 205 police personnel, according to Dang Wangi OCPD Zainuddin Ahmad.

Regardless, the crowd at both ends of the police cordon continued to swell, with the protestors concentrating around the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman-Jalan Tun Perak intersection.

The atmosphere was made more lively by the deafening sound of trumpets carried by protestors and revellers alike, protestors wearing flamboyant black and yellow Mohawk-style wigs or simply by people flying the national colours.

The protestors, already numbering at several thousand at the time, received a boost at about 10.30pm as protesters from an earlier rally at Jalan Sultan arrived to join the countdown.

himpunan janji democracy 310812 samad said mat sabuAn hour later, with the crowd numbers at its peak, Maria, Samad (right), and some Pakatan Rakyat leaders began to move towards a square outside DBKL headquarters where Samad recited his ‘Janji Demokrasi’ poem.

However, few could hear the poem, or much of anything else, over the noise of the trumpets.

Police: No untoward incidents

A human wall of police and city hall officers stood guard at the building itself, but did not interfere with the crowd gathering before them.

At midnight, the Gabungan Janji leaders almost immediately left the area towards the Bandaraya LRT station, while many remained expecting a fireworks display.

Instead of the night being lit up however, the crowd were disappointed to see only sporadic fireworks rocketing into the sky, presumably brought in by other revellers.

NONEMeanwhile, when met outside the LRT station, Samad said he was glad to see large crowds of youths.

“This is important. It shows that they realise that this era is their era, and it is in their hands that a regime can be changed. I hope this will be done,” he said.

Back at Dataran Merdeka, Zainuddin said there were no untoward incidents that night, and that there were no arrests beside two who were caught burning fireworks.

When asked to comment about Samad’s poetry recital, he said, “we will investigate later (if any law was broken).

The crowd slowly dwindled throughout the night, some still blowing their trumpets even at 2am.

Pakatan Rakyat: A new kind of opposition in Malaysia — Keith Leong

AUG 31 — Malaysia’s next general election — when it occurs — will be the most intensely-fought in the federation’s history. There has been much speculation if and how the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition — comprising Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR, the long-standing DAP and the Islamist PAS — also arguably the most successful and long-lasting in Malaysia’s history will be able to hold on to and indeed improve on the historic gains it won in the 2008 elections.

In my recently-published book “The Future of Pakatan Rakyat: Lessons from Selangor”, I argue that changes in Malaysia’s political landscape and the opposition parties themselves mean that a united and coherent opposition is possible in Malaysia and that — whatever happens in the next general election — Pakatan Rakyat has provided a template for a style of politics outside of the parameters set by the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Opposition pacts in Malaysia — including the Gagasan Rakyat and Barisan Alternatif oppositional alliances clobbered together to fight the 1992 and 1999 general elections — often collapsed soon after despite making some gains. As James V. Jesudason argued very persuasively in his chapter “The Syncretic State and the Structuring of Oppositional Politics in Malaysia” in Garry Rodan’s seminal “Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia” (1996), this was due to the “syncretic” nature of the Malaysian state.

He defined Malaysia’s “syncretic state” as “a product of a particular historical-structural configuration that has allowed the power holders to combine a broad array of economic, ideological, and coercive elements in managing the society, including limiting the effectiveness of the opposition as a democratising force.” To my mind, this means that successive BN administrations continued the colonial British practice of “divide and rule”, whereby the various ethnic groups in Malaysia were kept apart politically, economically and socially.

Whereas this was used by the imperial power to justify its presence, as a “honest broker” between the various races, it has been adapted by the BN to argue that its continuance in office as essential to maintain harmony between Malaysia’s ethnic groups, whose interests at times seem irreconcilable.

BN’s success can be attributed to their forging a syncretism in their style of government that was able to straddle these competing interests. They were able to squelch dissent by simultaneously using coercion such as the application of the now-dead and unlamented Internal Security Act (ISA) but also selectively co-opting oppositional groups like absorbing the opposition Gerakan in 1969.

BN’s hold on power was also helped by the inability of Malaysia’s opposition parties to come up with coherent alternatives to BN’s syncretic state. First, because parties like the DAP, PAS and S46 were themselves largely composed along Malaysia’s ethno-religious lines, they could be portrayed as “extreme” in these matters compared to BN. PAS’s heartland was and is Malaysia’s rural Malay-Muslim communities, while S46 appealed to their urban counterparts. The DAP, whilst theoretically multiracial, was and is largely Chinese or Indian in composition. This meant that they could never command as large a vote bank as BN, whose emphasis on economic development and political stability had cross-ethnic appeal. With the power of state patronage behind it, BN could effectively outbid all three parties in addressing ethnic aspirations, depicting itself as looking after the interests of all races.

Furthermore, the opposition’s very different ideologies meant that it was very difficult to form permanent alliances between them. As we know, two previous attempts to form an alliance, the Gagasan Rakyat and Barisan Alternatif, eventually collapsed after PAS and the DAP were unable to agree with the former’s quest to create an “Islamic state” in Malaysia. Jesudason argued that Malaysia’s opposition parties tend to withdraw to their own ethnic constituencies to shore up support after brief attempts at co-operation.

The very fact that Malaysia’s oppositional parties are primarily ethnic parties reinforces the notion of the syncretic state. Jesudason accused Malaysia’s opposition parties of doing nothing to close the ethnic cleavages that perpetuate BN’s rule by championing ethnic-based platforms. This in turn renders them vulnerable to BN’s practice of coercion and co-option. For instance, opposition leaders who question Malaysia’s constitutional settlements can be silenced via the various security laws. Conversely, the ruling regime can then win over Malaysians who may feel threatened by the perceived “extremism” of the opposition, for instance, non-Malays wary of PAS’s political Islam or Malays worried about the DAP’s vision of a “Malaysian Malaysia”.

These factors, along with what Jesudason called the “enfeeblement” of class politics in Malaysia (i.e., the perceived pliancy of its middle class), have conspired to prevent broad-based and permanent oppositional alliances against Barisan and perpetuated its power.

Subsequent events however have suggested however that Barisan’s “syncretic state” is breaking down. As Jesudason himself hypothesised but thought unlikely, Barisan’s hold on power would continue as long as its Umno lynchpin was able to remain united, it’s governments able to manage Malaysia’s complex ethno-religious identities, as well as provide continued economic growth.

The record will show, however, that all of these contingencies have come to pass: Umno’s unity was shattered (the sacking of Anwar and the spat between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), it lost its ability to deal effectively with Malaysia’s communal relations (the Hindu temple demolitions in Selangor, as well as the race-baiting against the Chinese Malaysian community by certain Umno leaders) as well as the loss of performance legitimacy regarding the economy (the Asian financial crisis of 1998 and the subsequent, numerous corruption scandals). The rise of the social media also meant that BN could not present selective messages, at least to Malaysia’s urban middle class, as effectively as it had in the past.

Reformist elements in the opposition, on the other hand, spent the years after their drubbing in the 2004 general election regrouping and rebuilding. The release of Anwar in 2004 and his recommitting of the PKR to a multiracial, “Ketuanan Rakyat” brand of politics gave the opposition a bridge that could unite both its secular and Islamist elements. Anwar’s adoption of ketuanan rakyat was also a turning point as it presented Malaysians with a Malay leader who had a vision for the country’s future that all communities could equally accept.

The DAP too has and continues to make an effort to recruit not only technocrats (such as businessmen like Tony Pua and, more recently, academics like Ong Kian Ming), but also to try and shed perceptions that it is a “Chinese chauvinist” party and reach out to the Malay community. It has launched Roketkini, a Malay-language online news portal, as a companion to its already multilingual Rocket organ and has promised to field more Malay candidates in the next election. It is too early to tell if the Malay community will embrace these initiatives, but the unease by which they have been greeted by Umno suggests that it may not be completely futile.

PAS, too, has undergone remarkable changes. Whilst it’s harping on the Islamic state and imposition of the hudud laws did much to turn off non-Muslim voters in the past, its setting forth of its “Caring Nation” agenda which emphasises its interpretations of Islamic notions of democracy, good governance and development suggests that it is attempting to present an more universalistic, or at least nuanced version of its struggle.

Furthermore, the fact that it’s technocratic (i.e. lay, non-ulama) “Erdogan” fact triumphed in its 2011 party polls and are now clearly driving the party also indicates that it is more responsive to the social changes in Malay society, which is rapidly urbanising and becoming more complex.

These internal changes have helped make co-operation more possible between the opposition parties where it once seemed remote. Furthermore, in response to Barisan’s use of race and religious baiting against them, all three parties need themselves now more than ever before: PAS “protects” PKR and the DAP from accusations that they are seeking to overthrow Malaysia’s constitutional establishment, while the two nominally secular parties act as a guarantee that the former will not pursue theocracy unchecked. It can be argued therefore that Pakatan Rakyat is now forging a syncretism of its own to match BN’s model, which its predecessors lacked.

This is not to say that Pakatan is without problems. It must in the time left show Malaysians that it has a coherent and viable plan not only to continue the country’s economic growth but also move its communal relations forward from its current atrophy. It is simply not enough for it to say: “Vote for us because we’re not Barisan.”

Moreover, the continued tensions, both within and between PKR, the DAP and PAS over legacy issues like the hudud laws suggest that elements of its leadership and cadre are still vulnerable to the traps of the syncretic state. Pakatan must therefore show that it can also make difficult decisions from within — which its rivals in Barisan have hitherto avoided.

Pakatan must not only seek to win power, but also bring about substantive change to Malaysia’s political system. It has the historic opportunity to do so, but we also have to realise that this will be a long-term process and one which will require hard work rather than occur overnight.

Win or lose (and one has a feeling that, thanks to gerrymandering and the abuse of state machinery, we will see the status quo being repeated) in the next general election, Pakatan needs to stay together and make its alternative model to Barisan work. It has a historic opportunity not only to bring down a long-ruling incumbent, but to also change the fact of Malaysian politics and society permanently. — New Mandala

Twitterjaya: Statutory rape is no child's play

Netizens react with disgust and disbelief after the sessions court in Penang spared a 22-year-old man from jail on finding him guilty of statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl.

The judgment has since come under great criticism from all sides, especially social media, with many still scrambling to digest the idea that a 12-year-old could consent to sexual intercourse, and on top of that, that the argument holds up in court.

This comes just weeks after the controversial case involving the national bowler with a "bright future", Nor Afizal Azizan, who escaped jail despite being convicted of statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl.

Here's a collection of posts on social media reacting to the judgment:

TuanHock Liew: Funny how back in 1999, consensual anal sex warranted a prison sentence of nine years! The victim was not underaged, nor retarded, not drugged, or threatened with weapon.

Didie Gonzales: No to sodomy, but yes to rape. Bravo Malaysia.

Soo Ching Pin: The country is dependent on electricity. Therefore, all electricians have bright futures.

Nicholas Jeffery: Welcome to Malaysia, a country that lets you walk free after engaging in sexual intercourse with underage girls.

Carol Yong: And we ask why the crime rate is so high. Criminals are so daring nowadays because (you) can get away with it.

Mustaqim Abdul Rahman: This is the law - if you are guilty, you can get away scot-free; if innocent, you can be imprisoned and worse, hanged to death. The question and focus now is not on the past, but how to prevent this from happening again.

Jegatheesan Muniandy: If this is the sentence, it is not necessary to do LLB (Bachelor of Law).

Are Lhong: Welcome to the pedophile country, 1Pedophile.

Joshua Chai: How does a 12-year-old girl know what's right and wrong at that age? Talk about love, when it can be all due to lust.

Singh Sidhu: It sounds like a green light for all those perverts out there to (have sexual intercourse) with an underage girl. Good job, Malaysia!

Sam Tuck Fatt: Where is the minister of law and minister of women, family and community development? What's your role in defending the law and the infant?

Andrew Chan: Parents of daughters, beware! We are returning to the Middle Ages where women's and children's rights are irrelevant. Get them a chastity belt!

Ho Sook Wah: What a load of bull! This is an outright violation of a young girl's (rights). The law was instituted to protect young vulnerable girls, now the men are protected.

Farani Mustafa: (Do) Malaysian courts have soft spots for paedophiles?

Yap C Seng: Judges do not know what is the meaning of statutory rape. They need to go back to law school to understand that in statutory rape, consent is irrelevant.

Joanne Michelle: Anything can happen in Bolehland. Shameful.

Chia Weng Yan: An electrician gets to rape once. Imagine those with PhDs. I don't even want to mention datuks and ministers. (emoticon: rolls eyes)

Heavenly Trail: There (is) something seriously wrong with the judicial trend. Underaged girls must be protected at all cost, even if they consent.

Cynthia Hor: Unless he (the accused) was insane, this is a tad too much. Our criminal justice system has gone to the dogs.

Royal Malaysian Police in a state of unrest - S THAYAPARAN

"The police are not here to create disorder; they're here to preserve disorder." - Richard J Daley

COMMENT Bukit Aman police secretariat (public relations) assistant head Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf could be right when he claims that the writer of the anonymous letter alleging the possible doctoring of crime statistics is probably not a police officer.

However you don't need to be a police officer to be familiar with the operating procedures of the PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police). Massaging statistics and reclassifying crimes is hardly new when it comes to law enforcement agencies worldwide in justifying their performance, not to mention the continued use of their methods.

All that is needed is someone with insider knowledge motivated to impart this knowledge which lends an air of authenticity to the expose and then if you have something to hide (which the PDRM most certainly has) you are in a whole world of hurt.

Brickfields OCPD Abdul Wan Bari Wan Abdul Khalid leading Ops Tawan bangsar village 5The PDRM's response has been professional, but the rebuttal itself is not the required knock-out that the PDRM desperately needs at the moment.

The war of words between the opposition and the Home Ministry over the discrepancies of crime statistics and the siege mentality of an urban voting public plagued by crime that seems to permeate every level of society has effectively made the PDRM the least credible government agency in the land.

Furthermore, the one too many deaths in custody, in addition to the ‘police shootouts' - the most recent of which has resulted in ‘witnesses' being detained for ‘further investigation' - lends credence to perception that the PDRM is hostile to a public it has sworn to protect.

When we factor in issues such as race and class, what we are left with is a police force bereft of any legitimacy in its pursuit of enforcement of the law in this country.

Cops and robbers

However what is most damaging to the credibility of the police force, and this has always been the case, is the perception (reality?) that it is an institution of Umno and not an independent body. This goes for the entire security apparatus of this country.

When Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali boasts that if a military base is located in his constituency, he would surely be re-elected and this passes without comment from Umno-BN, it doesn't take a genius to realise that the corridors of Umno power intersect with those of the security departments in this country.
When a former head of the PDRM is asked to head an ‘independent commission' to investigate the police after the Bersih 3.0 civil demonstration after making statements that he considers the demonstrators at fault, well, it's safe to assume that objectivity or impartiality is not a trait or tradition of the PDRM. To throw out further documented examples would be pedantic.

It really does not matter who has to answer to what because at this point any answer will be spun politically (which usually means Umno-BN will be at the losing end) and also because the present regime since the tsunami of 2008 has demonstrated no serious commitment to reform.
Of course, I have not seen any detailed proposals of reform from Pakatan Rakyat beyond the superficial appeals to emotion but as always, the devil is in the details.

Right now we are witness to the power plays which went on between two former high-ranking police officers which no doubt crosses from the bureaucratic to criminal if the allegations and counter-allegations are to be believed. It also highlights the shadowy nexus between organised crime and law enforcement with added racial overtones, which is naturally par for the course in this country.

Not only that, but we have a former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief joining PAS to "uphold democracy", which implies that his tenure as a high-ranking police official, not to mention not throwing in with Umno (if his former occupation was not that in spirit), did nothing to further the said aspiration.

NONESome would cheer at such a development but we should be cautious of former civil servants, especially those from law enforcement divisions, overtly proclaiming loyalty to political parties whose stewardship of the country would ideally be only temporary. Of course, Fauzi Shaari (above) brings a wealth of insider knowledge which should serve the strategic objectives of PAS.

Not that I'm implying that he personally or that the opposition had anything to do with this anonymous letter but rather that because of the nature its anonymity, everyone is fair game. Not that it matters of course, whoever wrote the letter has struck at the always soft underbelly of the chitin exterior of the Umno beast.

Distrust of law enforcers

As usual, what I find of interest is not the corruption in high places in Umno and the opposition response to it, but rather how we as a society deal with it.

Because of the PDRM's inability to carry out the most mundane of police functions, a whole cottage industry has mushroomed providing private security to citizens frustrated by the fact that their security - in fact, their lives - depend on a dysfunctional police force more interested in policing the opposition than being an apolitical instrument of the state.

NONEDepending on how much money is at play, entire neighbourhoods suddenly become gated communities (municipal laws becoming suddenly extremely porous) or lone guards man ramshackle guard posts, offering the illusion of security.
The fact that these security companies are sometimes run by former police officers or staffed by men and women who would not qualify (and unfortunately the bar is pretty low) to join the PDRM is evidence of how desperate the situation has become for those who use these services and how as usual in Malaysia, the lines between business and government is blurred.

There is a reason why in some place the PDRM work very closely with security companies but we should also not forget that in many cases, the PDRM is just relieved that they are getting help from the private sector although they have no problem taking credit (or as this current scandal implies, possibly manipulating the stats) for the reduction of crime.

Of course, not everyone sees the upside of privatised security. Most times paying for peace of mind - this is what those of us who pay taxes think we are paying for when it comes to the law enforcement agencies in Malaysia - means living with the fact that you are actually paying a ransom.

As one middle-class Malaysiakini reader told me, her neighbourhood had a spike in crime before the "security guards" came into the picture and suddenly there was zero crime. "What can we do, at least now we are safe even though many of us feel that we are paying not to be burgled or mugged".

A culture of its own

This explosive mix of safety fears and distrust of law has brought out so many interesting questions. Another Malaysiakini reader asked my opinion on guns.

"After a few burglars and car park robbers have been shot, they will think twice of attacking," he said.

I asked him if he thought that the mob attacks on captured snatch thieves had reduced said attacks - I have no idea, but I don't think so - and does he really think it's a good idea for citizens of a country with such polarised race relations and history of political party race agitation to have resort to firearms?

Guns are the solutions to a very specific set of problems, problems that the average citizen of any country would not have to deal with if it has functional institutions (some American friends would disagree with me, of course).

At the end of the day, there is nothing the PDRM can say which would allay the fears of a Malaysian public mired in partisanship and their own racial preoccupations.

NONEThe police force has become a culture of its own succoured by religion, racialism and handouts, riddled with corruption and sharing a symbiotic relationship with the criminal underclass of Malaysian society and beholden to political masters who have always been engaged in protracted internal power struggles.

But yet I can say without hesitation that there are still those within the ranks of the PDRM, and those who have retired, who are honourable and understand the value of a functional police force but whose ranks are slowly dwindling over the long Umno-BN watch.

If Pakatan is smart and if there is that much dreamed of (amongst a certain section of the voting public) post-BN happy ending, these voices would play a major role in the long process of reforming the PDRM.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.