Saturday, August 30, 2008

MCMC's Mystery


Something odd happened today and international ICT companies have a valid reason to be concerned.

Energy, Water and Communications Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor said the Government had only given a “general instruction” to the commission to allow all blogs and websites to function provided they adhered to provisions under the Communications and Multimedia Act.

“MCMC runs on its own. I am not briefed on the things it does although it did tell me it was blocking the Malaysia Today website under Section 263 of the Act, which I believe has something to do with threatening national interest.”

So, it is apparent now that MCMC has acted on its own prerogative. Then, the commission must explain why it has chosen to act in such manner i.e. to block the critical socio-political website, Malaysia Today. What is the main duty of the commission? It is also a watch dog for the government? It is inevitable that the commission's action is not consistent with the MSC Bill of Guarantees which pledged no Internet censorship.

Shaziman appeared confused and not in control. As a minister, the commission should have sought his advice before making such a drastic decision which may affect Malaysia's image as an international cyber hub. Since he did not instruct MCMC to do so, will he reverse the decision made by MCMC? If not, the minister cannot distant himself from this action. His inaction will be perceived as an endorsement for the unpopular move.

Some BN MPs, including Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, have spoken against the move claiming that “such blatant and crude employment of state power is inconsistent with the widening of democratic space. Citizens’ right to information aside, MCMC’s high-handed approach also sends the wrong message as it is at odds with the Multimedia Super Corridor Bill of Guarantees – a 10-point Bill that prescribes zero Internet censorship.

This reflect badly on the BN government. We deserve consistency from the government.

Shaziman also denied that MCMC was targeting Malaysia Today, which is run by Raja Petra Kamaruddin, due to its anti-government views.

“There are other blogs and websites like those of Opposition parties PAS and PKR, which criticise the Government. The commission has not blocked access to those sites,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby here yesterday.

Shaziman's denial smacked of blatant inconsistency. If the MCMC is consistent with its action, why didn't the commission take similar action against other blogs and websites which are critical of the government? Making Malaysia Today as an exception exposes the commission bias intention against the blogger, Raja Petra.

Merdeka 2008, Forget About Unity!

After nearly 51 years since independence, we are still talking about national unity. National unity is an often repeated mantra of the only government we came to know. But action speaks louder than words. Unfortunately, there is very little we can attribute our multiracial harmony to the politics of race and religion.

Multiracial coexistence is a lot older than our nationhood. This land was inhibited by different races longer than what was recorded in our history textbook. The fact that our multiracial society is still living in peace and harmony proved that we had accepted our shared destiny.

But why are politicians so eager to play up instead of celebrate our diversity? Only days ago at the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign, the UMNO Bukit Bendera Division Chairman Ahmad Ismail labelled the Chinese Malaysians as ungrateful “squatters” in this country.

His statement has courted harsh responses from his friends and foes. His friends in the coalition even launched a signature campaign against him and others have challenged him to a debate on why Chinese Malaysians are not squatters in this country. If the debate does happen, it will probably attract audience who are looking for free entertainment rather than a serious intellectual discourse. The melodrama continues until the next Ahmad Ismail emerges.

This scenario reflected a serious problem in our society. Talking about unity alone showed a lack of vocabulary in our socio-political language. Why can’t we talk about how to make Malaysia a great sporting nation in the 21st century? Surely, we would like to think that we can eventually win a gold medal at the next Olympics games.

What about being an international cultural hub since both our cities, Malacca and Georgetown, were recently accorded the World Living Heritage status by UNESCO? We must start to take our tourism slogan, “Malaysia Truly Asia”, seriously.

As the world becomes more competitive and advanced, we need to correct our socio-political language and bad habits if we want to catch up with the rest. Malaysians need to get over the issue of getting along with one another. We got along fine with each other. It is time now to think about our rightful place or position in this highly competitive world. How do we want other societies to perceive us? What is brand Malaysia? What are our unique selling propositions?

Politicians who refused to accept the realities of the 21st century should be ushered to their rightful place – a small corner in our museum. It is odd to want to be racially or socially exclusive at a time when the world is so interconnected. We stand to benefit so much more from inter-cultural exchanges than to stay inside our communal shell. Unfortunately, we have been forced to consume such divisive socio-political rhetoric for far too long until we have grown accustomed to it. Our political system needs a purge.

So the next time you meet another Ahmad Ismail, hit him with the biggest trout you can find so that you will wake him up from his slumber. Yes, communal and all kinds of divisive politics must go. There is really nothing to divide us. Not colour of the skin. There are as many fair Indians and Malays as there are fair Chinese. Not even religion. There are more Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims than there are Malay Muslims.

For this coming Merdeka day, we should get over our fixation with national unity. Move out of this country if you feel you cannot get along with the various cultures here. Otherwise, stay and be proud of our diversity. Many Malaysians are culturally sensitive and multilingual because of this advantage we enjoyed in our own social environment. If many who are envious of our linguistic prowess and cultural breadth and depth, why must we be jealous of this special divine gift?

We should take this time to reflect on how we can strengthen our partnership to make Malaysia economically viable and successful. With a population size of less than 28 million, we are a small fish swimming in a big ocean. Globalisation wave will sweep us aside if we do not develop strong arms to ensure that we can keep up with the rest. At the moment, countries such as Vietnam are breathing down our neck and soon Cambodia will be tapping us on our shoulder. We have lost sight of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

Already some of our businesses are feeling pessimistic about our domestic economic prospect. High inflationary pressure and lower consumer demand are holding up domestic investment. If we cannot even keep our own locals from leaving, how can we hope to attract others to invest in our country?

The lack of confidence in our economy should be the main concern of the government. Not the controversial DNA Bill. It will be highly admirable if the government can help tackle some economic issues and challenges as fast as the way they pushed through the bill in the parliament. The government should act responsibly to take political contestation out of public policy formulation instead of bringing it into the process.

Malaysians must look at the broader picture. We must not allow narrow minded and self centred politicians hindering us from reaching a consensus on what we expect this country to become in the near future. Malaysia has only one choice and that choice must be to make this country a better one than the previous year. Our march towards greater success should start with a first tiny step – kick out racism and corruption!

Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant, an independent political analyst and the co-author of “Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia”.

Read this article in The Malaysian Insider.

2009 Budget: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

The government recorded the biggest deficit since 1998 at 4.8%. The total budget of RM207.9 billion is the highest so far compared to RM176.9 billion in 2008.

At the Astro Awani studio today, a few of the panelists agreed that the budget is a populist budget. Another observer stated that the government looked like a Santa Claus, giving away so many goodies to the people.

Lower income groups, especially the poor, will receive more financial support from the government. Orang Asli is a target group for poverty eradication programme. Sabah and Sarawak are given a total of RM6.5 billion of special allocation for development.

Civil servants continue to enjoy several perks including travelling expenses, a month bonus and other incentives.

However, a panelist remarked that it is peculiar in Malaysia where corporate tax rate (25%) is lower than individual tax rate (27% and 12%). The reduction of 1% income tax for individuals is minute and will not translate into higher buying power.

While the government has targeted some lower income groups to receive some financial aids, it is unfortunate similar incentives are not given to the industries to boost the economy in order to create more job and business opportunities.

Several key sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and SME are not given enough stimulus to spearhead economic growth. Hence, I remarked that it is peculiar for us to look for new areas of growth but at the same time ignore and neglect our core economic sectors.

Both Malacca and Georgetown are allocated a paltry RM50 million in conversation fund but nothing is mentioned on efforts to promote and cultivate the living heritage in these sites. We are taking our World Heritage status for granted.

SMEs are continued to be neglected since the government is not doing anything more than merely providing a RM1.2 billion loan package which will be disbursed via banks. SMEs applying for the loan are normally subjected to lengthy application process. Ended up, less than 20% of these enterprises actually obtained the loan.

Nothing is being allocated to assist companies to improve their international marketing and promotional activities. Malaysia cannot afford to neglect its own domestic economy while focusing too much on attracting FDI and foreign businesses.

It is unfortunate that the government spends so much but is expected to achieve little when comes to catalysing the economy and create more economic opportunities for the people. We can continue to give handouts. This will not help our people in the long run.

I also mentioned that there is a need for companies to pay higher salary in order to retain and attract good skilled workers here. A few industries will be to be rebranded e.g. construction, agriculture and other rural based industries if more local graduates and workers can be persuaded to take up positions and opportunities in these sectors. These sectors are considered 'low class' and 'dirty' and dominated by lowly skilled foreign workers. This perception is misleading and not healthy for our workforce.

Another panelist mentioned that the government must work harder to regain the trust and confidence of the people. Malaysians today no longer trust any government announcements or initiatives. This is not productive for the Malaysian economy and foreign and local investors are going to avoid investing here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Budget 2009: Astro Awani 501

Itinerary:

LIVE Pre Bajet Discussion (60 mins)
3.00pm – 4.00pm **

LIVE PM Speech
4.00pm - 5.30pm (estimate)

LIVE Post Bajet Discussion (60mins)
5.30 pm - 6.30pm

See you at your home! Remember to tune in to Astro Awani 501.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

DENIAL, DENIAL, DENIAL!


From the NST:

Some interesting points:

State delegates' conferences in Perak and Kedah have revealed strong calls to pull out of the coalition which it joined in 1972. The grassroots leaders cited unhappiness with the continuing "racial politicking" by fellow Barisan Nasional component members. Acting party president Dr Koh Tsu Koon, however, insists that the majority wants to remain as the "conscience of BN".

Ignorance is bliss and this is a correct reflection of Dr Koh Tsu Koon's leadership in Gerakan. Apart from condoning UMNO's racist agenda, he still believe that his party is the "conscience of BN". How can we know that the majority wants to remain in BN? Is Koh willing to call for a referendum in his party to decide the fate of Gerakan - whether it should remain or stay in BN?

Vice-president Dr S. Vijayaratnam said although he accepts the views of the disgruntled, he believed they do not form the majority. "I personally honour loyalty. This is best thrashed out in the BN supreme council. It is best to remain in BN. I don't think this (call to leave BN) is the majority view," he insisted.

Loyalty is a good thing if you are observing it with your spouse. Blind loyalty in a political struggle is what a leader should not commit. Hang Tuah was credited for his loyalty but Hang Jebat was celebrated for his sense of justice and rightoesness. Who was a true hero? Gerakan founder, Dr Lim Chong Eu, shared with me once that he would have pulled out the party from BN if the NEP was perpetuated beyond the agreed period after 1990. Here, Dr Vijayaratnam places loyalty above his political struggle. Maybe UMNO should extend a honorary membership to him.

The head of the Setiawangsa division in Kuala Lumpur, Li Tiam Chai, claims many of his 2,000 members were also raising the quit option. "This (racial politics) is the reason why the party lost so badly. Our association with Umno turned off many of our voters," he said, referring to the crushing defeat by Gerakan candidates, including Koh, the four-term chief minister who was ousted in Penang.

The voices of discontent are loud and clear. Yet, most of its top leaders are still living in self-denial. Leaders are entrusted by the members to lead. They lose their mandate and legitimacy once they refused to heed these voices. Perak and Kedah are significant states for the party. I believe many members in Penang and Klang Valley felt the same way.

My views:

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, who was formerly with the Socio-Economic Development and Research Institute, a Gerakan think-tank, said many of Gerakan's 250,000 members blame the party's failure to stick to its original role of providing a check and balance within the coalition for its current weak position.

"They can blame Umno all they want for their losses, but they are realising it is the present leaders themselves who are condoning this situation."They allowed politics in BN to come to this stage and Gerakan members just don't buy into the argument any more that they are the conscience of the alliance," said Khoo.

Khoo agreed that it is time for Gerakan to give some serious thought into striking it out on its own."They did it before in 1969, being an opposition party but without being in any coalition with any other opposition parties.

"I think many of the grassroots may have the same sentiment but if the leadership still does not want to listen, their time in the party may not be long, too."

Are Gerakan problems its own doing? YES, without a doubt.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Cheap Shot from Utusan Malaysia!

I was prompted by two readers on an article in Utusan Malaysia which quoted my phone interview with Astro:

Seorang penganalisis politik yang rapat dengan Gerakan, Khoo Kay Peng pula menyalahkan golongan muda berusia bawah 40 tahun yang dilihat cenderung untuk menyokong Anwar.

Golongan muda yang disifatkannya tidak mengenang jasa pemimpin negara pada masa silam yang telah banyak berbakti, katanya, menjadi punca kekalahan BN kali ini.

''Golongan muda terlalu taksub dengan Anwar. Mereka tidak ada ingatan masa silam terhadap apa yang dibuat oleh BN selama ini.

''Mereka lihat janji PKR untuk pembinaan negara. Mereka undi kerana terpengaruh dengan manifesto parti itu," katanya dalam temu bual program Analisis Pilihan Raya di Astro Awani malam ini.

Those who watched Astro Awani last night would have realised that this Malay chauvinist paper has made intentional misrepresentation in their article.

First, how can I be close to Gerakan when it was obvious that its Penang Legal Bureau chief had taken an injunction to stop my book launch and the case is still pending in court of appeal.

Second, how can I fault those under 40 years old for voting against the racist, corrupt and unreliable party?

I said that those under 40 years old have voted against racial politics. It is evident that these voters have placed nation building on a higher priority compared to communal interests. They wanted good governance, accountability and a non-corrupt government.

This is a cheap shot by a paper which is trying to misrepresent my views.

Shame on you! You did not even bother to call me up for my comments because you know that I would say I am ecstatic about the results. I have told my friends that the momentum for reform is steady and smooth and we are looking forward to get into the thick of things.

Shame of you again, UMNO mouthpiece!

Thanks for your prompt. I will not even bother to correct them. This is done intentionally and I can understand how Anwar feels when he was misquoted and misrepresented the same. In the end, truth will prevail.

I have send a feedback to Utusan Online editor and reminded him of his lack of editorial integrity.

Immediate Implications of the Permatang Pauh Verdict

  1. Anwar Ibrahim marked a strong return to the Parliament and his political star is shinning the brightest amongst top leaders;
  2. Pakatan Rakyat has withstood a test and passed with flying colours. Rumours of the coalition breaking apart are not going to hold any water;
  3. The verdict will put tremendous pressure on UMNO and other component parties to relook at the viability of BN;
  4. All non-UMNO component parties e.g. MCA, MIC and Gerakan have not recovered from their slide since 8th March 2008. The slope continues to be slippery;
  5. A solid show by DAP Lim Guan Eng's leadership in Penang and he was seen almost daily with Anwar. This will enhance DAP's attractiveness to other races apart from Chinese;
  6. This election has reaffirmed voters' choice for Malaysia - non-sectarian politics; and
  7. Lastly, we must take note of the voice of Permatang Pauh because voters there have responded to the national call to continue liberate Malaysia from mediocrity, corruption and dangerous ethno-religious politicking.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Permatang Pauh Results: Landslide Victory for Anwar Ibrahim

I have received several feedback from Permatang Pauh on some unofficial results. With almost 65% turnout, Anwar Ibrahim is leading by almost 7400 votes with only 40% of ballot boxes results announced so far.

A number of observers are putting his majority around 11k to 16k.

The majority is set to cement Anwar's solid political support as the in-coming Opposition Leader. His landslide win does not augur well for UMNO and other component parties in BN. This proved that majority of non-Malays have voted against racism.

Anwar's non-racist political language has worked well for him in the by-election. Meanwhile, UMNO's Malay support is expected to further erode. I have received unofficial results which showed that the party lost its support in even Seberang Jaya, the only stronghold of UMNO.

Arif Shah's multilingualism is not enough to convince the voters that UMNO can move away from its communal bias. Even the Malays are not convinced. Something is seriously wrong with the party. Sometimes, we wonder why MCA, MIC and Gerakan are still in the coalition. They have missed the boat which is going to bring Malaysia into a new dawn.

UPDATE:

I have received a text message from Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi. He said Anwar's unofficial majority is a whopping 16,026 votes. Dr Toh Kin Woon has the latest and it is 16,210!

It keeps increasing...

FINAL TALLY:

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim: 31,195 votes
Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah: 15,524 votes
Hanafi Hamat: 92 votes
Majority: 15,671 votes
Turnout: 81.01%

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tunku Aziz Tunku Ibrahim Joins DAP

It should be DAP's highest profile recruitment in the last many years. Former Transparency International (TI) Malaysia chairman and a respected intellectual Tunku Aziz Tunku Ibrahim joins the party and was made one of its vice-chairmen. It is a good sign for the party. Since the resurgence of PKR, the party is facing a difficult task to recruit non-Chinese members into the party.

Tunku Aziz's decision is a very strategic one. This man knows what he has to do to strengthen non-communal politics in the country. He said, "I have been targeting DAP for 20 years and they have been talking about consistency, transparency, accountability and the need to establish a non-race-based party.

"I feel much more comfortable (with DAP) and I trust the people around me. I joined DAP for what it stands for, a party that has been very consistent with its beliefs," he said in response to a question on why he did not opt for PKR.

Abdul Aziz believes that for a Malay to join a pre-dominantly Chinese party would mark the death of race-based politics in the country.

It is not too difficult to predict what will happen to his guest column in NST but I am sure Tunku will have a lot more to offer in the future. This is another feather on Lim Kit Siang's cap. Tunku is a long time friend and admirer of the DAP stalwart.

D-Day for Non-Sectarian Politics

When Dr Toh Kin Woon did the unexpected to pledge his support for the non-sectarian movement lead by Anwar Ibrahim, a number of Gerakan members called it a conspiracy against the party. They accused him of conspiring with the writers of the book on "Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia" to attack Gerakan.

This reaction showed the naivete of Gerakan politicians. Toh's political struggle and our book intention was not about Gerakan. Our intention was to remind Malaysians the importance of non-sectarian politics which puts the interests and well-being of the people above ethno-religious and selfish politics.

The statement made by Deputy President of UMNO Najib Razak is a prime example why we should reject the long standing race based politics in the country. He said "Anwar is so desperate to become prime minister that he is willing to pawn the dignity and principle of the Malays like opening Universiti Teknologi Mara to the other races who are allowed to establish their own universities".

What is really happening is leaders such as Najib has kept the Malay students under "coconut shell" for far too long. The best universities in the world today are true reflection of the world - both multiracial and promoting strong inter-cultural exchanges. What can UiTM can hope to achieve if it continues to become a single race tertiary institution?

For the sake of promoting racial politics and to ensure the stranglehold of UMNO on Malaysian politics, leaders such as Najib should be never be supported to lead the country in the future. This campaign has shown us why Najib should and will never become the sixth prime minister of Malaysia.

I view the entire development of the Permatang Pauh by-election from afar and with a tinge of sadness in my heart. When other countries, especially our neighbour down south, are preparing to strut ahead amidst a very challenging global economic condition in the next 18 months, politicians in our country are running a campaign which threatens to further divide this country.

I have registered my dissatisfaction over the Islamic swearing done by Anwar's sodomy complainant Saiful Bukhari. Malaysia is a constitutional secular country and we must respect the rule of law. Unfortunately, two top leaders e.g. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who himself took an oath to distance himself from the Altantuya's murder allegations, found the swearing divine and even permissible.

We should not involve God in all our shortcomings. He, who is omnipresent, does not need the swearing to know if one is innocent or not. He passes His judgement swiftly.

Hence, tomorrow is a big day. This is the day when Malaysians must ensure the democratic movement to end racism and sectarianism will survive and thrive over narrow-minded sectarian politics.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lim-Koh Debate: My Verdict


First, I would like to congratulate both debaters for their willingness to participate in a public debate. Viewers and live audience, like myself, should not expect that this debate will throw us any light into the alleged land scams.

My verdict is there was no clear winner. We did not go away more enlightened of what had happened to Penang land privatisation.

But I have a few questions for Dr Koh. In the Business Focus case, which involved Arif Shah's brother, Koh alleged that he acted on the instruction of Anwar Ibrahim not to take action against the company in March 1998. Anwar has denied the allegation.

Assuming that Anwar did instruct him not to act, why did Koh take the instruction blindly? Didn't he claim that Gerakan will not follow BN blindly? As a state leader, Koh should not take any instruction blindly from the higher up if he felt that it was against the interest of the state.

Koh claimed last night that Penang, under his administration, had 99.9% accuracy in land management. I salute him for this record. But if the 0.1% discrepancy was caused by blind subordination, then I am worried for the future of Gerakan under him.

After 1998, when Anwar was booted out of cabinet and jailed, why didn't Koh conduct a review on Business Focus' ability to repay the debt? If he claimed that his administration system was world class, I am sure it will prompt for a review of all pending cases such as this one. He did nothing for the next 10 years until booted out in March 2008. Is this world class?

What Koh did last night was merely to deny, defend and deflect the actual weaknesses of his administration.

I have another example, the PGCC. If there is a system and proper procedures, why did Koh helped to launch a project which was never given any form of approval from the state technical department or the local authority? Again, instruction from higher up - the Prime Minister?

Koh's admission is creepy. He is a stooge of UMNO and his blinded loyalty to the higher up is his main weakness. For goodness sake, leaders like Chia Kwang Chye should just take on Koh at the next party's elections instead of wasting his time trying to strike a deal with Koh to support him as a chairman in Penang. Otherwise, some others should take both of them on at the party polls in October. Gerakan, a respected opposition party in the late 60's, deserves better than these leaders.

PGCC, under Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd, was a clever corporate play. The business collateral for the Turf Club deal was a piece of land (1000 acres) in Batu Kawan. PDC was supposed to sell the land to Abad Naluri for RM48 million. Again, the deal was never approved and yet the promise to Turf Club to build an alternative race course was already inked.

Why didn't Koh stick to his world class administration system and advice the Prime Minister and those involved in the project to be patient and wait for approvals before launching the project?

I had asked Koh categorically, when he sent me back to my hotel after the MSC conference in Penang late last year, who put him up there - the people or UMNO. His answer was clear. Your guess is as good as mine.

I am deeply not impressed by Koh's answers although he is a good orator. As a Penangite, I want to take him to task for his stubborn denial syndrome.

Unfortunately, Lim did not do as well too. Lim, although is sincere in wanting to 'korek, korek, korek' (dig out) all scams, did not ask the right questions. Like Koh said, shoot before he aims. This way he wasted the opportunity given to him by the live debate to get down to business.

Lim should quickly catch up if he wants to become an effective chief minister. All said and done now, I hope to hear some clear socio-economic plans and direction from Lim. But knowing Guan Eng for a number of years, I know he is sincere in wanting to make Penang a better place. With this sincerity alone, all of us should lend him our support and cooperation. Guan Eng is only a man. Together with us, we can make it an effective team.

Yes, the honeymoon is over. But I still support Guan Eng as a better man between the two to lead Penang at the moment.
Picture courtesy of Malaysiakini.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Religious Zealots

Something has gone terribly wrong in this country. The trends are worrying especially to those of us who want Malaysia to remain a constitutionally secular country which respects all religious practices.

First, The Herald, the official newsletter of the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia, has been embroiled in controversy over the use of the word "Allah", Arabic for "the God", in the Malay language section of the weekly newspaper. The issue is now being resolved in the civil court.

Now, on July 16, the home ministry issued a letter to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, the Rev Murphy Pakiam, who as publisher of The Herald, must show cause for allegedly publishing material that:. did not follow the concept of focusing on its religion, as laid down in the guidelines of its publishing permit; and degraded the status of Islam in an article dated June 22, titled "America and Jihad - where do they stand?"

The controversy did not end here. It is interesting that the home minister Syed Hamid Albar had defined what the Herald should cover on religion. He said "If you are to write on religion, then you are supposed to touch on matters pertaining to questions on rituals, adherence to God, followers and anything related to your divine mission."

Syed Hamid's interference complicated the matter. Why should a politician dictates how the Christian community should engage their own members? Is Christianity only restricted to matters pertaining to rituals or adherence to God? Isn't the divine mission of all religions is fairness, compassion, equality and dignity for all? Christians reserved their rights to discuss global and societal issues which affect them as human beings and members of the world community. Religion is about humanity.

The action taken by the government against the Herald missed this very important point about the need to look at religion from the viewpoint of humanity.

Next, the PKR MP Zulkifli Noordin has accused the Bar Council of being 'anti-Islam'. This is a very dangerous accusation. It is important to note that throwing wild accusations at any organisations at this point in time will not help to make the situation better.

It is within the ambit of the council to discuss grey matters of the civil laws if there are ambiguities. Zulkifli's action has denied many apolitical Malaysians a chance to seek for their fair judicial rights in matters pertaining to inheritance, conversion, apostasy and others. These are rights enshrined in the universal human rights.

The Bar Council is the right body to discuss these ambiguities and grey areas of laws. It is a shame that these politicians, so-called religious activists and individuals have refused to acknowledge that there is space within any religion to discuss any ambiguities.

Zulkifli must retract his accusation immediately or he should withdraw from the Bar Council, which he claimed is 'anti-Islam'.

Islam is holier and flexible than what Zulkifli and the likes thought.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate PAS's leaders and Islamic scholars who came out openly to question Saiful Bukhari's action. Rightly pointed out, if Saiful has proof and evidence he should respect the court's decision in the upcoming trial. His so-called Islamic swearing was criticised as un-Islamic by PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz and Indonesia's Gus Dur.

I am disappointed that a number of top lawmakers have given their support for this show of defiance against the court. They are pressuring Anwar to do the same. What can they hope to get out of this if Anwar does the same?

Respect the rule of law!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Whither Gerakan?

On Dr Toh Kin Woon's Resignation: Whither Gerakan?
by Dr Neil Khor

Long ago, when Gerakan was considered the "conscience" of Malaysia,the party had leaders who spoke up on issues that were regardedfundamental to democratic life in Malaysia. Party leaders like Tun DrLim Chong Eu, the late Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Koon and the late Professor Syed Hussien Alatas did not bade an eyelid when raising the party flag against the ISA or when speaking up against race politics.

After joining Barisan Nasional in 1974, and after having failed tobring about a revolution from within, Gerakan began to be bleached of its ideals. Without any real possibility for Malay or Indian leadership owing to the stranglehold of Umno and MIC, the party founditself competing for Chinese votes with the MCA.

Over the years,Gerakan was transformed into a single race party (more than 90% of its membership is Chinese) advocating a multi-racial agenda. An agenda which was no longer convincing especially when some party meetings were conducted in Mandarin or Chinese dialects.

Yet, Gerakan is crucial to the BN. It allows the powerful coalition to present a multi-racial veneer. Gerakan used to be evidence that the BN accommodated a multi-racial approach. Hence, the BN motto of "racial diversity".

Internally, Gerakan became a tool of UMNO. Whether this happened intentionally or not, Gerakan was a convenient counter-point to MCA and MIC. In short, UMNO could play one party against another, giving itself the role of "moderator". To the public, Gerakan was touted by the mainstream media as the"conscience" of BN but it lost its role as the conscience of the country.

It promoted "Bangsa Malaysia" but never rocked the racial-divide mode. It supported multi-racialism but not inter-culturalism. There is a great difference. Multiculturalism is more akin to apartheid - separate development for separate races.Interculturalism is a melding of cultural traditions, where citizens interact with mutual respect and from that "inter-cultural" experience create a national identity.

But Gerakan's "manufactured" role as the conscience of the BN created ambivalence in urban voters, who continued supporting the party because it was the practical thing to do. The DAP was always too radical, Parti Rakyat too idealistic. By positioning itself in the middle-ground, Gerakan continued to attract intellectuals.

Throughout its history, the intellectuals who contributed to Gerakan have been those on the Centre-Left. Those who agreed with socialism but who felt that to bring about an equitable society one has to be in a position to create positive social change.

Dr Toh Kin Woon, who has just resigned from Gerakan, is probably the last of Gerakan's intellectual-politicians. He is also one of the few in the BN who still garner respect. There is very little dirt the party can hurl against him. The respect he gets cuts across racial and class divides.

Why Kin Woon Quit

One of the most salient points made by Dr Toh when writing his foreword for Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Party Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (2008) was that political parties and supporters of non-sectarian and non-racial politics should find the March 8, 2008 election results a reason to celebrate.

Based upon his public stand on a number of issues between 2006-2008, Kin Woon, who has very strong grassroots support, realised that the ground had shifted. In fact, his brave championing of democratic freedoms, particularly the right to demonstrate at the height of the Hindraf rallies, is evidence that he was spot on.

Instead, Gerakan did not heed their veteran leader's advice. Since March 8, Gerakan's leaders, particularly its Acting President and its Secretary-General, did little to indicate that the party was adapting positively to the developments in the country.

MCA and MIC,restricted by their party constitutions, can only go so far. But even they seemed determined to embark upon some sort of reforms in the direction of non-sectarianism. The MCA president decided that new blood was necessary for the rejuvenation of the party and its front-runner, Ong Tee Keat, even went as far as to suggest that perhaps race politics is no longer suitable to garner support from urban voters.

One can only presume that Dr Toh Kin Woon's decision to quit the party must have something to do with Gerakan's lack of direction. By not reacting to the electoral results with any meaningful reforms, theparty leadership seem to have opted for "business as usual". Perhaps,an equally confused UMNO is no longer able to give Gerakan leaders some pointers. So, the party seem unable to make decisions.

Gerakan seems to be a mere shadow of itself. It cannot continue to live on the laurels of its two Tun Dr Lims! Their eras are over. One has given Gerakan a good track record as a party of government whilst the other turned a Penang-based party into a national force. It seems that its present leaders are determined to de-construct that legacy.

It has already lost Penang, the party now seems destined to be shoredto Simpang Renggam.A Party without "Conscience"

One important question that the party grassroots must ask themselvesis "at what point did they lose the ground to PKR?" For it is not the DAP or the MCA that stole Gerakan's thunder. It is PKR. Perhaps most Gerakan members do not know their party's origins. Due to several injunctions against Non-Sectarian Politics: The Case of Party Gerakan Rakyat (2008), some may never know.

However, it is important to state here that the party had socialist and democratic roots. It was a movement of workers unions,intellectuals, blue collar workers and a wide range ofnon-governmental organisations. It was a party that promised innovative leadership, that championed freedom of speech, that wasdead set against the Internal Security Act.

But most important of all,it was a party that did not believe in sweeping things under the carpet.Gerakan felt that issues of race, economic inequality, the national language, national identity; all may be sensitive issues but allneeded to be discussed openly and intelligently. Gerakan had arational platform, and throughout its brief history as an opposition party, called itself the "intelligent opposition".

Dr Toh Kin Woon has stood by and stood firm on those principles. He may not have had enough clout to change the BN's stand on the ISA, OSA or the recent Hindraf rallies but he stood his ground. Gerakan has lost an outspoken voice of reason. At the same time, whilst serving as Penang's State Executive Member in-charge of socio-economic planning, Kin Woon maintained his commitment to upgrading the living conditions for workers. He is a staunch supporter of training and development.

He remains committed to a wide-range of NGOs associated with mass education, sustainable development and the widening of democratic participation.For his efforts, the people of Penang dubbed him the "conscience" of Gerakan. Now, it seems that "conscience" is no longer a pre-requisite in Gerakan politics.

In fact, if the on-going Anwar Ibrahim struggle is any indication, Gerakan is moving in the same direction as the rest of the BN. In such a situation, it is only natural that "conscience"leaves the stage.

Or, to quote the Gerakan Secretary General, Chia Kwang Chye, "Kin Woon should stay away from PKR functions". Such friendly advise, conveyed through the press, is indicative of the way things are now run in Gerakan. It is ironic that a party that came onto the political scene championing individual rights should ask a Life Member to tailor his democratic rights to the needs of the party.

Perhaps, Dr Toh Kin Woon's resignation from Gerakan will spark some deep soul-searching for Gerakan members, indeed for all Malaysians. Members will now have to ask themselves how the party is going to position itself in the future. The game of "cat-and-mouse" against theMCA and DAP is about played out. Gerakan's middling-role as non-sectarian champion within the BN has been scuppered by the recentUMNO-PAS secret talks.

To play that role outside the BN, projecting itself as the moderate and practical alternative to the DAP and PKR is also a dead-end. Luckily for the present leadership, the party is not only bleached ofits ideals, it is also bleached of its thinkers. So such deep soul-searching may not happen.

Most Gerakan leaders think that March 8 was a fluke. The people, after 5 years of "Opposition" rule, will return to their senses. So, these leaders are actually jostling forbetter party positions. Some still acting as though they are Chief Minister designate.The reality is that Gerakan leaders will have to content their very mobile grassroots. Some may remain in the party but find working with a new State Government irresistible.

Many have already voted with their feet.Nonetheless, Gerakan leaders will find great comfort in their un-thinking members. They will see Kin Woon's decision to leave as a"treacherous act". Already some are saying things like "never trust someone who changes ship". This is ironic and can only be said by those who do not know the history of their own party.

Both Tun Dr Lims were once MCA members who made dynamic decisions and jumped ship to form and build up Gerakan.Ultimately, every Gerakan member must do what Kin Woon did. This is not to suggest that they should leave the party. Far from it. They must ask themselves why they are in the party. What are the principles of the party that make it worthwhile for them to continue being members. Then, they must decide, who will lead them. There is always a choice.

It is good that Kin Woon chose to follow his conscience. Not many, it seems, are so consistent.

I Support Dr Toh's Decision

In Susan's blog:

According to PKR information chief, Tian Chua, ex-Gerakan’s MP and Penang state ex-co Toh Kin Woon visited the Permatang Pauh operations centre yesterday at 6.30pm.

He expressed his support for Pakatan and Anwar Ibrahim. He urged Permatang Pauh voters to support Anwar. He also said that for those who support multi-racial politics, Barisan Nasional is already out of fashion.

I can confirm that Dr Toh's presence at the PR operations centre yesterday. His support for a new multiracial or non-racial approach to politics and governance in the country does not run contrary to his party's ideology.

Perak Gerakan's call for the party to leave the BN is an example of a move the party should take if it wants to recover its support base and go back to its basic struggle. Gerakan Women's Chief Tan Lian Hoe, a deputy minister, has made similar call at the state delegates' conference (I was told by an Oriental Daily reporter who interviewed me).

Dr Koh Tsu Koon, acting president of Gerakan, quashes talk of Gerakan pulling out from BN in The Star print pg. N22. Meanwhile, newly elected Perak Chairman Chang Ko Youn said this issue must be discussed at the October nation conference.

Dr Koh and secretary-general Chia Kwang Chye have denied the party's move to pull out. Frictions are expected between leaders who wanted to Gerakan out and those who wanted the party to remain. One of the key considerations for Gerakan to stay in the BN is seat allocation at the next general election.

Dr Toh's stand is very crucial. Should Gerakan continue to support race based politics and policies? Its current leadership owes the people and Gerakan members an explanation of its stand on these issues - UMNO hegemony, racism in BN, NEP and social contract.

UPDATE:

Dr Toh Kin Woon has resigned as a member of Gerakan a few minutes ago due to strong pressure.

Respect Rule of Law

Saiful Bukhari, the complainant in Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy case, swore on the Quran before scores of press members and religious officials at the Federal Territory mosque.

He said: “I swear that I was sodomised by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on June 26, 2008.
“If I make a lie in this confession, then I am making a falsehood against Allah, and I am willing to accept His suffering, curse and damnation until Judgment Day,” he added.

I have two serious issues here. First, the timing of the swearing is ingenious. Why a day before the nomination day of Permatang Pauh by-election and not earlier. Saiful could have done it earlier, much earlier. In fact, many of us expected him to do so earlier.

Second, it is rather unfortunate that God does not speak back. He does it in his own way. In this case, God is dragged into the case without His agreement. He is a silent witness. Is this fair to Anwar? If there are incriminating evidences, Saiful does not need the Islamic swearing. He must be confident of the second medical report from KLGH which stated that he was sodomised.

The more serious issue is the rule of law. In justice, we need to seek a precedent. If Saiful is allowed to do an Islamic swearing as a way to determine his innocence, can other Muslims and others (Christians, Buddhists, Hindus etc) be allowed to do the same to prove their innocence? Again, expect these places of worship to be packed.

Now, if Anwar - who said that he will not do the same - is tried by a Muslim judge, will he/she be affected by Saiful's action. Can he/she go against the "unspoken endorsement" from God? Can justice be meted out fairly and justly to Anwar?

PM Abdullah and scores of UMNO leaders have supported Saiful's action. Abdullah reminded the people that Saiful was a victim in the issue. He said Saiful made a personal decision to swear on the Quran, a move that is not taken lightly by a Muslim.

The PM's action should not be taken lightly. He has indicated that Islamic swearing is an appropriate and acceptable way of dispensing justice if hard evidence is hard to find. By saying that Saiful is a victim, has Abdullah committed a contempt of court?

We must not take our rule of law lightly. This action and subsequent support given by the ruling elites is dangerous and tantamount to a challenge against the Rule of Law in this country.

Why do we need the civil courts if any dispute can be solved through religious swearing?

For these considerations, I would like to call for the end of this political assassination against Anwar Ibrahim. In this rare occasion, I consider Anwar Ibrahim a victim of political conspiracy.

UiTM to Sue Khalid

Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Vice Chancellor Ibrahim Abu Shah said the university will take legal action against Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim for refusing to apologise for proposing that it admit 10 percent non-Bumiputera students.

He said Khalid should apologise for making the statement on UiTM as it was not only unethical and degrading to the university but also not true at all.

"We are not hard-headed on this issue but the statement is 100 percent wrong. We can accept criticisms if what was said was true".

Khalid had proposed that UiTM admit 10 percent non-Bumiputera students and claimed that its students were unfriendly, of poor quality and non-competitive.

Ibrahim is an intellectual and he should know if his proposed action will be seen positively by the intellectual community. If every socio-political discourse ends up the way Ibrahim suggested, the judicial process will grind to a halt with overloaded cases.

It is peculiar to sue someone for making a mere suggestion which he does not have the power/authority to implement. If Ibrahim insists, perhaps I can recommend him the right lawyer who would be more than happy to represent him.

Is it degrading/unethical to urge a mono-race tertiary institution to accommodate some degree of diversity? Afterall, it is the government policy to promote national unity and the slogan, "Malaysia Truly Asia". We cannot become truly Asia if this is the only country in the world which runs single-race universities.

If fact, the people of Malaysia should take the present government to task for allowing the perpetuation of this rigid race-based admission education system. Even vernacular schools do not have any restriction to students of any races to enrol.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Available at New Locations

Hi friends,

We understand that you might be facing difficulty in getting our book from certain bookstores. However, from next week, a number of new locations will be selling our book.

I will announce on my blog where you can get the book on "Non-Sectarian Politics: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia" in Penang.

New locations:

1) Bellevue The Penang Hill Hotel. This hotel is owned by a famous botanist and architect, Dato' Seri Lim Chong Keat. Do visit his hotel for a memorable stay!

2) Khoo Kongsi Souvenir Shop (by next week). Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (clan house) is a UNESCO World Heritage building.

3) Borders in Penang and other locations (NEW)

More to come!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Malaysia Within Malay-sia


Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah has hit out at Selangor Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim’s suggestion that the university open its doors to non-bumiputra students.

Ibrahim said the call to have non-bumiputras allowed into the university was against the purpose of setting up the university.

UiTM was set up to provide the bumiputras a chance to improve themselves by attaining tertiary education,” he told a press conference at the university here yesterday.

Ibrahim's demeanour on TV3 prime news was shocking. He told Khalid not to "cabar" (challenge) the institution and hinted that there 120,000 UiTM students, hundreds of thousands of alumni and their family members who are ready to take action against Khalid's suggestion to open up UiTM to all.

Ibrahim should be reminded that the money used to set up these UiTM come from public funds collected from all races and not a single race. Khalid suggestion should be taken positively if the government is serious in wanting better integration for students of all races. Afterall, it was only a suggestion from Khalid and the Prime Minister has responded by saying that he has no power to implement the suggestion. Moreover, Khalid only suggested a 10 % quota for non-bumiputras.

The government should not play hypocrite by spending more then RM500 million a year on the 3-month National Service programme if it is not willing to cast its net wider on its national unity initiatives. This money can better used elsewhere.

The attitude of UiTM student body president Luqmannulhakim Mohamad Idris and his members gave us a chilling warning of the state of race relations in the country. If university students cannot discuss a proposal intellectually and give good reasons to justify why they would not accept the proposal, it is fair to say that they have not achieve much from the tertiary education.

Idris said the students wanted Khalid to retract the statement and apologise. “We (the students) are very disturbed by the statement and we have planned our strategy on what to do if the Mentri Besar does not apologise and retract the statement,” he said.

Idris should be careful with his statement. Any element of threat against a head of a state government cannot be taken lightly. On the other hand, he should be careful in not turning this proposal into a racial protest.
Picture courtesy of Star Online.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why Being So Paranoid?


Reported in Anil Netto's blog:

Gerakan secretary-general Chia Kwang Chye has some “friendly advice” for party stalwart Toh Kin Woon (pic): Don’t attend anymore events organised by PKR. This was reported in the Kwong Wah Chinese-language newspaper today.

Kin Woon was among the crowd of between 10,000 and 20,000 at Anwar’s ceramah in Permatang Pauh on Saturday night (9 Aug).
When asked whether any further action would be taken against Kin Woon, Kwang Chye said no, but he hoped that Kin Woon would not take part in any further events organised by the PKR.

Interestingly, both Kwang Chye and Kin Woon used to have a good relationship. Why use the newspaper to convey his "friendly" advice to his fellow party colleague instead of just sending a text message or making a courtesy phone call?

Afterall, he should respect Kin Woon's decision to do whatever he deemed reasonable to exercise his personal rights. He was merely a spectator. This friendly advice through a local vernacular newspaper has given a wrong signal to us that both Kwang Chye and his party leadership do not trust Kin Woon's personal stand on the state of politics in Malaysia.

If not why is Kwang Chye being so paranoid?

Monday, August 11, 2008

UMNO, Rise Above Race Politics


I would like to lend a voice to Gerakan Perak Chairman Chang Ko Youn's call for UMNO to rise above race politics. He said sensibly, "It is vital for government and political parties to draw up a national agenda to unite the nation to face the challenges ahead, especially given the current economic situation".

MCA's Ong Tee Keat has proposed that multiracial approach should be the way forward for his party. MIC's Samy Vellu echoed similar sentiment and wants his party to take a non-racial approach.

What about UMNO?

However, Chang should be careful not to merely trumpeting his call amidst Gerakan's internal elections. Gerakan should start considering what it will do if UMNO does not change its way.

Can it coexists with a partner whose main aim is to champion its ethno-religious interest? Will UMNO listen to Gerakan's advice?

It will be interesting to see what Gerakan intends to do if UMNO keeps its race politics.

Kudos to PKR Syed Husin Ali

Kudos to PKR top leaders: Party deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali said PKR condemned the “rough action” of a small band of the demonstrators who “shouted rude and uncivilised language” against the organisers and forum participants on Saturday.

“We regret that unfortunately the ‘fiercest’ among them was someone known to be a lawyer and Member of Parliament,” Dr Syed Husin said in a statement issued yesterday.

Kulim-Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin should have embraced his party's ideology to seek for greater openness in the socio-political dialogue in this country. Instead, he was one of the perpetrators who acted in obscene and rowdy manner to rob off others' rights to discuss the matter of religious conversion civilly.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the the Bar Council should not challenge the majority in this country. This is a ridiculous statement. How many were there to demonstrate? Barely 400 people and you called that majority?

Bersih demonstration was attended by almost 100,000 people and the government did nothing to ensure a transparent general election by refusing to use indelible ink at the last moment.

PKR's action against Zulkifli is important to send a clear message to all its leaders that its leadership does not endorse uncivilised behaviour and gangsterism in the party.

It is a shame that only DAP Lim Kit Siang and Tony Pua spoke out against the perpetrators. DAP should lodge a formal complaint against some its own coalition partners' members who participated in the rowdy demonstration.

For a record, the event was considered held closed door and participants had to register before the event.

It is a shame that a nation which clamours to be accepted as one of the developed societies cannot tolerate a dialogue which touches on important constitutional rights and issues on religious conversion. This is worse than a third world country.

God did not object to the dialogue, men did...rowdy and uncivilised ones.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pre-Budget 2009

Catch me today on Astro Awani 501 on the Pre-Budget 2009 Discussion. The show starts at 3.30pm. Live!

See you at home!

Updates:

The 30 mins talk show was hosted by popular host Suhaimi Sulaiman who is also an executive producer of Astro Awani. Two other panelists were Prowaris chairperson Feriz Omar and Fomca Secretary-General Muhammad Sha'ani. We were asked what should be done by the government to ease the people's burden.

Several points are very critical for the government to consider in the 2009 budget:

  1. Control and contain inflationary pressure. It is ironic that the inflationary pressure was induced by the government's policy decision to cut retail oil subsidies and to allow for electricity tariff increase at the same time (between 18 to 26%). This has resulted in higher cost of living and cost of doing business in the country. At the same time our relative real income has remained low. Until and unless the government can find ways to contain rising prices and help to increase real wages, people at the lower and lower-middle income groups will suffer the impact of stagflation.
  2. The government should focus on local food production and encourage small holders and entrepreneurs to produce and plant edible vegetables and plants. In the 9th Malaysian Plan, apart from the 6 million acres used for cash crops, the government is still focusing on both palm oil and rubber plantation. Global food cost is rising and the rise is inevitable. We can and should grow our own food.
  3. The government should focus on growth creation. Instead of keeping the cost low and compete with the likes of Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Indonesia etc, the economy should focus on competitive advantages, innovative management and the use of technology so that we can move up the ecnomic value chain. This is an often repeated mantra but what is the government doing about knowledge economy?
  4. Over the last few decades, we have focused too much on foreign direct investment and neglect our homegrowns. Almost 99.2% of all businesses are SMEs and they need help, encouragement and right policies. All bad licensing policies which breed corruption and cronyism must go. Hence, I do not think it is right time for the government to spend billions on the various regional development corridors. Billions allocated to the corridors in the last 2-3 years have not yielded the desired results. Use the money to improve soft skills. We can move further with right prioritisation.
  5. Easing the burden of the people amidst rising cost, the government should focus on improving public facilities and amenities such as public transport, education and health care. Since the government has taken a drastic step to reduce subsidies, the savings must be channelled in something proper and critical. The government must be accountable and transparent to manage public funds especially revenues from oil royalty and taxes.
  6. Finally, all subsidies and structures must be revisited to ensure that we do not subsidize the super rich the same like the hardcore poor. The latter deserved more. All unfair privatisation agreements must be revisited too to ensure that the government does not sell off the interests of the people.
Let me hear your views.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Book on Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia

Friends and readers, I understand that a number of you were not able to obtain a book from all MPH bookstores. We learned that a legal notice was served to the bookstore management to stop displaying our book.

Calls to MPH were not answered. We are curious and would like to ensure the management it is legal to sell and display our book.

We regret this action and are working hard to ensure that the book can be obtained at alternative bookstores such as Times, Borders and Kinokuniya. All these bookstores have received our book. By next week, selected Popular bookstores will sell the book.

Those who want to purchase online can visit http://www.malaysiakini.com/.

Is Anwar Ibrahim a Reformist?

Most bloggers cannot resist writing a post on Anwar Ibrahim's second sodomy charge. Now, it is no longer important trying to guess whether he did it or not. Even if the accusation actually took place, both Mohd Saiful Bukhari and several politicians only have themselves to blame for allowing it to be politicised.

Anwar Ibrahim is not just a politician. He is a politician who has made the biggest impact in the history of Malaysian politics. What others had tried but failed, to make a dent on BN's armour, Anwar has succeeded in making the coalition looking afraid and fragile.

Today, almost all of the main component parties in BN are facing a grim outlook of being rendered irrelevant especially those which claimed to represent the minorities. It is not inaccurate to say that none of these parties are reviewing their position in the coalition at present moment. The question is will the Anwar's prosecution be the last straw that breaks the camel's back?.

There are a few critical concerns which faced these parties. First, Abdullah's eroding popularity is a key concern despite his reiteration to commit to his reform agenda. At the moment, his fellow partners in BN are not sure if the power transition was brokered as an effort to allow Abdullah to ease the pressure for him to step down. His deputy Najib Razak, himself besieged by another controversy, was ready to accept the plan because he needed the time to ride through his own storm.

Unfortunately, the overt eagerness of the authorities to press charges against Anwar has implicated both leaders. Abdullah is seen as playing the same lead role like Dr Mahathir in the first sodomy case against Anwar. Najib had openly admitted to meeting Mohd Saiful at his residence before the latter lodged a police report against Anwar. Both leaders have challenged Anwar to take a voluntary DNA test and to make an Islamic swearing to clear his name, knowing how easy religion can be politicised in Malaysia.

Apparently, some pundits claimed that Anwar's reluctance to do the swearing has affected his credibility but survey results showed that only 11 percent of the respondents believed he committed the crime. PAS, his Islamic partner in the newly minted People's Alliance coalition, is backing him although some its leaders who are worried about the allegations were involved in a Malay-Muslim unity dialogue with UMNO to hedge their bet.

With the investigation team not making much headway in the case, the prosecutors will have to rely heavily on complainant's testimony (words). Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar readily admitted that this is the prime reason for not charging Saiful with a similar offence since it is consensual. However, Saiful's liaison with Najib has thrown a political spin into the case and risks tainting his own credibility.

Meanwhile, the first doctor who examined Saiful, Dr Mohd Osman Abdul Hamid, stands by his medical results. Efforts to link Dr Osman to Anwar’s circle are fruitless because the doctor was not told who the complainant is trying to implicate during the check-up and he had referred the complainant to the KL General Hospital for second opinion after being told of the criminal intention.

Anwar's importance to the PR coalition is indisputable. This explains why the authorities were too eager to pin a charge on him and in the process complicated and implicated a number of BN top leaders.

With public opinion clearly siding Anwar, it is impossible to know the truth without having the findings being disputed and politicised. In the end, it is not possible to find out the root cause of what is obviously a charge mooted from a clumsy investigation.

Second, perception is crucial in politics. In the past, most of the component parties believed that UMNO was the backbone of the coalition which can ensure them perpetual electoral victories. UMNO is still the backbone of the coalition but it can no longer guarantee electoral successes for its component partners.

BN which was promoted as a successful formula for multiracial tolerance and cooperation has lost its lustre for its failure to evolve with times. Most of the communal based parties in the coalition are pre-independence relic and they do not offer much ideological options for Malaysians caught in the process of globalisation. While most Malaysians are searching for a shared identity and a sense of belonging, these parties are more interested to sustain social compartmentalisation of the colonial era.

Ironically, the man they now feared most, Anwar Ibrahim, was a product of such political system. Anwar, when first drafted into UMNO, was an epitome of a Malay-Muslim icon. He happily played this role and simultaneously ascended the throne of his party to become the youngest heir apparent to Dr Mahathir in less than a decade.

Anwar was able to provide the necessary ethno-religious credentials sorely lacked by the Mahathir administration. He was credited for his ability to shore back PAS’s rise in the early 80’s amidst the Islamic revolution in the Middle East. Dr Mahathir was seen as too westernised and capitalistic to do the job. Interestingly, during the fallout between the two leaders Dr Mahathir was to attack Anwar’s morality as a weapon to contain him and temporarily halted his political career.

The first sodomy charge against Anwar was more than just a crime against sexual misconduct. It was the beginning of Anwar’s transformation and reinvention from an ethno-religious icon to “the voice of democracy” through his new platform, the People Justice Party (PKR).

During his tenure in UMNO holding various ministerial portfolios, Anwar was a bitter foe to many opposition leaders including DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang and others. His tough stance against some vernacular educationists when he was a minister of education had created distrust amongst the Chinese community against him. Until the last general election, his critics were still unsure if Anwar was going to go back to UMNO despite his repeated assurances.

In fact, regardless whether it was right or wrong, a number of non-Malays were actually relieved when it was apparent that Anwar’s career was to be halted by his imprisonment. They saw in him a charismatic leader who was prone to autocratic rule. His ethno-religious credentials added to their fear after having suffered decades of communal marginalisation.

Known to many as a charismatic speaker, Anwar was to prove to his critics wrong and to demonstrate that he is an agile politician who can reinvent his image and political messages to capitalise on obvious disgruntlement and dissatisfaction in the society. Anwar used his prosecution as a cause to fight against injustices and gross abuses of power in the country. A number of key institutions, such as the police, the judiciary and the anti-corruption agency, were under public scrutiny. In the end, many would agree that Anwar played a crucial role in catalysing and uniting civil movements in Malaysia.

After the 1999 “Reformasi” campaign, civil society organisations and individuals took a more prominent position in socio-political discourse of the country. Malaysians were greeted with more sources of independent information which coincided with the start of internet activism.

Anwar understood that the non-Malays were not satisfied with UMNO’s political demeanour for a long time. Their main complaint was the perpetuation of the New Economic Policy which was deemed unfair and discriminatory. He gave them his vision of a New Malaysian Agenda which was need based and not race based. Malaysians long looking for a charismatic Malay leader who is willing to champion their cause and breach the racial boundaries slowly warmed up to Anwar’s leadership. Anwar is doing what Syed Hussien Alatas did when he was the founding president of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia. He took the risk which gave him a segment of support which was lost to both BN and UMNO.

Similarly, opposition parties such as the DAP and PAS saw in Anwar Ibrahim a leader who can help to achieve their dreams to break BN’s stranglehold on Malaysian electoral politics. For them, Anwar gave them a glue (leadership) to bind them in a coalition regardless how disparate their political ideologies are. Both, through this partnership, have achieved electoral successes beyond their imagination.

Unfortunately, we will never know whether Anwar Ibrahim will pursue the same political direction he did now if there was no animosity against him in UMNO. If Anwar was loyal to Mahathir and eventually succeeded him, will there be a New Malaysian Agenda or “Ketuanan Rakyat” (People’s Supremacy)?

Clearly, the threat (Anwar Ibrahim) facing BN now was its own creation. The only difference is Anwar is not susceptible to change but BN (especially UMNO) is still caught in their time warp. Their reluctance to change was manifested in UMNO’s insistence to continue the Malay-Muslim unity dialogue with PAS to the disdain of its partners in BN. BN did not lose because there was Malay disunity. On the contrary, it lost because it had failed to give a representation to all Malaysians.

Anwar’s second sodomy trial is again more than just a sexual misconduct trial. It will provide a decisive answer to the question on whether UMNO can change its spots. It is a trial against old perverted Malaysia which still embraces draconian laws and a new Malaysia which is attuned to the realities of 21st century. With UMNO top leaders still unwilling to allow space for social and intellectual discourse in some of the most complex issues confronting a multiracial Malaysia such as religion and race, there is not much hope that the party can change its spots. Its partners are on the edge of their seat to find out if the coalition is still relevant.

Hence, is Anwar our “voice of democracy” and the foremost reformist? The society is waiting to know the answer.

Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant and a political analyst. He is a co-author of “Non Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia”.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dr Mahathir and the NEP

Blaming the West is something that has never change about Dr Mahathir. In his recent blog post, Dr M again blamed the West for the criticism against New Economic Policy. He said in his opening lines:

"When the New Economic Policy began to show some results in the early eighties, the Western Press and local opponents of the Government began to talk about cronyism. Whoever succeeded in a developing country like Malaysia, did so because they were the chosen favourites of the Government, particularly the head of the Government."

Dr M gives an impression that critics of the policy were jealous of its success. What is intriguing is as a head of government Dr M was privy to all information and results of the NEP and yet he decided to ignore the validity of the criticism against the implementation of policy which had created a new class of cronies. These cronies were instrumental in funding politicians and their activities. If not, how is UMNO able to muster a total wealth exceeding billions of ringgit?

Granted, the policy had yielded some successes in the 70's and 80's specifically in poverty eradication and making education more accessible to all Malaysians. However, the success was marred by Mahathir's fervour in creating a new class of Bumiputera entrepreneurs or industry captains.

In his next lines, Mahathir admitted some flaws of this policy diversion from the early 90's under his New Development Policy (rebranded after a shock rejection of all non-UMNO BN parties in the 1990 general election). The objective of poverty eradication and equal distribution of wealth was lost. Today, wealth disparity amongst the bumiputeras remained the worst. This is an obvious outcome of Mahathir's policy diversion in the early 90's.

"While most Bumiputeras who were given shares and opportunities to do business abused these opportunities, a few tried seriously and some of them succeeded. Obviously, these would be the people who should get more opportunities. Those who had abused their rights were also given second and third chances but as they continued to mess up their contracts and projects they were dropped out. Giving them more opportunities would simply be a waste. It would not help correct the economic imbalances."

Having said that most of the Bumiputeras who were given shares and contracts to do business abused these opportunities, nothing much was done during his rule to correct this mindset problem. Instead, during these times a new business term was created, "Ali Baba businessmen", referring to Bumiputera businessmen who had continued to receive contracts and opportunities and would pass these contracts down to their non-Bumi counterparts for execution. Many of these businessmen were given more than just second or third chances. Through political patronage, they continued to enjoy a good run as long as their political masters were still in power.

What did Mahathir do to correct this problem instead of continuing to give out contracts?

He went on to justify why the system had created a few successful entrepreneurs while the remaining bulk of Bumiputeras did not progress much.

"Admittedly some of them failed and were dropped. The numbers who succeeded became smaller. As we cannot risk giving to failures, the few successful people seem to be getting all the Government contracts, privatisation projects and other business opportunities."

The decision to give out contracts to these few successful entrepreneurs had created yet another problem. Most of them were overstretched and overloaded with projects spawning various industries. As a result, come a financial or economic crisis, many of these businessmen dropped like flies. In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a number of these businessmen had to be bailed out. Among them was Mahathir's own son, Mirzan Mahathir. It is difficult to say if this trend was discontinued because a few businessmen are still getting most of the contracts.

This policy diversion is counter productive. Instead of helping to create more small-medium entrepreneurs, Mahathir had created a few super rich. Most of them were over exposed and susceptible to downturn.

On top of this, a great number of non-Bumiputeras were robbed of a fair access to government contracts and places at the tertiary institutions. Many businessmen, especially those without any political connection, had to explore other markets to develop their business. On a hindsight, many of these businessmen had the government to thank for their successful forays abroad. Today, there are many small-medium successful Malaysian businessmen in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and others.

The accumulated disappointment and disgust of many bright students unable to gain entry into local tertiary institutions to study the course of their choice is huge. Most of these students who went abroad to study with a huge sacrifice from their parents ended up losing their hope for this government.

I was one of them and I can understand why they cannot feel proud or patriotic to this country. The NEP is one of Mahathir's greatest folly and yet he has chosen to blame the West. Many of these Western countries had given out and continue to give out many opportunities to our students to study abroad, including myself. What is this government doing for us?

For someone so smart and shrewed like Mahathir, his argument on NEP is not convincing. Many failures of the NEP are testimony of this.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will SAPP Be Sacked From BN?


I was asked by a Bernama reporter if SAPP will be sacked pending the BN's supreme council meeting to discuss the matter tomorrow.

Politically, it is not so simple. It is easier to suspend two members of parliament than to suspend a political party with just two MPs. The suspension or sacking of SAPP from BN will have a negative impact on the coalition especially in Sabah.

I told gave him three reasons:

1) SAPP has brought out issues which are pertinent to Sabahans. SAPP is facing criticism mainly from BN component parties' leaders but not Sabahans. On issues such as poverty, illegal migrants, lack of development, perceived political marginalisation of Sabah's rights and others are legitimate. Very few Sabahans disagree with Yong Teck Lee and his party.

2) A suspension of a party for raising issues will augur well for the image and perception that UMNO leaders would like to portray in BN. Already, all major non-UMNO component parties in BN were punished for allowing UMNO to dominate national politics and coalition. If SAPP is suspended or sacked, it will be seen as solely an UMNO decision with support from other helpless BN component parties. They might as well look elsewhere if continuously undermine by UMNO.

3) The upcoming Permatang Pauh by-election is not just a by-election. It will legitimize Anwar's leadership in PR. He will no longer be considered a de facto leader of the coalition but a legitimate opposition leader in the parliament. BN, at this moment, cannot allow for any crack to appear in the coalition and try to undermine SAPP's influence in Sabah by trying to address some of the state issues. It has already announced a RM50 million allocation to flush out illegal migrants from the state - an ardous task which might not be successful.

My take is there will not be an action taken against SAPP. Not yet.