Monday, December 19, 2011

Where's the Art Scene? In Malaysia, Politics is Everything!

A friend, an expatriate, who has been living in Kuala Lumpur for the past two years lamented to me that there's hardly any art scene in Malaysia. She compared her stay in Beijing to Kuala Lumpur. She said you either loathe or love Beijing but at least there's a sign of progress and cultural development.

For a note, Beijing is fast becoming Asia's cultural city and a hub for International Chinese music and film production. There's a growing number of International artistes shifting their base from Taipei or Hong Kong to Beijing.

I told her in Kuala Lumpur, politics is everything. You can find drama, music, sitcom, stand-up comedy, X rated and thriller in Malaysian politics.

Why? Remember the Quran swearing tendency whenever politicians are caught in personal controversies? Malaysians surely believe more in Heaven intervention than facts. How to find out if the Malaysian government had taken any financial aid from World Bank? Go swear using a Quran...

How to confirm if someone had been sodomized? Go swear using a Quran...

Hopefully a convicted killer or rapist would not demand for the same method to prove his innocence. If only God can swear back. However, we trust His quiet wisdom and patience.

Remember the Datuk T sex video scandal? By the way, it does involve Quran swearing too. Sex and politics has caught major headlines for Malaysia worldwide. The gala is coming on the 9th January 2012. No wonder another prestigious event, the Anugerah Industri Muzik, is facing a bleak future and a sagging rating.

Malaysians have cleverly used music to spice up their politics too. Remember the catchy tune, 'Jom Ubah!"? Or Namewee's crude and cynical rap songs? Or those famous Malaysian Chinese artistes and sexy 'getai' girls performing at various MCA & SUPP political dinners and talks?

Dap has introduced their own version of stand-up comedy too featuring Dr Hew Kuan Yew, Nga Kor Ming and Jeff Ooi.

The list goes on and on...Gerakan's Tan Keng Liang's turning a guinea pig for 1Malaysia chocolate milk shake was streamed live on the Internet, allegations concerning Birkin bags and USD24 million diamond ring to the more serious cases of murder, brutality, homicide and a host of corruption scandals.

There's no where in the world where there's a political scene like Malaysia.

Looking for an art scene? There's no need to look very far. Just search from the Internet and you can find doctored pictures of politicians in various compromising positions and situations. Who said Malaysians are not artistic?

Too bad, I know what my Canadian friend is looking for but here our politics is both art and amusement.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fixation Over Pakatan's Cracks is Unwise for Barisan Nasional

PM Najib said the Opposition coalition is forged through the members hatred for Barisan Nasional. He predicted such coalition is not sustainable. He is partly accurate. Dap, PKR and PAS are cooperating to seize the federal government from Barisan Nasional.

The aim of defeating Barisan Nasional is strong enough for the three major parties to put aside their party's agenda for a moment. The fact that the newly minted coalition has achieved very little in integrating their political platforms is going to be a flash point for the parties should they succeed in capturing Putrajaya in the next general elections.

The process of forming a government and a new cabinet is expected to take some time because it is obvious that they have not reached an agreement on even the simplest structure of governance. However, it may not be a bad strategy for the three political parties to set aside some of these fundamental issues until they have really captured the federal government.

Early disagreements over matters such as number of cabinet seats, portfolio, present race and religious centric policies, socio-economic policies, governance structure etc. may be too premature and counter productive to the fragile coalition.

However, it is important for PM Najib to note that their 'hatred' for Barisan Nasional, particularly UMNO, is a strong catalyst for the Opposition parties to work together too. This is not the first time the Opposition parties had collaborated with the aim of challenging the hegemony of the ruling regime. They had tried numerous times since 1969. The seed for a two coalition system had borne fruits only in 2008.

One of the most important factors which will dent PM Najib, MCA, Gerakan, MIC and A Jalil Hamid's hope to see the Opposition pact breaking apart is the voters' sentiment and anger towards Barisan Nasional and UMNO. Pakatan is a platform forged by the voters to teach the ruling coalition a lesson. Its electoral success is beyond the dictate of any Pakatan leaders or parties.

The desire for change was people driven. The change was not about making Anwar Ibrahim the next prime minister. It was not about making Dap the head of a coalition government in Penang. The change was moved by the people's desire to see a better future for Malaysia.

Hence, without fixing the wrongdoings of the ruling regime, it is pointless to harp on the fragility of the Opposition coalition. The biggest enemy for Barisan Nasional lies within the coalition. The coalition cannot get away with an easy two-thirds parliamentary majority without addressing some crucial issues facing the country such as corruption, lack of financial prudence, mediocre economic growth, middle income trap, compromised public institutions, rising inflation and cost of living et cetera.

This is why I said that PM Najib is only half accurate. Pakatan is not going to break apart before the 13th general elections. Even if the coalition does break apart, voters are not going to automatically support the Barisan Nasional. In any democratic elections, Opposition parties are here to stay. In this case, their main objective to unseat the Barisan Nasional is a good enough reason to hold the pact together, for now.

It is pointless for some leaders of MCA and Gerakan to continue harping on Hudud or the spat between two Indian leaders in Dap because their senseless statements and allegations are going to expose a lack of political acumen and political capital to reverse the fortune of their respective party's fading support.

MCA and Gerakan should be bold enough to admit that the Barisan Nasional formula needs major revamp. Ex-PM Abdullah Badawi had hinted at the formation of a Barisan Nasional council and convention to address the coalition weaknesses and sadly it never materialized.

Hopefully, another wake up call at the 13th general elections will help sink in the message that Barisan Nasional is in need of a major overhaul.

Barisan Nasional and its hired bloggers should not take this criticism negatively. As a proponent of two-coalition system, I do not want to see a hegemonic coalition being replaced by another of the same kind. We should encourage healthy a competition between the two coalitions.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Clarification: I am NOT "Prof Khoo Kay Peng"

I have found many blogs posted an article entitled "Prof Khoo Kay Peng Speaks Out on What is Truly 1Malaysia". I found the same article on Malaysia Today too. Since the portal has published a number of my articles and commentaries (often linking back to my blog, Straight Talk), I find it necessary to make a clarification.

I would like to clarify that I am not Prof Khoo Kay Peng and I am not the author of the article.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Youth Dilemma: Employment & Remuneration reported that bout half of bachelor degree holders in Malaysia are a disappointed lot as they are not getting the pay they expected.

The survey found that  these graduates typically expect salaries between RM1,800 to RM2,100 (73 percent), but only 54 percent would have their expectations met. Another 35 percent's pay was below RM1,800.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of diploma holders's salaries were lower than RM1,200, "far below their expected salary level" that is typically between RM1,200 and RM1,800 (67 percent of respondents).

The entry point salary level for degree holders has remained stagnant since 1997. It is shocking to note that cost of living has doubled, if not tripled, during the same period. The number of tertiary institutions has grown significantly but we are merely churning out new generations educated poor. 

The same report mentioned that respondents needed RM700 to make ends meet. These ends must be really short ones! Rental rates in certain areas in Klang Valley have ballooned to almost RM500 per room per month. 

Coupled with cost of transportation, food and basic amenities such as health care and basic household products, it means that those who are earning less than RM1800 a month do not have anything extra for contingency. It is almost unimaginable how those who are earning less than RM1000 are going to survive in the city. 

What has gone wrong? There are several reasons:

1. Malaysia's economy continues to compete on cost and not knowledge, ideas and innovation
2. A lot of jobs are being created but quality ones are far too few to accommodate knowledge workers. A lack of appreciation for good ideas, knowledge and soft skills means employers are reluctant to pay any premium for good knowledge workers
3. There is a general sense of inferiority of local graduates to an extend that employers do not rate them highly. Poor English proficiency and communication skills have often being cited as a major setback for local graduates. Both private and public education systems are either too commercially driven or lackluster.
4. Unregulated foreign/migrant workers are the main obstacle for Malaysia to break the low income barrier. I find it both tragic and sad to find front line industries hiring lowly skilled and educated foreign workers to serve clients and customers. The government has to regulate foreign workers before the situation gets any worse. They should study how Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia regulate foreign workers. There are many examples in the world to help put the interest of local employees above that of foreign workers.

The government has promised to help raise income level to more than USD15,000 by 2015 through its various ETP programmes. Defacto EPU Minister Mustapha Mohamad had merely made a statement but we are still awaiting his plan and strategy to ensure that Malaysia is able to double its income in next 3 years. It takes a miracle to achieve this goal if the government continues to do nothing but just paying lip service to its aim.

A few investors at an investment seminar lamented that Malaysian politicians wake up every morning thinking only about power grab and electoral victory. This is the most damaging observation about our country. 

It does not help when one coalition is asking for absolute majority to maintain status quo and the other one is asking for more time to prove themselves. Five years is what a modern electoral democracy can give any government to prove their worth. Not another 50 years, 20 years or 15 years. 

The more pertinent question is what will Malaysia become in the next 3-5 years under the prevailing condition?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dap's Extended Honeymoon in Penang

Susan Loone of Malaysiakini was right to note that Dap had lost an opportunity to address its plan and blueprint for Penang during the party's recently concluded state annual conference. Dap leadership and members should have used the opportunity to discuss some crucial state centred issues such as strategy to mitigate looming economic slowdown, job creation, curbing inflation, improving local authority services and enhance public transport.

Prior to the 2008 general election, the party was at the forefront in promoting and advocating local council election. What has happened to the pledge? Did the party leadership do anything substantial to prepare the state for local council elections? Leaders who were at the forefront of the campaign such as Sec-Gen Lim Guan Eng, MP Liew Chin Tong and others should help explain why the pledge was not being fulfilled.

A number of us who had helped in the drafting of the Penang Development Blueprint would like to know the status of the report. Surely Dap does not need to take 4 years to come out with its own socio-economic development blueprint for Penang.

For voting in a new government, surely we have the right to know how the new government intends to lead us differently from the past ineffective Gerakan leadership under Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Nevertheless, the Dap state leadership has done well to reduce deficit and strengthened the financial position of the state. It had introduced several measures to reduce the use of plastic bags, no car day for a particular stretch in the city, provided RM100 for elderly citizens and others.

Dap has done remarkably well to sustain the support of the Chinese voters, however the party must take cognizance of a potential erosion in non-Chinese support. Two main problems already emerged among the Malay voters. First, a lack of Malay centric agenda to help uplift their social and economic status will cause some Malay voters to swing their support back to a Malay patronage leadership under Gerakan or MCA. Second, rapid private housing development on the Penang island, higher inflation and cost of living and a lack of job opportunities are pushing a lot of Malays to the edge of the island.

Lim Guan Eng's government has been to overly focused on the island as an engine of growth for Penang. His administration had proposed a few initiatives such as sPICE, education hub and a theme park - all centred on the island. Both the education hub and theme park are supposed to be located at Balik Pulau, almost the last bastion of Malay hinterland on the island.

A lack of emphasis on the mainland is going to create a distortion of prices and cost of living between the two zones - Penang Island and Seberang Prai - which are separated by just a bridge less than 20KM.

There are several issues confronting Dap and Lim in the immediate term:
1. A lack of new socio-economic model for Penang
2. Job creation and retention/attraction of young & skilled workers to work in Penang
3. Escalating housing prices and marginalization of the poor/urban lowly paid workers
4. Losing Malay support due to a lack of Malay agenda (not NEP but true capacity building programme)
5. Institutionalization and decentralization of power from the CM office by hiring the right talents to assist the government on its programmes and projects
6. Revitalizing George Town
7. World Heritage City strategy and plan for sustainable development, restoration and conservation

Dap has done very well on a number of areas but it may still fall short of evaluation if the party leadership does not start to take on bigger issues and provide a steady leadership. We know that the party can stand up against UMNO and it's extreme tendencies but this cannot be the sole selling point.

The party has set up a high-powered panel to resolve the spat between Ramasamy and Karpal Singh, we hope the party will set up a high powered panel to address Penang's position amidst the weakening global economic climate in 2012.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tan Keng Liang's Act of Studipity

Some selfless acts, e.g. Mother Theresa's act of love and sacrifice to uplift thousands of kids from the streets, danger and hunger are heroic and should be repeated and retold so that our society will remember, appreciate and emulate them.

Some acts and their actors should be condemned as selfish, stupid, gullible and irresponsible. Unfortunately, Gerakan Tan Keng Liang's action today belonged to the second category.

Kedah Gerakan youth chief Tan Keng Liang drank a mug of Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia (KR1M) chocolate malt after Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua agreed to donate RM1,000 to charity for the stunt.

Tan Keng Liang KR1m milk challengeTan (right) who had participated in a debate at the Pusat Rakyat in Bangsar immediately whipped a mug of chocolate malt which he had purchased from a KR1M outlet in Alor Setar for RM4.80, after the event concluded.

He said this was to put an end to the myth that the quality of KR1M products were inferior.

What is Tan trying to prove by gulping down a mug of chocolate malt he purchased from a KR1M? Is this a scientific way of proving that the product is really safe and nutritious enough to be consumed by children without harming their health later? 

If the product is indeed harmful and lacked the basic nutritional content, can a single mug drank by Tan be able to bring out any indisputable outcome? 

Is Tan a human scientific apparatus? Or purely an egoistic and arrogant politician who is bend to defend any weakness or discrepancy from his party and coalition.

His action is unbecoming of a new generation of Gerakan leaders who are supposed to renew voters' faith in them for being pragmatic, wise and reasonable.

Finally, is Tan going to be personally responsible for any death or sickness arising from consuming the product in the future?

As a responsible leader, he should recommend an independent test to verify the safety of the product and not drag politics into consumerism and health.

If Tan wants to prove his libido, he should just stand against Tony Pua in Petaling Jaya Utara and find out who is going to emerge victorious.

Hudud & MCA's Lost in Transition

MCA President Chua Soi Lek has challenged Dap's Lim Guan Eng to debate on Hudud. The Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement has warned MCA president Chua Soi Lek against challenging DAP secretary-general. 

MCA's insistence to hype up the issue of Hudud has indicated that the party has very limited option and political arsenal to use against it's nemesis. This is not a very positive sign for the party. Under the leadership of Chua, the party has achieved internal stability but the same cannot be said of the party's political fortune.

By harping on the Hudud issue, MCA risks not only continuous alienation from the Chinese voters but also backlash from Muslim leaders and groups such as Abim, Perkasa and some crucial conservative Muslim-Malay voters. Instead of scaring Chinese voters away from supporting the very dominant Dap, the party might find the double edged sword cutting deep on it's side.

MCA's lack of strategy is symptomatic of a lack of political ideas and depth within the party's leadership. Chua may be a respected leader within his party but his leadership has very little to show in it's ability to attract young talents into his party.

A party insider lamented that the party is recycling old leaders who are way past their political relevance in states such as Perak, Penang and Selangor/Klang Valley. He said that leaders who were not made candidates in the last elections are now back in favour due to lack of choice and willing candidates.

Such perception does not augur well for the party. Without seriously addressing issues that are important to the voters, there is little hope for MCA's revival and eventual electoral triumph. MCA's internal stability should not be misconstrued as the revival of the party's support base among the voters especially in urban constituencies.

MCA must find it's strength through the right political positioning. It's main weakness and severest criticism has been it's inability to punch beyond it's weight within the Barisan Nasional government. The party has very little influence over policy making.

MCA cannot and should not seek solace in Hudud or Dap's cosy relationship with Pas in Pakatan. Dap had severed it's relationship with Pas post 1999 general elections when the Hudud issue was effectively capitalized by MCA and Gerakan to scare away Chinese voters from supporting the party.

It is unlikely going to work again in the 2012 general elections. 

The key issue is UMNO's over dominance and a lack of ability to institute and carry out real reform to curb several crucial and acute political and structural discrepancies in the political, social and economic structures. 

MCA must find a unique position within this new dynamic and proved to the voters that it can use it's political leverage against UMNO when required to push for more progressive policies and real reforms. 

So far, there is very little to suggest that the party leadership understand this need. The party has chosen to put all eggs into the Hudud basket which may yield zero results/benefit to the party. 

For immediate action to stop the slip, the party should stand accountable for it's leaders' involvement in the PKFZ fiasco. It should initiate a dialogue with UMNO on how to balance the latter's overzealous race affirmative position against the need to push for a real 1Malaysia and Bangsa Malaysia. 

MCA should provide a strong leadership in Barisan's economic policy and direction like the party used to do during the early inception of Alliance. It's role in this area is even more pronounce in the current global economic climate and amidst Malaysia's losing economic competitiveness and a sense of direction. 

MCA must prove to the voters that it has an important role to play in an effective two coalition system. 

The party must find it's bearing quickly or risk being totally decimated in the next general elections.