For my son, when he grows up, this site will be my legacy for him. The decisions his mother and I made for him, to understand them, to learn from them and to lead a life without prejudice and to succeed in it on his own merit.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Removing the training wheels

Last weekend, I took my family to the pasar malam for our usual “get out of the house” outings and bought my son a Ben-10 120 pieces jigsaw puzzle. A simple yet uninspiring act you may ask. But do think of the thoughts of a six year old child ready to take on the world that he had come to be exposed so far – all games and play.

The next day on a Sunday morning, he got up quite early to start on this “fun” thing with his mother helping him. They were half way thru when I got up and I noticed that my wife was doing most of the piecing together while my son was just moving around the pieces sorting out the colours for her to lay them correctly. Before I can even finished making my coffee, they finished with the puzzle. And my son proudly showed me while from a distance, my wife said she did most of it.

That evening, after our weekly swim and his swim lessons at the club house, having rested a while from a hearty dinner, my son came to me and ask me to help him with the puzzle after disbanding all of them. This time, it will take us longer than “his” first try earlier in the day.

I don’t considered myself to be very regimental on his school works, tuitions, taekwando, tennis and swimming lessons, even making small little attempts to train him to be a triathlete for his participation when he’s old enough, I want him to be more vocal and to develop an analytical mindset. Bordering on opinionated, critical, objective thinking and to set everything with a plan for implementation and then execution with ease. My wife always says he’s too young for these. I really beg to differ, and I constantly do it quietly when she’s not around.

I told him to sort out all the corners and edges before starting to put them on the board. Next, sort out all the different shapes, those with 1 nook, 2 nooks, 3 nooks, opposite nooks and what have you. It took him a while to figure all these out and after about 20 minutes, he was ready to begin piecing them together on the board. I was just there beside him to talk him into planning or strategizing his play without lifting a finger to help him.

I can see he was getting very excited with his achievement each time a figure or picture began to form on the puzzle. He seemed to be able to piece them together with each identifying almost with accuracy where each pieces goes.

He finished just as fast compare the time he spent sorting out the different pieces. And again, as he did in the morning, but this time, proudly show it to his mother telling her that he put the whole puzzle on his own. I kept quiet and allowed him that victory seeing him having that deep sense of accomplishment and most of all, ownership of it from his own efforts with no pretence whatsoever.

So, despite the fact I did nothing other than imparting my wisdom to him, and hopefully he will begin to think constructively, analytically and critically so to bring about a change to his well being and his perception. You could say this is something like macro management, setting a mild vision statement for him while he sets out about his goals. A very basic principle of mindset borrowed from the corporate world to tackle challenges ahead.

Most times, it is not how old a child should be exposed to independency or interdependency, but subtle lessons here and there to start the mould process rolling and hopefully, when they grows, the mind is in-tuned to handle matters proactively in this ever changing world.

The question now is, do we still need the NEP now that Malaysia is like a fully grown middle aged person passes maturity for the uptenth times? Does our "Princes and Princesses of the Earth" still need the training wheels on? Anyone out there have anything to say about it?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Say no more, period

By James Chin, Malaysian Insider

NOV 27 – In the bad old days when I conducted seminars, I used this opening line: “Don’t believe what you read about Malaysia. There is complete freedom of speech in Malaysia. There is only no freedom after the speech.” I’d get a few laughs here and there.

I know, I know, this line has been overused by Kit in the august House. After what happened to some bloggers (you know, being sued all) and RPK sent to UK (Universiti Kamunting) you really have to wonder what it is you can and cannot say.

My professional 2 sen is that you can say what you want but be ready to be sued, or be given a full scholarship to UK. (This scholarship covers all costs including tuition, full board, transport allowance from anywhere in Malaysia to Ulu Kamunting and back.)

You see, the problem is Malaysians cannot really talk to each other. Everything that is non-sensitive to one community is ACTUALLY very sensitive to another. There is no common area for any real discussions on religion or politics or even mundane issues such as the price of cars, scrap metal business, etc.

When you complain about the price of cars in this country, some people are unhappy because you are deemed to be unpatriotic for not supporting the national car project. After all, in the name of patriotism, who does not want to pay TWICE the world price for a product that is “Kampung First Class” – you know, cheap plastics, funny noises after 10,000km, constant problems with the auto-gearbox, etc. (For more information, please check with the mechanics looking after the exco cars in Selangor, Perak and Terengganu.)

On the scrap metal business, no logical or rational discussions please! You are raising a “sensitive” issue since the scrap metal issue is really an ethnic issue given that one race dominates the trade (Did I just say something sensitive?) With a smart lawyer, you can probably use the Sedition Act on this one.

In other words, you name it, it is bound to be sensitive. You really have to wonder how people handle stress here since opening your mouth may lead to all sorts of trouble!
Is this the reason why obesity is fast becoming a problem here? Since you cannot talk, might as well eat.

Truth be told, Malaysians have not learnt the simple lesson in life: you can agree to disagree. Malaysians want to “win” the argument – any argument. Since a “win” means someone has to “lose” the best solution is to fly the “sensitive” issue flag.

If you think you cannot win the argument, just shout “you cannot say that – its sensitive!”
The obsession with “sensitive issues” has led to some funny results. Mainstream newspapers are now losing their readership because they don’t cover the real news – the real news is too sensitive to be printed. So you increase the entertainment news and the classifieds.

Local–made movies and teledramas are pathetic because their storylines cannot deal with any sensitive issues. You cannot be creative because everything around you is sensitive.

So what do you do? Most people bare their souls by writing anonymous postings on the internet. There are thousands of anonymous Malaysian blogs that complain about everything around them.

Yet the writers refused to identify themselves. You can’t blame them, though. After all, from kindergarten onwards, every time they open their mouths, their teacher would say, “You can’t say that! It’s a sensitive issue!”

P.S. I have to take back everything I said because I have been told it’s too sensitive to discuss UK, national cars, scrap metal business, obesity, etc. PLEASE IGNORE WHAT YOU HAVE READ. I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING!

James Chin teaches at Monash University's Malaysia campus in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of institutions he is associated with.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Write no right

Farish Noor’s book under investigation
By Zedeck Siew

PETALING JAYA, 27 Nov 2008: A leading bookstore in Kuala Lumpur has stopped selling a book by Malaysian public intellectual Dr Farish Noor, pending an investigation by the Home Ministry.

The entire stock of the book, From Majapahit to Putrajaya, was confiscated from Kinokuniya's KLCC outlet on 15 Aug 2008 by officers from the ministry's Selangor office in a regular annual inspection. Other book titles, mostly on religion, were also seized.

"Kinokuniya will not be selling these titles until the Home Ministry arrives at a judgement. We do not practice self-censorship, but this is a pending issue, so we will wait for a proper decision," Kinokuniya corporate affairs manager Theresa Chong told The Nut Graph.

She said the enforcement officers were supposed to inform the bookstore of a decision within two weeks, but they have been waiting for three-and-a-half months now. "We have been asking them to give us an answer," she added.

However, From Majapahit to Putrajaya, a collection of essays about contemporary Malaysia published in 2005 by Silverfish Books, is still being sold at other bookshops. Also still on sale, including at Kinokuniya, is the Malay translation of the book, Di Balik Malaysia: Dari Majapahit ke Putrajaya.

Chong said officers routinely take books to investigate when the contents are in doubt. "They are from the authorities, so we have to co-operate with them," she added.

While the books belong to the store as stock, Section 18(b) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) allows for any authorised official to temporarily seize books deemed unacceptable even if a title has not yet been banned by the ministry.

Silverfishbook's Raman Krishnan, who only heard about the ministry's actions through word of mouth, described the situation as "totally, utterly absurd."

"This book is four years old. Everybody has read it. A bit late, isn't it?" he said in a phone interview.

"Will the ministry pay for the books they have taken?" he added.

ZI Publications, which published Di Balik Malaysia, was also not notified by the ministry that Farish's book was being investigated. Its executive director Rashid Khan said ministry officials should not have the authority to confiscate books in this manner. "Books do not require a permit," he said.

"The ministry should first study the product, read the book, and conclude that it is unacceptable. Then only can they direct bookstores to not sell the book. I believe that a book is legal until it is banned," he said.

These confiscations are not fair — not to the author, the reader, the publisher, or the bookseller," he said, noting that bookstores like Kinokuniya would lose out on sales of books that other stores still carry.

Rashid added that if officers needed to read any book for their investigation, they should either request copies from publishers or buy these books themselves, instead of confiscating stock from bookstores.

Rashid said that it was time for booksellers to come up with a common statement, protesting these arbitrary confiscations, to protect their business interests.

Secretary for the Home Ministry's Publications and Quranic Texts Control Division, Che Din Yusoh, told The Nut Graph he was not aware of the book seizures from Kinokuniya. "The Selangor branch has not reported this to me yet," he said.

Attempts to reach the ministry's Selangor office director were unsuccessful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

There is hope yet

Raja Muda of Perak Dr. Raja Nazrin Shah:”Diversity is not only to be cherished; it is essential”.

Full text of speech by Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah at the Diversity Matters Forum on Diasporas in the Commonwealth at Monash University, Sunway Campus on November 19, 2008.

The serious study of diversity and multiculturalism is precisely what the world needs at this critical juncture.

I do not believe that we will ever approach the goal of human security until we are able to come to terms with our feelings of hatred, fear and apathy of our differences. If we were to spend but a tiny fraction of the resources poured into waging wars to promoting and appreciating how our differences work in our favour, rather than against it, the world would be an infinitely safer and more prosperous place.

Diversity is not only to be cherished; it is essential. I know this as an educationist for the store of knowledge does not increase until and unless there are differences in thinking. It is when there is stultifying uniformity that stagnation occurs. I know this as a Muslim for Islam recognises other religions. Islam itself is built on a history of myriad traditions. I know this as a Malaysian for what has built this country and made it strong are the contributions of its different communities. Malaysians of different races and religions have come together to put their shoulders to the collective plough despite their differences, something that many countries have not been so fortunate enough to share.

Large-scale migration of people, or in the language of this conference, diasporas, has been a constant feature in human history. As Ramesh Thakur, former Vice-Rector of the United Nations University and a noted scholar on human security, has written: “If human beings were not genetically programmed to travel vast distances, we would still be living in Africa. Whether our restlessness is rooted in curiosity about lands on the other side of the land or ocean, whether we seek to escape destitution and persecution “at home” or even whether we simply go astray, large-scale movements of peoples have been intrinsic to human nature and are an integral part of the human story.

From a purely economic perspective, theory would seem to support the presumption that international migration expands global output and increases global welfare. Moving labour from low productivity to high productivity countries improves allocative efficiency in the world economy. The persistence of large differences in average income between countries is prima facie evidence that allowing greater international labour mobility would raise world welfare. Thus, allowing labour to move across borders more freely would be a simple way to help narrow global income gaps”.

But this, of course, is not the whole story. In receiving countries, public debate about immigration drives national politics, with recent electoral campaigns in Australia and the US each devoting substantial attention to the topic. Immigrants are often blamed for disrupting civil society, draining public coffers and lowering wages. At the same time, skilled immigrants receive credit for spurring innovation and the growth of technology sectors. To the extent that immigrants pay taxes and have the right to benefit from public services, they change the net tax burden on native residents. Once they become citizens, immigrants generally obtain the right to vote, altering domestic politics.

There are also sizeable effects on the sending country. Whilst emigration has brought a welcome financial windfall in the form of remittances, it has also drained poor economies of their most educated workers.

Among OECD countries, those with the largest immigrant presence in 2005 include Australia (24%), New Zealand (19%), Canada (19%) and the UK (10%). Australia, New Zealand and Canada are unique among receiving countries in using a point system (rather than quotas) for admission, in which individuals with higher levels of skill are favoured for entry. European countries take into account an individual’s refugee or asylee status in making immigrant admission decisions.

Among Commonwealth countries, India is the largest example of a diaspora-enriched, as well as enriching, country. There are estimated to be some 23 million non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin. They represent significant minorities of the population of the United Kingdom, the United States, the Gulf States and countries on the African continent. Their combined wealth is estimated to be over US$1 trillion dollars in 2007, a figure roughly equivalent to India’s GDP. The World Bank has estimated that remittances by overseas Indians in 2006 were in the order of US$27 billion dollars, a little more than 10 percent of total global remittances in that year.

Significant as these numbers are, they still do not describe the full contribution. Successful migrants often return to their homeland and create new businesses, thereby acting as growth catalysts. Overseas Indians have been a vital conduit for multinational companies seeking to do business in the country. The Indian government has astutely sought to tap the Indian diaspora network by offering tax and other benefits. The latter are therefore being engaged and integrated into the country’s economic growth and development strategies.

For the receiving countries, the economic gains can be enormous. They gain a willing and energetic workforce, a thriving pool of taxpayers, and a growing domestic market for goods and services. Migrants often also take an active part in the social life and governance of their adopted countries. Many emerge as top government officials, brilliant academics and business personalities. Malaysia is a prime example of how a diaspora of Chinese, Indians and other races have led to the creation of a more heterogeneous and prosperous state. Today, all are integral to the Malaysian landscape; all belong. At the same time, Malaysians from all walks of life can be found all over the world and many have distinguished themselves in various fields.

I mention all these things with the full knowledge that there is already a long and rich discourse on these issues. I understand that among the important issues that will be discussed at this forum are how to ensure that the many diasporas are included, engaged and integrated in their adopted countries. In the remaining time available, allow me to share with you three perspectives on this issue.

First, diasporas can only be consistent with pluralistic societies. A pluralistic society is one that not only tolerates but appreciates and encourages the active participation of those of different races, cultures and lifestyles. Fundamental to the creation of truly pluralistic societies are two fundamental principles, that of equality and fairness. Of course, to ensure that these two principles are more than just nice thoughts and are vigorously enforced, the rule of law is required. And for the rule of law to be operational, there must be the most meticulous observation of the doctrine of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. In the UK in 1981, the Scarman report pointed out how minorities often had difficulty in getting good behaviour from the police and felt that they were discriminated. I have spoken long and often about these matters and do not wish to do so here. I also do not wish to appear to reduce the entire problem of managing diversity to a matter of the law. I do think, however, that it is a most basic building block underpinning pluralism.

Second, the principles of equality and fairness suggest a preferred policy of integration rather than assimilation. Integration accepts and enlists; it does not coerce. It respects and values differences as legitimate. Integration seeks a confederation of peoples and cultures unified by common values and voluntarily cooperating towards the common good.

Assimilation, on the other hand, seeks to change language, customs, religions and even worldviews. Nation-building was once thought to be impossible unless differences were subsumed into the dominant norm. Most of the time this has been achieved through relentless and merciless force. In the name of unity, immigrants have been forced to change their names, banned from using their mother tongue and prevented from holding certain jobs.

The integrationist path to nation building is a difficult one to pursue. In many ways more difficult than attempts at forced assimilation. In all of human history, wars have been waged over attempts to compel dissimilar communities either to fit into a uniform mould or else forcibly exclude them. Sadly, even today, there are those whose primary response to diversity is to pound those who are dissimilar into submission. They often react to diversity by insisting on socio-cultural uniformity rather than adaptability.

Integrationist approaches, it must be admitted, are beset by their own problems. Some countries that practice multiculturalism end up having significant enclaves of isolated and alienated communities. Each community stays in its own little box without contact with other communities. These communities are not bound by common ties or interests with mainstream society. Rather, they regard their adopted country in a purely utilitarian way, as places to eke out a living rather than a cherished homeland.

Which brings me to my third point. Integration is a gradual process consisting of many acts over many generations. By and large, immigrants everywhere have common needs and wants. They want food on the table, money to spend, their children educated and to be able to lead useful lives. They desire good homes, a physically secure environment, good healthcare and protection in their golden years. But many, especially those of subsequent generations, will also yearn for a deep sense of belonging and identity. To be incorporated into the wider community and not to be treated as strangers.

In this regard, the effort of some Commonwealth governments to introduce deliberate diversity policies in their public services is therefore a timely and responsive measure that can have manifold consequences down the line. Diversity needs to be promoted at every level, down to local governments and communities.

The idea behind multiculturalism is that countries with people of different cultural backgrounds should allow them to live a free life without being forced to do things they don’t want to do. What characterizes democratic life is that it is the person who decides whether he or she wants to adjust more and be absorbed, or remain aloof. At the same time, the need to forge a community of people with shared values and interests remains paramount. The French riots in 2005 served as a reminder about what can happen if a country allows its immigrant communities to drift in the fringes of society without meaningful integration.

Where do we draw the line between the individual’s right to live the life he or she chooses and the need to forge a cohesive society? The notion that the burden of responsibility rests solely with receiving countries is perhaps misplaced. On the part of immigrant communities, the spirit of respecting and accepting local traditions, local history and system of government is equally important–a spirit reflected in the Malay saying “di mana bumi di pijak – di situ langit di junjung”.

Multicultural societies are fast becoming the rule rather than the exception. Contrary to the rhetoric, however, it is not becoming a source of strength. Mankind is failing - and failing badly – at creating a sense of community. Instead race, culture and religion have become the dominant discourse.

We must avoid falling into a new and destructive form of modern day tribalism. Nothing is inevitable. Cultures can co-operate as much as clash.

We need to reclaim religion from those who would distort its truths. We must reject radicalism and extremism of all types. If there is someone in my society who is hungry, or unemployed or sick and cannot afford treatment, then it diminishes me even if he is of a different race or religion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The May 13 Incident is a term for the Sino-Malay race riots in Kuala Lumpur (then part of the state of Selangor), Malaysia, which began on May 13, 1969. The riots led to a declaration of a state of national emergency and suspension of Parliament by the Malaysian government, while the National Operations Council (NOC) was established to temporarily govern the country between 1969 and 1971.

Officially, 196 people were killed between May 13 and July 31 as a result of the riots, although journalists and other observers have stated much higher figures. The government cited the riots as the main cause of its more aggressive affirmative action policies, such as the New Economic Policy (NEP), after 1969.

Formation of Malaysia

On its formation in 1963, Malaysia, a federation incorporating Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia), Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, suffered from a sharp division of wealth between the Chinese, who were perceived to control a large portion of the Malaysian economy, and the Malays, who were perceived to be more poor and rural. This was the common perception even though the British left all of their conglomerates (mostly plantation sectors) into the hands of the ruling Malays. These already successful companies started by the former colonial masters were the economy of this new born nation which are still going strong till this day.

The 1964 Race Riots in Singapore contributed to the expulsion of that state from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, and racial tension continued to simmer, with many Malays dissatisfied by their newly independent government's perceived willingness to placate the Chinese at their expense.

Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy)

Politics in Malaysia at this time were mainly Malay-based, with an emphasis on special privileges for the Malays — other indigenous Malaysians, grouped together collectively with the Malays under the title of "bumiputra" would not be granted a similar standing until after the riots. There had been a recent outburst of Malay passion for ketuanan Melayu — a Malay term for Malay supremacy or Malay dominance — after the National Language Act of 1967, which in the opinion of some Malays, had not gone far enough in the act of enshrining Malay as the national language. Heated arguments about the nature of Malay privileges, with the mostly Chinese opposition mounting a "Malaysian Malaysia" campaign had contributed to the separation of Singapore on 9 August 1965, and inflamed passions on both sides.

1969 general election. Run-up to polling day

The causes of the rioting can be analysed to have the same root as the 1964 riots in Singapore, the event rooted from sentiments before the 1969 general election.

Campaigning was bitterly fought among various political parties prior to polling day on 10 May 1969, and party leaders stoked racial and religious sentiments in order to win support. The Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) accused the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of selling the rights of the Malays to the Chinese, while the Democratic Action Party (DAP) accused Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) of giving in to UMNO. The DAP promoted the concept of a "Malaysian Malaysia", which would deprive the Malays of their special rights under the Constitution of Malaysia. Both the DAP and Singapore's People's Progressive Party (PAP) objected to Malay as the national language and proposed multi-lingualism instead. Senior Alliance politicians, including Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, accused Singapore-based People's Action Party of involvement in the campaign, as it had done during the 1964 general election campaign (at the time when Singapore was part of the Malaysian federation between 1963 and 1965).

The run-up to the election was also marred by two deaths: that of an UMNO election agent, who was killed by a group of armed Chinese youths in Penang and that of a member of the Labour Party of Malaya (LPM), who was killed in Kepong, Selangor. There was a contrast in the handling of these two deaths. The UMNO worker was buried without publicity, but the LPM casualty was honoured at a parade on May 9 when some 3000 LPM members marched from Kuala Lumpur to Kepong, violating regulations and trying to provoke incidents with the police. Participants sang Communist songs, waved red flags, and called upon the people to boycott the general election.

Election results

Amidst tensions among the Malay and Chinese population, the general election was held on 10 May 1969. Election day itself passed without any incident and the result shows the Alliance had gained a majority in Parliament at the national level, albeit a reduced one, and in Selangor it had gained the majority by cooperating with the sole independent candidate. The Opposition had tied with the Alliance for control of the Selangor state legislature, a large setback in the polls for the Alliance.

On 12 May, thousands of Chinese marched through Kuala Lumpur and parading through predominantly Malay areas which hurled insults that led to the incident. The largely Chinese opposition Democratic Action Party and Gerakan gained in the elections, and secured a police permit for a victory parade through a fixed route in Kuala Lumpur. However, the rowdy procession deviated from its route and headed through the Malay district of Kampung Baru, jeering at the inhabitants. Some demonstrators carried brooms, later alleged to symbolise the sweeping out of the Malays from Kuala Lumpur, while others chanted slogans about the "sinking" of the Alliance boat — the coalition's logo.

The Gerakan party issued an apology on May 13 for their rally goers' behaviour. In addition, Malay leaders who were angry about the election results used the press to attack their opponents, contributing to raising public anger and tension among the Malay and Chinese communities. On 13 May, members of UMNO Youth gathered in Kuala Lumpur, at the residence of Selangor Menteri Besar Dato' Harun Haji Idris in Jalan Raja Muda, and demanded that they too should hold a victory celebration. While , UMNO announced a counter-procession, which would start from the Harun bin Idris' residence. Tunku Abdul Rahman would later call the retaliatory parade "inevitable, as otherwise the party members would be demoralised after the show of strength by the Opposition and the insults that had been thrown at them."

Rioting Begin

Shortly before the UMNO procession began, the gathering crowd was reportedly informed that Malays on their way to the procession had been attacked by Chinese in Setapak, several miles to the north. Meanwhile, in the Kuala Lumpur area, a Malay army officer was murdered by Chinese hooligans as he and his spouse were coming out from a movie theater in the predominantly chinese area of Bukit Bintang. The angry Malay protestors swiftly wreaked revenge by killing two passing Chinese motorcyclists, and the riot began.

The riot ignited the capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area of Selangor — according to Time, spreading throughout the city in 45 minutes. Many people in Kuala Lumpur were caught in the racial violence—dozens were injured and some killed, houses and cars were burnt and wrecked, but except for minor disturbances in Malacca, Perak, Penang and Singapore, where the populations of Chinese people were similarly larger, the rest of the country remained calm. Although violence did not occur in the rural areas, Time found that ethnic conflict had manifested itself in subtler forms, with Chinese businessmen refusing to make loans available for Malay farmers, or to transport agricultural produce from Malay farmers and fishermen.

Incidents of violence continued to occur in the weeks after May 13, with the targets now not only being Malay or Chinese, but also Indian. It is argued that this showed that "the struggle has become more clearly than ever the Malay extremists' fight for total hegemony."

According to police figures, 196 people died and 149 were wounded. 753 cases of arson were logged and 211 vehicles were destroyed or severely damaged. An estimated 6,000 Kuala Lumpur residents — 90% of them Chinese — were made homeless. Various other casualty figures have been given, with one thesis from a UC Berkeley academic, as well as Time, putting the total dead at ten times the government figure.

Declaration of emergency

The government ordered an immediate curfew throughout the state of Selangor. Security forces comprising some 2000 Royal Malay Regiment soldiers and 3600 police officers were deployed and took control of the situation. Over 300 Chinese families were moved to refugee centres at the Merdeka Stadium and Tiong Nam Settlement.

On May 14 and May 16, a state of emergency and accompanying curfew were declared throughout the country, but the curfew was relaxed in most parts of the country for two hours on May 18 and not enforced even in Kuala Lumpur within a week. On May 16 the National Operations Council (NOC) was established by proclamation of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, headed by Tun Abdul Razak. With Parliament suspended, the NOC became the supreme decision-making body for the next 18 months. State and District Operations Councils took over state and local government.

The NOC implemented security measures to restore law and order in the country, including the establishment of an unarmed Vigilante Corps, a territorial army, and police force battalions. The restoration of order in the country was gradually achieved. Curfews continued in most parts of the country, but were gradually scaled back. Peace was restored in the affected areas within two months. In February 1971 parliamentary rule was re-established.

In a report from the NOC, the riots was attributed in part to both the Malayan Communist Party and secret societies:

The eruption of violence on May 13 was the result of an interplay of forces... These include a generation gap and differences in interpretation of the constitutional structure by the different races in the country...; the incitement, intemperate statements and provocative behaviours of certain racialist party members and supporters during the recent General Election; the part played by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and secret societies in inciting racial feelings and suspicion; and the anxious, and later desperate, mood of the Malays with a background of Sino-Malay distrust, and recently, just after the General Elections, as a result of racial insults and threat to their future survival in their own country'

— Extract from The May 13 Tragedy, a report by the National Operations Council, October 1969.

Conspiracy theories

Immediately following the riot, conspiracy theories about the origin of the riots began swirling. Many Chinese blamed the government, claiming it had intentionally planned the attacks beforehand. To bolster their claims, they cited the fact that the potentially dangerous UMNO rally was allowed to go on, even though the city was on edge after two days of opposition rallies. Although UMNO leaders said none of the armed men bused in to the rally belonged to UMNO, the Chinese countered this by arguing that the violence had not spread from Harun Idris' home, but had risen simultaneously in several different areas. The armed Malays were later taken away in army lorries, but according to witnesses, appeared to be "happily jumping into the lorries as the names of various villages were called out by army personnel".

Despite the imposition of a curfew, the Malay soldiers who were allowed to remain on the streets reportedly burned several more Chinese homes. The government denied it was associated with these soldiers and said their actions were not condoned. However, Western observers such as Time suggested that "Whether or not the Malay-controlled police force and emergency government have actually stirred up some of the house-burning, spear-carrying mobs, they seem unwilling to clamp down on them."

In 2007, a book — May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 by academic, former Democratic Action Party member and former Member of Parliament Kua Kia Soong — was published by Suaram. Based on newly declassified documents at the Public Records Office in London, the book alleged that contrary to the official account which had blamed the violence on opposition parties, the riot had been intentionally started by the "ascendent state capitalist class" in UMNO as a coup d'etat to topple the Tunku from power.

Immediate effects

Immediately after the riot, the government assumed emergency powers and suspended Parliament, which would only reconvene again in 1971. It also suspended the press and established a National Operations Council. The NOC's report on the riots stated, "The Malays who already felt excluded in the country's economic life, now began to feel a threat to their place in the public services," and implied this was a cause of the violence.

Western observers such as Time attributed the racial enmities to a political and economic system which primarily benefited the upper classes:

The Chinese and Indians resented Malay-backed plans favoring the majority, including one to make Malay the official school and government language. The poorer, more rural Malays became jealous of Chinese and Indian prosperity. Perhaps the Alliance's greatest failing was that it served to benefit primarily those at the top. ... For a Chinese or Indian who was not well-off, or for a Malay who was not well-connected, there was little largesse in the system. Even for those who were favored, hard feelings persisted. One towkay recently told a Malay official: "If it weren't for the Chinese, you Malays would be sitting on the floor without tables and chairs." Replied the official: "If I knew I could get every damned Chinaman out of the country, I would willingly go back to sitting on the floor."

The riot led to the expulsion of Malay nationalist Mahathir Mohamad from UMNO and propelled him to write his seminal work The Malay Dilemma, in which he posited a solution to Malaysia's racial tensions based on aiding the Malays economically through an affirmative action programme.

Tunku Abdul Rahman resigned as Prime Minister in the ensuing UMNO power struggle, the new perceived 'Malay-ultra' dominated government swiftly moved to placate Malays with the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP), enshrining affirmative action policies for the bumiputra (Malays and other indigenous Malaysians). Many of Malaysia's draconian press laws, originally targeting racial incitement, also date from this period. The Constitution (Amendment) Act 1971 named Articles 152, 153, and 181, and also Part III of the Constitution as specially protected, permitting Parliament to pass legislation that would limit dissent with regard to these provisions pertaining to the social contract. (The social contract is essentially a quid pro quo agreement between the Malay and non-Malay citizens of Malaysia; in return for granting the non-Malays citizenship at independence, symbols of Malay authority such as the Malay monarchy became national symbols, and the Malays were granted special economic privileges.) With this new power, Parliament then amended the Sedition Act accordingly.

The new restrictions also applied to Members of Parliament, overruling Parliamentary immunity; at the same time, Article 159, which governs Constitutional amendments, was amended to entrench the "sensitive" Constitutional provisions; in addition to the consent of Parliament, any changes to the "sensitive" portions of the Constitution would now have to pass the Conference of Rulers, a body comprising the monarchs of the Malay states. At the same time, the Internal Security Act, which permits detention without trial, was also amended to stress "intercommunal harmony".

Despite the opposition of the DAP and PPP, the Alliance government passed the amendments, having maintained the necessary two-thirds Parliamentary majority. In Britain, the laws were condemned, with The Times of London stating they would "preserve as immutable the feudal system dominating Malay society" by "giving this archaic body of petty constitutional monarchs incredible blocking power"; the move was cast as hypocritical, given that Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak had spoken of "the full realisation that important matters must no longer be swept under the carpet..."

The Rukunegara, the de facto Malaysian pledge of allegiance, was another reaction to the riot. The pledge was introduced on August 31, 1970 as a way to foster unity among Malaysians.


The state of emergency that was declared shortly after the incident has never been lifted, an action that has been cited by academic lawyers as a reason for diminished civil rights in the country due to the legislative powers granted to the executive during a state of emergency.

Many political analysts attributed the Malay "crutch mentality" syndrome to have arisen from May 13, and a direct result of the affirmative NEP programme. This had resulted to abnormally large proportion of younger generation of Malays not being able to compete not only internationally but also nationally.

Political references

Malaysian politicians have often cited the May 13 incident when warning of the potential consequences of racial rhetoric, or as a bogeyman to blanket off discussion on any issues that challenge the status quo. In the 1990 general election and 1999 general election, May 13 was cited in Barisan Nasional campaign advertisements and in speeches by government politicians. Such usage of the incident in political discourse has been criticised; the Tunku stated: "For the PM (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) to repeat the story of the May 13 as a warning of what would have happened if the government had not taken appropriate action is like telling ghost stories to our children to prevent them from being naughty… The tale should not be repeated because it shows us to be politically immature…"

In 2004, during the UMNO general assembly Badruddin Amiruldin , the current deputy permanent chairman, waved a book on May 13 during his speech and stated "No other race has the right to question our privileges, our religion and our leader". He also stated that doing so would be similar to "stirring up a hornet's nest". The next day, Dr Pirdaus Ismail of the UMNO Youth was quoted as saying "Badruddin did not pose the question to all Chinese in the country ... Those who are with us, who hold the same understanding as we do, were not our target. In defending Malay rights, we direct our voice at those who question them." Deputy Internal Security Minister Noh Omar dismissed the remarks as a lesson in history and said that Badruddin was merely reminding the younger generation of the blot on the nation's history.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hollywood is upon us

Bruce Willis sues Petra, Tunku Imran as green venture turns sour

LOS ANGELES, Nov 21 — Hollywood actor Bruce Willis of “Die Hard” fame is suing Malaysia’s Petra Group and Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja’afar over a “green rubber venture”, Bloomberg news reported today.

The actor is demanding the return of US$900,000 (RM3.2 million) of the US$2 million he invested in the venture.

According to court papers filed in federal court in Los Angeles, California, Petra's chief executive Datuk Vinod B. Shekhar and Tunku Imran had induced him to invest in a company that was developing a non-toxic and recyclable rubber.

Willis had a put option, whereby for a specified period time he could get a full refund of his investment, according to the complaint. He exercised the option on March 17, Willis said, according to the Bloomberg report.

Willis said in his filing that he was told former US Vice-President Al Gore and actor Mel Gibson had also invested in the company, Elastomer Technologies Ltd.

"Despite the defendants' obligation to immediately refund Willis' investment in April 2008, the defendants continued to provide different specious excuses for the retaining of Willis' funds," the actor said in the complaint, quoted by the Bloomberg report.

Andrew Murray-Watson, a spokesman for Kuala Lumpur-based Petra, told Bloomberg in the report that Willis was due to be repaid the remaining US$900,000 in the next couple of weeks.

"We're very surprised Mr Willis is taking this action," Murray-Watson said in a phone interview.

According to an earlier Bloomberg report, Green Rubber Global Plc, named then as the Malaysian tyre-recycling group partly owned by actors Gibson and Willis, could sell shares in London by the year-end if the market condition improves.

The report said the company was looking to raise between US$20 million and US$50 million in a pre-IPO fund-raising.

Bloomberg reported that Green Rubber was expanding its existing plant in Kuala Lumpur and planned to lease a facility in China or scout for a partner in the north Asian nation.

It was also reported that the company is set to tie up with US rubber product manufacturer Apachi Mills, which supplies to retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The company is said to be able to make rubber compound through its recycling process at a cheaper cost than creating new compounds, saving costs and the environment.
Petra says Bruce Willis will be repaid 'in a few weeks'

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 - The Petra Group said today it is in the process of buying back Hollywood actor Bruce Willis's shares in a "green rubber" venture amounting to US$900,000 and is surprised at the "Die Hard" star's decision to sue them.

According to a report by Bloomberg news, Willis has filed a suit against Petra and Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja'afar demanding the return of the sum, which was part of US$2 million invested in the venture.

Petra spokesman Andrew Murray-Watson said in a statement issued in Kuala Lumpur today that it was Willis, reportedly a close friend of fellow Hollywood star Mel Gibson, who had contacted Datuk Vinod Sekhar and asked for a chance to invest in Green Rubber Global Plc.

This version of events contrasts with Willis's court filing in which he claimed that it was Sekhar and Tunku Imran whom induced him to invest in the company that was developing a non-toxic and recyclable rubber. Willis had a put option, whereby for a specified period time he could get a full refund of his investment, according to the complaint. He also claimed in his filing that he was told former US Vice-President Al Gore and actor Mel Gibson had also invested in the company.

However, Murray-Watson said today that Sekhar had only consented Willis investing because the latter was a friend of Gibson. "At the time Mr Willis made his investment, Datuk Sekhar agreed, as a gesture of goodwill, to buy back Mr Willis's shares at any point in the future," he said.

He said the company had, at the time Willis made his investment in 2007, been planning to seek a listing on the AIM market in London. Flotation plans were eventually put on hold due to soft market conditions.

Following the decision not to seek a public listing, Willis asked to sell his shares back, according to the Petra statement. To date, Petra claims it has already returned US$1.1 million of Willis's investment. "Mr Willis is aware that the balance will be repaid within the next few weeks," said Murray-Watson.

The company added that it has had a very successful year and claims to have signed a deal to supply its recycled compound to global footwear giant Timberland. In its statement Petra also included a statement from Gibson, identified as a significant investor in the company, who is quoted as saying he was more than happy with the investment.

"I am delighted with the company's progress and at the time I was in complete agreement with the Board in its decision not to seek a listing. In hindsight it has turned out to be absolutely the right decision," Gibson was quoted as saying in the Petra statement.

It has been reported that Green Rubber was expanding its existing plant in Kuala Lumpur and planned to lease a facility in China or scout for a partner in the north Asian nation. It was also reported that the company is set to tie up with US rubber product manufacturer Apachi Mills, which supplies to retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The company is said to be able to make rubber compound through its recycling process at a cheaper cost than creating new compounds, saving costs and the environment.

Friday, November 21, 2008

You ain't taking over yet

UMNO stubborn staying power
By Ioannis Gatsiounis in Asia Times

KUALA LUMPUR - The opposition coalition's unprecedented electoral gains in Malaysia’s general elections in March, and its leader Anwar Ibrahim’s vow to bring down the government through parliamentary defections have led many to believe that the days of the ruling United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) oppressive, race-based brand of politics are numbered.

Yet since its stinging electoral setback, where the party lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority but still won the most votes, UMNO has brazenly clung to its old political ways, banning activist groups, jailing dissenters, stoking ethno-nationalism, and failing to tackle corruption within its ranks. Critical websites and opposition politicians contend that UMNO is a senescent party, crumbling under the weight of its own arrogance and myopia.

But UMNO’s reform credentials are not the best indication of whether the long-ruling party can sustain its grip on power. In recent months UMNO has in fact been met with less resistance than one might expect from a nation that is supposedly going through a socio-political paradigm shift towards more democracy and government accountability.

Online media have become a resonant sounding board for the disgruntled and may sway voters at the next general election, as Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi publicly admitted it had to UMNO’s detriment this past March. But in reality calls to resistance have not moved much beyond the Internet, although at least one prominent and critical blogger, Jeff Ooi, was elected to office under an opposition banner.

More broadly, online dissent has not generated a formidable people movement like those seen in neighboring Indonesia and Thailand, which ultimately brought the seemingly indestructible Suharto and Thaksin Shinawatra governments to their knees. There is a growing sense that the typically apolitical public here has become self-satisfied after having voted against the ruling government in March - as if reform is a one-off affair.

This would put the job of reform primarily in the hands of Malaysia's tiny pre-existing activist community and the loose coalition of opposition parties known as Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Activist groups in Malaysia have had only limited success in checking official abuse over the years. And to date the PR has yet to put forth clear and comprehensive reform proposals to match its calls for greater plurality, democracy and competitiveness.

Even if it did, the opposition coalition still has a limited capacity to counter the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which through its parliamentary simple majority maintains the power to pass and preserve legislation. That sense of weakness was seen in Anwar's so far failed ambition to entice 30 parliamentarians to defect from the BN, which would have allowed him to form a new government. He had earlier vowed to deliver that takeover by September 16 and has since said he is "not in a terrible hurry" to topple the government.

Status quo defender

His takeover dreams may prove even harder to execute now that the embattled Abdullah has agreed to cede power to his deputy Najib Razak by March 2009. Najib recently earned the UMNO presidency uncontested, showing signs that he may have what it takes to unify the fractured party.

UMNO stalwarts may have also felt the need to unify due to fears that an opposition takeover would open the books on the party’s legacy of corruption. Despite low public support due to suspicions that he is a Machiavellian protector of the status quo and his alleged involvement in a number of scandals, most Malaysians have thus far grudgingly accepted Najib’s de facto appointment to the premiership.

Many Malaysians are under the impression that Najib couldn't possibly govern worse than Abdullah and that he might spur a new surge of economic development that would woo lost voters back into the BN fold. There is also a sense among the majority Malays that he is a staunch defender of the race, which could move them to look past some of the controversies that surround his character, including questions about his alleged association with the brutal murder of a Mongolian interpreter in 2006.

Others argue that race-based politics that favor ethnic Malays over minority Chinese and Indians have lost their past cachet, as it becomes clearer to a growing number of Malaysians the practice has stunted economic and social development. UMNO under Najib is likely to test that theory and the veteran politician would be wise to do so. Beneath Malaysians' calls for a more multiracial approach, racial resentments still run deep.

That is, UMNO's race-based approach may not be as moribund as some have supposed. And UMNO has historically played the race card effectively through its firm control of the media, judiciary and finances. To be sure, greater oppositional representation in parliament means that grip is being tested. But as the recent arrests under the Internal Security Act of an opposition politician, journalist and prominent oppositional blogger attest, UMNO-led Malaysia is still under repressive rule.

And it's a nation still very much split along racial lines - more so in fact than any time in recent memory, with ethnic Malays fearing how the multicultural approach now championed by Anwar's People's Justice Party will impact their livelihoods and the other races more loudly objecting to entrenched inequality.

The government's ban on the Hindu Rights Action Force in October was met with very little backlash from the opposition, even though the hardline activist group played a pivotal role in the opposition’s success among ethnic Indian voters in March. An UMNO representative, by contrast, walked away with a mere slap on the wrist after being quoted in the press calling Malaysia’s ethnic-Chinese community power hungry "squatters". See Sinophobia smolders in Malaysia [Oct 1].

UMNO's hunger to maintain power has led the party in recent months to other desperate measures, including, among other things, accusing Anwar of sodomizing one of his former aides. Such antics could cost the party, as many have predicted, or rather demonstrate that UMNO still has the power to get away with such heavy-handedness. Much will depend on whether the opposition and its supporters move past merely proclaiming and through actions demonstrate that the March elections signified an imminent socio-political power shift.

Ioannis Gatsiounis' book on the pivotal events before and following Malaysia's March elections, Beyond the Veneer, was recently published by Monsoon Books.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

They just love to collect them, that's all!

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 19, 2008) : Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak) named two companies allegedly connected to former International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (BN-Kuala Kangsar) which had been issued with Approved Permits (AP) but did not even have a showroom.

He said one of the companies Autostadt Sdn Bhd belonged to the husband of Rafidah's niece was also issued with franchise APs after the government decided to stop its issuance in 2005.

"After 2005, the then MITI secretary-general Tan Sri Sidek Hassan had approved the issue of franchise APs to Autostadt for the import of Volkswagen cars. He did it without the knowledge of the committee formed specifically for the purpose of issuing APs.

"What is more disturbing is that Autostadt to this day has no showroom or sales and service centre which is a condition for the issuance of such franchise AP," he said when seeking clarification from Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Jacob Dungau Sagan who was winding-up his ministry debate at the committee stage of Budget 2009 in the Dewan Rakyat today.

Azmin alleged that another company connected to Rafidah's relative, Amira Venture Sdn Bhd, had been issued open APs (to bring in any type of car) over two years.

Without giving the names of the company directors or saying how they were related to Rafidah, he said Amira Venture received 150 APs last year and 225 this year.

"How were they issued with APs? The issuance of APs must be done transparently and fairly. But companies related to ministers are making billions of money out of it," he said, adding the AP has become a "centre of cronyism" for those in power.

He said the APs were issued to a few people while the others have to buy it at about RM50,000 each.

He gave an example whereby 77 companies had been issued with 45,686 permits from 2004 to 2007 but they were not fairly distributed.

"On the average, all 77 should each receive 600 APs. If each AP was at RM50,000, each company would gain cash returns of RM30 million without having to take any risks. But that is not the case too.

"Some like Naza Konsortium Sdn Bhd were given 8,431 permits from 2004 to 2006. So, it would stand to make RM424 million without even having to bring in a single vehicle," Azmin added.
In reply, Jacob said he will respond to his claims in a written statement later.

He also told Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur) that the issue of APs by the government was in decline and gave the statistics for the last three years - 70,381 APs in 2005, 60,460 (2006), 50,304 (2007) and 44,168 (2008).

To a question from Datuk Ibrahim Ali (Ind-Pasir Mas), Jacob said the ministry was currently carrying out an audit on all the APs issued and would be able to give a clearer picture later.
Ibrahim asked whether the ministry would learn from Japan and South Korea which have a policy of not allowing the import of foreign cars to their countries to protect their automotive industry.

To a suggestion from Tony Pua (DAP-PJ Utara), Jacob said the ministry would consider tabling a white paper on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Parliament so that all MPs could understand the issue well.

Pua said at the moment MPs were debating about it without actually knowing the real issues discussed between Malaysia and the United States while Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi (BN-Batu Pahat) also said there should be a referendum on FTA.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The rug is not big enough

Citizen Nades - By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun

EVERY right-thinking Malaysian should applaud Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman. She has come out in the open and exposed the wrongdoings of people under her purview. She offers no protection for the wrongdoers. On the contrary, she has warned of serious consequences. She has asked the state-owned Pempena Sdn Bhd and its subsidiaries to assess their operations and consider if they should continue.
The minister’s outburst is understandable. Some of these companies operated as if there were no norms or rules to govern them. Some of the people running them considered the companies to be their own fiefdoms and their private bank, drawing monies through dubious means.

They ventured in businesses and deals that were sure losers from the start. Why in the world would a government-owned company get involved in businesses in which it neither has the expertise nor the experience?

Were feasibility studies done before millions of taxpayers’ money was pumped in? Did those who made the decisions ask themselves: Why do we want to get into such businesses when our core business is promoting tourism? Azalina was quoted by the NST as saying: "If they have cheated the government in any way, they will be severely dealt with." This can be no further than the truth. Two audit reports – one done internally and another by PriceWaterhouseCoopers – have revealed the intrigues, the manipulation of funds, fraud, deception and above all, a lack of common sense which a reasonable person is expected to do when he is entrusted with public money.

Instead of acting as people with business acumen, they acted as godfathers and Santa Clauses, dishing out money from a bottomless pit. There were no due diligence tests with supposed partners; there were no checks on current market rates, but what is more damning is their failure to take action to recover monies which is rightfully theirs.

For example, Pempena advanced RM300,000 to one Umi Hafilda (does the name ring a bell?) for a Amir Diab Live in Kuala Lumpur concert. The report says that "Pempena did not even sight the contract between the parties before issuing the cheque" and as expected, the concert did not take place.

The first question to ask is: Why is Pempena paying show promoters? The second question is: How does a concert help promote tourism? Perhaps, they took a leaf out of the Sport Ministry which paid RM17 million for the Champions Youth Cup tournament to "promote tourism" last year. We’ll leave that to rest, at least for the moment.

Back to Umi Hafilda. When the concert did not materialise, she issued three cheques to Pempena – all of them bounced – there was no money in her account. What did Pempena do? Sat with arms folded because those in the know were aware that she was an undischarged bankrupt, one of the report states.

But that’s not all. As Azalina points out, RM11 million went into the taxi business and she also asks: "We need to find out where all the money that was invested went to. The company has failed to pay the hire purchase loan for the taxi instalments."

Absolutely right! For that kind of money, working at a conservative cost of RM100,000, there should be 111 taxis – bought outright without a loan, but records show that all of them were bought via hire purchase. So, where did the money go?

What stands in an empty lot somewhere in the Klang Valley are taxis – repossessed by the bank for not servicing the loan – ready to be auctioned. It’s a standing monument of shame that has been brought on by the companies’ own doing. In the first place, why should it go into the taxi business and compete with commercial operators? It can be understandable if it created a niche market but in this case, it was competing with individuals and companies who had both the know-how and the experience.

That’s not all. The report states that Pempena bought one million shares at RM1 each in a company called SD Corp Sdn Bhd, which had forecast a turnover of RM8 million and a profit of RM100,000 for the first year. But the company ran up a loss of RM2 million. To add insult to injury, Pempena paid RM2.1 million for the shares but the share certificates had yet to be delivered as of July 31.

But more shocking are the claims that minutes of meetings of the board of directors of Pempena had been changed by hidden hands. The internal audit confirms this by saying: "The amendments of the minutes are a serious offence as it involves the appointment of contractors without going through the proper process. No action was taken against those responsible for changing the minutes although it was brought to the attention of the management."

These are some of the startling revelations made by the auditors. The report is a catalogue of shame and it exposes the looting of people’s money carried by a few officials using tourism as a front. It outlines the methodologies used to fraudulently siphon public money into the pockets of individuals. Besides, it highlights payment of monies to people without going through the proper checks. The sad part is that some of these monies cannot be re-couped – some of the recipients are either bankrupt or have been blacklisted by Bank Negara.

No one will disagree with Azalina. She is doing the right thing by exposing the scam committed by people entrusted with public money. They should go to jail for cheating the people. But the inevitable question is: Will the law be allowed to take its course? For that to happen, an official complaint must be made to the police, not the Anti-Corruption Agency because there are no elements of graft – they are simple cases of fraud. But even if a police report is made, will action be taken or will these perpetrators and cheats have some "godfathers" protecting them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh mama, we had a Obama

Note to A Malaysian Obama
by M. Bakri Musa

On Tuesday November 4th, 2008, America became, in the words of comedian Jon Stewart, more of a “show” nation and less of a “tell” one. In electing Barack Obama, America shows the world that it is now closer to being that “more perfect Union,” to quote the preamble to its constitution. Nations are like people; it matters not where you have been, more important is where you are headed.

In his victory speech Obama cited 106-year old Ann Dixon Cooper from the South who recalls only too well the time when women and blacks were not allowed to vote. The fate of blacks was worse. In his stirring speech Obama challenged Americans to imagine their nation a century hence; what his young daughters would experience should they be lucky enough to live as long as Ms. Cooper. Would they too see comparable progress as that witnessed by her?

Obama’s victory captured the world’s imagination, especially in Kenya where his father was born, and also in Malaysia, but for a far different reason. I had intimation of this when on meeting Malaysian students in New York the weekend before the elections I was asked whether Malaysia is ready for her own Barack Obama. Before replying, I countered with a question of my own: Is there a Malaysian Obama, or more specifically, is Malaysia capable of producing one?

Labeling Barack Obama

Obama is the product of a white mother and a black father. To be sure, they were no ordinary parents; both had PhDs, with his father’s from Harvard. Obama however was brought up for the most part by his maternal grandparents, a solid Middle America couple from Kansas.

In achievements, Barack followed the trajectory more typical of an ambitious white middle class family: exclusive “prep” school and an Ivy League education. While Obama could throw a mean basketball hoop, his climb to the top was through academics, not athletics or music. Stated differently, Obama’s path to success hews closer to a Kennedy than a Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Obama adopted the faith of his mother and grandparents, not of his Muslim father or stepfather, which is a minority albeit a fast-growing faith in America.

In his speeches, from the imageries and metaphors he uses down to his accent and delivery, Obama is more Jack Kennedy than Jesse Jackson, more Cambridge, Massachusetts than Southside Chicago. Obama’s favorite expression is, “My fellow Americans!” not, “Yo! Brother!” Obama favors conservative dark suits and well trimmed look, not brash-colored Afro suits and daring hairdo.

Culturally at least, Obama is more white than black. Indeed, during the early part of his political campaign, he had to fight hard the widely-held perception in the black community that he “ain’t black enough.”

Yet to the dominant American society, Obama is labeled black, not white. The reason is obvious; he carries the physical features of a black, including or especially his skin color. During the intense campaign there were concerted efforts to paint him as being “not one of us.” This would have happened even if he were a conservative with a waspish name like Alan Lee Keyes and not a foreign one like Barack Hussein Obama.

In particular, Obama had to constantly deny that he was a Muslim. It is doubtful that Obama would have secured his party’s nomination, let alone the election, had he been a Muslim. This does not mean that America is anti-Muslim rather that it is not quite yet ready to accept someone from a minority faith to be in the White House. A generation ago America had difficulty digesting the fact that a Catholic would be president. This recent election season also saw during the Republican primaries misgivings about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

The path to “a more perfect Union,” while steady, is slow.

Contrast that to Malaysia. There are many children of Malay-Caucasian as well as Malay-Chinese and Malay-Indian marriages exhibiting very “un-Malay” features. Yet Malay culture has been very welcoming of them, unhesitatingly embracing them as Malays. This is not a recent phenomenon. I had many childhood friends and classmates who had distinctly Chinese or Indian appearances because of adoption or mixed marriages, yet they were all considered and treated as Malays.

Why the children of mixed marriages between a member of the majority and a minority are not regarded as the majority in America, but they are in Malaysia, is an observation worth pondering. I am certain this is related to an underlying obsession with “racial purity.”

On this point, as a Malay I am heartened that my culture is very welcoming of those who are adopted, from mixed marriages, and do not look like us, whatever that presumed “Malay appearance” might be. We are, thankfully, not consumed with maintaining our “purity.”

My view is that Malaysia already has her Barack Obama in the person of Mahathir Muhamad. We do not recognize him as such because unlike in America where its Obama is considered a member of the minority, Malaysia’s majority Malays warmly and quickly embrace their Obama as one of their own. Nor is Mahathir alone; earlier leaders like Datuk Onn and Tunku Abdul Rahman also had mixed ancestry.

By biological heritage, Obama has equal claim to being black or white. Yet because of his unalterable physical characteristics Obama is labeled black. Even if Obama were to resort to the miracles of plastic surgery, skin-whitening cream, and hair coloring and straightening a la Michael Jackson, which Obama does not, he would still be labeled black.

For contrast, examine the group portrait of UMNO Supreme Council members. If they were to dispense with their songkok and Baju Melayu and instead put on modern attire, some of them could easily be mistaken as delegates from MCA or MIC, that is, until they open their big mouth and chant their chauvinistic slogan of Ketuanan Melayu!

Malaysian Obama Wannabe

Malaysians do not recognize their Obamas because they have adopted and are comfortable with the cultural values of the majority; they consider themselves and are being treated as a member of that majority.

Our Malaysian Obamas are comfortable with and have successfully adopted the dominant culture. They are fluent in Malay, not the language of their forefathers, just like Obama cannot speak a word of Swahili, or whatever language his late father used in Kenya.

The heroes Obama invokes are Jefferson and Lincoln, not some Mau Mau chief or Zulu King. Likewise, a Malaysian Obama wannabe must invoke local heroes, not Churchill, Nehru, or Mao. Similarly, just as Obama has a fondness for conservative business suits and not colorful Kenyan robes, his Malaysian wannabe must not only be comfortable in songkok and batik, but must also look good in them. You will not endear yourself to the majority (which is the first step to earning their votes) if you balk at wearing the songkok when in the palace to pay homage to the King or Sultan, or entering their place of worship wearing a short skirt and dispensing with a headscarf.

Clearly Malaysia is not only ready for a Barack Obama, it has already produced many. However, if we dispense with the racial label and ask the more substantive question of whether Malaysia could produce a future leader the caliber and transforming character of Barack Obama, then the answer is more complex and problematic.

Obama captures the imagination of Americans with his brilliance, eloquence, and charisma. He appeals to their finer instincts; he brings Americans together, transcending class, region, and most of all, race.

Despite all that it is well to be reminded that Obama would not have secured his party’s nomination if the Democratic Party had adopted the procedures of the Republican Party, with its winner-takes-all rules. Had the Democrats done that, Hilary Clinton would have been their nominee, not Obama.

For another, Obama owes his meteoric rise in the Democratic Party to many senior party leaders, in particular his fellow senator and himself a former presidential candidate, John Kerry. It was Kerry who spotlighted Obama by giving him a slot to address the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that catapulted Obama to the national scene.

Obama followed that with his stirring all-American success story in his bestselling autobiographies, Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

I am certain that Allah in His justness has also blessed Malaysia with individuals with the leadership talent and charisma of Obama. Whether they would be nurtured by our institutions would be the biggest challenge. Our schools and universities would more than likely stunt their development.

Even if such individuals were lucky enough to escape the local system by attending international schools in Malaysia and then proceeding to great universities abroad, there is little reason to expect that they would be welcome back home. More than likely such scarce talents would have been seduced by the more lucrative and challenging opportunities abroad. Even if they were to return home they would have been tempted by the more rewarding careers in the private sector.

This problem is not unique to Malaysia but also plagues the developing world. It also afflicts economically “First World” but culturally and politically “Third World” countries like Singapore.

Even if our brilliant young Malaysian Obama could fend off those temptations and opt for a career in politics, his path would not be fast or clear. For one, he would have difficulty being accepted by the local party branch as those insecure village leaders would be wary of new challengers. Even if he were to be accepted, there would not be a Kerry-like senior figure to grease the path. Malaysian leaders promote only their kith and kind, not some unknown talent no matter how promising.

Lastly, the political structure and hierarchy in Malaysia do not lend themselves to such rapid renewals of leadership. The pattern is akin to the landing slots at major airports, with the third or fourth tier leaders all dutifully lining up taking their turns. If perchance one proves later to be a dud, it matters not; his or her turn is coming up anyway.

There is indeed a Malaysian Obama out there, but nobody cares or would bother to find or nurture him. That unfortunately is a loss for him, but more so for the nation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

As crude as it gets

This is a stage by stage account of the strategy during the Permatang Pauh parliamentry by-election on a single incident which the opposition party PKR uses to thwart the ruling party UMNO's dirty tricks. This was posted by a new unknown blogger "The Pink Panther" and extracted from Malaysia Today website.
Only the good die young
By: The Pink Panther

Ariff Shah anticipated he would win the Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election by at least 5,000 votes. Anwar Ibrahim’s camp, in turn, was confident they would win, but probably by 10,000 votes or so. This would mean Anwar’s win would be lower than Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s 13,000-vote majority in the 8 March 2008 general election.

This would be a disaster. Anwar must win by a majority higher than Wan Azizah’s. And a plan was required to achieve this. They needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. And the plan was like a plot from a spy story and executed with military precision to boot.

An operations centre was set up in a hotel about half an hour from the heart of the Permatang Pauh election campaign. The purpose was to poll the voters’ sentiments, in particular the Malay voters who made up the majority of the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency. What were the issues troubling the voters? What was foremost in their minds?

The thing needling the Malay voters in Permatang Pauh was as to why Anwar did not also swear on the Quran in a mosque that he did not sodomise Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Saiful had done the so and swore than Anwar did sodomise him. Why won’t Anwar do the same and swear that he did not?

The simple-minded Malay voters did not seem to realise that such a ritual is not part of Islamic teachings. One does not use the Quran and God to gain political mileage. Furthermore, if Anwar were to do so smack in the middle of an election campaign, it would be interpreted even more that Anwar is doing so merely to gain more votes. That move could backfire badly and could in fact result in some lost voters rather than help gain more.

Instead of aping Saiful, Anwar had to discredit what the young man had done and prove to the voters that the oath was all a farce and of no substance. And to do that they needed the very imam who had taken Saiful’s oath to confirm so.

Contact was made with the imam, Ramlang Porigi, who was in Kuala Lumpur. The imam was suffering bouts of guilt conscience and he was troubled by the whole episode. He was an unwitting participant in what he considered a character assassination exercise. He did not know at the time they summoned him to the mosque what it was all about. He was appalled when he discovered what they were up to but he was trapped and could not get out of it. How now to rectify the injustice done to Anwar?

The imam was pleased when contact was finally made. Yes he would be very happy to spill the beans and inform the public how they set up the so-called oath-taking ceremony and the flaws in the whole exercise. And he was prepared to take centre-stage and reveal the truth.

Imam Ramlang was scheduled to make an appearance two days before polling day, the most crucial period in the by-election campaign when Umno would go all out in the dash to the finishing line. His family was spirited to safety and Ramlang went underground. Two days before the election they brought him up to Penang in a convoy of cars and superbikes that would spring into action and whisk him away in the event they set up roadblocks and attempt to detain the imam.

The convoy arrived in Penang at 5.00pm without incident. Ramlang was scheduled to make his first appearance at 7.00pm to address a mosque congregation. And when he did, the women in the congregation were reduced to tears and the men surged forward to hug him and shake his hand.

The exercise was a success.

Ramlang was to make his next appearance at a massive rally later that night. All the top opposition leaders plus Anwar himself would be addressing a crowd of 30,000. That would be when Anwar would garner an additional 5,000 votes and secure a majority exceeding his wife’s in the 8 March 2008 general election.

Two imams dressed in robes and turbans were brought to the rally escorted by a full complement of security personnel. They were merely decoys. The crowd surged forward, Special Branch officers amongst them. They strained their necks in trying to get a look at the imams who coolly took their time to stroll through the crowd. Everyone was trying to figure out which of the two imams was Ramlang. Ramlang, meanwhile, was smuggled in through the back, dressed in a tracksuit. Before they realised it Ramlang was on stage addressing the crowd.

As soon as he finished they whisked him away and sent him into hiding. Around midnight word got out that the order from Kuala Lumpur had been given to detain Ramlang. The security boys bundled him into a car and smuggled him out of Penang. The Special Branch scoured the whole of Penang looking for the imam to no avail. Ramlang was safely housed in the neighbouring state far from the long arms of the men in blue from Bukit Aman. His family too had by then disappeared and the Special Branch did not know where to find them.

Security was beefed up when Ramlang made his next appearance on the eve of the by-election. They badly wanted to get their hands on him but not even a fly could penetrate the wall of security men. The Special Branch stood by helplessly as Ramlang spoke at ceramah after ceramah to set the record straight on what happened in the Federal Territory mosque the day Saiful swore on the Quran that Anwar had sodomised him.

Anwar won the Permatang Pauh by-election with a majority higher than the general election just months before that. Ramlang went back to Kuala Lumpur to lead his normal life again, if that was now possible in the aftermath of Anwar’s impressive win that to a large extent could be credited to what the imam revealed to the Permatang Pauh voters.

The government did not dare sack Ramlang. But they did put him in cold storage. A few days ago, when they thought that all had by now calmed down and people had forgotten the whole episode, they sent the imam a show cause letter with a view to terminate his services.

Ramlang has been given two week to justify why he should not be sacked from his government job. He had cost Umno the Permatang Pauh by-election. Anwar won with a higher majority than expected because the imam had revealed the truth. Revealing the truth is not something that a God-fearing imam should do. A good imam is supposed to serve the government, not serve God.

Ramlang does not want to resign even though he is being pressured to do so. If they want him out then they can sack him. He will accept that fate if that is what God has in store for him. All he did was to tell the truth. All he did was to reveal what really happened, which is opposite to what the government-controlled TV stations are saying. He fears God more than he fears men, as what all God-fearing imams should do.

The government’s move to sack Imam Ramlang Porigi will just make matters worse for Umno. Instead of redeeming itself Umno will just incur the wrath of the people. God-fearing men who tell the truth are punished. Scoundrels are rewarded. That is the message Umno will send to the people.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No more Mr Nice guy

Arrests raise fears of return to bad old days

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 - A spate of arrests of government critics in recent weeks - including that of a prominent Chinese opposition leader as he entered a state assembly - has sparked fears of a return to the hardline policies that were suspended after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took power in 2004.

Abdullah is retiring and handing over to his deputy, Najib Razak, in March. Critics say the leadership change signals the return of hardliners such as former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and is the real reason behind the crackdown.

"We fear with Abdullah's departure and the return of hardliners like Dr Mahathir to prominence, political repression is back on a scale not seen in the last five years," said opposition lawmaker M. Kulasegaran. "The recent spate of arrests is just the beginning."

On Tuesday in parliament, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim described Najib as a dictator like Dr Mahathir, who would not tolerate dissent and would use security powers to crack down on the political opposition.

On Sunday, police with batons charged a group of lawyers, opposition lawmakers and writers who were holding a candle-light vigil for victims of detention without trial. More than 25 of the protesters were arrested, held overnight and questioned.

Lawyers acting for the protesters said the 25 were likely to be charged next week with taking part in an illegal assembly, a serious charge in Malaysia that is punishable by one year in jail. Any gathering of five or more people requires a police permit, which is often refused, forcing dissenters to risk arrest if they continue to protest.

Lawmakers involved in the vigil would be disqualified if they are found guilty.

Yesterday morning, police summoned four leaders of a Hindu protest movement for questioning. Two of the four were opposition lawmakers. They are also expected to be charged next week for being members of an illegal and unregistered organisation, one of their lawyers said.

"The trend now to use harsh force against normal people that was tolerated before is truly alarming," said Ragunath Kesavan, deputy chairman of the Malaysian Bar Council. "Police even question lawyers who made statements in court while defending their clients. This situation is stifling and unacceptable."

Last month, a journalist, a blogger and an opposition lawmaker were arrested and held without trial. They were released after a public outcry.

The arrest on Wednesday of the prominent Chinese opposition leader has shocked the country. Police arrested Ronnie Liu as he entered the Selangor state assembly to take part in legislative proceedings.

Liu was questioned at a police station and released on bail three hours later. He is to be charged on Monday with obstructing government officials closing down a massage parlour in November last year.

"The arrest and charge are politically motivated," Liu said. "They seem to be dredging up any excuses to nail us. I see a pattern of persecution in this."

Liu is a state exco member and a prominent spokesman for equal rights. He has been perceived as a thorn in the side of authority since the March 8 general election that brought the opposition into power in five states.

But Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said police were free to act against any person breaking the law.

"It is a simple law-and-order issue, and everyone must respect the law," he said.

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat said a big gap existed between people who understood they had rights and those in power who remained trapped in an authoritarian mindset.

"People are more savvy, technologically sophisticated and aware of their rights," said Wong, a Monash University academic. "The people have evolved and matured, but the police haven't."

He said public protests would increase because people are fundamentally dissatisfied with issues of governance, accountability and the authoritarian manner by which the country is managed.

"Protests would lessen if these core issues are resolved," he said. - South China Morning Post

Saturday, November 15, 2008

1,000,053 came, who are they?

On this day, after a hearty dinner with my family, I log in to discovered that my blog's visit have hit the millionth mark. No celebration or fanfare here, my dear. Just who are these people who look into my thoughts and writings (majority are copy and paste, I have to admit in guilt). They could have zoom past me without a second look or spent a tiring effort to read some of the posting.

Nevertheless, I am here and will be here for a long time. Taking you or anyone further into the realm of cyber freedom and expression. Hopefully, one day, I will at least shake one of those hands who clicked on me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Are we there yet?

The Malaysian Obama

By Wong Chin Huat, The Nut Graph
Wednesday, 12 November 2008 22:37

COMMENTING on Barack Obama's presidential victory, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi assured Malaysians that anyone can become prime minister of the country. But one wonders if anyone actually believes him.

Just two time-zone-adjusted days before Obama's election, the New Straits Times's Syed Nadzri reminded us that our sixth, seventh and eighth prime ministers could incidentally be the sons of the second, third and fourth prime ministers, respectively. You can't rule out that possibility if Umno wins the 13th general election.

In other words, in an Umno-ruled Malaysia, there is not even a question of whether any non-Umno Malay Malaysian could have the chance of becoming prime minister. And for now just forget about non-Malay Malaysians, the functional equivalent of African Americans.

The question now is, can any Umno member whose father, father-in-law or uncle was not prime minister become the premier?

Legal and non-legal obstacles

Is there any obstacle in the country's or the party's constitution that bars a non-prime minister's son from becoming prime minister? Of course not.

Similarly, the question of whether we can have a non-Malay Malaysian prime minister is not a legal but political one.

As we all learned after 8 March, the legal obstacle on ethno-religious grounds does occur for the office of menteri besar in the Malay states. One can therefore see the federation as a more inclusive entity than some of the Malay states.

The political obstacles can be analysed from three dimensions: the executive electoral system, the extra-constitutional challenge, and the social cleavage.

First obstacle: Indirect election

Some think it is easier for an ethnic minority candidate to win the office of chief executive in a presidential system, like in the US. It would be more difficult in a parliamentary system, like in the UK and Malaysia.

For example, UK Equality and Human Rights Commission Chairperson Trevor Phillips made an interesting observation about what Obama's chances would be like in the UK. Apparently, someone as brilliant as Obama would be unlikely to "break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour Party."

By constitutional logic, a presidential system maximises separation of powers by having separate elections for the chief executive (president) and the legislators (senators, representatives). Technically, a presidential candidate only needs a slight majority — in some cases a mere plurality — to win the election. If the candidate first needs to win the nomination from a major party, then he or she would similarly need only a slight majority from party members or delegates.

Assuming a two-party system, as with the US and some Latin American presidential democracies, the support needed from the electorate for a candidate's entry to the highest office can be as low as 25%.

Obama won only 48.1% of the popular vote in the Democratic primary, which translated into 53.6% of the delegates' vote. He went on to win 52.5% of the popular vote, which translated into 67.7% of the electoral college vote.
And Obama was not the first ethnic minority who has ever won an executive presidential office. Ethnic Japanese Alberto Fujimori won the Peruvian presidential elections in 1990, and ethnic Hungarian Nicolas Sarkozy assumed the French presidency in 2007. France is a semi-presidential system, but the above logic still applies.

In contrast, a candidate would need to first win a parliamentary constituency and then win the support of fellow parliamentarians before becoming prime minister in a parliamentary democracy.

In a parliamentary system, it does not matter whether the party leader's position is formally elected by members, delegates or parliamentarians. Take this first scenario: a prime minister needs the support of parliamentary colleagues to form a cabinet and can be toppled by a no-confidence vote. And then take this second scenario: a president can appoint anyone to his or her cabinet and is not so easily impeached by Congress. Clearly, the prime minister needs more collegial support compared with the president to strengthen his or her position.

Hence, if there is institutional racism amongst the party elites, it would be harder for a capable ethnic-minority politician to move upward in a parliamentary system. Because of this, an ethnic minority prime minister like India's Manmohan Singh should have raised more eyebrows than Obama, at least for citizens of Asian and Commonwealth countries.

Mind you, based on the size of its population, India is the world's largest democracy. The US is only the most powerful one. And India's ethnic problems are certainly no less complex than those the US confronts.

Just 22 years ago, one of India's most powerful prime ministers, Indira Gandhi, was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards after her bloody crackdown on Sikh militants. (Gandhi's daughter-in-law still controls the ruling Congress Party.) In 2004, however, the Congress Party had no qualms in appointing a Sikh to run the country. Neither did the largest opposition party, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), protest that the Congress Party had sold out the Hindus.

Now, if an African American had assassinated a US president in the past, could Obama have stood a chance to win the election? During the recent presidential campaign, Obama was already troubled by the "radical" views of his black pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Second obstacle: The extra-constitutional challenge

Elections are but a part of the bigger picture. You may get elected to the highest office but you may not last long. For Obama, the threat of assassination is real. But he does not need to worry about a hostile police force or civil service sabotaging his administration. He need not even worry about a coup by a hostile military — the most integrated institution in the US, as a matter of fact.

Fiji's first ever ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was not so lucky. His Fijian Labour Party won 37 seats in the 71-seat parliament in 1999 and led a multiethnic cabinet, with 11 out of 18 ministers being ethnic Fijians. However, his government was overthrown in a coup led by a corrupt, bankrupt businessperson proclaiming to champion ethnic Fijians, who was later supported by a faction of the military.

The sustainable presence of an ethnic-minority chief executive therefore hinges on the de-ethnicisation of unelected institutions such as the military, police force and civil service. If vital institutions like the military see themselves as ethnic champions, no Obama can rule well whether the system is presidential or parliamentary.

Third obstacle: Social cleavages

However, whether an ethnic-minority politician can win office and survive depends much on how social cleavages translate into party competition.

If either the Republicans or the Democrats saw themselves as exclusive representatives of the whites, it is unlikely the election campaign could have been fought with such limited ethnic messaging.

And back to India — what has prevented Congress or BJP politicians from making a big fuss over Manmohan's faith?

The answer may lie in the founding ideals of the US and India — their "social contract" if you like.

While many of the US founding leaders were slave-owners, their Declaration of Independence states: "[A]ll men are created equal"(though not all persons), instead of "All white men are created equal."

India was similarly intended to be a multiethnic and secular state, not a Hindu equivalent of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In other words, citizenship in America and India is based on equality and inclusiveness. The seeds of Obama's and Manmohan's rise were planted therefore in the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru.

In this sense, whether Malaysia can have an Obama, or more relevantly a Manmohan, is a false topic for debate. Let's talk about equal opportunities in citizenship first before the equal opportunity for premiership. After all, if we are all treated equally as citizens, does it matter what our prime minister's skin colour or faith is?