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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

System Flawed, Citizen Loss

Yang Jia (born 27 August 1980 – 26 November 2008) was a Chinese citizen executed for murdering six Shanghai police officers with a knife.

Yang received international media attention for the public sympathy accorded to him in China, where, according to exiled writer Ma Jian, Yang has become "a sort of national hero."


Yang, a jobless 28-year old Beijing resident described as a loner was reported to have been arrested and interrogated by the Shanghai police in October 2007 for riding an unlicensed bicycle. According to his later testimony in court, he was insulted during the interrogation and beaten after being brought back to the station, leaving bruises on his arms and back. He then sued the police for maltreatment, to no avail.


According to Chinese authorities and media, Yang Jia ignited eight petrol bombs at the front gate of the police headquarters in Zhabei, a Shanghai suburb, at about 9:40 a.m., July 1, 2008 – the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. He then stabbed security guard Gu Jianming, who tried to stop Yang, with a knife. Subsequently, Yang charged into the building and randomly stabbed nine unarmed police officers, four in the lobby and duty room and five more while making his way up to the 21st floor, before police managed to subdue him.

Six policemen suffered stab-wounds in their lungs, livers and necks and bled to death. Besides the knife and the molotov cocktails Yang carried with him a hammer, a dust mask and tear-gas spray.

Trial and execution

Yang's trial was delayed on account of the 2008 Summer Olympics. On 27 August 2008, Yang was tried behind closed doors in a one-hour trial at the Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court. Four days later, the official news agency Xinhua announced that he had been found guilty of premeditated murder and received a death sentence, as had previously been expected.

The death verdict against Yang was confirmed in an appeal trial, also conducted behind closed doors, on 20 October 2008. The appeals court concluded that Yang was of sound mind.

On 21 November 2008, the Supreme People's Court of China confirmed the death verdict. Yang was executed by lethal injection on 26 November 2008.

Media coverage and public opinion in China

Yang initially benefited from unusually sympathetic coverage in the state-controlled Chinese press. The Beijing News pointed out that Yang's appointed lawyer, Xie Youming, might have had a conflict of interest as he is also a legal adviser for the city district that oversees the police station at issue. Southern Weekend published a long, sympathetic front-page story, while other Chinese papers hinted that Yang was wronged and demanded a fair trial. In the week leading up to the trial, though, the Shanghai media fell silent on the case and Chinese authorities increased efforts to censor Chinese internet coverage on the subject.

While there was initial public anger at the killings, Western media noted that discourse on Chinese internet forums and blogs soon became largely sympathetic to Yang, with many expressing suspicions that Yang might not receive a fair trial and that the police might want to cover up wrongdoings of their own. The Daily Telegraph quoted one Chinese blogger as praising Yang's "strong sense of the law" and another comparing him to Wu Song, a hero in Chinese literature. A message left on Yang's MySpace account was reported to have read: "You have done what most people want to do, but do not have enough courage to do."

On 13 October 2008, a public protest in support of Yang occurred outside the Shanghai court in which Yang's appeal was heard. According to Agence France-Presse, about a dozen protesters wearing T-shirts with Yang's face showed up and were arrested by police. The Epoch Times, a newspaper critical of the Chinese government, reported that over 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, many shouting anti-government slogans, and that about 40 were arrested.

After his execution, Internet tributes to Yang continued to be posted in China. Agence France-Presse reported that very few Internet users expressed the opinion that Yang deserved his fate, reproducing the following contribution by a Chinese forum user as typical of many: "When you hold a knife up to the police, it's doomed to end this way. But Chinese history will remember Yang Jia's name forever."

US 2008 Human Right report

The U.S. Department of State's 2008 Human Right report mentioned Yang Jia:

On November 26, Yang Jia, who was accused of killing six Shanghai police officers on July 1, was executed following a decision by the Shanghai High Court to uphold his conviction. Yang's case included serious irregularities at trial, and the appellate court deprived him an opportunity to be examined for mental illness despite a request by Yang's new attorney to allow it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Be Afraid...Of The Police

PDRM: A tale of the tail wagging the dog
By Tunku Aziz Malaysian Insider 25 May 2009

MAY 25 — The only reasonable conclusion I can draw as a reasonable man from the PDRM raid on the DAP headquarters last Saturday evening is that the police leadership need their heads examined for signs of mental degeneration.

It was Euripides (480–406 BC) the Greek playwright who said, “Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.” Police behaviour in recent times has convinced me more than ever that there is something rotten in the state of our country, with apologies to William Shakespeare.

The beleaguered police, as far as we are concerned, are in moral retreat. It beggars the imagination that with all the relentless assault on their reputation, they do not seem to care one iota about public opinion.

This is frightening self-indulgence. To be deaf to public strictures is really a symptom of a deep malaise associated with a diseased culture of impunity that has brutalised the police psyche.

For the guardians of the law to show nothing but utter contempt, disregard and disdain for the legitimate concerns about their actions, often bordering on the criminal, is indeed a serious breach of stewardship and public trust, the antithesis of ethical policing in a democratic society.

I plead guilty to being one of the harshest critics of the police. I am hard on them because I so desperately want them to succeed. At the same time, I can claim to be their admirer when they not only operate within the law, but, more to the point, when they are seen to be both law-abiding and respectful of the rights of every individual under the law.

I want a police service that is among the best that I can be proud of, and not “the best police force in the world that money can buy.”

As a keen observer of the police in action, I can say without fear of contradiction that the standards of policing took a dramatic fall from grace when the greatest-ever Malaysian IGP, Tun Hanif Omar, stepped down.

Hanif was not only a thoroughly competent officer but an ethical one, and, therefore, was able to withstand political pressure, even from Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of the day whose meddling ways were directly responsible for the dismemberment of many of the country’s most important institutions.

Hanif could stand up to the bully because of his strong personal values: he offered to resign on at least two occasions. His letters of resignation were turned down. As with all bullies, you cannot back down or they will climb on your head.

Sadly, subsequent IGPs, with the exception of Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar, have, by common consent, been a great disappointment and a disgrace to the uniform.

I have, in keeping with the times, been referring to PDRM as a police service in previous speeches and writings in order to help soften its image. On reflection, I may have been a trifle premature because PDRM is obviously not yet ready to be accorded that designation: it still has a lot of house cleaning to do before it can join the ranks of the police in other parts of the civilized world where accountability is the foundation of ethical policing.

PDRM must perforce remain a police force that carries with it all the unsavoury connotations of an organisation that has lost its way. With proper leadership, and the necessary political will, PDRM can still find salvation.

It is a great pity because there are thousands upon thousands of honest to goodness people whom we admire, trying very hard to do an honest day’s work to serve the nation, and we salute them for their courage, loyalty and devotion to duty. They are, however, badly officered which leads me to my favourite conclusion that there are no bad policemen and women, only bad officers.

The rot started when ethically deficient, unprofessional officers allowed, without a murmur, the politicisation of the force by Mahathir who used it as a handy tool to manipulate the system in order to advance his own political ambitions.

Brickfields OCPD Wan Bari Wan Abdul Khalid barking at Legal Aid Bureau lawyers who came to the aid of those arrested for "illegal assembly"

In return, many people believed, rightly or wrongly, that senior officers were given protection against possible prosecution for corruption. A very senior ACA officer, himself not above a bit on the side, now mercifully, in comfortable, contented retirement, claimed in private that he could have put at least 20 corrupt top police officers behind bars without too much trouble, but could not for reasons best known to himself.

As long as we allow the police to dictate terms to us, in particular over the implementation of the IPCMC (Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission), the highlight of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation & Management of the Royal Malaysia Police’s report, we will always be subject to police excesses.

It is a sad commentary that both Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak have seen nothing wrong with the police insubordination of threatening dire repercussions if this important recommendation for the good of both the citizens and the police in a new, open society is “forced” upon them.

The police, many feel, have got too big for their boots. Has the “People’s Prime Minister” the interests of the people at heart? Given the state of affairs in our country today, may we humbly urge Najib to keep the police on a short leash, and not allow the tail to wag the dog.

Tunku Aziz, one of the prime movers in setting up Transparency International Malaysia, in happier times was regarded by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi as "one man (who) was able to harness his personal passion and deep commitment to the values of ethics and integrity, give it a larger purpose and meaning, and turn it into a force to transform society for the better." Why then was he left out of the MACC Advisory Group? He is regarded as being too outspoken for comfort and, therefore, difficult to handle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yes, I did. No, In Any Which Way You Can

The Art of Rhetoric
By Art Harun

I would like to believe that I am well trained in the art of rhetoric. It is a case of "syiok sendiri", of course. But then again, if I am not even able to be "syiok" about myself, how would others be "syiok" with me? And today, in the spirit of "syioksendiri-ism", may I bore all of you with my thoughts on this subject.

It is common knowledge that some of our Ministers - and members of Cabinet - are quite intellectually challenged. This is obvious from the various statements which they make in public. Zahid Hamidi's "we must respect their culture" - when he was trying to deflect the embarrassment caused to the BN, and himself, caused by the Chinese sexy concert - was but one example of an absolute failure of the brain to take control of the tongue.

Further back in time, Nazri Aziz's "he called me because I am his Minister" - uttered while attempting to explain why the Lord President called him to issue a denial respecting the Linggam tape - was a shining example of a lack of appreciation of how the legal system worked.

Mahathir Mohammad is a champion when it comes to rhetoric. After his retirement, he is fond of laying the blame for everything which has gone wrong on everybody but himself. "I did not sack Tun Salleh, the tribunal did", said him. Of course, he forgot that he was the one who established the tribunal. "I did not put Anwar in jail, the Court found him guilty and put him in jail". Yes, yes, haven't we all heard of that too. "I did not destroy UMNO, Abdullah did". "I did not this, you did".

What these esteemed intellectuals failed to realise, and appreciate, is the fact that their audience are not at all stupid. Their audience are not some 3 year-olds with phlegm running down their nose holding a half sucked lollipops standing still with mouth wide opened in awe of them and their speeches. In fact, it is quite stupid of them to think that we are.

The ability to project oneself to an audience is a must if one were to aspire to be a good politician and consequently, a good leader. What more if one is a Minister. Even more if one is a Foreign Minister.

Anifah Aman's obsession with the Altantuya murder and Anwar Ibrahim's moral standing in the USA was astounding, by any standard. It is taken right out of the book of diplomacy, namely, from the first paragraph of the Chapter titled, "What Not To Do". It was totally unprovoked, irrelevant and too insignificant, especially when viewed from the perspective of the State Secretary, "Her Excellency" Hillary Clinton. In fact, for our Foreign Minister to address her as such, is a protocol disaster for Malaysia.

I hate to wonder what Americans and other civilised nations think of us. And to think about a headline on the Star proclaiming that "America wants to learn from us" - when in fact what was said was "we (America) must learn from each other (in dealing with the economic meltdown)" - makes me ticklish all over. That was "syioksendiri-ism" taken to the extreme!

Eco Umberto, in a paper given at University of Bologna on 20th May 2004 posits that rhetoric is a technique of persuasion. It involves discussing, arguing or debating over matters in order to find an opinion which is agreed to by the highest number of people. In short, it is the mechanic by which a consensus on a particular issue is achieved.

It is therefore important that the participants in that debate or exchange of rhetoric should work out arguments that are hard to dispute, to use proper and suitable language and also to "arouse in the the audience those emotions appropriate to the triumph of our arguments".

Let's analyse Anifah Aman's latest statements about Anwar Ibrahim's interview by the New Yorker recently. Hishamuddin Hussein was quick to say that Anwar was trying to "fool the world". Not to be left out, Anifah was quoted as saying that Malaysians should be “very, very hurt” by what was published in New Yorker and continued to say “Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian”.

That is a clear example of how a debater or participant in an exchange of rhetoric should not start his or her argument. That technique is called "captatio malevolentiae", a technique which is normally aimed at alienating the audience from the speaker and turning them against the speaker. It is like me, standing up in Court to begin my case by saying, "I know morons like you won't understand me but allow me to teach you". (I must hasten to add that I am not saying that there are moronic Judges in our Courts). Or, how about me saying, "I think you are an idiot if you don't agree with me on this".

The exact response of the audience to that kind of rhetoric would be one of isolation and soon, one of anger and resentment. "What do you mean I am an idiot if I don't agree with you?", would be the silent response. Soon, somebody would loudly say, "I am not the idiot, you are!". And from then onward, the debater would just be drowned with so much negative responses that his or her arguments would not even take off, let alone heard, dissected, analysed and agreed with.

Putting that to the fact, our obvious response to Minister Anifah would be, "what do you mean I am not a Malaysian if I don't feel embarrassed?" "If I am not a Malaysian, what am I, a Martian?", says a more cynical and sarcastic audience. "In fact, what you said, Mr Minister does not make sense. You said any "Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian". That is rather inconsistent. How could a Malaysian not be a Malaysian?", asked another one who was obviously more detailed and analytical.

Just to complete this short dissertation, allow me to explain the opposite of "captatio malevolentiae". It is called "captatio benevolentiae". This is aimed at getting approval from the audience by indirectly - and without sounding condescending - complimenting them. I can begin a debate on the abolition of the ISA, for example, by saying "I am sure the right thinking people in the room would agree with me that the ISA is draconian and uncivilised". Soon, everybody would be agreeing with me because then, they would be "right thinking". Or how about, "it is an honour for me to speak before such a distinguished and learned people".

And so, I supposed, Minister Anifah should have said, "I think right thinking people of Malaysia would be embarrassed at what Anwar said to the New Yorker."

I am sure all of you, highly intelligent readers of this post, would agree with that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A's Just Dont Do If You're Not It

Is scholarship frustration over missed ‘opportunities’ or ‘privileges’?
(The Malaysian Insider) KUALA LUMPUR, May 20

How many more As do you need to get a scholarship?

Mak Meng Chin's plea at last night's public forum on Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships reflected the sort of incredulity over the issue which sees over 800 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) top scorers appealing their rejections this year.

"Why must Malaysians wail and cry over this year in and year out?" the 45-year-old investment consultant exclaimed rhetorically to the mostly urban Chinese crowd of over 100 at the KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

Mak was bemoaning the fate of his niece Ng Zhii Yee, who had scored 11 As in the school-leaving exam in 2006 but failed to obtain a PSD scholarship.

Even her brother, who scored straight As in last year's Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) mid-secondary school exam, has already said he will not bother to explore this avenue in the future and will proceed with a foreign pre-university course.

But is the frustration really about missing out on education opportunities or windfall sponsorships?

Due to the racial quota system, the shortfall in PSD scholarships — despite the 10,000 given for local undergraduates and 2,000 to study overseas — occurs like clockwork each year and is a controversial issue for Chinese Malaysians who outperform other ethnic groups academically.

This year, the scale of the problem has left Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong shocked despite having handled education issues for MCA since 2001.

However, cases of top scorers falling through the net that have been highlighted by the media and political parties alike have nearly exclusively involved those who applied for overseas scholarships.

"Going overseas to study is still a big privilege," PKR's Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad commented on the fact that it is the 2,000 overseas grants that is the real bone of contention.

Most highlighted complainants have so far been in the top 200 performers — let alone top 2,000 — and there seems to be a sense of entitlement, that they have done enough to deserve an overseas scholarship.

It appears that to merely encapsulate the issue as a racial zero-sum game would be simplistic. Nik Nazmi was quick to point out that there were many Malays who missed out on the scholarships as well.

Later, he told The Malaysian Insider that in fact, the scholarships seemed to be less about human capital, as it is about subsidising the large middle-class that Barisan Nasional had itself created.

DAP information chief Tony Pua noted that unlike in Singapore, where government scholarships were a way to ensure a top-notch civil service, the PSD was more than willing to cancel a scholar's bond if he could find a private sector job so that the civil service could absorb unemployed graduates instead.

It was a sentiment echoed by Aaron Nair, a 19-year-old who has recently been accepted to Boston University, in the United States. His sister had scored 11 A1s in last year's SPM and had wanted to pursue medicine in Britain but was denied a scholarship by the PSD.

Admitting to being from a privileged background, he insisted that "it is still not cheap for my parents to bear the cost" and that scholarships should be awarded based on financial means only to break a deadlock of merit.

Teacher Munis Waran also backed an "academics first, economic status second" criteria for the selection of scholars and called for the interviews by PSD to be conducted by experts in the respective fields of study.

But lawyer Ivan Ho defended what he called "an obsession with foreign universities" due to the drop in standards of local universities, citing Universiti Malaya's fall from being among the top Asian institutes to being ranked 39th in the continent.
Retired civil servant P.W. Cheng referred to his experience with his two sons as "agonising and morale-depleting" and accused the system of having an appeals board as a way to give the government time to justify scholarships being given to Umno cronies.
It was left to PAS research chief Dzulkifli Ahmad to remind the audience that the overarching consideration is to allow all students an opportunity to pursue their choice of careers.

"Then whether it is a Malay or Chinese who is serving the community, all Malaysians benefit from it," he said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1/5 For The Best, The Hidden Quota

Only 20pc of PSD scholarships given on merit
By Shannon Teoh (The Malaysian Insider)

PUTRAJAYA, May 18 — Only 20 per cent, or one in five, of Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships are given based on merit while the rest are allocated based on racial quotas.

This appears to be a key factor leading to the public outcry over the large number of top-scorers in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Malaysia's school-leaving exam, not obtaining scholarships to further their studies.

This was revealed when DAP leaders, including its parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and information chief Tony Pua, met with PSD director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam today.

Also present was DAP Socialist Youth chief Anthony Loke, who told The Malaysian Insider that Ismail had confirmed that 60 per cent of scholarships were given out based on the population ratio of respective races.

Another 10 per cent is set aside for East Malaysian Bumiputras and the same ratio for underprivileged students.

"This is at odds with what Parliament Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz told the house last year, when he said it would be split according to a 55:45 ratio," Loke said.

The Rasah MP said that there was no way that the current method of allocation could hit that desired ratio.

"This change of policy is why there are more clear-cut cases of qualified students not getting scholarships this year," Loke added.

Ismail had on Saturday asked the public for understanding as there are 8,000 students who qualify on merit but his department had only 2,000 scholarships to allocate.

Lim, in a press conference on Friday, had called for students with nine 1As and onwards to "automatically qualify for scholarships, especially now that the new prime minister has promised to put the people first."

Pua today also called for a total reform of the system, saying that too many high achievers were falling through the net and that pre-university courses such as A-levels or the local equivalent, Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia, were a more accurate benchmark for who deserved a scholarship.

"We should change the benchmark to the point when they actually apply to enter university. Then if you do not get accepted into a certain list of universities, there is no argument – you are simply not qualified for a scholarship," he told The Malaysian Insider.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

513 2009

Was May 13, 1969 a natural occurrence?
Azly Rahman

Perhaps it was. That would be the answer to the event that has become embalmed as a semiotic of racial conflict. Perhaps it wasn't planned. We need more interpretations of this event. If we ban more books on this topic, we are afraid of holding a mirror to our history and ourselves.

If we encourage our youth to explore the roots of the bloody conflict, we will have a better generation of thinkers. No more "Ketuanan Melayu, China, India, Iban, Kadazandusun" or whatsoever notions of self-aggrandisement. Just the simple act of opening the dialogues of peace.

But was May 13 planned? I have some thoughts.

It has to happen when and because the lid of authoritarianism was lifted. It was the British lid that brought some kind of stability to the lowest of the lower class of Chinese, Indians and Malays.

Root of the conflict

May 13 was naturally orchestrated as a rude conclusion to the violence brought about by the system of capitalist exploitation; a system that operated successfully at various levels. At the top of the pyramid is the British ruling class, next came the Malay aristocrats and feudal lords or the sultans who collaborated unwillingly with the British robber-barons, The Sultans played the role of obedient tax collectors and managers of the industrial age capitalist system of production, run on the ideology of Oriental Despotism. At the lowest rung, true to the feudal production system, are the indentured serfs and the local padi cultivators.

The traditional/hereditary rulers were successful in making sure the rakyat in each state produces cheaply and sell their labour at dirt-cheap price in order for the feudal production system to continue to survive - so that the system could continue to fill the coffers of the British Empire and at the same time help enrich the local chieftains.

May 13 was a symbolic breakdown of this system of oppression – a radical protest against a feudalist-turned-aristocrat-prime minister who served the British well, after being educated in the ways and mannerism of the colonialists. British ideology of imperialism and race superiority/white supremacy couched in "scientific language of Oxford and Cambridge and royal academies this and that" were taught to the natives who would be rulers, so that the panopticon-synopticon matrix of colonialism may prevail.

May 13 was not merely a natural occurrence in the matrix of international capitalist production but a phenomena that occurred in many a society that undergo the stages of economic growth on the one hand and the stages of political conflict on the other.

Combining these two, the race riots is a semiotic – political economic phenomena of deconstruction of socio-economic illusioned-stability – a contradiction in the capitalist mode of production. It was a coup d'etat of society against its own internal notion of progress.

It has a similar fundamental character of the pre-Roosevelt Socialist revolt of the 1930s, Paris Uprising of the 1960s, Iranian Bloodless Revolt and Revolution of the late 1970s, the Los Angeles Riots of the 1990s, the Jakarta burn-down of 1998, and the Paris Riots of 2005. In all these, the roots lie in the growth of the underclass and the problem of economic injustices and criminalisation brought about by neo-colonialist strategies of the ruling elite. Dehumanization is a fertile ground for inner repression.

May 13 may have the manifestation of a race conflict, but essentially it is one whose underlying force of mass anger lies in the clash of suppressed classes of varied ethnic origin.

Interpretations of the incident hav merely been few. Tunku Abdul Rahman wrote about it to explain why it occurred and how he was part of the problem and solution in one. That was an official historical narrative – a government's view of what transpired. Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Malay Dilemma offered another interpretation from his point of view, explaining why it happened and what transpired between the Tunku and him. That was another official explanation.

But again, I reiterate, the more interpretations of the incident the better – so that we may have many explanations and find patterns in the meaning of these explanations. One must however be equipped in the understanding of the complex interplay between technologies of control, the economics of oppression, the sociology of mass anger, and cybernetics of conflicts, the archaeology of mass cultural repression, the genealogy of the feudal-oppressive-matrix, and the ideology and power/knowledge dimension of communicative and propagandistic systems – all these – in order to understand the "Butterfly Effect" of May 13 1969.

May 13, 2009?

Maybe it is too early to predict or too dangerous to be Nostradamus-ising or soothsaying or be playing the numerology game of anticipatory politics. Or maybe there will not be a race riots as we are now glued to our television sets and sucked into the abyss and black hole of the Internet, unable to plan for a revolution nor be ready for any natural occurrence ala May 13, 1969.

Maybe our brain cells have died a natural death out of decades of being fed with the "feel-good" ideology broadcast through radio and television. Or maybe we have been systematically programmed to amuse ourselves to death through a system of mass consciousness and euphoria that has been telling us to be happy with what we have, while the super rich and powerful amongst us continue to rob the nation in broad daylight through a conspiracy with outside forces in the form of puppeteering investment arms and their tentacles.

I still think that the bloody riots of May 13 was an orchestrated natural disaster – something our forefathers of Merdeka/Independence crafted as part of the cultural logic of late capitalism.

We can only know the answers through books we do not ban. And through dialogues and deep reflection. We must encourage each other to offer newer interpretations, scientifically argued -- ones that will contribute to peace education for our nation.

Essentially, each and every one of us is an aristocrat. Born free and forever we shall remain so.

Friday, May 15, 2009

513 Till Today

A million 13 Mays
By Dr Farish A Noor

AND so once again, we are on the cusp of the fateful day of 13 May. Tomorrow, we will be joined together in a state of national mourning over the passing of what many have described as Malaysia's golden years.

Year in, year out, Malaysians are reminded of the tragic events of 13 May 1969, and made to repent for the sins of our forefathers and foremothers. Like a restless ghost, we cannot get past this date without a sense of foreboding and the fear that one day, the past will revisit the present in no uncertain terms.

To add to our fear, the country's leaders (though they tend to be those on one side of the political fence) are wont to resurrect May 1969 whenever it suits them most, and to frame the event in a decidedly jaundiced aspect. We are told time and again that to demand political freedom, the right to speak, the right to believe, the right to love, will lead us down the path that ends in the impasse of communal bloodshed and violence. But does it and will it?

History conceals a deep conceit that we historians often try to hide, like magicians with their bag of tricks. The historian's craft is to collect the disparate facts of history and assemble the broken body of the past as if it were a cohesive whole: all pretty and prettified.

And even when the history that is put together is not exactly a candidate for the town hall beauty pageant, we nonetheless present it to be something that is wholesome, sutured and complete. The trick is to play the card of linearity and determinism, and to give the false impression that there was only one path that could have been followed.

Let me let you in on a trade secret: we historians know for a fact that history is contingent, confused, complex and multifarious. We simply dress it up in the garb of cohesion to let lay readers think that it is miraculously endowed with fixity and teleology.

The fiction of 13 May

The exact history of 13 May 1969 is one such history, and for too long we have entertained the polite fiction that this tragic story had only one beginning and therefore only one conclusion. That lie has to be exposed, debunked and deconstructed for the instrumental fiction that it is.

The fact is, whatever happened on 13 May 1969 was not a nationwide experience. Indeed, there are enough anecdotal accounts to suggest that whole swathes of Malaysia remained unaffected by the violence that took place in the urban areas of the peninsula's west coast. If you don't believe me, take the next flight to East Malaysia where I grew up as a kid, and ask fellow Malaysians there what it was like for them on the day, and how many of them were moved by the events in Kuala Lumpur.

We also forget that behind the facade of ethnic and racial compartmentalisation that has become the leitmotif of the 13 May disturbances were real private and isolated histories that ran counter-current.

How many of us have asked the obvious question: what was it like to be an ethnically and religiously mixed couple then, in May 1969, when the frontiers of race and religion were suddenly raised and guarded? Though no official census has been done thus far, one is intuitively certain of the fact that ethnic and religious relations were far more friendly, cordial and real then compared with now.

Indeed, here lies the dirty trick that belies the conceit of history: with each passing year as the ghost of 13 May 1969 is conjured back to life again and again, we are in fact distancing ourselves from the reality of a multi-culty Malaysia that was more authentic, peaceful, loving and comfortable with itself compared with today's segregated and exclusivist Malaysia.

For the ghost story of 13 May, instrumentalised as it has been by the right-wing communitarians in our midst, has been the script and template for the divided and segregated Malaysia we know now.

13 May was not the result of racial conflict, but rather the blueprint for further racial and religious polarisation. The sleight of hand of history is the magic gesture that has erased this simple fact from us, and we — now duped — continue to gawk at the same old trick that has been played on us on a yearly basis.

Revisiting 13 May

Revisiting 13 May 1969 therefore has to begin from the other entry point of the multiracial, complex and plural Malaysia that was, but is now in danger of waning.

Rather than write about the violence and mayhem that ensued, we need to retrace, redeem and reactivate the manifold histories of inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue, relationships and love that were real and genuine then. There were and there remain a million 13 Mays that we need to recover. We should not let this date be singularly defined by one and only one event above all.

This is how we challenge, overcome and eventually deconstruct the hegemony of power and official historiography. For too long, we have been held captive by a singular and totalising account of history that admits no contenders and no other alternatives.

As a historian activist, I would rather write about the stories of all mixed, hybrid couples who were making love and whispering sweet nothings to each other on the night of 13 May, who were — thankfully, perhaps — unaware of the nastiness happening elsewhere.

Sadly, many of these truly Malaysian relationships were tried and broken in the years that followed thanks to the racialisation of Malaysian politics. But for their sake, and for the sake of those millions of Malaysians who lived and loved together across the frontiers of race and religion then, let us not deny their past (and ours) by buying into to the hegemonic account of 13 May perpetuated by communitarian doomsayers in our midst.

Malaysian history is much richer, more colourful and certainly a happier story than that. Even if some of our politicians want to dwell only on tales of blood and gore, we — the Malaysian public — can and must reclaim our history for ourselves again.

Dr Farish A Noor is one of the founders of the subaltern history site, where this essay also appears. On 13 May 1969, he was two years old and eating a birthday cake shaped like an aeroplane.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

513 Effects

Remembering 13 May
By Zedeck Siew

IT'S been 40 years since the race riots of 13 May 1969. Every Malaysian is familiar with this date. We are told it was a bad time for Malaysia, a shameful chapter in our illustrious national history, an event we should fear recurring.

While state officials and politicians are happy to use 13 May as a cautionary shorthand, what really happened in 1969 is sketchy. Politicians rarely talk about the events surrounding 13 May. Neither do Malaysian history textbooks.

That may be the case, but some Malaysians are reclaiming 13 May. These citizens are finding ways to remember that fateful day so that the date can be a source of reconciliation and unity, rather than fear and hatred.

Couples in love

In January 2009, political historian Dr Farish Ahmad Noor began compiling stories of Malaysian inter-racial couples who were together from the 1940s onwards for a documentary project.

"I wanted to see what it was like to be an ethnically or religiously mixed couple on that fateful day, just to show that, even then, Malaysians were living and loving across ethnic and religious boundaries," he explains in an e-mail interview.

Farish says he is still trying to get submissions, funding and assistance to get the project going. But regardless of the project's success, Farish stresses the importance of supporting independent Malaysian projects "that wish to reclaim our history for ourselves."

"Until today, the official history of 13 May is biased and one-sided," Farish maintains. It is difficult to refute him. Dr Kua Kia Soong's May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 was, after all, seized by Home Ministry officials soon after its release.

"But that is no reason why Malaysians have to keep quiet and accept the hegemony of the state," Farish adds. He points to the example of post-Apartheid South Africa. Through grassroots initiatives such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South Africans worked on the ground to reach democratic consensus, and inter-ethnic peace.

"This should teach us that the state, if it doesn't register such developments and take them into account, can and will be bypassed by society in the long run," Farish says.
Farish also believes that citizen-based efforts are empowering. According to him, Malaysians should not wait for "permission" to begin deconstructing their own history.

K Haridas, vice-chairperson of the non-profit Initiatives of Change (IofC) Malaysia, points out that 13 May is resurrected as a campaign issue every general election, and plays into voters' fear of tragedy. "This manipulation itself shows the need to deal with the ghosts of our past," Haridas tells The Nut Graph.

In early March, participants of the IofC-organised Tools for Change conference took up the idea of making 13 May a "National Reconciliation Day".

"The idea came from the question of promoting racial harmony, and bridging the divides we feel. 13 May is a significant, symbolic date for that. It would become a rallying point for integration," Haridas explains.

The idea for a national reconciliation day takes after the Australian "National Sorry Day", a symbolic date institutionalised by the Australian government to recognise past wrongs against the aboriginals so that healing could begin. It has been held annually since 1998.
For now, at least, a new Malaysian national holiday is a distant goal. IofC plans to start small — specifically with Creators of Peace (COP) Circles, a programme of women-driven community gatherings.

"We believe in this idea of deep listening — that is, to listen without any judgment, and without interruption," explains local COP co-ordinator Regina Morris.

"When someone tells their story in such an environment, they feel a great sense of empowerment, and release.

"It's all about building trust, which will take time and space," Morris, a human resources consultant by trade, adds.

There is currently a 13-person COP group in the Klang Valley. "They are a diverse group of women, so there's an opportunity to talk about racial integration and such issues," Morris says.

Haridas hopes that this initial "cell" will divide into more groups, with individual participants becoming inspired enough to start their own groups. Eventually, the peace circles may accommodate people of both genders. "COP is a women's initiative, but it doesn't say that men are excluded," Haridas says.

Morris says that the idea of a "Healing of Memories" circle — which would provide a safe space for people who lived through the 13 May violence to talk about their experiences — is on hold because it requires a separate framework from the COP Circles.

"But if we've gathered enough success with the peace circles, we can think of what's next," Morris adds.

In the aftermath of 13 May: A Chinese/Malay Malaysian kampung off Hale Road in Kuala Lumpur;14 May 1969 (Pic by Hassan Muthalib)

Creative discussions

Malaysian art has also sporadically dealt with the shadow of 1969. Earliest, perhaps, was artist and critic Redza Piyadasa's 1970 installation, May 13, 1969, which consisted of an upright coffin upon which the Malaysian flag was painted. More recently, in 2007, Five Arts Centre staged That Was The Year. It was a performance based on the Beth Yahp's tale of "unrequited love" — both literally and figuratively — In 1969.

Visual artist Nadiah Bamadhaj has also produced two works that explicitly deal with 13 May. One, a digital print called Maybank in 1969, imposes a Menara Maybank-dominated skyline into iconic photographs of 1969-era burnt-out shophouses. Maybank was built in the early 1980s, an era where the government called upon architects to come up with more "culturally based" designs. These frequently translated into Malay cultural symbols and architectural references, Bamadhaj explains.

"Menara Maybank was built 11 years after the race riots," she points out. "Though the keris symbolises many things, its dominating sign of violence and threat is inescapable. Keris monuments, in general, are a symbol of the government's insensitivity to the events of 1969, and their refusal to participate in a full and genuine reconciliation with all communities involved in those events."

The other work is also a digital print, part of the 147 Tahun Merdeka series that Bamadhaj produced in 2005, in collaboration with Tian Chua. The work features a piece of public sculpture, under the LRT station between Kampung Baru and Chow Kit, still under wraps. Banners flanking this effigy announce the "official unveiling" of a monument "to commemorate Malaysians of all ethnicities who died in the May 13 1969 massacre." "147 Tahun Merdeka was envisioned as a look into Malaysia a hundred years into the future," Bamadhaj, who now lives in Indonesia, says in a phone interview.

The artist does not overstate the influence her work has on wider Malaysian society. But while attention towards political issues within the arts is still limited to the urban middle-class, Bamadhaj believes it is a good place to start.

If things continue consistently, then there might actually be a chance that the spectres of our past may, finally, lose their ghoulish hold on us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

513 Day After

Surviving 13 May
By Shanon Shah The Nutgraph

PAUL Tan is director of studies at Genting Highlands's Highlands International Boarding School. He studied in Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, where his contemporaries included Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and tycoon Tan Sri Dr Francis Yeoh. Fugitive blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin was his senior in school.

Paul Tan is also a survivor of 13 May 1969.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of 13 May, The Nut Graph did an exclusive interview with Tan in Petaling Jaya on 7 May 2009. Here are his memories, fears and dreams, for all Malaysians.

TNG: When 13 May 1969 happened, was there an indication that things would come to this? Did it come as a complete shock?

Tan: It was an utter and complete shock. Well, we were not that politically conscious anyway. We knew that DAP had won the KL seat and all that, but that was all. The media in those days were very limited. If we needed news, we'd listen to the radio. Even televisions were limited in number.

May 13 happened when I was 15 years old, Form Three at the time. I was just sitting behind the first shopping complex, if you like. A place called Selangor Emporium. The memory is very vivid because I was sitting at my brother's fruit stall. The picture is still very clear, I was sitting on a stool near the big fridge where we kept the fruits.

A deserted street in KL after curfew, two days after 13 May (Straits Times Image)
I think around 4-something pm, for some strange reason, everything suddenly went quiet. I mean, that was a very busy part of KL. Lots of cars, people walking about. But within less than 10 minutes, suddenly the whole street went quiet. People closed (their) shops.
Out of the blue, someone said these words in Chinese, "The Malays are killing the Chinese."

Within 10 minutes, our stall was closed and we ran upstairs. We lived on the fifth floor of a block of flats near there. And then news began to trickle in — there were fights in the Chow Kit area.

In the next few hours, we heard that there were people being killed. So everybody stayed indoors. And that night, we were really terrified.

Actually on the night of 13 May itself, my father and my three older brothers, who were already 20- and 30-plus, got together in a whole group of people. They said, "We need to protect ourselves." Because from what we heard in the Kampung Baru area, the army came. We were told both the police and the army came, and instead of shooting at the perpetrators, they were shooting at our people.

Both the army and the police?

(Nods.) I actually have both an auntie and an uncle killed. On that evening itself. They had a shop [in Kampung Baru].

The most terrifying experience for me was three or four nights later. I was sleeping on a bunk bed. (Gestures.) My bunk bed is where I am and the window is where you are. At around 1am or 2am, I heard noises, people shouting. I got up and looked out the window. As soon as I did that, I heard the words, "Tembak! Tembak!"

Then I went to my parents and my auntie. They said, "They're here." That's all they said.

They didn't know. We were all indoors. And then within half an hour, we heard the banging of doors. We thought, "That's it. Tonight is our final night." My auntie and my mother were hysterical.

So it was like a siege?

(Nods.) The noises started on the eighth floor, and then the seventh, and then the sixth, and then the fifth. And then, fortunately, just before they got to our doorstep, my father came back. He said, "The soldiers are rounding up males." Any males. So, if I wasn't at home, if I was anywhere else, I would have been arrested.

After my father returned, the soldiers showed up. You know what they did once they got inside? They ransacked everything — cash, valuables.

These were the soldiers? Ransacking homes?

It was the soldiers who were banging on the doors all this while.

The next day we heard why they came. Apparently the day before, some of the young people who were guarding the flats from the balcony — because curfew was imposed — saw soldiers patrolling around. Some of them threw bottles at the soldiers. And that angered them.

You see, by that time, anyone who was Malay [Malaysian] living in our building was evacuated by the soldiers. In fact we were surprised, because on the second day, or third day, we couldn't see our friends or neighbours. All the Malay [Malaysians] were taken away in army trucks.

After surviving 13 May, did your family continue to stay in the flat?

Yes. In fact, about three months later our Malay [Malaysian] neighbours came back.
Did things change when they came back?

No. We asked them, "Eh, where did you all go?" They told us, "Balik kampung." And we didn't question any further. Life resumed back to normal, I would say, after two months.

But did you talk about the horror to your Malay Malaysian neighbours?

No. I think we tried to suppress it as much as possible. We pretended it didn't happen.
And they also pretended nothing happened?

Yes. Even in school things went back to normal. Except maybe one or two (Malay Malaysian) classmates who were quite radical and purposely agitated people. Saying, "May 13, May 13. You don't try to be funny, ah?"

I can understand the radicals, but what I'm trying to grapple with is that this horrible thing happened. How could people go back to normal? This is what I'm thinking.

I think there was no avenue. You see, we were just told directly, indirectly, formally, informally, "It happened, it's too bad. So you have to be careful because it could always happen again." Those were the messages from the politicians. One of the major reasons why we could never forget is that every so often the politicians would remind us, "Be careful."

They don't let you forget. They remind you again and again and again.

Do you think something akin to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission would help?

I think that would be really great. Coming from all parties, especially from those who, like me, were directly affected.

Just acknowledge the pain and the suffering, as a nation, as a people. And then put it to rest. And determine that moving forward, we shall never, ever let this recur. That as Malaysians, this will never happen again.

But you know in any kind of conflict that people try to paint as a race or ethnic or religious conflict, you still hear amazing stories; such as in Bosnia you hear of Serbian families who sheltered or hid Muslim families and vice versa.

My third brother, a few years older than me, was working on Chow Kit Road in a mechanic's shop. His boss told him to go home quickly since there was trouble and fighting in that area. He tried to go back to my uncle's shop, which was — you know Coliseum cinema?


Coliseum car park, first bicycle shop. There were a lot of panicking people trying to reach home. So that evening there were actually Indian and Malay [Malaysians] needing a place to hide.

So your uncle, the Chinese Malaysian, protected Indian and Malay Malaysians?

Yes, because there was trouble. People were killing each other, so obviously they needed protection. But obviously there was a limit as to the number of people he could hide in his shop.

And did you hear more stories about Malay Malaysians who protected Chinese Malaysians and so on?

Yes. I think in the Kampung Baru area, I had distant family and friends who were helped by their Malay [Malaysian] friends.

So it makes you wonder where all the fighting came from. If so many people right in the thick of it were trying to protect each other, who started the violence? That's the question we're all asking now, right?

We heard a version at that time. You want to hear our version?

Sure! (Laughs)

It was (former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri) Harun (Idris) — he was the instigator. Because eyewitnesses from that area saw, from the morning of 12 May 1969, there were many who came from the kampungs and gathered in his padang. At exactly the time that it happened, or slightly before that, eyewitnesses saw a group of them actually chanting — they were wearing red headbands — and then at around 4pm they charged out with their parangs. This is all from the people who were around there who had their families killed.

In this country we have a legacy of politics being equal to race and race being equal to politics. But what I'm hearing from you is that this is a post-1969 legacy. What you're saying is that in your generation, this was definitely not the case.

Definitely not. In school, if we could afford the five-cent iced drink from the canteen, one cup would be shared among four or five friends. Multiracial. We would all take sips.
Even among your Malay-Muslim Malaysian friends?

Yes! That's what I mean — the whole group, we were all friends. Malay [Malaysians], Chinese [Malaysians], Indian [Malaysians], Sikh [Malaysians] — we would share from the same glass, no second thoughts. That was our upbringing, right through to secondary school. Many of us came from poor backgrounds — sharing was second nature. There was no second thought about it.

We all went to the same places to eat. If I were to eat pork, my other friends would just not touch it. They would order their own stuff.

After 8 March 2008, we've seen a lot of Barisan Nasional leaders and supporters defending ketuanan Melayu. And the implication is that if we challenge ketuanan Melayu, we could see a repeat of May 13. So as a survivor of May 13, what would be your response to them?

I am just delighted that Malaysian-ness is being revived in that sense. That there are so many people who, regardless of race, are saying, "Hey, forget about this issue. Don't use it anymore. Let's move on." So to me that's why there's still that glimmer of hope that we can do it. People who use it are bankrupt. I was really delighted after March 8.

I really wish that we as a nation can reconcile, forget and move on, as truly one people.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Legacy of May 13 captured in draconian laws
By OOi Kee Beng

MAY 9 — It is soon the 40th anniversary of the riots that broke out in Kuala Lumpur at sunset of May 13, 1969.

Not many events have left as strong an imprint on the history and the psyche of the nation as the violence of that evening and the days that followed did.

What exactly happened is still being heatedly discussed by all parties, but often behind closed doors. One could argue that some closure was achieved through the March 8 elections of last year, when the power structure was badly shaken up, just as it was by the May 10 elections of 1969.

The significance of the fact that no inter-racial fighting followed the 2008 elections should not be underrated. Things have changed. Malaysians do accept the results of polls, despite the fact that most of them do think that the country’s free elections are not exactly fair.

The dramatic change in inter-racial tensions was already very noticeable in 1998 at the height of the Reformasi movement sparked off by the sacking, arrest and trial of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Suddenly, race did not seem relevant. That movement acted as the universal solvent for many of the suspicions that the various ethnic groups living under a race-based system of government for half a century harboured against each other.

This was most obvious among the young. The important thing that happened between 1998 and 2008 was that the post-May 13 generation somehow managed to convince their elders that new times were at hand.

Looking back today, chances of a new May 13 happening are small. Indeed, they are definitely smaller than chances of rioting aimed at the central government’s use of harsh laws to silence dissent are.

The beginning of a closure to May 13 on the ground is not matched by a dismantling of the institutions that stemmed from that dark day. This is made painfully apparent by the use of the Sedition Act just a few days before May 13, 2009, against the respected activist Wong Chin Huat, a lecturer in journalism at Monash University, Subang Jaya.

Wong, who was born in Perak, had acted as spokesperson for Bersih (the Coalition for Free and Clean Elections), in announcing a peaceful protest through the wearing of black against the Perak state assembly scheduled for May 7. That assembly would in effect finalise the switch in power managed by the federal government against the opposition coalition that won the Perak state election last year.

Significantly, another high-profile case of sedition is to be heard on May 12, involving the popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.

What these events highlight, along with the new federal government’s weak hints that it will soon review the highly criticised Internal Security Act (ISA), is that the legacy of May 13 is most poignantly found in the survival of harsh legislations put in place after the riots.
Such laws are plentiful, and one does not even have to include the 1971 Constitutional (Amendment) Bill in the discussion.

For one thing, the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO) passed after May 13, 1969 is still in effect. According to a recent report, this law was responsible for as many as over 1,000 detainees being held without trial in 2004.

In 1971, the Sedition Act that came into being in 1948 to fight red insurgents was hardened to overrule parliamentary immunity, among other things. This followed the tradition set in 1960 when the ISA was passed to replace the Emergency Regulations Ordinance of 1948, also originally put in place to fight communist guerillas.

Apparently, while detention under the ISA is ordered by the Home Ministry and top officials, the EO is purportedly used when insufficient evidence is available to low-level investigators.

The Printing Ordinance is another such controversial law. It was passed in 1948 and was revised, also in 1971. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed transformed it further in 1984 into the Printing Presses and Publications Act, which required the print media to obtain a licence annually.

Another harsh law passed in 1971 was the Universities and University Colleges Act. This piece of legislation serves to drastically limit student involvement in politics.

The following year, in 1972, the Official Secrets Act was passed to prohibit the dissemination of any information classified as an official secret. This Act covers a wide range of items, and despite an amendment in 1986, is strongly criticised for muffling the press, stifling dissent and seriously reducing transparency in governance.

While a case can certainly be made that these laws did have a vital function to fulfil when they were passed, the lack of a culture or mechanism to repeal or review draconian legislations cannot but stunt the political maturity of the country.

There are at least two related reasons why the country needs to get over a major trauma like May 13. First, without closure, the inter-ethnic fissures of 1969 will continue to be exploited by parties that otherwise risk irrelevance, and second, without closure, the populace remains limited by — and addicted to — the narrow mindset of those days.

In short, without honest and open discussion about its harshest laws, the country remains in a permanent state of crisis and cannot possibly realise its full potential. Fear remains a constant element in Malaysian politics.

The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. His latest book is “Arrested Reform: The Undoing of Abdullah Badawi” (REFSA 2009).

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Ripple From The Storm

Peaceful candlelight vigil ended with arrest
by chan lilian

A spate of arrests have been going on in Malaysia over these few days. In Penang, a human rights group, SUARAM organised a peaceful candlelight vigil. However, it ended with the arrest of the emcee. Citizen Journalist Chan Lilian was there at the candlelight vigil to show solidarity to the Malaysians who were arrested and captured the event on video.

In Malaysia, lawyers and journalists have been arrested while in the course of doing their duties. This has caused concerns to citizens because of the rampant arrests. As a concerned citizen, Citizen Journalist, Chan Lilian attended a candlelight vigil on a balmy, moonlite night. However, things turned ugly when the police hauled up the emcee of the vigil and threatened to arrest everyone else. A sad end to a peaceful gathering asking for democracy, truth, justice and freedom.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Democracy Put To Rest

Black Thursday in Ipoh
Sim Kwang Yang
May 9, 2009

When the Pakistan prime minister announced his government’s decision to go after the Talibans in the Swat Valley, he said it was to restore the “honour of the Motherland!” Honour, in one form or another, is one of the highest and most universal virtues held dear by many cultures.

We may not condone the sort of “honour killing” practised by some tribesmen in Pakistan. The ritual suicide of Japanese samurai warriors called ‘sepuku’ in defence of their personal honour may also sound extreme. But we still say, “There is honour even among thieves.”

We call our elected representative ‘The Right Honourable’, or ‘Yang Berhormat’, precisely because politics ought to be an honourable profession. Unfortunately, throughout the whole world, many politicians have prostituted their honour for personal gain and power – they are worse than thieves.

On May 7, honour in Malaysian politics was assassinated and buried by a bunch of people worse than thieves. The six-hour theatrical fiasco inside and outside the Perak state legislature has been variously described as “chaos”, “bedlam”, “mayhem” and “shambolic”.

In my ripe old age, and with my decades of active political participation and commentary in the media, I have never seen anything close to the murder of honour in Malaysian politics like what happened in Ipoh. Not even the infamous Operation Lallang can come close to the public display of the breakdown of rule of law and parliamentary democracy. Finally, new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has outdone Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the usurpation of the people’s sovereign will.

Election of new speaker dubious

Calling it a coup d’etat in his article on the blog, Hornbill Unleashed, blogger Pak Bui has this to impart to us all: “American hawk Edward Luttwak wrote in ‘Coup d’√Čtat: a Practical Handbook’, that ‘a coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control over the remainder.’

A coup is usually initiated by the military to overthrow a legitimate government. Remember when the Fiji military armed to the teeth marching into Parliament and put the lawmakers under arrest, thereby taking power from the politicians? Military coups are a rarity in these days. In Perak, it was achieved by more subtle means, through a congruence of forces – the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition, the civil servants and the police, all bending the semblance of law to breaking point.

Looking at the picture, one can be forgiven in thinking that the Perak august house of legislature has turned into royal rumble on the World Wrestling Federation circuit!

The forcible removal of the House speaker by unidentified goons is a sight that is as macabre as it is surreal. We have finally achieved the dubious distinction of overtaking Taiwan as a country with gang-like behaviour in the legislative assembly.

By parliamentary conventions that are observed in most Commonwealth countries, the grounds of the legislature is a sovereign refuge from which government administration agencies like the police cannot invade unless upon invitation by the speaker. This convention has arisen from that time-honoured and almost sacrosanct doctrine of separation of powers between the three branches of government.

In the legislature, the House has its own sergeant-at-arms to enforce the decisions of the speaker and the whole House. This is the way of the legislature policing itself without the interference of the police.

To witness unidentified goons, speculated to be police personnel, carting away the speaker is to see the death of honour for parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.

Knowing something of parliamentary practices and House standing orders, I doubt the proceedings on May 7 in the Perak legislature is in accordance with the laws and the federal constitution. The election of the new speaker is dubious. The action of deputy speaker Hee Foong Yit in summarily usurping the power of the original speaker is entirely unlawful.

That much-maligned defector has once again played a critical role at the critical time. On the Internet and in private conversation, her name has been made synonymous with some of the most obscene words imaginable. It might be sexism at work, but some will argue that in this exceptional case, the vilification may be well-deserved.

Thanks to her, the picture of her tearing up one-ringgit bills or pointing what appeared to be a pepper spray at a fellow assemblyperson has come to be the most defining image of the entire circus on Black Thursday in Perak.

Police dragged into imbroglio

The biggest casualty of Black Thursday has to be the Royal Malaysian Police. Their demeanor in the discharge of their duty soils the image of the royal throne. I suppose one could argue that they have to take orders from their political masters. Being a federal agency, they do have to obey the demand of the federal cabinet and the new home minister. If the politicians drag them into playing a partisan role against the opposition coalition, then the fault lies in the UMNO politicians, and not the police.

But the enthusiasm with which the police went about arresting 120 people in the past three days or so does show a clear lack of professionalism. They arrested Wong Chin Fatt on very shaky ground. They arrested people attending peaceful candlelight vigil outside the Brickfields police station where Wong was held captive. To top absurdity upon absurdities, they arrested five lawyers who went to offer legal aid for those who were detained.

In Ipoh, within and outside the 500-metre limit of the Perak state legislature, they charged at strawmen like a bull in a China shop. They arrested 10 elected representatives like common criminals, handcuffs and all. They arrested people for wearing black. They arrested people for having breakfast, and for hanging around like my 69-year-old friend Bernard Khoo. Who would they NOT be arrested next?

One of the most cherished freedoms of a citizen in a free democratic country is the security and freedom of the person. It is the duty of the state within the ambit of that Social Contract (that of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) to protect, preserve, and promote the personal liberty of its citizens. The unreasonable deprivation of that sacrosanct personal liberty, even for an hour, is a moral crime against the collective humanity of the citizens.

In a civil society, all forms of violence are outlawed, leaving the military and the police personnel to monopolise the right to violent means in enforcing the laws. When the laws are unjust, and when the police are overzealous in exercising their power in depriving peaceful citizens of their personal freedom, the moral legitimacy of the state and the police will deteriorate in the hearts of the people.

BN’s ‘ugly daughter-in-law’

Right now, the national attention is firmly fixated on Perak. The continuing battles in various courts between the belligerent parties will make sure of that. Malaysians are generally a meek lot. Apart from the activists and the bloggers, they may not rush to the streets of Ipoh to display their displeasure. They just watch events unfold with their cold eyes, making their own judgement in the silence of their hearts, waiting for their time of reckoning to come.

Again, the only honourable way of resolving this crisis in Perak is to hold a state general election, to settle the issue once for all. But that is what the puppet BN government in Perak will not do, for fear of a washout at the polls.

There is an old Chinese saying, “An ugly daughter-in-law will have to meet her husband’s father one day”. (In the old days in China, when marriages were arranged by parents with the help of a match-maker, the groom’s father may not see her daughter-in-law right up to the time of the wedding day when the bride’s face would be veiled the entire time. But a face-to-face meeting is inevitable after the wedding.)

The ugly illegitimate BN state government will have to face the Perak voters eventually – sooner rather than later. The ugliness of the loss of honour in Ipoh on May 7 may in fact drag down the BN coalition in the next general election. We can get an inkling of the voters’ sentiment in the Penanti by-election.

SIM KWANG YANG was MP for Bandar Kuching between 1982 and 1995. He can be reached at

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Same Agenda, Different Methods

Why Sedition Act is the new ISA
By Syed Jaymal Zahiid and Melissa Loovi

KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 — The recent spate of arrests made under the Sedition Act has led opposition leaders and lawyers to unanimously conclude that the government might have found a better tool than the Internal Security Act (ISA) to quell dissent.

The continued use of the ISA, condemned locally and internationally, does not appear to be politically tenable. This week, a number of activists and opposition party leaders were detained under the Sedition Act.

Many Barisan Nasional (BN) component party leaders have also joined their Pakatan Rakyat (PR) counterparts in calling for the government to abolish the British-inherited law. Umno is the only party that believes that the unpopular law should be maintained.

The Sedition Act is, however, perceived to be less oppressive than the ISA but yet drafted in such a way that it gives the government absolute power to make arrests on its political enemies.

According to section 4 (1) of the Sedition Act, a person is considered to have committed an offence under this law if he or she attempts to do, or make any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act which has or would, if done, have a seditious tendency.

It further read that any person is found to have committed an offence under this law if he or she utters any seditious words, prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes, or reproduces any seditious publications or imports any seditious publications.
Yet in all of this, there is no real and clear definitive guideline as to what constitutes sedition.

Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, who is also a lawyer, said such a vague law lends the authorities indefinite power to silence the opposition.

“A conviction can be so easily secured under the Sedition Act because it is under the discretion of the judge (to conclude what is seditious or not),” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Malik Imtiaz, a prominent human rights lawyer, also said that due to the vague definition, the Sedition Act can be easily used by the BN government on its enemies.
“Where do you draw the line between responsible expression and unethical ones (if the law does not provide such guidelines) so the police are left with the power to draw its own conclusion,” he said.

Centre for Public Policy Studies, or ASLI, chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam told The Malaysian Insider that with the Sedition Act, the government would stand to gain more if it were to make arrests under the Sedition Act instead of the ISA.

"With the Sedition Act, one can stand for an open trial and the government would be seen as conducting a proper exercise of the rule of law.

"But with the ISA, its provision for detention without trial is a violation of one's fundamental rights and a vital aspect of a democracy and the people would perceive this as oppressive," he said.

Navaratnam added that it was wrong for the government to clamp down on opposition leaders and rights activists in recent days as it had encroached their democratic rights to freedom of expression.

Looking back at the history of the Sedition Act, prominent academician Farish A. Noor said it was rather ironic that the British-inherited law is being used against the opposition.
"I think members of the public should remember that the Sedition Act was created by the British colonialists and it was used to silence nationalist opposition who were freedom fighters fighting for the country's independence.

"So it's ironic that the current leaders that came from the same background are actually using the Sedition Act to silence their opposition," he said.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Already Dozens Arrows In The Target (NEP)

Constructive criticism
Neil Khor@ ( April 28,2009)

In his blog postings about the stock market and financial institutions, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is giving us a very good lesson in economics. More importantly, he is doing what the Barisan Nasional and the opposition are not able to: re-focus the national lens on economics and the well-being of the country.

In late 2007, upon returning from the United Kingdom, I realised that the cost of living in Malaysia had gone up quite dramatically. By March 2008, Malaysians have all effectively become poorer due to inflationary forces. But what was worse, the working class and even the lower middle class (people with income less than RM2,000 per-month and living in urban areas) were badly effected. The government was, however, too reliant on feel-good facts and figures. In the end, I am quite sure that many decided to vote opposition because their quality of life had deteriorated.

It is now more than a year after that watershed political event. Though unseen but felt acutely, the insidious economic tsunami is pushing many Malaysians onto the edge of financial ruin. Car loans, housing loans, credit card debts; all need to be serviced based on shrinking incomes.

Whether or not we realise it, our economy is very much export-driven. Malaysia ranks third in Asia behind Singapore and Hong Kong on the export dependence indicator. This exports measured against the overall size of the economy. Petroleum, palm oil, rubber, electronics and electrical products are our mainstay. For many years, the government has tried to develop the services sector: banking, healthcare, education, information technology and tourism-related products.

Unlike mono-ethnic states, Malaysia has to achieve development whilst playing a fine ethnic-balancing act. But most Malaysians agree that development should not result in the alienation of anyone.

Intra-ethnic problem

However, the reality is that we are also one of the most unequal societies in Asia and governmental policies have inadvertently made that gap an intra-ethnic problem, especially amongst bumiputeras. The nature of competition is such that talent is concentrated in particular segments of society sustained by wealth and education. By this I mean, the wealthy have access to capital and better education.

To remedy this, the BN-led government decided to provide, what in golfing terms, are called handicaps; which is an amateur’s playing ability. Ethnic-based policies means the handicap was applied across the board but we know now that it ended up handicapping whole ethnic communities whilst building up resentment in others. For Indian Malaysians, the pit was even deeper with a staggering 40 percent of crime in Selangor allegedly committed by this vulnerable group.

Malaysia’s tired social and economic engineering programmes now need revision although for a time, they were successful. Put the hardware in and some level of progress can be achieved. But in the process, freeloaders have gotten used to easy contracts. As a bumiputera friend said to me, “the Chinese are stupid. Why work when you can freeload, get commission and sub-contract the work to the others?”

One of the reasons why a governmental ombudsman was recommended by the first National Consultative Council in 1971 was to monitor the implementation of the NEP. The ombudsman is responsible directly to Parliament and would have acted as the eyes and ears of the NEP. Why the government did not set-up such an institution is a question for those former prime ministers to answer.

It is easy to say all these things with the advantage of hindsight. Few would have been able to foretell the negative impacts of privatisation. Despite his critical comments about western financial institutions, Mahathir’s government also attempted to profit by indulging in forex trading with less than happy ends. But there is no point in crying over spilt milk and Mahathir is correct to emphasise what he has learned from past policies and mistakes. For a long time, non-governmental organisations in Penang, for example, have warned against over-dependence on exports and foreign direct investments.

They put forward the idea that development should be sustainable. In the past, the strategy, to put it crudely, was to throw money at a problem. Today, we have to pay more attention to quality interventions.

Class F contractors

Let us take the case of Class F contractors. Government contracts are often given to bumiputera companies to help them gain capital. This, theoretically, will help them build capacity in management and the procurement of talent to do the work. A long-term strategy, these contractors will then move up the value chain ultimately becoming a YTL, etc. But the reality is that no capacity-building is happening because they sub-contract out the work to non-bumiputeras.

Instead of giving contracts to bumiputera companies, what the government should do is to require these companies to have genuine working relationships with their non-bumiputera partners. The onus should be on the bumiputera companies to find expertise outside their own “gene” pool and thus create a sustainable business model.

Non-bumiputeras would also be more willing to establish genuine partnerships if they feel assured that their bumi partners will not only get the contract but also contribute qualitatively to the partnership. It is also important to make sure that we have only a certain number of contractors. This will encourage other bumiputeras to aspire to other types of professions that are less dependent on government contracts.

In the education sector, meritocracy must be practiced relentlessly. This is simply because Malaysians cannot be short-changed by having half-baked teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Moreover, if we are to be a supplier of educational services, we need to have the best teaching at private colleges, public universities and our think tanks.

Some will cry foul but they should crawl out of their time-warps. This is not 1971 or even 1985. Most of the members of Gapena, for example, have sent their children to overseas universities and they have all done very well. It is time, that the same opportunities be given to poorer Malaysians in the rural areas. This means investing more in education by raising the salaries of quality teachers.

As we make ourselves less dependent on exports, we need to offer the world better services. But unlike the policies of the past, let us put Malaysians first. If our health, education and tourism products are so good that Malaysians feel proud of them, then it should be quite natural that they will be good enough for regional and international investors and customers.

It is therefore time to put into practice the ethnically neutral aspects of the NEP so that we can build a strong and sustainable nation. On this point, the constructive criticisms and observations of Mahathir should be heeded.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Poor, Poor Police

Time for IGP Musa to resign when crime rampages beyond police control until even the JB South OCPD is tied up and robbed at knife point in his house
Lim Kit Siang

It is time for the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan to resign when crime rampages on in the country beyond police control until even the Johore Baru South OCPD Asst Comm Zainuddin Yaakob was tied up and robbed at knife point in his house in Johore Baru on Thursday morning.

ACP Zainuddin was home alone when three men, believed to be Indonesians, tied him up and ransacked his home at about 5.45 am on Thursday, leaving later with some cash and valuables.

The tying-up and robbing at knife-point of an OCPD in his own house is not just a humiliating episode for the Malaysian police, but highlights the sheer inability of the police force to bring crime under check and control, especially in the several capitals of crime in the country.

One of the greatest failures of the Abdullah premiership is his failure to reduce crime to restore to Malaysians their fundamental right to be free from crime and the fear of crime, whether in the streets, public places or the privacy of their homes.

Although Abdullah started his premiership with the pledge to fight crime, he left office with Malaysians feeling even more unsafe from crime which has reached endemic dimensions.

Under Abdullah’s premiership, the police fought a losing war against the rising crime index, which had worsened from 156,315 cases in 2003 to crash through the 200,000 barrier for the first time in nation’s history.

Now, it is not only the ordinary citizens, visitors, tourists and investors who do not feel safe, even police personnel and police officers like the JB South OCPD are themselves victims of crime. Until recently, only ex-police officers fall victim to crime – like the former Penang Chief Police Officer who was killed when robbed in his Petaling Jaya home recently!

Abdullah did make an attempt to address the endemic crime problem at the beginning of his premiership, setting up the Royal Police Commission to revamp the police force.

However, the Royal Police Commission’s recommendations to create an efficient, incorruptible, professional and world-class police service to declare an all-out war against crime and to keep crime low was opposed by the police force, UMNO and UMNO Youth then led by the present Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, sabotaging the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Abdullah did not have the political will to implement the Royal Police Commission’s recommendations to establish a professional world-class police service to keep crime low, eradicate corruption and uphold human rights.

Does the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has the political will to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Police Commission, in particular to set up the IPCMC?

The signs are not favourable, especially from the way the story of the tying-up and robbing of the JB South OCPD had been played down by the mainstream media.

A cold and wintry wind is blowing through the news rooms of all news media organisations, particularly the mainstream media – heralding the return of Mahathirism on news control and censorship to serve the interests of the political leaders in government rather than those of the people.