The war is on

May 27, 2012

For all his boastful confidence, Najib Abdul Razak is acutely aware that Umno’s end could be imminent.

The day after the massive Bersih 3.0 rally – the biggest multi-racial act of civil disobedience in Malaysia’s history – Umno’s bigwigs dismissed it as having no ramifications. But they could not have regretted their words sooner. The impact has been huge, with pictures, video clips and eyewitness accounts of police brutality circulating on the Internet like wildfire.

The Economist, a bastion of neo-liberalism and market economy, sought to play down the effect of the protest by highlighting the “commotion” on the part of the protesters. Najib, a self-congratulatory “reformist”, no doubt delighted in the “even-handed” report. But the otherwise authoritative magazine failed to also inform their readers that Najib could eventually win a propaganda war all thanks to his tight control of the press and the media.

NONEThat the Economist also appears to have missed out the fact that the coverage of both the BBC and Al Jazeera were doctored by Astro also calls into question its professionalism, not to mention that journalists including those from the foreign media, too, came under attack by the Malaysian police.

Judging from the superficial contents of the article, one has ample reason to ask if the Economist had indeed dispatched at least as stringer to gauge the situation on the ground!

By contrast, Bridget Welsh’s excellent piece Road to Malaysia’s Day of Destiny remains the best analysis by far.

That Bersih 3.0 has created immense after-effects – to the detriment of Umno – can be seen from the freakish and capricious reactions of the Najib administration. The government first wanted to gloss over it as a non-event, only to realise the damage had been done.

It was more than obvious that blaming the crowds for breaching the barricades and “exacting bodily harm” on the police had failed to work, while more people were questioning once again why such a gigantic force had been required in response to a peaceful assembly in the first place.

As people were seething with anger, Najib and his cohorts were having a tough time showing their die-hard supporters how the government could save its own face.

Carnival at the taxpayers’ expense

Hence the so-called 100,000 strong mammoth rally at Stadium Bukit Jalil on May 11, 2012, which only turned out to be a carnival with goodies for the attendants plus free transportation, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

Then came the witch-hunt for the ‘suspects’ who had allegedly wounded the police, while the real samseng remain at large, with some gloating smugly over their power right outside Ambiga Sreenevasan’s house.

And finally came the ridiculous charges against Anwar Ibrahim, Azmin Ali and Badrul Hisham Shaharin under the newly-passed ‘How To Frustrate Peaceful Assembly Act’ and the government’s lawsuit against 10 Bersih committee members over “losses”.

If all this symbolises Malaysia’s “moderateness” and efforts to become “the best democracy” under Najib’s (non-)leadership, I would be happy to be sent back to the Stone Age.

I must confess I cannot feel proud of being a citizen of a country where people are investigated for ‘sedition’ simply because they have uttered something unpalatable to the powers-that-be, as is the case with Irene Fernandez. It is as good as warning Malaysians not to report crime or they may find themselves being charged for tarnishing the ‘good name’ of Malaysia.

NONENeither can I turn a blind eye when shameless characters – including former army men who had supposedly discharged their unfailing duty to protect the country – exposed their butts for the whole world to see, in complete violation of Malay custom and Islamic teachings. Umno’s supporters must do some soul-searching and ask if they are willing to bear further indecorum just for the sake of maintaining the delusional ‘Malay supremacy’?

And how can we tolerate a government that is hell-bent on more boondoggle projects that will one day bankrupt our national coffer?

But the most heinous crime of the Najib-led government is its connivance of the threats against Ambiga, some of which clearly verge on sexual harassment.

NONEIf there is a Malaysian of the Decade Award, it has to be granted to Ambiga (left). This brave lady has successfully united Malaysians and her appeals transcend race, gender, religion and creed. It is a success that is beyond everyone’s wildest dream, but she represents a nightmare for Umno nonetheless.

Granted, those who believe in Umno’s racist ideology will not accept her on account of her ethnicity and religion, but they cannot deny she is now a formidable figure to be reckoned with.

I am heartened to see many of my Muslim and Malay friends have put up either Ambiga’s image or left comments on Facebook in support of her, for this is the strongest indication of their acceptance of her moral leadership, the daily demonisation by Utusan Malaysia and TV3 notwithstanding.

‘An attack on Malaysia’s dignity’

Simply put: an attack on Ambiga is an attack on Malaysia’s dignity, and one is obliged to speak up or risk being chastised by our future generations for not having done enough.

And we know why Ambiga is singled out but not Pak Samad. There is always a sinister plan by the reactionary forces within Umno to portray certain individuals as responsible for the Malay divide: Anwar Ibrahim and Nik Aziz Nik Mat being the two most prominent examples, but also non-Malays such as Lim Guan Eng and now Ambiga.

Any non-Umno leadership is dangerous, devious and divisive. Little wonder many were happy to put up with Mahathir Mohamad’s two decades of looting and intimidation!

Still, I am amused to read an FB comment by a Malay friend that goes like this: “If they want to target Ambiga for her religion, I would have no option but to go after Sharizat Abdul Jalil for her mamak origin. So Umno please don’t force me to stoop so low!”

While there is a physical war going on, as evidenced by the incessant violence against civil groups and the opposition, there is also an ideological conflict to be won. The ruffians are out to ensure Umno’s hegemony, but they will only end up humiliating their political masters.

Having said that, it is more important to keep the spirits of Ambiga and Pak Samad alive, because it is people like them who can truly make a difference even if the opposition fails to dislodge the Barisan Nasional.

A new national discourse is on, regardless of whoever makes it to Putrajaya after the next general election. The question is: to what extent are we prepared to fight it out?

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.


A deranged doctor in the house

May 18, 2012

Mahathir Mohamad may have been a dutiful and well-respected medical doctor back in the 1940s. But his decision to enter the political fray has – it’s safe to say – turned out to be a sheer nightmare for the country as a whole.

Mahathir could have maintained his good reputation as a doctor, but his name is now ruined, forever associated with the Twin Towers of corruption and cronyism, his only solace being perhaps the personal wealth that he and his sons managed to accumulate when he was at the zenith of his tyrannical rule.

And the most pathetic thing about this old man is that he had a choice to become either a statesman or a rascal, but he has clearly opted to be remembered as a deranged veteran who refuses to believe the world around him has changed.

lee kuan yew bridge mahathir 220406By any standards, Mahathir was an intelligent man among his contemporaries. Even Lee Kuan Yew found him a tough nut to crack.

Lee is an elite member of the old anglophile school who could easily quote a famous British judge to justify his own autocratic governance, but was confronted with tremendous difficulties in articulating his thoughts with the masses in Singapore’s early days as an independent state. But Mahathir, himself from the top drawer of his time, was often able to return to the grassroots and arouse populist sentiment for his own cause when the going got tough.

Which makes it all the more tragic that the doctor has now become deranged in his own house. With Barisan Nasional appearing to lose power sooner or later, he is living in great fear of his own misdeeds and transgressions being laid bare under the Malaysian sun. Had Mahathir been a righteous and just-minded leader, he would not have to shudder constantly at the scenario of an alternative government, for his rectitude would remain intact, come what may.

But integrity is precisely what the doctor is short of. To pre-empt potential change of government, he is now working profusely to smear both the Bersih movement and the opposition by joining the government’s chorus of vilification.

In fact, he is almost a lead singer!

azlanAdmittedly, Mahathir, who is single-handedly responsible for the erosion of the Malaysian judiciary does not see eye to eye with the Bar Council. The bad blood, however, came only from the doctor himself as he tried to ‘fix’ the judges as he did his own patients in Alor Star. His caustic remarks that the Bar Council has become a political party therefore only reveal his ineptitude in understanding the role of the legal fraternity.

Hence, it was a blessing that the colonial administration allegedly denied him a scholarship to read law in London!

Instead of hurling hollow accusations at the Bar Council, Mahathir should have the decency to admit as many as 90 percent of the judges, high-ranking police officers and “mainstream” journalists – especially those from RTM, TV3, Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, The Star and the New Straits Times – actually joined Umno and became his underlings after 1988.

Speaking truth to power

No, the Bar Council is not partisan. It just so happens that the current government is more often than not found to be on the wrong side of the law, and our lawyers are duty-bound to correct it. A Singaporean lawyer once told me how much she wished her colleagues back home would have the guts to speak truth to power like many of her Malaysian counterparts. This time on the Bersih 3.0 rally, the Malaysian Bar Council has again proven her right, of which I am indeed proud.

And Mahathir consistently refuses to accept the simple fact that Malaysians have different political identifications as rightful citizens. As far as he sees it, anyone who votes for the opposition is a bad Malaysian and less worthy, yet he ought to be told that not all who vote for Pas are religious “fanatics” and those who opt for the DAP are Chinese “chauvinists”. They simply want a government that is less corrupt, more honest and knows its limits.

My parents, for one, voted first the Barisan Sosialis Rakyat Malaya and then PAS throughout their lives, and did that make them racists or religious bigots? And how would “racists” like my parents have chosen PAS over either the MCA or the Chinese-dominated Gerakan in the first place? Can the doctor see the abject lack of logic in his view?

Simply put, Mahathir is now so paranoid and caught up with profound angst that he has lost all his senses, bent only on poisoning the minds of the Malays – young and old alike – with his race-centric rhetoric. Instead of championing greater transparency, public accountability and political integrity, he is going on an immoral crusade against anyone who simply wants to make Malaysia a better country to live in.

Which, in retrospect, was perhaps a reason why he was rejected by the colonial administration, for Mahathir just beats the British at their own game: divide and rule that is.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

Tunku Aziz and the Dewan Negara

May 11, 2012

That Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim’s senatorship will not be renewed came as no surprise to me.

In all probability, the Tunku has been persuaded by the DAP leadership to step down in order to lance the boil over his recent remarks over the Bersih 3.0 massive protest, which clearly raised more than eyebrows.

But the Tunku’s stance against street protest is nothing new. If anything, it is only in line with his political thinking over the years.

Coming from a prominent background (distantly related to the Kedah royalty) and having been very much a part of Malaysia’s high society (with distinguished services at Guthrie Corporation and Bank Negara in the past), the Tunku is most unlikely to become a so-called anti-establishment politician.

This, together with his relatively liberal and diverse family roots, decidedly ruled out the possibility of his joining either PAS or Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which at one time was popularly perceived as made up of a bunch of rabble-rousers and law-breakers.

NONEBut the Tunku (right in photo) truly made his mark as a respected public figure with his anti-corruption efforts while helming the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International. In his role as a corruption watchdog, the Tunku fearlessly spoke out against the opaque processes and corrupt practices of both the Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administrations, albeit always stopping short of calling for a change of government.

It was also completely characteristic of his mainstream political ideology, ie. reform from within the system, that the Tunku had rarely commented critically on controversial legislations such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, although he should have known the continued existence of these laws had severely impeded any genuine effort to weed out corruption.

Not to mention the daily street protests at the height of Reformasi, at which he no doubt looked askance, and I personally know of several social activists who dismissed the Tunku for his elitism and disapproval of any attempt to rage against the state machine.

In an interview with The Nut Graph, the Tunku related how his father was a stickler for rules who would not tolerate it if his son cycled home without a lamp. This anecdote illustrates his father’s fastidious adherence to the rule of law that certainly has had a powerful impact on the Tunku’s future political understanding.

But the Tunku did (and still does) harbour political ambitions, perhaps not aspiring to be a government minister of sorts but at least to be able to effect policy changes to some extent. Umno, that is universally known to be corrupt to the core, was out of the question, leaving the DAP the only viable option.

Indeed, it would take an enormous amount of courage for someone with dignity and prestige as the Tunku to join Umno of the present days.

In some way, the DAP’s ideology matches that of the Tunku. When the left-wing forces were boycotting what they saw as sham elections in the 1960s, the DAP filled the vacuum by contesting in most of the winnable seats and becoming the largest opposition party in parliament, a position that it went on to hold for the next three decades.

Again, the party’s faith in what the leftists and socialists would describe as capitalist parliamentary democracy reflected that of the Tunku’s.

A scrupulously principled man

It was beyond doubt that the DAP needed him – a towering and respected Malay – to counter claims that the party is anti-Malay. Unfortunately, the scrupulously principled man is unsuited for a country in which rules are bent and laws enacted to serve the purposes and benefits of the ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, the political developments over the past 15 years has triggered a sea-change in the Chinese-based DAP.

NONEHaving gone through the baptism of fire (ie teargas and water cannons) on the streets together with PAS and PKR and – most importantly – with national power no longer an ultimate pipe dream but actually within reach, the party is ready to opt for what social activist Hishammuddin Rais calls Pilihan Jalan Raya, meaning one should be ready to take to the streets if all other avenues to free and fair elections are blocked.

This seismic change in the DAP has now put the Tunku at odds with his party over the Bersih 3.0 march. He had hoped to use the DAP platform to articulate his thoughts and influence policy directions as a senator, but his view on peaceful street protest only shows that he is far behind the party’s leadership and rank and file.

Needless to say, for a national leader to come out with a statement that contradicts glaringly the collective decision of Pakatan Rakyat is creating unnecessary but potentially damaging ripple effects within the opposition front. One also has reasons to believe the DAP must have come under tremendous pressure to do something about the Tunku, given the resolute decisions of the other coalition partners to sack Zulkifli Noordin and Hasan Ali.

Judging from the Tunku’s track record, I am not prepared to rush to the conclusion that he is just another Trojan Horse. Most likely, the Tunku not only appears to be out of step with his party but also out of touch with public sentiments.

Lest we forget, Dewan Negara, unlike Dewan Rakyat, is an unelected chamber, and its members are no more than political appointees who are expected to toe the party line. In view of this, while discontinuing the Tunku’s senatorship may seem arbitrary, it can hardly be said that it is tantamount to denying him of his freedom of speech.

After all, the Tunku can remain a DAP member and continue to speak out without fear and favour, although it will certainly make his position as a vice-chairperson quite untenable.

But this episode – along with issues of other senators whose appointment now hangs in the balance – also exposes the democratic deficits of the upper chamber as a whole. It would have made it a daunting task for the DAP to withdraw the Tunku’s senatorship had he been elected in the first place, for he would then be able to cite popular mandate as his defence.

Hence, while it is high time that both the government and the opposition consider having an elected Dewan Negara, political calculations however determine that this will not happen for years to come.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

Bouquet of barbed wire for Dataran

May 1, 2012

The irony of the Bersih 3.0 rally was that it was Ambiga Sreenevasan and not premier Najib Abdul Razak, who managed to unite the rakyat and give true meaning to his favourite slogan, ‘1Malaysia’.

NONEAmbiga united all Malaysians. They had one goal. How it must have hurt Najib that she had more magnetism than he does.

If democracy in Malaysia is like a dead man, then Bersih 3.0 successfully resurrected him. It just remains for the rakyat to nurse the dying democracy back to good health.

It is doubtful that the PM or any other Umno politician, could have attracted the size of crowd that filtered into Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. It is inconceivable that they could have united Malaysians on a national and global scale. Umno just manages to divide the races. If Umno cannot see this, then it is either too obtuse or in denial.

People know that Umno events are subsidised by the party. Taxpayers’ money is used for providing transport, makan and a small token of appreciation, averaging RM30, to each participant.

For Bersih 3.0, Ambiga and her committee promised nothing and gave no handouts. All she did was to restore faith and self-respect in each Malaysian. They gave each of us an opportunity to express our disapproval of the corrupt electoral system.

Tazlanhe rakyat just wanted Najib to clean up the Election Commission. It is not about toppling the government, but has everything to do with giving Malaysians clean and fair elections.

All Ambiga could guarantee was a long walk to Dataran Merdeka and the hope that, if everyone kept calm, the police might not react with the same violence as during Bersih 2.0.

It would be true to say that on the morning of April 28, the whole world and all of Malaysia held their breath. Malaysians overseas were glued to their computer screens or other social networking sites, trying to keep abreast of events as these unfolded at Dataran Merdeka.

dataran breach barricade cordon 290412Dataran Merdeka has witnessed many historic occasions, the most important being the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Malayan flag at midnight on Aug 31, 1957. It would have been a moral coup if Bersih 3.0 had been able to stage the sit-down protest at Dataran Merdeka. That is why Najib and Umno banned the protest there.

The ever tolerant and law-abiding Malaysian happily compromised, provided they could have their march. Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians did so without incident.

Even if it is true as alleged that the opposition instigated the crowd to breach Dataran Merdeka, was the level of violence perpetrated by the police justified? Witnesses talked of exit routes being blocked off. Why did the police kettle the people and stop them from going home? Why make them angry and frustrated?

Bersih 3.0 rattled Najib. His ego is dented and he was piqued that the crowd treated the event like a street carnival. He was more piqued they dared to disobey his orders not to march. Did Najib have a hand in engineering violence, so that Ambiga would be discredited and Bersih 3.0 tarnished?

Najib’s escapades

If trust is a two-way street, then Malaysians have been let down twice; once by the government, the second by the international community.

Some foreign media claimed that there were only 25,000 people at the Kuala Lumpur rally. Were they actually in Kuala Lumpur?

In late March, Najib had been full of self-praise when he said that Malaysia had moved up nine places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. He won’t be too pleased in 2013, when our ranking falls because of last Saturday’s violence against journalists.

NONEThe British premier David Cameron will happily accept Malaysian ringgit in exchange for weapons and is more than pleased when EPF money is sunk into property in London. Malaysians cannot depend on the international community to effect change in this country.

Only Malaysians can do that from within. World leaders only want our cheap commodities and exports, and they will continue to turn a blind eye to Malaysia.

The colour yellow has a lot of significance. It is the colour of royalty and is symbolic of the Bersih struggle, but yellow also signifies cowardice.

When will the PM show some leadership qualities? When confronted with difficult questions he mumbles “No comment”. At a private function at the Royal Selangor Club, it is alleged that he was asked if he would willingly transfer power to the opposition, should he lose GE13. He was non-committal, before walking out in a huff. Last week, the same thing occurred and he cut short a press conference when asked if he would testify at the Scorpene inquiry in Paris.

Najib has a knack for distancing himself from potentially difficult situations. He also keeps his hands clean by abrogating responsibility.

Last year, it was alleged that Najib wanted to avoid Bersih 2.0 on July 9 by leaving the country. He was due in England for a state visit on July 13 but was prevented from going early by his quick-thinking wife, who knew he would face intense criticism had he done so.

This time, Najib was conveniently away in Sarawak during Bersih 3.0, just as he was away in South Africa when Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II verdict was announced.

NONENajib left his home minister, the Kuala Lumpur mayor and the inspector-general of police in charge of Bersih 3.0. The PM could have allowed the people to let off steam and stage their protest at Dataran Merdeka, but was too arrogant and vain to allow the rakyat to voice their wishes.

Perhaps Najib should keep the garland of barbed wire that bedecks Dataran Merdeka. He should leave it looking like a gift-wrapped present which people can only admire from afar.

To complete the picture, he should place notices at Dataran Merdeka which read ‘Look, but don’t touch’. But why stop half-way? Why does he not rename the site?  As the rakyat cannot appreciate their ‘Independence Square’, Najib should rename it Dataran Barisan Nasional.

The PM has made a mockery of reforms and made a hash of democracy. Perhaps we should be thankful that statues are banned in Malaysia, otherwise Najib’s and the self-styled First Lady’s faces would be staring at us from every street corner.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.