Friday, 25 September 2009

BMI - The Third Force?

16th September is Malaysia Day and recent history tells us it was Anwar Ibrahim's non-starting East Malaysia Frogs Day. This year, it was marked by the official launch of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Movement (SABM) after having had its soft launch on 25th August 2007. I attended both occasions and this time around, it was obvious that Haris Ibrahim and his team had put in a lot of effort in the last two years but still have their work cut out for them.

From what was briefed to attendees, this was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg and much, much more effort had to be put into spreading the message and getting the buy-in of the rakyat at large, to the concept. This political but non-partisan entity (SABM) has roadshows, dialogue sessions, rallies in the pipeline to engage both the rakyat (community groups, NGOs, etc.) and politicians from both the ruling coalition and opposition alliance.

I have observed Haris and his Bangsa Malaysia Initiative since 2007 and the drive, sincerity and conviction of the man is beyond question (although I think he did question himself once). Till today I still do not know who actually drafted the People's Declaration (which component parties of Pakatan Rakyat endorsed before GE12) but Haris' contribution to this document crafted in love must have been immense.

Tracking back in his blog, The People's Parliament, his consistency is evident and the chronicles of his attempts to move mountains speak mountains of the man himself. He even tried in vain to start RepWatch which was a novel idea for elected reps and constituents to communicate and evaluate. I am glad he found out the hard way that most elected reps have no time for anything else except their own agenda.

Alas, I came away from the SABM official launch feeling apprehensive about whether this well intentioned move will actually bear fruit. Whether this initial motion can actually develop into a bona fide Movement; whether it faces a natural death for lack of buy-in (though not for lack of trying); whether Haris and his core group have it in them to stick in there come hell or high water; or whether the Bangsa Malaysia concept is actually tenable.

More so, I was apprehensive because SABM is intended to merely be a Movement - without its own tangible form. Even some of the promoters of Makkal Sakthi as a movement are seeing it fit to crystallize whatever strides they have made into the "form" of a political party although I think they are committing seppuku by aligning with BN even before they can take off. No, I am not suggesting that SABM become a political party...there are other ways of skinning the cat!

Lest we be mistaken; like the earlier need for change that developed into the GE12 tsunami, this humble sampan wants to make big waves! Unfortunately, for such a venture, success or failure can only be measured in absolute terms. Partial success is not success and a failure is a failure. Unless the SABM succeeds totally it will not be recognized as a factor that effected real change in our political landscape. It has to succeed as a third force in Malaysian national governance and nothing less! How can SABM achieve this without being a political party?

To start with, Haris and his team have already made the right moves in the last two years. On timing alone they could not have done better with divine intervention! The concept was soft-launched way before 8th March 2008 (GE12) and the People's Voice/People's Declaration was ready for endorsement and indeed endorsed by PR in February 2008. In the last one and a half years, together with others from blogosphere, they have gone to the ground in all the by-elections (except perhaps Batang Ai) and made their presence felt. They have also tried approaching elected representatives to get the latter to affirm support for SABM values and most importantly, they have a self-declared political agenda based on a non-partisan policy.

Now that they have officially launched the SABM Charter on Malaysia Day 2009 and are going on the road, there is at least 40 months (to the next GE) to make their efforts count! How do they do it?

It can be done by distilling the rather ethereal values engendered in the People's Declaration and SABM Charter, into something that is more "tangible and substantial"; a sort of benchmark against which we can measure our socio-politics and politicians; a yardstick voters can use to make their decisions; and an endorsement that politicians will come to respect and wear like a badge of honor. Lets rate and label all our individual politicians, political parties, political policies and laws, etc. in terms of congruency with SABM ideals.

For want of a better name, I would like to suggest something called the BMI (Bangsa Malaysia Index). Just as Body-Mass Index (also BMI) is one of the indicators of bodily health relating to weight, SABM must have its Bangsa Malaysia Index. Najib can have his KPI but SABM must have an index to measure political compliance to SABM aspirations and ideals; the BMI as a yardstick that will become a "kandar stick" on which the SABM Charter is carried and the governance of the country is balanced. The "kandar stick" that can also be used to "crack a few heads" along the way! Make the BMI public via a public internet portal that doubles up as a site for promoting Bangsa Malaysia values.

Currently, we already know who our elected 222 lawmakers are. At state level there are a few hundred ADUNs. In total there are not that many. We know which political party they belong to and there is basically enough information on most for SABM to tag a BMI rating on each of them. Obviously those parties which espouse race-based politics will rank poorly yet there are individuals within who will rank high on the BMI scale. UMNO and Tengku Razaleigh are examples that come to mind.

Conversely, PR are supposed to represent the new popular wave yet there are the likes of Dr Hasan Ali, Zulkifli Noordin, etc who will be lowly BMI rated. Kelantan PAS will score better than Selangor PAS; the parochial and new Makkal Sakthi party will rank even lower than Gerakan; 1Malaysia will be ranked among the very highest yet its primary proponent, Najib Razak will rank poorly for not walking his talk; Muhiyuddin will rank lower than Zaid Ibrahim; the BMI can even be used for the Bagan Pinang by-election...Isa if selected will surely rank lowly as a proven and penalized corrupter; the ISA will have very low BMI rating compared to the SABM proposed Anti-Terrorist Act; how shall Taib Mahmud be rated for the current Penan issues? How will Anwar's "Ketuanan Rakyat" fare against Najib's 1Malaysia? How will Lim Kit Siang's BMI compare to that of Lim Guan Eng's? The possibilities are endless! Yet, the BMI is not static and like Najib's KPI, the parties involved can work at improving it. This is where the fun will be!

With BMI rating, voters who subscribe to the Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia creed will know who to vote for, or more importantly, who not to vote for! What causes to support and what not to. Perhaps then, people will start voting people rather than flags!

The politicians were clearly missing on the 16th September SABM launch. Memories and gratefulness are obviously short. Yes, PR component parties endorsed the People's Declaration before GE12 yet we do not see them recognizing it today. Currently, there is no measure nor way of measuring compliance to what they endorsed so they can be lackadaisical. At the moment they need be pushed but if implemented properly, the BMI will ensure thay are pulled!

Can something like the SABM BMI be a reality? Actually, Haris already has with him the right guy to set up the BMI and he is none other than the gentleman who partly sparked off Haris' journey and whom he singled out for special mention on the 16th September launch. I am talking about the unassuming Mr Jayanath Appadurai, a retired civil servant (Statistics Department) who not only has his Bangsa Malaysia heart in the right place but also the requisite expertise to develop the BMI.

My proposed BMI is based on two fundamental assumptions:
1. That the majority of Malaysians subscribe to the tenets of the Bangsa Malaysia creed (Peoples' Voice/Parliament and SABM Charter)
2. That SABM must not just be a Movement but be a body corporate that must be, and seen to be beyond reproach.
Subscribing majority:
  • The SABM message must be spread far and wide through technology (via blogs, Facebook, You Tube, Tweeter and other forms of social media) and roadshows. This is being attempted and hopefully roadshows and community meeting sessions will be able to get many voters to actually sign down their endorsement of the Bangsa Malaysia creed.
  • SABM needs money! Since it is an undertaking of love for the rakyat, the rakyat must be made to put their money where their need is. There must be a trust fund set up with an eminent board of trustees.
  • Ride on RPK's Malaysia Today (and perhaps Malaysiakini and the Malaysian Insider) readers for a start. They number in the thousands daily. Set up a poll and also a SABM fund. Money is the best confirmation of endorsement and numbers mean credibility.
A body corporate?:
  • It appears to me the SABM is currently mainly its Charter, which is mere words on parchment. There is a need for a SABM soul and a body to carry this soul. Let the BMI be a manifestation of the SABM soul. To be able to operate effectively SABM needs to assume a tangible form. How else can it be a new force in Malaysian politics?
  • As the "BMI rating agency" it goes without saying credibility is utmost. The relevant infra-structure has to be put in place.
  • With due respect, I noticed a rag-tag bunch of "ordinary" folk as the core group behind the SABM initiative at the launch. Essentially, still a mamma and pappa set-up. This may be fine for a start but in order for the BMI to take off, there is a dire need to bring in a more "high powered think tank" and respected individuals/public figures (former judges perhaps) to serve in advisory and watchdog capacities. There is a need for various technicians including statisticians and researchers. All the above needs massive funding.
  • Therefore, SABM needs to be a more tangible entity than a mere motion...oops! movement, to be able to aggregate funding under it. Approach for funding must be made far and wide, even to worldwide democracy advocacy foundations (I am sure they exist). Best place to look might well be in Singapore!

The above are merely thoughts off the top of my head and I do wish Haris and his SABM team every success.

Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Charter
Recognising that our beloved Malaysia is:

  • A sovereign and independent member of the global community of nations;
  • A polity founded on the principles of a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy;
  • A multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-cultural society formed on the basis of a shared choice of membership;
  • A country built and nurtured by the immeasurable efforts and invaluable contributions of all her people, past and present;
  • A nation where her people are inextricably bound by a shared history, heritage, a common interest and destiny;
  • A land blessed with rich natural and human resources.And fully subscribing to the immutable and universal principle that we are all of a single human race and born equal;

We, Anak Bangsa Malaysia, hereby declare that we are first and foremost Malaysians and Malaysia is our Home. We aspire to be the conscience of the nation and therefore pledge to:

  1. Nurture the spirit of ‘Unity is Strength’ as enunciated in our Merdeka and Malaysia Day proclamations;
  2. Honour and Uphold the Federal Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land;
  3. Defend the constitutional provisions of fundamental liberties and equal rights for all citizens;
  4. Respect our fellow citizens irrespective of ethnicity, faith, colour, class or gender;
  5. Oppose all forms of prejudice, discrimination, oppression, persecution and injustice;
  6. Cherish our multi-cultural heritage and celebrate our rich diversity; and
  7. Respect and safeguard our natural and built environment;

We, Anak Bangsa Malaysia, herewith undertake to:

  1. Engender a National Mindset to think and act first and foremost as Malaysians;
  2. Engage the Hearts and Minds of our people to rise above the social constructs and divisive forces of ethnicity, faith, colour, class or gender;
  3. Promote the humanitarian Values of inclusiveness, equality and justice for all;
  4. Advance the principles of Good Governance, namely, stewardship, integrity, accountability and transparency;
  5. Educate our people to be responsible and caring Global Citizens contributing to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.
We are committed to actualising the spirit and substance of Anak Bangsa Malaysia – "One People, One Nation". Towards this end, we are determined to take this message to the PEOPLE.
25th April 2009.

The People’s Voice

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
A. We, the rakyat of Malaysia, being a people of diverse races and faiths but bonded together as one by shared history, experience and a commitment to a united Malaysia, note that:-
  1. since independence up to the present, Malaysia has been governed by reference to, and with keen awareness of, race and in accordance with a race based system of power sharing within, initially, the Alliance coalition and, since the early 70s, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. This system is premised on the notional representation of the Malay, Chinese and Indian rakyat by UMNO, MCA and MIC respectively, and the other communities, including the indigenous communities in Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, by the other BN coalition partners;
  2. whilst the exigencies of the independence campaign and the early post-Merdeka period may have required a race-based approach to the question of governance, it has become apparent that the political arrangements that allow for such a system of governance, and the system itself, are increasingly undermining the unity that has made Malaysia an exemplar on the question of race relations. The recent concentrated efforts of the government to address issues of unity are a recognition of a need to address those features of our society that have allowed for deepening fissures, not just in matters of race relations but also of economics and the equitable distribution of wealth. The system, and all that it allows for, is one such, if not the only, key feature. Its divisiveness is the main impediment to a committed and shared effort on the part of all Malaysians to meet the challenges of our times, both within the nation, as well as in the increasingly globalizing and competitive world; and
  3. though the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in 1970 with the principle self-dcclared aim of “eventually eradicating poverty, irrespective of race, and to undertake economic restructuring so as to eliminate the identification of ethnicity with economic function”, its implementation, within the framework of the race based system of governance, has led to a state of affairs where poverty and the inequities persist, within the Malay community as well as within other communities to an extent that it cannot be said that the NEP, and its successor policies, have successfully achieved their stated aim. The indisputable enrichment of a small community of elites, of diverse racial backgrounds, at the expense of the overwhelming majority and the creation of a belief of racial supremacy on the part of some conclusively show that it is imperative that the Malaysian system of affirmative action be seriously reconsidered. The failings of the systems in play are glaring, having a direct causal link with the following effects:
3.1 a significant percentage of the population, of diverse racial background, are still living in poverty by any definition and face serious difficulties in fulfilling the most basic of needs and expectations including the acquisition of places of residence. In particular, in the East Malaysian States of Sabah and Sarawak, some rural communities live in absolute poverty with no access to basic needs including potable and clean water, electricity, and other essential amenities;
3.2 the rising incidence of urban poverty is leading to an alarming increase in the crime rate;
3.3 the poverty cycle threatens to self perpetuate due to a lack of opportunities for higher education for those from the lower economic segment of the population;
3.4 there is a serious deficiency in the quality and capability of human capital within the nation with, for this reason, a rising number of local graduates finding it difficult to find employment; and
3.5 a denial of access to opportunities has led to a growing disenfranchisement that can potentially become a serious threat to stability and the Malaysian way of life in the very near future. The system of governance having emphasized the differences amongst the racial communities, it is not unlikely that in the event of any unrest, such unrest may manifest along racial and religious lines.
B. And we, the rakyat of Malaysia of all races and faiths, note with grave concern, that :-
  1. the key institutions of the state have suffered a decline in their effectiveness over the years so as to have allowed for a greater concentration of power in the Executive than envisaged by the Federal Constitution and an obscuring of the systems of checks and balances considered essential for the true working of democracy;
  2. the actions of the Executive have become increasingly less transparent, and consequently less accountable, through laws though perhaps aimed at ensuring efficient governance have allowed for a shielding from scrutiny of the various aspects of government as well as a mistaken belief that a representative form of government vests absolutely all power in the hands of the Executive and allows for control along majoritarian lines;
  3. in this way, and through majority control of Parliament, the role of Parliament has been reduced to rubber stamping the will of the Executive. The mistaken belief has resulted in the similarly mistaken rejection of the need for the debates in Parliament that will allow for a wider representation of viewpoints essential to sound decision making as envisaged by the Federal Constitution. This alarming state of affairs has been exacerbated by the erroneous belief that debates in Parliament should be shaped by the political relationships of the political parties concerned to the extent that views are rejected not on the basis of merit but on the basis of the political party of the parliamentarian espousing the view concerned. The politicizing of the processes of Parliament are amongst the key threats to democracy having allowed for the furtherance of political agendas through Parliament and the laws enacted therein. Laws must be reflective of policy and not politics;
  4. the integrity of the Judiciary has similarly been compromised through the purported suborning of the Judiciary to Parliament by way of a constitutional amendment to Article 121(1) that has resulted in the declaration by the apex court that the doctrine of separation of powers is of no relevance to Malaysia even though this doctrine is a pillar of the democratic processes. The Judiciary has also been rendered ineffective through a promotion and appointments process that have resulted in unmeritorious appointments and promotions to the extent that the quality and impartiality of the judicial process has become highly suspect, and confidence in the Judiciary and the Rule of Law in Malaysia has declined to serious levels, both nationally and internationally;
  5. despite the Election Commission being a body established by the Federal Constitution in such a manner so as to be impartial, a vital feature of the said commission for it to fulfill its function under the Federal Constitution, the said commission has demonstrated itself as being partisan to the interests of the Barisan Nasional, in part through a general reluctance to take concrete steps towards the reforming of the electoral process into a free and fair one, in response to cogent evidence of serious deficiencies in the electoral process. In this regard, the minimal steps taken towards reforming the electoral process have been taken only with the approval of the Executive notwithstanding the clear mandate of the said commission. As a consequence, the Election Commission cannot be said to have the confidence of the people in the manner to the level expected of the said commission by the Federal Constitution. As a further consequence, it cannot be said that the rakyat fully view the electoral process as being a free and fair one;
  6. the continued use of repressive anti-expression and anti-assembly laws such as the Printing Press & Publications Act, the Sedition Act and the Police Act as well as the draconian Internal Security Act have allowed for the governing of the country arbitrarily, by stealth and without due accountability in a manner that has concentrated power in the Executive absolutely, Such laws have also impeded the effective voicing of opinions by civil society through the climate of fear that they have created. This has regrettably created the perception that despite being the primary stakeholders in the national interest, the rakyat have no valid say in the process of governance except through their right to vote;
  7. the control of media houses through subjective issuance of permits and the imposition of conditions, and the selective presentation of news and viewpoints that this approach creates, have by denying access to varied viewpoints and news further interfered with the ability of the rakyat to form coherent and comprehensive views on matters of national interest. This has not only skewed the processes of democracy but have also resulted in a significant part of the Malaysian community being incapable of the critical analysis that is essential for a growing democracy and a fast developing nation competing on the global stage. The rakyat have a right to information;
  8. the foregoing has created an environment that encourages corruption, a sate of affairs that us borne out by the increasing levels of corruption in the nation, levels that indicate that corruption is fast becoming institutional, if it has not already become so. Thus far, notwithstanding the welcomed rejection and condemnation of corruption by the Prime Minister as a policy position, efforts undertaken to address corruption in having merely selectively attacked the symptoms of this disease have not successfully addressed the root causes of the same. There is a growing perception that corruption, cronyism and nepotism in all sectors of government, at the Federal and State levels as well as at the Local Government level has been on the rise over these past few years; and
  9. the poverty gap is widening and many more Malaysians are now falling through the gaps of a security net that requires a reconsideration more so for the gradual liberalizing of the Malaysian market as the nation embraces the global free market. As a consequence, despite the continued economic growth of the nation an increasing number of Malaysians are being marginalized. Further, the pursuit of economic development through privatizations and other free market strategies have resulted in less priority being attached to developing the efficiency and quality of the public services with the result that standard of such services, including the civil service, healthcare, education and the Royal Malaysian Police, to name a few, have suffered a worrying decline, This has made the nation less competitive and insufficiently prepared to meet the full chanllenge of globalization.;
C. And we, the rakyat of Malaysia of all races and of various faiths, note with regret :-
  1. that the Executive has without adequate consideration, due regard and public consultation rejected the suggestion that steps be taken to dismantling the race based system of governance, such suggestion having even been received the endorsement of Gerakan, a member party of the Barisan Nasional. Conversely, the Executive has through its inaction continued to endorse the system and the supremacist notions it allows for;
1.1. that the Executive continues to defend its position on the various matters of concern noted above by reference to the majoritarianism and its control of Parliament notwithstanding the validity of such concerns
D. And we, the rakyat of Malaysia of all races and of various faiths, now declare that we :-
  1. reject race-based systems of governance of the country in favour of non race-based, integrated systems of governance;
  2. reject the polticising of the key organs of the state, in particular Parliament and the Judiciary;
  3. we desire an independent and competent Judiciary such as that Malaysians had the benefit of prior to 1988;
  4. we desire a Parliament that allows for a discharge of parliamentary function in manner contemplated by the Federal Constitution and whose members recognize that though political affiliations may have a bearing on their roles as Member of Parliament, their oath to defend, uphold and protect the Federal Constitution obliges them to place the national interest over their party interests where matters of Parliament are concerned; and
  5. desire that the policy of affirmative action be reconsidered with a view to establishing a system that ensures that the objective of poverty eradication be be achieved efficiently, effectively and inclusively. We believe that the protections afforded to the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak are sufficient to protect and promote the interests of these special communities.
E. Wherefore we, the rakyat of Malaysia of all races and of various faiths, having now rejected the race-based political governance of the country and now making known our desire to have in its place a non race-based system of governance and making further known that we desire that the original aims of the NEP be immediately given effect to and implemented, now:-
  1. declare our belief that a mandate for governance should be given to such individuals and political entities that recognize as legitimate the concerns and aspirations set out above; and
  2. call upon all stakeholders to to come together for a better Malaysia to adopt this declaration and The People’s Declaration attached hereto as foundation for the governance of this nation.

The People’s Declaration
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The People’s Mission
1. We, Malaysians of all races and of various faiths, are resolute in our desire for change and are determined to give birth to a system of governance, built upon the fundamental, spiritual and ethical values that are part of the teachings of all the great religions, that:
  • is honest, dynamic and truly accountable;
  • has a truly democratic parliamentary system that represents the interests of the people;
  • has truly independent and clean judicial institutions;
  • has a police force which is professional and executes its duties in a just and fair manner, according to the tenets of law;
  • has a mass media that is free and not beholden to those in power;
  • values accountability and transparency as its fundamental elements;
  • respects differences of views; and
  • supports a dynamic, resilient and just economy which is also internationally competitive.

2. We, Malaysians of all races and of various faiths, pledge to uphold at all times the foundational principles of the Malaysian Constitution, namely:
  • the supremacy of the Constitution over all other laws;
  • the Yang DiPertuan Agong as the Constitutional monarch;
  • the separation of the powers of government and in particular the independence of the judiciary;
  • that fundamental liberties and freedoms guaranteed the rakyat shall not be interfered with, denied, or rendered illusory;
  • one man, one vote, both of equal value;
  • that Islam is the religion of the Federation, and all other religions shall be practiced in peace and harmony;
  • Bahasa Melayu as the national language, whilst safeguarding the unfettered right to use and learn other languages;
  • the special position of the Malays and the indigenous rakyat of West Malaysia, of Sabah and Sarawak, and the legitimate rights of all other races; and
  • A federal administrative system that fulfills its responsibilities, and protection and respect for the special position of Sabah and Sarawak.

3. We, Malaysians of all races and of various faiths, pledge to collectively:
  • work to create a just and prosperous Malaysian nation based on a truly democratic system of government;
  • protect and defend the rights and dignity of all the people and guarantee justice for all;
  • act to enhance economic prosperity through greater productivity, efficiency, and sound economic management in order to enable the country to face global challenges;
  • channel the country’s resources not only to meet the basic needs of the people but, more importantly, to ensure that the quality of life and social harmony are enhanced;
  • distribute wealth and opportunities fairly among all; and
  • develop quality social infrastructure and a clean and comfortable physical environment; enhance the quality of education, health and other social services; build mosques and other places of worship; build public parks and libraries; build arts and cultural centres; and provide the widest opportunities for information technology and other methods of communication.

The People’s Plan

1. We will initiate measures towards a democratic, transparent, accountable and ethical system of government that will provide the environment for a strong and sustainable economic recovery, for social harmony and prosperity, and justice and equality for all. To that end, we will institute measures to:
  • promote national unity;
  • build a genuine democracy;
  • enhance administrative transparency and accountability;
  • strengthen the national economy; and
  • give full effect to our social contract.
A. Promote National Unity
1. We will initiate measures to build and foster unity among the various ethnic and religious groups, having as our aim the evolution of a people with the common aspiration of justice and equality for all. To that end, we will:
  • immediately dismantle any and all remaining practices of “divide and rule” in public administration from the days of the BN administration;
  • cause to be established a Ministry in charge of Non-Islamic Religious Affairs;
  • put in place an affirmative action programme at Federal and all State levels to eradicate poverty and marginalization from amongst the weak and backward groups irrespective of race, social background and religion;
  • pay special attention to the Orang Asli in the Peninsula and all the indigenous groups in Sabah and Sarawak, and amend various laws and regulations pertaining to them so that justice is served, including establishing a Commission to protect Native Customary Rights (NCR) land and to resolve disputes relating to such lands while respecting their traditions and customs;
  • strengthen national integration by restoring the rights and privileges that were promised to the people of Sabah and Sarawak;
  • establish an independent Ethnic Relations Council, reporting directly to Parliament to help in building a united Bangsa Malaysia;
  • establish a Commission for Shari’ah Law at the Federal level;
  • reduce the influence of party politics in the respective State Religious Councils, mosques and other religious institutions;
  • allocate land for graves and places of worship for all faiths without any discrimination;
  • increase inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogues to strengthen mutual understanding among the people; and
  • encourage the development of a Malaysian culture based on common moral values and ideals. This requires an open attitude towards the diversity of cultures of the various ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in the country, taking account of the country’s history and evolution.
B. Build A Genuine Democracy
1. Genuine democracy must provide meaningful space for the people to express their views and to participate in various processes of daily administration and not merely to voting once in five years. All interest groups must be allowed to present and debate their views. Information will be free available subject to strictly defined restrictions. To that end, we will:
  • repeal the Internal Security Act and and all laws that presently permit detention without trial;
  • form an Independent Commission to consider if any form of preventive detention laws are necessary and, if thought so, to draft a bill to provide for the same and the necessary checks and balances;
  • form an Independent Commission to review all acts and laws (such as the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act, Police Act, University and University Colleges Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, etc.), with the objective of repealing whatever violates basic human rights;
  • take the necessary measures to ensure and safeguard the freedom of the press and the rights of peaceful assembly, expression and organisation, by amending the appropriate acts and laws and RTM will be corporatised and subject to an independent Broadcasting Commission;
  • ensure that the Human Rights Commission is independent and has representation from all major groups;
  • formulate a Freedom of Information Act to guarantee transparency and free flow of information from the government to the people;
  • to pass the necessary legislation to provide for local council elections;
  • so at to allow for more certainty in the electoral process, thereby affording to all parties participating in that process the most equitable opportunity to make preparation for the same and to remove any and all elements of surprise, make all necessary amendments to the law so that the date of dissolution of Parliament and general elections following thereafter shall respectively occur and be held every 5 years on a date or within a fixed period stipulated by law;
  • review and, where necessary, revise all previous redelineation of constituencies so as to ensure that differences in the numbers of registered voters in any two constituencies shall not exceed 20%;
  • enact a law to protect “whistle-blowers” of official misconduct and corruption;
  • sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • improve the quality and effectiveness of human rights education at all levels of education and institutions of higher learning as well as training centres for public servants; and
  • improve prison administration and conditions in line with with international standards.
C. Enhance Administrative Transparency & Accountability

1. The need for more transparent governance is pressing. Transparency and accountability must be integrated into all aspects of administration, without damaging efficiency. We will work towards the decentralization of power to the local level so that state governments will be more involved in their respective states’ development. To that end, we will :

  • establish a Royal Commission to review the judiciary and legal administration in the country, and to recommend proposals to enhance the independence of the judiciary, to regulate appointment and sacking of judges and to end abuse of the law on contempt of court;
  • strengthen the authority of Parliament by a system of all-party permanent committees with the power to name the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and other judges, the Inspector General of Police, the Governor of Bank Negara, who will be appointed by the Yang diPertuan Agong according to the Constitution;
  • limit the term of office of the Prime Minister, the Menteri Besar and Chief Minister to two terms;
  • guarantee freedom of the press so that they can monitor and expose any corruption and abuse of power;
  • implement effectively all existing laws that presently require a public hearing before any project is implemented or any regulation amended, such as the Environmental Protection Act, property re-valuation, and so forth;
  • review the method of appointing members to the Senate with the objective of introducing a method which reflects the interests of all the people;
  • reintroduce elections for local government so that local leaders can be made accountable;
  • introduce an ombudsman system for a more independent and effective public complaints body;
  • protect by law any individual or group that exposes mismanagement, abuse of power and corruption especially at the highest levels;
  • make the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) an independent body protected by the constitution and directly responsible to Parliament, and headed by a prominent person of standing;
  • make compulsory annual public declaration of assets by the people’s representatives;
  • enhance the independence and authority of the Elections Commission by giving full power to Parliament to appoint the Chairman and other members of the Commission through a process of open hearing;
  • clean up the voter register so that it is free from “phantom” voters, “overlapping” voters and foreign citizens;
  • reduce the voting age for Malaysian citizens to 18 years and introduce automatic registration for all citizens;
  • abolish postal balloting;
  • restore the image and status of the Royal Malaysian Police by means of a permanent committee as the Police Commission to receive and consider petitions by the people on police behaviour;
  • introduce legislation so that the Attorney General will no longer be a voting member of the Pardon’s Board, but will only act as advisor and resource person to the board;
  • separate the lower judiciary from the legal services so that they are not both controlled by the Attorney General;
  • strengthen the system of checks and balances by amending all laws, such as the Printing and Publication Act etc., that presently deny the power for judicial review;
  • review the position, administration and implementation of the Shari’ah laws to guarantee that justice is implemented and the beliefs of the Muslims are protected;
  • restore the integrity of the public services, by fully utilising its expertise and experience;
  • recognise members of the public services as equal partners in the effort to develop the country;
  • institute public sector reforms to raise efficiency and improve morale, work ethics, and working conditions within the public sector;
  • attempt to abolish the gap in service conditions between the public and private sectors, especially among those who have equal qualifications and carry out similar functions;
  • narrow the salary gap between the highest, medium and lower levels to set an example to the private sector; and
  • encourage members of the public services to a renewed determination to serve the people and country, and not the political leaders.
D. Strengthen The National Economy
(1) Reducing the people’s burden
(a) Reduce the tax burden
  • Raise the level of personal income tax exemption, in addition to increasing child allowance to a reasonable level;
  • Raise the level of personal income tax deduction for wives who are full-time home makers in recognition of their important contribution;
  • Raise the level of service tax exemption to a turnover exceeding one million ringgit a year;
  • Review the tax system with the objective of strengthening government revenues while reducing the tax burden on the people, especially the low- and middle-income groups.
(b) Eradicate absolute poverty
  • Eradicate absolute poverty by the middle of the next parliamentary term;
  • Reduce poverty levels in the next parliamentary term to half the levels of 1999;
  • Improve poverty eradication programmes so that they are free from political interference and truly help the poor;
  • Streamline various existing poverty eradication programmes;
  • Narrow the income and wealth gap without infringing on legitimate rights.
(c) Assist petty traders and hawkers
  • End the practice of using the licensing of small traders and hawkers as a source of revenue and as a party political tool, and instead use it purely for management and regulatory purposes to safeguard the well-being and health of the people, small traders and hawkers;
  • Provide comfortable, clean and attractive infrastructure and facilities for hawkers.
(d) Improve public transport services
  • Improve the quality of public transport and reduce fares to a level commensurate with the people’s living standards;
  • Issue taxi permits to individual entrepreneurs and their cooperatives, rather than to large companies;
  • Enhance the efficiency and quality of taxi services by private entrepreneurs through the establishment of cooperatives, associations, councils and the like;
  • Reduce the fares of domestic flights between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak to promote national unity and domestic tourism;
  • Modernise and enhance rail services in Peninsular Malaysia;
  • Develop the road system in Sabah and Sarawak;
  • Provide suitable facilities and regulations to reduce of road accidents and enhance public road safety;
  • Study the possibility of new forms of public transport in the main towns to improve the quality of urban life;
  • Provide more orderly and reasonably-priced school services bus to reduce the burden on parents.

(2) Just economic growth
(a) enhance domestic demand and productive, not wasteful, domestic investment
  • Review the existing regulatory framework and address its weaknesses;
  • Enhance private sector corporate governance, transparency and responsibility, and end the abuse of the banking and finance sector;
  • Give priority to projects which generate the greatest benefit to the people, projects such as medium and low-cost housing, modernisation of the railway system, road projects in Sabah and Sarawak, and others;
  • Halt mega-projects which are wasteful, environmentally destructive and of little or no benefit to the people;
  • Enhance economic opportunities for all by giving specific emphasis and appropriate support to groups that are weak, and effective support to local businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises;
  • Ensure that economic development is equitable and sustainable, and does not threaten social integrity or destroy the environment and natural resources;
  • Develop special development programmes for the poor and the low income in traditional villages, new villages and estates so that they are brought into the mainstream of development and provided with better income sources, jobs and title to land;
  • Ensure that special privileges are not abused to enrich only a small elite of those in power and their cronies.
(b) strengthen competitiveness, greater geographical dispersal of industry, develop resource based and hi-tech, information- and knowledge-based industries
  • Modernise and expand high productivity industries to increase the country’s economic competitiveness and to encourage high-value exports;
  • Address our technological weaknesses, in particular the technology gap between the backward and the advanced industries;
  • Ensure that large projects, including heavy industry projects, are managed in an integrated manner and in line with a practical industrial development master plan;
  • Provide incentives and greater support for small and medium-sized industries;
  • Encourage, by means of appropriate incentive schemes, further linkages between local, especially small and medium-sized industries, and large international corporations in order to accelerate technology transfer to local industries and increase the use of local inputs;
  • Support local entrepreneurs and encourage the upgrading of local skills and human resource capacity;
  • Utilise foreign capital, expertise, markets and technology in order to reinforce local economic fundamentals;
  • Enhance the role of science and technology by strengthening basic science education and developing appropriate technical training facilities;
  • Increase and improve the efficiency of financial allocations and other incentives for scientific and technological research and development.
(c) Strengthening small and medium-sized agriculture and fisheries
  • Enhance food production for the security and stability of the country;
  • More research in agriculture, particularly in areas of high technology, food crops and the industrial use of agricultural output;
  • Protect biodiversity and encourage research in biodiversity conservation and the use of natural products;
  • A review of FELDA, FELCRA, RISDA, MAJUIKAN and other agriculture and fisheries development agencies to improve management and technology use for the benefit of settlers, farmers and fishermen;
  • Restructuring government monopolies to become more efficient, effective and market-driven;
  • Firm implementation of laws regulating fisheries exclusion zones to protect in-shore fishermen against encroachment by large fishing vessels and trawlers which cause extensive damage to coastal fisheries resources;
  • Development of idle land.
(d) Information technology and economy for all
  • Speed-up the installation of telecommunications and electricity infrastructure nationwide and seek to reduce usage costs;
  • Expand information technology (IT) education in all schools, beginning with primary schools;
  • Develop more effective IT appreciation programmes for the general public;
  • Launch a “One Village, One IT Centre” programme by giving appropriate incentives to encourage the dissemination of information technology facilities to small towns and rural areas;
  • Make compulsory information technology infrastructure planning in all new housing schemes, including low and medium cost housing, and push for the modernisation of the infrastructure in existing housing schemes;
  • Negotiate with software manufacturers to obtain cheaper software for the local market.
(e) Prioritising small and medium enterprises
  • Establish an investment fund, under-written by the government, for the development of small and medium enterprises and allocated according to performance and not political favouritism.
(f) Reorganising the privatisation policy framework
  • Details of privatisation contracts to be made public in the interests of transparency. The interests of consumers and workers, and the rights of the people, will be safeguarded. All future privatisations to be conducted on the basis of competitive bids;
  • Ensure that public monopolies do not become private monopolies;
  • Basic public facilities and services – such as water, education, health and public housing – will only be corporatised to improve management but will not be privatised;
  • Public enterprises that have already been privatised will be monitored closely to safeguard public interests. Enterprises that have been privatised will not be re-nationalised but any invalid contracts can be terminated in the interest of the people and the country;
  • Establish an independent commission to audit all large privatised projects in the interests of transparency and accountability.
(g) Strengthening the financial system
  • encourage and promote investment and credit facilities to productive sectors and not to speculation;
  • rehabilitate the image, prestige and integrity of Bank Negara;
  • ensure that Federal expenditure is channeled particularly to enhance the standard of living of the poor, and to interior and rural areas which are still marginalised.

E. Give Full Effect To Our Social Contract
(1) Education
  • Education is a fundamental responsibility of the state, although private education is allowed;
  • Establish a National Education Consultative Council to ensure that the practice and implementation of the national education policy and philosophy is both effective and just;
  • Stop the privatisation of public institutions of higher learning and review the implementation of the corporatisation policy so that it adheres to the principles of education and not financial gain;
  • Allocate the education budget in a fair and equitable fashion, without neglecting any group;
  • Provide more scholarships and other financial assistance on the basis of need;
  • Increase nursery and kindergarten facilities, especially for the lower income group;
  • Guarantee access to compulsory and free and compulsory education at the primary and secondary levels;
  • Improve standards and facilities for schools in the interior, especially in Sabah and Sarawak;
  • Review the schemes of service for teachers and introduce additional incentives for serving in the interior;
  • Raise the standard of teacher training for all levels of schools and increase the number of trained teachers according to demand;
  • Increase advanced training opportunities for teachers and lecturers so that they are always current in their respective knowledge and skills;
  • Strengthen the position of Malay language as lingua franca among the people;
  • Encourage and develop the Malay language as a dynamic literary and cultural language, which is accepted and used by all communities in Malaysia;
  • Recognise the right to study the mother tongue like Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazandusun and others in schools, and improve the implementation of policies on mother tongue education, so that it is more efficient and responsive to the demands of parents. Trained mother tongue language teachers must be supplied by government schools when at least ten students need such teachers, and the training of mother tongue teachers must be improved at teacher training colleges and public institutions of higher learning;
  • Retain the various language streams in primary schools while encouraging greater integration among students of different ethnic groups, for example through co-curriculum activities;
  • Increase the number of mother tongue schools and upgrade their facilities according to need and demand;
  • Improve the teaching and learning of international languages, especially English and Arabic languages;
  • Improve the quality of and facilities in primary and secondary religious schools;
  • Strengthen the position of the existing public institutions of higher learning and improve their performance;
  • Systematically increase the number of public institutions of higher learning without weakening the existing ones, so that more qualified students have access to higher education at minimum fees or for free;
  • Guarantee the autonomy and standards of universities and other institutions of higher learning by establishing a Universities Commission as an independent supervisory body, and amend the University and University Colleges Act to ensure the fundamental rights of the academic community, including students;
  • Provide an educational television channel to complement formal education and to encourage life-long continuing education, with the help of the private corporate sector as well as public and private educational institutions;
  • Widen the scope of the National Accreditation Authority to monitor, investigate and propose recognition of certificates, diplomas and degrees outside the national education system. Degrees from institutions of higher learning in Arabia, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, China and other countries, and local educational certificates such as the United Independent Schools Examination (UISE) will be considered based upon academic standards.
(2) Health
  • Establish a National Health Council, with the objective of protecting the interests of the people and advancing the quality of health;
  • Abolish all programmes to privatise the public health system;
  • Review the cost and quality of service of all the health support services that have been privatised;
  • Increase expenditure allocations for the health sector;
  • Restructure the scheme of service for government medical staff to be more commensurate with their work load and responsibility;
  • Maintain low cost healthcare services for all the people;
  • Establish a commission to study the deficiencies in the existing health system and to make recommendations for improving the public health system;
  • Monitor private medical services and check any abuses;
  • Establish a national centre for disease control;
  • Increase continuing educational and specialist training opportunities for doctors, nurses and laboratory staff;
  • Review the possibility of incorporating complementary healthcare menthods such as homeopathy and traditional medicine within the Malaysian health system;
  • Step up health promotion activities, health education, preventive measures and monitoring of diseases;
  • Encourage the greater involvement of women in the health sector, including training more women doctors to handle female patients.
(3) Housing
  • Increase the number of good and comfortable low cost houses which meet household space and environmental needs;
  • Overcome the “squatter” problem as quickly as possible, preferably through development of housing in situ and/or land sharing;
  • Mandate a system of consultations between the “squatters”, developers and the authorities to reach settlement on matters of alternative housing or land or other compensation;
  • Provide public facilities around flats to ensure a balanced and healthy personality development;
  • Carry out efforts to provide easy and cheap credit facilities to help “squatters” to buy and own their houses.
(4) Social Services
  • Carry out the responsibility of the government to provide comprehensive social services that are fair and efficient;
  • Ensure that every housing project above a particular size provide social facilities, such as playing fields, public recreational clubs, libraries and so forth, for the use of the general public;
  • Provide a systematic and comprehensive arrangement to protect and provide assistance to the poor, orphans and single parents;
  • Ensure equal opportunities for the disabled to achieve self-improvement, education, careers, social participation and the provision of the necessary facilities to enable them to be independent in all public areas, facilities and buildings.
(5) Environment
  • Formulate a long term sustainable development policy involving all strata of society, to promote full support from all levels of government, non-governmental organisations, political parties and the public at large;
  • Amend the Environmental Protection Act so that no project can be started without the approval of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and the written commitment of the project proponents to implement all provisions for mitigation, as determined by the Department of Environment, with clear procedures for providing information and for consultations in the Environmental Impact Assessment process involving the main stakeholders;
  • Coordinate the environmental protection laws at the state and federal levels so that enforcement and supervision can be more efficient and cost-effective;
  • Implement laws relating to the protection of the national heritage, and increase fines for breaching the Environmental Protection Act and laws to protect our natural heritage;
  • Ensure that every state gazettes a reasonable number of national parks, conservation parks, sites for new urban centres and housing development areas in its master plan;
  • Work towards the standardisation of laws relating to forestry and logging among the various states and establish an independent inspection system to ensure that all these laws are firmly implemented;
  • Encourage all the states to immediately gazette sufficient water catchment areas to meet the needs of the future;
  • Consult with the state governments so that they implement the existing conservation plans and provide new conservation plans wherever necessary.
(6) Consumerism and Prices
  • Strengthen consumer protection laws, especially those relating to price control, cost of services and their quality, particularly during festive seasons;
  • Review the Consumer Act so that an independent Tribunal can be established, with participation from non-governmental organisations, to identify the list of necessary products and control price increases by establishing a price index for the purpose;
  • Encourage the cooperative movement for production and distribution of necessary goods;
  • Encourage consumer organisations to be more active in raising the awareness of consumers regarding their own rights;
  • Regulate advertisements so that they will not degrade the dignity of women or other groups.
(7) Workers
  • Form a framework of tripartite consultation that is effective, just and democratic, and amend laws relating to labour, trade unions and industrial relations consistent with it;
  • Repeal or amend laws which restrict the right of workers to form, participate and be active in trade unions;
  • Review and update retrenchment benefits and study the establishment of a national retrenchment fund to help retrenched workers;
  • Fix a reasonable minimum monthly wage for daily paid workers;
  • Fix a reasonable monthly wage for estate workers and seriously implement a housing scheme for estate workers;
  • Provide an example for a five day work week with normal working period of not more than 40 hours a week;
  • Review methods of recruitment and pay for foreign workers and reduce dependency on them;
  • Recognise the right of trade unions and union leaders to participate in national politics;
  • Increase the retirement age to 60 years for the public sector, consistent with the improvement of health and life span;
  • Ensure equal pay and benefits for men and women doing equal work or performing similar duties;
  • Increase maternity leave in the public sector to 90 days and introduce leave of 7 days for the husband;
  • Develop programmes with the private sector for continuing education and training in order to improve flexibility, expertise and productivity of workers;
  • Introduce retraining programmes for retrenched workers;
  • Review the effectiveness of the National Institute for Work Safety and Health and overcome its deficiencies.
(8) Women
  • Enforce strictly laws regarding the rights, interests and dignity of women and abolish laws and regulations that discriminate against women;
  • Protect the rights and welfare of women who have been abandoned by their husbands without any reasonable support;
  • Continue payments of pensions for widows even after they remarry;
  • Provide creches within the community and also at places of work;
  • Introduce flexible working hours for working women;
  • Study the Women’s Agenda for Change in order to implement appropriate recommendations therein.
(9) Youth
  • Give encouragement and facilities to youths in order to improve their talents in the fields of arts, sports and culture;
  • Provide projects aimed especially at discovering leadership talent in individual, cultural, entrepreneurial and social development;
  • Overcome problems, such as unemployment, drug abuse, drop-out and moral questions, faced by some youths with innovative methods;
  • Provide greater opportunities for youths of different social backgrounds to participate in skills training and in economic projects;
  • Provide more effective rehabilitation centres and work opportunities for youths that have become victims of social problems, so that they can be absorbed back into the community.
(10) The elderly and pensioners
  • Fix a minimum pension level that will enable pensioners to sustain themselves;
  • Encourage pensioners who are still able to work to contribute towards national development;
  • Have a half fare system for the elderly and pensioners for all types of public transport;
  • Make it obligatory for children or close relatives to look after the aged and support such moves by tax exemptions or some other incentives;
  • Ensure that the elderly are given priority to go on the pilgrimage;
  • Encourage non-governmental organisations to develop programmes and courses for the elderly and pensioners to improve their talents, develop new skills, participate in study tours; language courses, physical education and so forth.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

One People, One Nation...One Soul?

Two years ago, on 25th August 2007 I attended a gathering at what was then called Blog House. This was 7 months before the tsunami of GE12 and a month and a half after Jeannie passed away. The country under the Snooze Ball had started its backslide and personally I was still in my own turmoil after having just lost my Jeannie. In fact, I was in limbo and wondered what in hell I was doing there (the gathering). It wasn't a good time for me.

It was not a good time for Malaysia too and the future was covered by a pall of haplessness and helplessness that seemed impossible to shake off then. But
the times, they were a changing and the groundswell of public dissatisfaction with the government had begun to show. The rumblings were loudest in cyberspace and amongst the muted masses.

That 2007 gathering was essentially an attempt to create a physical presence of the virtual wave that was forming in cyberspace. The stakeholders were a mixed bag of Malaysians that included bloggers, NGOs, politicians, activists, and members of the public.

On that August evening, the National Bloggers Alliance (All-Blogs) and its associated Blog House were officially launched. The prime-mover, blogger Ahiruddin "Rocky's Bru" Atan, was at the time being sued (together with blogger Jeff Ooi) by his ex-employer NST and he was trying to harness Malaysian blogger power. However, the theme that day was "Bangsa Malaysia; The Way Forward" and it was and still is the initiative of civil rights lawyer, Haris Ibrahim. The workshop session was to brainstorm on the concept of Bangsa Malaysia.

The politicians from both sides of the divide who showed up shared a common disdain for Snooze Ball and they were mainly Anwaristas or Mahathirists who had their own blogger supporters in tow.

The legal profession was represented in numbers which included mainly civil rights advocates, and I suppose other activists and members of the concerned public (including yours truly) showed up more out of curiosity.

There are not many views that are clearer than hindsight and looking back at the people gathered there, I now realize each had their own agenda and intentions that were not totally congruent. The only common factor was a desire for CHANGE...but "change to what" was most important yet it was the very thing that divided.

In the last two years, CHANGE had indeed come. The ripples had become a wave which had grown into the tsunami that washed away Snooze Ball. It also brought in Pakatan Rakyat in pertinent numbers but also Najib.

Three days ago, for the launch of the "Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia" movement two years after conception, I was once again at 66, Lorong Setiabistari 1, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur but this time it is no longer Blog House. It is now Rumah Anak Bangsa Malaysia. I told Haris it was "apt" but he said it was "poetic justice"; I tend to agree.

The concept of National Alliance of Bloggers appears to be stillborn and Blog House has gone with it. Rocky was not there and so was Jeff Ooi who is now MP of Jelutong. Rocky has gotten his CHANGE too and is back to mainstream media where many thinks he belongs.

However, the most glaring absence was that of the politicians. Perhaps they too are satisfied with the CHANGE that the tide brought in. After all, BN still holds the government and PR has a few states and none of their comrades are under detention. PR has also conveniently abandoned the People's Declaration that they officially endorsed just prior to GE12, and which became virtually the PKR, DAP and PAS joint manifesto to help rally their numbers.

So who was at Rumah Anak Bangsa Malaysia on that rainy evening of 16th September which is also called Malaysia Day? Well, we the rakyat were there and by and large, we SAW the CHANGE of the last two years. So why are we having to rally again? It is because WE did not get the CHANGE we want! Stupid!

And Anak Bangsa Malaysia needs a SOUL without which there is no meaning to life!

Coincidentally, Mary Allin Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary fame passed away on that same day. It adds so much more meaning (for us Anak Bangsa Malaysia) to another Bob Dylan song they made famous, "Blowing In The Wind"!

Blowin' In The Wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Line Between Symbolic Punishment And S&M?

This post by M. Bakri Musa made sense to me. Perhaps we need the former Mufti of Perlis, Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin to weigh in on the Kartika Sari Dewi caning matter with his opinion. The photo in his Photo section of his Multiply profile is interesting. The last I heard Dr Asri was in Wales doing research on Islam.

As a non-Muslim I personally hope the caning will not take place.

Unjust and Hypocritical Malaysian Shari’a Court
M. Bakri Musa

It took a diminutive but courageous 32-year-old nurse and mother to expose what has been obvious to many but conveniently ignored: a grossly unjust and frankly hypocritical Malaysian Shari’a court system.

Subjecting a first offender – and a young mother at that – to six lashes of whipping for drinking beer in public cannot be considered a “just” punishment. Bluntly put, it is barbaric. And if something is not just, it cannot be Islamic. It is that simple. I wonder if those advocates for caning could tell me under what of the 99 attributes of Allah would caning a young mother fall under. Certainly not Ar Rauf (The Compassionate) or Ar Raheem (The Most Merciful)!

A Profile In Courage

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is truly a profile in courage, a genuine heroine. She did not seek out to be one; the circumstances could easily have tuned her into an angry rebel, or worse.

She succeeded by adhering to our traditional halus (soft) ways.She did not challenge the system; on the contrary she freely admitted to her error and accepted her fate, just like a good obedient Malay daughter was taught to be. She asked only that the whipping be done in public so others could learn from her mistake. How noble and touching!

By those seemingly meek actions she exposed the hypocrisy of the Islamic establishment, and did so far more effectively than all the shrill voices of those in Sisters-in-Islam and other vociferous advocates for reform. More significantly, her Gandhi-like passivity is now noticed by the world.

Thus far what seems to get whipped is the image of Malaysia as a modern tolerant Islamic country. Her submissiveness, reflecting her Islamic faith (Islam after all means ‘one who submits’), also rattled Prime Minister Najib and Women’s Minister Sharizat. It is hilarious if not pathetic to see them scurry for cover.

In urging Kartika to appeal despite having her appeal period lapse, both Najib and Sharizat must feel confident that the sentence would be reversed. What however, if it were sustained? Their utterances imply that they could influence if not control the Shari’aAppeals Court’s decision. That is a scary thought. It bears pointing out that Kartika was sentenced by a court in Pahang, Najib’s home state. Meanwhile Shahrizat is bewildered as to why Kartika refused to appeal. The poor Women’s Minister still has not figured it out.

Home Minister Hishammuddin too joined in with his share of idiocy.When Kartika presented herself to jail for the planned whipping, she was turned away as the prison, under Hishammuddin’s portfolio, was not prepared to carry out the sentence!

The idiocies did not stop there. The Chief Judge of Pahang’s Shari’a Court of Appeal ordered a deferment and review of the sentence “in the interest of justice.” Left unstated was under what statute his order was made. Then there was the Federal Attorney-General also intervening, obviously not realizing that Islam is strictly under state jurisdiction.

There are those who would like us to believe that the ‘Islamic’ version of whipping is not at all cruel. The association of Shari’a lawyers and an umbrella group of Muslim NGOs maintain that “caning, in the context of Muslim punishment, is for the purpose of education and is different from the penal nature of some provisions in the Common laws and the civil courts.” Let’s ‘educate’ them!

Presumably the ‘Islamic’ whipping is closer to the S&M variety.Kartika is assured that she would not be stripped but allowed to wear her baju kurong. How thoughtful! Perhaps they could supply her with a black leather one; she just might like the whipping.

The Perak mufti opined that Kartika should be grateful as she would receive only six instead of 80 lashes that the mufti himself would impose and, I presume, like to administer personally. Thanks to the mufti’s advice, Kartika has now accepted her fate with equanimity, if not his blessing.

In the ensuing furor, the sentence was deferred, “in the spirit of Ramadan!” The piety of these folks is truly touching. Presumably once Ramadan is over, and the furor subsided, the whipping could begin. What is obvious is that the deferment was a relief not for Kartika but the establishment, a chance for them to recover from their collective shame and stupidity.

Expansion of Shari’a

In the past, the Malaysian Shari’a was restricted to family laws with such mundane matters as inheritance, divorce, and adoption.As part of Mahathir’s move at “out Islaming” the opposition PAS, the Shari’a was granted greater jurisdictions such that today it is on par with the secular system, as well as extending into civil and criminal matters.

Malaysia prides itself in being the only nation with a unique dual-track justice system that coexists harmoniously. Both assertions are erroneous. Canada also has a dual judicial system, with Quebecfollowing “civil law” based on the Napoleonic Code and the rest subscribing to common law of the English tradition. However, the Canadian Supreme Court has final authority over both.

As for the harmonious part, Malaysia has yet to resolve the often conflicting jurisdictions of the two systems. It is not at all clear whether the country’s Federal (Supreme) Court has jurisdiction over the Shari’a courts, which gives a special Malaysian meaning to the word “Supreme.” Many maintain that it does not, which makes a mockery of our constitution. This unresolved issue has consequences, often heart wrenching, as demonstrated in many recent well publicized cases.

As the Shari’a now also has criminal jurisdiction, Malaysians are inherently not treated equally under the law; their fate depends not on the crime but their faith. A non-Muslim man caught committing adultery faces only the wrath of his wife, and possibly her vicious divorce lawyer. A Muslim man however, could be whipped, the same ‘Islamic’ whipping that Kartika would face. Now imagine the complications if one partner is a Muslim and the other, non-Muslim.

There are other distressing inequities if not outright hypocrisy.While Kartika would be whipped for drinking beer in public, the Muslim directors of beer companies – the manufactures and pushers, in the language of the drug culture – are honored. I also do not see the Shari’a going after ministers and sultans running away from their gambling debts.

All these would have remained hidden had it not been for Kartika.We owe her an immense debt of gratitude for exposing this flawed and misguided system. She has done her part, but I do not see the nation doing its share. Instead we are consumed with the minutiae of her caning and ignore the huge elephant in the room: a hypocritical and an unjust Shari’a that is ill suited for our needs.

Muslims confuse the concept versus the content of Shari’a. The concept – Shari’a being a body of laws based on the Quran –is accepted by all. It is a matter of faith; no disagreement there. The contents however are the products of human interpretations. As such it suffers from all the imperfections inherent in such endeavors. It also results in the Shari’a of the Shiites being very different from that of the Sunnis, as well as variations within the Sunni Fighs.

The corollary is that the content of Shari’a can be debated. These discussions must necessarily involve all stakeholders, not just the scholars and ulamas, a point emphasized by Abdullahi An Naim in his book, The Future of Shari’a. He suggests that Muslims revisit the Shari’a using the same rigorous intellectual tools used by earlier luminaries while cognizant of today’s universally accepted norms of constitutionalism, gender equality, and human rights, among others.

If that is too ambitious, begin with a more modest one. Get rid of the unjust elements in our Shari’a, like whipping women, and the grossly “un-Islamic” elements in our secular laws, like jailing citizens without affording them due process.

That is the crux of the issue, not caning. Thanks to Kartika, she is forcing us to face this reality squarely. She gently stared at the system, and it blinked.