Tuesday 27 November 2007

Marginalized Malays, Chinese and Indians - A History Older Than Malaysia

At first glance, the HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Front) suit against the British government may seem frivolous. How else can one consider such a class-action suit; for bringing Indians to Malaysia as indentured workers, for exploiting them for 150 years, and for failing to protect their rights as a minority in the federal constitution when Malaya's independence was granted? The sum sought is STG4 trillion (RM27.7 trillion).

Certainly one cannot expect to win such a suit and obviously it was a strategy to spotlight the woes of the Indian community in Malaysia. It was a "branding" exercise at the very least and an "indirect freekick" towards its ultimate target; the Malaysian government. It gave HINDRAF an excuse to put up a show of numbers in its November 25th rally to petition Queen Elizabeth II for a Queen's Counsel to represent the Indian community in the suit, which was filed on Aug 30 in the United Kingdom. I should think this rather clever PR strategy has achieved its initial goal of highlighting to the world the plight of Malaysian Indians.

However, a closer look at history may yet reveal the extent of culpability of the British and perhaps like Japan for its WWII atrocities, Britain should be made to at least apologize. For that, this is what my friend M.N. Taib had to say when he rebuked a mutual friend for the latter's abject babble about Malaysian races. M.N. struck a nerve when he said jingoism surrounding the call for Bangsa Malaysia must be prefaced by a clear understanding of the history of component races and close examination and appreciation of the respective roles in nation building:

"Please stop your maudlin over your sexual malingering and 2nd classiness. Talk to your friends who have gone to live in white countries e.g. Australia, mate. They can never be bosses over the whites, at least in Malaysia it is made known in certain areas like MoF. But they prefer to be spat upon by the whites not the Malays. You have not been focussed with the thread of a few of my postings.

If you live in the kampungs, you compete with your own ethnicity. It is in the urban areas that Malays face the frenetic onslaught of the non-Malays. Thus, it was conceived similar to golf, they should be given handicaps. Most Malaysians do not quarrel with the NEP that was amplified after May, 13th, 1969. The bellyaching and rightly so, which includes many Malays, is over the abuse of the multiracial covenant of how the NEP should be dispensed with. It was really abused under Dr.M with hideous cronyism and blatant corruption, unfortunately things did not change with AAB. The poor leadership that we are facing exaggerates the horrible situation.

The tragedy, if you look at Selangor, the ill-gotten gainers are UMNOputras and their mendicant running dogs of all races e.g Aiyoo Samy. You must someday comprehend the Concept of Historical Injustice suffered by the Malays under colonialism. It is too long to write. I'll give you an oral briefing when we meet. Go to MU library RedSpot section, borrow Dr. Chandra Muzzafar's MA thesis, for the University of Singapore. It's in there.

In sum, when J.W.W. Birch was eliminated in Perak in November 1875 and the Perak War began, the Brits were nervous about possible expanded Malay rebellion. The Torrance Act delineated Malay lands for the first time and the Malays were Mukimized and were unable to visit the next Mukim without the approval of the Brit Resident. Chinese and Indian indentured labour were brought in under the Ticket and the Kangani sytems respectively. Actually, the Brits invented Malay Rights with the ulterior motive of keeping the Malays in the ulu planting padi. The Chinese were allowed to fill the entrepreneurial vacuum in the towns. The Malays lost mobility, thus dynamism. You have to know more beside your predestination with Joshua the Nazorean brother of James. I am a simple f..king soldier, I should not be telling you.

I cannot afford to write a dissertation - long and tedious. I'll just give you a bit of inside into South Indians in our country in view of Hindraf - a rally of mostly urban lumpen proletariat. Then I'll give the most salient in the bibliography, if you wish to pursue greater knowledge.

The history of the coming of Indians and Chinese to the Peninsular is not taught in our schools. Most Malaysians grow up not knowing how sad and fascinating it is. If you say you're keen on Bangsa Malaysia or "plural society" you have to know the component parts and examine their impacts on the political economy of West Malaysia as a whole.

The influx of Indian labour became a flood with the rubber boom after 1905. From the view of their European employers, the main virtue of South Indian labourers as compared to the hard-working Chinese was their docility. Recruited largely from the untouchable (or adi-dravida) castes of South Indian society, the Tamil and Telegu labourers were probably the most obedient, indeed, servile labourers then available in the colonial world.

K.S. Sandhu has written: "The relegation of these classes to the level of animals in a caste-ridden society naturally tended to deprive them of initiative and self-respect and made them a cringingly servile group."

A European planter commented with regard to the period beginning about 1911: ".........The blind admiration for the white man by these Tamils is really rather pathetic."

By the end of 1940, there were a shortage of labour. Each labourer was paid 55 cents per day and Chinese at 85 cents. There were intermittent strikes by Indian labourers in demand of equality with Chinese labourers. Indian leaders encouraged strikes in the Klang District of Selangor in Feb 1941.

The High Commissioner's view was that all the strikes between Feb and May 1941 were subversive and violent, and that the strikers demands were ridiculous. In reality, the first series of strikes between Feb and Apr were conducted in an orderly manner, with few allegations of intimidation and little or no damage to property. Strike committees were formed on each estate and a petition presented setting out the strikers common demands. The European managers refused to negotiate and tried the strikers back to work. In Feb, the European managers had requested that the Klang District Indian Union be banned. It was alleged that some managers agreed to pay off male strikers, but refused to pay off their wives and children. The men were then prosecuted for trespass and when they remained in the estate lines with their families.

Control of rice rations was in the hands of the managers and in some cases rations were withheld. In one case, the manager cut off the estate water supply for 24 hours and in another case, a manager pulled off a labourer's Gandhi cap and trampled it on the ground. It was alleged that sympathizers from the towns were often denied entry to the estates with food and other relief supplies.

The strike fever spread to the nearby Batu Arang coal-mine, where Indian labourers struck in April 1941 in a demand for higher wages. After the intervention of the High Commissioner they were forced to work with a five cents increase after a lock-out and a dawn raid by the police. But intermittent strikes began again on the estates.

The Commissioner of Police believed that organized "civil disobedience on rubber estates" was "a possibility that must be envisaged".

Two months later, the High Commissioner alarmed by the evidence of continuing agitation and brief strikes on individual estates, was prepared to wait no longer and ordered the arrest of the Indian leader - Nathan - on May 5th.

The arrest provoked a second wave of protest strikes, called by labourers who regarded Nathan as a hero for his work with the Klang District Indian Union, and especially for his success in gaining the five cents allowance in Apr. Within 10 days bicycle-riding activists had spread the strike call as far south as Negri Sembilan and had called out an estimated 20,000 workers. The main demand of the strikers, large numbers of whom demonstrated outside the Kuala Lumpur Labour Office on 7 May and the Klang Police Station three days later, was for the release of Nathan.

Other of their demands were termed "frivolous" by Major Kidd, the Brit Resident of Selangor, who also claimed that the labourers refused to allow negotiations "save with themselves in a body". However, it seems clear that on the one hand, the labourers repeated as best as they could the essence of the demands outlined by Nathan in March, while on the other hand, the employers and government had no intention of negotiating.

The police were called in to disperse demonstrators, to arrest bicycle-riding "agitators" and to exclude "outsiders" from estates. Whether coz of already inflamed tempers or police and planter provocation, these strikes and demonstrations soon became more violent. Some toddy shops (nationalized by the Brits) were attacked and burned, as were some estate buildings. Members of a crowd of four hundred demonstrators calling for Nathan's release at Klang Police Station on 10 May were reported to be carrying sticks and other weapons.This gave the government the excuse to force the strikers back to work.

The Punjab Regiment and other troops were called in on the same day. Police and troops forcefully dispersed demonstrations, arrested large numbers of "agitators" and confiscated bicycles.

On 11th May, Major Kidd termed the "disturbances" "a direct challenge to the authority of the government" as a result of the coercion "by a small and violent minority". When the strikes continued to spread, a state of emergency was declared in Selangor State on 16 May, the troops were reinforced and four strikers were killed after a confrontation arising from the arrest of two men on the Sg. Sedu estate.

By the end of May, the labourers were back at work after the arrest of more than 300. At least five were dead and many others injured. 21 were deported, 95 accepted voluntary repatriation, 49 were detained and 186 were released on condition that they did not return to the district where they were employed before the strike.

Meanwhile, planters set about a systematic "weeding out" of known and suspected "agitators". Although wages for Chinese estate workers rose yet further in response to increased demand, Indian wages were held down to 60 cents.

Please look at the attachment of the 1941 Hindraf. Has the bloody scenario changed very much today?

The BERSIH gathering was absolutely brilliant, The enforcers were outwitted by the clever maneuvers of RPK when he diverted the focus of the Police to the empty padang in Merdeka Square while the Bersih crowds were deployed using SMSes to other strategic parts of downtown KL. It was a great success.

The Hindraf movement had a flimsy rationale. Mr. Uthayakumar knew from the start that his claim of trillions was BS. But, he achieved a monumental PR coup and it showed the festering anger of the Indian "have-little".

Johari Baharum and Bt. Aman have not paid attention to Sun Tze, "Art of War". They were on a fagged out SOP developed by their Brit Colonial masters. Bloody pathetic.

I have 50% respect for Uthayakumar after his callow and spurious letter to Gordon Brown. It was ridiculous and stupid. You read it in Rocky Bru.

It is my firm belief that we must now help the Indians and other have nots, across the board, to be part of the NEP. There are so many poor Chinese and Malays. If the BN wants to protect their fiefdom with arrogance, hubris and corruption, it does it at its own peril.

The Malaysian Police does not understand Conflict Resolution (there is no such thing as Resolution, you can only regulate it). If you ask a police officer if he knows the conflict between the Walloons and the Flemish in Belgium; the Ibos vs the rest in Nigeria; the Moronite RC vs the Muslims in Lebanon, the RC Quebecois vs the Protestants in Canada or the Indians vs the indigenous Fijians in Fiji, he knows crap. He has never been well educated. That's why the Police does know that the Rakyat is paying their gaji and not the politicians. They fcuk the rakyat at every eventuality as running dogs from what they learnt from the Brit system.

If you read about Indian history in Malaysia, mutatis mutandis, you will learn about the coming of the Chinese. For both the communities, it was diseases, suffering, blood and sweat. I am convinced they did and do more than others - that's why I am what I am, a strange Malaysian.

Now, if I may, I wish you to look at the following:
Sandhu,K.S., Indians in Malaysia: Some aspects of their Immigration and Settlement, 1786-1957 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1969) Stenson, M.R., Industrial Conflict in Malaya: Prelude to Communist Revolt of 1948 (London: Oxford University Press,1970).Stenson, M.R., Class, Race & Colonialism in West Malaysia ( Uni of Queensland Press, 1980)Arasaratnam, S., Indians in Malaysia and Singapore (London: Oxford University Press, 1970)

Unpublished Theses:
Khoo Kay Kim, "The Beginning of Political Extremism in Malaya, 1915-1935" ( PhD, MU, 1973) Available in MU Lib red spot section. Lim Teck Ghie, " Peasant Agriculture in Colonial Malaya: Its development in Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang, 1874-1941"(PhD., ANU, 1971) Available in MU Lib red spot section.Onreat, R.H.de S., Singapore: A Police Background (London: Crisp, 1947) Available in MU Lib. This book will give the mindset of our Police force and also read J.J. Raj's book on the Malaysian Police."

Tiger In Soup?

MIC Member of Parliament for Cameron Highlands, YB Devamany hails from Taiping and attended the same school as I did; King Edward VII School. He is also a member of a Yahoo eGroup that I set up 4 years ago for ex-students of KEVII. We affectionately call ourselves Tigers because of the school emblem.

Tiger YB Devamany was embroiled in a bit of controversy yesterday at parliament and this was what I posted in the eGroup:

Tiger YB Devamany is a member of this eGroup even though he has been a silent crouching tiger so far. Maybe he would like to shed some light on this article that appeared in Malaysiakini. Check out the Al Jazeera interview at:


You guys can see for yourself. For my part, if YB Deva is not flip flopping then I would like to congratulate him for being a true Tiger and for breaking ranks. He is showing that a parliament should not just be about toadying. Time to step aside Mr Semi Value?

MIC MP: Rally reflects govt's failure
Yoges Palaniappan

Nov 26, 07



A Barisan Nasional MP departed from the norm today when he said the rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) reflected the Indian community’s disgruntlement towards certain government policies.

K Devamany (MIC-Cameron Highlands) added that the rally proved the failure of government policies which do not benefit the Indians.

The ruling politician made the remark after interjecting Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor) who argued that the rally was a cry of desperation from the Indians.

"Some 50,000 people took to the streets yesterday. It shows the government's failure and it needs to be looked into carefully," said Devamany.

The MIC MP stressed this point again during a different question which saw Deputy Internal Security Minister Mohd Johari Baharum providing statistics on the number of Indians in the military, police and other security forces.

Johari said there are 3, 292 Indians in the police force, which makes 3.5 percent of the 94,729 police personnel in the country.

"We have also advertised in the media like newspapers, radio and television stations to increase the percentage," he added.

High hopes, limited avenues

Dissatisfied with the explanation, Devamany said even though the government promised many things to the Indians under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the community's reaction through the rally demonstrated its frustration.

"Youths from the lower and middle class participated in the rally. This goes to show that they are given high hopes but limited avenues to achieve.

"What are the actions taken by the government to prove that it is serious in eliminating poverty in the Indian community?" he asked.

At that point, Lim stood up and told Devamany not to be a hypocrite by practising double standards.

He was referring to Devamany's interview with satellite station Al-Jazeera yesterday, in which he condemned the rally.

Met at the Parliament lobby later, Devamany claimed that he was ‘set up’ by Al Jazeera which deliberately cut him off halfway during the interview.

"Al Jazeera did not allow me to finish my interview. I was initially told that the crowd was unruly and violent. So I gave my opinion that violence must not be condoned.

However, I wanted to add that if the crowd came in peace, the police must be cautious in exercising force," he explained.

Devamany also stressed that the government must give priority to underprivileged Indians.

"More opportunities must be given in the civil service, education and SME in terms of training and funding," he said, adding that the rally was a "voice from below" which must not be brushed aside.

"It is high time that the government give consideration to the grievances of the Indians," he said.

Resign from MIC

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz, commenting on Devamany's response in the Dewan Rakyat, questioned where the latter got the fact that 50,000 people participated in the rally.

"Has he been demonstrating with the others to know that there were 50,000 people there?" he asked, adding that parliamentary debates must be based on facts.

"If he says that the government has failed, what does he stand for in MIC?" he asked.

He said if Devamany feels that the government has failed, the only honourable way is for him to resign from MIC.

"I believe the MIC is 100 percent behind the government," he added.

Monday 26 November 2007

A Bone of Contention

First it was the BERSIH March on 10th November, then came the HINDRAF Rally yesterday. In a span of just two weeks Malaysia has witnessed 2 large street demonstrations by mainly ordinary citizens the scale of which never seen before in the decade after Anwar Ibrahim's Reformasi protests.

Claims of 30,000, 50,000 to even 100,000 marchers by organizers and "Netivists" are matched by seemingly blatant, understated figures of 4,000 and 1,000 in the mainstream media. At last most of us are left with a disgusting after-taste, having consumed too much official and unofficial media bullshit.

Core issues resulting in the street demonstrations aside, the spotlight invariably falls on the Police Force which is charged with keeping public order. How did our "men in blue" acquit themselves in the eyes of the public? Obviously both demonstrations were with peaceful intent and the fact is that on both occasions, the Police used tear gas, chemical laced water and physical force; there is now irrefutable video and photographic evidence of this. Were the actions of the police justified? Were the police keeping order or sparking disorder? There will always be more than two sides to the story.

Have we become a police state? Is our police force being led by mere lackeys of the ruling incumbents?

Most of us living in KL may be tempted to think so. The massive traffic jams in the last 2 weeks were caused by the police "locking down" the city in an impossible attempt to filter out "undesirables"; it seems politically motivated. The fact that there still appeared to be thousands at the rallies seems to make the police blockade a clear exercise in futility. It also seems to point to a concerted attempt to create public contempt against street demonstrations by having so-called counter-measures that inconvenienced the public.

The question arises: "What drives the PDRM"? Perhaps the following video that has become the bone of contention in many minds and numerous public outcries of double standards holds the answer.

At the A1GP Yesterday

Yesterday while the centre of KL was locked down by the police, we were at Sepang for the A1GP as guests of Jack, Owen and Adam. JJ and I were there with Pat and two sons, Jude and Akash. Some photos:

Akash & Jill

Keat & Jill

Pat & fan

Jack & Pit Personnel

Adam & Keat

The Boss Man and his men

Alex Yoong and the Malaysian Supporters

Two young men and a SYT

One young man and another SYT

Alex Yoong has his reasons for not winning in Sepang!

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Michael Backman on Malaysia

Truth and justice are no longer Malaysian way

Recent street protests have highlighted the self-serving nature of Malaysia's Government.

THE Government of Australia will probably change hands this weekend. There will be no arrests, no tear gas and no water cannons. The Government of John Howard will leave office, the Opposition will form a government and everyone will accept the verdict.

For this, every Australian can feel justifiably proud. This playing by the rules is what has made Australia rich and a good place in which to invest. It is a country to which people want to migrate; not leave.

Now consider Malaysia. The weekend before last, up to 40,000 Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to protest peacefully against the judiciary's lack of independence, electoral fraud, corruption and a controlled media.

In response, they were threatened by the Prime Minister, called monkeys by his powerful son-in-law, and blasted with water cannons and tear gas. And yet the vast majority of Malaysians do not want a change of government. All they want is for their government to govern better.

Both Malaysia and Australia have a rule of law that's based on the English system. Both started out as colonies of Britain. So why is Malaysia getting it so wrong now?

Malaysia's Government hates feedback. Dissent is regarded as dangerous, rather than a product of diversity. And like the wicked witch so ugly that she can't stand mirrors, the Government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi controls the media so that it doesn't have to see its own reflection.

Demonstrations are typically banned. But what every Malaysian should know is that in Britain, Australia and other modern countries, when people wish to demonstrate, the police typically clear the way and make sure no one gets hurt. The streets belong to the people. And the police, like the politicians, are their servants. It is not the other way around.

But increasingly in Malaysia, Malaysians are being denied a voice — especially young people.

Section 15 of Malaysia's Universities and University Colleges Act states that no student shall be a member of or in any manner associate with any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation, body or group of people whatsoever, be it in or outside Malaysia, unless it is approved in advance and in writing by the vice-chancellor.

Nor can any student express or do anything that may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition to any political party or union. Breaking this law can lead to a fine, a jail term or both.

The judiciary as a source of independent viewpoints has been squashed. The previous prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, did many good things for Malaysia, but his firing of the Lord President (chief justice) and two other Supreme Court judges in 1988 was an unmitigated disaster. Since then, what passes for a judiciary in Malaysia has been an utter disgrace and the Government knows it.

Several years ago, Daim Zainuddin, the country's then powerful finance minister, told me that judges in Malaysia were idiots. Of course we want them to be biased, he told me, but not that biased.

Rarely do government ministers need to telephone a judge and demand this or that verdict because the judges are so in tune with the Government's desires that they automatically do the Government's beckoning.

Just how appalling Malaysia's judiciary has become was made clear in recent weeks with the circulation of a video clip showing a senior lawyer assuring someone by telephone that he will lobby the Government to have him made Lord President of the Supreme Court because he had been loyal to the Government. That someone is believed to have been Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, who did in fact become Lord President.

A protest march organised by the Malaysian Bar Council was staged in response to this, and corruption among the judiciary in general. But the mainstream Malaysian media barely covered the march even though up to 2000 Bar Council members were taking part. Reportedly, the Prime Minister's office instructed editors to play down the event.

Instead of a free media, independent judges and open public debate, Malaysians are given stunts — the world's tallest building and most recently, a Malaysian cosmonaut. Essentially, they are given the play things of modernity but not modernity itself.

Many senior Malays are absolutely despairing at the direction of their country today. But with the media tightly controlled they have no way of getting their views out to their fellow countrymen. This means that most Malaysians falsely assume that the Malay elite is unified when it comes to the country's direction.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister and today still a member of the Government, told me several weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur that he could see no reason why today Malaysia could not have a completely free media, a completely independent judiciary and that corrupt ministers and other officials should be publicly exposed and humiliated.

According to Tengku Razaleigh, all of the institutions designed to make Malaysia's Government accountable and honest have been dismantled or neutered.

It didn't need to be like this. Malaysia is not North Korea or Indonesia. It is something quite different. Its legal system is based on British codes. Coupled with traditional Malay culture, which is one of the world's most hospitable, decent and gentle cultures, Malaysia has the cultural and historical underpinnings to become one of Asia's most civilised, rules-based, successful societies.

Instead, Malaysia's Government is incrementally wasting Malaysia's inheritance.

Monday 19 November 2007

An Acceptable Viewpoint on 10 November

Found this post by a certain Vincent Lau which does make sense. I had felt that the memorandum should not have been handed over by Anwar and the other Opposition personalities but instead by NGO representatives. The reference site states his profile as: Vincent is a 23-year-old mechanical engineer who grew up in the city. His current job has taken him to kampungs, in which most urbanites have never heard of before. It has taught him lessons about this country and its people - lessons that a lot of Malaysians take for granted. Visit his site.

Bersih rally a farce, its organizers are hypocrites

Let’s not kid ourselves, OK? The Bersih rally - peaceful or not, was not about a call for real democracy or handing over a memorandum to the king. A rally could have been held in a stadium where like-minded people could have gone and stayed out of everybody else’s way. And if they really wanted to hand over a memorandum to the king, I am sure the opposition leaders could have done it themselves, behind closed doors. They didn’t have to hype up the event.

Quite simply, the protest was nothing more than a demonstration of power. They are telling the present government that they have the support of the people. They are telling the people that the present government is doing something really wrong and that they are our saviours. It may shock you, but I fully agree that things are messed up. But two wrongs never made anything right and the rally was nothing more than a farce.

The opposition leaders needed to make it big and hype it up. But disrupting public peace is not the way to go about doing things. Thousands of people were affected by the rally - businesses were undoubtedly disrupted and tourists given a horrible impression of the country. Street demonstrations are bad for business - one could only venture a guess as to how many foreign investors were shoo-ed away by the protest.

Somebody said that this is the price to pay for freedom and rights. Yeah, so why is it that the opposition parties are allowed to decide this on my behalf?

The Star reported 5,000 people at the gathering. Malaysiakini said there were 40,000 people. This is my case in point - different lie, same bullshit. This has always been the case. Reading too much of only one source clouds your judgment, so let’s settle for an in-between figure of 20,000 people, alright?

There are 4 million people in Klang Valley. Isn’t it ironic that at a rally for democracy, only 0.5 percent showed up to tell us what is right and wrong. Please do away with the hypocrisy. The Bersih protest was nothing more than a political statement designed to tell the public that the general elections are coming and that we should vote for the opposition.

As for the current administration, everyone knows their faults and screw-ups. And as voters, we would really be stupid to allow politicians who messed up so badly to do so again.

Yet, what the opposition is proposing is not good enough.

We have a bunch of opposition parties working together on the principle that “your enemy is my enemy” even though their ideologies are as similar as chalk and cheese. The opposition parties don’t exist with the intention of winning the general elections. Their only objective is to disrupt the operations of the incumbent government. They have no clear and fixed ideologies, except to oppose whatever the government is doing.

When the presiding government messes up big time, the opposition parties get more supporters and voters.

The corruption scandal involving our chief justice is a good example. Misappropriation of funds is another.

But when the opposition opposes the removal of fuel subsidies, the more informed Malaysians know that they are only doing it to fish for votes.

They fought the fuel price hikes because it was the popular decision at that time. I don’t care who is in charge of this country. I’ll be damned if the guy at the top makes decisions based on a popularity contest.

Let’s look at Anwar Ibrahim. Here’s a man who is championing the removal of the NEP and calling for it to be reviewed. That’s all fine, except for the fact that he spent his political career seemingly fine with the idea. Then he gets screwed over, and suddenly the NEP is a bad thing. Hypocritical, isn’t it?

It has come to the point where people think it is acceptable to hold mass protests and disrupt public peace just to get their idea across. It is not. People think that the lesser of the two evils is acceptable. It is not.

So what do I propose?

Frankly, I have no idea. I don’t have the faintest idea what the solution should be. Which is why I wept for Malaysia on Nov. 10.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Please Mr PM - An Open Letter

This open-letter by Beth Yahp is currently circulating on the www and I think it makes sense. My opinion of the 10th November March was, "What forced the rakyat to the streets can only be the apparent lack of any other avenue to be heard and trust in mainstream media is fast evaporating; the rakyat is fed up of spin". The march was more an appeal to the PM rather than a protest. Do read:

By Beth Yahp


Dear Prime Minister Abdullah,

26 September 2007 saw two thousand lawyers “Walk for Justice” to defend the good name and protest the sliding standards of their profession. “When lawyers march,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, President of the Bar Council, “something must be wrong.”

Last Saturday (10 November 2007), 40,000 people from all walks of life and all ages walked through rain-drenched Kuala Lumpur, skirting roadblocks, locked LRT stations, FRU batons, tear gas and water cannons, as well as weeks of misinformation and propaganda through the mainstream media and hacked alternative media. They marched to show their disappointment in the current electoral system and their hopes for reform.

Malaysian citizens travelled for hours through the night from all over the country to play cat-and-mouse in Kuala Lumpur with an intimidating array of security forces, whose role was clearly not to secure our safety.

I saw men armed only with shouted slogans beaten with batons and shields and thrown to the ground. I saw an old woman in a wheelchair halted by a barricade of troops, wielding a deafening siren at her ears. I saw a child clinging to his mother’s shoulders being crushed back, and back. He looked terrified, and rightly so.

This was at Jalan Mahameru, not Masjid Jamek where, in spite of what IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan described as police “restraint” (Sunday Star, 11 Nov 2007), unarmed marchers, including journalists, were beaten, teargassed and bombarded by chemical-laced water cannons. At Jalan Mahameru, we faced two rows of riot police, smashing batons against their shields. I saw and photographed people dropping to the ground around me.

This should be the journalist’s privilege, to be allowed to witness and report the uncensored fruits of that act of witness. But in this country, the journalists and their editors are not afforded even this, or any other kind of professional privilege, or protection, in order to carry out their jobs according to the Journalists’ Code of Ethics. That is, among other things, to pursue factual accuracy and report objectively, without fear or favour.

Instead, journalism in Malaysia seems to be ruled by a Code of Fear and Favour. Here, our mainstream journalists and editors are directly or indirectly on the State’s payroll, and therefore accountable to the State. Those who aren’t are kept on a tight leash of precarious licences and legislation designed to pit self-censorship against financial ruin. Which the bosses will prioritise is a no-brainer.

It seems to me our media professionals do their best to navigate these treacherous waters, getting by in terms of professional pride through little acts of bravery, defiance and subterfuge. The travesty of it is that, in a true democracy, they shouldn’t have to.

Our journalists and editors shouldn’t have to find themselves in the pitiful position of being cowed mouthpieces of the State, obediently failing to report once a news blackout is ordered, or “reporting” factual inaccuracies of an astounding magnitude.

Like most of your state controlled media, Prime Minister Abdullah, yesterday’s Sunday Star reported only the IGP’s version of Saturday’s events. Journalism 101 requires a range of eyewitnesses to describe an event objectively yet only your Ministers were allowed airtime; only aggrieved shopkeepers were interviewed and photos of traffic jams published, to support our Deputy PM’s lament that the march only served to disrupt traffic, create loss of business and “mar the general perception others have of our society”.

The police were depicted as being “forced” to use their batons, boots, shields, helmets, trucks, water cannons and helicopters against unarmed men, women and children (New Sunday Times, November 11, 2007).

This reconstruction of reality is one that I, and 40,000 other marchers, do not recognise. In spite of what we saw and experienced, we are told that we were only 4000 in number and that 245 of us were detained, as opposed to the 24 I later saw released at IPPK (Police Contingent Headquarters), Kuala Lumpur. It was later reported in the NST (12 November 2007) that the majority of detentions were pre-emptive, taking place outside Kuala Lumpur the day before. The reasons for arrest included being in possession of yellow t-shirts and bandanas.

Yes, there were massive traffic jams in KL that day, and yes, I saw shopkeepers hurriedly pull down their shutters, but only when the FRU and police amassed in battle formation at Central Market. However, logic tells us that the traffic jams were caused by numerous police roadblocks and other hindrances to public transport as much as by our march, which was marshalled and orderly.

We were constantly told to keep to the pavements, not to throw rubbish or disrupt public property, and even not to trample on plants along our way. Many people stuck in jams wound down their windows as we passed, smiling and shaking our hands. Others looked annoyed, of course.

I’m sitting at my local late night kopi tiam as I write this. It’s filled with college students chatting and watching football to go with their teh tarik and cigarettes. I can see how successful your media machinery is, Prime Minister, from what they say. They use the word “riots” to talk about the march, which even a police spokesman described as, for the most part, peaceful (RTM2 news, 10 November 2007).

This is no surprise given the propaganda clips that have been running as part of news bulletins on RTM1 and 2 for the past few months, intercutting flag-burning with demonstrators getting their heads bashed in. These, as any adman will confirm, effectively equate demonstrations of any sort with escalating acts of violence on both sides. “Ini bukan budaya kita,” are the stern words of warning.

On TraxxFM, I’ve heard an odd and therefore oddly outstanding song about democracy being played frequently, a lullaby sung in a soothing paternal voice, about how taking democracy to the streets leads to a loss of self-respect and violence, which is not our way. This song is in stark contrast to the ones TraxxFM’s hip and joking DJs usually play.

This psychological embedding seems odd, Prime Minister, in the year we celebrate our 50 years of Independence, which was won exactly by our forefathers taking their struggle for freedom, equality and justice to the streets, as well as the media and the discussion table. They did so peacefully then, as we did so last Saturday.

Prime Minister Abdullah, one of the reasons we marchers, men, women, children, and even incapacitated old folks, braved confrontation in the streets of Kuala Lumpur last Saturday was to call for “equal access to the media” as part of BERSIH’s push for electoral reforms, including the use of indelible ink, clean electoral rolls and the abolition of untraceable postal votes.

I didn’t wear yellow on the march because even though I’m a sympathiser with the struggle for electoral reform, I’m also a witness to both sides of the story. But I wore my yellow ribbon of “press freedom”, proudly, even though I’m not a journalist. I’m still wearing it now, with the poignant realisation that I can only write this letter, without fear or favour, precisely because I’m not a mainstream Malaysian journalist. Of course, whether any of your editors will publish it or not is entirely a different matter.

That little scrap of ribbon, like the seemingly frail ribbon of marchers patiently weaving their way from all over the city to the Yang Di Pertuan Agong’s palace last Saturday, is symbolic of something far larger and far more important than our aching legs or bruises or our shivers caused by sitting uncomplainingly in the rain while the leaders delivered our memorandum to the King.

It symbolizes what you have encouraged us repeatedly to celebrate and embrace: our “Merdeka Spirit” of independence that causes the rakyat to come out, in spite of fear and intimidation, to show their grave concern when the state of things seems very wrong indeed. This is, despite attempts at historical revisionism, a part of our Malaysian culture.

With all due respect, Prime Minister, your admonition on the eve of the march: “Saya pantang dicabar,” (Utusan Malaysia, 9 November 2007) is rather an odd thing for the leader of a democratic nation to say, given that the basic rule of democracy is the right of all citizens to challenge, and to defend against challenge. Everyone is entitled to this right, whether in their living rooms or in Parliament.

Challenges and debates also constantly take place in the media, whose fundamental role is to provide factual information and objective viewpoints by journalists and editors, as well as to allow equal access to publication and broadcast by proponents from either side of any argument.

Only in this way can we, ordinary citizens, partake in democracy. Only then can we weigh up differing statements and opinions against accountable facts. We may be allowed to vote, yes, but how can we choose effectively without freedom of media access and information?

When this integral pillar of any democratic system is obstructed, and belittled, as it is in Malaysia, we cannot claim to live in a democracy. Our mainstream media then becomes merely a tool of the State, used to hoodwink, brainwash and intimidate the people it should rightly be serving. Instead, we, the people, are spoon-fed, led and expected to go quietly like sheep to any foregone conclusion.

If we beg to differ, offer alternative information and viewpoints, or even protest, we are called beruk. I rather think it preferable to be a monkey, curious, inventive and mischievous, than a sheep trotting meekly to my pen, or the slaughterhouse, nose pointed to the ground.

Prime Minister, we are indeed not Pakistan or Myanmar, as your Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin blustered on Al Jazeera (10 November 2007), accusing them of presenting a contrary view to what has appeared on our Malaysian news, and of only talking to the opposition, not Government representatives—even as they were interviewing him.

This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, since almost no opposition figures are allowed to speak in our mainstream media, although their images are used in conjunction with images of street violence, for example, to influence viewers’ opinions about them.

“Malaysia… is a democratic country,” Zainuddin fumed. But based on your State’s handling of the rakyat’s peaceful march last Saturday, Prime Minister, and your own media coverage prior to and about the actual event, it’s hard to entirely agree.

Unfortunately for Malaysia, this is the perception that will be further broadcast internationally, by journalists and editors who are fortunately less muzzled than their mainstream Malaysian colleagues.

Therefore, Prime Minister Abdullah, I sincerely urge you and your Government, as our democratically elected leaders, to “walk the talk” and unmuzzle our journalists, editors and broadcasters. I entreat you to fully and fairly endorse and practice democracy in our country. That is, democracy for everyone, not just a powerful few.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Beth Yahp

Petaling Jaya, 12 November 2007

Biodata: Beth Yahp’s prize-winning novel, The Crocodile Fury, has been translated and published in several languages. She wrote the libretto for Liza Lim’s contemporary opera Moon Spirit Feasting, which premiered at the 2000 Adelaide International Festival of the Arts, with productions also in Melbourne, Berlin, Zurich and Tokyo. It won the Australian APRA Best Classical Composition Award in 2002. Beth’s short fiction, essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications in Australia, South-east Asia and Europe. Her latest fictional work, about sexual double standards in Malaysia, appears in HEAT 14 (Giramondo Press, Sydney, Spring 2007). Beth is currently Fiction Editor for Off the Edge, a Malaysian business/ lifestyle/ culture magazine.

Friday 16 November 2007

All The King's Men

The Al Jazeera Forum on the BERSIH Rally For Judicial & Electoral Reform that was shown on Astro Channel 513 at 10.30 pm, 15th November 2007.

The 3 invited guests, activist lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sawar, Minister Nazri Aziz and UMNO Youth Deputy Chief, Khairy Jamaludin are all Malaysians and therefore, the King's men.

Hmmmm............you be the "Jury" come "Judgment Day"


Programme moderator Teymoor Nabili: Joining us in the studio to talk on the events that happened on Saturday 10th November 2007, Khairy Jamuluddin, who is UMNO youth leader and son-in-law of the prime minister; Government Minister, Nazri Abd Aziz and Human Rights defender Malik Imtiaz Sarwar. Thank you Gentlemen for being with us today.

Teymoor Nabili: Lets us begin if we could by getting an idea on what happened on that weekend. There were many different perspectives on what exactly was going on.

Nazri: I was in my constituency. I was told that the Police from the paper that I read the Police had a few police blocks outside the city to prevent people from coming in. For this reason the fear that there might be weapons which may be used by irresponsible people not necessary the demonstrators. And I was told there was a group of people sparsely distributed in so many areas trying to come into KL

Teymoor Nabili: Malik what was your interpretation?

Malik: As early as Friday night, the Police started screening entry into Kuala Lumpur. I read blocks up North and down South trying to deter people coming in for the rally. People started moving into KL by about 10 - 11 o’clock. I myself was caught in a traffic jam as early as 9 o’clock. So to say that the traffic jams was caused by the rally itself, was incorrect. The Police road blocks are the caused of the jams. And then by three o’clock, the event kicked off. There was some commotion in Masjid Jamek area. There was some Al Jazeera news that caught some of that. But the media, the official l media spun it as if that was the only event. What actually happened was a group - some people are putting it as high as 60,000 assembled outside the King’s Palace which was the objective to walk to the King’s Palace as a show of solidarity amongst civil society and present the memorandum which was done

Teymoor Nabili: Lets us begin if we could by getting an idea on what happened on that weekend. There were many different perspectives on what exactly was going on.

Nazri: I was in my constituency. I was told that the Police from the paper that I read the Police had a few police blocks outside the city to prevent people from coming in. For this reason the fear that there might be weapons which may be used by irresponsible people not necessary the demonstrators. And I was told there was a group of people sparsely distributed in so many areas trying to come into KL

Teymoor Nabili: Malik what was your interpretation?

Malik: As early as Friday night, the Police started screening entry into Kuala Lumpur. I read blocks up North and down South trying to deter people coming in for the rally. People started moving into KL by about 10 - 11 o’clock. I myself was caught in a traffic jam as early as 9 o’clock. So to say that the traffic jams was caused by the rally itself, was incorrect. The Police road blocks are the caused of the jams. And then by three o’clock, the event kicked off. There was some commotion in Masjid Jamek area. There was some Al Jazeera news that caught some of that. But the media, the official l media spun it as if that was the only event. What actually happened was a group - some people are putting it as high as 60,000 assembled outside the King’s Palace which was the objective to walk to the King’s Palace as a show of solidarity amongst civil society and present the memorandum which was done

Teymoor Nabili: Do you think it was handled well either in a political or policing way?

Khairy: Firstly the policing was absolutely well handled by the Royal Malaysian police force in terns of restrain in terms, in terms of crowd controls, in terms of managing the traffic flow. Imitiaz said that the traffic was not caused by the people participating in the demonstration. But the police, but the police that were doing the road blocks were handling the road blocks precisely because there was a demonstration. (I always get back to that)

Teymoor Nabili: Imtiaz, let me come back, just to respond to the point that you just made, was it well handled?

Malik: I have mixed feelings about that, I think I heard stories of how some Police officers assisted marchers as they moved towards the Agong’s palace. But I have also information of what happened in Masjid Jamek. I also read some use of force, some say unnecessary use of force in Jalan Mahajalera. My sense of is fairly mixed.

Teymoor Nabili: Government Information Minister has accused Al Jazeera of wrongly saying that force was used and in next breath said only water cannons and tear gas was use, and where is the line between force and non-force?

Nazri: Well you know, you have to disperse the assembly. There are no other means to do so. And the only legitimate mean is to use the water cannon and also to use the tear gas. And I know the Police have not use any force because for obvious reason you know, the world has known that there is going to be a big rally on the 10th. And we were under Public Scrutiny not just Malaysia; Al Jazeera within minutes distribute whatever information to whole world. So it is pretty obvious that the police will not use any force as we were under close scrutiny by the whole world.

Teymoor Nabili: When 20, 40, 60 thousands people descend upon the central town, at what point do you decide that the rational way is to try to get them to away rather then just say “OK, get on with it, get it over with it and let’s move on”

Nazri: The point is they can’t do this because you know we have Section 27 of the police act which does allow for this and we also have section 141 under penal code which also does not allow this for obvious reasons because..

Teymoor Nabili: The law allows marches (Nazri No) it is merely (NO) a matter of political decision, this one is Ok, that one isn’t.

Nazri: We don’t allow for this because we have historical background. We are a multi ethnic country….

Teymoor Nabili: My point being let say if UMNO had apply for a permit to the Police to go King’s House and present a petition, do you think that would be granted?

Khairy: Can I, can I just answer your original question about when the police decide is on how to handle this. I think they decided to handle precisely how you describe it which was after a while, the demonstrators, the protesters which were gathered there were allowed to King’s residence, Palace and hand over the memorandum. That’s is precisely…

Teymoor Nabili: After a while after the water cannon & tear gas..

Khairy: The water cannons and tear gas were confined to a particular area which Imtiaz referred to earlier, but the others as he said were allowed were given free passage to the Palace to hand the memorandum. These are all standard Police operating procedure

Teymoor Nabili: The characterization of people who are demanding at least suggesting political changes as somehow being dangerous to the environment, how do you respond to that?

Malik: I don’t agree wit the characterization that way. I think you could have been a different way to handle it. There could have been negotiations and we heard no information of an attempt by the Police to negotiate with leaders of groups that were marching in. And I think if the whole point is to shunt them to Agong’s Palace. That could have happened; there is no need to open up the water cannon. There is no need to spray water which we know is laced with Chemicals

= == = == = let us take a Break

Teymoor Nabili: Were UMNO decide to hold a rally in support of the Government, will it be banned by the Polis?

Khairy: Well, Umno have held and the opposition have held rallies in the past before. In particular context and settings, they are allowed. I just want to get back to what Imtiaz said just now, on how the police viewed this particular demonstration on Saturday.The only other precedence we had with Bersih (Nov 10 rally organisers) was the coalition that has the rally on Saturday was a rally they had in September in Terengganu and that descended into violence. So you can't blame the police for thinking that this would happen the same way.

Teymoor Nabili: My point here being is: It seems the tendency to put a ban on opposition voices is much greater than anything else –no w Khairy's point Not withstanding - let's look at the local newspapers the following morning. The coverage of what happened on Saturday was minimal. The response of the local media was simply to take the government line.

Nazri: I don't think the papers were taking the government line. I got all my information from the newspapers...

Teymoor Nabili: Well let's look at the papers here - (New) Sunday Times - instead of responding to what has been the biggest public demonstration in Malaysia for more than ten years in which the police felt they had to use water cannons and tear gas, and you expressed an enormous fear of trouble, the newspapers here have put on page 4, 'Illegal gathering causes traffic chaos in city'.

Nazri: Well, if you think what Al Jazeera reported is the true source which is properly true., I think the newspapers are free to report anything.

Teymoor Nabili: The Minister said you could report on anything, is that true?

Malik: Obviously here the media is controlled. You have permits which control medi houses. All these permits controlled by the Government So I can’t necessary agree with the Minister statement that the media here is free enough to not sit with the Government on certain key position. I can’t say for a fact whether there was directive to publish a limited amount of content for this event. I wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the case ultimately if found out to be true

Khairy: You speak about voices not heard; let us go to the core of what Saturday is all about. Saturday is about free and fair election If these people have not have the voices herd. Then you would not have seen the plethora of changes that have taken place by the election commission to make election process in Malaysia more free. Transparent ballot boxes, indelible ink being used to make sure the voters do not vote twice, trying to erase away from the electoral roll people who have passed on and things like that. If you are telling me that their voices is not being heard, the surely all these demands have not been acted upon. 2.59 It has been acted upon.

Malik: Saturday is actually I think the most important thing is that it is a strong sign from civil society that there is a need for institutional reforms. I think that civil society is saying that the kind of reforms that have been introduced have not been enough.

Nazri: we have a system here, you know if you have any grouses. Our system is we channel it through the ballot boxes. And we have elections every five years or less. Now it is difficult for us to say this is not the best solution. I mean what is the point, you called 50,000 to come out we can call 1 million. Does that mean I am right? So this is not our way to decide on many issues I have always said it is not falling on deaf ears. You know when you…

Teymoor Nabili: It seems a lot of the country says it is

Nazri: Listen, what I am try to say what you demand d is not right. At the end of the day we will decide. At the end of the day you must never understand the will of the people.Sure the essence, one of the essence of democracy is that the government listens to the voice of people; that Prime Minister Badawi cane into office promising exactly that. There will be more response and more attacks on corruption and more responses to the idea what people have a say to how the country is to be governed.

Khairy: Firstly, I think you cannot use Saturday as a barometer for what the general Malaysian public feel. It was a protest; there were a lot of people there. But to say that, that is the sum collective of the Malaysian political consciousness, I think it's a stretch. (interrupt ..It's a voice), It is a voice but it's a stretch.How loud that voice is, how big is that voice, I'm not quite sure. You cannot base it on that. Secondly, I would say there a lot of changes afoot. If you talk of election changes as I said, the Election Commission has been very responsive. They met opposition parties and take some of their some of their suggestions – like the ballot boxes, postal voters. A lot of changes are happening.If you talk of the media, for the first time the prime minister said at the speech at the Umno general assembly last week that in the near future, the media would be able to regulate themselves. Now, this is a mark departure from previous policies. To say that you can regulate yourself oppose to the Government regulating the media, that is something for the future.

Teymoor Nabili: Is there a need for institutional reforms for the Government?

Nazri: No. because you know, what do you mean by people? Are you saying that I don’t represent the people? Are you saying that the Government does not represent the people? We are elected by the people. What people are you talking about? What is democracy? Democracy means listening to the majority. I mean that is democracy. What else can we do. You can't say that we're not listening to the people because we represent the people.

Teymoor Nabili: It’s a fact people are politically motivated, a reason to say therefore their views are irrelevant?

Nazri: Are you saying that we don’t listen to the people whereas we represent the people. (I didn’t say you are not listening to the people, I say …)What do you mean by not ..not eh..…at the end of the day there is democracy. You know democracy means majority of the people will decide. So that's it.

Malik: But the majority does not mean majoritarianism [...] And I think the concern is in the push towards appeasing the majority. If that is in effect what is happening here. I have my doubts as the majority that we are talking about are in the heartlands, who do not necessarily understand the issues that are happening here.

Nazri: Are saying that the people are stupid?.

Malik: No I'm not saying that, I am not saying that [...] If you look at the quality of information that is being allowed out. The Official Secrets Act which prevent so much information from getting out. We have subjective classification of information by the Government. We have the internal Security Act which is trundled out every so often to give a chill in the air when it comes to civil society discourse. The fact is people are scared. The fact is people aren’t getting information. The fact is, I have my doubts personally as to whether a voter is in a position to make a fair and informed choice when he goes to the ballot box and this is the heart of the Bersih initiative. I also do not agree with the characterization that that Bersih is an opposition initiative because you have about 60 plus NGOs endorsing... (interrupted)...

Khairy: Who gave the memorandum to the King’s representative? Who are the representatives that marched to the gate to give the memorandum? There were the opposition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim, Hadi Awang, Lim Kit Siang - clearly led by the opposition!

Teymoor Nabili: The opposition is there to voice an opposition view. Is that view irrelevant?

Nazri: How can they be neutral when they were active participants in the last general election? They cannot be neutral to me.

Khairy: Exactly! If you are saying that these were middle-of-the-road Malaysians with genuine concerns, then I would have expected 80 percent of those present would have been people who had no absolute political affiliations. That would be the case

Malik: If they had not turn around cars at the roadblocks, If they had not restricted access into the city, we may have seen a bigger representation. The point is if you look at the Bersih website, the Bersih press statement issued, it appears there were suppose to have been a bigger delegation. Because the situation ultimately a limited number of people were allowed into the precinct of the palace or at the gates to hand over the memorandum. I don’t It is unfair to say because the presence who ultimately went to the fore were opposition members, this is not a civil this is not a civil society initiative because at the end of the day civil society also comprises agencies or organizations which are linked to the component parties or the opposition. If UMNO is involved, also would be a civil society

Teymoor Nabili: Let me get a statement form you, I would tie up what you have been suggesting all along. Is it your view that there is no need at all for institutional reform in Malaysia? Are there no questions to be asked about the `cleanliness' if you like of the electoral process? There are no corruption issues to be addressed? The institutional reforms that have been asked for by both the opposition and civil society areof no significance at all and that they carry no weight?

Nazri: They carry no weight. I don't think there is any need for institutional reform because the system has worked well for the last 50 years. You only hear grouses from people who participated in the system and lost. And but I cannot argue further if Imtiaz said that people are stupid to put us in government.
Where there is an opposition voice, you may choose to characterize it as small or you may choose to characterize it as part to handle or crazy as some people have done in parliament . Where the voice is not even being listen to even there is legitimacy as you heard from the Minister is being entirely written off, is there a future for democratic debate under those circumstances?

Khairy: No I don’t think they are not being listen to, I don’t think it is fair (interrupt ..the minister has just stated that there is no validity to any of the demands being made..) No he is saying that there is no need for any systemic institutional changes to be made because we believe the institution and the system is fine. There is nothing wrong with the system and institution

Teymoor Nabili: Let me, let me, is there any validity in some of the demands being made, some of the accusations being made about the system?

Nazri: Well to improve the system, yes. But to say the system was unfair.. not fair , I think that is not a correct description. To improve yes.

Malik: I am grateful to the concession from the Minister because there is always room for improvement. And I think you want to argue over it, whether it is improvement or systematic change then you go into semantics. The fact is that there are flaws. Serious flaws, some of us believe are undermining the democratic process of this country. Well start with the fact that you pick up any newspaper, genuinely you do not hear what the opposition has to say about anything. You do not know what the opposition platform is unless you have internet access. Internet penetration is minimal, not getting into the heartland. I didn’t say they were stupid; I did say that voters were stupid. I said that maybe they were under informed or ill-informed on given positions which do not allowed them to make free and fair choices in a way the constitution of this country seems to contemplate. The fact is why the constitution would create the Election Commission as a separate constitutional body; charged the Agong with appointing people to the creation who have the confidence of the people

Teymoor Nabili: That is the kind of level of details I think beyond this conversation. To carry on, I just want you to finish with one final comment from you, please a very short one if you would.
As a representative of the younger generation of Umno, do you agree with what the minister said or do you think there is room for change within the institutional structure.

Khairy: I agree with what the minister says. There is nothing wrong with the system. There need to be some changes to the process to strengthen it. The institutions are fine the system works and we lose an election, we lost Kelantan we lost before.
Unofficial transcript

Saturday 10 November 2007

The Country Of My Children?

The gloom in the air was matched by the dreadful weather. I had parked at KLCC and taken the LRT to Pasar Seni Station. The rain was really heavy and I was stuck for a while at the station. When it eased a bit, I managed to get some lunch before going to a cybercafe to post the earlier post.

Later I was in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka around the Jalan Tun Perak area to observe first hand the BERSIH Rally.

The rally did take place and there were tens of thousands present and now hours after, it has become an indelible mark in the history of our country. This was a march of Malaysians. There was no sign of opposition political parties except for the various known personalities present and it would be a shame if this is ever spun as an "Anwar Rally"! It is not about Anwar!

This is supposed to be the country of my children. I feel sad that Malaysians of all races had to take to the streets to demand accountability from their government. How did it come to this?? Why did it have to come to this??

It was a peaceful rally and it was not even a very noisy one too. Personally I did not feel I was in any danger of bodily harm (apart from the tear gas in the air later); indeed the ambience was such that the usual shopping crowd in the area went about their activities seemingly without a care in the world. The police should not have provoked the crowd at Masjid Jamek with the water cannon and tear gas. As far as I could see it was totally unwarranted as the crowd was merely emerging from the LRT station and could move no further due to the police cordon. The officer who ordered it should be reprimanded! Apart from that incident, to be fair to the police they did act with restraint; I did not see them baton charging the crowd and they mostly stood at their positions.

The PM has to come out and make an appropriate statement because this was the peaceful march that he said yesterday was impossible. He was ill advised to make that arrogant "Saya Pantang DiCabar" statement because the statement has now been modified to "Rakyat Pantang DiCabar". Certainly, this cannot bode well for his image.

For their part, the organizers of the rally should have endeavored to deliver whatever memorandum they wanted to deliver to the Agung as early as possible and not expose the crowd to the chemical laced discharge of the water cannons and the tear gas. Judging from the crowd present today, surely their message has been "felt" by the government.

As for the government, it must acknowledge that there are problems and there is dissent amongst the rakyat. It has never been more urgent for the government and the people to work together as the nation faces greater challenges from without. Yet, Malaysians have to take to the streets to be heard. Whatever the issues, the government has to act and be seen to act; or at least be seen to be listening. What forced the rakyat to the streets can only be the apparent lack of any other avenue to be heard and trust in mainstream media is fast evaporating; the rakyat is fed up of spin.

I do not think Malaysians are demanding a change of government but are looking for more responsible and transparent governance. I am more inclined to think that this march was more of an appeal to the government and not a revolt. The big question is, "What now?". What can or will the Agung do? One thing is for sure, the spin has to stop and dear Mr PM, the buck stops with you.

Why the 10th November Rally? IMRAN IMTIAZ SHAH YACOB

Below is my post in my eGroup at 10.22am, 10th November,2007. I am now at a cybercafe in Petaling Street and will move closer to the scene later to observe first hand. At the moment it is still raining quite heavily outside.

No, I am not dressed in Yellow nor am I participating in the rally.

I really wonder how the organizers can keep this rally peaceful. It is so easy for agents provocateurs to spark a panic. The organizers seem to be baiting the authorities to get heavy handed and I am sure the latter will oblige. This is obvious from the guidelines issued to participants of the rally.

An interesting thing is that the organizers seem to have used the Net to a great degree to rally groups and there are even live reporting sites set up.

Am leaving the house now to observe from close quarters.

I hope sensibility prevails.



Electoral Dismay Prompts Malaysian March
Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob, 09 November 2007

Worries over the legal system and electoral irregularities led to a rare call for street protest in Malaysia this weekend. Will the police allow it?

In defiance of an official ban, thousands of Malaysians are expected to march in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow over a wide variety of grievances, including judicial corruption and electoral fraud. They hope to present a petition for redress not to the government but to Malaysia’s usually silent royalty.

The rally, which observers say could draw anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 protesters, could be the biggest of its kind since the tumultuous 1998 protests that followed the downfall of then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was subsequently arrested and jailed after he dared to challenge former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Because no permit has been issued for the protest, observers expect arrests and they do not rule out the possibility of violence. Still on the books is a one-time colonial law that bars gatherings of more than five people without a police permit.

Human Rights Watch,the US-based human rights advocacy organization, issued a press release Friday evening condemning the Malaysian police for refusing to grant the permit, saying that "If Malaysia wants to count itself a democracy, it can begin by upholding constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly."

It is difficult to say what the protest means in terms of Malaysia’s political and economic stability, but it does illustrate growing opposition to the job performance of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who took over from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2003 and has had a tough time of it ever since. National elections are expected perhaps as early as March 2008.

The protest is being organized by Bersih, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, an umbrella group encompassing 64 civil society groups and five political parties. According to a source in Kuala Lumpur, the group is struggling to keep the rally non-partisan, although Anwar Ibrahim, now an opposition figure, is expected to lead the crowd along with a contingent from Keadilan Parti Rakyat, the political party Anwar heads through his wife. His six years in prison on what are widely viewed as trumped-up charges make him ineligible to participate in politics. Lim Kit Siang, the long-time leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party and the Islamic Fundamentalist Parti sa-Islam Malaysia (PAS) will also participate.

Despite the ban on the protest, activists were handing out flyers at churches and other institutions Friday, calling for citizen action and saying that Bersih had chosen yellow as the color of the day because it is “the color for citizen action worldwide and the color for the press freedom movement.” It also happens to be the color for Malaysia’s royalty.

The rally has been prompted by a wide variety of recent concerns – rigged elections, judicial corruption, widespread corruption in the dominant ethnically-based political parties, and the perceived weakness of Badawi among them.

"This March may be spearheaded by NGOs and opposition parties but I can safely say that a great many UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) members, especially those who are educated or professional Malays, have sympathy for the issues they are trying to push forward,” one ranking UMNO figure told Asia Sentinel. “Middle-class Malays today are a confident lot and are demanding that the leaders of the nation be held accountable. It’s ironic I guess, the very success of (Malaysia’s affirmative action program) has created a class of successful Malays who demand much more of their government."

The police said they would deploy as many as 4,000 officers to keep the demonstrators from marching on Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), the former cricket pitch in front of the colonial-era Selangor Club. They have warned that the rally is unlawful and that they would arrest anyone who turns up. Although it was originally expected that as many as 100,000 people would participate, the stiff response from the police will probably cut that number dramatically.

Malaysia’s nine sultans are – at least for now – the unlikely champions of the protest. The marchers are expected to try and march from Independence Square to the Istana Negara, the king’s palace about five kilometers away, unless they are forcibly stopped.

Mizan Zainal Abidin, the Sultan of Terengganu, who currently holds the rotating kingship and is Malaysia’s constitutional head of state, reportedly had said he would accept whatever petition the marchers want to deliver. Over recent months, the Sultan of Perak, Azlan Shah, who held the kingship for five years and also at one point headed the Supreme Court, has spearheaded the royalty’s growing opposition to the government, particularly over judicial corruption.

Bersih says it is demanding four electoral changes – the use of indelible ink to prevent repeated voting, preventing ghost voting, the abolition of postal voting, which the organization charges is frequently abused by the ruling coalition, and equal access for all political parties to the mainstream media, all of which are state-controlled through ownership by the leading political parties.

In particular, they point to a by-election in the town of Ijok in April, which the ruling Barisan National coalition won in the face of what looked like a solid challenge by Parti Keadilan. A Malaysian blogger, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, charged that of the 12,000 voters in the district, some 1,700 were phantom voters, with people as old as 107 still on the rolls. Others listed as voters were as young as 8-years old. The ruling coalition outspent the opposition massively and, others charged, also bussed in voters.

The rally is to some extent an outgrowth of a previous one on Sept. 26 when an estimated 2,000 lawyers marched on Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital, to demand that the judiciary be cleaned up in the wake of allegations that a well-connected lawyer connived in 2002 with Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, who was then the chief judge of the Federal Court, to select pliant members of the bar as judges.

The royalty became involved through the Conference of Rulers, whose most important power is the ratification of judicial appointments. For months, the conference has been withholding ratification of Badawi’s pick for a new federal court chief judge. Then, on Nov. 1, they refused to allow Fairuz to stay on past his retirement date as the chief justice.

The picture of a tainted judiciary darkened with the appointment in September of Zaki Azmi, until recently UMNO’s chief legal advisor, to the Federal Court without having ever served as a judge. Since the country won independence in 1963, the government has carefully avoided appointing prominent members of political parties to the bench.

In addition, several high-profile trials have been criticized for being less than satisfactory, including the ongoing case over the murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, whose politically well-connected former lover is accused of the crime.

Sunday 4 November 2007

Kevin Lim's Wedding Dinner At The Ivy

Last night was Old Edwardians (KL) Dinner and I did not attend for only the 2nd time in 22 years. The reason was Kevin Lim's wedding dinner and not attending his function was not an option. A far as Jeannie and I were concerned, Kevin was one of our favourite guys.

Kevin's dinner was at a place called Ivy on Heritage Row, near Sheraton Imperial, KL. When Kevin called me more than a week ago he mentioned Sheraton and since he is based in Subang Jaya, I presumed it was Sheraton Subang Jaya.

The trouble with presumption is the risk of ending up being presumptuous. I was told of my mistake by Kevin's brother, David only after taking one and a half hours to reach Subang Sheraton through unexpected traffic jam.

According to Bernard the Best Man, Kevin and Patricia met slightly more than a year ago through an introduction by a mutual friend. I had not met Patricia before and was rather curious actually. Their wedding dinner at Ivy was unconventional in that the venue is more like a disco club than a restaurant. There were no formalities as the attendees were mainly friends rather than family.

The set up of the place that occupies two shoplots include karaoke rooms and dining upstairs and the bar and dance area on the ground floor. By about 10.30 pm, the place was beginning to fill up with clubbers.

Booze (red wine, whiskey and beer) was flowing the whole night and the ample food was expectedly very good since this is Kevin! The western buffet spread included beef, lamb, salmon, chicken, Yorkshire Pudding, wild mushroom soup, potato salad and usual accompanying greens, etc. I have hardly ever seen so much meat at a wedding dinner and it was so typically Kevin.

Harjit and Susan joined us after the Old Edwardians Dinner. Harjit met David again after more than 30 years but we could not recall whether we were all classmates in Form 3. In any case, all that mattered was we were contemporaries in KEVII School.

It was a very good evening indeed and when I left at about 2.30 am, the party was still going on.

Thanks and congratulations Kevin and Patricia; may you have a blessed marriage.