Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Why people support the unsupportable

Brave New World (The Star)
12 October 2016


SHOULD people be given the vote? Are people too stupid to be entrusted with selecting their leaders and the future of their respective nations?

Looking around the world, it would seem that there is a strong reason to believe so. Based on half-truths, nationalist fear-mongering and outright lies, the British chose to leave the European Union.
The Americans have a vile, mi­sogynistic, racist, infantile bully as a potential president. The people of the Philippines are apparently supportive of a presi­dent whose crime-fighting policy amounts to little more than murder.
All these countries have a democratic system of government. At various stages naturally, with some more mature than others, but at the end of the day, in all four nations, people vote. So the question is, are the people too dumb to do so?
That would be an easy answer, would it not? Blame the situation of these countries on the unwashed and uneducated masses.
But then it would also be an answer based on despair for it ultimately says that people are hopeless without looking for any deeper reasoning behind this state of affairs.
Firstly, I do not think that education is important for people to be able to see right from wrong. There are many very highly educated people who are corrupt and devoid of any ethics.
I have heard people with doc­torates spout the most disgustingly vicious and unkind ideas. Just as I have heard taxi drivers and domestic helpers say things of tremendous wisdom, humanism and intelligence.
Education does not make you an intelligent or a good person. Just a person with qualifications.
What is it, then? How can people support the unsupportable?
Well, I think that there is a disconnect between a large number of people and governance. A sense of being detached, somehow, from the running of the country. As though their lives do not matter to the great and powerful. This being the case, then, it does not matter what they do, or who they vote for.
This disconnect is linked to po­verty, because poverty leads to a sense of being left out of the development of the nation. Many supporters of Trump, for example, are working class people who feel insecure about their future.
And if we look at the Brexit vote, England can be divided into two; London and the rest of the country.
A common thread with regard to leaving Europe is that for many, they simply can’t see what effect it has on them and that only the rich (like those who live and work in London) care about remaining in Europe.
This sense of disconnect from the grander scheme of things means that people like Trump and the Brexit politicians with their simple messages become attractive; a way to get at the status quo that does not seem to care for them.
Closer to home, a person earning minimum wage probably thinks that no matter who is in power, they will still be earning minimum wage.
So what if a person takes millions and millions of ringgit in corrupt money, what effect will it have on their daily life?
And is it any surprise that Duterte, with his “man of the people” rhetoric, can strike a chord in a nation with a 25% poverty rate?
Of course, as understandable as these reasons are to explain why some people vote the way they do, it still does not make the reasons correct. Trump’s economic policy is meant to help the normal American; yet his past shows that his business uses cheap foreign labour.
And European money helps communities all over Britain in the form of subsidies and the like; money which can’t easily be replaced by the British government on its own.
And surely a non-corrupt government would mean more funds to be used in sustainable development plans, and not the occasional handouts. Something which ought to help all of us.
There will always be idiots in any country. The racists will be drawn to the language of Trump, Brexit and the Red Shirts.
But I doubt that these are the majority of people.
People need to know that they matter and they also need to understand the real issues and choices before them, not just simplistic political sloganeering. This is the challenge for the future.

What do the professionals want?

Brave New World (The Star)
28 September 2016


EARLIER this week I was asked by a reporter if there is anything that can be added to the demands made by Bersih for their fifth rally planned for Nov 19, in order to attract the professional classes.

I replied rather tersely with the question, “What else do people want”? Seriously, the demands are pretty comprehensive, and they are all aimed at making the country more democratic and better governed.
The demand for clean elections is still the number one priority. This is as it should be, because without clean and fair elections then we are moving towards disaster. The way things are, the constituencies are so disproportionate that the concept of one-person, one-vote has gone out of the window.
This is why in the last elections, the coalition with fewer votes actually formed the Government. It has been suggested by some analysts that in the current situation, it is possible for the ruling coalition to win only 40% of the popular vote and still maintain a majority in Parliament.
This just cannot be allowed to go on. If people feel their vote is useless, that is when they will be compelled to take other measures.
Doesn’t the Election Commission understand that by not ensuring that we get as close as possible to one-person, one-vote they are actively helping to lay the foundations for chaos in this country? Or don’t they care?
The second demand is for clean government. This means a proper separation of powers, transparency and structural changes to ensure that power is not centred on one person and the independence of public institutions like the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Anything wrong with that? We have already seen what can happen when there is an unaccountable government.
Do we really need more justifications to hit the streets?
The third demand is for a better parliamentary system with greater time for debate and better use of parliamentary committees. There is a dire need for laws in this country to be discussed properly. Witness the unholy speed with which laws as destructive as the National Security Council Act got passed.
Fourthly is the call for the right to dissent. To be free to express ourselves without repressive laws being used unevenly to quell any sort of criticism of the government.
If a government can hide behind laws which prevent public discussion of their conduct, then corruption and incompetence will follow. This is true regardless of what party is in power.
The final demand is for greater respect towards Sabah and Sarawak with fair constituency delineations, the provision for absentee voting and destruction of money politics.
Can any person really say that these demands are unreasonable or, more importantly in this day and age, that they are not absolutely necessary?
Anyone who says that these demands are bad is basically supporting an autocratic system of governance and is thus little more than a fascist.
And if there are those who still need other justifications to protest, seriously man, what do you want? A raffle at the rally with a BMW as first prize?

Monday, 19 September 2016

News stories that caught my eye

Brave New World (The Star)
14 September 2016


SELAMAT Hari Raya and Happy Malaysia Day, everybody!

What a week, eh? Those of us with enough foresight would have taken three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) off and got nine days holiday. Unfortunately I had no such forward-thinking ability and so am back at work.
This does not mean I feel like working and thus the article this week may reflect my state; which is to say my body is at the keyboard but my mind is on the beach.
Very quickly then; two items that caught my interest.
Firstly, Siti Zabedah Kasim’s middle finger. Not since John Wayne Bobbit has a little digit caused such a media furore.
What happened was this. Siti Kasim (pic), lawyer and activist, was at some forum or other regarding the amendments to the Syariah Act which would allow a form of hudud to be introduced in the various states.
She was in the audience and was trying to make a point opposing the amendments when she was heckled continuously by those who disagree with her.
It all got to a head until finally she lost her cool and flipped the bird.
And boy, how excited people got. How rude, they said. How crass. Gosh, one woman makes a gesture and it’s awful. Yet all those uncouth morons who jeered and provoked and wouldn’t let her speak, they don’t deserve any comments.
And then, naturally, the inanity starts. She’s a Muslim but she doesn’t wear a tudung, they gasp. How can a woman go around bare headed and say she is a Muslim, they tut.
Dear oh dear. That’s what it boils down to in this country, doesn’t it?
There are so many reasons why people oppose the introduction of hudud in this country.
There are theological reasons (where Muslims doubt the theological foundations espoused by the supporters of hudud), there are constitutional reasons, there are human rights reasons and there are reasons based simply on the fact that brutal punishments are ineffective and amount to torture and are thus pointless and wrong.
In a democracy, all these points must be openly discussed. Shouting down those who disagree with you is not right. Patronising people who disagree with you by falsely saying they don’t understand or are phobic is not right. Demonising people based on inane things like dress, just because they disagree with you, is not right.
When faced with so many wrongs, I think one little birdy flashed for a few seconds is probably the most reasonable emotional reaction possible.
The second news story that caught my eye was the one where Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, AirAsia chief, was reportedly keen to be the new Football Association of Malaysia president. He has apparently denied this, so who knows what would have happened?
However, for a while at least, it made a nice talking point.
Some of my Spurs mates thought he would do very well, being an astute businessman and owner of Queens Park Rangers football club.
I have no idea whether AirAsia is a brilliant business model and I am uncertain whether being the owner of an ex-premier league team equates to football knowledge, so I really don’t have anything to say one way or the other.
And besides, that wasn’t the fun part of the conversation. It soon degenerated to a series of messages along the lines of:
“Hey, does this mean that now, everyone can play?”
“What about tickets? Do you buy a ticket to enter but pay extra for the seat?”
“Would games be delayed without any reason?”
“When the programme says that we will be playing Indonesia, with Tony in charge, does that mean Australia will turn up?”
Anyway, for those of you with foresight, enjoy the rest of the hols; for those of you like me, here’s to the long weekend.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Contemplating who, where, how far

Brave New World (The Star)
31 August 2016

On National Day, it is a time to take stock and remember the aspirations of our founding fathers


IT really is quite funny. The Red Shirts, that pro-government Malay group, have always portrayed themselves as super macho. Why, even one of their leaders has a pugilistic nickname.
Real hard men these guys. Ready to fight and die for Malay dignity, rights, honour and whatever else that they can think of.
Yet, recently their actions have been that of the most hated of school playground creatures: the snivelling little tattletale. You know the one. The sneaky little creep who will go running to teacher to snitch on his fellow pupils. Vile little thing.
And that is exactly what these Red Shirts did.
They sent out their, oh this is too rich, “operatives”, to go to the student organised rally last weekend and see if they could identify individuals.
They then said they had gone on to report these individuals. To whom exactly we are not told, but I presume it’s either the cops or the universities.
It is futile to explain to these goons that all people in Malaysia (including them) have a right to gather peacefully and if there are any laws or rules that prevent this, like say university disciplinary rules, then they are unconstitutional.
It’s a simple concept but then for some, it might be too much to grasp.
But I am sure this lot do not see themselves as the snotty-nosed little weasel who keeps running to the headmaster’s office to tell on his schoolmates.
Oh no. I bet they see themselves as un-appointed deputies of the law or brave vigilantes out there to defend their grand leader, race and religion.
They may not have guns like the cops, but who needs them since their martial arts skills are so po­­werful they can beat the living daylights out of inanimate planks of wood.
Now, some may take issue with me for making light of this group.
After all, the Germans made light of Hitler and his thugs and see what happened there.
The difference is that the National Socialist German Party (although there was nothing socialist about their policies at all) were trying to get into power.
This lot already have the blessings of those in power as can be seen by the approval of those in Government for their first big rally.
In other words, they are not an underestimated political force, they are already part of the status quo.
Which is all too depressing to contemplate on this day of all days.
Merdeka Day is normally a time to contemplate who we are, where we have been and how far we have come.
Usually there will be a sense of national pride and optimism (cautious optimism for many, but optimism nonetheless). But what on earth can we be optimistic about today?
The electoral future of this country is retarded by gerrymandering which ensures that the future of this dear nation is in the hands of people who simply do not care about issues of corruption, demo­cracy, justice and good governance.
A disproportionate number of seats are in constituencies where the voters may be aware of the bigger issues that plague the nation but are more concerned about a few handouts every time elections roll by and in hanging on to the delusion that only one group can protect their race.
And speaking about race, it is utterly depressing that almost all discussions in this country still centre around it.
Poverty, for example is still looked at through the racial lens, when it is a matter of class and the disproportionate distribution of wealth, which is the result of the combination of capitalist ideology and corruption.
So is education, and sport, and governance, and religion and anything else you may want to think of.
So deep is this phenomenon that even the opposition coalition which in the past has been against race-based politics appear to be ready to embrace a new party which is, surprise surprise, open only for the bumiputra (read Malay).
Perhaps I am being too idealistic but to me it is sad that we are in this state of affairs.
It is sad that the aspirations of the founding fathers have been totally discarded.
Do not forget that prior to independence the political elite and the Rulers all were hopeful that one day the ruling of this country would be based on equality and not race.
And yet, here we are having moved not forward but back. Is there hope in the youth perhaps?
Oh yes, the youth. It is always the escape clause for older people (like myself) who have failed to place our hopes in the youth.
Yes, the youth are showing signs of courage and tenacity. They are so much more politically aware and concerned than 20 years ago.
My concern is that we, the older generation, have messed up so much that we may leave little to them and their inheritance is no­­thing more than a broken, bankrupt and divided shell of a country.
Happy Merdeka.

New line-up brings fresh hopes

Brave New World (The Star)
3 August 2016

Much is expected of the current Suhakam commissioners. Will they be bold defenders of human rights in Malaysia?


WHEN the new list of commissioners for the Human Rights Com­mission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was announced, I was quietly optimistic.
In the line-up are a few individuals who have a good record in defending human rights and this is a good thing.
With its funding slashed, Suhakam now depends on the vitality of its commissioners more than ever.
The new chairman, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, a former diplomat, was a fairly inoffensive choice.
Diplomats being diplomats, they are really hard to pin down, smoothly shifting gears to whatever is required in the name of diplomacy.
They tend to do that even when no longer in the diplomatic corps. I suppose decades as a professional smooth talker can have that effect.
That being said, the last head of Suhakam, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, was also a diplomat and although he had started his job rather timidly, in my opinion he grew into the role, absorbing the values and then defending human rights to a level that I had not expected.
Now it would appear that the new head has a lot of growing into the role to do, too.
The chairperson’s seat is not even warm yet and already Razali has displayed a lack of understanding, not only of what human rights entail, but also the situation in the country.
His statement in last week’s Sunday Star that Bersih 2.0 has to find “more sophisticated” methods to make their point rather than organising street protests, was disappointing to say the least.
He says such protests “damage a lot of property and all that”.
Granted that he conceded to the point that to demonstrate is a human right, but this is tempered by him saying that the authorities have to “weigh all the parties’ interests”.
I take issue with his points.
First, what on earth does he mean by “more sophisticated methods”?
Shall we write memorandum after memorandum and hand them to the Government, hoping and praying that it will read the memoranda and take them seriously?
What about politely worded e-mails to our MPs, asking them to do something in Parliament?
I suppose we can wait for the next general election or write passionate letters to the editor.
When has any of these things worked?
Even a petition with a million signatories can be denigrated and brushed aside.
So, just what other avenues do we the people have?
You see, Razali may have lots of charm (as he implies in the interview) with which to cajole recalcitrant government types, but those of us without bespoke suits and the standing of the new Suhakam chair will probably find it difficult to get anywhere close to those who stalk the corridors of power.
And has Razali ever been to any of these so-called destructive protests?
There has been damage in the past, true, but the level of damage is miniscule compared to the number of participants.
If tens of thousands of people want to cause damage, then by golly, you’ll see real damage.
But this is not the case and in the last Bersih rally, which lasted one and a half days and not three as Razali said, there were teams of volunteers picking up the trash left behind.
Oh, and may I just point out that what the Government deems as “in the best interest” can be warped at times.
For example, the Inspector-General of Police said Bersih could organise a protest as long as it didn’t call for the leaders to step down.
How many times must it be said? The top government leaders can be dismissed from their jobs.
It needs a vote of no confidence in a legislative body.
There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic about a head of government being forced to step down.
So if people want this, as long as they are not suggesting the removal be done in any way unlawful, like a military coup or elimination by a game show, then it is perfectly within their rights to do so.
You see, saudara Razali, the government agencies and their heads who determine “best interest” really are not able to do so.
Instead of giving the excuses that have been used to shut down dissent, the head of Suhakam has to defend our human and constitutional rights to the nth degree.
And Lord knows we need them now.
We are fed up with financial misdeeds and mismanagement, and if we want to show our frustration, the only real avenue is to gather peacefully and in huge numbers.
It doesn’t matter if Suhakam will continue to charmingly try to convince the Malaysian Govern­ment to sign more international treaties.
All that comes to nought if the commission can’t even be bold enough to stand up for the rights of the people of Malaysia now.

New party, old issues

Brave New World (The Star)
20 July 2016


Man, oh man! This new party being proposed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has really set some alarm bells ringing.

First and foremost, I think that if anyone wants to set up a political party, that’s their right to do so.
Go ahead, knock yourself out, have fun.
My concern is what this does to the already incredibly messy and chaotic political scene of the country.
The Opposition is in disarray. Top leaders are either locked up or being dragged through the legal process.
The promising Pakatan Rakyat has torn apart with PAS suddenly rediscovering its medieval roots.
The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) is still finding its feet and I do not believe it has captured the public imagination as how the Pakatan Rakyat did all those years ago.
Plus, now with PAS dancing to its own tune (figuratively of course, because I am sure the party frowns on dancing), it looks like three-cornered fights is going to be the order of the day.
If that is the case, then Barisan Nasional will stand to gain the most.
All this mess, and that is without taking into consideration any internal politicking in the three component parties of the PH.
I am certain such politicking exists, although I have no idea what they may be, being an outsider and all. But even without such shenanigans, things do not look good for the Opposition.
And into this situation a new political party may jump in. We aren’t even sure what this party is all about. It appears to be concerned with working with the Opposition to get rid of the Barisan Nasional Government.
Yet, at the same time, its figurehead is saying that it may not go up against Umno.
I’m sorry. What?
Maybe I am missing some subtle political point here but the last time I looked, the Prime Minister, his deputy and many other ministers are from Umno.
You want to get rid of the current Government leaders but not fight against Umno?
Can this be correct or was there a total misunderstanding and the news report I read was wrong?
Furthermore, I am most curious to find out just what this new party is all about.
What is its manifesto? Is it just to fight Barisan? Or will it have other things it wants to champion?
Perhaps it is going to promise to fix the institutional disaster that we are faced with today.
A disaster that can trace its roots to the regime of Dr Mahathir.
It would be interesting if it did want to champion this, seeing as how its de facto head does not have any inclination to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, he has to bear some responsibility for the situation we and he find ourselves in today.
Also there is a possibility that this new party is going to be a Malay party. Really?
Great, that’s just what we need; another party that reinforces racial politics. I suppose since its target demographic is Umno and PAS supporters, it wants to appeal to the Malay heartland.
Even if that is the case, it is a sad state of affairs that these people seem to think that the only way they can do this is by reverting to a political norm that has in the long term caused a divisive and divided society.
And how about their potential partners? How can the PH accept a race-based party when all three parties in PH are not race-based and have spoken out against such things in the past?
Furthermore, just what exactly is the relationship going to be between this new party and the PH.
Will someone like Dr Mahathir allow himself to be merely an equal partner or will he want to dictate everything?
There is no clue whatsoever as to how this new party will fit into the existing system.
All this does is add confusion to an already depressing state of affairs. And I do not know if it is going to help or not.
Let’s be frank, the reason I keep singling out Dr Mahathir is because without him, this new party will not exist.
He has been campaigning against the Prime Minister for a long time now and you must be na├»ve to think that this new party, whatever it may be, will be formed if Dr Mahathir didn’t want it to happen.
But how influential is he anyway?
In the last two by-elections, there seems to be no indication that his presence can make a dent in the Umno support.
Will his party do better? Who knows?
Yet, the PH are probably hoping that the Mahathir factor can help turn that particularly Umno-centric demographic.
They obviously decided that it is worth it to partner their former enemy to do so.
The question is, what if the Mahathir factor is not a factor at all? Will it then be worth it to have him in the same team?
Only time will tell.

There’s strength in numbers

Brave New World (The Star)
6 July 2016

As a small nation state, Britain is finding out the hard way that the European Union sum is greater than its parts.


THE English defeat to Iceland and exit from the Euros raises an inte­resting parallel with the United Kingdom’s referendum held a few days earlier, where they chose to leave the European Union.
In both cases, the unthinkable happened. And it happened partly on the misguided, hubristic idea that England is a lot stronger than they actually are.
How could it be that Iceland, which has the population of Kajang, could beat the 1966 World Cup winners? Ah, and there lies the problem does it not?
That was 50 years ago and furthermore it was the one and only major trophy that the English football team has ever won. Yet somehow the Jules Rimet trophy held aloft in Wembley is seen to be some sort of the footballing equivalent of Excalibur, endowing the holder with a kingly right to victory.
The truth is a lot more sobering: English football had a moment of glory but that does not mean that it is a powerhouse.
The same can be said about the nation as a whole. What is the country without Europe?
The Commonwealth is little more than an excuse for men and women from various former colonies to draw large pay cheques in Marlbo­­rough House whilst speaking in the public school accents of their former masters. The Empire is long dead and since the Second World War, the UK is not anywhere near to being the superpower it once was.
And yet there are those who believe that they can stand alone. With perhaps a little help from their “special partner”, the Americans.
This is strange because those who are so averse to being bound by Brussels seem to be happy to be subservient to the United States. But then, when has logic come into this Brexit move?
Promises by the Leave campaign have been found to be hollow. The massive injection of cash into the Na­­tional Health System that was pro­­mised is now already being denied by those who made those promises.
The magic disappearing of Euro­­pean immigrants so despised by the electorate has proven to be merely wishful thinking. And the supposed strength of the British economy has also been shown to be a vain hope as the pound tumbles, the markets crash and investors already start looking elsewhere.
England by itself is little more than a small nation state. They have good things going for them of course, but compared to the juggernauts that are America and China, what are they?
Regional pacts are necessary for countries to ensure peace and economic survival. Just as Asean is necessary to give us small South-East Asian nations a bit more punch, so is the EU to the UK.
But all that is drowned out by populist promises that could never be kept and by appealing to the lowest common denominator, a racist and bigoted fear of the other as a trump card.
It is always so easy, isn’t it? When in doubt, find a scapegoat that looks and speaks differently from you, and say that they are the cause of all your problems.
This racist posturing and the eventual victory of the Leave campaign has opened a huge can of worms. Racist incidents in the UK have spiked and it is not aimed merely at the Eastern European communities but also other non-white communities as well.
And why not? In any country you will find the despicable and the ra­cists, but when they are legitimised by those who are the nation’s lea­ders, then they feel empowered to make their stand public by proudly displaying their bigoted mind-set through words and deeds.
And if I may make a slight detour here; this is why the statements made by the Mufti of Pahang and then the subsequent defending of those statements by Putrajaya is so dangerous and must be opposed.
The declaring of the legitimacy (at least from one man’s perspective of theology) of killing people who oppose a proposed law, can easily justify bigoted acts, which although they may not be as dramatic as bloodshed, will at least give rise to more discrimination and ethnic hatred in a country already toxic with such attitudes.
However, back to England. Why should I care about what happens six thousand miles away?
Well, partly it is because I am ra­­ther fond of that little island nation. It had its moments of wickedness but it also tried to ensure free health for all, a social security net and a sound education system; with an underlying belief in the ideals of the rule of law and civil liberties.
They were not perfect and one wonders if these ideals will still be around in the next 50 years, but the thing is, the experiment was at­­tempt­ed and there was an aspiration of a nation that had a capitalistic economy tempered by socialistic principles.
This aspiration is based on the idea that a community lives and grows together. The strong and the weak, the powerful and the powerless.
On a larger scale, was this not also the ideal of the European Union? But instead of a community of individual people, it is a community of nations. Growing and helping one another and by so doing, trying to ensure peace and econo­mic prosperity.
The EU has some serious pro­blems: it is criticised as being overly bureaucratic and corrupt. It needs to be fixed.
But by abandoning the experiment, Britain has given up on the post-World War dream of a world where cooperation is the way forward, and not self-interest. That is the greatest tragedy of Brexit; the death of a dream.