Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Bersih 4

Sin Chew Jit Poh
26 August 2015

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There has been so much rubbish floating around recently. Statements being made without one iota of proof but conveyed with a conviction which may sway the gullible into believing it.
 
One of the more ludicrous examples of this are the numerous excuses given about the RM2.6 billion that was deposited into the Prime Minister’s personal account. After one month of silence from the government, we are then told that it was a donation. Who gave the donation is not exposed, just that it comes from the Middle East. The cynical voice inside me thinks that the “Middle East” is chosen because it might sway the more susceptible Muslims out there that the money is from a pure source, seeing as how so many Muslims in this country seem to place the Arab states in somehow a more holy position than the rest of the world.
 
Well, it might be true, some rich Arab might have given the money to the PM. But then for what purpose? And here is when it gets really ridiculous. The money, it is said by government men, was meant for a whole slew of things ranging from fighting the ISIS (even though it was deposited before the ISIS became an issue), to it is supposed to be used to help Malays, to the old favourite, it is there to help UMNO fight the Jews.
 
I’m sorry, but all these so called explanations are just ridiculous and goes nowhere close to clearing the PM of any wrong doing.
 
However the unbelievable has not been limited to the “donation” scandal. There has been some serious disinformation going around about the upcoming Bersih rally as well. The demands of Bersih are simple; clean elections, clean government, save the Malaysian economy, respect the right to object. All reasonable requests and well within our rights to demand as we are living in a supposed democracy.
 
Yet shrill mad voices keep insisting that the rally is really about toppling the government. What rubbish, how on earth can that possibly happen? People are going to start gathering on the 29th of August in town, 40 km away from Putrajaya, then they are going to disperse the next day after the clock strikes midnight. This is the plan, it has been made known to all. How is this going to topple the government? And as usual such insane accusations are not backed with any sort of evidence at all.
 
That’s not all of course, Bersih are foreign agents out to destroy the country. They pay people to attend. The list goes on.
 
What these people (and they are either government people or supporters of the ruling party), refuse to see is that what is being demanded by Bersih are the very things that we need to ensure the country we live in can continue to grow in a peaceful manner. We need freedom to uncover corruption so that we can choose the right people to govern us. And we need to have a fair elections system so that our votes count and that will mean we can be assured the democratic process is all that we need in order to change who makes up the government.
 
If the police and the DBKL care about this country they will provide the necessary support for this rally. If the government cares about true democracy they will not be spreading malicious untruths about the rally and they will let it go on unhindered. And if we care about the future, for us and our children, we’ll attend.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

For clean elections and governance

Brave New World (The Star)
19 August 2015

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TO go, or not to go – that is the question. Whether `tis nobler to post very angry tweets, or to bear the discomfort of mosquitoes and heat.
I am of course speaking about Bersih 4 (with apologies to Billy Shakespeare).
The planned rally on Aug 29-30 is the fourth instalment of the Bersih rallies.
And they are pretty much calling for the same kind of things.
This time round their demands are clean elections, clean governance, saving the economy and the right to dissent.
I saw a flyer which has added “preserving parliamentary democracy” in there as well.
Considering that there appears to be a warped view as to what preserving parliamentary democracy means amongst the authorities, maybe it’s not a bad idea to push forward a true interpretation of this concept at the rally as well.
Now of course there are detractors of this rally.
The Inspector-General of Police claims that the organisers are selfish because they want to protest and this will force shops to close and taxi drivers will be unable to get fares.
Well, first of all there shouldn’t be any reason why traders have to stop trading as long as there is sufficient cooperation between the organisers and the police.
Apart from when heavy-handed tactics were used against the demonstrators and when a tiny handful of agent provocateurs did their dirty work, Bersih rallies have been extremely peaceful.
And I am sure taxi drivers can ply their trade in other parts of the city.
But also it seems to be a rather petty reason to be opposed to the rally.
It is undeniable that we have serious problems with our electoral system, our scandal-mired system of governance, and our economy.
Many people are fed up and they want to make this feeling known in no uncertain terms and to demand improvements.
The next general election is three years away, so please, no “protest at the ballot box” fallacies, thank you very much.
Besides it is, after all, their Constitutional right to express their unhappiness. And surely the Constitution is something the cops are meant to uphold.
But that’s not all; our head of police goes on to say that Bersih wants to topple the government. Really? And how are they going to do that by gathering for just over a day, making speeches, chanting slogans and singing songs?
Will Putrajaya crumble just because of a peaceful gathering in the heart of KL over forty kilometres away?
By asking for clean elections, the ultimate goal would be to ensure that governments can change in a peaceable manner, where a person’s vote is equal to all other voters and democracy can then work; nothing wrong with that.
Then there are those who cast aspersions on Bersih, implying shadowy funders and the exchange of cash for people to attend. Whoever thinks like that really is living on cloud cuckoo land.
Bersih is a grassroots movement whose pathetically small funds come from the Malaysian people themselves, and there is nothing to show otherwise.
But even those who may support the demands of Bersih have been highly critical, sneering at the efforts being made, saying that it is not enough and that more drastic measures have to be taken.
To them I say this, I agree with Bersih, in that what we should demand is a system that is fair and clean so that political parties can be voted into parliament and, when we tire of them, voted out.
I do not demand anything other than that because I still have faith in the democratic system; with the proviso that the democratic system is improved; which is what Bersih is all about.
I understand the frustration and the seeming bleakness of it all, especially in the light of the court decision regarding the Sarawak delineation exercise, but I still hope for a peaceful solution.
And there is no better way to express that hope than by physically being out there in numbers.
In this age of Facebook and Twitter, people may feel it is enough to have a rant online and maybe sign a change.org petition and that is that.
I don’t think so; such things can be ignored and not necessarily noticed.
Thousands upon thousands of Malaysian putting up a united front in a peaceful demonstration cannot.
This is not to say that things will change after the 30th.
The fight for democracy is a long one, and we have merely been taking one ponderous step after another.
Bersih 4 is merely one more of those steps.
And we must take those steps for the sake of the future of our nation, as I strongly believe a peaceful country needs a good democratic system which respects human rights, for when we know we can change things in a peaceful ordered manner that is when we do not need to resort to other less desirable means.
So, to go or not to go? For me the answer is obvious.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Amend law to make it clearer

Brave New World (The Star)
5 August 2015

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Whoa! Talk about a stealth bomber of a law. This one slipped under my radar and the next thing I know it’s pounding down with legal explosives.
 
I am talking about the new section 124B of the Penal Code. This provision which criminalises “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” was introduced in 2012. I think some noise was made about it then, but soon we got distracted, as we Malaysians are wont to do.
 
To be fair we got distracted by some pretty big things. The sudden ever presence of the Sedition Act, the threat of the new Prevention of Terrorism Act, these were all relevant and pertinent issues that had to be faced.
 
Then suddenly out of the blue like flatulence in an elevator they whack us with this law. And it’s a doozy.
 
It seems to be their oppressive legislation of choice nowadays. Everybody seems to be getting hit by it. From prominent lawyers to student activists. The latest round of arrests were of course from the aborted demonstration in KL last Saturday. The Sedition Act must be feeling like the out of favour ex-boyfriend.
 
The thing about section 124B is that it sounds harmless but it really is a nasty piece of work. I mean, surely protecting democracy is a good thing. But then, the problem is just what “parliamentary democracy” is, is not defined by the Penal Code and I am afraid my definition of it is vastly different from the powers that be. Forgive me as I go into law lecturer mode, but I think it may be useful to reproduce section 124B verbatim:
 
“Whoever, by any means, directly or indirectly, commits an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years.”
 
First thing that may strike you is that the punishment is akin to one for committing murder. Twenty years, that’s pretty hard-core. But putting that aside for the moment, let’s see what they say “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” means.
 
“’Activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy’ means an activity carried out by a person or a group of persons designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means”.
 
Alright, no argument from me about criminalising violent over throw of government (although I am quite sure we have laws for that already). By this I presume they mean with the use of weapons; something like a military coup. But what does “unconstitutional means” mean?
 
You see, the way I see it a parliamentary democracy needs to have certain things to exist. A fair electoral system is the most obvious. But it also needs the freedom of expression. This is especially true if those doing the expressing are concerned about issues of governance. All this is actually protected in our Constitution.
 
When we go to vote, do we want to vote in honest people or dishonest people? Do we want to vote in competent people or incompetent people? Now, if there is no freedom of expression then how would we know if those who are putting themselves up for election are either honest or competent?
 
Simple right?
 
Also those who are in power can be forced out of power if they lose an election or if they have been found of wrongdoing. Criminal acts means you are disqualified from being an MP, which the last time I looked was part of the Parliamentary Democratic system and part of our Constitution.
 [The text in red was taken out by The Star]
You follow me so far? Of course you do, you are not thick.
 
But the same cannot be said of all people. By applying this really simple and indisputable idea of what a parliamentary democracy is to recent events, one can see with crystal clarity that when the authorities are using this law, they are not protecting parliamentary democracy, but are instead helping to destroy it.
 
They seem to think that once a party or individual is in power then any calls for investigation or removal is against democracy. I am sorry, but that is part and parcel of democracy. Just because you are in power does not mean you are suddenly exempt from the law and people have a right to say it. They don’t nor should they have a right to start throwing grenades and what not, but they sure do have the right to express it.
 
So right now we have a vague law being used, in my view, very wrongly. What hope is there? The law could be amended to make it clearer. That is one way to go, but I don’t think that is going to happen with parliament being what it is right now.
 
Or, we can place our hope in the judiciary. Surely the judges must be able to see what the elements of democracy are, and that if these elements, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, are being curtailed by a law that is purportedly meant to protect democracy, then we really don’t have a democracy anymore.

Desperate Government

Sin Chew Jit Poh
29 July 2015
 
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I find it incredible and just how poorly thought out some of the actions of the government has been recently.
 
The charging of several people under the Penal Code for “activities detrimental to a parliamentary democracy” is utterly ludicrous. You undermine parliamentary democracy by for example plotting an armed coup. Pointing out suspected wrong doings does not undermine democracy; in fact it is an integral part of democracy. For surely if an elected government or official has done something wrong, it is of utmost importance that people know about it so that they can make an informed choice at the next elections. It’s so simple and basic that I can’t fathom how the police can’t understand this.
 
Then there’s the suspension of the two Edge Group newspapers for three months using the Printing Presses and Publications Act on national security type grounds. Oh for heaven’s sake, corruption may be considered a national security issue, but exposing corruption or the possibility of corruption surely is not.
 
These acts are just so unbelievably dumb that I can’t help but feel they are the desperate lashing out of a government that feels trapped and has no idea how to escape from a problem of their own making.
 
But what I want to point out here is how interesting it is to see that certain major players, like the Deputy Prime Minster, seems to want to distance themselves from this mess. The DPM in a speech to the UMNO faithful actually seems to be saying that one counter’s the Edge by pointing out where they were wrong; implying the suspension of their licence was not the right way to do things.
 
The DPM goes on to warn that the way things are, if an election was to be held now, then the BN would lose. There is perhaps some truth to that, although I am uncertain.
 
But what is of interest here is that I am of the opinion that the thinking is that the latest scandals are intimately linked to the Prime Minister. And somehow if the ruling party can distance themselves from the PM, then things can get better for them.
 
I wonder if the Malaysian public are so simple. Sure the 1MDB thing seems to be very much a problem of the PM (although how the cabinet can avoid responsibility is beyond me), but are the only problems in Malaysia because of the 1MDB?
It is a huge issue, the mother of all scandals as the Opposition are fond of saying, but it is not the only issue and not the only problem. Malaysians are suffering because of rising living costs, the GST, high unemployment and underemployment rates, a collapsing education system, a myriad of corruption issues,  religiosity gone mad, a further chipping away of fundamental liberties, questionable democratic institutions and so many other things. Is this all because of one man or a group of men and women?
 
I am sure that the PM will not step down unless his party wants him to step down. There are signs that this may be the case. However, even if he does, will that make all our problems go away? I don’t think so. For there to be even the beginning of improvement in this country, the changes have to go much deeper than that.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A ‘pasembur’ of ancestries

Brave New World (The Star)
22 July 2015

Growing up on an island, I think this realisation must have seeped into my consciousness.

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YESTERDAY I spent six and a half hours in my car crawling from north to south. It wasn’t too bad an experience because I was with people I loved and we entertained ourselves with general silliness. But then I suppose I was in a good mood and even an aching left leg, the result of constantly working the clutch, did nothing to dampen that mood.
The past few days have been perhaps the best Raya I have had since childhood. For the first time in what feels like the longest time, all the people I loved were under the same roof and everyone was just so relaxed and happy. It was truly a time that made one feel grateful.
Apart from family I also had the chance to meet up with old friends from Francis Light School. Obviously, coming from a school with a name like that, my home state is Penang.
It was a blast seeing pals whom I have not seen in 34 years. We’ve all aged, obviously, and grown (some more than others), but upon close inspection, one can see the little boys with whom I used to play and study.
I am of course completely biased, but Penang folk make me laugh. I think it has something to do with our dialect. And sitting there drinking coffee with my mates, I laughed real hard.
It’s not just what was said but the way it was said that got to me. I may be wrong but I think we are the only people who use the term “marka” for girls. Just exactly what “marka” means I have no idea, so if there are any cunning linguists out there, please drop me a line.
And there is something schizophrenic about Penangites and the way we talk. All the aku and hang is crude. As is our utter refusal to use the “r” sound, replacing it either with a “q” (it’s Gelugoq, not Gelugor) or with a guttural sound impossible to put in words, that is rather akin to a bronchial patient clearing his throat in the morning.
All this makes us sound like a bunch of roughs, yet at the same time we refer to ourselves in a most infantile manner. To hear grown men call themselves chek when talking to their elders, makes it seem like we are using baby talk way into middle age. It is a very odd mixture indeed.
As are we. Looking around my table at my friends, one thing struck me very clearly and that is we are all obviously island boys, but at the same time we are equally obviously from a variety of ancestries. A pasembur of ancestries, you can say. I suppose all of us at the table would be classified as Malay, but to believe in some form of racial purity would be stupid beyond belief if one were to just look at us.
Growing up on the island, I think this realisation must have seeped into my consciousness. And so, although I appreciate the differences in ethnicity for the colour and cultural richness it provides our lives, I also realise that to be hung up over it is ultimately silly.
Now, as much as I enjoyed my little reunion, I am also aware that it’s not as if my rediscovered chums and I are going to be hanging out all the time. Unlike Stephen King’s assertion in his story Stand by Me, I don’t believe that primary school friends are the ones to last for life.
This is because at that age, we hadn’t really developed yet. All we were concerned about was play.
As we got older, our lives took different paths, and our personalities harden into what they are now. This means that at the end of the day we will not necessarily gel with one another.
Be that as it may, the memories we share do give us a bond. What the boys of Francis Light whom I met do not realise, and I was too embarrassed to tell them, was that I really looked up to them when I was a child.
They were talented sportsmen, street-smart and tough town kids. I on the other hand, as they so accurately pointed out that evening, was blessed with the legs of a stool and was quite a soft suburbanite.
But whatever the differences, we all played together and our only criteria for friendship was whether someone was nice or not. Perhaps the season, as well as an overdose of my mother’s rendang, has made me sentimental, but I hope that my friends feel the same way too.
That despite all the changes we have gone through and all our differences, there was a time when we really understood what was important.
Selamat Hari Raya everybody.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Low Yat "Riots"

Sin Chew Jit Poh
15 July 2015

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I am sure you heard about the big fight in Plaza Low Yat Bukit Bintang on Sunday.
 
As soon as it happened talk spread like wildfire that there was going to be racial riots. I suppose I can see how this kind of panic can occur. After all the two sides fighting one another were ostensibly of different ethnic groups. On one side there was the Chinese and on the other there was the Malays.
 
The initial fight in the early evening (over what exactly is unclear although a mobile phone was involved), seemed to be little more than rowdy youths trying to solve their problems through fighting. Things took a turn for the worrying when later that night a large group, reportedly two hundred strong, turned up at the Plaza causing more violence interspersed with racist language being used.
 
It was natural therefore to suspect the worse.
 
However, let’s look at things with a more objective eye. The group of Malays that appeared at Low Yat late Sunday night were reportedly from a group called Perkida. This is a so called NGO with very strong links to UMNO.
 
So far, so suspicious. But who are these people and what are their motivations. Are they really Malay supremacists? Well, yes, the language that they use surely points in that direction.
 
However research done on them and published in a book called “Misplaced Democracy” suggests that their primary interest is making money. Politically they will do whatever it takes to help them make more money. In other words, one would have to question the motives of their actions that night.
 
So, this being the case, apart from defending oneself if caught up in this sort of nonsense, it would be wise to take a breath first and really consider if racial tensions are so bad that there will be a huge outbreak of violence. Or if this episode is being driven by people with their own agendas which may have nothing to do with race but everything to do with power, influence and money.
 
If we overreact, then these people will get exactly what they want (whatever that might be). It is far wiser to think for a minute and question deeply, about the state of things. This country is facing serious problems and our people, regardless of race are facing serious hardships like unemployment and the rising cost of living. Hardships created by incompetent and perhaps corrupt governance.
 
Is it really in any of the ordinary people’s interest to be fighting and killing one another? I don’t think so. So let the thugs do their thing, while us ordinary Malaysians, look out for one another and make sure that we do not inadvertently serve their agenda.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

So what happens now?

Brave New World (The Star)
8 July 2015

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IN Superman 3, the second worst Superman movie ever made, Richard Pryor plays a computer genius working as a low-level office drone. He steals money from his company by just taking a few unnoticed pennies from each pay cheque. Because there are so many pay cheques, the pennies amount to a lot.
Robert Vaughn, the villain and company owner, gives up immediately on catching the culprit as he has left no trail. He says that the thief would just lie low, and only an idiot would draw attention to himself. As he says that, cue Pryor’s character zooming into the car park in a brand new Ferrari.
Somehow I am reminded of this scene when I read about the supposed US$700mil (RM2.6bil) of 1MDB funds transferred into the Prime Minister’s account. I mean seriously, if there were wrongdoing, you would take all that money and put it into a local AmBank account in your name? What? You want the convenience of making withdrawals from your local 7/11?
If these allegations are true, either there is some unfathomable stupidity at work here, or hubristic arrogance, or both. Be that as it may, we still do not know the whole truth of the matter as the investigations are not complete and the documents that justified The Wall Street Journal writing its expose have not been revealed to us, the people.
Therefore, to save myself from any lawsuits, I shall make no accusation.
But it is all very serious indeed. We are talking about a huge amount of money reportedly transferred into these accounts just before the last general election. The implications are tremendous.
What is clear is that the Prime Minister’s department and his supporters have done nothing but issue denials and of course conspiracy theories which naturally involve the Jews. The Prime Minister himself has not made an outright denial that these accounts were in his name, instead coyly stating that he has not used 1MDB money for his personal use. All of this is wholly unsatisfactory.
So the question remains, what happens now?
There seems to be a huge buzz of activity with investigations from all sorts of agencies and talk of defamation suits. But all said and done, will all this sound and thunder satisfy the people or will it signify nothing?
I have said many times in the past that for an ordered society, we must have institutions that we can trust. The Barisan-led government has over the years made all our supposedly independent institutions get into bed with the executive.
And thus we have a serious trust deficit in these bodies. This being the case, I fear any findings made by them will be met with scepticism.
I am reminded of another story, this time Robert Bolt’s play turned film A Man for All Seasons. There is a scene where Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law argues that in order to get a villain the laws should not stand in the way. The scene goes as follows:
ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
It is ironic that now, in order to clear his name, the Prime Minister needs the laws and institutions of this country to be neutral and trustworthy.
Unfortunately they are no longer deemed to be so. His vindication depends on bodies which people don’t trust and that means any vindication will be pointless.
And all these calls for him to take leave while the investigation continues, well, I think that is all just pointless noise. If we don’t trust the executive to not influence all these investigative bodies, what does it matter if the person investigated is sitting in his office or sitting in a luxury resort in Dubai? What, there’s no such thing as phones and email?
Anyway, this mess the country finds itself in is, in my view, due to the erosion of democratic principles and the necessary institutional structures needed to support them that has occurred for decades. Thus to quote Lou Reed: you’re gonna reap just what you sow.