Thursday, 15 May 2008

What Does Sedition Mean?

Brave New World (The Star)
15 May 2008

The Sedition Act is very open-ended and perhaps it should be done away with. Just what sedition is appears to be in the eye of the beholder."


Sedition! What does it mean? The word has been floating around for the past couple of weeks.

Raja Petra the (in) famous blogger of Malaysia Today is being charged with sedition and Karpal Singh the (in)famous MP is being threatened with the charge of sedition.

Raja Petra’s charge is based on an article he wrote about the Altantuya murder and Karpal was supposedly being seditious when he questioned the limits of the Sultan of Perak’s constitutional powers.

But were they being seditious? According to the dictionary definition of sedition, it means words or actions that cause people to rebel against their leaders.

It’s awfully vague, isn’t it? What does “rebel” mean, for instance? Well, looking back into my trusty dictionary, I find that it means to stop giving allegiance to an established government.

Gasp! By that definition, voting against the Government makes you a rebel. Being an Opposition member makes you a rebel. Criticising the Government makes you a rebel.

But wait. Reading on, there is the implication that rebellion means armed struggle. Phew! For a moment there, I thought we were living in a country where close to 50% of the electorate are awful rebels.

However, let’s go back to Raja Petra and Karpal Singh. Their so-called sedition is not dependent on the definition of the Oxford Paperback Dictionary. Instead, we must look to the Sedition Act 1948 (revised in 1969).

Well, 1948. That’s a long time ago. We were not independent then. The Brits were in control. So what we have here is a Brit-made law used initially to control the teeming masses of Malaya from rebelling against the colonial masters.

Gosh. I would have thought such a horrid reminder of the nasty British and their bullying ways would have been done away with as soon as we gained independence.

I guess the Government feels that it still has its uses. Like defending the honour of royalty (as in the Karpal case) or putting them in jail (if Raja Petra, a member of the Selangor royal family, is convicted). Oh, the sweet irony.

Anyway, the Act gives a much more detailed definition than my dictionary. It’s not much clearer, mind you, just more detailed. Since I am lazy, I’ll just paraphrase the relevant parts of the act here.

Sedition means:

(a) To make people hate or feel contempt or disaffection against any ruler or government;

(b) To excite people into changing any legally established matter other than by lawful means;

(c) To make people hate, feel contempt for or feel disaffection against the administration of justice in the country;

(d) To raise discontent or disaffection among the people of the country;

(e) To promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia; or

(f) To question the provisions in the Constitution regarding citizenship, Bahasa Malaysia as the national language, the special position of Malays and the sovereignty of the rulers.

However, your words and actions are not seditious if they were:

(a) Intended to show that a ruler has made a mistake;

(b) To constructively show that the government has made mistakes or is in some way defective in law-making and the administration of justice (with the exception of the listed matters in paragraph (f) above);

(c) To make changes in the country through lawful means (with the exception of the listed matters in paragraph (f) above) and to identify, with the intention of removing, any matter that will raise feeling of ill will between the various ethnic groups.

This is the law as it stands. It is not a verbatim reproduction of the Act because, believe me, if you think what I wrote is boring, the actual Act will drive you to tears.

Arguments will be made on both sides to determine if sedition has occurred, and if the case goes to court, then it is up to the wisdom of the judge to decide.

Meanwhile, since we are all intelligent citizens of a democratic country, I see no harm in examining the so-called seditious acts of these two fellows, and seeing if they fit into the definition provided for by this old colonial law.

While you are at it, you may want to see if anyone else has been uttering seditious words. It could be fun. For example, the next time someone questions your citizenship, you can always scream: “Sedition! Sedition!”

The law is very open-ended and perhaps it should be done away with. Just what sedition is appears to be in the eye of the beholder, and this is not a particularly ideal situation.

After all, one person’s sedition is another person’s practice of the democratic right of free speech.

Friday, 2 May 2008

What’s the Party Got to Do With It?

Brave New World (The Star)
1 May 2008

To separate the personal from the professional is a hard thing to do. But ethics and professionalism demand it."


The other day, a friend of mine asked me to write a blurb for his new book. It is an honour of course to be asked to do that. A demanding honour, because you have to read an entire book and then try to write about it in one paragraph, but it is an honour nonetheless.

But what if the book is really crap? What do you do? After all, this is your friend you are talking about, and he has asked you to help him by endorsing his work. How do you deal with having to do something unpleasant to someone you like?

Alternatively, sometimes you have to do something positive for someone you personally can’t stand. To separate the personal from the professional is a hard thing to do. But ethics and professionalism demand it.

In Malaysian politics, this does not seem to be the case. There is confusion on the difference between party political interests and the interests of society. And the best interest of society is what good governance is about.

Take Penang, for example. The Tourism Minister has decided to dissolve the Penang Tourism Action Council (PTAC) and reconstitute a new one. The difference between the two is that the new PTAC has no state government representative.

It appears that the Tourism Ministry will only work with the state government if the latter is in Barisan Nasional hands. This was illustrated during the minister’s visit to Penang a little while ago when there was no involvement with the state government at all.

It would seem, therefore, that the PTAC and the Tourism Ministry want to have nothing to do with the state authorities.

So now the state Cabinet has a tourism portfolio and the Federal Government has the PTAC. I am not sure how having two tourism bodies not working in tandem is going to help Penang.

Perhaps the minister has a cunning plan to somehow make it all work. Or perhaps this is just a way of putting Barisan Nasional interests above the country’s interests by making sure that the DAP state government faces as many obstacles as possible.

After all, when the tourism players get confused as to which body they have to turn to, it would be very convenient to lay the blame on the “incompetent” state exco.

I should not be surprised, really. The minister is the same person who defended the stopping of oil royalty payments to Terengganu when the state fell into PAS hands by saying that the situation was equivalent to not being nice to a lover who has rejected you. A very personal analogy for a very public issue.

Further down south, there is a big hoo-ha about the First Wives Club, or Balkis or whatever it is called. While the legality of the transfer of Balkis funds and the request to disband it are debated, it would be interesting to wonder why they did such a thing in the first place.

Balkis, a body consisting of the wives of the Selangor state exco members, has the primary objective of doing community work. All very noble, certainly.

However, I did not realise that you had to be the wife of a Barisan Nasional state exco member in order to do good work. If that was the case, then perhaps it should have been made clear that this organisation was limited only to Barisan wives.

But then when one’s husband has been boasting about expunging the Opposition from the state completely, it is easy to forget that in a democracy, political parties win and they also can lose.

It all looks very childish to me. Like the spoilt kid who takes away the ball when his team is trailing.

Balkis is a charitable organisation. It is supposed to be peopled by the wives of Selangor legislators. The institution is what is important, not the people who make it up.

If the new bunch of wives can’t do the job properly, expose them and shame them and maybe that will cause the downfall of their husbands. Then your own handsome men can come back and you can continue where you left off.

Institutions should not be confused with the personalities that people them. Those who by the rules of the institution could be there are the ones who should be there. Unless otherwise stated, their political affiliations should not matter.

Back up the North-South Expressway, we see this confusion affecting the appointment of Datuk Lee Kah Choon, ex-Gerakan strongman, as director of the Penang Development Corporation and the executive chairman of InvestPenang.

Both are bodies concerned with the economic development of Penang and both are under the control of the state government. A great hue and cry rose up from both sides of the political divide.

The ex-president of Gerakan foamed in the mouth as he normally does, and even the mighty Lion of Jelutong (or wherever he is now) raised his mighty head to roar disapproval.

Lee is working for the state government (albeit he is getting paid nothing), and that makes him a servant of the people.

Sure, the state government is now run by the DAP, but this does not detract from the fact that his new job is to serve the people of Penang.

Just because his political affiliation differs from that of the ruling party, it does not mean he should not be allowed to do the work he is entrusted with.

If that were the case, all the state government civil servants in the five Pakatan Rakyat states who are Umno, MIC or MCA members should resign because their political views differ from those of their new bosses.

What Lim Guan Eng is doing is risky. Not because Lee is an ex-Gerakan man, but because he is unproven in the field of economic development. That should be the people’s concern.

The right thing to do in this country is to see everyone working for the interests of the nation in tandem.

Politics is one thing and it is an important thing. It is a creature borne of necessity in large modern societies, and it is through politics that we choose our leaders.

But cheap politicking should have nothing to do with the way we run the country.