Monday, 30 July 2012

Scripts for Tinseltown

Going the Distance (Selangor Times)
27 July 2012


Hollywood, having run out of ideas, has turned to Malaysia for inspiration. Below are two potential blockbuster movies which draw their plots from the pages of Malaysia’s newspapers.

Austin Powers and Dr Yes-No The nefarious Dr Yes-No is a villain of eel like slipperiness. He has the amazing ability of saying totally contradictory things in order to further his own cause.

Hence the name Yes-No.

He is able to write a heartfelt thesis on the evils of detention without trial and then spin around faster than a speeding bullet to support detention without trial.

Truly he is an incredible character and a worthy opponent to Austin Powers, the international man of mystery.

In this latest instalment of the Austin Powers franchise, Austin and his new sidekick Miss Pinky Bottoms, have to battle Dr Yes-No and his wicked plan to take over the world. Can Austin stop him?

It will be difficult for although Austin Powers has the skills to perfectly execute his famous judo chop, and Miss Pinky Bottoms is pretty handy with her customised pink escrima sticks, they will be faced with an army of highly trained martial artists.

Under the guise of doing community service, Dr Yes-No recruits martial artists from all over the world to fight crime.

It all begins swimmingly as patrols of men and women in matching gis and bare feet march the streets to protect the innocent.

Soon, they are everywhere. In housing estates, shopping malls, car parks, office buildings, industrial areas, fishing ponds and even government complexes.

People feel so much safer when they know they are a karate chop or a taekwondo kick away from safety.

However, with the public’s confidence at a high, and with the police all taking long leave seeing as their job is being done for them for free, the true nature of Dr Yes-No’s plot becomes apparent.

His army runs amok, taking over city after city. No one can withstand their highly skilled unarmed combat skills and before long Dr Yes-No is in control of everything. Can Austin and Pinky stop him?

You can find out in December 2012 at a cinema near you.

Mission Impossible V: The Impossible Mission Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is faced with his most impossible Impossible Mission ever in this fourth sequel of the hit series.

Moving away from the high octane formula of the first four movies, this one goes for something cerebral, more in line with Mr Cruise’s aging body.

Ethan is on a well-deserved holiday in the Bahamas when he gets a package. He opens it to find a DVD of Battlefield earth.

He puts it on and instead of seeing John Travolta in dreadlocks; he hears a familiar voice with a familiar offer. His mission if he chooses to accept it will not be to thwart some megalomaniac. No, it is much, much harder.

He has to attempt to make the Malaysian National Harmony Act something totally different from the Malaysian Sedition Act.

Somehow, he will have to make a law which stifles free speech and makes a mockery of democratic principles look as though it does not stifle free speech and make a mockery of democratic principles.

Not only that, he would have to convince people that a legal system which has been blatantly picking and choosing upon whom they will impose the Sedition Act, would not do the exact same thing with the National Harmony Act.

In the past four MI movies, we see Ethan Hunt struggling with and finally overcoming the unfeasibly difficult odds placed before him.

This time we will see him wonder whether he should even try.

Will he or won’t he? Mission Impossible V: The Impossible Mission opens on Election Day, so we can’t be sure when you will get the answer.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Stop playing race game

Brave New World  (The Star)
25 July 2012

The country has changed so much since 1969 that to keep using the argument that we are on the verge of race war is rather obsolete.


I WAS wondering when it was going to happen; when certain quarters were going to dust off that old chestnut of May 13, 1969, and use it as a political tool.

It all seems terribly coincidental that as the general election draws nearer, suddenly race riots get inserted into political speech, and a movie about May 13 is apparently waiting to be released.

The country has changed so much since 1969 that to keep using the argument that we are on the verge of race war is rather obsolete.

Let’s look at some facts. Firstly, the vast majority of the Malaysian population were not even born in 1969.

This means that first-hand knowledge of that terrible time is simply not part of most of us. Without that emotional connection, I believe that younger Malaysians are willing to question the feasibility of such a thing happening again.

And really, could it? In 1969, the politics of the nation was so very clearly divided along racial lines. The Opposition was not united as it is today. PAS won 12 seats, DAP 13 and Gerakan 8.

They were not part of a coalition and each stood on its own, therefore it was possible to play the race game because, in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in particular, the Opposition had the face of “the other”.

Today, with the Pakatan coalition in existence, the Opposition is a much more complex animal. If the Opposition wins, how can the race card be played when two of the component parties are so predominantly Malay?

Let’s take a look at recent events that has got some powerful people’s knickers in a twist.

In particular the Bersih demonstrations of 2007, 2011 and 2012. The demographics of these events were multi-ethnic and became even more multi-ethnic with each progressive one.

By the time of this year’s Bersih demonstration, the make-up of the people who took part was much closer to the make-up of the country as a whole. However, the predominant ethnic group was still Malay.

This goes to show that the political divide, not of political parties but of ordinary citizens, can no longer be conveniently divided along ethnic lines.

Significant numbers of Malaysians, regardless of their background, can be united when they have a common political goal, in this case clean and fair elections.

Furthermore, ethnic Malays can be vocally unhappy with the status quo. In the present-day scenario, it is ridiculous to say that the politics in Malaysia is simply a matter of Malays versus Non-Malays.

And let us look at the 2008 elections. The results were unprecedented and surprised most people. I remember that night very well, as the results became clear that Barisan had lost their two-thirds majority and five state governments.

I decided to drive around Kuala Lumpur, just to see what would happen. And what happened? Nothing.

The streets were quiet. No celebratory parties, no processions, no fireworks; nothing.

The Opposition and their supporters on the streets were as muted as the Barisan and their supporters.

No gloating, no taunting, no excuses at all to provoke a reaction from the supporters of the powers-that-be.

I am certain that if a similar result is achieved in the next elections, the same would happen. There will be no provocation from the opposition and their supporters.

That is not to say there will not be any trouble. Recent events in this country have proven that there are gangs of thugs who are willing to be violent for political purposes.

The thing is though, I believe that the Malaysian public are not going to rise to the bait.

I fervently hope we will show them that we are better than them, we are nobler than them and they are nothing but hooligans with delusions of grandeur.

No, the danger that faces this country will not come from race riots.

If we have trouble in Malaysia, it will be if there is a prolonged disrespect for true democratic principles.

If the election process is not transparent and fair, if the result of a clean election is not respected, then and only then should we start to worry.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Interesting read on the monarchy

Brave New World (The Star)
12 July 2012

Although the book ‘Ampun Tuanku’ can be critical, it does so in a constructive manner with an underlying theme that suggests the monarchy has a role to play in Malaysian society and with greater thought and wisdom, this role can be a positive one.


ZAID Ibrahim’s book Ampun Tuanku is a challenge. Not in the sense that it is a difficult read. On the contrary, it is a very easy book to go through because Zaid writes in a conversational style.

Perhaps a little too conversational as sometimes he sounds like an old dude repeating himself.

But that little gripe aside, considering the complexity of the topic, this is in no way a “heavy” work and is surprisingly accessible.

No, this latest book from Zaid is a challenge on two fronts. Firstly, it challenges many preconceptions as to the role of the monarchy in Malaysia. This is an intellectual challenge and it is personal to the reader.

The second challenge is to the nation as a whole.

Dealing as it does with the touchy subject of Malaysia’s royalty and their role in a constitutional government, it would be interesting to see whether there is sufficient maturity in our populace to take the book as what it is, a thoughtful, legally argued and respectful analysis of one of the oddest (some would say unique) institutions in the world.

In the light of how this country seems to be so anti-intellectual, where decisions are made by policy makers founded on base instinctual responses as opposed to intellectual rigour, it would be interesting to see if Ampun Tuanku will evoke the Neanderthal reaction we have come to expect in Malaysia when people are faced with ideas they disagree with.

That, however, is a problem for another day. The purpose of this article is to examine some of the arguments made by Zaid.

It ought to be pointed out here that the book is at pains to maintain a respect for the institution of the monarchy.

It is critical at times but it is all done strictly within the confines of the idea that we live in a constitutional monarchy and there is never any hint that this should change.

On a general level, Zaid explores the legal limits of the monarchy as well as the leadership role that it can play in a society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

In this way, although the book can be critical, it does so in a constructive manner with an underlying theme that suggests the monarchy has a role to play in Malaysian society and with greater thought and wisdom, this role can be a positive one.

For me, the most interesting issue that he raises is the discretionary powers of the Sultan or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. A brief perusal of the Federal Constitution will reveal that there are actually very few situations where the royals have any real power.

Almost all of their decisions are to be made under advice of the Government.

“Under advice” in the context of our Constitution means that they must follow what the Government tells them to do.

One of the few seemingly absolute discretions that they appear to have is the appointment of the Prime Minister (at Federal level) and the Mentri Besar (at the state level).

I have always thought this power was pretty clear and the only limitation is that the King or the Sultan makes his choice based on his perception as to which individual will have the confidence of the House.

Zaid goes further than this and he contends that the decision made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Sultan cannot be based solely on his prerogative and his idea as to who will hold the confidence of the House, but must be based on what the members of the House themselves say.

In other words, if one group has the clear majority and they have selected a leader among themselves, then the ruler has no choice but to pick that individual to be either the PM or the MB.

Zaid argues that the only time when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or Sultan can use his own judgment is when there is a situation of a hung Parliament or state legislature. Anything else would make a mockery of the democratic system which we uphold.

Like I said, he challenges perceptions for his view is subtly different from the one I have held for many years, and I must admit that there is coherence to his argument.

He does this throughout the book and it must be said that it is timely.

Our current political situation is different from anything we have faced before.

The upcoming elections may see a Parliament and the various state legislatures looking like something we are not used to, with majorities being razor thin.

It is even more important, therefore, that everyone, royal and commoner alike, understands thoroughly the powers and the limitations of the powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Sultan as their role then becomes crucial to the democratic nature and future of the nation.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Misrule worse than no rule

Brave New World (The Star)
28 June 2012

Can someone be charged for an offence when at the material time there was no offence?


NIK Raina Nik Abdul Aziz is accused of committing a crime, the “crime” being the distribution of a book which the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) does not like.

If the sentence above sounds a bit odd, that is because it is.

Nik Raina is a manager in a bookstore. She is not an owner of a bookstore, she is an employee.

Therefore, she does not have any say with regard to what book is being sold. She just manages the shop, as her job title entails.

Now she is being charged in the Syariah Court for distributing a banned book.

But it is a book, it must be said here, that at the time of the supposed offence was not actually banned.

Therefore, it was not illegal to sell the book at the time.

Jawi raided the shop she was working in on May 23. Copies of the book were confiscated during the raid. The book was effectively deem­ed illegal on June 14.

So, on what grounds was Jawi confiscating the books? It is not based on the law, that is for sure, because no law was passed banning it until 22 days after the raid.

The only reason that can exist is that Jawi disapproved of this book and took it upon itself to take action even though there was no legal ground upon which it could do so. In other words, they didn’t like the book so they decided to raid a shop and take the book.

Does this sound odd to you? Does it sound like the action of a despotic state? It does to me.

How can a person be charged for an offence when at the time of the so-called wrongful act, there was no offence? You can’t possibly do that to a person.

There are constitutional provisions against such things. It is known as protection from retrospective legislation.

In other words, if you decide to make it illegal to wear yellow today, you can’t charge someone for wearing yellow yesterday. To do so would lead to an incredible injustice and the complete breakdown of the rule of law.

Now, because Jawi is an Islamic body, there are some who believe they are above criticism. I beg to differ; it is because they are a religious entity that they must be open to criticism, especially if they behave in a way that is unjust.

This is because as a religious agency they have an even greater responsibility to not tarnish their actions with acts of cruelty, meanness and vindictiveness. For by doing so they demean the very faith that they are supposed to be upholding.

But that is by the by. Any agency, be it religious or secular, has no right to treat people in this way.

They have no right to seize private property on their whim, and they have no right to charge someone for a crime that does not exist.

That is the bottom line. If we allow anyone to do so, we are simply throwing away our democracy and the protection that the rule of law provides us.

The charm of old cinema

Brave New World (The Star)
14 June 2012

Times have changed and the memories of the past have long faded with the new experience.


I WENT to the cinema recently. I could not possibly watch The Avengers on a tiny little television screen now could I?

I don’t normally go to the cinema because I don’t like my films butchered by ham-fisted troglodytes with delusions of being my moral guardian. Nor do I enjoy doing battle with the crowds and the nightmare that is known as “finding parking in a KL mall”.

There was a time when fighting a crowd at the cinema meant fighting a crowd of other cinema-goers. Not ten thousand people buying groceries, washing machines, smart phones and what have you. I am speaking of course of the days when we had standalone cinemas, each showing just one movie.

Growing up in Penang, the main cinemas for overseas films were the Cathay, Odeon, Rex and Capitol – all either on or near Penang Road. It was a ritual of sorts that as soon as my parents allowed me to wander around by myself, every Saturday my brother and I would catch the Yellow Bus from Gelugor to town where we will meander Komtar loitering in “tape shops” ordering our custom recorded pirated cassette of all the latest hits from the comely but disinterested girl behind the counter.

“You got Alphaville? Tarzan Boy got or not? Who sang Gold ah?” Piracy haute couture!

Then inevitably, we would make our way to one of the cinemas mentioned above to get our weekly dose of escapism. Many a classic 80s flick was watched with kuaci skins crunching beneath our feet. Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future, Revenge of the Nerds, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Classics all.

But then we were not too discerning so there was also The Beast Within, Battle Beyond the Stars, and heaven forbid, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.

Being spoilt we would fork out the three ringgit fifty to get the balcony seats, although there were times when the only tickets available were in the cheap seats.

I still get a sharp remembered pain in my neck when I think of Rocky V which I watched 5ft away from a 50ft screen in the seat at the extreme right, first row. I also get a pain when I think of the laboured plot and painful acting, but that is beside the point.

I am being unduly nostalgic of course. The grandeur of these old ladies of cinema, even during my time, had long faded.

The majesty of the large halls with those velvet curtains that separate the real world from the one of make believe, were already faded and dusty.

And of course the choices we had were very limited. Plus we had to wait months, if not years before a movie from abroad would come to our shores.

Now, generally, the cinema experience does not come with the worry that a rat might run over your feet. Needing a pee does not induce a cold sweat of terror and we receive Hollywood movies even before those living in Hollywood get to watch them.

Times change, and the days of the standalone is past. We can make things better (for example, no more censorship with a realistic and well enforced certification system please, thank you very much) and for some things there is no turning back.

By and large the change is good. It is better to embrace the change, rather than stubbornly fight it. You can’t defeat progress – in the way our cinemas are built, or anything else for that matter.

And so it begins...

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
8 June 2012


The scare tactics that are so beloved by the ruling coalition. We have seen it before of course. Like an evil babysitter, the BN has constantly thrilled at telling horror stories to keep us in our place.

There is of course the old chestnut of 1969. They like to pull that out of their Compendium of Frightening Bedtime stories every now and again. They haven’t been using it much recently, but you never know; when they run out of ideas, it’s always there, just waiting.

Then there is the race card. The main culprit for this particular horror story is of course Umno. “If Malays do not vote for us, you will be doomed! Doomed to be left behind! Doomed to have your institutions destroyed! Doomed to be ruled by heathens! And by heathens we mean the DAP specifically! Doomed I tell you! Doomed!”

But it is not fair to just single them out. The MCA too does its fair share of playing the race game. The funny thing of course is that if you listen to the MCA, they are saying the same thing as their fellow partners but with an alternative twist. “If you don’t vote for us you will be doomed to be ruled by an Islamic party! No more bah kut teh for breakfast! No more Carlsberg in a tiny little glass with your supper! PAS will chop off your hands and whip you! Doomed I tell you!”

So which one is it? If the people vote for Pakatan, are we going to have a heathen DAP state or are we going to have PAS fundamentalists running around with cleavers and cats o’ nine tails? But then, fairy tales aren’t meant to be logical anyway.

The latest story they have cooked up is that if Pakatan lose the next general election they (the dastardly Pakatan) will resort to mass demonstrations to wrest power from the Barisan. They will use violence.

OK, let’s take a look at this violence theory. The main ammunition used by the Barisan against the opposition is the Bersih 3.0 rally. During Bersih 3.0 a police car was overturned and a few barriers were pushed down. Oh my goodness! How horrific. I’ll have to sleep with my lights on now.

But then, any event or ceramah deemed to be against the government has been pelted with eggs and stones, gangs of thugs have set of fireworks and cut power supplies, private property have been purposely damaged, people have been threatened in their own homes, intimidation has become something that one expects not a rare anomaly. All these things happen, and happen consistently yet there is hardly a peep of protest from the top leaders of the Barisan.

So who is being violent?

But here is the funniest thing. The BN have taken to playing the victim. They say that any opposition to them is so unfair especially since: “Our election system is wonderful. After all the Pakatan won five (oops, sorry four) states and they managed to take away Barisan’s two thirds majority in the last elections. How can our elections be dirty?

Boo hoo hoo. They are so mean to accuse us of being dirty! Sniff, sob, sob”.

Actually, the way I see it, the progress made by the opposition in the last general elections happened despite a flawed electoral system. It happened even with the magical mystery floating postal votes, and the amazing disproportionate electoral boundaries, and the incredibly complete and utter lack of fair coverage in the mainstream media.

The fact of the matter is the people’s voice in 2008 was too strong, too overpowering and too determined to be nullified by a poor electoral system. The question is will it be stronger now?

Who knows? But one thing is for certain, it is doubtful that scary bedtime stories told by wrinkly old babysitters are going to make any difference.

If only the playing field was truly fair and the referees are unbiased, then the results, whatever they may be could be accepted by all and even if it is not a happy ever after ending for the losers, they will know that there will always be chance for a sequel.