Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Politics is like a game of football

Brave New World (The Star)
17 April 2013


REGULAR readers of this column (hi, Mum) would know that I am an ardent supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.

As I write this, my stomach is in knots because we have a game against FC Basel and I am very anxious.

The game starts at 3.05am tomorrow and if my past experience is anything to go by, I won’t be able to sleep a wink and will be tossing and turning until kick-off.

And then after the final whistle, I’ll most likely go back to bed sobbing softly at another lost chance for glory. But who knows? We might achieve something this season, be it advancing in the Europa Cup (hey, I know it’s not your glamorous Champions League but it is still a cup, all right?) or even finishing in the top four.

The thing is, nowadays as Spurs supporters, we actually have that glimmer of hope – the thought that maybe, just maybe, something more than mid-table mediocrity awaits us. In a way, it is similar to elections in Malaysia.

There used to be a time when the result of a general election in this country was a foregone conclusion.

Barisan Nasional will win; it’s just a matter of by how much.

There was no real tension in all the elections where I have been old enough to vote.

You go to your polling station, you do your thing and then you kind of forget about the whole affair.

There was a definite lack of stress and excitement.

Just like old Spurs. You might win the odd big game, but you knew that at the end of the season the team will neither be in the top of the league or in the relegation zone.

This is not the case any more for both my football team and for this country.

Nowadays there is a chance that something big might happen, both at White Hart Lane and on Jalan Parlimen. It is unlikely, but there is a chance.

To irritate you further with the football analogy, for a competition to be really exciting, there has to be an absolute belief that the rules are not only fair but also fairly administered.

Losing hurts, but losing because one team cheated or because the referee was blind (I am looking at you Mr Clattenburg: if the ball goes a metre over the goal line, then it is a blinking goal); that leaves a real sour taste in the mouth.

The big teams will always have an advantage over the smaller teams. Money breeds success and this leads to attracting superstar players, and the wheels keep on turning.

However, on a level playing field, anything can happen.

Not only does this give us a thrill, but it also appeals to our deep-rooted psychological human need for fairness. The fact of the matter is that the Barisan is a big boy; it has a giant high-rise headquarters, loads of money, and a well-oiled electoral machinery.

The battle is going to be a tough one for Pakatan Rakyat. But, assuming that there is fair play, anything can happen.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ethics, morals needed more than ever

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
29 March 2013


SOMETIMES reading the news makes one rush to the bathroom for a long hot shower.

The feeling of being dirty demands nothing less than near boiling water and the strongest antiseptic soap.

The recent video showing apparent deep corruption in the Sarawak government should have caused widespread outrage on all news media.

Instead, apart from the internet news portals, we get nothing.

It is the same with political rallies that have participants calling for the death of an MP.

It is beyond distasteful, it is uncivilised and barbaric.

Or what about the viciousness against opposition political parties, with threats of violence punctuated with the throwing of eggs and sticks?

Again, the silence amongst the mainstream media is deafening.

And it is not just the media which seems to have abandoned their responsibility.

We hear nothing from the ruling party or from the agencies that are meant to protect.

It would appear that this country has degenerated into a mire of sheer hypocrisy, double standards and dishonesty.

What is particularly shameful about this situation is not the fact that it happens, after all corruption and thuggish behaviour has been around for a long time, but there seems to be not even a token sign of disapproval from the powers that be.

It is now clearly and obviously a case of “if you are with us and against our enemies, then nothing you can do is wrong”.

In a way I suppose this is a good thing because at least we get to see groups and individuals as what they are.

What is frightening to me is the possibility that even with such an exposure there is still apathy amongst the people and that to them it doesn’t really matter.

I hope this is not the case, and that there is still some sort of moral and ethical core in the peoples of this nation to see that such behaviour and the condoning of such behaviour is vile.

We are quite obviously a religious country.

There are buildings of worship scattered all over the place and religion holds a strong grip amongst all of the communities of Malaysia.

But what is the point of praying to God when such obvious sins are seen as “just the way it is”. Or it is overlooked because the one being attacked is “the other”.

Religiousness without morality is worse than useless, it is repulsive.

The real question then is, is it too late? Are we doomed to living in a lawless nation?

I don’t think so; it all depends on the leaders of the nation. And by leaders, I do not mean just political leaders, but community leaders, opinion leaders, and family leaders.

The tenor of this country has to change where ethics and morals once again become the backbone of the nation.

By ethics, I mean the way one behaves with others in the context of one’s individuality and one’s position in society.

By morals I do not mean cheap “moralism” of judging the private behaviour of others, but instead I mean a deeper more profound interpretation of a deep humanist and axial philosophy of right and wrong where the core value is the golden rule of not doing unto others what we would not like done to ourselves.

Note also that I did not say religion because I think that we have seen too often how religion can be used to disguise abhorrent attitudes and behaviour.

The name of God is so powerful and awe inspiring that it can hide a multitude of sins.

Conversely behaving in a manner that is ethical and moral according to humanist values leaves a person with nowhere to hide, for his or her actions are their owns and can’t be attributed to a divine power.

In other words, we need moral and ethical people at all levels of society, from the person on the street to the people in power.

We can’t do much with our fellow citizens, but we most certainly can with the people in power and it starts simply with this: if you can’t stand up against corruption, if you behave in a way that is against the rule of law, if you have no courage to stand up against barbarism, then you have no morals, you have no ethics and you have no business to lead.

BFM: A Bit of Culture 6 April 2013

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The rule of law

Brave New World (The Star)
3 April 2013

When the law is seen as being used in a discretionary manner, that is to say it is being applied to some and not to others, not only is this clearly wrong, but it will also lead to extreme anger.


AS a concept, the Rule of Law is like the “Stairway to Heaven” of jurisprudence.

Everyone knows it, but everyone seems to have their own understanding as to what it means.

One thing that the informed have agreed upon is that the Rule of Law does not mean rule by law.

The latter implies that any law, be it wicked or good, is valid and will be enforced.

The former is a more complex proposition, for it means that we are ruled by laws and not the discretion of man (or woman) and, furthermore, that law has to guarantee certain principles.

When A.V Dicey formulated his version (and this is now considered the classic version) of the Rule of Law, his primary concern was for the avoidance of arbitrary, and thus unjust, power.

To this end, he identified three main principles of the Rule of Law and these were: a person can only be punished after a fair trial, the law is to treat everyone equally and the rights of individuals are to be protected by law.

Dicey’s work has of course been discussed and refined many times since its publication in the 19th century.

One of the issues is the concept of “equality”. Taken at face value, Dicey’s “equality” sounds very much like the Aristotelian concept of “formal equality”, where the government treats all persons the same.

Of course this is not pragmatic nor is it desirable.

For example, a child caught for stealing should not be given the same punishment as an adult caught for stealing.

However, the ideal is a strong one and it can be understood to mean that like should be treated as like.

So a 26-year-old thief should face roughly the same consequences as another adult thief, and a 12-year-old wannabe Artful Dodger should face the same consequence of another pickpocket in his age group.

When speaking to people with regard to concepts of justice, equality almost always comes up.

People are not stupid, they understand the subtleties and the sophistication of this concept, but nonetheless, the ideal of equality is a powerful one.

The reason for this is obvious, equality, or the closest approximation to it is considered fair, and conversely unequal treatment is deemed a tremendous injustice.

It is so basic, so primal and so fundamental to the human concept of justice that it is instinctive even in children.

To test this, just try giving one sibling a larger piece of chocolate than the other.

Due to the power of this concept, it is of vital importance that those in power understand and respect it.

When the law is seen as being used in a discretionary manner, that is to say it is being applied to some and not to others, not only is this clearly wrong, but it will also lead to extreme anger.

If a thug destroys my enemy’s property, and if I am in power, that thug must be apprehended and punished even if his actions may give me personal pleasure.

That is the burden of power and that is what anyone who deems himself worthy of holding office must bear. Any less and you are nothing more than a tyrant.

The need to use the law equally on all becomes even more important when the law itself is flawed. For nothing sticks in the craw more than an unjust law applied unequally.

The hypocrisy of such actions only goes to show that the wielders of the law are only using it for their own nefarious purposes, whatever that might be.

Interestingly enough, these are two deeply philosophical legal concepts in our Rukun Negara – Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law.

I am glad they are there; I only wonder whether they matter today.