Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Returning to rationality

Brave New World (The Star)
10 December 2014

Amidst the pessimism and cynicism, both the old and the young are looking for constructive ways to stop the rot.


PERHAPS it is just me, but I get the sense that the prevailing mood in Malaysia is one of pessimism and uncertainty. Right now, I do not know where the country is headed and I am not optimistic that we are going in the right direction.
The Rukun Negara is famous for its five principles but as a preamble to those principles, the document lays down what was deemed to be the aspirations of the country and they are: to be a democratic, progressive and modern nation with an equitable sharing of wealth and a liberal approach towards our multiculturalism.
It is a very forward-thinking list of aspirations. Yet at the moment, it does not feel like we are moving forward at all. In fact, the converse is true – we appear to be inexorably moving backwards.
The price of living is going up and yet for the vast majority of us, income does not appear to be matching this rise.
Faith in institutions of governance is low, as can be seen in the cynical responses towards the Commission of Inquiry (its royal status seems to be a matter of some confusion) regarding the so-called “Project IC” in Sabah.
Divisive and downright nasty voices of extremism, bigotry and racism appear to have carte blanche to spread their poisonous ideology without even a whimper of protest from the powers that be.
In fact, some of those voices appear to be coming from the powers that be themselves.
Repressive and oppressive laws are not only embraced with gusto, but are going to be made even more repressive and oppressive. And the voices that support them use such noble words to defend these laws – words like “security” and “unity”.
Yet they do not provide one iota of proof as to how these laws, which are incidentally selectively used, are going to achieve all these wonderful ideals.
My worry, therefore, is that we are headed towards becoming a poorer nation. Poorer in the sense of material security, human freedom and dignity, progressive thinking and peace.
I see no sign whatsoever that those whose hands we have given the power to govern care one jot about this. All that they seem to care about is maintaining the status quo.
But the status quo is not working. The way things are done in this country is not going to help us grow and develop.
The status quo will prevent us from nurturing progressive ideas with which to provide the intellectual vitality needed to thrust us into the 21st century.
In fact, it will keep us in a state of division, superstition, feudalism and backwardness.
In the beginning, I said perhaps I am the only one who feels this way. I do not think so.
I see a hunger for improvement amongst the young. Our youths today are miles ahead of youths twenty years ago.
They have access to information and methods of communication that my generation can only dream about. And many of them realise that things cannot remain as they are.
I also see the older generation despairing at the direction this nation is taking, to the point that they are willing to put name to paper in a desperate call for a return to values of rationality and moderation.
I see many ordinary Malaysians who are tired of feeling helpless, looking for constructive ways to stop this rot.
In short I see pessimism, but I also see a definite conviction to say enough is enough. It is time to reclaim this country from the divisive, small-minded and retrogressive.
It is time, and many are ready.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Landslides in Cameron Highlands

Sin Chew Jit Poh
3 November 2014


Last month landslides in Cameron Highlands killed five people and injured five more. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated to safety. Last year there was a similar incident in Cameron Highlands as well. Why does this keep happening?
One possibility is because there is over development in the highlands. The loss of vegetation, for whatever purpose, be it agriculture or building work, causes rain to rush into rivers which in turn leads to fast rising waters leading to flash floods and landslides.
Any primary school student can tell you that surface vegetation is vital in absorbing rain water. Such vegetation also helps prevent landslides because their roots hold the earth together. This is simple science and you do not need to be a geologist to understand.
This being the case, why do these incidences still occur? Bear in mind that with climate change, rainfall patterns become more extreme with heavier more intense rainfall becoming more and more common, thus posing a greater danger to hill stability.
We have laws that can prevent such occurrences. The Land Conservation Act being one of them. In a nutshell, the law allows for control over any development in hill land. This includes the complete banning of any development on land beyond a certain gradient.
The question is does this law apply in the development projects on Cameron Highlands? And if it does apply, then why was it not properly enforced?
Another law that may be used to prevent landslides is the Environmental Quality Act, namely the provisions in the act for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). This law makes it compulsory for certain projects to have an EIA done. Theoretically speaking if a project poses a danger to the environment then it should say so in the EIA report and this being the case, then such a project should not be allowed to continue. The threat of landslides should surely be one of the considerations.
The problem with the EIA system we have is that it is quite easily circumnavigated. For example the projects that require an EIA are decided based on size. Therefore it is quite easy to circumnavigate the requirement by simply breaking a project up into smaller parcels. Furthermore, hill development per se is not one of the types of activity that requires an EIA.
It is clear to me that such loss of lives, livelihood and homes is not acceptable. We have laws that could be used to prevent such things from happening. It is important therefore to ensure that the laws are as sound as possible and that they are also enforced as strictly as possible.
These are real problems that affect real people’s lives and these are the kinds of things that the government and their agencies should be working on. Instead our leaders seem to be more concerned about using draconian laws to attack imaginary threats.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Respect and engage

Brave New World (The Star)
26 November 2015


IN Parliament on Monday, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar had reportedly brushed aside Kuching MP Chong Chien Jien’s queries about secessionist activities in Sabah and Sarawak.
The Minister was supposed to have said that the number of such people consist of frustrated ex-politicians and is small and insignificant.
He backed this up by saying his “intelligence” (meaning sources) told him so.
Ah, the famous; “I know better than you because I have all the information” argument.
It is such an irritating argument because they never actually tell us anything about their “superior” knowledge and intelligence so there is no way of verifying its validity.
Be that as it may let us put aside that galling old tactic so favoured by those in power for a moment.
The Minister also says that there will be efforts made by the Government to try to extradite those calling for secession from overseas.
From his remarks, it appears that the country where these secessionists are operating from is Britain.
I presume that if the Government is successful (which I doubt as Britain generally does not extradite people for political reasons), then they will be punished using one of the myriad laws we have for such purposes.
Let me make myself crystal clear at this point; I do not want to see a break up of Malaysia.
I do not want to see any state going off on their own.
This is not based on any legal obligation, it is purely emotional.
I will be sad to see this odd amalgam of states, each with its own distinct dialect, culture and personality drift apart.
But I also think that being dismissive and high-handed is not the way to keep us together.
Actually it can be totally counterproductive.
The fact of the matter is that there are those calling for the secession of Sabah and Sarawak.
Whether they are small or big, what has to happen is that there must be engagement; not brushing them aside and not punishing them.
Look, Sabahans and Sarawakians have grievances.
On record, there has been much unhappiness regarding issues such as Project IC; the sense that their wealth goes mainly to the peninsula; the fear that the extremism blooming in the West is going to infect their cherished culture of acceptance and openness; and the list goes on.
Groups and individuals who are unhappy with the way things are, who think that the Malaysia Agreement has not been respected, must be engaged.
If they are deemed illegal and driven underground, this makes civil discussions difficult, if not impossible.
Worse, it will convince some that they have a case because why would you try to shut up a group with differing views unless it is because you can’t provide convincing counter arguments?
These grievances must be discussed openly and solutions must be found and if mistakes have been made in the past, then they must be admitted to and apologies tendered coupled with clear efforts at rectifying said mistakes.
This will require honesty and also humility.
Anything less is simply not good enough.
If one goes into this waving one’s big bad law, threatening people who disagree with you and acting in a generally arrogant manner, one will only be making things worse.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

GDP is Only Part of the Story

Sin Chew Jit Poh
19 November 2014


The recent Khazanah report on GDP in Malaysia is very interesting. My take on it is that there is a very big discrepancy between the GDP of Kuala Lumpur compared to the rest of the country. This is especially true of the two northern states of Kedah and Perlis and the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. The report I read made no mention of Sabah and Sarawak.
This discrepancy is really quite huge with the nominal GDP of KL being almost seven times higher than that of Kelantan. This is worrying indeed because it is obvious that income distribution is very much focussed on the capital. It is worrying but not surprising. In a capitalist system it will be quite common to see that the centres of commerce will be where the money is.
But income and income distribution is only part of the story. I contend that what is most important is the overall quality of life. So, the part of the report that should cause most worry is the fact that many households, in particular rural households, still do not have basic amenities like running water and flush toilets. These small things are vital to not only easing one’s life ((it is no easy task hauling water from one place to another) but also health.
Other important factors that contribute to a quality of life is the confidence that there is social safety net. By this I mean that there is good public health care, schooling and other fundamental facilities. Public healthcare is vital so that our people do not have to fear getting sick (unlike in places like America where healthcare is a business and one is held hostage by the insurance companies) and public education is important so that there is the opportunity for upward social mobility. In other words, it doesn’t matter if our GDP is high, what really matters is what is being done with it.
And even with GDP being high in KL, really, how rich do you have to be to enjoy the good life? Let us take an example I am familiar with; university lecturers. A professor will be earning quite lot of money based on the national average. I dare say he will be in the higher brackets of earnings. Yet if we compare a professor in the early 1970s to one today we will see that although the chap from the earlier time (you can recognise him by his flared trousers and sideburns), is earning a smaller pay packet, he can buy much more with it.
Taking the old fashioned test that you should spend four month’s salary on a car and three year’s salary on a home, the 70’s prof can buy an imported European model and a bungalow. A current prof can buy a Myvi and if he is fortunate a three room medium sized apartment. So even amongst the high income earners, wages has gone up, but the quality of life not necessarily so. Add to this, concerns about public healthcare meaning the need for health insurance and concerns about education meaning the need for private schooling for children, and then we can see that life can be an economic struggle.
So, just who is benefitting from this high GDP of ours? It is not the rural folk. It is not necessarily even the high income city folk. Who indeed?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Zoo Negara Must Be Run Well

Brave New World (The Star)
12 November 2014

Allegations of corruption and mismanagement are shocking, since this oasis for the people has important conservation and historical roles.


(Sections edited out by The Star are in red)

I like our Zoo Negara. In fact I like it a lot.

If one goes early in the morning, just after it opens, the crowds are sparse and one can wander around at leisure. It is a very nice place to walk around too. Large shady trees mean it does not get too hot and when there are few people about, it is actually very peaceful.

Looking at the animals is fun of course. Generally speaking the enclosures are well thought out and naturalistic and the animals look healthy. Not to say that there can’t be improvements. The penguin enclosure is quite sad; it looks cramped and in need of a serious upgrade. And the monkeys and gibbons would be green with envy if they could see how much better the apes have it. While the chimpanzees and orang-utans have huge true-to-life open enclosures, the moneys and gibbons are in drab, albeit fairly spacious, cages.

Right now, the main attraction is of course the pandas. I can’t remember their names (they have two different names each from what I can tell), but they are very cute. They live in their spanking new purpose built air conditioned home and look like lazy tai-tais lounging around their luxury palace. The male panda reminded me of my students as he sat leaning against a rock with his head in his paws. Many young men take exactly that same position as they nap in my class.

That is not to say the other animals are not exciting to observe. The last time I was there, the white tiger fancied himself as a bit of star, leaping into his moat acrobatically to the thrill of the watchers. I was half expecting him (or her, I can’t tell) to strike a pose after each leap. And once I saw an amorous giant tortoise. Believe me, there is nothing quite as funny as a randy giant tortoise. By the time he clambered onto the female, I think she had fallen asleep.

It was an unpleasant surprise therefore when I read about complaints against the Zoo lodged with the MACC which suggest corruption, poor treatment of animals and mismanagement. I have not seen the report and the Minister in charge has said the claims are “being verified”.

Well, I hope they are “verified” as soon as possible. The Zoo is more than just an example of ex-situ conservation (as espoused by the Biological Diversity Convention of which we are a party), but it is also an important historic institution with an essential role to play for the people of this country.

Lest we forget, the zoo was the brainchild of Tunku Abdul Rahman who said that the people of the city needed a place where they can go and relax and enjoy themselves with their families. Learning something from the experience is also a bonus (for example I didn’t know that pandas once lived in Myanmar and Vietnam).

Tunku understood the need for a natural peaceful oasis that people can retreat to and if I am not mistaken he had in mind all the people, not just the wealthy. It is important therefore that the zoo is run well. From a humanitarian point of view, the animals must be well cared for. On a social point of view, the zoo cannot be an elitist treat.

Keeping the price low means of course we can’t compete with the top zoos of the world. I don’t really care about that. I think it more important that apart from providing a sanctuary to animals, a zoo also plays a role in providing a community service. You can’t do that with astronomical prices.
So if those prices can be kept low if we manage the zoo better and if there is no corruption, and if that same good governance means the animals are better cared for, then action must be taken. Perhaps it is not that big an issue for many, considering the “wealth” of problems we are faced with.

Perhaps. But as I wandered around the zoo enjoying the sights sounds and yes, the smells, along with many ordinary Malaysians, it was a moment when I did not have to think of the political, economic, societal and legal rubbish that occurs in this country. Instead I could smile at the antics of the animals. I don’t know about anyone else, but that tiny escape means a lot.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Big Powers Don't care About Us

Sin Chew Jit Poh
5 November 2014
Just how big a role does the international community play with regard to our own domestic issues? With regards to democracy and human rights, I would say very little indeed.
Yet both the ruling party and the opposition behave as though foreign governments are somehow important. Recently opposition politicians went on a tour of Australia to talk to the politicians over there about the troubles we have at home. Will this make any difference to the Australian government’s relationship with us? I don’t think so.
The ruling party in the meantime were busy showing off, in particular about our country’s election onto the United Nations Security Council. Somehow this legitimises the government as a shining example of moderation and democracy. Really? Let us have a quick look at the permanent members of the Security Council shall we. Russia and China are not exactly the poster boys of human rights are they?
In short, unless they will have something to gain from us, foreign governments do not care one bit about what happens within our shores. Foreign opinion leaders, academics, NGOs and citizens may care, but their governments do not.
The super powers only care whether the leaders of nations are their friends or not. The method of leadership; be it a democracy or a dictatorship does not matter one bit to them. Anyway let’s face it; Malaysia is a small fry on the international stage. In terms of geopolitics, we are minnows therefore short of ensuring that trade goes on business as usual do not expect any foreign government to give two hoots about us.
What I am trying to say is that it is pointless to look to foreign governments as an ally to fight oppression at home. They don’t care and they never will. We have to take responsibility for our own destiny and fight for what is right ourselves. There is no cavalry across the water waiting to come to our aid. We are on our own. Let’s get on with it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lessons from a bloodsucker

Brave New World (The Star)
29 October 2014

Just as we fight the dengue epidemic, let’s tackle other problems that need to be sorted out for the good of all.


I JUST came back from lunch and I am feeling a little bit worried. I was bitten by some mosquitoes, you see, and from their black and white markings, reminiscent of the Luftwaffe and equally deadly, I can tell they are the dreaded Aedes type.
Considering the fact that we are amidst an epidemic, I guess for the next day or so I’ll be checking my temperature every hour and Googling the symptoms of dengue fever when I am not pressing my hands against my sweaty brow. If I miss the next article, you’ll know who to blame: some disease-carrying blood-sucking insect.
Seriously, why on earth do the Aedes mosquitoes exist? Why did God make them?
Or if you prefer the non-religious approach, why did they evolve? Is there some sort of Darwinian reason for nature to create such a good-for-nothing pest?
This got me thinking about what benefit this insect can bring. And believe it or not, I did find something. Perhaps they have no use on a practical level, but metaphorically, they do have a purpose.
You see, these wicked insecta diptera are equally wicked to everyone. They don’t care what colour you are.
They only care what colour your blood is. They will happily shove their evil little proboscis into anybody. They are equal-opportunity disease mongers.
Perhaps there is something we can take from the Aedes mosquito. They are a problem that affects all Malaysians, regardless of whatever category we fall into. This is the same with so many of the other trials and tribulations we face or are going to face.
The petrol price hike is like the Aedes mosquito. So is the proposed free trade agreement that we might sign up for (although there are many who welcome this particular insect).
The Goods and Services Tax might bite us in the unmentionables. The education system might be an itch on the bottom. The poor state of the environment might give us delirium-riddled fever.
These things affect all of us. So why can’t we deal with them as we deal (or try to deal) with dengue? With a policy that doesn’t care about who is catching the disease, but instead works on the basis that here is a problem that needs to be sorted out for the good of all.
Why does everything have to be about this ethnic group or that ethnic group, this religion or that religion? It is as though public discourse in this country is trapped in some interminably obtuse record player with a scratched LP that keeps jumping and playing the same screechy cacophonous noise again and again.
By focusing on the irrelevant, we are getting nowhere nearer to figuring out how best to move on. I want to end with a quote from the Rulers in the Reid Commission. They said that they “look forward to a time not too remote when it will become possible to eliminate communalism as a force in the political and economic life of the country”.
This was in 1957. Why does it feel like we have not moved towards those aspirations at all? Why do we keep allowing the small-minded to determine the public discourse, where one is persistently fighting bigotry and idiocy instead of spending effort getting to grips with the big issues that affect us all?
If ever there was a need for enlightened leadership to lay out a progressive and not regressive agenda, now is the time.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Rudeness Should Not be a Crime

Sin Chew Jit Poh
24 October 2014


There is a stereotype about Malaysians that says we are a very polite people. I am not sure how true this is. Maybe once upon a time this was a reality, but nowadays I don’t see much politeness in my day to day life here in the capital city. Perhaps it is because I live in a big city that I feel this way. Maybe in the smaller towns, people are still polite to one another and treat one another with civility and friendliness.
Having said that neither are we especially rude. It happens of course, but quite rarely, to the point that when it does occur it feels rather jarring. Generally speaking we don’t see people shouting at each other. Of course on the internet people can be very rude. Also you get examples of extremely rude people in political settings, like at the anti-sedition protest in Penang recently which was broken up by a bunch of extremely uncouth thugs.
Rudeness is unpleasant of course, but the question I want to ask here is should it be illegal? I am speaking specifically about Wong Hoi Cheng and M Krishnan, who both have incurred the wrath of the authorities as a result of their “rude” actions.
Wong had likened the Inspector General of Police to a Nazi military commander and Krishnan had posed for a photo holding his slipper against a picture of the Prime Minister.  Both actions were done apparently as an angry action to the police arresting scores of Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit and the rising cost of living respectively.
Krishnan was arrested and detained for a few days but as yet has not been charged. Wong has been charged under section 504 of the Penal Code. It is possible that Krishnan may be charged with the same section. If we look at section 504 it says:

“Whoever intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Looking at this section, insulting someone can be a crime but it seems that the insult has to fulfil two components for it to be an offence. First is the insult itself and secondly that the insult will result in some sort of breach of peace or any other offence.  
On the face of it, I don’t see how Wong’s statement can fulfil the second component. But of course ultimately that is for the court to decide. The question remains however as to why the police have decided to use their resources to charge him. Seriously, was what he said going to cause a breach in public order or result in other crimes?
I think the law was designed for situations where a person insults another person to the point that a fight ensues. I am not sure it is meant to protect public figures from rude comments from people who are angry at how you do your duty.
Now perhaps the IGP and the PM were very upset by the acts of these two men. Perhaps they are sensitive people and it hurt them badly. Perhaps, I don’t know, but being the object of anger and the occasional rudeness is the price one pays when holding high public office. Sure it is not nice and sure it is probably not in line with our culture, so sure these men can be scolded and told off by their own fellow Malaysians, but it is not correct for the law to be used to punish them.
This would mean that the law is used in a manner to protect the powerful from criticism. And criticism comes in many forms, including insults. It’s not nice, but then if you are not tough enough to take it, perhaps you shouldn’t be in public office.
Anyway, since the police are so keen on criminalising insults, perhaps they should investigate all those people who have been insulting Syed Azmi Alhabsi. Syed Azmi recently organised an event where people, including Muslims are encouraged to touch dogs in order to get over their prejudices against the animals. Quite a sweet thing to do I think, but not everyone shares this view.
Syed Azmi has been insulted vehemently by some angry Muslims and these insults have also been followed by calls of inflicting violence, even death on the poor chap. Surely this clearly falls under section 504 of the Penal Code. It would be interesting to see what the cops do.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Protecting the right to speak

Brave New World (The Star)
15 October 2014

When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.


LAST Sunday a group of people gathered at the Speakers Corner in Penang to protest against the Sedition Act. They did not get very far because a bunch of, now how shall I put this politely, unruly humans shouted abuse at them and harassed them to the point where it was impossible to continue.
Now I think these fellows who wanted to stop the gathering have just as much right as anyone else to voice their opinion. Apparently, they will defend the Sedition Act till their dying breath.
What a wonderfully dedicated lot of humans they are; so very committed, so very brave. Maybe they should get a medal.
However, I would like to point out a small point regarding the right to assemble and to speak.
This is not meant for those courageous men who so fearlessly chased away a couple of tourists from Speakers Corner. I am sure their craniums are already full to overflowing with whatever it is they like to put in there and I doubt there is any room in that space between their heroic ears for any new ideas.
No, this message is for the police. I want them to know about certain international standards regarding protests and counter-protests. I am using international standards because I am certain our men and women in blue would like to be an international-standard police force. Surely they want to be seen as one of the best police services in the world.
Anyway, back to the lesson. Everyone has the right to assemble and speak their mind on issues they think are important.
Conversely, those who dislike their point of view also have a right to assemble and speak their minds.
The job of the police, nay, the duty of the police, is to allow both groups the space with which to express them.
However, when you have competing groups, the blood might rise a bit higher than normal and thus, there could be a possibility of unpleasant clashes.
This is why it is the police’s job, nay, duty, to ensure the groups are kept separate.
In this way, everybody’s right to expression is upheld.
It is not the police force’s job to pick sides. It is not their job to allow one group to chase another one away.
In fact, it is the antithesis of what they are supposed to do.
Now ideally I would like to have a police force which truly appreciates the values of a democratic country.
It would be wonderful beyond belief if they understand that when they protect the citizen’s right to speak, what they are in truth protecting is the very essence of our independent nation – that is to say, a nation built upon the promise of civil liberties, democracy and the rule of law.
However, if this is too abstract a concept to be passed on, allow me to make another argument.
When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.
Let me explain. If I am going to organise a protest and I know there will be a bunch of unruly humans who will try to break my gathering up, I could do one or two things.
Firstly, trust the police to keep us apart.
Or secondly, gather a group of people to confront the unruly humans. The second option could very easily lead to fisticuffs and a whole lot of overweight men wheezing for breath.
Wouldn’t it be better if the cops were to just do their duty and prevent such things from happening?
After all, they are always going on about how important peace and security is.
Besides, wheezing fat men are most unsightly.
By the way, in case the police think it is better not to let people gather at all, may I point out two things? Firstly, it is our right to gather and to express ourselves.
And secondly, if you don’t allow people to speak peacefully and if they get frustrated at the suppression of their rights, that is when people turn to unlawful means to get their message across.
Therefore, no matter how you look at it, if the police of Malaysia are truly concerned about peace, then they have to get their act together and start behaving according to international standards of respecting everybody’s right to express themselves.
Here ends the lesson.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Vernacular Education

Sin Chew Jit Poh
9 October 2014


Every now and then some person or other will say that vernacular schools should be banned. Ostensibly the reason given is that they somehow breed disunity, primarily because vernacular schools generally cater to children of one ethnic group. Hence Chinese students go to Mandarin schools; Indian children go to Tamil schools and so on and so forth.
There is an assumption that this division of children based on ethnic groupings from an early age is not conducive to national unity. There are some subtleties that this argument does not take into account. For example mandarin schools need not be mono-ethnic as more and more non-Chinese parents are sending their children to such schools. I am uncertain about the ethnic composition of Tamil schools.
Secondly is whether such segregation is truly the reason for any disunity in the country? This would require a much more thorough study being conducted based on the attitudes and perceptions of graduates from vernacular and national schools. Another point that is missed out is the existence of Islamic religious schools. These schools are also generally mono-ethnic in their make-up. Are they also to be blamed for any disunity in the country?
Before we go on to other pragmatic considerations, let’s look at what the law says. The Constitution states in Article 152 that “The national language shall be the Malay language provided that no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes), or from teaching and learning, any other language and nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the Federation.”
In other words the existence of vernacular schools is protected by Article 152 of the Constitution just as affirmative action for Malays and Natives of Sabah and Sarawak are allowed for under Article 153. It is ironic that those who challenge the continuation of vernacular schools are usually the very same people who would defend Article 153 to the nth degree. Why defend one aspect of the Constitution and not another I wonder?
Anyway, my own personal view is that ideally all children went to the same type of school. It would be great if those schools also had excellent classes on mother tongue education depending on its situation (Sabah schools might want classes on Kadazan for example) and if the general quality of teaching is top class. But at the end of the day, I think it is healthier if children regardless of ethnicity or class went to school together.
Why do I mention class? That is because it is not just vernacular schools and religious schools which are the options open to parents. There are also now a fast growing number of private and international schools and these are only an option to people from the wealthier classes of the community. This is also a form of segregation where wealthy children will be kept in a bubble far from the reality of the lives of the vast majority of Malaysians. This too can be unhealthy.
Which leads to my final question; why do parents send their children to the schools that they choose? What are the criteria for the choices made? I doubt that there are many parents who will say it is because they don’t want their children to have a feeling of unity with their fellow Malaysians. The answer would in all likelihood be that they send their children to schools where they thing their offspring will get the best education.
Therein lies the ultimate answer. If you want young Malaysians to go to national schools then you better make sure that those schools are staffed by competent and inclusive minded teachers; are secular in their approach (so that children of differing faiths all feel comfortable there); and ultimately that they provide an excellent education. Parents want what is best for their child. Questions of unity are not one of those considerations when choosing a school. Excellence is. Keep that in mind the next time talk of national schools versus any other type of schools crop up.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

An identity crisis for PAS

Brave New World (The Star)
1 October 2014

This could be merely a stage in their development, and it is affecting not just them, but also their partnership with DAP and PKR and ultimately the voter.


BREAKING up is hard to do. Or so Neil Sedaka would have us believe.
Looking at what is happening with Pakatan Rakyat it seems that this classic Sixties pop song should be their soundtrack.
Or perhaps we should look to music that is a bit more rock, something a bit harder. How about “Should I stay or should I go”, by the Clash?
Yes, I think the Clash is more fitting.
This is because it does not seem clear at all whether PAS will stay on in Pakatan or go their own way (hey, that is a Fleetwood Mac song).
As a party, they are giving out such mixed signals that they seem to have more identities than David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase.
Now it is not uncommon for people or organisations to go through some sort of identity crisis.
In fact it may be a good thing, an evolution from one thing to another.
The Beatles were still very much the Beatles throughout their career but there is a huge difference between the long-haired messiahs of the White Album and the cherry mop tops of Please Please Me. (Crikey, once I start on this music thing, I can’t seem to stop).
So it is the same with PAS.
It is not such a big deal that they seem to be suffering from an institutional dissociative identity disorder; it could be seen as merely a stage in their development.
Unfortunately their condition is affecting not just them, but also their partnership with DAP and PKR and ultimately the ordinary voter.
On the one hand, you have some PAS leaders saying the future with Pakatan is strong and that the party should be more progressive; and on the other hand we have a party strongman saying that their partners in Pakatan are little more than bullies and others lamenting the loss of their “core values” and that perhaps it is best for PAS to go it alone.
Basically, what is happening is the tension between the “progressives” and “conservatives” bubbling up to the surface.
I suppose there was a certain naiveté amongst some people (myself included) regarding the character of PAS.
Over the last eight years or so, there was a belief that PAS had changed. It was modernist and inclusive, and had moved away from its insular and traditionalist past.
This view was encouraged by certain individual PAS leaders whose eloquence and forward-thinking attitudes made one believe that there were more similarities between PAS and their partners than differences.
Hence a viable coalition opposition (and perhaps a viable new Federal Government) was a real possibility.
How exciting it all seemed.
Now of course we see that the conservative voices in PAS were not being made redundant by the “new” PAS; instead they were merely keeping quiet.
They were always there; we just chose to ignore them.
I wonder if their Pakatan partners also chose to ignore them.
If this is the case, then they can’t do that any more.
The future of the coalition is at stake and they really need to get together and see if they can truly work with one another and to provide the voters with that seductive “government in waiting” that they proffered just last year.
PKR and DAP can help this process by not being so antagonistic to their partner.
At least while they are still ostensibly partners.
The same goes for PAS.
The infighting that is going on, made more lurid with colourful language like “the beheading” of a PAS Penang councillor, does nothing for reasoned discussion between the political parties, neither does it engender any sort of confidence amongst the people.
What their political fortunes would be if there is a split remains to be seen.
I would guess it would make all of the parties suffer.
The loss (with a bigger majority for Brisan Nasional) at the latest by-election seems to suggest this is so.
Just which party risks losing more is hard to say, but without a doubt the biggest winner if Pakatan breaks up would be Barisan.
So they really need to get their act together and make their minds up one way or the other whether they should stay as a team or break up.
But if they do decide to stick with it, there is one question that needs to be first answered and that is, to paraphrase Eminem, “Will the real P.A.S. please stand up, please stand up, please stand up”.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

PAS and Pakatan Rakyat

Sin Chew Jit Poh
24 September 2014


It looks like the Selangor crisis has come to an end; at least for the moment. There are many constitutional issues that can be raised about the appointment of Azmin Ali as the new Menteri Besar, but I do not want to go into that here.

Instead I wish to discuss the impasse between PAS and their partners PKR and DAP which appears to have been settled for now. PAS did not want Wan Azizah to be MB, and PKR has grudgingly accepted Azmin Ali as the new MB. Therefore there is nothing to fight and argue about anymore. However, any peace between the component parties of Pakatan Rakyat is fragile at best. Sure things look like they have calmed down, but fundamental core issues have not been settled.

The first amongst this is the sheer venom that the PAS President has poured out during the recently concluded PAS Muktamah. His anger at the two PAS Selangor state assemblymen who decided to respect the agreement between the PR partners and go with PKR’s choice of MB (Wan Azizah) was far from statesman like. It not only denigrates the two individuals but it also poured scorn on the partners of PAS.

Which leads to the question, are they going to be partners for much longer? After all it is not just the PAS president who seems to be growing colder towards this alliance. There are strong forces within PAS, primarily from the more conservative elements of the party that seem to be in the same frame of mind.

I do not pretend to be an expert on PAS internal affairs. I am not a member and therefore this opinion is purely that of an outsider’s. In the last two general elections PAS has won much support from citizens who would not traditionally be considered PAS supporters. In fact it is because of this support that caused the delineation of state seats in Kedah to backfire on the ruling party in 2008.

The changing of electoral boundaries to make more areas in Kedah “mixed” was intended to dilute the number of Malay voters in several Kedah constituencies. The thinking behind this is that PAS only gets their support from Malays. What a shock it must have been to see that those same non-Malay voters who were thought to be anti PAS voting for the Islamist party in great numbers to the point that the state government fell into PAS control.

This support could partly be explained by the electorate wanting change, and they would vote for anyone as long as it was not BN. There is some truth to that, but it should also not be forgotten that PAS as a party has become more palatable to their non-traditional supporters in the past few years.

The moderate and pragmatic approach of their more progressive members made many think that there are more similarities than differences between PAS, DAP and PKR. Thus a workable government in waiting was there for the taking. The progressives in PAS moved away from the rhetoric normally associated with PAS and spoke instead of common ground, compromise and co-operation. They were more flexible in their ideology and much more inclusive. To the extent that you had PAS Supporters Clubs popping up all over the country consisting of non-Muslims who because of their religion could not join PAS proper.

This aspect of PAS support ought not to be forgotten. If the party moves away from this line of thinking and if they do not evolve into an entity which can appeal to a broader support base, whatever gains made in the past two elections may be lost. The question for PAS therefore is one of identity. If they are unhappy with the way things are and if they wish to return to a more hard-line approach to issues of faith and governance, which may well lead to the breaking up of the PR, then they must be prepared for a radical shift in their political fortunes.



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Freedom, with the right limitations

Brave New World (The Star)
17 September 2014

There is a need for some laws and controls over people who would defame others or call for unacceptable things, like genocide.


IN the past few weeks there has been a lot of discussion, indeed in some cases one might say uproar, over the use of the Sedition Act.
I have no wish to talk about the Act itself because it has been done to death in recent times. Furthermore, I am currently rather intimately involved with the Act as I was charged under it earlier this month.
Instead, I would like to go back to the fundamental issue here, which is freedom of expression. Clearly the Sedition Act curbs freedom of expression. Is this a bad thing? Well, not necessarily.
You see, despite what some quarters might believe, no one in his right mind would want absolute freedom of expression. That would be ludicrous.
However, before we begin to discuss what sort of restrictions on expression there should be, let us first examine our attitudes towards this particular freedom itself.
Naturally I can’t speak for anyone else, so this is a purely personal take. I think that the ideal is absolute freedom.
In other words, absolute freedom of expression is the best thing to have. Unfortunately, we all know that in this world, reason and ­honesty are sometimes in short supply.
Therefore, there is clearly a need for some sort of laws and controls over people who would defame others or call for unacceptable things, like genocide.
However, when thinking about the controls and laws you want to impose, a person’s fundamental belief system comes into play.
Hence, if you are like me and believe that total freedom is the ideal, then any restriction would be most carefully thought out and applied in order to disturb the ideal as little as possible.
Thus, freedom of expression itself is to be protected as much as possible and any limitation must infringe as little as possible on said freedom.
There is no need to defend freedom of expression because it is a given, conversely one has to defend the need for laws that curb those freedoms.
Now, if you don’t believe that freedom is the ideal, then things would look very different indeed.
Because there is no inherent appreciation of freedom, one would make laws that curb those freedoms to whatever extent one thinks is necessary for one’s own interest.
Perversely, the laws restricting said freedoms become the given and freedom of expression has to be justified.
This is most undesirable because of all the civil and political rights that exist, freedom of expression is arguably the most important. Well, to be honest, in my point of view, it is the most important right of all.
So many other rights are intimately linked to freedom of expression, such as assembly, association, faith and the right to have a democratically elected government.
Some people criticise freedom of expression as being an esoteric thing, something that bothers the so-called intelligentsia and not the ordinary man on the street. After all, how does speaking one’s mind put food on the table?
I would argue against such an idea. It is true that freedom of expression won’t feed the poor in a direct manner but, without it, how on earth can we expose poor policies that perpetuate poverty, or corrupt practices that take public money away from doing good and into the ­pockets of the dishonest, or wasteful ineffi­ciency?
To conclude, I reiterate the value of freedom of expression and its importance in making society a better place free from tyrants and despots.
But, what about the limitations that I mentioned earlier? What sort of control should there be?
I would suggest that any laws that curb freedom to express oneself ought to be limited to matters such as incitement to violence, civil defamation and perhaps hate speech.
But whatever law one wants to create, great care must be taken in its drafting; great effort must be made in allowing as much open debate as possible and underlying it all the ultimate ideal of absolute freedom must always be kept in mind.
Of course any law, no matter how well drafted, would be an absolute mockery of justice if it is applied in an unequal manner, so the enforcement of the law must also be unpreju­diced.
Now being the proponent of free speech is not an easy thing because one has to respect the right of everyone to express themselves, even those who may vehemently disagree with one.
So I shall end this column by saying, feel free to criticise what I have just said. After all, it’s your right.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Academic Freedom

Sin Chew Jit Poh
12 September 2014


“To impose any straightjacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of the nation. No field of education is so thoroughly comprehended by man that new discoveries cannot yet be made. Particularly is that true in the social sciences where few, if any, principles are accepted as absolute”.
Chief Justice Earl Warren (1957)

This quote is part of a judgment made by Chief Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court in a case that dealt with academic freedom. I think it perfectly encapsulates the value of academic freedom and the need to protect it.

In short it states that we need academic freedom in order for a nation to develop properly. Ideas need to be expressed freely and debated in order for the best solutions to be found. In some countries, like Indonesia, academic freedom is considered so important that it is actually protected specifically by law.

But what exactly is academic freedom? It is of course closely related to the freedom of expression. The difference is of course is that it is specifically referring to the academic context. Therefore it would mean that a n academic should have the freedom to research, publish and teach freely.

“Freely” does not mean absolute freedom of course. There will be limitations to academic freedom and the main (and some would argue the only) limitation has to be that of academic rigour. What is meant by academic rigour is that whatever an academic says, or publishes must be backed by sound research and reasoning.

If an academic’s work is found to be lacking either through poor research methodology, poor reasoning or the lack of academic honesty (for example through plagiarising), then his or her “punishment” will be the harsh criticism by their peers leading to a loss of credibility and respect. This in turn could lead to practical consequences such as their career suffering.

Up till now, the discussion has been about freedom strictly within the context of universities. But what about the role of academic freedom outside the university? Can the principles of academic freedom still apply?

I would argue that if an academic is speaking outside the university context (that is to say outside academic conferences, lectures and publications); the principle of academic freedom ought to still apply if he or she is speaking within their own field of expertise.

The reason I say this is because if academia is to free itself from the accusations of living in an ivory tower, then they have to somehow make their work and their expertise relevant to the public at large. A common term for such people is that they become public intellectuals.

By examining current affairs and matters of general concern, and applying their own expert take on the matter, an academic would be helping by providing ideas and thoughts on how to improve the situation. In this way the knowledge held will be put to good practical use for the sake of the community at large.

When an academic moves out from the university and into the public sphere, putting forward ideas that are from their research work and expertise, they are in fact making academia more relevant to the community. And as such academic freedom should also apply in public discourse.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Save Penang's Heritage

Sin Chew Jit Poh
28 August 2014


I just received an email with a petition to save Soonstead. What is Soonstead you may ask? Well, it is mansion in Penang. One of the many along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, formerly known as Northam Road also known as Millionaires Row.

For those of you not familiar with Penang, the nickname of the road gives a hint as to the type of domiciles you find there. That stretch of road which connects Gurney Drive and Georgetown was at one time the address of choice for all those wealthy tycoons of Penang.

It is, or used to be when I was a child growing up on the island, one mansion after another. The fronts of the buildings were large lawns and the backs of the houses looked onto the sea. Now there are some hideous modern developments on the road and the character of the place is being chipped away. It appears that Soonstead is going to be next.

The plan is not to totally demolish the building, just parts of it, and then there will be built on the land a high rise luxury hotel. That seems to be the trend in Penang; keep some bits of these old buildings and then build something large and modern around it.

I suppose in the minds of the planners, you are saving heritage (Georgetown is a UNESCO heritage city you see), at the same time making money hand over fist. Sounds nice in theory except that what usually happens is the heritage building is dwarfed by an ugly monstrosity and you get a sort of mutant amalgam. Next time you are in Penang, keep an eye out for these mutants.

I suppose one question that could be raised is why should we care about these old houses commissioned by rich men long dead? For me, the first reason is that these buildings are beautiful. They are aesthetically pleasing and they display workmanship and craft which are long gone. And beautiful buildings need not be old mansions. Simple kampong houses too have their own elegance and loveliness.

The trouble with kampong houses is that they are made of wood and it is virtually impossible to find truly antique houses which are in a state where they can be restored. And this raises another point. Most of our heritage is not built of stone, they are made of wood.

There is a dearth of architectural history in Malaysia because of our building culture (wood) and climate (hot and wet and rot inducing). Therefore, whatever structures we have that can link us to our past should be protected.

Why should they be protected? A pragmatic answer will be that such sights helps to improve the tourist trade. People like to look at old things and learn about history. It is therefore of some amusement to me to see how tourism is dealt with in Melaka. It appears that it is not enough that the town is rich with some incredible architectural specimens that reflect various key stages of our history; there is some sort of pathological drive to make the place a sort of amusement park and market for cheap tourist cack. This distracts from the dignity and history of the town, which is a shame.

However, apart from money, it is important that we preserve and conserve these pieces of our past because they are tactile examples of what we were and from that what we have become. In other words they are part of our identity. In this period of time just before Merdeka day and Malaysia Day, surely we should be reflecting on identity and our heritage is most definitely a part of that. I certainly hope the Penang government will think along these lines as well.

If you think Penang's heritage mansions are worth preserving, sign this petition to Save Soonstead!


There is still reason to cheer

Brave New World (The Star)
20 August 2014

Concepts that were alien to most people just 20 years ago, such as civil liberties and human rights, are becoming part of the lingua franca.


"WRITE something with a Merdeka theme”.
That was the request made by my editor. Since he has never requested anything of me before, I feel rather obliged to try. But it is easier said than done.
There’s a whole bunch of stuff already written on this theme within the pages of this paper and I really do not know what I can possibly add. I mean, how many ways can you say that we have lost the sense of unity that existed in 1957; or that there has been an erosion of certain democratic values; or how ethnic relations seems to have deteriorated.
Actually, sometimes I wonder whether we look back to 1957 with rose-tinted glasses. Was it really that much better? There is a tendency to be overly kind to the past when one is being nostalgic. I mean, when Merdeka comes round now, I get a bit irritated because the jingoistic flag waving seems out of sync with the numerous problems that we are facing.
Unemployed and underemployed young people; racist and fascist groups running around; the crumbling of democratic institutions; all these things place a pall over any sort of celebration. Add to this of course the awful tragedies that the nation has suffered with the two crashed airliners and it does seem that any sort of festivity seems out of place.
Yet when I think back to my boyhood, Merdeka was a great laugh and I get all warm and fuzzy inside. For one thing, it meant no school and me and my little pals would joyfully scream “Merdeka” as we left the class; our temporary independence from the clutches of our teachers giving real meaning to the word.
Plus, on Merdeka Day there was that wonderful novelty of television in the morning. Sure it was just a bunch of people marching around, but as a red-blooded young man, the sight of tanks and armoured trucks never failed to get me excited. So, when I think back to my own small Merdeka day experiences, it is always with a sense of happiness and not cynicism.
Could it not be the same thing when as a nation we collectively look back to 1957? Perhaps we are being too harsh on ourselves now and too generous with our recent past. I don’t know, but it would be an interesting subject for some historian to study.
Anyway, what about this year’s Merdeka day? Numerically, it is quite interesting. We obtained independence in 1957 and now we are 57. I wonder how many people are going to choose those digits at the local betting shop.
Flippancy aside, is there anything to cheer about? I would like to think so. Sure, there’s a whole lot of nastiness floating around, and politicians on both sides of the divide have been acting in a manner that has induced head shaking of seismic proportions, but I think there are a few reasons to be optimistic.
The people of this country are far less fearful of the powers-that-be compared to the past. We are more willing to criticise those who wield influence. Concepts that were alien to most people just 20 years ago, such as civil liberties and human rights, are becoming part of the lingua franca.
And there is, I believe, a growing desire to want to “do something” in the face of developments which we think are a threat to the nation and the people of the nation.
It is now just a matter of focusing our energies so that we can hold the powerful in check and the extremists at bay. Many people are already thinking in that way.
If we can turn those thoughts to meaningful acts, then we would be celebrating Merdeka in the most meaningful way, for we would be ensuring that the shackles of the British have not been exchanged with our own home-grown tyranny and cruelty.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What is to be Done With Selangor

Sin Chew Jit Poh
13 August 2014


What is to be done with Selangor? It is a complete mess and there appears to be no way out of the current impasse.

Ideally, the Menteri Besar should resign. I say this because he is MB by virtue of winning his state seat, and he won that seat by virtue of being a PKR candidate. Therefore when his party does not support him any longer, the correct thing to do will be to step down. That is the correct thing to do. Legally he does not actually have to do anything. Allow me to explain.

The MB is appointed by the Sultan on the basis that he has the support of the state legislature. The best way to know if an MB no longer has that support is by holding a vote of no confidence. According to the case of Stephen Kalong Ningkan v Tun Haji Openg [1966], such a vote can only take place on the floor of the legislature. Since the Selangor state legislature is not sitting, this vote cannot be conducted.

Now, Tan Sri Khalid has obtained the approval of the Sultan to continue as MB. He says that he has the support of the state legislature. The DAP and PKR have questioned the truth of this claim because according to them, all their state legislative assemblypersons as well as a few PAS assemblypersons have agreed that they want Wan Azizah to be the new MB. In other words they claim that the majority of the house does not support Khalid.

For me, who is right and who is wrong is a moot point. I believe that the proper way to determine whether Khalid still has support is by having vote of no confidence in the state legislative assembly. Procedurally, this way is more transparent and it also shows a respect for the legislative house and the state constitution.

Unless and until this vote is held, the Sultan is correct in continuing to support Khalid’s tenure as MB. To do otherwise would be unwise as it could open the door to all sorts of opaque practices. Even if it seems obvious that Khalid no longer has the support of the house, for example by signed declarations of the majority of the state assemblypersons, I still think that the best way to go would be to follow procedures carefully i.e. have a vote of no confidence in the state legislature, and then if the MB loses, he really ought to resign.

By respecting the proper procedures, the Pakatan Rakyat will be showing that they adhere to procedural propriety and the rule of law. As it is many people in Selangor are fed up with the way things are.  If the Pakatan try to overcome this impasse by using methods which are not completely transparent and according to the state constitution it will only add to the sense of unease that the people are already feeling.

This situation has been very poorly managed by the Pakatan. If they do not do things properly in their efforts to replace the Menteri Besar, public opinion of them will fall even lower. The state legislative assembly sits in November, it is best to be patient and wait until then to do the needful.






Tuesday, 5 August 2014

People need to get govts to act

Brave New World (The Star)
6 August 2014

Governments are not doing anything about the Gaza issue, and they will continue to do nothing, unless the citizens upon whom their power depends, demand they do something.


If one person dies, it is a tragedy. If a million die, it is a statistic.
This is a quote attributed to Stalin. It is grotesque and inhumane, but no less than one would expect from such a monstrous dictator.
Perhaps this idea is what goes through the head of Netanyahu as his forces continue to kill civilians in Gaza.
First, make a huge hue and cry about Israeli dead (few in number thus qualifying as tragedies), then go on to kill hundreds of Palestinians (the more the better as then the deaths will become a mere statistic).
Netanyahu will go on and on about the right to defend his country and how their cause is just, but the fact is this most recent act of barbarity against the Palestinian people goes against all the basic tenets of humanitarian law.
How is the destruction of hospitals and schools a defensive measure?
Not that the Israeli government cares about law. Their continued occupation of the West Bank? Declared unlawful by the United Nations.
Their so called security wall? Declared unlawful by the International Court of Justice. Their continued “settlements” in Palestinian territory? It is again unlawful as it is colonialism in all but name.
And what happens to Israel? Nothing. Everybody knows that the United States will always be there in their corner, no matter if it is a Republican government or a Democratic one.
The European countries, perhaps still plagued by guilt from the second world war and fears of being deemed anti-Semitic (though how opposing a government can be seen as being against a religion is beyond me), will cough and make small sounds of disgruntlement but do nothing. In the meantime, people die.
The hypocrisy of the world, including the Arab world (Egypt is now Israel’s best buddy), has been documented time and again by people like Robert Fisk, Edward Said, John Pilger and Noam Chomsky, and can’t be summarised here. And it is this hypocrisy which feeds and fuels radical groups like Isis, thus it endangers not just the west but everyone in the world.
Israel’s actions and the non-action of the planet’s big powers is not the only atrocity that we face.
There are many others, but it is arguably one of the biggest threats to world security.
For if such blatant disregard for law can be executed and surreptitiously endorsed, then what is to stop others from disregarding law?
For me, this is not a religious matter. It matters not one single bit to me that the Palestinians are mainly Muslim and the Israelis are mainly Jewish.
A wrong is a wrong, regardless of who commits it and who suffers from it. Gaza and the barbarity that is being heaped on it is a humanitarian issue. It is a human rights issue. It is an issue with far reaching consequences for world peace.
Unless and until it is dealt with in that way by all the right thinking people in the world, regardless of their own personal faiths, then it would be difficult to see a way out.
For let there be no mistake, governments aren’t doing anything and they will continue to do nothing, unless the citizens upon whom their power depends, demand they do something.

Leadership Crisis in Selangor

Sin Chew Jit Poh
3 August 2014


The Pakatan coalition does not have an easy job. Because we, as a nation have never had a proper two party system, the opposition will always be faced with the question “can they govern”?
This means that not only do they have to battle a political giant, in the form of the Barisan, with so much wealth and influence at its disposal; they have to battle public perception as well.
In the last two general elections, the people have been supporting the Pakatan in growing numbers. In the last election, they won the popular vote. The sentiment behind this support I believe is because of dissatisfaction with the Barisan and also a sense that “we should give Pakatan a chance”.
Of course, we all know that they did not manage to take Putrajaya, but they did manage to control several state legislatures. After the last election, Penang, Selangor and Kelantan are controlled by Pakatan. Kelantan has been under a PAS administration for many years, and with all due respect to Kelantan, that is not a place where most Malaysians look to see if Pakatan can govern well.
The focus has been on Penang and Selangor. Both states have their issues and problems, but Selangor has been in the spot light recently, for all the wrong reasons.
There is clearly a leadership crisis, with PKR wanting to replace the Menteri Besar, with a new one. This is not a particularly strange thing. The problem is that the whole process has been very messy and it does not engender public confidence in Pakatan.
The messiness takes the form of several things. The public spats between important Pakatan players, is unsightly and undignified. The use of social media to call one another names is childish and gives the distinct impression of immaturity. And naturally it provides ammunition for the coalition’s detractors and enemies.
Also the apparent split between PKR and DAP on one side and PAS on another with regard to the decision of replacing the Menteri Besar reflects a certain fragility in the strength of the coalition. This is made worse by some PAS members making noises about joining forces with the Barisan.In principle, I see no issue with a ruling party wanting to change their leader. There may be good reasons why Khalid should be changed. There are of course those who support him and think that his style, of quietly going about his work without political grandstanding, is a very good thing. Such differing views are natural and healthy; it is up to the Pakatan to decide which argument is stronger and then based on that choose a new Meneteri Besar or stick with the current one.
And as much as I sympathise with Selangor citizens who feel they want things to remain as they are, let us not forget that in our system of governance, the people do not choose the Prime Minister or the Menteri Besar; we choose a party, and they in turn decide who they want to lead. Therefore, if Pakatan want to replace Khalid, that is their prerogative and we the people can either make our feelings known by voicing our disagreement or by voting against them if we feel their choices are bad.
No, changing the Menteri Besar is not the issue. The issue here is the naïve way that disagreement within the Pakatan has been allowed to spill out into the public domain. The issue here is the seemingly growing rift between PAS and its partners. The issue here is that this whole fiasco has made Pakatan look divided and worse still incompetent.
Like I said earlier, I believe that people voted the way they did because they were dissatisfied with Barisan and they wanted to give Pakatan a chance. Pakatan must not depend only on the dissatisfaction of the people; they have been given a chance, they must not waste it.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Avenues for justice for MH17

Brave New World (The Star)
23 July 2014

Suspects can be tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction and if it can be shown that a government was responsible, via the principles of state responsibility, they too can be held accountable.


THIS is what I know. Malaysia Airlines is not to blame for the deaths of the people on MH17.
The aircraft was flying on a route deemed safe by the authorities. I also know that it is beyond arrogance to presume the deaths of innocents were the result of God’s wrath. Who are these people who think they have an insight into God’s intentions?
This is what I know. A missile shot down MH17.
Somewhere out there, someone or a group of people have killed close to three hundred people. I also know that the scene of the crime has been tainted, probably beyond any salvation, by a group of thugs with automatic rifles.
These thugs have kept investigators away from the site and they have been belligerent and threatening to those whose job is to simply find out exactly what happened. I also know that Russia has been recalcitrant to the extreme.
In a situation like this, one would have thought that allowing independent investigators to the site would be a given. But instead, there had to be a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council called to come out with a declaration that such access has to be allowed.
And Russia, a permanent member of the council, had to be dragged by its stubborn heels before it would agree. Even then, there is still great uncertainty whether this agreement will be reflected by real cooperation on the ground.
At the time of writing, Malaysia is supposed to have received the aircraft’s black boxes, and the remains of those who died are supposed to be on the way back so that their families can lay them to rest.
I hope that the black boxes will be examined properly by experts. Not only to extract the information that they hold, but also to determine whether they have been tampered with.
For days they have been in the control of those who are, in all bluntness, suspects of this horrific crime. One is entitled to be cautious as to the integrity of these pieces of equipment.
Much has been said about the Prime Minister’s supposed timidity in the face of this catastrophe. This may be true, but in a way I am quite sympathetic with his dilemma.
We are a small country with very little clout. The bodies of our dead were in the hands of militarised thugs; the black boxes, so important in the search for the truth, were in the hands of the same people. Antagonising such people may not have been the wisest thing to do.
But now that we have the boxes and that we have the bodies of the deceased, it is time to think about what can be done. It is fairly clear in my mind that an international crime has been committed.
Unfortunately, neither Malaysia, Ukraine or Russia have ratified the Rome Statute and are thus not members of the International Criminal Court. This means that one avenue for justice is problematic, but it does not mean that there aren’t any ­others.
The crime committed can be classified as a crime against humanity and as such gives rise to universal jurisdiction. This means if suspects can be found and apprehended, they can be tried anywhere in the world.
Other grounds of jurisdiction also exist in international law. Trying those responsible for this barbaric act is not difficult.
Neither is such action limited only to those who pulled the trigger. If it can be shown that a government was responsible in some way, for example by the provision of the weapons used to commit homicide, then via the principles of state responsibility, they too can be held accountable.
I can’t imagine the pain and the heartbreak felt by the friends and families of those who died. I will not even try to say some words of comfort for it can only sound hollow.
What I will say is this: there are avenues open to try to find justice. Lord knows that in this world, justice is not necessarily a given. The wicked get away too often. But we must try. For the sake of those we lost, we must try.