Saturday, 12 December 2015

Objective of new Bill unclear

Brave New World (The Star)
9 December 2015


THE National Security Council Bill, which was debated and passed with unseemly haste last week, has been facing a lot of flak. Those who are concerned with human rights think this new law is about as welcome as flatulence in a crowded elevator.
I have not said anything about the law up till now because I wanted to have a look at it myself first, to see what all the fuss is about. After all, heaven forbid I be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. A friend very kindly found a copy and sent it to me and I have spent the last few hours perusing it.
My opinion? Open the elevator doors and let me out of here!
There is so much to be concerned about with the Act but as space is limited I shall only discuss what I think is most worrying.
The Act starts with a little explanatory paragraph. Bear with me as I reproduce it here.
“An Act to provide for the establishment of the National Security Council, the declaration of security areas, the special powers of the Security Forces in the security areas and other related matters”.
Notice anything? It is totally perfunctory.
There is no mention about the ultimate purpose and objective of the Act. There is no indication at all about the thinking behind this law and why it is necessary.
Is it primarily about defending the country from actual incursions like the one that occurred in Sabah a few years ago? This is what is hinted at by Government statements, but it is not in the law itself.
What this means is that when courts are faced with cases based on this law in the future, there is no hint whatsoever as to its reason and therefore they will be hard pressed to make any sort of interpretation.
I suppose this is the purpose of having such a mechanical preamble; it ensures that there is as little room as possible for any interpretation of the law that may limit the vast powers vested in the Government by this Act by the boundaries of stated objectives and purpose.
Moving right along, we come to the definitions part of the Act. It does not cover many vitally important terms used in the statute.
If we look at section 4, we see that the functions of the Council are listed out. Amongst them is the power to formulate policies and strategies for a variety of issues including national security, socio-political stability, economic stability and national unity.
These issues are not what automatically pop into the mind when thinking about using a law such as this. This act is highly militaristic, and one would have thought that such a law would be used only for militaristic threats.
To make matters worse, none of these terms are actually defined by the Act. What this means is that the Council can take very draconian measures (which I shall discuss later) on grounds of their own liking. Such seemingly unlimited power is highly undesirable because it is open to some serious abuse.
And just what are these draconian measures? It all starts with the declaration of a “security area”.
The Prime Minister may declare an area a security area. There is no limit in the Act as to how large this area can be.
Once a security area is declared, within this area the Security Forces (basically the police and the military) have tremendous powers. These powers include arrest, search and seizure without warrant.
The Director of Operations (the person tasked with the day-to-day running of the security area), can declare curfews, evacuate entire communities and “resettle” them in an area he determines (this sent chills down my spine), occupy and even destroy buildings if deemed necessary.
Now, I am not a military man. The closest I ever got to the armed forces was when I worked as a butt marker (long story) in the military shooting range at Bisley.
So, maybe in times of war or armed conflict such measures may be necessary; I can’t say with any conviction they are not. But as pointed out earlier, this Act does not limit itself to armed conflict type situations.
And herein lies the danger and the absolutely justifiable discomfort that one feels towards this law. It can be used for all sorts of reasons the Council sees fit, which may include peaceful civil disobedience.
What if it is said that the Act will only be used in such situations where there is a clear and present danger of armed conflict, like the Sabah incursion? Well, before we take such promises seriously, let’s just take a look at recent events.
We can see laws which when they were made, we were promised would only be used to curb violence (like the amended Penal Code which provides for harsh action against acts which “threaten parliamentary democracy”) and yet we have seen them being used to curb legitimate dissent.
I’m sorry, but the track record speaks for itself. There has been no hesitation to use laws in ways which crush the remnants of democracy we have. This new one could well be the last nail in our democracy’s coffin.
I simply do not have the space to discuss other frightening aspects of this law which include the immunity against legal proceedings given to the Council and all involved in its activities; the fact that the so-called parliamentary check and balance is easily avoided if Parliament is not sitting; and the power given to the Prime Minister to extend the period an area is declared as a security area indefinitely.
This law is too horrible to be discussed in a thousand words. It simply must be opposed.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Hypocrisy in international relations

Brave New World (The Star)
25 November 2015

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.


THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).
Whenever the President of the United States visit another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.
Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.
Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.
What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.
This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).
Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.
The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?
Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.
And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.
They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.
We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?
Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.
It is trite to mention the hypocrisies that abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.
Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.
The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.

Paris Killings

Sin Chew Jit Poh
18 November 2015
The killings in Paris are vile. All efforts should be taken to punish the offenders.


But I hope that it is remembered that this is not a Muslim issue. Why do I say that when it looks quite clear that the killers had an Islamist agenda.


Well, most deaths caused by ISIS are Muslim. ISIS suicide bombers killed 43 people and injured I00 in Beirut. In Turkey they killed 128 and injured 500. And this was in October and November of this year. Just before Paris.


There are other examples of course but I only raised these two because of their proximity to the Paris killings. My point is, the evil acts done by groups like Isis is a humanitarian issue and not a religious one because these creatures make no distinction about whom they kill.


The temptation of making this a Muslim vs Non-Muslim issue is dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, this is exactly what Isis, Boko Haram and likeminded terrorist groups want. They want the world to be divided into two. Black and white. Muslim and non-Muslim. In this way they clearly draw the lines of the conflict that they wish for.


Also by making this a Muslim versus Non-Muslim issue what one will be doing is to ignore the fact that the thousands of people fleeing into Europe now are running from the very cruelties of Isis. Therefore by lumping these refugees (who are mostly Muslim) into the same pot as Isis, what one is doing is victimising the victims even more.

Fury is a natural reaction to incidences like this. But it would be unwise in the extreme to allow our anger to cloud our good sense. Because when we do that, not only will be unable to see what the real issues are, we will also be making things a whole lot worse.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Much ado about nothing – again

Brave New World (The Star)
11 November 2015

Apart from new arrivals that have been given citizenship, the term ‘pendatang’ does not apply to most Malaysians.


WHAT is the big deal about the word pendatang?
Well, on the face of it, nothing much really. It is just a word.
But taken in the context of this lovely nation of ours, it is an unpleasant word indeed.
It is used to describe non-Malays and therefore the implication is that the Malays were the original inhabitants of this place.
All right, why is this a bad thing?
Firstly, it is hypocritical to the core. Just look at our Government and you will see so-called original Malays with an immigrant in their ancestry, sometimes just one generation away.
How come they are not called pendatang whereas the Peranakan who can trace their ancestries back hundreds of years are?
Also, it is hopelessly short-sighted. It talks as though immigration into this land happened only in the past hundred years or so.
This is clearly not true as this nat­ion has been shaped by people from faraway lands for hundreds of years.
Bujang Valley shows that there was a Hindu/Buddhist culture and civilisation in Kedah two thousand years ago. Were Hinduism and Buddhism indigenous to the Malay Archipelago? Not in the slightest – it came from India.
Therefore, our earliest known civilisation was Indian.
And who brought Islam to the Malaccan Empire in the 15th century? Indian Muslim traders.
The Malay language, culture and even religion all came from the so-called pendatang.
So for those screaming Malay pride, well, look back a bit and you will see all the things you scream about, religion and culture, owe so much to India. They should be giving thanks to the pendatang.
Another thing that sticks in the craw is how that word does not have any meaning anymore for the vast majority of Malaysians.
How can a person be an immigrant when they are born and raised here? So apart from new arrivals that the Government has given citizenship to, the term immigrant or pendatang simply does not apply to most Malaysians.
So, why is Perkasa and those of their ilk so enamoured of the word?
It is because it gives them power. It justifies all policies and laws which favours one ethnic group (theirs) over all others.
It hints at two classes of citizenry. It is a wonderful word for bigots who feel that they are entitled to special treatment ad infinitum.
What can we do about it? Actually, apart from countering the arguments of whoever is spouting such divisive language, I don’t think we should do anything to them.
It is their right to speak after all, and as long as there is no incitement to violence, it is their right to allow faecal matter to drip out of their mouths.
However, if anyone in power speaks like that, then we should do something about it. We should show that no such racist deserves to hold the reins of power. This also applies to those seeking power.
We should condemn them as hard as we can and ultimately we must strive to make sure they are either kicked out of office or are not voted into office at all.
But ultimately, my thoughts about the pendatang issue is this.
Those who scream the loudest about “them pendatang” having to be grateful to be here and how the Malays are the original people and therefore deserve to get special treatment till the end of days; what these people are doing is showing how weak they are.
They want us divided because they know they do not have the ability to stand proud without the Government helping them to stand.
They are in fact screaming about how pathetic they are.

Public universities feel the pinch

Brave New World (The Star)
28 October 2015


DEAR, oh dear, Budget 2016 has not been kind to public universities at all. There has been an average cut of 15% for all university funding. Some unlucky ones have their budget slashed by as much as 27%.
Naturally, there have been some rumblings, namely that such cuts are inconsistent with the Govern­ment’s claim that we are going to produce world-class universities, on par with Oxford no less.
How can such a thing be done if we spend less money on our universities?
Actually, this cut does not come as a surprise to me at all.
The Government has been saying it wants to do this for many years already. In fact, we can expect even more cuts over the next few years.
One of the reasons why they want to spend less money on universities is because they believe that universities should be autonomous.
This may sound a bit weird and that is because it is.
You see, when one talks about autonomy in the context of higher education, what it means is that institutions of higher learning are relatively free to manage themselves, determine their academic policies and have their own educational values free from state interference.
However, when the Government talks about university autonomy, what they mean is that the universities are free from government funding.
I kid you not, they view economic autonomy as a value in itself.
Therefore, by cutting university funding, universities are less dependent on Government for money and they become more autonomous; isn’t that what academics have been screaming for all these years? We should rejoice.
Of course they say nothing about the increase of any real academic autonomy with the reduction of funds; where the poorer we become, the less they will interfere in our campuses.
But then, that would just be asking for too much.
Therefore, we have a situation where universities will get progressively less money but the Govern­ment will still have all sorts of influence in our affairs.
It sounds like a wonderful situation for the powers-that-be.
Right, now that we have got all that weirdness out of the way, let’s look at the situation with a dose of pragmatism.
Money is being cut. What can universities do?
They can try to raise their own funds. You can see this happening already.
Public universities are experimenting with setting up private higher education institutions. They are also planning to do things like establishing private medical facilities.
These are all plans to fully utilise existing expertise in moneymaking ventures.
I don’t like this development because I think there is just so much we have to focus on just to get our universities up to “decent” (let alone Oxford) standards instead of trying to be financial moguls.
But I don’t blame the university administrations, as what choice do they have, really?
If funds from the Government are going to dry up, you need to survive somehow.
At the end of the day, is all this going to make our universities better? Honestly, I don’t think so.
Most universities in the world are largely dependent on public funding.
Only the United States has a very extensive system of private universities. But then they also have a long-standing tradition of getting money from alumni and other forms of fund-raising.
Throwing us into the deep end and expecting Malaysian universities to be as self-sufficient as US private universities is really asking for too much.
One of the major sources of income that private institutions have is the very high fees they charge students.
Is this the path we want to go down? I know that most of my students are not from wealthy families. It would be unacceptable to charge them fees which are too high.
Let’s not forget that we are far from being a high-income nation. Besides, people with money tend to send their children abroad anyway.
This tendency to send our children overseas is something that foreign universities are happy to exploit.
For example, in Britain, where public funding is being cut as well, some universities have tried to make up the shortfall by taking in as many foreign students as they can, for these students pay more fees.
Can we follow their lead?
Are we able to provide the sort of prestige education that foreign students are willing to pay through the nose for?
I don’t think we are at that level yet.
Foreign students come here because we provide affordable education and once that is gone, I doubt we can attract many.
To conclude, the cutting of funding to our public universities is not going to help us make our universities better.
We are at a stage where we don’t have the experience of fund-raising and we are not good enough to charge what we like.
And neither are our people wealthy enough to pay astronomical fees.
The Higher Education Ministry has said that there will be no increase in fees despite the lower Budget allocation, but how long can that be sustained?
Therefore, the situation in which public universities find themselves at the moment, I fear, is simply untenable.

A literalist interpretation of the law

Brave New World (The Star)
14 October 2015

Recent judgments have an impact on basic freedoms such as that of expression.


RECENTLY I’ve been faced with a rather hurtful question. How can I teach my students the law?
This may seem like a weird question. After all I work in a law faculty. My students are there to study the law. What else am I to teach, then?
But there is a sting in the question. There is an implication to this seemingly simple query.
The question really should be: “how can I teach my students the law when the law seems to disregard such fundamental principles as constitutionalism and the rule of law”?
Looking at recent developments, it comes as no surprise that this question arises.
In a space of a fortnight the Federal and Appeal Courts of this country have taken retrograde steps pushing back any small advances we may have made in the realm of the right to assemble, the right to life and the right to expression.
They have done this by con­tradicting earlier decisions, by using technicalities and by interpreting the Constitution in a li­tera­list manner which leaves the door wide open for tremendous abuse of our human rights.
There are too many cases to be discussed in the space that I have, so I would like to only focus on the Ezra Zaid (pic) case.
Ezra was charged under Selangor Syariah legislation because his company had published a Malay translation of Irshad Manji’s book Allah, Liberty and Love.
The Selangor Enactment on Syariah Offences makes it a crime to publish or even have in one’s possession any book which they deem as being against “Islamic Law”.
This book was deemed such and so Ezra was charged.
He brought the case to the civil court and argued that the Selangor enactment was unconstitutional.
His argument was very simple. The Constitution is explicit in sta­ting that only Parliament could make laws restricting our freedom of expression.
This law was clearly a restriction on the said freedom and it was not made by Parliament, it was made by the Selangor state legislature. One would have thought this was an open-and-shut case.
Unfortunately, the Federal Court did not view it that way.
I have not had access to the judgment but according to reports they held that the Selangor Enactment was not about expression as such, and more about the punishing acts that go against the “precepts of Islam” which the states are Constitutionally allowed to make law on.
This literal interpretation of the Constitution is flawed in several ways. Firstly, any laws made in this country must be in line with the Constitution as a whole.
For example, the state can make land laws. What if one day they make a law where they can simply confiscate people’s property. Surely this law would be invalid, because the Constitution actually protects our rights to property.
Following this, any laws made for Syariah purposes are also subject to the protections provided for in the Constitution. Just because the purpose of the law is to protect “the precepts of Islam”, whatever that may be, it still cannot be in contradiction of our fundamental liberties.
Secondly, one must examine the effects of the law. The law in question affects the freedom of expression of Muslims.
It does not matter one bit what the purpose of the Selangor law is, its effect is felt on the freedom of expression and as such it cannot be deemed lawful because only Parliament can make laws with such effects.
What this judgment means is that Muslims in this country can kiss their rights goodbye.
All the state legislators have to do is make Syariah laws and say it is for the purposes of upholding the “precepts of Islam” and they can take away our freedom of expression, assembly, association, religion, property, education, freedom from slavery and even life.
Do I sound alarmist? Perhaps, but with the highest Civil Court of this land, staffed by learned men and women who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, having seemingly washed their hands of the responsibility of protecting all Malaysians from oppression, I don’t think I am being too far off the mark.
Which brings me back to that question I’ve been asked recently; “how can I teach my students the law?”
My answer is simple. I will continue to teach them what the law is but more importantly I will teach them what the law should be.
They need to know what the law ought to be in order to be able to participate in our continuing ef­forts to fix it. For let there be no doubt, the law is broken.

New opposition must reignite hope

Brave New World (The Star)
30 September 2015


THE Opposition has now officially regrouped. DAP, PKR and the PAS breakaway party, Amanah Harapan, have formed a new opposition coalition. Goodbye Pakatan Rakyat, hello Pakatan Harapan. Is this a good thing?
Well, it can’t be any worse than the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) which over the last couple of years has become more and more dysfunctional. Many, including myself, felt that PR’s days were numbered anyway. The very public split between DAP and PAS and the less well publicised disagreements between PKR and PAS meant that things were becoming untenable.
In 2008 and 2013, PAS managed to convince many voters that they had transformed into an inclusive, moderate and forward thinking party. What really happened was that their progressive faction became their public face and the traditionally non-PAS supporters were taken by their intelligence and their progressive message.
We did not see, or we chose not to see the fact that they were only part of PAS. The conservatives were always there and their stance and beliefs are simply not very palatable to those outside their traditional support group.
This schizophrenia was simply not sustainable. After PAS broke ranks by opposing PKR’s Kajang move and then insisted on trying to introduce Hudud in Kelantan (despite having agreed with their PR partners that matters like Hudud could not be decided unilaterally), it became clear that the gang was not all in the same boat.
Plus, with PAS there is always the spectre of Umno lurking in the shadows; that coy flirting between the two parties, with occasional sweet utterings of “Malay Unity” suggesting a coupling between the two.
Which is not to say PKR and DAP have been blameless. Whatever their reasons may be, the Kajang move was, to many voters, still little more than crass politicking.
And the DAP really could have behaved in a more statesman-like manner when disagreeing with PAS, instead of coming over all crude as if they were in a street fight. However, ultimately, PAS was heading off on their own path; a path that even a large number of their own leaders and members could not stomach, hence the creation of Amanah. The breakup of PR simply had to happen.
So, can the new Pakatan Harapan do better? They haven’t really started on a good foot, have they?
At their first official meeting and launch they have already alienated Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM). Sure, PSM was never a part of PR officially but they have always largely worked with and co-operated with the opposition coalition.
And they are, I believe, a very good partner to have. The PSM has made inroads without glamorous appeal or huge party machinery. Their success has been on the back of hard toil at the grassroots level; building trust and belief slowly by doing good works for those in need. Such dedication and principle is not to be scoffed at and in an era where it is more than easy to be cynical about politicians, such a party ought to be embraced.
And so this spat really is disappointing. Especially since it appears to be based on well, nothing really. At its core are the reasons why PSM was not invited to join Pakatan Harapan. It’s a case of he said, she said, followed by name-calling. It seems extremely childish and I, for one, cannot understand why they can’t simply put all their cards on the table, stop trying to cover their respective bottoms in an effort to look good, find out what really happened, put their respective egos in the closet, say sorry, shake hands and then move on.
And how should they move on? I think what the people want is clarity. Clarity as to the aspirations and objectives of this new coalition. We need to see firm policies and ideas of how to rescue this beleaguered nation of ours. We need intelligence and we need politics of principle.
Ah, and here’s another problem: principle. It sounds so good but does it have a place in realpolitik? When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership in England, there was a split in opinion.
Many were very happy that a person with very well defined left wing policies came into the fray. By doing so, he has given voters an actual choice between the Conservatives and Labour, based on principle. Unlike the Blair years when, due to his abandonment of core Labour principles, elections became a choice between the Tories or Tory Lite.
But there are those who say that Corbyn being so far to the left has effectively made Labour unelectable. They say that “middle England” can’t accept such a radical prime minister. And thus the conundrum is to either stand on principle or be pragmatic and fluid in order to be more viable.
The same issue seems to be raising its head here. It would be nice if Pakatan Harapan could lay down their manifesto and ideology and try to win the next election based on that.
But the fear lingers that without PAS, they cannot win Putrajaya. I have no idea if this is the case – the analysis of voting figures is so complicated it looks like it is written in Sumerian by the Ananaki to me.
But whatever the figures show, PKR seem keen to somehow keep on working with PAS. But how can this work?
The animosity between PAS on one side, and DAP and Amanah on the other, is thick enough to cut with a knife. It seems unlikely at this point that PAS will officially be part of the new opposition coalition (and I for one would not want them to be anyway).
What then is left? Co-operation during the next elections in order to avoid three-cornered fights?
But if this is to be, will PAS agree to co-operate not only with PKR but also with Amanah and DAP? Again, at this point that does not seem likely, as they’ve all been busy publicly hating one another.
This is a huge conundrum, in particular for PKR. Do they put 100% into the new coalition or do they keep on trying to work with PAS, who have publicly poured scorn and vitriol on PKR’s partners? Are we going to see politics of principle or pragmatism?
It is all far too early to tell. But one hopes that Pakatan Harapan will be able to sort themselves out. Many pundits have taken great pains to point out how previous opposition coalitions have failed.
They seem to suggest history will repeat itself. This may be true in the light of the PR split.
But we ought to remember that PR actually won four state governments in 2008, they won the majority vote in 2013, and they are currently running two of the more successful states in the nation.
But more than that, they really gave Malaysians hope for a genuine two party system. Sure PR has now crumbled, but they gave us hope. Pakatan Harapan’s job now is to reignite that hope.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Edge Decision is Good News

Sin Chew Jit Poh
24 September 2015
Finally some good news.
The suspension of the Edge Financial Daily and the Edge Financial Weekly was lifted by the high Court. The reasoning of the judge as reported in the news appears sound to me.
Basically, the judge decided that the show cause letter to the Edge was vague and unspecific. For example it did not mention exactly which articles the government was referring to when they said that the Edge was publishing something undesirable.
Without such specific information, it would be impossible to reply properly to the show cause letter and this was in the view of the judge against natural justice; which in lay man’s terms would mean it was really very unfair.
There was also a procedural process which the government did not follow when they suspended the Edge and this too was pointed out by the judge as another reason why the suspension was unlawful.
The fact that they did not follow procedure reflects in my view the unseemly haste with which they wanted to suspend the Edge.
Anyway, at the moment it looks good (of course there is the possibility the government will appeal), and there is a ray of sunshine in what has been a depressing few weeks.
It is heartening to note that there are judges who are still willing to look at a case not merely from the lens of the literal law, but also to apply concepts of justice and fairness in their judgment. I have often been critical of the judiciary, mainly by pointing out that the system we have in place now does not engender confidence in the institution.
But at the same time I have also often pointed out that there are very good individual judges who have made sound and just decisions over the years. They tend to be in the High Court and not the Court of Appeal or the Federal Court, but nonetheless their judgments are reasons to celebrate. This is one of them.
And what makes this judgment even more important at this time is the fact the bad implementation of so many laws have occurred recently; for example, the use of the Printing Presses and Publication Act (the same law as used on the Edge), to ban yellow clothes with the word Bersih 4 on them.
This ban is not only embarrassing for its petty obtuseness, it is also groundless. Why ban it? Is it because Bersih is an illegal organisation? Well, it’s not really an organisation; it’s a coalition of NGOs. Maybe it is because the rally is illegal for not getting a permit? Well, it’s not illegal because according to the Peaceful Assembly Act and a Court of Appeal decision, there is no need for a permit to assemble peacefully.
And what about all those people charged under section 124 B of the Penal Code for supposedly undermining parliamentary democracy, when in fact questioning the government of the day and demanding the resignation of a PM one thinks is bad, is part and parcel of parliamentary democracy.
The court needs to declare all this really very poor use of the law as unlawful. It is unlawful to ban t-shirts for no good reason; it is unlawful to define “parliamentary democracy” to mean nothing more than protecting the PM. One hopes there will be judges who can do just that.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Let’s see who the red shirts are

Brave New World (The Star)
16 September 2015


BY the time this is published, the red-shirt rally should be well underway.
Good luck to them, I say.
I support everybody’s right to assemble, even if I find their purpose for assembling repulsive.
You see, this is the difference between those of us who truly believe in democracy and those who support the manifestations of democracy only when it suits them.
One of their reasons to gather is to demand that Bersih can no longer gather – ironic, it is true. Although the concept of irony is probably beyond their little red brains.
There are those who say that the red shirts are advocating violence, therefore they don’t have a right to assemble.
This is true; the Constitution is very clear on this. One of the limitations on the right to gather is that it has to be peaceful.
But the organisers are now insisting they are peaceful, so let’s just see what happens.
Some of you may say I am being blase about the whole thing. After all, there have been many clearly violent sounds coming from this red lot. Posters inciting racial hatred and killing have been making their rounds, apparently.
I haven’t seen any of them, so I won’t comment. But what I do know is that it is far better to see the problem than to have them hidden away. And this lot are definitely a problem.
No matter how they try to paint themselves, the fact remains that this bunch got united together by one fact, that they are racial supremacists.
They now say that the rally is for national unity. How disingenuous; how utterly moronic.
For weeks it has been blood-curdling screams about so-called “Malay Dignity” and now suddenly they claim to be all cuddly and about national unity? Give me a break.
This rally is about nothing less than maintaining that notion of “Ketuanan Melayu”.
They have a list of demands that reflect this, including the abolishing of vernacular schools, and get this, the return of the Internal Security Act. And now they are inviting non-Malays to their little gathering, almost as an afterthought, to show their “national unity” credentials, I suppose.
By all means go and join them if you want to support the idea that somehow one race is superior to others.
As it is, Malays control the Government, the Government-Linked Companies, the police, the military, and the education system; everything except the private sector.
After 58 years of affirmative action, whose fault is that?
If these people had any “dignity”, they would be ashamed at having to act tough all in order to say they should perpetually be on crutches.
If they had any dignity, they would demand fair treatment for all in the public and the private sector so they can show their mettle on a level playing field.
But they won’t because what they want is a status quo where they can lord it over everyone else, not because they deserve it but because the law and policies allow it.
Let there be no mistake, Malaysia is not some happy clappy fairyland of racial unity, and there are those who will insist that this country is split between the first class and the second class citizens.
So, I hope they all come out. All of these folks who believe whatever these red shirt-types believe.
Let them show their faces so that we know who they are and let us also look out for who their supporters are. Let it be clear that for those of us who want a progressive, inclusive, plural and just Malaysia, these are the people who stand in our way.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Removing a PM

Sin Chew Jit Poh
11 September 2015


This is a purely hypothetical scenario.
A party wins the elections. Following convention, their leader becomes Prime Minister. Things go well for a year, then the PM starts doing crazy things. He sells off all our fighter planes and uses the money to buy a fleet of luxury jets for him and his family. He is known to chase civil servants around his office throwing durian seeds at them when they displease him. At the United Nations he makes a long rambling speech about his prowess in bed. He is corrupt, cruel and perhaps a little mad.
What can we do?
According to our current PM, absolutely nothing. Not until the next general election.
Sounds crazy right? Well, of course it does. Nowhere does it say in our Constitution that a PM can only be removed at election time. Ultimately, he or she is the person who holds the confidence of the house. Such crazy behaviour in my purely hypothetical scenario may cause a PM to lose that confidence. If the MPs do not support him in large enough numbers then he can either step down, or call for a dissolution of the house in order for fresh elections to be held.
And there is nothing unpatriotic or unconstitutional to call for the stepping down of the PM. There are procedures with which this can happen. It is disingenuous for the PM to suggest otherwise and it is obtuse for his Minister for Parliamentary Affairs to say that he has the majority support of the house. Obtuse because we don’t really know unless there is a vote of no confidence.
Besides, how can they have such short memories? It was only four years ago that the BN got the Menteri Besar of Perak sacked because they supposedly had got the majority of the house against him.
And how about Abdullah Badawi resigning before the elections? Have they forgotten that as well? If we take the PM’s words to their logical conclusion, since Badawi stopped being PM before the elections, then it is unconstitutional and therefore the current PM is unconstitutionally holding his post.
I am not suggesting this is the case of course. All I am suggesting is that if the current government want to defend their PM, stop doing so with statements that are utterly wrong.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


A compilation of my articles have been put into a book!
It is called "Brave New World: Greatest Hits"

It can be found at the bookstores below


MPH Bookstores

One Utama

Alpha Angle (Wangsa Maju)

Bangsar Village

Jln Wong Ah Fook (Johor Bahru)

MPH D Pulze (Cyberjaya)

Gurney Drive (Penang)

Jusco Seremban 2

Kinta City (Ipoh)

Mahkota Parade (Melaka)

Mid Valley (KL)

NU Sentral (Brickfield, KL)

Publika (KL)

Setia 7 (Shah Alam)

Subang Parade (Subang)

Spring Shopping Mall (Kuching)

Vivacity Shopping (Kuching)


Times Bookshop

  1Borneo Hypermall (Kota Kinabalu)

Atria Damansara (KL)

Bangsar Shopping Centre (KL)

CITTA Mall (Ara Damansara, PJ)

Sunway Giza (Kota Damansara)

Hartamas Shopping (KL)

Gurney Paragon mall (Penang)

Pavillion (KL)

Suria Sabah (Kota Kinabalu)


Kinokuniya Bookstores KLCC


Borders Berjaya Times Square, (KL)

The Curve (PJ)

Queensbay Mall (Penang)

The Garden Mid valley

Tropicana City mall (PJ)

Bangsar Village II (KL)

1 Mont Kiara (KL)

IOI City mall (Putrajaya)


Silverfishbooks Sdn Bhd Bangsar Village


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

National Day not disrespected

Brave New World (The Star)
2 September 2015

At midnight sharp, after everybody at Bersih 4 sang the national anthem and shouted ‘Merdeka’ with gusto, they left.


THE first thing that has to be noted about the Bersih 4 rally last weekend is how peaceful it was and how lacking in unpleasantness.
I have no idea how many people were there over the two days, but let’s just take a conservative estimate of 100,000 people.
Out of this huge (and very possibly even bigger) crowd, there were a few cases of food poisoning (allegedly from contaminated soft drinks), one broken ankle and one chap with heart palpitations.
A few people tried to break the police barriers into Dataran Merdeka, but it was said that they were stopped by the chairperson of Bersih, hardly the most Amazonian of women. That was easy, then.
And a couple of miscreants set off fireworks, but no one was hurt and the crowd did not panic.
Seriously, you would probably get more trouble from a school football match. So, let’s put to rest any idea that Bersih participants are troublemakers.
Right, so if they were not out to cause damage and hurt, what could possibly have been their agenda?
According to the Chairperson of the Advisory Board to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, its purpose was for Chinese Malaysians to offend Malay Malaysians by disrespecting National Day celebrations. Malays are sensitive about National Day celebrations, unlike the Chinese, he says.
Gosh, just when you thought Malays couldn’t be even more sensitive than they already are, one more thing is added to the list.
This one is quite funny, actually.
It reflects a total bankruptcy in ideas and logic. It is true that the participants were mainly Chinese, but not by any stretch of the imagination were the participants mono-ethnic in their make-up.
I wonder whether the gentleman thinks that the thousands of Malays, orang asli, Indians and who knows what else there were also out to offend Malays. Besides, at midnight sharp, after everybody sang the national anthem with tremendous gusto and shouted “Merdeka” with an equal amount of gusto, everybody left; leaving Dataran Merdeka all ready for the official National Day celebrations, which I gather went off without a hitch.
How then was the National Day disrespected?
But old Anglophiles are not the only ones who paint the national day celebrations as some poor victim of these nasty yellow-clad folk.

{The passages in red was removed by The Star}

There was a bunch of UMNO types who gathered at the Dataran on Sunday to ensure the national anthem was sung at midnight. You can feel their distress that this was not going to happen because of the horrid Bersih folk. These sensitive people need not have worried, the National Anthem was sung, and it was sung with genuine passion and hope.

The ugly head of racism has also popped up just as I expected, because those who oppose Bersih have zero ideas.
They use racially charged language to make accusations with no evidence and no proof.
They are using that old colonial weapon of trying to sow divisions based on ethnicities because that is all their little brains can come up with.
Maybe it might work on the bigoted and misinformed, but it doesn’t work on those who were willing to come down to the streets on Aug 29 and Aug 30.
It surely does not work on the Chinese boys who stood around their Muslim friends who were in prayer on the road, directing participants to give them space to conduct their worship peacefully.
Seriously, where is the proof that Bersih has some racist agenda?
Clean elections, clean government, a right to dissent, improvement of the economy and protecting parliamentary democracy are things which the entire nation needs.
That is what Bersih and the scores of thousands of people in Kuala Lumpur and all over the world were asking for.
Show me one shred of evidence that there is some hidden conspiracy afoot.
They can’t because there isn’t any.

The powers that be and their proxies can fling as many accusations that they want. They can be disparaging and they can insult. They can pass stupid laws banning the colour yellow to be worn. They can threaten arrests. They can do all of these things and more. What they can’t do is stop the people of Malaysia any more. They can’t stop us for demanding that our country be fixed because right now things are rotten. They can’t stop us because there are too many of us.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Bersih 4

Sin Chew Jit Poh
26 August 2015


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

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

For clean elections and governance

Brave New World (The Star)
19 August 2015


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

Friday, 7 August 2015

Amend law to make it clearer

Brave New World (The Star)
5 August 2015


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