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 change.org 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.

Desperate Government

Sin Chew Jit Poh
29 July 2015
I find it incredible and just how poorly thought out some of the actions of the government has been recently.
The charging of several people under the Penal Code for “activities detrimental to a parliamentary democracy” is utterly ludicrous. You undermine parliamentary democracy by for example plotting an armed coup. Pointing out suspected wrong doings does not undermine democracy; in fact it is an integral part of democracy. For surely if an elected government or official has done something wrong, it is of utmost importance that people know about it so that they can make an informed choice at the next elections. It’s so simple and basic that I can’t fathom how the police can’t understand this.
Then there’s the suspension of the two Edge Group newspapers for three months using the Printing Presses and Publications Act on national security type grounds. Oh for heaven’s sake, corruption may be considered a national security issue, but exposing corruption or the possibility of corruption surely is not.
These acts are just so unbelievably dumb that I can’t help but feel they are the desperate lashing out of a government that feels trapped and has no idea how to escape from a problem of their own making.
But what I want to point out here is how interesting it is to see that certain major players, like the Deputy Prime Minster, seems to want to distance themselves from this mess. The DPM in a speech to the UMNO faithful actually seems to be saying that one counter’s the Edge by pointing out where they were wrong; implying the suspension of their licence was not the right way to do things.
The DPM goes on to warn that the way things are, if an election was to be held now, then the BN would lose. There is perhaps some truth to that, although I am uncertain.
But what is of interest here is that I am of the opinion that the thinking is that the latest scandals are intimately linked to the Prime Minister. And somehow if the ruling party can distance themselves from the PM, then things can get better for them.
I wonder if the Malaysian public are so simple. Sure the 1MDB thing seems to be very much a problem of the PM (although how the cabinet can avoid responsibility is beyond me), but are the only problems in Malaysia because of the 1MDB?
It is a huge issue, the mother of all scandals as the Opposition are fond of saying, but it is not the only issue and not the only problem. Malaysians are suffering because of rising living costs, the GST, high unemployment and underemployment rates, a collapsing education system, a myriad of corruption issues,  religiosity gone mad, a further chipping away of fundamental liberties, questionable democratic institutions and so many other things. Is this all because of one man or a group of men and women?
I am sure that the PM will not step down unless his party wants him to step down. There are signs that this may be the case. However, even if he does, will that make all our problems go away? I don’t think so. For there to be even the beginning of improvement in this country, the changes have to go much deeper than that.