Tuesday, 17 February 2015

You can’t be ‘partly’ free

Brave New World (The Star)
18 February 2015

Contrary to recent ratings, freedom may not be absolute in reality but the aspiration of freedom is.


IN the Freedom House report entitled “Freedom in the World 2015”, Malaysia was classified as “partly free”.
Now I am certain that if this report is noticed by the powers that be (highly unlikely), then the usual claptrap will come pouring forth like “the researchers are biased”, “this is a foreign plot to destabilise us” and for good measure, “the Freedom House is sponsored by Israel”.
I read the report and it says absolutely nothing that we don’t already know. Although I imagine if you have zero knowledge about this country, then it might be a useful taster on the realities of political and civil liberties in Malaysia.
I just wonder how useful these kinds of reports are to us here on the ground. Freedom House has been active in international human rights for 40 years and they describe themselves as an advocate group.
I like advocate groups, but I think their usefulness is more applicable to the national or local level.
Let’s be frank, the only international bodies that can influence a country are other governments. This can take the form of United Nations-authorised activities like sanctions or individual pressure.
However, individual pressure only works if the one that is asserting the pressure is far more powerful than the one being pressured.
Freedom House is an American organisation and seeing as how its president is golfing buddies with our Prime Minister and it wants us to be on board with it for its free trade agreement, I seriously doubt that Freedom House is capable of influencing its government.
Any pressure from the US government would be little more than lip service.
This is no big deal – realpolitik is the way of the world. Besides, I have always felt that for sustainable change to happen, it must come from within and not externally.
It’s nice to get international support, but it would be foolish to place too much hope on it.
Anyway, what I really want to know is how can we be “partly” free? Is freedom something that can be subdivided? I mean, you can’t be “partly” pregnant or “partly” bald. You either are or you are not.
I suppose freedom is conceptual and therefore you can classify a nation as “partly” free. The thing is that all nations are only “partly” free. This is because there is no such thing as absolute freedom.
Hey, can you feel that? I think the ground is shaking because the Inspector-General of Police is doing a jig. “Freedom is not absolute” is exactly the kind of thing that he and his ilk like to say and here I am endorsing their view.
But hold your horses, big boy. Freedom may not be absolute in reality, but the aspiration of freedom is. No one can be absolutely free, but if the aspiration of freedom is not there, then any limitations on it will be excessive.
And that is what happens here. We have men and women in power who appear to have no appreciation of the aspiration of freedom at all.
They seem to treat freedom as a hindrance to them. What should occur instead, from my not-so-humble point of view, is that freedom ought to be the ideal and therefore any limitation on it would have to be very carefully considered to ensure that the ideal is disturbed as little as possible.
This does not appear to occur in our country, either in the making of law or the implementation of law. That is why we are “partly” free.
Be that as it may, I hope that you will have “absolute fun” this holiday season. Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

What is Pakatan's Future with Anwar in Jail

Sin Chew Jit Poh

12 February 2015


So, Anwar Ibrahim is going to go to jail. His chances of being in government again are effectively over but I think he will still be an influential player in Malaysian politics. But right this moment, I think the most important thing to remember is that a wife will lose her husband, children will lose their father and grandchildren their grandfather. My thoughts go to Anwar’s family.


Apart from the personal issues of this case, what of the political? The key question is what will happen to Pakatan? Much has been said that Anwar is the glue that holds the coalition together. And that once he is locked away, Pakatan will just crumble away.


This may be true but I don’t think if Pakatan breaks up now that it will be because of Anwar’s conviction. I think that the problems are so deep (especially between the DAP and PAS), that no amount of superglue is going to help.


Can Pakatan survive? I am not sure. If they continue with politics as usual, then I doubt it. They will need to have a paradigm shift away from the usual horse trading and empire guarding. Pakatan players, especially the younger ones (the old ones are probably fossilised in their ways), need to go back to the spirit of 2008.


They need to once again focus on the big picture. The big picture is that we need the democratic process to be vindicated with a peaceful change of government. There was a time when the Pakatan was able to find common ground for the coalition and then just concentrate on that common ground.


Now it’s all about pushing their party interest first. It’s about wondering who is going to be Prime Minister, how many cabinet seats each party will have; in other words it is politics as usual. This may be OK if the players are able to work together civilly and always with the bigger picture at the back of their minds.


If not, if they work on the basis of personal and party interest, then the coalition will crumble. Our dreams of a proper Malaysian democracy will die. The Barisan will dance with joy. And Anwar and his family’s sacrifices would have been in vain.

Damage done in 130 words

Brave New World (The Star)
4 February 2015

There are ways to tell consumers to shop smart without using race or religion to justify the decision.


AM I at all surprised by the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister’s rant against the Chinese, sorry Chinese traders, no, sorry, “stubborn” Chinese traders? Not in the slightest.
This sort of language has become the norm in this country, not only amongst the lunatic fringe but even amongst those in power.
What I found interesting were the amazing leaps of logic that the minister made.
First, he posted on Facebook that Malays should boycott Chinese businesses. They oppress us, you see, because they keep prices high.
Then he jumped to another topic. Some Chinese businesses that sell food are of dubious halal status. Whoa, from unjustifiable high prices to halal in one breath.
But no, he was not finished. He then linked a particular Chinese-owned company with an opposition party. And not just any opposition party, but one “known” to be anti-Islam. All this in a posting of just under 130 words.
Here is a man capable of tremendous dexterity. If there was a competition for mental and verbal gymnastics, he would win a gold medal – he is Olympian in his skills.
But wait, that was not all. After the Facebook posting became public, the minister clarified himself. He said that he did not mean for Malays to boycott all Chinese businesses, but only “stubborn” Chinese businesses that keep their prices high. What intellectual agility!
There is nothing vaguely distasteful about his statement then. He was merely trying to start a movement of “consumer power”.
If the prices are high, it is the consumer who can control it by boycotting all those evil and “stubborn” Chinese traders.
However, after having calmed down for a bit (the minister’s cerebral acrobatics left me a little light-headed), I have one issue to raise. Actually I have a few issues to raise but I don’t have the minister’s mental agility, so I shall just stick to one.
Is the Agriculture Ministry privy to some information that us mere mortals have no access to?
The information I am concerned about here is the data on “stubborn” traders. I mean, how many of them are there? Why are they all Chinese? Are there no “stubborn” Kadazan or Malay traders? How about Javanese or Sikh traders?
I am in no way going to suggest that perhaps the minister, in his touching concern for consumers, is being selective in his choice of “victim” and “oppressor”.
Maybe he does have firm data that only the Chinese oppress consumers and the only consumers who are being oppressed are the Malays.
Surely that must be the case because if you care about all Malaysians, then you should say something like “if the consumer is aware that a trader has kept prices unjustifiably high, then they should shop elsewhere”.
It says the same thing, but without any mention of race or ethnicity. There is no use of inflammatory language with one group oppressing another.
Then again, as I pointed out before, maybe the minister has access to information that we humble and ordinary citizens do not.

Race in Forms

Sin Chew Jit Poh
Final week of January 2015


The Sabah and Sarawak state governments have changed all their government forms so that there is no longer the “other” box when it comes to filling in your race. So below the usual “Malay”, “Chinese” and “Indian” boxes there is a blank space with which you can fill in what you like. This is particularly pertinent in Sabah and Sarawak as there are so many ethnic groups there. Furthermore to be considered “other” is quite insulting.


This bit of news has generally been well received, with many commentators saying that the rest of the country should follow suit. This raises the question however as to why should we put down our ethnic group when filling in forms? Another question is why is this a sensitive issue.


To answer the first question; I am not sure why a race or ethnicity section is necessary for anything. What does my ethnicity got to do with me getting a loan or applying for a job? Perhaps there is some use for it when taking the census. Perhaps. But apart from curiously wanting to know what the demographic break up of your country is what other reason can there be?


It can matter if decisions are made based on ethnicity. And here we get to the crux of the matter. Because we practice race based affirmative action in this country with the recipients being Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the ethnicity of a person becomes an issue.


I have said it before and I will say it again, that if we are to have affirmative action, then it should be needs based as opposed to race based. I believe in affirmative action as I know that not everyone has the same advantages in life. Therefore it is only fair to level the playing field. I disagree with it being done on the basis of race because this can lead to unfairness.


And frankly this is why the whole race in forms thing is so sensitive. Not only is there unhappiness with the affirmative action programmes in this country, not because there is out and out disapproval of said programmes, but because of the arguably unfair and unconstitutional methods of implementation; there is also a nasty trend of racism in this country.


There is often an unpleasant racist undertone in so many things that happen here. Take the proposed condominium project in Keramat in KL. If I was to oppose the project it would be on the basis that it is only good for the rich, or it will cause traffic chaos, or any number of things. But the protestors have given the whole thing a racist slant by saying the project will attract Chinese people into a Malay area.


And the PAS President has actually said that local elections could lead to racial riots. It is insane how race and ethnicity has become such a horrible thing. I think that the concept of ethnicity is mainly harmless. It gives us our identity and culture. But when it is used to promote racist ideas and cynically used for political gain; it makes me understand why it is such a hot button topic and it makes me think we should ban all mention of race and ethnicity in every single form that has to be filled.