Monday, 26 December 2016

BNW Show 22 December 2016: Celebrating Christmas

We are not fine if we do not define

Brave New World (The Star)
21 December 2016


I WAS an appalling student in university. I never came close to scoring a first for any of my exams ... except once.

It was in my second year and the paper was Crime. Before the exams, somehow I got the name of the external examiner for Crime. I am not clever, but I had my moments of cunning. So I searched high and low to find articles written by this particular professor. He wrote a lot about theft and I studied those articles very closely.
Come exam time I made sure to answer the question on theft and I made doubly sure to put in lots of quotes by the “brilliant professor so and so”.
As an unintended side effect of my attempts to be cunning I actually read more than I would normally have and I did pretty well in my Crime exam. In fact my paper was a borderline first. That’s like an A. I never got an A for anything in university.
Aha! This is where my scheming was to pay off. Borderline cases are sent to the external examiner and surely he would not be immune to the thick layers of praise I had spread around in my paper. All that talk about his intellect and acumen was surely worth the two extra marks to push my paper up from a 2.1. to a first.
You know what? The damned fool pushed me down.
Is there a moral to this story? I have no idea; I suppose there must be. But I didn’t tell this story so that it can be some sort of ethical Christmas tale.
The reason I raised it is because of all that reading I did (albeit with rather less-than-pure motives), I remember the definition of theft better than anything else from my undergraduate years. From memory, I think theft is “the appropriation of property with the intention to permanently deprive the rightful owner of said property”.
Definitions are important in law. We need to be clear as to what a crime is in order to avoid injustice. If there is no clarity and the law is overly vague, then a person may be found guilty of committing an offence that they had no idea was an offence.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The Penal Code has offences of crimes that threaten parliamentary democracy.
Yet there is no definition of what “parliamentary democracy” is. This means the police have been charging people for an offence that no one knows exactly what it is.
This has led to a situation where things that are actually part and parcel of a parliamentary democracy (at least in my view) have been deemed a threat by the cops.
Such state of affairs also exists in public universities up and down the country. In the students’ disciplinary rules of all public universities, you will probably find the offence of “tarnishing the image of the university” or something similar to that.
What exactly does “tarnishing the image of the university” mean? Well, it would appear to me that it means whatever the university and its disciplinary board want it to mean.
Therefore protesting against corruption has been deemed a “tarnishing” act. How can exercising one’s right to expression, on an issue of national importance, be seen as “tarnishing”?
I don’t know. It is a mystery to me. And in any law or rules, mysteries are not a good thing.
There has to be clarity and certainty as far as possible. This is to ensure that there can be no such thing as an overly broad discretion in the hands of those enforcing these laws and rules. Because when such a broad discretion exists, so does despotism.
And despots come in all shapes and sizes; some carry guns and some wear mortar boards.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Let’s go further than just demos

Brave New World (The Star)
7 December 2016

The plight of the Rohingya is the first big test for the Asean Charter and the Asean Human Rights Declaration.


LAST Sunday there was a big demonstration in Kuala Lumpur. Nothing too weird about that, since nowadays demos are becoming more common in Malaysia.
What was odd was it saw the leader of Umno and PAS sharing the stage and for all the world looking like new BFFs. They were united in expressing their displeasure to the Myanmar government for the horrible treatment of the Rohingya in their country.
Now a lot has been said about this event, on how it is ironic that the leader of a Government, which has on numerous times said that demonstrating is not part of Malaysian culture, would be involved in such a thing.
But I suppose it is perhaps in our culture to protest foreign governments and not our own. Who knows?
Another thing which has been said is how it is a politically motivated event. What can one say? It is organised by Muslim non-governmental organisations backed by politicians, so of course it is politically motivated.
However, all said and done, whatever the motivation of the organisers, however ironic the event may be, the fact remains that Rohingya people are suffering on a terrible scale. What can be done?
In the context of Asean we can see how the presence of a government head at a demo has got the Myanmar government apoplectic. This is because it is simply not done. In Asean, the Asean way of non-interference holds sway.
I think the challenging of the Asean way is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is not enough just to make a big show of opposition to a neighbour’s domestic practices. For real effect, there has to be action both at the regional level as well as the national level.
At the national level, if we are serious about helping the Rohingya, then it is time we sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
We have to include into our legal system the mechanisms necessary to recognise and give legal status to those who are running away from dire and dangerous situations. They must be allowed to work and their children be allowed to go to school.
The Government has the power to take action to recognise Rohingya refugees, even without signing and ratifying the Refugee convention, which may take a long time.
The situation is urgent and, by their action on Sunday, they want to project a sincere concern. That’s nice, but what would be nicer would be some solid action.
At the regional level, Asean has a lot to answer for. This situation did not rise overnight. It has been brewing for years, if not decades. Yet there has been no significant action taken that could have stopped this disaster before it happened.
Well, now it may be deemed too late, but that does not mean nothing needs to be done. At the very least, Asean has to demand free access for a fact-finding mission to determine the scale of the issue and then, following that, serious and concerted effort must be taken to stop any continuation of this humanitarian disaster.
The Asean Charter and the Asean Declaration of Human Rights both state that human rights and peace are aspirations of Asean. This shall be their first big test. Is the organisation willing to stand by their word or will they just act in their usual manner, which will mean such lofty declarations are merely empty promises?
Malaysia, now that our leader has shown such public passion, appears to be serious about doing something to alleviate the Rohingya situation. The proof is in the pudding: what will they do now at the Asean level and would they be willing to act alone, for example by recognising Myanmar refugees and taking firmer diplomatic action? Only time will tell.

BNW Show 14 December 2016: Human Rights

BNW Show 7 December 2016: Parliamentary Privilleges

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

BNW Show 24 November 2016: Yelling for Yelow

Avoid path to unjust laws

Brave New World (The Star)
23 November 2016

We are in danger of becoming a country that may be exploited by some.


I just had to laugh when I read reports of a minister saying the size of demonstrations does not matter and it does not translate into votes.
Well, of course, he would say that; he is part of a government that did not win the popular vote. When you can secure 60% of the seats in Parliament with less than half of the votes cast, of course size doesn’t matter.
Which is why Bersih and its demands are so important, because in elections at least, size should matter and in countries like ours, where the competition is usually between two groups, there should be no reason why those with the most votes should not get the most seats.
Unless, of course, there is gerrymandering. And there is. Oh Lord, there is.
This is the primary call of Bersih – fair elections. You must be totally afraid that you can’t win in a fair fight that you will oppose such a call.
But that’s not surprising really. Since the emasculation of the Election Commission in the 1960s, the present regime has been ensuring that the constituencies where they have their power base are kept small, thus ensuring that they don’t require many votes to win.
What is slightly more surprising is the sophistication of the powers that be in dealing with rallies. They appear to have got the hang of it now.
All right, before I go on a rant, in my view, the cops did do a good job in keeping the yellow shirts and red shirts apart. So, credit goes where credit is due.
However, back to my rant. It is obvious that the powers that be realised that when they blast peaceful protesters with tear gas and water cannons, it makes the news worldwide.
News agencies are not interested in measured arguments regarding electoral systems. They want the drama of people being gassed and attacked. Journalists love human misery. It sells.
So by not giving them what they want, the government and their agencies can ensure that whatever coverage we get in the international and even local media is small.
After all, who cares (apart from those of us living in this country) about the fact that a dozen people were arrested for no apparent reason apart from being key figures in Bersih?
Who cares that Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah is being detained under a law that they promised us was to be used in terror cases only? Not the world press, that’s for sure.
But we should care because this act of locking up a woman who has not at any time supported or incited violence, who has in fact bravely stood strong despite calls of extreme violence against her and threats to her family, is being treated very unjustly.
How can organising a peaceful rally (tidy even, as there were volunteers picking up garbage), that asked for things like fair elections, no corruption and good governance, be a national security threat?
Isn’t that what Sosma (the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act) is for? To be used against terror threats to national security? No one in their right minds can say that Maria fits this bill.
Oh, but I am afraid there are enough people who do. You’d be surprised at the number of folks, so-called academics, so-called journalists and politicians, who buy the rubbish about conspiracy theories and foreign intervention. Garbage spewed without an ounce of evidence.
We are in danger of becoming a country of unjust laws that may be exploited by those who are either purposefully deceitful or unbelievably obtuse.
The well-being of this nation depends on us avoiding exactly this, and Maria’s arrest and subsequent detention is a stark reminder.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

BNW Show 10 November 2016: Democracy for Dummies

Much ado about a few thousand ringgit

Brave New World (The Star)
9 November 2016


IN Pahang, there is a lake called Tasek Bera. It is Malaysia’s first RAMSAR site.

Oh, but I am getting ahead of myself. The RAMSAR treaty is an international law which requires its members to establish a protected wetland site of international importance. We are a party to this treaty, hence the Tasek Bera site.
I haven’t been to Tasek Bera in almost 20 years, so this is not a piece about the place. I don’t know if it is as pretty as when I last saw it or whether it has been poorly managed and is suffering as a result.
I just want to make the point that in order to get Tasek Bera classified as a wetland of international importance, there had to be a scientific study conducted. The Pahang state government did not have the expertise or the resources so this study was done by an NGO called Wetlands International and the funding came from the Danes.
Oh, you must be shaking your head in concern now. After all, foreign funding was used for this project.
Good heavens, what sort of dastardly deeds did the Danes devise? Foreign funding must have some agenda right? Well, that’s what some of our leaders said and among them are those who are supposedly smart, so they must be correct.
Oh wait; foreign funding has an agenda unless the donor writes a letter saying that there is no agenda. How could I forget that proviso?
Obviously I’m talking about the hoo ha being raised about some bodies, namely Malaysiakini, the Bar Council and Bersih getting funding from the Open Society Foundations which is founded by the much demonised George Soros (at least here in Malaysia).
Now the money that these groups got was peanuts. Less than peanuts when seen in the light of the donations some have received.
We are talking a few thousand ringgit here. And it is to organise one-off things like workshops. Workshops on what, you may ask?
Well, stuff like good governance and democracy. How precisely is this a bad thing?
And the secret agenda is what exactly: to topple the government unlawfully? I don’t think so.
If a government is honest and competent then why should they worry about greater transparency and a more open democratic space? These were not workshops on how to make pipe bombs and mobile phone detonators, after all.
So we have this vague scaremongering that the Open Society Foundations and those who received funds from them have some sort of evil plan. Like the promotion of human rights and good democratic practices is evil.
Hey, people can spew any amount of rubbish. For some who are intellectually challenged, it is actually expected and quite fun to listen to.
But when it is being done by the so-called intelligent, with not one iota of proof, then it gets to be irritating. No, it is not just irritating, it is infuriating, because what that means is that one is saying dumb things not because you were born that way but because you want to purposely disseminate unsubstantiated accusations. I suppose, for their own agenda.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

BNW Show 27 October 2016: I'm Beaming Scotty

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Back to Politics 101

Brave New World (The Star)
26 October 2016


IS it okay to want to choose a government? Well, duh.

Of course it is. That’s what a democracy is about. But reading some of the statements being made by one of the numerous Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department, it appears that wanting a choice is like some sort of sin. And helping those who want the right to choose is also a sin.
I sometimes wonder what these people think a democracy is. If we believe a government is corrupt, incompetent and wicked, then surely we would want to speak out about it. Then hopefully others would agree and there could be a civilised debate.
I am embarrassed to type this out because this is how I would explain things to a toddler and I am quite certain that there are no toddlers reading this. If I sound like I am insulting your intelligence, dear reader, please forgive me, it is not your intelligence I am questioning.
I am writing as though I am speaking to a kindergarten class because sometimes I think that is the level of intellect of some. I mean, what is their idea of a democracy? We all vote and then whatever the Government does, we just sit around and quietly go about our business until the next elections when we vote again?
Anyway, while I am in the mood to teach infants, let me make a few more points. When people ask for systemic changes and the Government has no intention whatsoever to make those systemic changes, then one has no choice but to campaign.
It does not mean one is a tool of the Opposition. It just means that the only way to get what one wants, like clean and fair elections, is to get rid of those who do not seem interested in giving what you want.
Simple, right? Obviously not simple enough.
Oh, there’s more. If a group acts unlawfully, violently and generally odiously, then they are not to be blamed.
Instead one should blame the victims whom this lot is being violent and odious towards. Even though these victims are doing nothing wrong.
It’s true, this was said by the Deputy Home Minister regarding the Red Shirts. He said that if Bersih stop their activities (which are peaceful and perfectly within their democratic rights), then so will the Red Shirts.
Well then, this being the case, the next time some rich titled person has their house robbed in Damansara Heights, or wherever it is these rich types live, then the Deputy Home Minister should go there and tell them off.
After all who asked them to have so much wealth, to live in a big house and to drive a fancy car? If they didn’t have any of that, then there wouldn’t be any thievery.
I sometimes wonder whether being obtuse is a prerequisite to holding power in this country. Or perhaps it is something that happens once you get into power.
I have no idea. What I do know is that some people are beyond teaching.

BNW Show 22 October 2016

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Why people support the unsupportable

Brave New World (The Star)
12 October 2016


SHOULD people be given the vote? Are people too stupid to be entrusted with selecting their leaders and the future of their respective nations?

Looking around the world, it would seem that there is a strong reason to believe so. Based on half-truths, nationalist fear-mongering and outright lies, the British chose to leave the European Union.
The Americans have a vile, mi­sogynistic, racist, infantile bully as a potential president. The people of the Philippines are apparently supportive of a presi­dent whose crime-fighting policy amounts to little more than murder.
All these countries have a democratic system of government. At various stages naturally, with some more mature than others, but at the end of the day, in all four nations, people vote. So the question is, are the people too dumb to do so?
That would be an easy answer, would it not? Blame the situation of these countries on the unwashed and uneducated masses.
But then it would also be an answer based on despair for it ultimately says that people are hopeless without looking for any deeper reasoning behind this state of affairs.
Firstly, I do not think that education is important for people to be able to see right from wrong. There are many very highly educated people who are corrupt and devoid of any ethics.
I have heard people with doc­torates spout the most disgustingly vicious and unkind ideas. Just as I have heard taxi drivers and domestic helpers say things of tremendous wisdom, humanism and intelligence.
Education does not make you an intelligent or a good person. Just a person with qualifications.
What is it, then? How can people support the unsupportable?
Well, I think that there is a disconnect between a large number of people and governance. A sense of being detached, somehow, from the running of the country. As though their lives do not matter to the great and powerful. This being the case, then, it does not matter what they do, or who they vote for.
This disconnect is linked to po­verty, because poverty leads to a sense of being left out of the development of the nation. Many supporters of Trump, for example, are working class people who feel insecure about their future.
And if we look at the Brexit vote, England can be divided into two; London and the rest of the country.
A common thread with regard to leaving Europe is that for many, they simply can’t see what effect it has on them and that only the rich (like those who live and work in London) care about remaining in Europe.
This sense of disconnect from the grander scheme of things means that people like Trump and the Brexit politicians with their simple messages become attractive; a way to get at the status quo that does not seem to care for them.
Closer to home, a person earning minimum wage probably thinks that no matter who is in power, they will still be earning minimum wage.
So what if a person takes millions and millions of ringgit in corrupt money, what effect will it have on their daily life?
And is it any surprise that Duterte, with his “man of the people” rhetoric, can strike a chord in a nation with a 25% poverty rate?
Of course, as understandable as these reasons are to explain why some people vote the way they do, it still does not make the reasons correct. Trump’s economic policy is meant to help the normal American; yet his past shows that his business uses cheap foreign labour.
And European money helps communities all over Britain in the form of subsidies and the like; money which can’t easily be replaced by the British government on its own.
And surely a non-corrupt government would mean more funds to be used in sustainable development plans, and not the occasional handouts. Something which ought to help all of us.
There will always be idiots in any country. The racists will be drawn to the language of Trump, Brexit and the Red Shirts.
But I doubt that these are the majority of people.
People need to know that they matter and they also need to understand the real issues and choices before them, not just simplistic political sloganeering. This is the challenge for the future.

What do the professionals want?

Brave New World (The Star)
28 September 2016


EARLIER this week I was asked by a reporter if there is anything that can be added to the demands made by Bersih for their fifth rally planned for Nov 19, in order to attract the professional classes.

I replied rather tersely with the question, “What else do people want”? Seriously, the demands are pretty comprehensive, and they are all aimed at making the country more democratic and better governed.
The demand for clean elections is still the number one priority. This is as it should be, because without clean and fair elections then we are moving towards disaster. The way things are, the constituencies are so disproportionate that the concept of one-person, one-vote has gone out of the window.
This is why in the last elections, the coalition with fewer votes actually formed the Government. It has been suggested by some analysts that in the current situation, it is possible for the ruling coalition to win only 40% of the popular vote and still maintain a majority in Parliament.
This just cannot be allowed to go on. If people feel their vote is useless, that is when they will be compelled to take other measures.
Doesn’t the Election Commission understand that by not ensuring that we get as close as possible to one-person, one-vote they are actively helping to lay the foundations for chaos in this country? Or don’t they care?
The second demand is for clean government. This means a proper separation of powers, transparency and structural changes to ensure that power is not centred on one person and the independence of public institutions like the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Anything wrong with that? We have already seen what can happen when there is an unaccountable government.
Do we really need more justifications to hit the streets?
The third demand is for a better parliamentary system with greater time for debate and better use of parliamentary committees. There is a dire need for laws in this country to be discussed properly. Witness the unholy speed with which laws as destructive as the National Security Council Act got passed.
Fourthly is the call for the right to dissent. To be free to express ourselves without repressive laws being used unevenly to quell any sort of criticism of the government.
If a government can hide behind laws which prevent public discussion of their conduct, then corruption and incompetence will follow. This is true regardless of what party is in power.
The final demand is for greater respect towards Sabah and Sarawak with fair constituency delineations, the provision for absentee voting and destruction of money politics.
Can any person really say that these demands are unreasonable or, more importantly in this day and age, that they are not absolutely necessary?
Anyone who says that these demands are bad is basically supporting an autocratic system of governance and is thus little more than a fascist.
And if there are those who still need other justifications to protest, seriously man, what do you want? A raffle at the rally with a BMW as first prize?

Monday, 19 September 2016

News stories that caught my eye

Brave New World (The Star)
14 September 2016


SELAMAT Hari Raya and Happy Malaysia Day, everybody!

What a week, eh? Those of us with enough foresight would have taken three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) off and got nine days holiday. Unfortunately I had no such forward-thinking ability and so am back at work.
This does not mean I feel like working and thus the article this week may reflect my state; which is to say my body is at the keyboard but my mind is on the beach.
Very quickly then; two items that caught my interest.
Firstly, Siti Zabedah Kasim’s middle finger. Not since John Wayne Bobbit has a little digit caused such a media furore.
What happened was this. Siti Kasim (pic), lawyer and activist, was at some forum or other regarding the amendments to the Syariah Act which would allow a form of hudud to be introduced in the various states.
She was in the audience and was trying to make a point opposing the amendments when she was heckled continuously by those who disagree with her.
It all got to a head until finally she lost her cool and flipped the bird.
And boy, how excited people got. How rude, they said. How crass. Gosh, one woman makes a gesture and it’s awful. Yet all those uncouth morons who jeered and provoked and wouldn’t let her speak, they don’t deserve any comments.
And then, naturally, the inanity starts. She’s a Muslim but she doesn’t wear a tudung, they gasp. How can a woman go around bare headed and say she is a Muslim, they tut.
Dear oh dear. That’s what it boils down to in this country, doesn’t it?
There are so many reasons why people oppose the introduction of hudud in this country.
There are theological reasons (where Muslims doubt the theological foundations espoused by the supporters of hudud), there are constitutional reasons, there are human rights reasons and there are reasons based simply on the fact that brutal punishments are ineffective and amount to torture and are thus pointless and wrong.
In a democracy, all these points must be openly discussed. Shouting down those who disagree with you is not right. Patronising people who disagree with you by falsely saying they don’t understand or are phobic is not right. Demonising people based on inane things like dress, just because they disagree with you, is not right.
When faced with so many wrongs, I think one little birdy flashed for a few seconds is probably the most reasonable emotional reaction possible.
The second news story that caught my eye was the one where Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, AirAsia chief, was reportedly keen to be the new Football Association of Malaysia president. He has apparently denied this, so who knows what would have happened?
However, for a while at least, it made a nice talking point.
Some of my Spurs mates thought he would do very well, being an astute businessman and owner of Queens Park Rangers football club.
I have no idea whether AirAsia is a brilliant business model and I am uncertain whether being the owner of an ex-premier league team equates to football knowledge, so I really don’t have anything to say one way or the other.
And besides, that wasn’t the fun part of the conversation. It soon degenerated to a series of messages along the lines of:
“Hey, does this mean that now, everyone can play?”
“What about tickets? Do you buy a ticket to enter but pay extra for the seat?”
“Would games be delayed without any reason?”
“When the programme says that we will be playing Indonesia, with Tony in charge, does that mean Australia will turn up?”
Anyway, for those of you with foresight, enjoy the rest of the hols; for those of you like me, here’s to the long weekend.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Contemplating who, where, how far

Brave New World (The Star)
31 August 2016

On National Day, it is a time to take stock and remember the aspirations of our founding fathers


IT really is quite funny. The Red Shirts, that pro-government Malay group, have always portrayed themselves as super macho. Why, even one of their leaders has a pugilistic nickname.
Real hard men these guys. Ready to fight and die for Malay dignity, rights, honour and whatever else that they can think of.
Yet, recently their actions have been that of the most hated of school playground creatures: the snivelling little tattletale. You know the one. The sneaky little creep who will go running to teacher to snitch on his fellow pupils. Vile little thing.
And that is exactly what these Red Shirts did.
They sent out their, oh this is too rich, “operatives”, to go to the student organised rally last weekend and see if they could identify individuals.
They then said they had gone on to report these individuals. To whom exactly we are not told, but I presume it’s either the cops or the universities.
It is futile to explain to these goons that all people in Malaysia (including them) have a right to gather peacefully and if there are any laws or rules that prevent this, like say university disciplinary rules, then they are unconstitutional.
It’s a simple concept but then for some, it might be too much to grasp.
But I am sure this lot do not see themselves as the snotty-nosed little weasel who keeps running to the headmaster’s office to tell on his schoolmates.
Oh no. I bet they see themselves as un-appointed deputies of the law or brave vigilantes out there to defend their grand leader, race and religion.
They may not have guns like the cops, but who needs them since their martial arts skills are so po­­werful they can beat the living daylights out of inanimate planks of wood.
Now, some may take issue with me for making light of this group.
After all, the Germans made light of Hitler and his thugs and see what happened there.
The difference is that the National Socialist German Party (although there was nothing socialist about their policies at all) were trying to get into power.
This lot already have the blessings of those in power as can be seen by the approval of those in Government for their first big rally.
In other words, they are not an underestimated political force, they are already part of the status quo.
Which is all too depressing to contemplate on this day of all days.
Merdeka Day is normally a time to contemplate who we are, where we have been and how far we have come.
Usually there will be a sense of national pride and optimism (cautious optimism for many, but optimism nonetheless). But what on earth can we be optimistic about today?
The electoral future of this country is retarded by gerrymandering which ensures that the future of this dear nation is in the hands of people who simply do not care about issues of corruption, demo­cracy, justice and good governance.
A disproportionate number of seats are in constituencies where the voters may be aware of the bigger issues that plague the nation but are more concerned about a few handouts every time elections roll by and in hanging on to the delusion that only one group can protect their race.
And speaking about race, it is utterly depressing that almost all discussions in this country still centre around it.
Poverty, for example is still looked at through the racial lens, when it is a matter of class and the disproportionate distribution of wealth, which is the result of the combination of capitalist ideology and corruption.
So is education, and sport, and governance, and religion and anything else you may want to think of.
So deep is this phenomenon that even the opposition coalition which in the past has been against race-based politics appear to be ready to embrace a new party which is, surprise surprise, open only for the bumiputra (read Malay).
Perhaps I am being too idealistic but to me it is sad that we are in this state of affairs.
It is sad that the aspirations of the founding fathers have been totally discarded.
Do not forget that prior to independence the political elite and the Rulers all were hopeful that one day the ruling of this country would be based on equality and not race.
And yet, here we are having moved not forward but back. Is there hope in the youth perhaps?
Oh yes, the youth. It is always the escape clause for older people (like myself) who have failed to place our hopes in the youth.
Yes, the youth are showing signs of courage and tenacity. They are so much more politically aware and concerned than 20 years ago.
My concern is that we, the older generation, have messed up so much that we may leave little to them and their inheritance is no­­thing more than a broken, bankrupt and divided shell of a country.
Happy Merdeka.

New line-up brings fresh hopes

Brave New World (The Star)
3 August 2016

Much is expected of the current Suhakam commissioners. Will they be bold defenders of human rights in Malaysia?


WHEN the new list of commissioners for the Human Rights Com­mission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was announced, I was quietly optimistic.
In the line-up are a few individuals who have a good record in defending human rights and this is a good thing.
With its funding slashed, Suhakam now depends on the vitality of its commissioners more than ever.
The new chairman, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, a former diplomat, was a fairly inoffensive choice.
Diplomats being diplomats, they are really hard to pin down, smoothly shifting gears to whatever is required in the name of diplomacy.
They tend to do that even when no longer in the diplomatic corps. I suppose decades as a professional smooth talker can have that effect.
That being said, the last head of Suhakam, Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, was also a diplomat and although he had started his job rather timidly, in my opinion he grew into the role, absorbing the values and then defending human rights to a level that I had not expected.
Now it would appear that the new head has a lot of growing into the role to do, too.
The chairperson’s seat is not even warm yet and already Razali has displayed a lack of understanding, not only of what human rights entail, but also the situation in the country.
His statement in last week’s Sunday Star that Bersih 2.0 has to find “more sophisticated” methods to make their point rather than organising street protests, was disappointing to say the least.
He says such protests “damage a lot of property and all that”.
Granted that he conceded to the point that to demonstrate is a human right, but this is tempered by him saying that the authorities have to “weigh all the parties’ interests”.
I take issue with his points.
First, what on earth does he mean by “more sophisticated methods”?
Shall we write memorandum after memorandum and hand them to the Government, hoping and praying that it will read the memoranda and take them seriously?
What about politely worded e-mails to our MPs, asking them to do something in Parliament?
I suppose we can wait for the next general election or write passionate letters to the editor.
When has any of these things worked?
Even a petition with a million signatories can be denigrated and brushed aside.
So, just what other avenues do we the people have?
You see, Razali may have lots of charm (as he implies in the interview) with which to cajole recalcitrant government types, but those of us without bespoke suits and the standing of the new Suhakam chair will probably find it difficult to get anywhere close to those who stalk the corridors of power.
And has Razali ever been to any of these so-called destructive protests?
There has been damage in the past, true, but the level of damage is miniscule compared to the number of participants.
If tens of thousands of people want to cause damage, then by golly, you’ll see real damage.
But this is not the case and in the last Bersih rally, which lasted one and a half days and not three as Razali said, there were teams of volunteers picking up the trash left behind.
Oh, and may I just point out that what the Government deems as “in the best interest” can be warped at times.
For example, the Inspector-General of Police said Bersih could organise a protest as long as it didn’t call for the leaders to step down.
How many times must it be said? The top government leaders can be dismissed from their jobs.
It needs a vote of no confidence in a legislative body.
There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic about a head of government being forced to step down.
So if people want this, as long as they are not suggesting the removal be done in any way unlawful, like a military coup or elimination by a game show, then it is perfectly within their rights to do so.
You see, saudara Razali, the government agencies and their heads who determine “best interest” really are not able to do so.
Instead of giving the excuses that have been used to shut down dissent, the head of Suhakam has to defend our human and constitutional rights to the nth degree.
And Lord knows we need them now.
We are fed up with financial misdeeds and mismanagement, and if we want to show our frustration, the only real avenue is to gather peacefully and in huge numbers.
It doesn’t matter if Suhakam will continue to charmingly try to convince the Malaysian Govern­ment to sign more international treaties.
All that comes to nought if the commission can’t even be bold enough to stand up for the rights of the people of Malaysia now.

New party, old issues

Brave New World (The Star)
20 July 2016


Man, oh man! This new party being proposed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has really set some alarm bells ringing.

First and foremost, I think that if anyone wants to set up a political party, that’s their right to do so.
Go ahead, knock yourself out, have fun.
My concern is what this does to the already incredibly messy and chaotic political scene of the country.
The Opposition is in disarray. Top leaders are either locked up or being dragged through the legal process.
The promising Pakatan Rakyat has torn apart with PAS suddenly rediscovering its medieval roots.
The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) is still finding its feet and I do not believe it has captured the public imagination as how the Pakatan Rakyat did all those years ago.
Plus, now with PAS dancing to its own tune (figuratively of course, because I am sure the party frowns on dancing), it looks like three-cornered fights is going to be the order of the day.
If that is the case, then Barisan Nasional will stand to gain the most.
All this mess, and that is without taking into consideration any internal politicking in the three component parties of the PH.
I am certain such politicking exists, although I have no idea what they may be, being an outsider and all. But even without such shenanigans, things do not look good for the Opposition.
And into this situation a new political party may jump in. We aren’t even sure what this party is all about. It appears to be concerned with working with the Opposition to get rid of the Barisan Nasional Government.
Yet, at the same time, its figurehead is saying that it may not go up against Umno.
I’m sorry. What?
Maybe I am missing some subtle political point here but the last time I looked, the Prime Minister, his deputy and many other ministers are from Umno.
You want to get rid of the current Government leaders but not fight against Umno?
Can this be correct or was there a total misunderstanding and the news report I read was wrong?
Furthermore, I am most curious to find out just what this new party is all about.
What is its manifesto? Is it just to fight Barisan? Or will it have other things it wants to champion?
Perhaps it is going to promise to fix the institutional disaster that we are faced with today.
A disaster that can trace its roots to the regime of Dr Mahathir.
It would be interesting if it did want to champion this, seeing as how its de facto head does not have any inclination to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, he has to bear some responsibility for the situation we and he find ourselves in today.
Also there is a possibility that this new party is going to be a Malay party. Really?
Great, that’s just what we need; another party that reinforces racial politics. I suppose since its target demographic is Umno and PAS supporters, it wants to appeal to the Malay heartland.
Even if that is the case, it is a sad state of affairs that these people seem to think that the only way they can do this is by reverting to a political norm that has in the long term caused a divisive and divided society.
And how about their potential partners? How can the PH accept a race-based party when all three parties in PH are not race-based and have spoken out against such things in the past?
Furthermore, just what exactly is the relationship going to be between this new party and the PH.
Will someone like Dr Mahathir allow himself to be merely an equal partner or will he want to dictate everything?
There is no clue whatsoever as to how this new party will fit into the existing system.
All this does is add confusion to an already depressing state of affairs. And I do not know if it is going to help or not.
Let’s be frank, the reason I keep singling out Dr Mahathir is because without him, this new party will not exist.
He has been campaigning against the Prime Minister for a long time now and you must be naïve to think that this new party, whatever it may be, will be formed if Dr Mahathir didn’t want it to happen.
But how influential is he anyway?
In the last two by-elections, there seems to be no indication that his presence can make a dent in the Umno support.
Will his party do better? Who knows?
Yet, the PH are probably hoping that the Mahathir factor can help turn that particularly Umno-centric demographic.
They obviously decided that it is worth it to partner their former enemy to do so.
The question is, what if the Mahathir factor is not a factor at all? Will it then be worth it to have him in the same team?
Only time will tell.

There’s strength in numbers

Brave New World (The Star)
6 July 2016

As a small nation state, Britain is finding out the hard way that the European Union sum is greater than its parts.


THE English defeat to Iceland and exit from the Euros raises an inte­resting parallel with the United Kingdom’s referendum held a few days earlier, where they chose to leave the European Union.
In both cases, the unthinkable happened. And it happened partly on the misguided, hubristic idea that England is a lot stronger than they actually are.
How could it be that Iceland, which has the population of Kajang, could beat the 1966 World Cup winners? Ah, and there lies the problem does it not?
That was 50 years ago and furthermore it was the one and only major trophy that the English football team has ever won. Yet somehow the Jules Rimet trophy held aloft in Wembley is seen to be some sort of the footballing equivalent of Excalibur, endowing the holder with a kingly right to victory.
The truth is a lot more sobering: English football had a moment of glory but that does not mean that it is a powerhouse.
The same can be said about the nation as a whole. What is the country without Europe?
The Commonwealth is little more than an excuse for men and women from various former colonies to draw large pay cheques in Marlbo­­rough House whilst speaking in the public school accents of their former masters. The Empire is long dead and since the Second World War, the UK is not anywhere near to being the superpower it once was.
And yet there are those who believe that they can stand alone. With perhaps a little help from their “special partner”, the Americans.
This is strange because those who are so averse to being bound by Brussels seem to be happy to be subservient to the United States. But then, when has logic come into this Brexit move?
Promises by the Leave campaign have been found to be hollow. The massive injection of cash into the Na­­tional Health System that was pro­­mised is now already being denied by those who made those promises.
The magic disappearing of Euro­­pean immigrants so despised by the electorate has proven to be merely wishful thinking. And the supposed strength of the British economy has also been shown to be a vain hope as the pound tumbles, the markets crash and investors already start looking elsewhere.
England by itself is little more than a small nation state. They have good things going for them of course, but compared to the juggernauts that are America and China, what are they?
Regional pacts are necessary for countries to ensure peace and economic survival. Just as Asean is necessary to give us small South-East Asian nations a bit more punch, so is the EU to the UK.
But all that is drowned out by populist promises that could never be kept and by appealing to the lowest common denominator, a racist and bigoted fear of the other as a trump card.
It is always so easy, isn’t it? When in doubt, find a scapegoat that looks and speaks differently from you, and say that they are the cause of all your problems.
This racist posturing and the eventual victory of the Leave campaign has opened a huge can of worms. Racist incidents in the UK have spiked and it is not aimed merely at the Eastern European communities but also other non-white communities as well.
And why not? In any country you will find the despicable and the ra­cists, but when they are legitimised by those who are the nation’s lea­ders, then they feel empowered to make their stand public by proudly displaying their bigoted mind-set through words and deeds.
And if I may make a slight detour here; this is why the statements made by the Mufti of Pahang and then the subsequent defending of those statements by Putrajaya is so dangerous and must be opposed.
The declaring of the legitimacy (at least from one man’s perspective of theology) of killing people who oppose a proposed law, can easily justify bigoted acts, which although they may not be as dramatic as bloodshed, will at least give rise to more discrimination and ethnic hatred in a country already toxic with such attitudes.
However, back to England. Why should I care about what happens six thousand miles away?
Well, partly it is because I am ra­­ther fond of that little island nation. It had its moments of wickedness but it also tried to ensure free health for all, a social security net and a sound education system; with an underlying belief in the ideals of the rule of law and civil liberties.
They were not perfect and one wonders if these ideals will still be around in the next 50 years, but the thing is, the experiment was at­­tempt­ed and there was an aspiration of a nation that had a capitalistic economy tempered by socialistic principles.
This aspiration is based on the idea that a community lives and grows together. The strong and the weak, the powerful and the powerless.
On a larger scale, was this not also the ideal of the European Union? But instead of a community of individual people, it is a community of nations. Growing and helping one another and by so doing, trying to ensure peace and econo­mic prosperity.
The EU has some serious pro­blems: it is criticised as being overly bureaucratic and corrupt. It needs to be fixed.
But by abandoning the experiment, Britain has given up on the post-World War dream of a world where cooperation is the way forward, and not self-interest. That is the greatest tragedy of Brexit; the death of a dream.

New law gets noisy reaction

Brave New World (The Star)
22 June 2016

Should there have been a royal assent for National Security Council Act?


THE National Security Council Act is now law. What a surprise.
There has been a lot of noise being made because, despite the Conference of Rulers asking for some provisions of the National Security Council Bill to be refined, there were no changes and the Bill became law anyway. Many voices cried that the Rulers were side-stepped and not respected.
The Government said it did nothing wrong, and as odd as this may sound, it may be correct in saying so.
You see, in the past, the King had a veto on any laws made. He never used this veto power but it was there nonetheless. In the 1980s, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, this power was taken away via a constitutional amendment.
Anyway, nowadays after Parliament has passed a Bill, the King can only delay it for 30 days, after which it becomes law. The 30 days have passed and thus the National Security Council Act (NSCA) is law.
What about the Conference of Rulers, you asked. Well, they should have had nothing to do with the passing of this law in the first place.
The only laws that need their approval, according to the Constitution, are laws that affect religion, state boundaries, Malay and Sabah and Sarawak Native “special positions” and laws that affect the Rulers themselves.
The NSCA is ostensibly about national security, so it does not touch the matters I mentioned above. Unless, of course, the NSCA does affect the Rulers because it is akin to a law that empowers the Prime Minister to declare an emergency-like situation, a power that used to be in the hands of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
So I guess, indirectly, it does affect the Rulers because they all take turns being the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
If this is so, then the Act really does need the King’s approval before it can be made law. If this is not so, then why did the Government ask the Rulers for their opinion in the first place? Oh dear, now I am all confused.
Anyway, for now, this is the latest law to join our pantheon of laws and amid the noise about whether the Rulers are given due respect or not, it is forgotten that this is a terrible piece of legislation.
It empowers the Prime Minister (whoever he or she may be) to basically declare any part of the country or the entire country as a security area.
Within this area, the usual rules that protect our civil liberties are gone and the armed forces have tremendous powers.
In short, it would be like living under martial law.
The only check is Parliament. After six months of an area being declared a security area, Parliament may oppose it.
This is assuming Parliament is sitting and this is also assuming that the majority of MPs, including those in the ruling party, act accor­ding to their conscience.
The thought of an ice kacang trying not to melt in Hades pops into mind.
There are some who think that this new law is a sort of backup plan for a desperate government.
That is to say, in the event of a loss in a gene­ral election, instead of peacefully giving up power, a Prime Minister can declare the nation a security area and democracy can go flying out of the window.
I must admit that this theory held some attraction to me. However, looking at the last by-election results – where the number of people who care about promises of a bridge or a road and a few goodies, outnumbered those who care about good governance and justice; where constituencies are so heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party; where PAS can be seduced by promises of mass amputation; and where the only opposition we have is having to rebuild itself – I don’t see why there is a need to resort to any such measure.
Why should they, since enough Malaysians are already so easily wooed.

Worrying about the travel bar

Brave New World (The Star)
25 May 2016


BOY, was I worried last week. This paper reported that the Immigration Department was going to bar those who disparaged or ridiculed the Government from travelling abroad.

And those who did so overseas would be barred from travelling upon their return home. For up to three years!
Crikey. This was most concerning. In my job I speak about laws and government policies all the time; at home and abroad.
We, lecturers, go to seminars and conferences and we discuss ideas.
So, even if I take special care to say only the sweetest things about the Government, I could still be faced with questions like “Why is your government-owned strategic development company facing so much trouble?”.
What a conundrum. Do I spout some inanity (“err ... that is a good question, Malaysia is truly Asia. Thank you.”) or give my opinion and risk being unable to eat authentic Nasi Gudeg for three years?
I suppose I could say something brilliant like “Look, is that an ostrich in the aisle?”, and then make my escape.
And furthermore, The Star reported that these disparaging comments can be done in any manner. Good lord, does that include private conversations?
What if I am in a café in Madrid and my Spanish host asks me, “Señor Azmi, why does your Government prevent people from going overseas to get human rights awards?”
What do I say then?
“Manuel, I am Malaysian, I cannot answer your question. Please pass the paella.”
Then fortunately, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs comes swooping in and says that there will be no ban on travelling for critics of the Government.
Phew, that’s a relief then. I guess those guys in the Immigration Department just got together and decided amongst themselves to make up this policy.
I did not realise that government agencies had so much autonomy that they could make far-reaching unconstitutional, anti-human rights-type decisions without the OK from the minister or his faithful deputy.
Just shows what I know.
But then the deputy minister goes on to say that the ban only applies to those who are a threat to national security and who have violated the Constitution.
So I guess Maria Chin is a national security threat and habitual violator of the Constitution then.
Now, that is a weird classification of people: “violator of the Constitution.”
It is as though the Constitution is a high-born Roman lady in danger of being attacked by a ravaging Visigoth.
How can a private citizen violate the Constitution?
Hey, we are not the ones who make laws that blatantly go against the Fundamental Liberties listed in Part 2 of the Constitution.
We are not the ones who say that this is an Islamic state when the Constitution says no such thing.
We are not the ones who obtusely say that there is no separation of powers because the Constitution does not use the term “separation of powers” (even though the executive, legislature and judiciary are each given separate chapters and have clearly defined powers).
It is virtually impossible for a private citizen to violate the Constitution.
Short of perhaps companies that treat their workers like slaves or practise gender bias.
So the idea that citizens who violate the Constitution can have their passports taken away is laughable.
It’s as though by throwing big words into the mix, this ludicrous and unlawful attack on our freedom of movement is all hunky dory.
Really, all this business about keeping us stuck at home is ridiculous.
Do we need to go overseas to belittle the Government when their actions can be spread far and wide via existing technology?
Why worry about citizens belittling or disparaging them abroad when they do it so well by themselves?

The mark of a strong leader

Brave New World (The Star)
27 April 2016


IN Turkey, there is a law where insulting the President could result in prosecution and a jail sentence of up to four years. Since 2014, a staggering 1,800 cases have been started against people who allegedly insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Boy, that’s a lot of insults.
The Turkish government does not limit its prosecution of such people within its own borders. It finds ways and means to prosecute those overseas as well.
A German comedian (my goodness is there such a thing?) faces possible prosecution from his own government for reading out a sati­rical poem against Erdogan on German television.
Germany has a weird law where insulting foreign leaders could lead to a court case if that foreign go­­vernment makes a request for it. Turkey duly did so.
Man, this Erdogan chap seems to be a bundle of exposed nerves, so sensitive is he to insults. Oh dear, am I being insulting?
However, this piece is not about Erdogan and his delicate sensibilities; the last thing I need is another government on my back.
And besides, I would like to visit Turkey again one day. It’s a wonderful country with excellent kebabs.
But I wonder why some leaders (and just to be absolutely clear, I am speaking in general here) feel themselves to be in need of special protection against the barbs of their critics.
One would have thought that ha­­ving gone through the rough and tumble of politics, they would have in their career developed a skin of elephantine thickness.
Yet, somehow upon reaching the pinnacle of power, some politicians become as fragile as a little flower on the edge of a desert.
Perhaps this is understandable among dictators.
They are dictators after all, and dictators are by definition dictato­rial. They will brook no criticism and they have the force of their military and police to back them up.
But in a democracy, whether it is a developed democracy or a fledgling or even a dying one, this entire business of being “insulted” is really part and parcel of the system.
Is it insulting to say that a state leader is corrupt and incompetent? As long as there is some semblance of proof, surely not.
In a democracy, the whole idea is for people to choose their leaders. And those who wish to take power will undoubtedly try to show that their opponents are really unfit to have that power.
And also in a democracy, the people have a right to pour scorn on leaders whom they dislike.
We put them there after all; they owe their position to us, so why then can’t we say they are doing an awful job?
Perhaps some leaders are such gentle souls that any insult, real or perceived, will hurt them deeply.
Oh, the poor dears, if you are so delicate then perhaps putting yourself in the public arena was a bad career move.
Perhaps there are those who think that by crushing those who dislike them they are showing their strength.
I beg to differ; the mark of a strong leader is one who can face down their rational critics with reason and their irrational ones with indifference.
The more a leader screams and stamps his/her feet in petulance, the more one will suspect he/she can’t answer for his/her actions and he/she may jolly well have something to hide.

Not necessarily a bellwether

Brave New World (The Star)
11 May 2016


SARAWAK politics is really weird. For one thing, I have never understood how the Sarawak people I meet seem so annoyed at the orang Malaya and their Federal policies, yet are so loyal in their support for the coalition which makes those policies.
Every time I try to get an explanation, I get the same brush-off: “You are not one of us; you won’t understand.” Maybe I’ve just been talking to the wrong people.
Granted, I am not Sarawakian (despite having a hairstyle that a Kelabit friend told me reminded him of his grandfather). Therefore, this piece is written from an outsider’s perspective.
The recent Sarawak state elections were rife with the usual complaints. Gerrymandering? Check. Accusa­tions of money politics? Check. Questionable spikes in voter numbers? Check. Unfair use of immigration laws? Check. Opposi­tion coalition can’t get their act together? Check.
If all these complaints are true, or even if only some of them are true, then they will surely have left an impact on the election results. But I am not here to discuss that.
Because true or not, there appears to me to be an underlying issue that will colour Sarawak state elections, even if they are as clean and clear as a baby’s conscience.
Sarawak politics are, quite simply, state-based. National issues do not seem to have an impact on voter sentiments.
If they do, they take a back seat to domestic concerns. Hence, despite issues confronting Putrajaya, a few nods towards Sarawak norms by their Barisan Nasional Chief Minister (no religious extremism, the recognition of English, plurality) have made him more popular than Watson Nyambek in his speedy pomp.
This sense of political “separateness” from the Federation is not particularly surprising. Generally speaking, states have their own personality and identity.
If there is some sort of physical distance involved, this personality becomes more apparent, be it a mountain range as in the case of Kelantan or a narrow channel in the case of Penang. Imagine, then, how individualistic a state can be when separated by the humungous South China Sea?
My point is that there exists in Sarawak an emotional “separateness” from the Federation and it follows that the same will be true with politics. It is even more pronounced because it is only in the Borneo states that you have exclusively state-based political parties.
Add to this the rules put in place by the Malaysia Agreement (separate judiciary, Attorney-General, Bar, immigration laws, government agencies and extra state jurisdiction to make laws) and the individuality becomes even more pronounced.
Thus, the general sense that I get is that when it comes to elections, in particular state elections, it is really and truly about what Sarawakians think is best for themselves. And if this means having a BN-led state government, then so be it. National issues don’t really matter.
This is very different from voter sentiment in the peninsula. National issues get very tangled up with state issues.
I honestly can’t remember a time when this was not so. In the peninsula, election campaigns tend to be based on certain overarching issues which tend to be national in nature.
What all this is leading to is that I am not sure if BN’s landslide victory in Sarawak is actually a portent of things to come.
It is not necessarily the signal that Sarawak is still very much a safe state for BN in the general elections due within a couple of years.
If it is possible for the opposition to show how their Federal policies will differ from BN’s in relation to the Bornean states and if they can prove that those policies are better for the people of Sarawak and Sabah, then it is very possible that the results of the parliamentary elections won’t be as emphatic as the state legislative assembly elections.
Only time will tell.

Leave the Bar Council alone

Brave New World (The Star)
13 April 2016

To ensure that the administration of justice is as fair as possible, and to look after the welfare of private lawyers they have to be beholden to no one but their members.


APPARENTLY Wallace Simpson, the woman King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for, said that one can never be too thin or too rich. For the Government of the day, I would add that one can’t be too powerful either.
Firstly there is the proposal that the Attorney-General should be the chairman of the Bar Council. This proposal was made by a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (who is not, according to her, the “de facto law minister”). It is an unthinkable suggestion and I hope that it never comes to pass.
The Bar Council represents the private lawyers in this country. Their purpose is to uphold the principles that should ensure that the administration of justice is as fair and as compliant to the rule of law as possible. They are also there to look after the welfare of their members.

In order to do this they have to be beholden to no one but their own members. The Attorney-General is the lawyer for the Government. The person who holds the post is beholden to the Government because they are appointed by them and their tenure is dependent on them. The harsh reality is that the position of the Attorney-General is at the whim of the Government.
In this case, how on earth can he or she be a credible leader of the Bar? The Bar has to remain independent in order to speak out against anything which they see is detrimental to their members or the system of justice in the country.
This may on occasion mean speaking out against a government policy or legislation. How can this be done if the chairman is beholden to the Government?
If the Bar Council messes up or acts in a way that their members are unhappy about, they can get voted out. And then a new lot can get voted in.
And this has to be done purely on merit; no racial quotas please (I know it is ridiculous but another high-ranking Government person was suggesting there should be a Malay quota in the Council).
So, really, please just leave the Bar Council alone. There is no point in having one if it is going to be controlled by a government servant; its existence would then have no meaning. Unless of course your agenda is to have as many independent agencies and organisations to be under the thrall of Putrajaya.
Which leads me to the second distressing piece of news. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Government (be it State or Federal) can sue anyone for defamation. Seriously? Why would they possibly want to give the government so much power?
As it is, if someone says something which is so-called defamatory against the Government, they have a huge arsenal to put such things right. They control the mainstream media, for example, so they can give in-depth interviews and whatnot to put the record straight.
Furthermore, if you think about the resources that the Government has, they can afford to sue as many people as they want. The same access to resources does not exist for most citizens, so the thought of being sued in court, regardless of whether one is convinced of one’s innocence or not, will be a real deterrent.
In a democracy, an elected government must face up to all sorts of attacks and criticisms. They have the resources to defend themselves through media statements and the like. What they should not be given is the power to scare people through the possibility of litigation.

Making believers out of non-believers

Brave New World (The Star)
30 March 2016


IF I were a member of Islamic State (IS), I would say a prayer of thanks to God for providing the planet Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. One of these two men could possibly become the next President of the United States and they are probably the best recruiters for IS and other extremist organisations of its ilk.

Their racist rhetoric is just the ticket to make believers out of non-believers. If IS says that the West is the enemy of Islam, both Trump and Cruz prove them right.
After all, Trump is the one who wants to bar all Muslims from entering the United States (as though every single Muslim were a suicide bomber); and Cruz wants bans on the building of mosques and armed patrols in Muslim neighbourhoods across America.
And as much as Trump gets most of the headlines (how can such a grotesque creature not get the headlines?) it would be wise to note that Cruz surrounds himself with the vilest of racists. It’s just that he doesn’t have the hideous hair and twisted petulant mouth of Trump so his dangerousness slips under the radar.
Take for example one of Cruz’s Presidential campaign team: Clare Lopez. Lopez was reported to have said, “When people in bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people – but it’s Hindus, Christians and Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine they become terrorists.”
Man, how racist and ignorant is that? And a potential President of the United States has this person on his team?
Now, what if one of these two get elected? Then IS would rejoice. The leader of America would be a genuine enemy of Muslims and this could only attract the misguided into the arms of IS, based on the simple fact that they appear to be correct. The West hate us, they would say, and for proof look who was just made US president.
Ironic, then, that both Cruz and Trump, for all their rah rah rhetoric about national security and being hard on terrorists, are in fact doing the exact thing that IS and their ilk want them to do. Either these two men are beyond idiotic or really, they are working hand in hand with the extremists because they sure can be great recruiters.
However, it is not just America which is playing into the hands of these monsters. Europe, too, has done its bit. Now, let me make it clear, atrocities like the bombing of Brussels are despicable. The same goes for the attacks in Paris.
However, within a few days of Brussels, there was an IS suicide bomb in Iraq which killed the same number of people. On the BBC website, which was giving tremendous coverage on Brussels, with stories on the events, the investigations, the victims and whatever else they could squeeze into an article, there was one perfunctory piece of barely a few paragraphs covering the deaths in Iraq.
The message, whether intentional or not, is that European lives are more important than Middle Eastern ones. But, this aside, the very fact that the Western media makes this a Muslim versus Europe issue misses the point entirely.
IS are beasts and they attack all sorts, including Muslims. This is not a West versus Islam issue, this is a global issue about well-organised terrorists terrorising the world.
Unless we deal with IS in that way, I fear that all that is being done is that we are playing into their filthy, bloodstained hands.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Personal reflections from the dock

Brave New World (The Star)
2 March 2016


HELLO. It’s been a long time since I wrote this column. There was nothing glamorous or sinister about this silence.
I had decided to take a break in late January and it felt so good to not have a deadline that the break just went on through all of February.
Anyway, as usual with Malaysia, so much has been happening in the last month. And typically of Malaysia as well, none of the things that have been happening were actually earth shaking. It’s not as if we have been invaded by a neighbouring country or anything like that.
Still, it’s all generally awful stuff. I mean we have the police now dictating what can or cannot be studied.
So a group of people want to study about Marxism, one of the most important and influential philosophies in the world; no chance, say the cops. Since when did they become the arbiters of intellectual activity?
The press have been getting a battering. Online news portals getting banned; threats to whip journalists for offences against the draconian Official Secrets Act; it is all so mad that it feels like a really bad acid trip.
Not that I would know; never having had a bad acid trip. But I am guessing that if some aging disciple of Timothy Leary were to experience life in Malaysia, he or she might feel like they are having an unwelcome flashback.
And now it seems that leaders can’t be satirised.
What those who stalk the corridors of power don’t seem to understand is that satire is a tool of the weak.
If you have the power, expect the powerless to make fun of you if they don’t like you. If you can’t take it, then don’t stand for office. Toughen up, for goodness sake.
So much to write about and it is so difficult because I am completely rusty. Therefore I am going to treat this article like a warm-up game. Just write about something a bit more personal until I am fit enough to trudge into the mire that is Malaysian politics and law.
Here we go then; five things I’ve learnt since being charged for sedition.
Number one. The benches in the dock for accused persons are really very uncomfortable. Sitting on hard wood for ages really plays havoc on the gluteus maximus.
I don’t know why it has to be so. Come on, a few cushions will do wonders and you can get them cheap at any pasar malam. After all, those who are in the dock are not yet guilty, they are merely accused, so why the buttock torment?
Number two. The Sedition Act must go. And it must go now. But I already knew this, as do millions of Malaysians.
Number three. The acoustics in court are awful. It’s a real strain to hear what the people up front are saying. And considering the people up front holds one’s fate in their hands, it is very important to hear what is happening.
It also can lead to some awkward moments. There was a time when I was in the dock with another chap who had the same first name as me. Because the acoustics were so bad we were never sure which one of us was being called.
So there were moments of ludicrousness where we both stood, thinking we were summoned, only for the court staff to gesture furiously for one of us to sit.
Naturally we couldn’t really tell whom they were gesturing to so there was a time where we both popped up and down like a couple of demented meerkats.
Number four. There are many good people out there. Family, colleagues, students, friends and strangers.
When I was acquitted, I was quoted as saying I was thankful. It is to them that I am thankful.
Number five. Always be nice to your friends in school.
This includes the strange highly intellectual one who scared everybody with his fearsome intellect as he raised a withering eyebrow and glowered at you from over the top of whatever unbelievably thick book he was reading.
It also includes the little good-natured kid whom the older boys took great pleasure in ordering around like a plump minion; pinching his round cheeks as his reward.
Be nice to them all, because you never know. One day they may grow up into hot-shot lawyers who will save your poor tortured buttocks from a fate far worse than hard benches.

Child Act amendments are welcome

Brave New World (The Star)
20 January 2016


THE Child Act is being amended to increase the penalty for child neglect. The penalty will also be increased for leaving a child (defined as anyone under the age of 18) at home unattended.
It is hard to properly analyse the amendments without seeing the Bill, but I imagine by and large this is a welcome addition to the law. Nobody wants to see children left in a situation where they could get hurt or suffer.
The Women, Family and Com­munity Development Ministry acknowledges that in Malaysia now, it is hard for families to survive with just one income, so often both parents have to work. But they insist the law needs to be there to protect children.
Like I said, no one is saying our children should not be protected but it seems like the issue is being looked at from a very narrow perspective. The fact of the matter is that the cost of living is getting higher and wages are not.
Mothers and fathers work. In fact, according to some, we should be working more than one job.
Childcare is an issue. Why then is there no talk about ensuring proper childcare services? Where are the laws that make it mandatory for work places (both private and public) to provide quality crèches and day care services?
It is one thing to climb onto one’s high horse and criticise parents. It is quite another to think up solutions which could help parents and I don’t see any of that.
While we are on the topic of children, although Malaysia is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are severely lacking in some areas. One of these is education.
The Constitution does not actually say that our children have a right to education. This is not so bad because in reality, primary education is compulsory for all citizens. International human rights standards only really demand primary education as an absolute right.
However, note that I said citizens have access to primary education. The same cannot be said of children of those who are here because they are refugees, or whose parents are undocumented workers.
The argument that is used is that if we truly provide education for all children who are in this country, then it will encourage so-called illegal immigrants to come here so that their kids will have the benefit of studying in Malaysian schools.
This is an awful argument because I don’t think that will be foremost on people’s minds if they decide to come and work here (documented or otherwise). More importantly, children should not be deprived because of the status of their parents.
It is not their fault if their parents are undocumented or are refugees. Why then should their future be jeopardised for something that is beyond their control?
Family values and the love of children are seen as such wonderful things, especially in a conservative country such as this. But unless real measures are taken to help the family amidst living situations that are getting progressively harder, and until we embrace the idea that all children deserve protection and nurturing regardless of their status, then all that is being provided is mere lip service.

Going for a Nobel Prize

Brave New World (The Star)
6 January 2016

If we want gritty realism from Malaysian writers and directors, a review of the laws which impact on them would help.


AH, the mental acrobatics of our great leaders. In some speech or another, the Deputy Prime Minister challenged Malaysian authors to win the Nobel Prize for literature by the year 2057.
In the same speech he also lamented that we haven’t produced anything as successful as the Harry Potter series.
Then for good measure he also said we haven’t produced a television serial as popular as Korea’s Winter Sonata.
In one speech he has taken his listeners from thoughts of the impenetrable (at least to my little brain) Jose Saramago, to the world of a bespectacled boy wizard, swooping finally onto saccharine melodrama acted by androgynous cookie cutter-people. See what I mean; mental acrobatics.
Well, at least he was reasonable enough to give our writers 40 years to achieve this challenge of his.
In that 40 years, a lot could happen.
Perhaps one of the things that could happen is that we lose all the oppressive laws that may jolly well scare our burgeoning writers from actually writing anything close to resembling the realities of our world.
If we want gritty realism in our novels, then maybe within that 40 years someone will be able to write a story about a man using a warped legal system to steal his children away from his ex-wife.
A legal system that swathes itself in supposed religiosity while at the same time legitimising acts of sublime cruelty.
How the foundations of such a thing lies in the twisted national ethos of racial and religious superiority. An ethos which has stripped away any semblance of humanity and empathy from the bones of the nation.
Maybe someone can write something like this without fear of being cited for sedition.
Or if you want populist books to appeal to children of all ages, then why not a supernatural tale of a special bomoh school for talented children?
They can learn to cast spells and control toyols while at the same time getting up to all sorts of adolescent hijinks.
Maybe someone could write a series like that without concerns that his or her writing about the supernatural and fantastical will get the book banned for despoiling the faith of the impressionable youth.
And if we want a successful TV series, I have a wonderful idea.
The Scandinavian series The Bridge, about how a Swedish police officer has to work with a Danish officer in a cross-boundary crime, is a great show.
It was redone for the American market (American officer and Mexican officer) and the British Market (British and French; although the Brit show was called The Tunnel as there is no bridge between England and France).
So, my idea is this: let’s make a Malaysian version. If not a series, just a movie will do.
We could call it The Causeway.
We could have an uptight Singaporean policewoman having to work with a Malaysian policeman to solve the mystery of a dead body found right smack in the middle of the causeway.
Apart from the usual fun to be had with culture clashes, differing work ethics and, dare I say, sexual tension, the show can delve into high level corruption and murder most foul.
Or will this not pass the censorship laws that stifle the creative juices of our auteurs?
Now, I know some of you will smack me for being such a wuss. After all great literature and film have come out of countries with far harsher laws than ours. That is true, I will admit.
However, I can’t see how creativity can blossom if we are in a stifling environment.

Let’s make Malaysia a class act

Brave New World (The Star)
23 December 2015


Despite wanting to think of nothing but indulging in Christmas buffets, I found myself reading an old case the other day (what can I say; it’s my job). It was the Government of Kelantan v the Government of the Federation of Malaya (1963). Basically that was the time when the state government objected to the formation of Malaysia because it said that it was never consulted.
The Kelantan Government lost because the judge found that there was nothing in the Constitution that compelled the Federal Government to consult with the states on the creation of Malaysia.
Anyway, I am not going to give a constitutional law lecture here.
The reason I raise this case is because I found the opening statement by the judge fascinating.
Let me repeat it here (OK, I admit, I am copying long quotes because I am in holiday mood and I’m taking the easy way to fill up column inches).
However, on to Chief Justice James Thomson.
“Before dealing with this application I would express my great appreciation of the assistance I have derived from the arguments of counsel. I would make it clear that if I do not discuss these arguments with the thoroughness which they deserve, it is not due to any discourtesy but due to the necessity of disposing of the application today,” he said.
“I would also express my appreciation of the temperance and restraint with which counsel on both sides have stated their case and, in particular, of the acceptance by each side of the sincerity of the other.
The difference between the parties are clearly very profound. That they should have been prepared to discuss them here with such moderation and sympathy for each other’s point of view augurs well for the future of the country”.
Notice he started off with thanking the lawyers for their assistance and then effectively apologising for not having the time to discuss their arguments in depth. Manners maketh the man, as they say.
Furthermore, as the second paragraph shows, it wasn’t just the judge who behaved in a polite manner.
The lawyers too were commended for their civility towards one another and how they practised restraint despite being on diametrically opposed camps dealing with a passionate subject matter.
This opening statement by the judge and his description of the behaviour of the lawyers just reeks of class.
It is that intangible quality that raises one above the crude and the crass.
To be able to do battle without resorting to lowering oneself to the basest of speech and action.
To be able to act with humility even when one holds the highest judicial office in the land.
My goodness, how we are lacking such class today.
If the powerful are corrupt, can we be surprised if the lowly are too? If the high and mighty behave like thugs, can we be surprised if the hoi polloi do so too?
In present times, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of those with the power and the influence over society acting in a way that is dignified and noble.
On the contrary, we have men and women purporting to be leaders but behaving in a manner that ought to be scorned if conducted by the meanest of the citizenry, let alone those who stalk the corridors of power. In short, we don’t have any class.
I am struck and quite saddened by the Chief Justice’s last sentence, where he points out that such good behaviour as displayed by the lawyers on both sides augured well for the nation. I believe he would be disappointed to see that his prophecy was far from accurate.
Be that as it may, this is no way to end my Christmas article.
I declare that we the people can bring a bit of class to this sad little country of ours.
We can do so by behaving in a manner that does not pander to the crass and the uncouth. We battle them, of course, but with dignity and with honour.
We do not lower ourselves to their level. We can show some class.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody!