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.