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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony: Lessons for Malaysia

By Niki Cheong -

Last night, I watched the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games for the second time, in the solitude of my room. I had a great time watching it with friends at their place for the first time on the actual night, and in general really enjoyed it. That night, I posted this updated on my Facebook account:
I admit that I’m a sucker for all Olympic Opening Ceremonies but today’s was special. It was patchy as a production, didn’t necessarily like the video/live action stuff, but can Danny Boyle tell a story. The underlying narrative was genius and hats off to him for giving so much credit to those who would never usually get attention – from the NHS to the miners, construction workers who built the stadium to the seven young athletes who lit the gorgeous cauldron. Amazing.
I watched it again because I was still reeling from the show the night before. Plus, having spent the better part of the day reading commentaries and reviews about the event, I realised that there were so many little things I missed. Watching it alone again, and being able to listen to all the commentary, it really did feel like I was watching a different show.

And I still loved it.

Problem was that I got rather emotional watching it the second time – there were many goosebump moments, and a couple of times, I started welling up. It wasn’t just because I thought Danny Boyle had included so many wonderful tributes and thoughts that made it so very British.

At those moments, I started wondering what our show would look like if Malaysia ever got the opportunity to host the Olympic Games (I know we held the Commonwealth Games in 1998, but no one ever talks about the CG’s opening ceremonies). I cringed at the thought.

Now, before you accuse me of being unpatriotic, I think one of the biggest reasons I feel this way is because of all the buzz about the Merdeka Day logo and song that has been recently released (although, apparently, the Gov’t has denied that it is the official logo).

Never mind that the logo is, to put it mildly, ugly as hell, I took great offense to the tagline (and also theme for this year’s Merdeka Day): “Janji ditepati” (which, translated, means “Promises fulfilled”). There is already lots of criticism that has pointed out that it is a propaganda-laced tagline, particularly by the ruling Barisan Nasional party just a few months ahead of the General Elections.

But even if we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it wasn’t talking about BN’s promises, it really sadden me that for the first time in many years, our Merdeka Day theme, was not about the country or its people. All my life, my understanding of Merdeka Day is to celebrate our independence from colonialisation.

To add salt into the wound, the official song – also titled Janji Ditepati – was all about promises the Government has made and what it has given the people. The focus was on the the 1Malaysia schemes – from BR1m to SK1M to Kedai 1Malaysia. Worse still, the song suggests that it was time for Malaysians to “pay back” – I don’t know about you, but hasn’t it always been the responsibility of the Government to take care of its people … especially when we’re all paying taxes?

But even all that didn’t get to me as much as a couple of the videos that have been created by some people (I can’t seem to find an official video, which makes me believe that it either doesn’t exist or hasn’t been released yet). I was extremely troubled by the representation of Malaysians in one of the videos (a friend suggested the video was more about 1Bangsa than 1Malaysia). The second one had images of “multi-racial” Malaysia that we have all become familiar with, yet they were mostly forced, posed photographs. The photos used from live events, unfortunately, showed how polarised we have become as a country.

Now, I understand that these two videos doesn’t necessarily reflect the Government’s official stand on the issue (although, it’s doing itself no favours in allowing these videos to circulate without an official one which is less troubling) but that these are the sort of mentality that some Malaysians have is, to me, extremely sad.

What do all these have to do with the Olympic Games opening ceremony?

Well, it’s just that I started thinking about how we would portray ourselves as a country to the world. Over the years, many attempts have been made to make our mark. The KLCC Twin Towers is still a global icon and shows that we are not just any other developing country. Our “moderate Muslim” policy has shown how we are (were?) more progressive than some other countries out there. Our national cars, world class facilities and more have shown that we have all the makings of a truly developed country.

Where, though, do we stand in history and culture? What stories will we tell if we get a stage like the opening ceremony of an event the scale of the Olympic Games?

Are we going to maintain the forced image of Malaysian multi-culturalism by portraying a few people of different races standing together smiling? Or do we stick to our long tradition of symbolism and maintain that we need to use the Tiger stripes at every sporting event (even if the rest of the world thinks it’s hideous)? What about the usual stereotype of food – is that our only way of showing our different cultures?

How do we show the diversity in our culture and tradition that really stems from the unique multi-culturalism that forms our social fabric? Or our unique history, well documented in Sejarah Melayu and the history of Malacca, one of the most important trading ports in Asian history?

Will we recognise the kapitan Yap Ah Loy? Or our war hero Sybil Karthigesu? Will we make the effort to distinguish the story of Hang Tuah and his friends between history and myth? How will we reflect the various “pelat” of Bahasa Malaysia in our many states, and will we recognise the orang asli as well as the natives of Sabah and Sarawak? What about the Chitty community? Can we tell people the difference between a peranakan and a Baba/Nyonya? How do our Serani communities fit in?

What about our dying Wayang Kulit and Mak Yong? Do we dare remember the time when rock dominated the Malaysian mediascape, when they were banned from television for having long hair yet we had music stars dubbed the queen (Ella) and princess of rock (Shima)? How about that famous stripper Rose Chan?

I ask because I feel all these (and much more that I haven’t mentioned, and don’t know about) are part of our culture and history – even if they are only understood, appreciated and familiar to certain segments of our community. The problem is, we seem to have forgotten about most of these, or have left them behind.

Granted, compared to Britain, our country is still very young. But if you look at how far we’ve come in a short 55 years, you’d be forgiven if you were frustrated that we haven’t truly figured out our identity as a nation and as countrymen.

I’m only 32 years old but in over three decades, I have seen how a strong, united country is quickly unravelling. It wasn’t that long ago that the late Yasmin Ahmad captured so beautifully our diversity. Yet, and sadly, these days, we are left to ponder if there is place for pluralism in our country.

Most of Britain – even the detractors – came together and celebrated the success of the opening ceremony that everyone felt was truly British.

What is it going to take for us all to come together as well?

In his review of the ceremony, famed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said:
“There were historical elements in the Beijing opening ceremony, but the difference is that this was about individuals and humanity and true feelings; their passion, their hope, their struggle. That came through in their confidence and joy. It’s really about a civil society. Ours only reflected the party’s nationalism. It wasn’t a natural reflection of China.”
It may be a pessimistic view but the opening ceremony that I have in my head that Malaysia would throw could probably be described the same way he did of his own country. If we don’t want that to happen, we need to take it into our own hands and demand the changes now.

Because I truly believe that we’re better than that.

Are We Celebrating Barisan Nasional Day?

By Kee Thuan Chye | Malaysian Digest

BARISAN Nasional (BN) has already started campaigning for the general election – even though it has not yet been called – and the Election Commission (EC) is doing nothing about it.

What’s more, BN is campaigning on a large scale and everyone can see it. It has done this by unabashedly hijacking the National Day celebrations and using it to promote its own propaganda.

The theme for the celebrations is Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled) which does not sound at all like a National Day theme. It instead speaks for BN, which desperately wants to tell the rakyat that it is a government that delivers.

The National Day theme song is glaringly partisan – but for BN, not for the country. Also entitled ‘Janji Ditepati’, it highlights BN’s latest initiatives and hints that it’s time for the rakyat to show its gratitude to BN.

Look at some of the lyrics:

Janji sudah ditepati, Kini masa balas budi.

(Promises have been fulfilled, Now it’s time to return the favor.)

This is crass; it’s really asking the people to vote for BN. This is outright “I’ve helped you, now you help me”.

But why should it be for the rakyat to balas budi? BN was voted in to serve the rakyat. Why must the rakyat be grateful for that? In fact, if anyone should balas budi, it should be BN.

The song, however, is not about the rakyat. And the chorus that follows proves it:

Janji siapa? Janji kita. Janji apa? Janji Satu Malaysia.

(Whose promises? Our promises. What promises? The promises of One Malaysia.)

The song is clearly about BN. The “kita” in it refers to BN. And the mention of “Satu Malaysia” obviously connotes the slogan of the BN Government.

The worst is yet to come, in the final verse:

Ini janji kita, BR1M Satu Malaysia. Ini janji Satu Malaysia, terima Satu Malaysia. Kata kita dikota, Klinik Satu Malaysia. Janji kita ditepati, Kedai Satu Malaysia.

(This is our promise, BR1M One Malaysia. This is the promise of One Malaysia, accept One Malaysia. We have kept our word, Klinik Satu Malaysia. We have fulfilled our promise, Kedai Satu Malaysia.)

The BR1M 500-ringgit handout to households earning less than RM3,000 a month is mentioned. The 1Malaysia clinics set up to offer cheap medical services are mentioned. The Kedai 1Malaysia set up to offer lower prices for basic necessities is mentioned. What is this if not BN trumpeting its populist attempts to win the electorate’s votes?

These are lyrics for a song? If not for the fact that they are so crude and cheap, we should be rolling on the floor roaring with laughter.

How can such shameless propaganda be the stuff of our National Day theme song? It is even totally without style and subtlety. Not to mention substance.

Real songwriters would wince at hearing such lyrics. These are not lyrics, these are slogans.

The song is not celebrating National Day. It’s celebrating Barisan Nasional Day!

And it’s no wonder that the person who wrote this doggerel is Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim. Not only is he not a real songwriter; he is also caught in a time warp. Even Nazi propaganda had better style than this.

Rais is out of his depth. He is in the wrong mode. Perhaps he could write the lyrics for BN’s elegy.

Our National Day has never been so blatantly perverted. That National Day is for promoting the country, not the government, is something any Malaysian should know, most of all BN. There is a clear distinction between “government” and “country”, so let’s make sure we get it right.

National Day is for consolidating unity among the people, taking stock of where we have come to as a people, instilling a sense of pride in the country. It is not for instilling gratitude for the ruling party and fishing for votes.

Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi, however, doesn’t think that Janji Ditepati means janji BN. He gives it a bizarre twist: “It can be interpreted as ‘the people’s promise’ to maintain peace, stability, tolerance, unity and harmony.” What is this illogical rubbish? The onus is not on the people to do all that; it’s the Government’s responsibility. Why is he a deputy minister when he can’t even spin it right?

Obviously, BN has sunk to an all-time low in its desperation to cling on to power.

By right, the EC, as a supposedly independent body, should make a report against BN for transgressing election regulations. It is very clear that the campaign period permitted by law can start only from nomination day. As it is, the general election has not even been called.

And surely the fact that BN is exploiting for its own campaign something as wide-reaching and large-scale as National Day celebrations is not only unfair but criminal, even if such exploitation may not fall under the Election Offences Act 1954.

What BN could be hauled up for can be found in Part III of the Act that relates to corrupt practices. Article 10 covers the offence of giving or promising voters money, gifts, etc, to influence their vote. Isn’t BN influencing voters with its boast of promises fulfilled and its call for the people to “balas budi”? Aren’t BR1M, Klinik 1Malaysia and Kedai 1Malaysia among the money and gifts that BN has been giving to ensure a return of favours?

However you look at it, isn’t that pork barrelling, and if so, isn’t BN culpable for it?

If the EC won’t do anything, then the rakyat must consider this question: If a party entrusted with governing the country would hijack an event that is important to Malaysians for its own selfish purpose, how should the rakyat treat that party come the day of reckoning?

Oh, by the way, in case the EC hasn’t noticed, Janji Ditepati is also BN’s election campaign slogan. But then again, perhaps the EC considers that a mere coincidence.

Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, now available in major bookstores. The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer.

‘Do your worst, we will do our best’

By Kua Kia Soong | FMT

While the Registrar of Societies may now feign innocence regarding their selectivity in registering societies by questioning Suaram’s registration as a business, let me remind the young generation and those with short memories about our nation’s shortcomings relating to the freedom of association in our recent history.

As you know, ‘Operation Lalang’ was Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s autocracy at its worst when he arrested and detained more than a hundred innocent Malaysians without trial in October 1987.

Upon the release of the last Operation Lalang detainees in 1989, several of these detainees including my goodself and members of the Families Support Group formed this human rights organisation known as Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia). Aware of the obstacles in registering a human rights society under the Registrar of Societies, Suaram registered as a business under the Registrar of Business.

At the time, another human rights organisation, Hakam had taken more than two years to be registered in 1989 even though it boasted two former prime ministers (Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn) as its patrons. It had tried unsuccessfully several times to register as a society in the eighties.

The Malaysian chapter of Amnesty International also tried unsuccessfully for five years to register as a society under the Societies Act. Two applications and an appeal to the Home Minister were also rejected.

Consequently, quite a number of NGOs decided that in order to carry out their services to society, they had no choice but to register as businesses.

So why is there a sudden interest in Suaram’s status after its 23 years’ existence? Is it coincidental that this has arisen out of our recent request to the French judicial system to pursue suspected commissions embroiled in the RM7 billion Scorpene submarine deals?

It is no secret

Given the difficulties created by the Societies Act, some non-governmental organisations, including Suaram decided to register as companies or businesses.

As the corporate gurus say, “If something is not working, do something else.” Or, as Deng Xiaoping famously said, “It does not matter if the cat is white or black, as long as it catches the mice.” The mice, in the case of NGOs, are defending human rights, democracy and social justice.

NGOs registering as companies were certainly not a secret. In fact, in early 1997 the government threatened to force all NGOs to register under the Societies Act. Nonetheless, registration as a company has not completely protected NGOs from harassment by the government, as the recent intrusion by the SSM into Suaram’s accounts has demonstrated.

In 1996, the Institut Pengajian Komuniti (IPK), an NGO taking up the issue of rights of indigenous peoples in Sarawak was de-registered by the Registrar of Business over a legal technicality.

The ROC’s Tenaganita fiasco

In 1997, the Registrar of Companies raided the offices of Tenaganita, the NGO that had exposed inhuman conditions in immigrant detention centres, and confiscated their documents.

Tenaganita and two directors were subsequently charged in court in March 1997 under the Companies Act for late filing of audited financial statements of 1994. And most unusual was the fact that the charges were prosecuted by a Deputy Prosecutor from the Attorney-General’s Chambers instead of the usual officers of the Registrar.

The charges were subsequently withdrawn on July 9, 1997 when it was pointed out in court that the Registrar had already compounded the offences and accepted payment of a fine through Tenaganita’s accountants.

Then on Sept 5, 1997, the Registrar again issued fresh charges against Tenaganita and two directors on minor technicalities. This time around, the Registrar refused to compound the alleged offences for a fine.

After Tenaganita mounted a legal challenge to the prosecutions alleging mala fide prosecution, the charges were withdrawn on Nov 25, 1997.

As you can see, NGOs in Malaysia have found themselves “between a ROC and a hard place…”

PSM’s Greek tragedy

Opposition political parties have fared no better. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) only obtained its legal registration as a political party in 2008, 10 years after it first filed its application. The entire saga endured by PSM in its struggle to be registered reads like a Greek tragedy in modern Malaysia.

And of course, the Registrar of Societies can feign selective outrage yet again: “Wasn’t the Malaysian Indian United party (MIUP), whose founding leader is S Nallakaruppan swiftly registered in October 2007, just five months after he quit PKR in May 2007?”

“You mean the party that pledged to work closely with, and give its support to, the ruling BN coalition? Yes, we believe the ROS acted expeditiously on their application…”

Restrictions to the fundamental right to freedom of association are also imposed on trade union officials through the Trade Unions Act. Today, less than 10 per cent of Malaysian workers are unionised compared to more than 60 per cent at the time of Independence. What a transformation indeed!

Inspecting the good guys

We stress that the entire charade by the government to harass Suaram through a complaint by some nonentity in the public and CCM’s ‘routine’ inspection is political and uncalled for.

We do not even know if the complaint was made officially to the CCM. It would appear that the CCM is acting on every single complaint (offical or otherwise) from the public at a highly efficient rate.

We question if there is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) within CCM that provides guidelines on receiving and acting on a complaint.

We also question whether or not the SOP requires the CCM to first verify the background of the complainant prior to receiving and acting on a complaint.

From the evidence in the Paris (Scorpene Scandal) Papers, one would have expected that the CCM would know its priorities and begin “routinely inspecting” the highly dubious activities and accounts of Perimekar Sdn Bhd and Terasasi Sdn Bhd, but have they?

Doing our best

Through 23 years of selfless work defending human rights in Malaysia, Suaram has established itself as the human rights centre of Malaysia. From Operation Lalang through the Reformasi period to the present day, many victims of state oppression have turned to Suaram for assistance in highlighting their plight.

The funding we get goes into nurturing young activists in human rights work. We employ a handful of dedicated young staff that has chosen this path of service in human rights work.

The elder members of the Suaram secretariat like me have always been non-staff volunteers in overseeing the running of the organisation.

Since 1989, Suaram has been the main coordinating secretariat for the Movement against the ISA and other detention without trial laws, the EO and the DDA. Our office serves as the refuge for those whose family members have been victims of state oppression. We send Urgent Appeals throughout the world whenever any detention or other violations of human rights happen.

Despite its small staff, Suaram publishes the only credible and detailed Malaysian Human Rights Report every year without fail and has been doing so since 1998. Such a report is an invaluable service to all the peoples of Malaysia irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed.

Since its founding, Suaram has worked toward a healthy democratic movement in the country and we could well say that all the efforts by Suaram in the last 20 years have been instrumental in producing today’s two-front system and the political tsunami of 2008.

Throughout its existence over the last 20 years, Suaram staff and secretariat have been involved in human rights and environmental education, giving talks, organising seminars and providing training. Suaram has initiated campaigns against the Bakun dam and the Selangor dam to protect the interests of indigenous peoples, the environment and the interests of Malaysian tax payers.

We have also supported marginalised communities such as the urban settlers, estate communities and refugees when they have met eviction and state oppression.

Suaram has played a role in the “Stop the War Coalition” and has coordinated Anti-US demonstrations and protests against the US-led occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israeli atrocities in Gaza in recent years.

Suaram also played a key role in the last important peace conference for East Timor in 1996 together with other NGOs. We have been part of the campaign for democracy in Burma.

In other words, Suaram has always been in the business of fighting for justice, equality, democracy and human rights in Malaysia and spoken out against imperialism and militarism in the rest of the world.

For our efforts, Suaram was awarded the Human Rights Award for 2011 by the country’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam). The only dividends we have gained in this business over these 23 years are the appreciation of the victims of oppression and exploitation, nature lovers and Malaysian tax payers.

And to all our detractors and oppressors we can only say:

“Do your worst and we will do our best”.

Kua Kia Soong is Suaram adviser.

Friday, July 27, 2012

National Day theme “Janji Ditepati” wrong and inappropriate as it is anti-national, divisive rather than unifying the people, presenting Najib as Prime Minister for UMNO/BN only and not all Malaysians!

By Lim Kit Siang

The Information Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim is defending the indefensible when he takes to Twitter to ask why “Janji Ditepati” cannot be used as this year’s National Day/Malaysia Day theme.

Firstly, Rais’ claim that “Malaysia has truly arrived as an achieving nation after 55 years of independence” is highly controversial and debatable, for if this is true, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would not gain the reputation of being the most indecisive Prime Minister in the nation’s history who keeps postponing his plan to hold the next general election to win a personal mandate for his premiership for fear of ending up in the Opposition benches or toppled within UMNO like his predecessor Tun Abdullah.

In fact, probably more could be written about how the slogan of “Janji Ditepati” had failed rather than succeeded in 55 years after Merdeka and 49 years after Malaysia – whether in building a united, harmonious, democratic, progressive and competitive Malaysia; or in fulfilling Najib’s three-year promises of 1Malaysia Government Transformation Programme (GTP) whether in reducing crime, fighting corruption or carrying out meaningful government, economic and political transformation for Malaysia to take her rightful place in international society and achieve the status of a normal democratic country.

I remember when I visited Sabah in 1978, I had warned that Sabah faced three grave problems – the illegal immigrant problem which I had cited had reached 140,000, the crime situation and grave problem of corruption.

All these three problems have gone from bad to worse in the past four decades, with the illegal immigrant problem mushrooming to 1.5 million to 1.9 million making native Sabahans foreigners in their own land, while crime and corruption have worsened by leaps and bounds.

And Sabahans are still waiting for the next step in the establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into illegal immigrants in Sabah although they have grave reservations that it could really resolve the long-standing problem in the state.

Is this “Janji Ditepati”?

However, the most fatal objection to the use of the “Janji Ditepati” slogan as the National Day/Malaysia Day theme is not whether it is factually correct or otherwise, but because of two strong reasons: firstly, it is wrong and inappropriate to use a UMNO/Barisan Nasional slogan for a National Day/Malaysia Day theme and secondly, it is anti-national, divisive rather than unifying the people, presenting Najib as Prime Minister for UMNO/BN only and not all Malaysians!

National Day/Malaysia Day should be national occasions for all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, region or politics to come together as one people, and no Malaysian or group should be alienated or marginalized because it has been hijacked by UMNO/Barisan and turned into an exclusive UMNO/BN affair.

If UMNO/BN is allowed to hijack National Day/Malaysia Day, is Rais then admitting that Najib is only Prime Minister for UMNO/BN and not all Malaysians?

No wonder there is overwhelming public support for the Pakatan Rakyat call for a change of the National Day/Malaysia Day theme (as well as the horrendous rojak National Day logo), which is reflected in the Sinar Harian online poll where in less than 48 hours, 2,359 or 84% out of 2,811 respondents supported the change of theme with only 452 or 16% opposing it.

This is an important distinction which even school children would understand. It really baffles me, and I am sure thinking patriotic Malaysians, why it eludes Rais and the UMNO/BN Ministers and leaders who are unable to grasp such simple issues of right and wrong, national and anti-national?

No wonder Malaysia under the continued UMNO/BN rule is in such a mess, whether in nation-building, politically, economically, educationally or socially.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Online, the 2012 National Day logo gets a drubbing

By Irwan Ismail | TMI

The 2012 National Day logo has received wide criticism since it was released this week, with cyber citizens and graphic designers saying it is the worst they have seen and not suitable for the celebration that stretches from August 31 to September 16 which is Malaysia Day.

The government eschewed the traditional logo designing competition this year, leaving the Information Department to come out with the logo which comprises words in different fonts, the Jalur Gemilang, the 1 Malaysia logo and theme “Janji Ditepati” (Promises Fulfilled), all using the four colours of the national flag.

“It’s not even a logo from designer’s point of view. Too many things going on in one piece — logo in a logo, so many fonts, no strong visual message, no hierarchy in typography,” said Imran Abdul Jabar, the founder of, a website dedicated to multimedia design.

He said a logo should be able to stand on its own without the addition of images, illustrations, effects and colours.

“That ‘logo’, or whatever name it is, is not even close to reflecting the spirit of our National or Independence Day. Such a disgrace to the pride of our nation, let alone our creative industry,” Imran said.

Graphic designer Muhammad Azizi agreed with Imran, saying that this year’s logo was an outdated design and lacked creativity.

“There are too many fonts for a logo design and a lack of meaning to relate to the theme. Those in charge need to consider opinions from experts in the design industry,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

To add to the diatribe against the logo, many also made fun of the explanation for the logo, which is available here.

In social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, many queried Putrajaya for not having a competition as done previously.

There is even a Facebook group named “Kami Bantah Logo Kemerdekaan Malaysia Ke 55” that questions the tagline “Janji Ditepati”, saying it does not make sense and appears political. The Facebook page has 2,600 members and is growing since it started on July 24.

Activist Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir also weighed in on the furore, writing in her Facebook page that “obviously our Ministry of Information’s graphic designer just discovered all the fun of Photoshop and decided to bung everything it all at once…”

According to those in the commercial design industry, it is common for clients to make changes although initial designs are good enough but they are not sure what happened with this year’s logo.

“Local designers and design practitioners in Malaysia hope that the logo can be changed for the better,” said one designer, who declined to be named.

‘I Choose Malaysia’ – selling a feel-good image

By Clive Kessler | Malaysiakini

Congratulations on noticing and commenting upon this new promotional exercise by “the old national management team”.

I noticed it some days ago, and wrote to some friends about it.

I said: I saw an amazing new political ad on TV yesterday: an ad, I suppose, for the government, its re-election.

But interestingly, it provided no sight, sign or mention of Umno or BN or the “government” or “kerajaan”, no sight or mention of PM Najib Abdul Razak, nor of any of his cabinet ministers.

And no sign, sight, or mention either of any specific national government projects, no mention of government transformation plans, KRA, KPI.

None of that.

Instead just faces, most speaking rapidly, earnestly, with apparent conviction and quite authoritatively, even demandingly.

All set against a plain white background.

All those talking faces saying “I am going to vote”, “the power is in my hands”, “security” “peace”, etc, etc.

But at the beginning and end – framing and “anchoring” the whole collage of visages and earnest assertions – is the face of none other than Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with his best, familiar smile.

Some people call it his likeable little boy smile, the smile of a boy who knows he’s been naughty but also knows that you’ll forgive him – because he is likeable, charming, has a winning way.

In other words, through this ad the “old Umno/BN national management firm” seems to be signalling that it knows that it hasn’t got much to say for itself these days, much that people are ready to listen to, hear, and very little goodwill to call upon.

Instead, it is now trying to get people to vote for its re-election in the same way that KFC uses the face, the image and icon, of their likeable, quite mythical, old colonel to get you to buy their fried chicken.

There are a number of implications of this, all worth thinking about.

Among them are:

First, have the Lords of Umno given up on thinking that any Najib “feel-good” or popularity factor can win the election for his/their party?

Second, is it the case that they have now recognised their key dilemma: how do you sell a product when everybody feels that your product is “on the nose”, going rotten?

Well, you sell instead a “feel-good” image, a persuasive or seductive mood, and just don’t mention the dubious product.

You hide it.

And, here, you just don’t mention the party or its current leaders!

It’s an amazing ad.

You should all watch out for it, and think about it.

Floating in the ether

Some further thoughts about that interesting TV ad.

It works on a strategy and aesthetic of “radical decontextualisation”.

What it offers is not connected to anything outside of itself.

It floats in the ether, hovers above the political reality that it speaks to, that it seeks to influence and shape.

In other words, its strategy is to sell and promote, to market, Umno/BN purely as a “brand”, not as a product, as anything directly grounded in the current facts and issues of national political life.

I see the logic of it, and it’s not a stupid strategy.

In the face of the present situation, its disquieting problems, what is “the old team” to say and do?

But I doubt that it can really work, “deliver”.

I suppose that they will start by “trialling” it, just to see how it goes, whether it is effective, especially in urban areas and with the young.

Perhaps there is even more to that new ad.

Is it perhaps being prepared and held “on hand”, “in the can”, “on stand-by”, just in case it is needed for a non- or post-Najib campaign?

Is somebody perhaps using this ad to test the waters, trying to gauge how an alternative (non-Najib) campaign would fare in comparison with what is now in prospect?

Are some people in the Umno/BN “engine room” already planning a second, alternative campaign: one to run just in case they decide that they have to replace Najib before the election is held?

Definitely worth thinking about, watching.

CLIVE KESSLER is Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Right and Significant Verdict on Bersih

By Kee Thuan Chye | Malaysian Digest

THE High Court has declared that Bersih (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) is not unlawful. And rightly so.

Although this comes as a blow to the Government, and especially the Home Minister, the Attorney-General (A-G) should not pursue an appeal.

Doing so would hurt the Government’s image even more. It would appear to sensible Malaysians that the Government refused to admit wrong even when the evidence clearly showed it was wrong.

Furthermore, the Government had responded positively to the Bersih 2.0 rally of July 9, 2011, by setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to look into electoral reform. If it continued to insist on the quibble that Bersih 2.0 is unlawful, it would contradict itself, call to question the sincerity of its PSC move. It would appear to act in bad faith.

After all, is it such a big issue to the Government whether Bersih 2.0 is unlawful or not?

The judge, Rohana Yusof, has pointed out that it’s not unlawful – on the grounds that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasen an audience to resolve the situation even though the Bersih 2.0 rally had been declared illegal; that there were negotiations after that between Bersih 2.0 and the Government as to where the rally could be held; and that when the rally took place on July 9, Bersih 2.0 did not face any official censure.

She went on further to say that the Home Minister’s decision to declare Bersih 2.0 unlawful on July 1, 2011, was “tainted with irrationality”. She is also spot-on on that score.

Even at the time Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made the declaration, sensible Malaysians were already rapping him for it. He looked like he came to that decision because the police had before then been arresting people for wearing Bersih T-shirts without any apparent legal justification. Declaring Bersih 2.0 unlawful gave them that justification, even though it was after the fact.

Hishammuddin deemed Bersih 2.0 unlawful because it was not registered with the Registrar of Societies. But now Judge Rohana has ruled that despite that contention, Bersih 2.0 can exist as an entity under Section 2 of the Societies Act 1966 although it is not registered.

More than this, after the King had met with Ambiga, Hishammuddin arrogantly maintained that Bersih 2.0 was illegal. He famously said that “just because Tuanku met them doesn’t mean they are no longer illegal”. Fine, but then why was the prime minister, Najib Razak, offering Bersih 2.0 a stadium to hold its rally?

Why would any government offer a movement a venue to hold its rally if that government considered the movement unlawful?

Therein lay the great irrational contradiction.

To compound it further, the same Home Minister even allowed the Bersih 3.0 rally to take place on April 28, 2012. He was satisfied that it was not a security threat. He even said that if Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) would not allow the rally to take place at Dataran Merdeka, “it does not mean they cannot offer other places”. He even suggested Bukit Jalil Stadium and Merdeka Stadium as alternatives.

He came across as being so accommodating – to an organisation he had deemed unlawful. Was that not the height of irrationality?

If the A-G were to appeal the case, how would he address this point? That it was standard operating procedure for the Home Minister to behave irrationally?

Would it therefore not serve the Government better to acknowledge its incompetent handling of Bersih 2.0 than to pursue what would clearly be a wrong cause?

In fact, would it also not reflect well on the Home Minister to admit he made a mistake in acting irrationally and apologise for it? If he were to do so, he would surely win tremendous sympathy. After all, with the general election coming up soon, this is not the time for arrogance and face-saving. He has been caught out. If he tries to be defensive, he could actually lose more face.

Hishammuddin has embarrassed himself in public several times before in his capacity as Home Minister. The most recent occasion of this is unforgettable – when he said it was part of the police’s standard operating procedures to confiscate memory cards from the cameras of pressmen and the public during the Bersih 3.0 rally. The following day, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) had to correct him. He should therefore be more careful not to embarrass himself again.

The way he is going, one wonders if he should even be fielded as a candidate for the general election. Would he be a “winnable” one for Barisan Nasional (BN)?

Speaking of the general election, this High Court verdict is likely to hurt the Government and, therefore, BN’s chances at the polls.

While sceptics say that this could be another wayang kulit performance and that the judge’s decision might be overturned on appeal, the fact remains that Judge Rohana’s pronouncements will be going out to people who have so far been brainwashed into thinking that Bersih is evil. It will be going out to fence-sitters and people who read only mainstream media.

It will be going out to the teachers who were summoned by the Education Department to a special meeting in Johor last month where they were told all the bad things about Bersih.

Now they will be questioning the truth about what the Government has been saying about Bersih, the truth of the Government’s intent.

Minds might change. Those who might initially have been ambivalent about Bersih might now see things afresh. They might begin to see the positive effect of the Bersih 2.0 rally in influencing the Government to initiate the PSC on electoral reform. They might begin to see that the call for free and fair elections is legitimate and justified, and not aimed at bringing down the Government, as has been so often alleged. They might even begin to see that the electoral system is actually flawed and unfair.

Given this, if there should ever be a Bersih 4.0, the Government should tremble.

All told, this is just vindication for Bersih after all the injustices that have been done to it and its cause. No doubt, many of us can still recall with sadness the irrational things that were done in late June and early July of 2011.

It started with the detention of the 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia members under the Emergency Ordinance for supposedly resurrecting Communism and waging war against the King when they were merely going to Penang for a Bersih 2.0 roadshow. Then the police began arresting people for wearing Bersih T-shirts, and even Gopeng MP Lee Boon Chye for just wearing a yellow T-shirt. Absurdity ruled when none other than the IGP threatened to arrest anyone using any medium to promote the rally, which included yellow shoes, cars, buses!

That was a time when it looked like the country’s leadership was going mad. Now, one hopes, it will begin to return to sanity.

Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Implications when Najib not prepared to declare there would be no repeat of May 13

By Lim Kit Siang

The three-day silence by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak is deafening – his failure to follow up on Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s “We don’t want May 13 repeated” statement by declaring clearly and unequivocally that he would accept the verdict of the people in the 13th General Election and that he would ensure and facilitate a peaceful transition of federal power from Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Rakyat if this is the result of the general election.

This is the question I had posed publicly at a DAP ceramah at Sepanggar in Sabah last Friday following earlier online reports that Muhyiddin had told a national youth conference calling on the young generation to be united to ensure that the country remains stable and peaceful to avoid a repeat of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

Malaysians were taken aback by Muhyiddin’s reference as they doubt the Deputy Prime Minister’s bona fides, with more Malaysians convinced that Muhyiddin raised the spectre of May 13 as a subtle threat to voters that there would be another May 13 bloodshed if UMNO loses power rather than as an assurance to Malaysians that May 13 was a tragic chapter of past history which would not and could not recur!

I had extended Pakatan Rakyat’s offer to co-operate and work closely with UMNO/Barisan Nasional to ensure that there will be no repeat of May 13 in the next general election, asking how there could be a repeat of May 13 tragedy if both political coalitions – BN and PR – sincerely pledge to work together in the national interest to prevent any such recurrence?

This was why I had issued the challenge to Najib as Prime Minister and President of UMNO/Barisan to declare his public stand.

My Sepanggar speech elicited a response from the UMNO secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, the Sabah Barisan Nasional secretary Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and an UMNO MP Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (Pasir Salak) who pledged a smooth transition of power should Pakatan Rakyat defeat them in the coming polls.

As examples, they pointed out that their party had to concede defeat in Selangor, the country’s richest state, and Kelantan, which has been under PAS’s rule for over two decades now.

But losing federal power in Putrajaya is very different from losing power in five states as in 2008, i.e. Selangor, Penang, Perak, Kedah and Kelantan as well as losing BN’s customary two-third majority in Parliament.

Furthermore, Malaysians will not easily forget Najib’s incendiary speech at the UMNO General Assembly two years ago that UMNO would defend its power in Putrajaya with “crushed bodies and broken bones”, which is no assurance whatsoever that would be no repeat of the May 13 tragedy.

This is why the responses from Tengku Adnan and two UMNO MPs were most unsatisfactory and grossly inadequate as they cannot undo what Najib had said, which could only be done by the Prime Minister himself, and why his continued silence is both ominous and very poor reflection on his commitment to both democracy and political transformation in Malaysia.

Najib must be reminded that before talking about Malaysia becoming “best democracy in the world”, he should first ensure that Malaysia becomes a normal democracy where no one doubts there would be peaceful transition of federal power if decided by voters.

In normal democracies, whether the United Kingdom, European Union countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States or even in Japan, none of their citizens would doubt that there would be peaceful transition of power from one political party or political coalition to another, whether at the national or state level, if this is the verdict of the electorate in a general election.

But this is not the case in Malaysia. In fact, we are still a very long way from being a normal democracy, when even the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Ministers, UMNO and all the component Barisan Nasional parties are still not prepared to make a clear and unequivocal commitment for a peaceful transition of federal power if this is the decision of the electorate in the next general election and that there would be no repeat of May 13 in the country!

Najib cannot delay any further in making a public commitment to accept and facilitate a peaceful transition of federal power in the next general election if this is the verdict of the electorate, and that there would not be any repeat of May 13, or he would be proving right the recent description of him as a “false democrat” who “hold elections but have no intention of giving up power”.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cat out of the bag – UMNO’s quartet of lies on 4Rs, Race, Religion, Rulers and Riots the centerpiece of its strategy on dirtiest general history in its increasingly desperate bid to hold on to federal power in 13GE

By Lim Kit Siang

The cat is out of the bag – UMNO has a quartet of lies on 4Rs on Race, Religion, Malay Rulers and Riots (May 13 threats) to attack DAP and Pakatan Rakyat as the centrepiece of its strategy for the dirtiest general election in history in its increasingly desperate bid to hold on to federal power in Putrajaya in the 13 General Election.

For the past three years, UMNO propagandists through their owned and controlled mainstream media as well as social media and Internet, have been playing the first 3R cards of Race, Religion and Malay Rulers to defame and demonise DAP as anti- Malay, anti-Islam and anti-Malay Rulers but clearly to little effect in this age of information when these are all lies and falsehoods.

Since our formation 46 years ago in 1966, DAP has committed itself to be a political party for all Malaysians irrespective of race, religion or region.

In the first general election contested by DAP in 1969, we fielded Malay candidates and two Malay candidates were successfully elected as State Assemblymen – one from Perak and the other from Negri Sembilan. We have also Malay Members of Parliament, most notably former CUEPACS President Ahmad Nor who was elected MP for Bayan Baru in Penang.

This is also why DAP achieved the distinction of being the first political party to become a Pan-Malaysian party, having branches and operating politically not only in all the states in Peninsular Malaysia but also in Sabah and Sarawak.

This is why UMNO’s 3R cards against the DAP for being anti-Malay, anti-Islam and anti-Malay Rulers have neither credibility nor traction.

DAP’s support for the system of constitutional monarchy cannot be challenged or doubted for the Common Policy Framework of Pakatan Rakyat clearly and unequivocally committed the three component parties, viz DAP, PKR and PAS to respect, support and uphold the fundamental features of the constitution – including the provisions on Islam as the religion of the Federation of Malaysia and the system of Malay Rulers.

This was also what I stated in Parliament in my first speech in the Dewan Rakyat in February 1971.

Is it because UMNO leaders and propagandists have realised that their 3R cards against the DAP are not achieving the desired political effects that they have come out with the fourth R card of threatening unrest and riots if UMNO and Barisan Nasional lose federal power in the next general election, which is the subtle message of the reference to May 13, 1969 tragedy.

I am still waiting for response from the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to my offer at the DAP ceramah at Inaman on Friday night that the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat co-operate to ensure that there is no repeat of the May 13 tragedy in the next general election.

If Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat sincerely pledge to co-operate to ensure that there would no repeat of May 13 tragedy in the next general election, it is unthinkable that there could be a repeat of May 13.

Why is the silence from Muhyiddin and Najib if they really do not want any repeat of May 13?

At the DAP ceramah at Kota Belud, I proposed the formation of a National Committee with representatives from all political parties, religions and important NGOs with the common objective to ensure that there would be no repeat of May 13. Let us see how Muhyiddin and Najib, as well as UMNO and BN, would respond to this refined proposal to ensure no repetition of May 13.

Najib & Hisham, the kissing cousins, on the chopping board with latest JI drama

By Moaz Nair | Malaysia Chronicle

Has UMNO come to the end of its tether that it has to use the JI (Jemaah Islamiah) terrorists and the communists to alarm voters? It was reported that “Police Special Branch investigations have concluded that JI terrorists and former communists are infiltrating opposition parties and trying to be fielded as candidates in the coming general election”.

If there is any substance to this allegation why involve only the Opposition and not UMNO or BN (Barisan Nasional)? Opportunists or extremists in a society will not “choose feathers” when it comes to politics.

Insults their intelligence

Why not the police take in for questioning the so-called “suspects” involved in infiltrating the Opposition if there is any truth in those allegations? Does the Special Branch really know who “modern communists” are? Or are they still bogged down with the image of the defunct CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) and the notion of alias Chin Peng and his crew of yesteryear?

Isn’t it the duty of the police to take pre-emptive measures to rope the suspects in if the allegations were true? In the first place, why wait and allow these “make-believe” individuals penetrate the Opposition or for that matter UMNO and BN?

UMNO – leading the sitting government – has to be responsible for this unfounded allegation as they have not denied the allegations made by the Special Branch. UMNO pretty well knows that the Opposition of today is no more in the light-weight category and they do not need “undesirable elements” to challenge the heavy-weight in Malaysian politics.

Would not the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) come to know of this paranoia if there is substance in the allegation made by the Malaysian Special Branch? The CIA do doubt has far more superior mechanisms to discover any elements that do not favour US interests in this region..

The people thus cannot be satiated with empty rhetoric that insults their intelligence. If Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cousin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, fail to quell the public suspicion that this is yet another of their crazy and plain stupid conspiracies, like the Datuk T and the Sodomy II plus the Bersih 2.0 and 3.0 crackdowns, they can be sure already-fed-up voters will write them off permanently.

Another political gimmick

The people need substantial evidence to be convinced of the issue or else the whole allegation will become another political gimmick as happened in the past when even some UMNO leaders were implicated the same. Some UMNO stalwarts in the late 70’s were alleged to be communist sympathisers for political advantageous of the disgruntled aspirants and also to deplore their political rivals within the party.

If the police cannot haul up those alleged to have infiltrated the Opposition then there must be some hidden motives for them to come up with such allegations. And the more will the police be accused of becoming UMNO’s stooge. For certain, not all police officers would want to be labelled with this kind of image.

In point of fact, if there is any grain of truth to this allegation the question now is why must the JI infiltrate PAS and not UMNO? After all, both are parties representing the majority Malays and Malays are Muslims. The JI could if they wish infiltrate UMNO as well. Is there any intelligence report on this thus far for the people’s consumption?

“Communists” are engaged diplomatically

These days the “communists” are engaged diplomatically. For instance, it was reported that UMNO Youth has a direct formal relationship with the CYCL (Communist Youth League of China or formerly known as The Socialist Youth League of China).

UMNO Youth has established a permanent secretariat to strengthen bilateral relationships with CYLC to facilitate continuous bilateral programmes to promote a stronger bond between Barisan Youth and the Communist Youth League of China.

CYCL is a youth movement of the People's Republic of China for youth between the ages of 14 and 28, run by Communist Party of China. Will this move bring potential danger of “communist influence” on Barisan youth?

Just recently, He Guoqiang, a high-ranking government official in the People's Republic of China and a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, came to the country on a working visit and met UMNO leaders. Purportedly, the move was political – to gratify the Malaysian Chinese and tone down the Lynas issue in Kuantan.

Will this too bring communist threats to Malaysia?

Malaysia has diplomatic relations with China and this does not mean that communism will arrogate the laissez fair lifestyle of the people in this country. UMNO does not seem to realise that “old” communism is facing the fate of the dodo bird.

The communists of today are not terrorists fighting from inside the jungle. They have morphed into progressive people and become more capitalist than Malaysians. Modern China is testimony to this fact.

PAS’ brand of Islam

PAS’ brand of Islamic politics is more of a compassionate home-grown version. Fifty-five years of Independence has made PAS mature and it offers a political platform that suits the multi-racial society in the country. Today, the non-Muslims have no qualms over supporting PAS.

Many have voted in PAS lawmakers in the past to represent them and many more will do the same in the next general election. This is what UMNO fears most as the party’s monopoly over Malays votes has been tattered and ripped apart.

PAS is perceived as a more moderate party than UMNO. The societies hear no rant and rave on racism from PAS but a language of social justice for all the people. They hear no threats from PAS to the country, let alone the influence of JI in its movement.

PAS leaders do not warble uncouth lexis to spite the non-Muslims and the non-Malays. PAS has not been proven to be a party that sponsors violence. They believe in democracy and indubitably demand for fair and free elections. UMNO on the other hand is not keen to have free and fair elections for fear of losing power and this evidently shows that UMNO is not for true democracy.

Implicating that JI elements are finding their way into PAS must be a figment of UMNO’s imagination. UMNO is aware that PAS will soon become the biggest party in the country to represent the Malays and Muslims. This is a nerve-wracking scenario for UMNO leaders and they have to resort to government institutions to try dissuading the Malays from supporting PAS.

DAP’s popularity

The use of communism to debase DAP is an imprudent tactic by UMNO to make the Malays stay away from the party. DAP is today well-accepted by the Malays and this qualms UMNO more. UMNO cannot shatter the image of disciplined and efficient DAP lawmakers who tolerate no-nonsense when it comes to politics and governance, that the former – out of sheer fear for DAP’s popularity – has to opt for tenuous specifics to smear the party.

Communism is long dead and gone in Malaysia. Even China and Vietnam are gradually forsaking this legacy. Today it is socialist-capitalism that has made China become an economic giant. Communism has failed the world’s economy just like what is happening in a despotic state like North Korea.

Malaysia can never beat China economically but she heavily depends on the latter for her economic growth. China talks about social justice and not rigid communism anymore. China does not tolerate gibberish politics and the country is run with a centralised government. This has worked relatively right for China which has a huge population.

For UMNO to use the term “communist” to degrade DAP is a disgrace to the educated Malays. DAP is not a communist party. Neither does the party tolerate racial extremism which is homologous with UMNO. It is a multi-racial racial party that is hauling more Malays supporters into its net these days.

UMNO has spun enough that PAS and DAP are extreme, fanatic, anti-Malay and working with anti-national elements to destabilise the country. But their modus operandi in politics has failed miserably. The support for PAS and DAP is swelling by the day – auguring well for the country where a two-party system exists.

Did communist ideology infiltrate UMNO?

Did communist ideology infiltrate UMNO at one time? UMNO’s ploy to bring down their political nemeses is nothing new. They did the same with Mahathir Mohamad when the latter was ascending the ladder of UMNO politics in the 70’s. There were groups that were not too happy to see Mahathir’s quick rise within UMNO.

Mahathir explicitly narrated this in his Memoirs “A Doctor in the House” (2011):

“Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad and Abdullah Majid were Deputy Ministers in Tun Hussein’s administration. Abdullah Ahmad had been Tun Razak’s political secretary and was a family friend. He was also one of my strongest supporters. As if that that was not enough, three days before I was to be sworn in as Prime Minister, my political secretary, Siddiq Ghouse, was arrested for alleged espionage activities. The then Home Minister Tun Ghazali Shafie said that Siddiq was a spy for the Soviet KGB.“ (P03)

“So there I was, the non-pedigreed Deputy Prime Minister whose political secretary was a “spy” and whose friends were ‘communist sympathisers’. Any further rise in the party seemed unlikely.” (P03)

“… I faced political threats that were rooted in events within UMNO in which I was directly involved. Unhappy with Tun Razak’s decision to engineer Tun Hussein’s return to the party, several UMNO leaders had accused Tun Razak of being influenced by alleged communists such as Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad and Tan Sri A, Samad Ismail.” (P323)

“The moment Tun Hussein took over as Prime Minister, the then Home Minister Tun Ghazali Shafie decided to arrest Samad, Abdullah Majid and Abdullah Ahmad, accusing them of being communists out to influence the leaders of UMNO.…People have asked me why I thought he may have done this. Some believe that it was to get back at Tun Hussein and myself as successful ‘upstarts’ who had leapfrogged over others, including many loyal and long-serving veterans in the UMNO hierarchy.” (P323)

“I myself would have been arrested had I not been Deputy Prime Minister. The effect of those arrests was chilling, and they cast suspicion on Tun Hussein and me for harbouring communists.” (P323)

“Tun Ghazali did not stop at trying to associate me with alleged communists. Just days before I became Prime Minister, Tun Hussein came to my office …. to tell me that my political secretary, Siddiq Ghouse, was going to be arrested for being a spy for the Soviet Union’s KGB….” (P324)

“Siddiq was detained for almost two years. Having an alleged KGB spy work in my office could have been against me.” (P324)

Mahathir seems to have cleared the air

Politicians are capable of twisting facts just to favour them. However, Mahathir seems to have cleared the air on this matter, as he has indirectly blamed some UMNO hopefuls who have the tendency to use unfounded allegations against their political nemeses.

Indeed, Mahathir was the victim of “sabotage” within UMNO itself at one time when his enemies used the “communist scheme” to see his downfall. This is clear evidence of UMNO’s muddy traits in politics?

If powers divine

Behold our human actions – as they do –

I doubt not then but innocence shall make

False accusation blush.

~ Shakespeare

DAP denies communists links: Special Branch has been infiltrated by Umno - Guan Eng

by Lim Guan Eng | Malaysia Chronicle

DAP condemns BN for exploiting the police Special Branch as their political tool to undermine public confidence in PR to help BN win the next general elections. Special Branch chief assistant director of the E2(M) national social extremist threat division Mohd Sofian Md Makinuddin was quoted by national news agency Bernama on Thursday as claiming that JI elements were trying to infiltrate PAS while the communist elements were trying to infiltrate the DAP.

DAP has no knowledge of any communist infiltration and has no relationship with any communist elements. Mohd Sofian and the Special Branch behaved unprofessionally and irresponsibly by choosing to go public without first informing the DAP top leadership. This is a shameful act of political opportunism by Special Branch to make a baseless attack on DAP without needing to show proof.

Show evidence to the public

Would Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamudin Tun Hussein Onn dare to direct Special Branch to show evidence to the public how communists are infiltrating the DAP? If Hishamudin fails to do so, then it is the Special Branch that is infiltrated by UMNO! Such desperate tactics are just like UMNO who question DAP’s loyalty to Malaysia even though DAP top leaders had not obtained an Australian Permanent Resident like a MCA Minister.

Why is the police Special Branch still fighting communists when the former Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Nor and not PR that had signed a peace agreement with the Communist Party of Malaya on 2 December 1989. If Special Branch is so intent on fighting communists, then they should be fully ashamed for failing to perform their duty by acting against UMNO Youth President Khairy Jamaludin.

Why wasn't Khairy arrested

Should not then Khairy Jamaluddin be arrested and charged for trying to revive communism by setting up a permanent secretariat on October 12 2009 to strengthen ties between Barisan Nasional Youth and the Communist Youth League of China (CYL)? Barisan Youth chairman Khairy Jamaluddin had said that the permanent secretariat would facilitate continuous bilateral programmes to promote a stronger bond between the two entities. This is not a government to government relationship but party to party direct linkage.

Compared to the alleged infiltration into DAP by communists, the permanent secretariat between CYL and UMNO Youth is a direct linkage made knowingly, consciously and with full consent by Khairy Jamaludin. Special Branch top officers like Mohd Sofian should resign for failing to act against Khairy and UMNO Youth for forging a direct relationship with the CYL but instead has chosen to find communist shadows in the DAP when there are none.

Opposition leaders were not spared

Even when top DAP leaders were detained without trial under the infamous Internal Security Act, none of the top leaders were charged with communist links. Neither has Special Branch objected to the Malaysian government establishing diplomatic ties not only with China but also with Marxists regimes like Cuba. Linking DAP with communists is an electoral ploy and part of the political agenda of the Special Branch to frighten Malay voters to support UMNO and BN.

This latest smear campaign by Special Branch against the DAP is part of UMNO’s 3Ds tactics of denial of their own communist links, dirty tactics to scare the voters and deception to link PR with communists and extremists. Such desperate 3D tactics can no longer work because the people do not want to live and grope in the dark. The people yearn to live in the light with human dignity, integrity, freedom of information, truth, justice and democracy.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Najib/Hisham should explain why they are “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in giving greenlight to SB to go public with “cock and bull story” of JI terrorists and communists infiltrating PR parties as candidates

By Lim Kit Siang

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammmudin Hussein should explain why they are “scraping the bottom of the barrel” in giving the green light to the Special Branch to go public with the “cock and bull story” of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists and former communists infiltrating Pakatan Rakyat parties and trying to be fielded as candidates in the coming general election.

The Bernama report yesterday of the “revelation” by the Special Branch assistant director of the E2(M) national social extremist threat division head Mohd Sofian Md Makinuddin at the National Young Leaders Convention in Parliament yesterday, claiming that JI elements were trying to infiltrate PAS while the communist elements were trying to infiltrate DAP, would have been laughed off and dismissed as the most sick and top political joke of the year if not for the gravity of having such wild, scatter-brained and crackpot ideas influencing and determining policy making at the highest government and security levels in the country.

With the resurrection of the Islamist terrorist and communist bogeys infiltrating the Pakatan Rakyat parties, is the stage being set for a special operation against the Pakatan Rakyat parties to remove the democratic and legitimate threat posed by Pakatan Rakyat to continued UMNO/Barisan Nasional hold on federal power in the 13th general election?

It is open secret that Najib would have dissolved Parliament to hold general elections before the start of the fasting month tomorrow if not for the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28, which placed UMNO/Barisan Nasional in an even more adverse and disadvantageous position compounded by the most insensitive and high-handed government/police response which regarded salt and mineral water as capable of toppling the UMNO/BN government!

Have the UMNO/BN leadership become so desperate in the face of the democratic electoral challenge from Pakatan Rakyat that they have to get the Special Branch to conjure up the latest scare, “cock and bull story” of the JI and communists infiltrating Pakatan Rakyat parties, in particular PAS and DAP, to prepare for an undemocratic pre-emptive strike against the Pakatan Rakyat?

Or is this an attempt by the Special Branch establishment to justify its hogging of RM381 million or 6% of the 2012 police budget of RM6.3 billion when there is increasing demand that the police should be devoting more of its budget and resources to fighting crime and make Malaysia safe for Malaysians instead of just maintaining UMNO/BN hold on power after 54 years?

And why is the Biro Tatanegara of the Prime Minister’s Department involved in the one-day National Youth Convention to spread the lie and poison that Pakatan Rakyat parties are being infiltrated by JI terrorists and communists, when only last week, BTN was involved in the 1Malaysia Social Media Convention to raise an army of 10,000 UMNO/BN cybertroopers with the message that it was permissible to spin lies and falsehoods against the Pakatan Rakyat parties?

Is the Special Branch canard about JI terrorists and communists infiltrating Pakatan Rakyat parties the latest example of such permissible “spin” of lies and falsehoods against PR, just like the earlier “spins” of lies and falsehood about the DAP wanting to establish a Christian Malaysia and appoint a Christian Prime Minister as well as wanting to establish a republic by abolishing the constitutional monarchical system?

I challenge Najib, Hishammuddin and Mohd Sofian of the Special Branch to identify the present DAP and PR leaders, MPs and State Assembly members who are either closet JI terrorists or communists or name names of those who have “infiltrated” the PR parties “trying to be fielded as candidates in the coming general election”.

If not, Mohd Sofian should withdraw and apologise for such a serious and baseless allegation or he should face disciplinary action and even be sacked for making a most irresponsible statement unbecoming of a public servant whose topmost priority must be to serve the nation and not the political party currently in power.

Najib and Hishammuddin should also answer these questions. The Home Minister in particular should also tell Malaysian taxpayers when the Special Branch was officially recruited to be part of UMNO/BN propaganda machinery to help in its 13th general election campaign to hold on federal power!

Thursday, July 19, 2012



18th July 2012



In the first two chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, we read of two separate accounts of God giving to Adam rule and authority over the earth and all that live in it. In the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 5 and verses 13 to 15, Christians are told that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

These two passages and the collective message of our Holy Scripture point to the inescapable conclusion that Christians have a duty to protect and safeguard the earth, and all that live in it. Christians have not only been granted rights of leadership, but also the responsibility of stewardship.

In the context of the nation state, Christians, like other citizens, have been granted certain rights, including the right to participate in the democratic process of a country. This right to participate must be balanced with the responsibility of exercising that right, and doing so wisely.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) therefore invites and encourages all Christians to be conscious of their political rights - to vote, and to use the power of the vote to elect a government that will ensure justice with equity and the well-being of our nation. The CFM is not politically motivated nor is it endorsing any one political party.

It is of fundamental importance in a democracy, that citizens actually exercise their right to vote. Having the right to vote without utilising it is of little use.

Voting ensures that every Malaysian citizen participates in bringing about a more just and equitable Malaysia for succeeding generations to come.

Therefore, it is important that as Christians, we undertake our duty as citizens and exercise our right to vote and express our preference for a political coalition that will best achieve our vision of a better Malaysia.

In terms of our vision for a better Malaysia, CFM encourages Malaysian Christians to think about the following priorities:

A nation guided by the ethics of respect for human dignity. This means a nation where its citizens are engaged fairly as equals, and their rights respected in accordance with the provisions as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. Such a nation treats its citizens with understanding, honesty and mutual respect.

A nation where extremism of all kinds is rejected and quickly curtailed. Racial and religious bigotry, manipulation and lies that have now come to define the social sphere, the print media and political posturing must end immediately.

A nation free of corruption, putting in place strengthened state and public institutions whose members conduct themselves with integrity, transparency and accountability.

A nation that works towards the fair and equitable distribution of wealth and ensuring well-being for all, regardless of citizenship status, ethnicity or creed. Every citizen and every community should be empowered and enabled to pursue economic activity and achieve advancement duly and fairly supported by the government where needed and necessary without favour or discrimination and without being overly or unfairly supported by the state.

A nation where care for the environment is privileged over self-seeking capitalism and where its political leaders weigh all decisions with ecological interest and sustainability as an essential aspect of development.

A nation where language and education are de-linked from political expedience.

A nation where elitism and inequality is not rampant and people are recognised and respected as human beings and not discriminated against due to social position, educational attainment, political beliefs, gender, race or religion.

A nation where religious freedom to profess, practice and propagate one's religion is allowed to flourish without undue curtailment from the law, restrictions or even prohibition.

The CFM encourages Christians to pray that good leaders will emerge from the 13th general elections who will not only fulfil the above criteria, but who have the interest of our beloved nation and its people as their first and only priority.

Malaysians today are better educated, politically and socially more aware, and geographically more mobile than at any time in our history, and these have led to a citizenry that is more knowledgeable and experienced.

Churches have a responsibility to help guide their congregations to use their wisdom in the exercise of their right to vote in order to bring about a nation where all Malaysians, and those who choose to make their living in this country, can live in harmony and prosperity, peace and justice.

May the grace and the peace of God be with you.

Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing
Chairman and the Executive Committee
The Christian Federation of Malaysia

Bersih 2.0 Statement: Tun Hanif Omar’s panel fails to recognise the brutal conduct of the police during Bersih 3.0

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (BERSIH 2.0) views the recent statements by former chief of police Tun Hanif Omar in which he termed the allegations of police brutality as “unprofessional” as a weak response in the face of numerous eyewitness accounts of violence from the authorities during the 28 April peaceful assembly.

Hanif said that Kuala Lumpur Chief Police Officer Datuk Mohmad Salleh, who was observing through monitors in the Bukit Aman control centre, saw police handling the protesters in an unprofessional manner but does not acknowledge the brutal and excessive force used by the police as depicted in the medical reports of some protestors.

He also said that the police officers on duty had not been given specific instructions or SOPs on how to deal with the media and that the panel was trying to get the police to declare whether they received the three United Nations guidelines on treatment of the media and handling of crowds, among others. Hanif should realise that the police surely receive their instructions from those higher up; thus, the IGP and Home Minister are also responsible.

The response from IGP Tan Sri Ismail Omar that SOPs for police handling of the media would be issued “soon” fails to concretely address the concerns of the public and international community who witnessed many instances of violence directed at the media during the gathering.

On Hanif’s renewed call for the BERSIH 2.0 steering committee to meet with his panel, BERSIH 2.0 reiterates its objections to the panel itself as well as to Hanif’s appointment as its chairman and will not engage with it due to the biasness and composition of the investigative panel.

We also wish to remind the authorities that the unanswered question still remains – who is responsible for the untold violence upon participants of the peaceful assembly that occurred after the first tear gas was fired?

As depicted in the on-going public inquiry by Suhakam, evidence based on medical reports of some who were detained by the police appears to show that some members of the police force were out to punish those who wore BERSIH 3.0 t-shirts, anti-Lynas t-shirts or any yellow t-shirts, by inflicting excessive and completely unjustified violence on them.

Some detainees were attacked at the time of arrest, when they were in shops dining, or about to board LRTs while others were attacked after arrest and despite the absence of struggle. Some were alleged to have been assaulted by over 30 police personnel. Many speak of having to “run the gauntlet” of police personnel and beaten repeatedly before being loaded onto police trucks.

The brutality suggests that a segment of the police force on duty that day had acted with vengeance against BERSIH 3.0 participants whether due to orders given to them or because they had lost control. There are too many reports of police officers who were wearing blue police uniforms but without their names and police identity numbers so as to prevent the victims of violence from identifying the perpetrators of police violence. This cannot be taken lightly by those in power.

In addition to BERSIH 3.0 participants, it must not be forgotten that more than 12 photographers and journalists were assaulted, intimidated or detained by police while reporting the rally, and cameras, memory cards and video equipment were taken away.

As such, it is disappointing to see the Home Minister merely repeating the government’s stance that the panel’s findings of police violence only supported the Government’s position on the need to have mass gatherings in a controlled environment such as a stadium. BERSIH 2.0 remains firm that those in power must remember their first duty is to protect the constitutional freedom of citizens to assemble peacefully.

Thus, BERSIH 2.0 wishes to repeat its call for the establishment of an independent police commission such as theIndependent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate any allegations of police misconduct and violence in a manner that is credible and fair in the eyes of the Malaysian public. Anything less than this will not be acceptable for a public that has grown weary of lip service and the people will not hesitate to make this clear during the next elections.

Keluar Mengundi, Lawan Penipuan!

Salam Bersih!

BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee

Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0)

The Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0 comprises:

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan (Co-Chairperson), Datuk A. Samad Said (Co-Chairperson), Ahmad Shukri Abdul Razab, Andrew Khoo, Arul Prakkash, Arumugam K., Awang Abdillah (Kuching), Dominic Hii (Sibu), Dr Farouk Musa, Hishamuddin Rias, Liau Kok Fah, Mark Bujang (Miri), Maria Chin Abdullah, Niloh Ason (Kuching), Richard Y W Yeoh, Dr Subramaniam Pillay, Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon, Dr Wong Chin Huat, Dato’ Yeo Yang Poh and Zaid Kamaruddin

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teoh Beng Hock: Dead men do tell tales

By Mariam Mokhtar |

Even UMNO members can allegedly fall foul of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). In January 2009, three MACC officers detained 46 year-old Halimi Kamaruzzaman, an UMNO party member, and allegedly assaulted him during his detention.

Six months later, Teoh Beng Hock was asked to report to the MACC office for questioning. Despite the chilling similarities between Teoh’s and Halimi’s cases, the crucial difference is that they went too far with Teoh.

Halimi alleged that the MACC officers wanted to extract a confession from him and implicate UMNO Supreme Council member Norza Zakaria in money politics. Norza has close ties with Khairy Jamaluddin, who was the UMNO Youth deputy chief then.

The injuries inflicted on Halimi (with Norza Zakaria right) were not recorded as the closed circuit television camera in the room had been disconnected. During his four days of detention in Kuantan, he alleged that three MACC officers, including the head of a unit, had physically assaulted and rained blows on his head, stomach and shoulders.

“I was also forced to strip naked, lie down and roll on the floor. An officer choked me against the wall. They threatened me that my wife would also be arrested and be asked to strip if I did not agree to make a confession that I handed over money to UMNO members.

“I had to do squats, sing Negaraku and the UMNO song many times and the officer threatened to burn my private part with a cigarette”.

Very few were aware of this incident. Perhaps, NGO groups and Opposition party members were reluctant to highlight this incident because Halimi was considered one of the ruling coalition. If that is the case, then they have only to search their consciences into why they did not act with more determination to save Halimi from his abusers.

Keeping alive the memory of Teoh until justice is served is relevant to all Malaysians. It matters because one day, it could so easily happen to you.

If we do not demand justice, even for strangers, then who will fight for us, should a similar fate befall us? It matters because someone knows something and is not prepared to speak up. It matters because a man’s life was taken.

Some people will wonder why we still bother to revive the circumstances and investigations surrounding the mysterious death of political aide Teoh. There are a few who will maintain that it is a waste of time and tell us that “the government will never listen”, or “it was so long ago, what’s the point?” Well, they are wrong.

For the living, the torment continues

Teoh wasn’t supposed to die like that. He was in the prime of his life, with marriage on the books and a child on the way. He may be gone, but for the living, the torment continues, none more so than for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

It was Najib who promised the Teoh family three years ago, “No stone will be left unturned in finding out the real cause of death and, if there is any foul play, action will definitely be taken.” To date, he has not fulfilled that promise.

That Teoh lives on in people’s memories and is feared, more in death than when he was alive, is partly Najib’s doing. Had Najib lanced the boil and ordered a proper, detailed investigation into Teoh’s death, his credibility would have been enhanced, and his reputation slightly improved. Najib, who prides himself on being a reformer, failed to live up to his promise.

The Prime Minister is to blame for the growing unrest over Teoh’s death, whilst the Opposition has been able to tap into people’s frustrations. We can record our disgust at the foot dragging, whitewashes and farcical interpretations by so–called government experts in the investigation.

From the outset, the ‘routine’ interrogation of Teoh by the MACC raised more questions than answers. The MACC officers were investigating a claim that Teoh’s boss, Selangor state executive councillor Ean Yong Hian Wah, was misusing state funds.

The rakyat is puzzled why the MACC were so thorough in the investigation of Teoh’s case, which allegedly involved RM 2,400 whilst ignoring the bigger cases of corruption involving several hundred millions of ringgits. It was alleged that Najib wanted to wrest back control of Selangor.

The royal commission of inquiry report revealed that three MACC officers had played an instrumental role in Teoh’s death. To date, they have not been punished.

To appease the public, especially in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of Teoh’s death, the MACC Chief Commissioner, Abu Kassim Mohamed, said that the commission would first make its recommendations to its complaints committee before dishing out any disciplinary action.

At a time when public confidence in our public institutions needs to be restored, the leaders and civil societies have failed the rakyat.

Nothing to do with race

Teoh’s death has nothing to do with race. The list of people who died in unexplained circumstances is long – teenager Aminulrasyid Amzah, customs officer Ahmad Sarbaini Mohamed , or car salesman A Kugan. These were perfectly healthy men, but all came out in a box.

When UMNO’s Halimi was allegedly framed to implicate those higher up in UMNO, more should have been done to highlight his plight. NGOs and opposition groups should have rallied to his cause. It does not matter if the victim is Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dusun, Iban or Orang Asli, or that he belongs to UMNO, DAP or any other party.

Abu Kassim has shown poor leadership qualities. He has tainted the MACC and prolonged the agony of everyone involved. He should resign.

Najib, if he had any sense, would tap into the growing frustration of the public and demand that the three MACC men implicated in Teoh’s death be punished. He may well have them jailed before GE13, to save himself, albeit temporarily.

We should remember that Teoh’s death occurred because someone messed up and pushed the boundaries too far. It is up to us to ensure that he and his family gets justice. It is also up to us to make sure others do not suffer the same fate.

Our readers come first | theSundaily

R. Nadeswaran

"THE only thing truthful in newspapers these days are the obituaries because publishers demand to see the death certificate and keep records of the advertiser. "There're two more which are also truthful – the four digit lottery results and the prayer times."

THESE were the remarks made by professionals we met in Penang last week on assignment to provide a comprehensive report on hillside development on the island. They no longer believe the newspapers and rely on news portals for what they termed as "accurate information". There was little to counter what they said but we steadfastly maintained that this newspaper lives by its credo – telling it as it is. For a good measure, it was categorically said that we are one of the few newspapers which practise a policy of right of reply.

I have reiterated in this column that I do not expect everyone to agree with what I have to say. The right to disagree is unquestionable. There are a variety of reasons why individuals have their own perceptions. Some have their own principles or conscience; there are those who have a disdain for the writer, publisher or owner; there are those whose livelihood and incomes are affected; some find it unacceptable when difficult questions are put forward and there are a host of other reasons.

There are many in the fraternity who see it as their calling to educate, inform and entertain the public on matters affecting them. Sticking to their beliefs, some have walked out when they are forced to do something to the contrary. There are far too many examples to illustrate this point.

Journalists and their profession have come under severe attack in the recent past. And it could be justifiable depending on who is saying it and the evidence that can be produced to back such claims. With documents in our possession showing journalists being paid for writing "positive" reports and having seen editors and journalists in action, sometimes, you have to agree with the critics.

In the 70s, I met George Devan at KL Hilton's Tin Mine. He snapped a picture of me and delivered it to the office. He was an insurance agent but never made any sales pitch and before festivals, he published advertisements with his photograph which said: If you think of George Devan, don't think about insurance, but if you think of insurance think of George Devan."

I have not seen him for years as I am told that he shuttles between his homes in California and Bangsar but when Parliament had its first sitting in 2008, memories of George Devan came back.

An editor turned up in Parliament House with two photographers in tow and they were snapping pictures of their boss posing with MPs and ministers. I do not mind if it was for his private collection or if he had wanted to do a "George Devan" or they were to be used if any MP, in the future, climbed up the ladder. That's because in the past, there have been pictures of editors and journalists with VIPs on private yachts and dinners – a way of telling readers that he or she is on first-name basis with the high and mighty.

Under these circumstances, when you put your name to an article which is perceived as propaganda, the conclusion that readers come to are inevitable. And when editors roll in glee at the misfortune of their counterparts and use it to elevate themselves, the reading public passes its own judgment.

Journalists like other human beings are not infallible. We have our strengths and weaknesses; we have our ups and downs; we have great days and bad days. Not all of us go out to spin or doctor stories to suit our paymasters. But when we put pen to paper, our thoughts are always on our readers.

We treat our readers as intelligent, knowledgeable and well-informed people who can make educated decisions based on the information before them. The downfall comes when journalists (and editors) think they can shape opinions by feeding endless fluff and taking their readers to be having less than average intelligence.

The generalisation of the profession in which all are painted with the same brush is unfair to many practicing journalists who ply their trade in an honest, fair and acceptable manner. There are many among us who stand up to partisan editors who have their own agendas and ambitions.

And finally, journalists are merely conveying the message. Columnists like me want to convey the message and sometimes take a personal stand on issues. You have the right to disagree and no one can take that right away from you.

R. Nadeswaran is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun and can be reached at:

The question of housing (Part 2): Towards a sustainable solution

By Zairil Khir Johari | TMI

I have previously written about the housing situation in Penang, in which there is a stark mismatch between supply and demand. This mismatch takes the form of an oversupply of housing stock at both the lowest and highest range of income earners, while there is an undersupply at the middle-income range.

For the bottom 40 per cent of income earners, the number of affordable housing stock doubles the number of families at that income range. At the opposite end, there are more luxury residential developments compared to the number of households at the highest income bracket, though this represents a completely different problem altogether.

However, the real problem of housing in Penang is the unavailability of housing stock to supply the middle-income earners. Currently, there is a shortage of 70,052 units for this group of typically newly-wed professionals and young middle-class families.

This glaring affordability gap threatens to be a serious problem, especially considering the fact that Penang is a middle-income state with a higher-than-national average mean household income of RM4,407 per month.

Affordability, of course, is a subjective issue. One can easily point out that since there are surplus units at the low-cost range, these families could simply purchase houses that cost under RM150,000. However, the prospect of living in a cramped two-bedroom flat in a building that would unlikely be well-maintained and potentially having crowded neighbouring units housing low-skilled foreign labour is unlikely to be what a young aspiring family earning a joint income of RM5,000 would be looking for. At the same time, a three-bedroom apartment in a nice neighbourhood would probably cost more than RM350,000, which would be out of their reach.

This acute mismatch did not, of course, occur overnight. The demographic trends have always been there, but flawed development and planning policies throughout the decades have led to a situation in which the construction of housing stock does not meet the demographic needs.

There are two major reasons for this. Firstly, the role of providing social housing has been outsourced to the private sector without sufficient controls or informed guidelines by the government. In line with the national housing policy, developers are compelled to allocate a portion of their housing project as low-cost units (30 per cent in Penang, ranging from 20 to 40 per cent nationwide depending on the state).

By imposing this obligation — euphemistically described as “corporate social responsibility” — upon developers, the government is in fact shirking its responsibilities in an unsound manner. On what basis is this arbitrary quota derived? The 30 per cent figure was introduced in 1982 — is it still relevant today? Does it reflect demographic demands and future growth projects? What about geographical and socio-economic distribution?

Also, this blanket strategy means that it is the same requirement (with some variations depending on the state) on all developments with only minor regard to other factors such as its gross development value, selling price, housing type and location.

As a result of this uninformed policy, we have often ended up with sub-standard products as developers seek to cut corners to protect their bottomline. Furthermore, it is precisely such policies that have exacerbated the uneven development of housing stock, particularly in Penang. This is because most new housing projects tend to be high-end developments, and since they are forced to abide by the quota they end up building more low-cost housing that may not necessarily be needed.

Secondly, this supply and demand mismatch is also caused by market factors. As I have explained in my previous article, intense competition, costly land prices, and demand for high-end housing encouraged by a speculative property market and irresponsible lending policies virtually make building houses at the affordable range financially unattractive. When faced with the option of building medium-cost houses that will generate narrow margins or “upping” it to a high-end development and prospectively making much more, it is a no-brainer which option a developer would choose.

Therefore, this mismatch dilemma is a result of unintuitive housing policies on the one hand, and market failure on the other. In such a situation, the only conceivable solution is for the state to take ownership of the problem.

Recognising this gross deficiency, the Penang state government has begun to make changes. Instead of simply forcing developers to fulfil the low-cost housing quota, financial contribution is now allowed in lieu. Though the quantum can potentially be increased, this policy change is by far an improvement, as it is now no longer a blanket strategy but one that takes into account the size, price, location and type of development that is going to be built. By collecting money instead of forcing developers to build low-cost units, the state will then have revenue to channel towards more pressing housing needs.

In addition, the state government has announced the introduction of stiffer foreign ownership laws in a bid to curb foreign speculation. Under the new regulation, there will be a minimum value of RM1 million for foreign property purchases (RM2 million for landed property) on the island.

However, there is still much more that can be done. The state should also push the market in the right direction by instituting an intuitive system that taxes the “wrong” type of housing developments and “rewards” the right ones. For example, if the state is in need of a particular type of housing, then higher levies should be imposed on the other types, with a scale that is proportionate to the gross development value of the project.

At the same time, a holistic housing policy is not sufficient if it is only concerned about managing market forces. The state must also play a direct role in the provision of affordable, quality housing, and that means actually building or subsidising them. This is especially so in Penang, where there is a stark undersupply of housing for the middle-income group. That said, the state’s role does not end by simply providing stock to fill the gaps, but it must also be involved in overseeing development guidelines, ownership control, maintenance policy and a resale mechanism to control speculation in social housing. On this note, the Penang state government has taken active steps in the right direction by allocating an unprecedented RM500 million for direct intervention via an affordable housing fund.

In the bigger picture, revisions to quit rent and assessment rates are also necessary, and should be designed in such a way as to tax larger and more expensive properties in order to increase the cost of speculation. Conversely, smaller and cheaper properties should enjoy reduced rates. There should also be no exemption for unoccupied property.

Looking ahead, perhaps it is also timely for new, bold and creative ideas. As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat. As high housing prices will always be an issue for a water-locked island, it may also be useful to think beyond the “ownership” model. There are many options to consider — full rental, rent-to-own, or perhaps even a co-share ownership model with the state.

Finally, housing development must never be approached in a piecemeal fashion. Its policies should necessarily form a logical part of an overall land use plan that must take into account future socio-economic needs and changing demographic trends. Ideally, it should also go hand-in-hand with changes to federal policies, as factors such as fiscal and monetary policies play an influential role.

Though the housing problems in Penang may appear to be peculiar to the state, the truth is that its underlying factors are similar throughout the country. Thus, what is required not only for Penang, but also for the rest of Malaysia, is a total rethink of our outdated and unsustainable housing and planning policies at both state and federal levels.

The question of housing (Part 1): Understanding the problem


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