KTMB Land Issue: The Last Train into Tanjung Pagar

June 29, 2011

KTMB Land Issue: The last Train  into Tanjung Pagar

by Din Merican

In signing the Points of Agreement (POA) on Malayan Railway (KTM) Land with Singapore on June 27, 2011 Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nor Mohamed Yakcop said, “It’s a very happy day. It’s a new beginning for us in cooperation in attracting investment. It’s excellent for both countries. We are confident this is a new beginning for good cooperation and plenty of investments. Certainly,  not only Iskandar will do well but the whole of Malaysia will do well because of confidence factor in attracting foreign investment.”

In reciprocation, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said: ”It really takes the relationship to a different level. It’s win-win….for both countries and promises much more. In that sense, in every sense, it’s historic moment.”

As a long time friend of Singapore who had the privilege of living and working there in late 1980s, I join Malaysians and Singaporeans in supporting and welcoming this enhancement in bilateral relations between our two countries on a mutually advantageous basis, one that could be continuously strengthened in the future.

But I am of the view that to sustain this positive momentum in bilateral relations, cooperative efforts and other confidence building measures cannot be undertaken in an opaque manner. There is, therefore, a need for our government to keep Malaysians informed on vital issues like the KTMB Land issue.

Murkiness, obfuscation and mystery have unfortunately overshadowed the so-called “win-win” deal in respect of a land swap deal in Singapore involving KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd), which was agreed to between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, in Kuala Lumpur May 24 and September 20, 2010.

Six rounds of talks have been held between Heads of Foreign Ministries of both countries, even if the main negotiators have been our Khazanah National Bhd and Temasik Holdings, the respective government’s investment arm.

To-date, no details on the definitive outcome of the deal have been made public by either government even after the conclusion of the sixth and final talks, which were held in Singapore on December 31 last year.

Instead, out of the blue, The STAR newspaper ran a story on June 9, 2011 under the caption “Party plans on track for last train ride to Tanjung Pagar”. And on June 14, 2011, The New Straits Times in a front page report said “Tickets snapped up for KTMB’s final Tanjung Pagar service”.Apparently, KTMB had recently taken some of our journalists on a tour/special trip down to Tanjung Pagar (picture above right).

Historical Significane of June 30, 2011

It would appear that KTMB as well as some in our media tend to treat the pending closure of the nearly 100-year old Tanjung Pagar Station and the historic building as something merely nostalgic. Seeking out and keeping our public informed regarding details on the outcome of the six rounds of official talks by the two countries or on related issues of the railways service or its history seems unimportant to them.

Singaporeans must have been in glee over KTMB’s idea of entertaining our  history-deficient journalists, who do not seem to know that our country could have taken for a ride by Singapore over tens of billions of KTMB real estate in Singapore without adequate compensation.

A rather perceptive member of the public, a certain Karim Mahsood, on June 13, 2011 wrote to The STAR newspaper, reminding readers that June 30, 2011, the date of the last train to Tanjung Pagar “… is not a joyous affair, but a heartbreaking episode in the history of KTMB in Singapore… “

Karim Mahsood attributed this development to “… a series of unfortunate steps…” that were taken by our own leaders, which began in 1990 with a lopsided agreement between Malaysia and Singapore called the Points of Agreement (POA), and culminating in the 2010 deal for KTMB to relocate its services from Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands on June 30, 2011.

The Najib-Lee Hsien Loong Deal

Under the Najib-Lee Hsien Loong deal, the Singapore Government would vest four tiny land parcels in Marina South and two parcels of land in Ophir-Rochor in MS Pte Ltd. (a joint-venture company set up by Khazanah National Bhd. and Temasik Holdings in a 60-40 % equity arrangement respectively, for the development of the said six parcels when KTMB  vacates the Tanjung Pagar Railway Station), in lieu of the three parcels of so-called POA land in Tanjung Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands and three pieces of land in Bukit Timah. The long and short of the deal is that KTMB’s Tanjung Pagar Station will be closed on or by July 1, 2011 and relocated to Woodlands temporarily.

And on June 26, 2011, there was yet another bolt out of the blue: that Nor Mohamed Yakoop (and not Foreign Minister Anifah Aman) and Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Law, K. Shanmugam, would sign “the instrument containing details of the implementation of the POA on KTMB land in Singapore” on June 27. It was couched innocuously  that Tanjung Pagar would be closed down by or on July 1, 2011. Perhaps, both governments want this momentous event to pass off unnoticed.

Nor Mohamed and Shanmugam also confirmed that Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to open a “rapid transit system (RTS) link” between the two countries by 2018 and, secondly, that yet another joint-venture company had been established – in addition to MS Pte Ltd – known as Iskandar JV Co. , held 50-50 by Khazanah Bhd and Temasek Holdings to undertake two development projects in Iskandar Malaysia involving 87 hectares of land.

Despite the above, the public in both countries, particularly in Malaysia, remain uninformed especially as to how the Najib-Hsien Loong deal would contribute to mutually advantageous relationship between our two countries in the future and, specifically, how the deal would safeguard Malaysia’s “national interest”. Indeed, there are wider political implications that our Government leaders must face.

The KTMB Land saga(and other properties in Singapore) does raise several important points:

a) The move by KTMB to Woodlands will signal the beginning of the transfer to Singapore, not only the historic railway station building in Tanjung Pagar, but also some 175.7 hectares of KTMB land, in exchange for joint development of six parcels of land in Marina South and Ophir-Rocher whose total value is also not known to the public. ASIAWEEK magazine in its March 31, 1995 issue estimated the 32 hectares of prime property of Tanjung Pagar alone to be worth USD 2 billion, making KTMB “… the republic’s second-biggest land owner after the local government”.

b) When KTMB vacates Tanjung Pagar Railway Station to “tumpang”(squat) at Singapore CIQ building in Woodlands by July 1, 2011, it would actually mean that all KTM land in the Island nation, south of Woodlands, will revert to Singapore. This Malaysian real estate in Singapore – some 175.7 hectares in all – will be gone forever without adequate compensation to Malaysia. Again based on ASIAWEEK’s estimate in 1995 of the 32 hectares of Tanjung Pagar property, KTMB’s entire 175.7 hectares of real estate in the island Republic could today easily be worth between USD 0.25 to USD 0.5 trillion.

c) The Woodlands checkpoint is not a railway station in the normal sense but a Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint belonging to Singapore. It is indeed difficult to imagine how KTMB can effectively use the Woodlands checkpoint as its new terminal in Singapore.  It does look like KTMB will be compelled to retreat further north to Johar Bahru, sooner rather than later. When that happens, a glorious chapter in the history of KTMB operations to and from Singapore would be forced into an early closure.

d) The 1990 POA was Lee Kuan Yew’s strategic move to subtly uproot the KTMB Railway line which literally divides the Island State into two halves from North to South. Therefore, the move by KTMB from Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands is also the beginning of the fulfillment of Lee Kuan Yew’s dream since 1990.

e) The injection of the so-called “development charges” by the Prime Minister of Singapore at the eleventh hour into the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur  is seen as one made in bad faith.

As a matter of fact, Singapore’s insistence that Khazanah will have to pay certain “development charges” might mean that in reality Singapore would get KTMB’s entire 175.7 hectares in Singapore as well as Khazanah’s investment in joint development projects in Singapore  practically for free.

f) And, in the meantime, the dispute over the so-called “development charges” has still not been resolved. There is absolute silence over the status of the matter, which both countries agreed in Kuala Lumpur in 2010 to be brought up to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

g) No less serious are real concerns here that not only will KTMB lose 175.7 hectares of its land and even Khazanah’s investments in Singapore but, more importantly, that Malaysia, as a whole, over the longer haul, would effectively lose control of large chucks of Johor and even land as far as Malacca to Singapore through the Iskandar- Malaysia ventures and other similar plans.

How some Singaporeans look at the Najib-Hsien Loong Deal? Many Singaporeans who are friends of Malaysia are puzzled why the Malaysian negotiators agreed to such a deal in the first place? They ask what possible quid pro quo benefits Malaysia could have. Surely, they say Malaysia does not need the money.

Is maintaining KTMB’s assets in Singapore a burden to Malaysia? If this is not the case, then Malaysia has the upper hand. So, what and why the rush and why the bending-backwards? Why so eager to close the deal? Worse still, friendly Singaporeans ask why “so cheap”?Many Singaporeans believe Malaysia is “incompetent” and, as a result, gets short-changed. That Malaysia is always ill-prepared and that it is not thorough enough. They attribute this to a number of factors:

i) partly due to interference by our politicians and that our civil servants have been marginalized;

ii) structurally, Malaysia does not have and fails to attract the brightest brains into the Civil Service, people with the long-term interest of the country at heart;

and iii) politicians and civil servants with too much personal, short-term interests to fight the kiasu, no-holds-barred, win-all, no tolak ansur (no give and take) Singapore’s Team. This, Singaporeans say, is at the root of the problem, one that is most unfortunate.

Why Nor Mohamad, not Anifah Aman

Singaporeans are also generally puzzled as to why Nor Mohamed Yakoop represented Malaysia at the recent signing ceremony in Singapore? They expected Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to have accompanied Nor Mohamed and do the honours for Malaysia.

But as proud Singaporeans, they say the deal is okay – after all it is Malaysia’s loss and Singapore’s gain. As Singaporeans they feel proud of their Team, who got the best deal for Singapore. As for Lee Kuan Yew, getting such a deal from Malaysia makes the outcome even sweeter.

Need for Transparency

All told, transparency is crucial in ensuring positive, forward movement in bilateral relations as well as in winning the hearts and minds of the public. One can try to mask underlining problems of any deal by words and promises of future infrastructural development and consequent economic growth. But good intentions can produce bad results.

Foreign policy should be concerned with a country’s “national interest”. Diplomacy as an instrument of Foreign Policy is the art of negotiation, of getting deals that serve the national interest.  In other words, “national interest” should dictate Foreign Policy.

Unless “national interest “is firmly embedded in the minds of government ministers, it is not likely that the making of foreign policy will return to its proper, central place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in our case, Wisma Putra). In this regard, Singaporean diplomats and their political masters are stark realists, always serving their country’s national interest.

In conclusion, there is a need for proper national debate in Malaysia on the Najib- Hsien Loong deal– in the media, in intellectual and business circles and, indeed, ultimately in Parliament. Perhaps, a White Paper should be presented to our legislators in Parliament.

Christine Lagarde is IMF Managing Director

June 29, 2011

France’s Christine Lagarde is IMF Managing Director

WASHINGTON: France’s Christine Lagarde was named on Tuesday (June 28, 2011) as the first-ever female chief of the IMF, faced with an immediate crisis as violent Greek protests rocked the stability of the eurozone.

The French Finance Minister, respected for her leadership during the financial crises that have rocked Europe over the past three years, was chosen to replace countryman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned abruptly on May 18 after being arrested in New York for an alleged sexual assault.

“I am honoured and delighted that the board has entrusted me with the position of MD of the IMF.” Lagarde said via Twitter minutes after the announcement.

Despite grumblings from emerging economies over Europe’s 65-year lock on the IMF’s top job, the solid support of the United States and European nations made it virtually impossible for Mexican challenger Agustin Carstens.

Ultimately key emerging nations, including Brazil, China and Russia, also gave Lagarde their backing. Choosing Lagarde was expected to ease concerns in Europe over the Fund’s support for the fragile bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland in the wake of the unexpected departure of Strauss-Kahn.

“The executive board of the International Monetary Fund today selected Christine Lagarde to serve as IMF managing director and madame chairman of the executive board for a five-year term starting on July 5, 2011,” the Fund said in a statement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office declared it a “victory for France.”

Since the race began in late May, 55-year-old Lagarde has been the strong favourite over Carstens, Mexico’s central bank chief, despite his formidable resume.

Despite an effort to cobble together a developing world challenge to Europe’s lock on the job, key emerging economies were persuaded by Lagarde’s lobbying to cast in for her.

And few had expected Washington to break the tacit pact, dating to the founding of the International Monetary Fund and sister institution the World Bank, that an American would run the Bank while a European headed the Fund.

The 187-nation Fund, which plays a crucial but often controversial role aiding countries in financial straits, was left reeling after Strauss-Kahn resigned in the middle of tense negotiations over Greece’s massive bailout and anxiety over other struggling European economies.

Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief since 2007, was arrested in New York on allegations that he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid. He denies the charges, and remains under house arrest while preparing his defence.

With their crisis festering, Europe’s powers aggressively put forward Lagarde. Though not an economist, she has gained wide respect as France’s point-woman during its leadership of the G20 as well as in European debt talks.

“The big advantage of Christine Lagarde is representing a continuity in the cooperation between the Fund and the eurozone,” said a source close to the IMF. Nevertheless, Lagarde had to tour the world to convince emerging economic powers like China and India that she would not be too biased to take tough stances on the European bailouts.

“I am not here to represent the interest of any given region of the world, but rather the entire membership,” she told the IMF board last week.

- AFP/de

Backing Down would be Unthinkable

June 29, 2011

BERSIH 2.0 Rally: Backing Down would be Unthinkable

by Terence Netto

By now, the tactics of self-declared opponents of the BERSIH 2.0 march are clear: PERKASA and UMNO Youth want to ratchet up the pre-march tensions such that the atmosphere becomes taut enough to crack. If it does, it would not be difficult to guess who would be blamed for the ensuing clashes.

Seldom in recent Malaysian history has a looming public event such as the BERSIH march on July 9 polarised opinion so sharply: one would be hard put to encounter a public issues-aware citizen who does not have an opinion – either for or against – on the march.

Thanks to provocative statements by PERKASA’s Ibrahim Ali and the reported threats by some UMNO Youth firebrands to burn the PKR headquarters down, the stage is set for a confrontation.

Of course, things need not be that way. All parties should be free to demonstrate, to engage in what can be called ‘symbolic speech’ – the espousal of opinion in civilly demonstrated forms. However, for that to take place peacefully in the context of the marches scheduled for July 9, you need the Police to be present to see that demonstrators don’t get carried away.

But the Police have pre-judged the issue by coming out early with a stand against allowing the BERSIH march. They followed up by calling up for questioning several players from the side that favours the march for electoral reform.That was not all.

By arresting some 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) activists, who are actually fringe players in the BERSIH drama on grounds that the detained may have committed offences under Section 122 of the Penal Code which entails rebelling against the King, the Police are opting to be partisans in the fray rather than umpires above it.

A late attempt at balanced action against the contending parties – their calling up Ibrahim Ali for questioning and their investigation of inflammatory statements by UMNO Youth hotheads – won’t wash as demonstrations of Police neutrality.

The Police can rescue things by freeing the PSM detainees and allowing the BERSIH and other marches to go on with them opting for a policing of good behaviour role. What chance is there of that happening?

Beckoning Police’s better instincts

Well, the good point about political behaviour in a democratic arena is that it allows for redemption by the hitherto erring.

This was what PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim was hoping for in remarks he made when he emerged to speak to the press after being called for questioning by the Police yesterday. He beckoned the Police to the courage of their better instincts, alluding to unseen hands as working to deviate the force from their fiduciary duty. He said he felt that absent the manipulation, the Police were wont to do the right thing.

That is an opinion that national literary laureate A Samad Said may be loath to agree with after his experience of Police questioning a day earlier. Literati love the ineffable and Samad proved no exemption. He gave vent to his instincts by penning ‘Unggun Bersih’, a lilting ode to democracy.

The Police asked if he was paid to write the poem. Writers like Samad rarely respond to commissions; they write as the instinct takes them.

The chagrin Samad felt at the question must have singed his flowing whiskers, for he emerged from the ordeal to declare that he would be at the BERSIH march. For someone who is pushing 80 and reportedly in not too healthy a condition, the Police questioning must have recharged his batteries, for there was steel in his determination to be among the marchers.

Which is precisely what the inflammatory statements from Ibrahim Ali and his ilk have contributed to the situation in the prelude to the July 9 event.

Ibrahim Ali’s Orwellian doublespeak

Ibrahim’s latest provocation, couched in Orwellian doublespeak, sees him urging PERKASA types not to bring weapons to their march on the same day. That would be like Mullah Omar suggesting that as an earnest of the Taliban’s desire to parley with the Americans, his side would renounce suicide bombing.

The rhetoric, from one side at least, has been of the ‘offer no hostages to fortune’ type. Backing down from these prideful positions would be unthinkable. The only way out would be if the Police allow all to march and content themselves with policing the behaviour of the marchers.

Or if the Election Commission, without imposing pre-conditions, commences talks with BERSIH on their eight demands, with prior acquiescence to a couple of the demands. That would be the lever to break the looming jam.-http://www.malaysiakini.com

Cambodia After Year Zero

June 28, 2011


Cambodia After Year Zero

By Joel Whitney
Published: June 24, 2011

In the preface to “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land,” Joel Brink­ley recalls his first encounter with Cambodia. Brinkley was reporting for The Louisville Courier-Journal from a refugee camp near the Thai border in 1979, in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign.

“As they tell of years of horror and misery,” Brinkley wrote, “their faces are expressionless and dull . . . as if they’re talking about a dull day of work. Their tales end with a nodding acknowledgment of the death of their nation and culture.” Brinkley, who later worked for The New York Times, finds little has changed in the 32 years since then.

As the title suggests, his book is an unabashed plea to refocus international aid and diplomacy on a suffering people. It is also an attempt to hold some of those responsible for that suffering accountable — but not all.Cambodia lost a quarter of its population under the Khmer Rouge. For many, survival meant 14-hour days of backbreaking work, often on little more than a cupful of rice or a smattering of gruel. You could be killed on the least suspicion you sympathized with the Vietnamese. The effects of this period have proven hard to shake.

Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries. “Among Southeast Asian nations,” Brinkley writes, “only Burma is poorer, on a per capita basis.” At least 30 percent of Cambodians live on less than a dollar a day. About 40 percent of children suffer from stunting (failure to develop because of poor nutrition). In 2010 only 30 percent of Cambodian middle-school-age students were enrolled in school. Asia’s self-described “longest ruling prime minister,” Hun Sen, is a murderous kleptocrat, Brinkley shows. Corruption is rife. The sick may die waiting for treatment if they cannot pay doctors’ bribes in hospitals.

Statistics of suffering aside, “Cambodia’s Curse,” when it is at its most thorough, acknowledges the role of rich countries in this disaster. Every year for more than a decade, Brinkley recounts, donor organizations and states made toothless pleas that Hun Sen pass an anti-corruption law. But once money was pledged, the law would stall another year. As a result of this annual pas de deux, donors had given Hun Sen $18 billion by 2010, essentially with no strings, before the law was enacted. And when it finally did pass last year, it had been gutted into meaninglessness.

“Some Cambodians and others remained astounded by the donors’ behavior,” Brinkley writes. Why didn’t they withhold aid? Echoing the economist Dambisa Moyo, Brinkley suggests that the corruption is symbiotic. “If they cut off aid to the government, as the human rights groups were demanding, many donors would lose their jobs.”

Cambodians also suffer from widespread post-traumatic stress disorder. A study by the Cambodian psychiatrist Muny Sothara found PTSD “in 47 percent of the population”; another study, of Cambodian refugees in Massachusetts, found that 60 percent of PTSD victims there suffered from sleep paralysis, a half-conscious state of catatonia. Even Hun Sen shows signs of the malady. One official, describing his own PTSD, relives his experience of starvation: “I would like to inform you that I am very, very hungry.” Social scientists are finding that PTSD is being passed from one generation to the next. Has this become Cambodia’s curse?

Or is impunity the curse? In the aftermath of Pol Pot’s death in 1998, the United Nations partnered with Cambodia’s judges to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Brinkley explains the logic of the costly proceedings. “If nothing else, Ieng Sary fed the state’s omnipresent culture of impunity,” he writes of one Khmer Rouge leader. “If he, with the blood of two million people on his hands, faced no penalty, no censure, no retribution, how hard was it to accept the killing of a journalist here, a trade-union official there?” On June 27, three Khmer Rouge leaders will face trial. Last July, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was sentenced to 19 years.

Americans too frequently seem to enable monsters abroad, then recommend policies to reverse the damage. The United States did not directly foist the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia. But Brink­ley describes how Lon Nol, who was friendly to Washington, overthrew Prince Sihanouk in a 1970 coup, and how the prince, in frustration, implored Cambodians to join the Khmer Rouge.

Brinkley disputes any further American complicity, even though the United States continued a secret carpet bombing campaign until 1973. But two scholars, Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, have seized on data on the bombing released by President Bill Clinton; beginning under Lyndon Johnson, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia than the Allies dropped in all of World War II.

Brinkley seems to dismiss the argument that the extensive bombing, with its tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, might have added urgency to Sihanouk’s plea to join the Khmer Rouge. Yet Owen and Kiernan report that former C.I.A. and Khmer Rouge officers affirmed the American bombing helped the Khmer Rouge win support.It seems clear that “Cambodia’s Curse,” apart from providing a portrait of a “troubled land,” holds implications for other American interventions that are worth serious debate.

Brinkley portrays Cambodia from what some may see as a post partisan humanitarian standpoint. But given Washington’s role today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might have been braver if he had chosen to hold Americans, and not just Cambodians, accountable for the suffering he so movingly describes.

Joel Whitney is an editor of Guernica: A Magazine of Art& Politics.

A version of this review appeared in print on June 26, 2011, on page BR13 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: After Year Zero.

BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia

June 28, 2011

BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia

My friend, Terence Netto, writes about the on-going tussle between our Government and the civil society coalition called BERSIH2.0. Netto sees it in stark US versus THEM terms. I do not because I believe that the Prime Minister’s intervention will do the trick. He must display true leadership and act with wisdom.

The outcome of the July 9 rally will determine the course of democracy in the years to come. That is why the stakes are high. However, I am concerned about what can happen the day itself, if the protest takes place without Police  permit.

Opposing forces like PERKASA and UMNO Youth are going to disrupt it. The marching crowd will in turn react to provocations in unpredictable ways, and there is no way we can control the passions of the moment with water cannons, tear gas and truncheons. Both sides are headed for confrontation with tragic consequences on Malaysia’s body politik. God Forbid.

The issues are clear: most Malaysians want free and fair elections and this can come about only when there is electoral reform. An opportunity was created when the Elections Commission Chairman suggested that BERSIH2.0 organisers should meet up with him to deal with their well known 8 demands. The fact that this appeal has fallen on deaf ears indicates the level of public confidence in the Elections Commission’s  will  and capacity to institute electoral reforms.

It may be recalled similar demands were in November, 2007 when Malaysians marched in unprecedented numbers (some 60,000 in number) to Istana Negara to petition His Majesty The Yang DiPertuan Agong. Furthermore, if the recommendations of the two Royal Commissions on the Police and the Lingam Tapes were ignored by the Government (under Badawi at that time), there is no assurance that either the Chairman singly or collectively with his colleagues on the Elections Commission can do it now without the clearance from the Government. The Commission’s independence has been compromised far too often.

The onus now rests on Prime Minister Najib and his Government. At this time, given the pressure from the Malaysian public — to the extent that BERSIH2.0 represents them– and reactionary groups like PERKASA and UMNO Youth, the Government has responded to BERSH2.0 organisers and other dissidents including the well known poet and novelist, Dato A. Samad Said (picture above) with an iron fist. Police crackdown has begun with the threat of the draconic ISA looming. Only the Prime Minister can diffuse the mounting tension in the run-up to July 9.

There is still room for a peaceful resolution to this impending crisis. The Prime Minister’s leadership is required. Only he can stop this rally from happening with an olive branch. We all should start listening to each other, and work towards a united Malaysia where there is place for everyone. But we must recognise that there are elements in our society who could be itching for a fight to settle old scores. A showdown is in the works but it can be diffused. It requires an act of true leadership.–Din Merican

Government Versus BERSIH: An eyeball-to-eyeball situation

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The parallels and differences between then and now have to be dwelt on for insight and illumination.

Then would be October 1987, when tensions were rising in the country over an issue to do with the placement of non-Mandarin speaking administrators in government-aided Chinese schools.

Party elections in UMNO earlier that year had resulted in a controversy-marred close victory for the incumbents. Internecine conflict in the dominant political party is always tinder for the lighting. The lighted match would come with the controversy over the government’s decision to appoint non-Mandarin speaking administrators in Chinese schools.

Switch forward 24 years and the country finds itself in a situation of rising tensions in the immediate prelude to the BERSIH 2.0 march planned for July 9, though this time the drivers for the heightened tensions have nothing to do with race or language.

True, there is competitive rivalry in the dominant political party, UMNO, but it does no longer bestride the political arena like a colossus as it used to.  Now the party displays symptoms of a different ailment to the one that afflicted it in 1987: its weakened position in the parliamentary calculus has emboldened right-wing elements within in to push for a crackdown on an opposition that could defeat it in the fast approaching general election.

bersih rally 271207 02Because perception is almost everything in Malaysian politics, the planned march for July 9, if it draws a bigger attendance than did its predecessor in the Bersih march of November 2007, it could well be curtains for UMNO-BN in the 13th general election.

As in the comparative 1987 period, the question, in the lead-up to the BERSIH 2.0 march in 11 days time, of how to assure the stability in power of the ruling elite is central to all other factors riding in the balance.

Issues of race, religion, independence of the law enforcement authorities and the like, are like patterns in a kaleidoscope whose formations are dependent on who does the shaking.

Najib miming the pantomime

As the baton of UMNO leadership was passed to him in April 2009, the prognostications for Prime Minister Najib Razak were that the man, whose father was the catalyst for the tectonic shifts to the Malaysian political landscape in the immediate post-May 13 1969 period, would either be the initiator of a radical revamp to save the construct or perish in the attempt.

najib pc in parliamnet on altantuya murder case allegations 030708In the two years since he has taken over, Najib has made the shifts and feints indicative of a desire to revamp the system, but a creaking edifice, entrenched in its ways, has budged but little.

This has left the leader miming the pantomime but unable to effect substance of change. On an array of issues, ranging from education to electoral reform, the entrenched system asserts its unchanged ways in spite of good intentions to effect change.

Perhaps the system has to be changed from top to bottom and the main superintendent of change is too embedded in the old to be a harbinger of the new. Sensing this, the opposition knows that a crumbling system and its defenders-cum-reformers are a final push away from oblivion.

This realisation has propelled them to arrive at a consensus that has shoveled away major differences in their agendas.They now enjoy unanimity of outlook and aim which is symbolised by their determined support for the BERSIH 2.0 march.

An Ode to Democracy

All successful mass movements need a rallying point around which their disparate aims can coalesce. The Malaysian opposition has found in the call for electoral reform.

It has helped that the ham-fisted manner in which the authorities are seeking to prevent the BERSIH 2.0 march has had the effect of widening the array of support for the event.

NONEWhen the penning of a poem, ostensibly an ode to democracy, by a national literary laureate, Dato A. Samad Said (right), is occasion for the police to haul up the author for sedition – the indictment of the authorities by their asininity towards the march is self-evident.

Thus the immovable object, which is the BERSIH march itself, and a seemingly irresistible force, which is the security establishment, is poised in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

The side that blinks would be the one that resorts to uncivil methods – repression by the one side and disorderly conduct by the other.

National Laureate A Samad Said hauled up by the Police

June 28, 2011

National Laureate A Samad Said hauled up by the Police

by Joseph Sipalan@www.malaysiakini.com

National laureate A Samad Said today decried police investigations into  his poem recital during a BERSIH 2.0 event and said the  authorities  are now treating poetry as a weapon.

The septuagenarian was hauled up for about 90 minutes of questioning today at the Dang Wangi district police station on his poem recited during the June 19 ‘launch’ of the BERSIH 2.0 rally.

“Poetry has now become something extraordinary; it has now become a weapon,” he told a throng of journalists jostling to hear the soft-spoken man.

Pak Samad, as he is popularly known, is being investigated under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 27(5) of the Police Act 1967 which relates to unlawful assembly.

The laureate, easily recognisable by his shock of white hair and long white beard, said he was “saddened” that the authorities viewed his poem “with prejudice”.

“In my poem, I did say that we need to purify democracy, not muddle it or pollute it… and in poetry, those are suggestions that are very pure and should be appreciated, not viewed suspiciously.

“Personally, I find it rather strange why this has happened. A writer contributes through his art, to document a situation that is worsening, (but) it is viewed with such prejudice. This saddens me so,” he said.

Samad pointed out that rather than cowing the nation’s literary community, the actions of the Police against him could likely spur a more spirited movement from his peers and fellow writers in pursuing the freedom of expression.

“It may be seen as a warning, but for writers, this would spur them and encourage them as they begin to realise that literature has power too,” he said. “I intended to produce something that was pure, not to incite,” he added.

“It is the actions of the police that will spur the nation’s literary community to respond to his predicament.This act should motivate our literary community (to state their views openly),” Samad said when asked if the investigation into his poem would spook other writers and artistes from going public with their views.

‘Art cannot be interrogated’

Samad’s counsel, N Surendran, slammed the police for launching the probe into his client’s poem, stressing that this could possibly be the first time a literary great is being hauled up for “simply reading a poem”.

Surendran claimed the Police had also asked “strange” questions, which insinuated that the BERSIH 2.0 rally is politically motivated and at other times, matters completely unrelated to the investigation.

“They asked him where he got his datukship, whether the poets at the event (BERSIH 2.0 launch) were paid to read out their poems and they even asked him if the event is politically motivated.

“I cannot recall an instance where a national laureate has even been investigated for poetry… we cannot cross-examine or interrogate art,” Surendran said.

Samad  stood firm in his support for the rally, saying it should not be allowed to be hijacked and turned into a racial issue. “I don’t want to touch on race. This is not about one race going against another, this is about Malaysians… I will be there,” he said.

Samad, a celebrated Malay poet and novelist, is no stranger to protest rallies, being one of the big names who joined the March 2009 mass gathering to protest the government’s policy on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

A strong proponent of Malay literature, he penned at least a dozen novels and countless poems, and has also worked as a journalist in several national Malay-language papers including Utusan Melayu, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian. He was honoured as a national laureate, or Sasterawan Negara, in 1985.

Suhakam: Respect Freedom of Assembly

Meanwhile, in another related development, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) reiterated its position that it is the right of members of public to assemble and to express their views in a peaceful manner, as provided for under Article 10(1)(b) of the federal constitution, as well as Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The statutory human rights institution has called on the government to respect the freedom of assembly in many of its previous annual reports submitted to Parliament.

The reports also recommend that proportionate and non-violent methods be employed should the police find it necessary to control or disperse a crowd during an assembly.

“The commission calls on the authorities to allow the planned peaceful assemblies to be held, and on the parties intending to hold these assemblies to exercise their rights in a peaceful and responsible manner.

“The commission shall duly monitor the event,” its chairperson Tan Sri Hasmy Agam  said in a statement issued today.


Note: A. Samad Said read out only the last two stanzas of his poem

Semakin lara kita didera bara -
kita laungkan juga pesan merdeka:
Demokrasi sebenderang mentari
sehasrat hajat semurni harga diri.

Lama resah kita – demokrasi luka;
lama duka kita – demokrasi lara.
Demokrasi yang angkuh, kita cemuhi;
suara bebas yang utuh, kita idami!

Dua abad lalu Sam Adams berseru:
(di Boston dijirus teh ke laut biru):
Tak diperlu gempita sorak yang gebu,
diperlu hanya unggun api yang syahdu.

Kini menyalalah unggun sakti itu;
kini merebaklah nyala unggun itu.


As the coals that molest us rage higher
we shout still the message of Merdeka
for democracy as bright as the sun
as pure as dignity our purpose is one

Deep is our worry – as democracy’s wounds
long is our sadness – as democracy’s woes
at arrogant democracy we scorn
for a strong free voice we dream

Two centuries ago Sam Adams decried
in Boston was tea poured into blue seas
no need for riotous shouts full of ire
only for a truly heartfelt fire

Alight now the sacred fire
spread afar raging higher.

Ban Ki-Moon and the Age of Sustainnable Development

June 27, 2011

Ban Ki-moon and the Age of Sustainable Development

By Jeffery D. Sachs

The world can breathe easier with the reelection this month of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to a second term in office. In a fractious world, global unity is especially vital.

During the past five years, Ban Ki-moon has embodied that unity, both in his unique personal diplomacy and in his role as head of this indispensable global organization.

Winning re-election to lead the UN is no straightforward matter. As head of an organization of 192 member states, the Secretary-General inevitably feels the powerful crosscurrents of global divisions. On almost any issue, the Secretary-General is likely to find himself between contending groups of countries. Yet Ban has inspired global confidence in his leadership to the point of securing an uncontested and unanimous second mandate.

The consensus in favor of Ban’s re-election is all the more striking because it includes the so-called P-5, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia. These five powerful countries owe their UN pre-eminence to the post-World War II settlement, when they were allies in victory. Under the UN Charter, all five must endorse the election of every Secretary-General. Ban Ki-moon has maintained the strong backing of all five permanent members.

I have the honor to serve as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals. In that capacity, I see the Secretary-General in action in all parts of the world. It is a rewarding experience, one that gives me great hope for ultimate success in resolving global problems such as poverty, environmental threats, and violent conflict.

The world’s many problems make their way to the Secretary-General’s office day and night. Whether the issues are war and peace; revolutions and coups; natural disasters; epidemics; disputed elections; or the grinding challenges of hunger, poverty, climate change, and mass migration, the crises inevitably demand the Secretary-General’s attention. It is a workload that boggles the mind, and demands the round-the-clock commitment of the Secretary-General and his team.

During a recent trip with Ban to Egypt and Tunisia, I watched in awe as he deftly backed the democratic changes underway in those two countries while simultaneously dealing with many other upheavals in the region. Ban generously and inspiringly offered his support to the brave youth leaders in both countries who are at the forefront of the political changes set in motion this year.

From his first days in office, Ban emphasized that many or most of the world’s greatest challenges come down to a simple yet stark reality: we are now a crowded, interconnected, global society, with seven billion people struggling to find a foothold on a highly vulnerable planet. The challenges of feeding the world, keeping it safe from epidemic diseases such as malaria and AIDS, and combining economic progress with local and global environmental safety are the defining challenges of our time. War and violence often have as underlying causes hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation, such as human-induced climate change.

We are, in short, in a new global era, which may be defined as the Age of Sustainable Development, in which our security, even our survival, will depend on the world forging a triple commitment: to end extreme poverty; to ensure human rights for all; and to protect the natural environment from human-induced crises of climate change, destruction of biodiversity, and depletion of fresh-water reserves and other vital resources. Ban has tirelessly emphasized the need to put sustainable development at the center of our thinking.

The challenges of poverty, resource depletion, climate change, and human rights will dominate Ban’s second term, and the work of those who will follow him as Secretary-General. In 2012, world governments will reunite in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the historic conference at which they signed the first comprehensive treaty to fight human-induced climate change. Far too little has been accomplished since, and, behind the scenes, Ban is working relentlessly to clear the bottlenecks and avert climate disaster.

At the start of the third millennium, Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, brought the world’s leaders together to adopt the Millennium Development Goals, which established ambitious targets to be achieved in the fight against poverty, hunger, and disease by 2015. Ban has been a tireless champion of the MDGs, and has initiated several highly creative campaigns to enlarge worldwide engagement with them.

This past year, for example, Ban launched a bold new global initiative, “Every Mother, Every Child,” to improve health care for women and children. He has championed the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, bringing many global leaders and public figures to the cause. Under Ban’s leadership, remarkable progress is being made, though as he emphasizes, even faster progress is both possible and needed. In 2015, the Secretary-General will help guide the world towards even bolder commitments in the fight to end extreme poverty and deprivation in the coming two decades.

There is a great personal satisfaction in Ban’s own story, one that gives hope for all. When Ban travels to Africa’s impoverished regions, he mingles with villagers and recounts his own upbringing amid the poverty and deprivation of Korea in the 1950’s – and how, by committing itself to hard work, education, modern science, and shared values, South Korea became one of the world’s richest and most successful countries.

Ban’s rise from poverty to global leadership parallels his country’s trajectory. It is a story of decency, commitment, and generosity that has won global confidence, and that can help to guide the world at a time of unprecedented risks and unique opportunities.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Dato T Conviction, Anti-BERSIH 2.0 and Datuk Seri Judin: The Hoaxes

June 26, 2011

Dato T Conviction, Anti-BERSIH 2.0 and Datuk Seri Judin: The Hoaxes

by Din Merican

On Friday 24th June, the mainstream media played to the hilt the fact that the “Datuk T” Trio- Datuk Shazryl Eskay Abdullah, Datuk Shuib Lazim and Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik–were charged in the magistrate’s court over the public lunch time screening of a sex video at the Seri Makmur Room of Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel on March 21. The purpose of the video was to eliminate the opposition leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The media slant was orchestrated to show that the Police and A-G Gani Patail had acted without fear or favour. The mainstream media screamed that this proves that there is Rule of Law in Malaysia. Ketua Pemuda UMNO, Khairy Jamaluddin, went on air that this absolved Barisan Nasional (BN) and UMNO from any involvement in the sex video scandal.

Datuk Shazryl Eskay Abdullah and Datuk Shuib Lazim pleaded guilty to public screening of pornography under Section 292 (A) read with Section 34 of the Penal Code which carried a three years’ jail term. However, they were fined just RM3,500 and RM1,500 respectively. Whereas, former Melaka Chief Minister Rahim pleaded guilty to abetting them and was fined RM1,000.

It was unusual that during reading the statement of facts for the accused who have already pleaded guilty, Senior DPP Dato’ Kamaludin Said, who is the Head of Special Projects in the AG’s Chambers, sought to entertain the public to pornography in court when the sex video was again screened, but this time under the cloak of protection of the law. The Bar Council and legal fraternity frowned at this strange occurrence. But Deputy PM, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, instead slammed the Bar Council. It is shameful that a Deputy PM, who takes pride in his ulama family background, should support public pornography to desecrate the honour of our courts. But then these are perplexing times.

The prosecution even agreed with the defence led by Dato’ Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah that the video was genuine and that the man was Anwar. As a fait accompli and in his mitigating submissions, Datuk Seri Shafee said that a video forensic report conducted by Professors Hany Farid and Lorenzo Torresani of Dartmouth College in the United States where a facial recognition analysis concluded that “About 99.99% of the similarities showed that Mr X (man in the video) is Anwar Ibrahim.”

Now, it becomes clear why Dato Kamaludin Said, Head of Special Projects in the A-G’s Chambers led this prosecution and not Dato Tun Majid who is the Head of the Prosecution Division. This was indeed a special project! The objective was none other than to ensure that the A-G Chambers could introduce irrelevant and prejudicial evidence to be admitted and become part of the court records. The objective was clear when Rahim Thamby Chik told reporters- “It is a mission accomplished today and we are very happy that we have proven this to the people through the judicial system of the country.”

What will happen next is that Anwar Ibrahim, who lodged a police report that he was not the man in the sex video, will now be charged for lodging a false report under s. 182 of the Penal Code:

s182. “Whoever gives to any public servant any information orally or in writing which he knows or believes to be false, intending thereby to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, such public servant to use the lawful power of such public servant to the injury or annoyance of any person, or to do or omit anything which such public servant ought not to do or omit if the true state of facts respecting which such information is given were known by him, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to two thousand ringgit or with both.”

The objective is not so much to convict Anwar by that charge but to drag this smearing campaign through GE 13. The Prosecution will rely on the court records in this case to show that Anwar had been found to be “99.9%” the man in the video and thus his police report was untrue or false. To the legally trained mind, there is no value to a foreign forensic report in which the maker of that report is not subjected to cross-examination.

But, this is a Special Project by AG Chambers coordinated by that brilliant legal mind, Dato Seri Shafee Abdullah. Shafee is cleverly calculated that all that rule of evidence can be bypassed when the Trio pleaded guilty and the court admitted the “evidence” without calling the maker. In actual fact, Dato’ Kamaludin Said was just there to ensure that the young Magistrate, Aizatul Akmal Maharani, will pass the “pre-agreed” sentence. This was to be the young magistrate’s test before he takes on something bigger. On July 4, this young magistrate will act as Coroner in the Inquest of Ahmad Sarbani’s death. So, the public can now anticipate what will happen in that Inquest.

A great hoax has just been pulled against the Malaysian public in this all out war against the opposition indicating how close GE 13. Any dissenting views will be regarded as anti-government  and a threat to national security.

The same modus operandi against Anwar Ibrahim is now being used to malign Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan over the BERSIH Rally scheduled on July 9.

Dato Ambiga maligned

In today’s Utusan Malaysia, the Malay Muslim sentiment is being fanned to portray Dato’ Ambiga as being anti-Malay and anti-Islam. As much racial and religious hatred are being generated, that it is being done by a mainstream media is shameful. Such scurrilous attacks against civil society and civil liberties movements can only show the government’s fear that street rallies in the Middle-East which had toppled several oppressive Arab governments will be replicated in Malaysia.

It is alarming that BERSIH’s simple demands for a clean and fair elections can be viewed as subversive and anti-national. The following are BERSIH’s demands:

  • 1. Clean the electoral roll, which is marred with irregularities such as deceased persons and    multiple persons registered under a single address or non-existent addresses. In the longer term,  BERSIH 2.0 also calls for the EC to implement an automated voter registration system upon  eligibility to reduce irregularities.
  •  2. Reform postal ballot, to ensure that all citizens of Malaysia, residing in or out of the country, are able to exercise their right to vote.
  •  3. Use of indelible ink to reduce voter fraud.
  •  4. Minimum 21 days campaign period to allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices. The first national elections in 1955 under the British Colonial Government had a campaign period of 42 days but the campaign period for 12th GE in 2008 was a mere 8 days.
  • 5. Free and fair access to media, where all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies  such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama allocate proportionate and  objective coverage for all potlical parties.
  •  6. Strengthen public institutions to act independently and impartially in upholding the rule of law and democracy. Public institutions such as the Judiciary, Attorney-General, Malaysian Anti-  Corruption Agency (MACC), Police and the EC must be reformed to uphold laws and protect human rights.
  • 7. Stop corruption, and take serious action against ALL allegations of corruption, including vote  buying.
  • 8. Stop dirty politics, as citizens and voters are not interested in gutter politics; we are interested in policies that affect the nation.

Instead of considering BERSIH’s 8 demands as urgent national issues which are part and parcel of a rakyat’s movement to bring about a better reformed electoral processes, laws and policies to advance the democratic process in Malaysia for all, the authorities consider these demands as a national threat. UMNO and BN  have demonized BERSIH and regard it as part of the opposition movement.

I have received so many sms and messages to say that there will be a nationwide arrests against leaders of MCLM, BERSIH and other NGOs, all on the pretext of maintaining public peace and security. That is why you see PERKASA and UMNO Youth openly declaring that they will also bring their supporters to the streets to heighten the sense of alarm and emergency. I am also warned that bloggers  like me and my associates too will be picked up as we have been deemed to be overtly critical of the abuses in our public institutions. It is deplorable that the Police are being used to achieve this political objective.

Something amiss in JKR

While all these are happening, the confusion is enough to mask other problems happening in the government institutions. The Public Works Department (PWD) is facing an administrative crisis as it appears to have two director generals since early May.

Datuk Mohd Noor Yaacob was appointed to be D-G on May 1 but the man he is supposed to have replaced, Datuk Seri Judin Abdul Karim(right), has refused to be removed from his office. Judin had been assigned as Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) — a more junior post. This amounts to a demotion without prior disciplinary action and therefore contravenes the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993.

A legitimate PWD director-general (DG) is crucial because all public works contracts have to be signed by him. The picture becomes clear when we note that in the Economic Transformation Plan (ETP), the amount of government spending on infrastructure is huge.

Word has it that Judin was not supportive of some of these projects, the parties awarded the projects and the pricing of these construction contracts. There is disquiet over the real costs of the new Istana Negara where the public is not told the truth about the actual costs.

These insanities must stop! PM Najib must realize that the public and the world’s attention is already focused on him. He must not react to internal party pressures by singing to the tunes of parochialism and racial sentiments while leaving public administration to fall into further disarray.

Otherwise, the public will regard all his aspirations and slogans for 1Malaysia and the 1MDB Projects as nothing more than public relations hoaxes!

Cynical Displays of Police Power ahead of BERSIH2.0

June 26, 2011

Cynical Displays of Police Power ahead of BERSIH2.0

by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The Police have now overtaken Ibrahim Ali in turning support for the BERSIH 2.0 march into a going concern among citizens.

Repressive measures they have taken in the past few days are set to make the planned march the object of national attention. That dovetails nicely with what the march’s organisers had in mind when they set out to publicise it weeks ago.

At that point, the organisers had doubts as to whether the second edition of this event, first staged in November 2007, would be the success the inaugural one resoundingly was.

Thanks to the incendiary fulminations of PERKASA’s Ibrahim Ali and the myopia of the Police, the upcoming march has had all the revving-up its organisers could have wished for to make it supersede its predecessor in size and importance.

BERSIH’s organisers must be licking their chops at how their planned event has obtained the assists that a flaming opponent and a maladroit force contrived to render them.

A Re-Enactment of 1987?

Earlier this year, we had a hint that Malaysia may well be a police state, at certain times at least. This was when former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad disclosed that he was opposed to the ISA detentions of October 1987 when more than a hundred opposition politicians and anti-government social activists were held under the draconian law.

The former Inspector-General of Police, Hanif Omar, chimed in to confirm that indeed Mahathir had expressed his misgivings about the police action but the Police had gone ahead nevertheless.

This was a flagrant contravention of the ISA Act which expressly vests the power to detain a person in the Home Minister and not the Police.  The Home Minister in October 1987 was Mahathir. If he had indeed opposed the use of the Act in dealing with the tense situation that prevailed at that time and if detentions had taken place, which was what happened, then Police power had overridden civil authority.

Likewise these days, we are witness to re-enactments of what transpired in 1987. Even before BERSIH has applied for a police permit for their march, the IGP and his deputy have issued public warnings against the legality of the march despite constitutional guarantees of citizens’ right to peaceful assembly.

Worse, the Police, as of yesterday, have begun to arrest political activists in an attempt to preempt the march planned for July 9. Members of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), in Johor Baru on Friday and in Penang yesterday, have borne the initial brunt of this abuse of police power.

Reports say that the Police detained the PSM activists, who were engaged in legitimate political activity, on grounds that they were canvassing for support for the BERSIH march.

Cynical Display of Police Power

Selective and politically motivated detentions by the force are an old story.  In this instance, however, it is done in the teeth of the authorities’ lethargy in dealing with the purveyors of a widely disseminated video allegedly showing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a transaction with a sex worker. Lassitude on the part of the law enforcers is cynical and staggering.

It also reflects amnesia about the context in which morally awakened citizens are prompted to act in concert in the face of cynical displays of police authority.

It is undeniable that one of the reasons UMNO-BN romped to a landslide victory in the March 2004 general election was that under the newly installed prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the government had on the previous December moved to place police power under scrutiny through the creation of a royal commission on the management of the force.

That decision by Abdullah was widely popular and was instrumental in securing his government a landslide endorsement by the electorate three months later.

Fifteen months after the royal commission was instituted, it made public its recommendations in March 2005. What happened was that PM Abdullah wavered in the face of pressure from vested interests in the force against a key recommendation – the creation of an independent panel to look into public complaints of police misconduct.

In retrospect, it can be said that the administration of Abdullah Badawi entered the start of a precipitous decline in its popularity from its heady heights in March 2004 to its loss of BN’s two-thirds parliamentary majority four years later because of the PM’s waffling on police reform.

Now things have gone beyond the question of prime ministerial vacillation in the face of police power. It is more a case of civil and police authority colluding to shore up each other.

It is in this sense that the BERSIH march is fast becoming a gauge of the extent to which Malaysia has become a quasi-police state in which increasingly illegitimate civil authority and arbitrary police power conspire to repress citizens engaged in the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.

Weekend Entertainment: Only In Malaysia

June 25, 2011

Only In Malaysia


I have no music for this weekend. Frankly, I am no mood for it. In stead, I offer this video clip courtesy Malaysiakini. com, which I titled “Only in Malaysia”. Yes, only in Malaysia, this can happen. A person who is charged in a Malaysian court and fined for showing and distributing a porn video can be allowed to make a statement which amounts to, in my opinion, contempt of court. What Rule of Law are we talking about. Maybe it is this man’s democratic right to be given his day after court.–Din Merican

Is BERSIH 2.0 truly apolitical?

June 25, 2011

Is BERSIH2.0 truly apolitical?

by Athi Shankar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

GEORGE TOWN: Coalition for Free And Fair Elections (BERSIH) will hold its rally for free and fair elections alright. But is the rally on July 9 really apolitical?

BERSIH chief S Ambiga may have said that it was not for PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim to decide to call off the rally. But some see it as a mere damage control attempt by Ambiga to stop swaying tide of public opinion against the coalition. Anwar also attempted the same by, as usual, blaming the press for misquoting him.

But the fact remains that Anwar did imply to the media he could persuade Ambiga into stopping the rally if UMNO and Barisan Nasional agreed to hold free and fair elections. This raised doubts on the credibility on the coalition’s claim that it was an apolitical rally, solely designed to force the Election Commission (EC) to conduct a free and fair elections.

Penang Gerakan legal and human rights bureau head Baljit Singh said it would be interesting to see who would flank Ambiga when she submits Bersih’s memorandum to the King.

“Are BERSIH leaders or politicians going flank her?” asked the lawyer, who will be at the rally as an observer from the Bar Council.He said Anwar statement that “he can talk it over” has created public perception that Pakatan was wielding strong influence on Ambiga, the former Bar Council president.

Such perception gains validity if one were to refresh memory on Ambiga’s track record on her human rights struggle, if any. Bayan Baru MP Zahrain (right) was blunt when he told FMT that BERSIH 2.0 was a project to suit the whims and fancies of one man – Anwar, the Permatang Pauh MP.

He claimed that the Parliamentary Opposition Leader was fast becoming irrelevant in Malaysian politics due to his personal problems, especially the Sodomy II trial. “He actually trying to divert the mass attention from his case to a public rally,” said Zahrain, who left PKR last year.

BERSIH 2.0 is a sequel to the 2007 Bersih 1.0, which saw a pre-dominantly ethnic Malay crowd seeking free and fair elections. That rally and another mammoth rally by Hindraf in November that year were widely considered as instrumental in inspiring the political tsunami of 2008.

This year, however, the BERSIH rally is expected to have a cosmetic multi-racial outlook with strong participation from ethnic Indians.With Ambiga at helm, these ethnic Indians, who prefer to wear the fashionable multi-racial caps, are likely to throng the Kuala Lumpur city centre to be in the forefront of the rally.

One can notice the campaign by ethnic Indians in the cyber space, including in the social network Facebook, to galvanise their ethnic compatriots to join the rally using Ambiga. Ambiga is being portrayed as ‘Indian Joan of Arc’, ‘Iron Lady’ and a gutsy Indian lady brave enough to stand up against the might of UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

Cyber logos of BERSIH rally are freely exhibited to drum up support. The tactic to woo Indians using Ambiga in a way has worked. Who are those behind this Ambiga promotion and marketing cyber campaign?

Hindraf Makkal Sakti, whose own anti-Interlok campaign early this year failed to capture the imagination of these ethnic Indians, said only a completely naïve novice would say that Pakatan was not behind the rally.

An anti-climax?

PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu has pledged that about 100,000 PAS supporters will take past the rally. DAP national chairman Karpal Singh said his party would be in full force on the day.

“This clearly shows it would be a Pakatan rally. Mind you, Ambiga would not be able to woo even 10 people for the rally on her own, if not for Pakatan,” argued a Hindraf observer.

The ruling party inevitably is against the rally sensing that it could inspire another electoral uprising against it. Police have refused to issue permit for the rally.

UMNO Youth and Malay supremacist organisation PERKASA have also planned respective rallies at the same venue on the same day. PERKASA already warned the ethnic Chinese stay home on the day. The atmosphere in KL naturally would be at boiling point if all three rallies were allowed as emotions could run high.

Some observers believe that the authorities would take non-comprising pre-emptive actions to halt these rallies, like the tactic deployed to foil Hindraf’s pre-planned anti-Interlok rally on February 27. For all the hoo-hah going on now, it could just turn out to be an anti-climax ending for the Bersih drama.

But Parti Kesejahteraan Insan Tanah Air (KITA) Penang information bureau head Dalbinder Singh said the government should allow the BERSIH rally. On the other hand, he wants the police to take strong action on PERKASA leaders for issuing seditious statement and threats.He called on Putrajaya administration to address points raised by BERSIH for a free and fair election.

The EC has said it was willing to meet up with BERSIH representatives on the matter and Dalbinder said it should not be a public eyewash.

“BERSIH demands will strengthen and improve the transparency of Malaysians election system,” he said. Among BERSIH’s demands are introduction of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, abolishment of postal voting, revision of voting roll and fair access for all political parties to state-owned media during campaign.

But Zahrain rubbished BERSIH’s demands as utter nonsense. He cited that Pakatan won five state governments and denied BN its parliamentary two-thirds under the current electoral system in 2008. Indeed, he called on Pakatan elected representatives, including state governments in Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor, to resign immediately if they thought the electoral process was not fair and free.

“I challenge them to do it … will they?” he asked, adding that BERSIH was the NGO version of Pakatan.

Bersih, November 2007

Whether Pakatan is behind the rally or not, it is now up to Ambiga and company to prove that the BERSIH coalition is apolitical. Ambiga’s biggest task on July 9, if the rally ever takes place, is to convince the people that BERSIH would be for, by and with Malaysians, not merely representing Pakatan interests.

The New ASEAN-CER Initiative

June 25, 2011

The New ASEAN-CER Initiative

By Tim Groser and Craig Emerson*

ASEAN’S journey to a single market has attracted the attention of Australia and New Zealand.New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognise that the Australia-New Zealand CER (Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement) experience — good and bad — might offer some useful insights for ASEAN as it tackles its own, highly ambitious, economic integration process.

Realising the ambitions of ASEAN — a market of around 600 million people — presents strong regional and global economic opportunities.

The two down-under prime ministers have, therefore, proposed a new informal dialogue, the ASEAN-CER Integration Partnership Forum, to share experiences of economic integration.

The forum will hold its first seminar in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting today (June 24, 2011) will include presentations from senior figures in government, business and academia from Australia and New Zealand.

Against this background, CER and ASEAN are each advancing regional integration agendas. In doing so, both regions have recognised that this is a powerful way for governments to enhance innovation, efficiency, productivity and growth.

Since CER was launched in 1983, the value of two-way merchandise trade has grown at an average annual rate of eight per cent. Integration has generated wealth and ever-deeper integration. This is why both countries are keen to get around the table with ASEAN to discuss the CER journey and share lessons about Trans-Tasman integration.

CER and ASEAN — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — are both significant economic players, with a Gross Domestic Product of around US$1.4 trillion and US$1.9 trillion (RM4.2 trillion and RM5.7 trillion). Both regions are linked through a landmark Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which entered into force last year.

Some may question whether CER is directly relevant to ASEAN integration, given the differences between the two regions in terms of size, homogeneity of language, culture and history, and stages of development.

But New Zealand and Australia are not seeking to portray CER as a roadmap for the ASEAN Economic Community. Put simply, we feel the pragmatic approaches that worked for us may also sit comfortably with ASEAN. It is our hope that ASEAN will find this sort of conversation useful.

There are some core themes among the lessons drawn from CER. First, regional integration is not a rapid process. The deep integration achieved between the Australian and New Zealand markets has come only after close to 30 years of the CER’s existence. And it is nearly 50 years since the first formal agreement was signed. ASEAN has a similar pedigree, since it was created in 1967.

Second, it takes vision and courageous leadership to make progress. CER developed organically. It worked best during periods of domestic economic reform and with strong, committed and imaginative political leadership. Likewise, ASEAN, with determined and committed leadership, is currently well-placed to push ahead with integration.

The CER agenda could not have moved ahead as far or as quickly as it did without the determined support of the Australasian business community. Third, CER showed that the greatest gains lay in breaking down trade barriers behind the border.

CER’s current work programme seeks innovative and practical ways to reduce business costs and red tape, to create a true single economic market.

Above all, the greatest lesson that CER taught Australia and New Zealand is that regional economic integration enhances not just Trans-Tasman trade, but also companies’ international competitiveness. That is essential in the current global economic climate, for ASEAN businesses as well as those in Australia and New Zealand.

The ASEAN-Economic Community, like AANZFTA and CER, is fundamentally about trying to create an environment that makes it easier, more profitable and more predictable for companies to enter markets and do business. The ASEAN-CER Integration Partnership Forum is an exciting opportunity to discuss how we can do that most effectively, whether for New Zealand, Australian or Southeast Asian businesses.

Tim Groser and Craig Emerson are the New Zealand and Australian Ministers of Trade respectively

Malaysian Politics take to the streets

June 24, 2011

Malaysian Politics take to the streets

By Anil Netto

PENANG – With new polls expected within a year, Malaysia’s hotly contested politics are set to hit the streets, setting the stage for a potential confrontation between pro- and anti-government interest groups.

On July 9, more than 60 civil society groups calling themselves the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or BERSIH for “clean” in Malay, are calling for a “Walk for Democracy” in downtown Kuala Lumpur to push for sweeping electoral reforms.

If implemented, such reforms would likely boost the Anwar Ibrahim-led opposition at the next polls. Right-wing Pertubuhan Pribumi PERKASA (Indigenous Empowerment Organization), a Malay rights interest group led by firebrand Ibrahim Ali, however, is spearheading a counter-rally backed by 57 groups.

Another counter-BERSIH rally is being organized by the youth wing of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling coalition, to support the Election Commission’s own election reform program. The Commission’s proposals have not satisfied BERSIH, which wants a clean up of the electoral rolls, automatic registration of voters and other balloting issues that critics claim have historically favored ruling coalition candidates.In particular, BERSIH is seeking a longer official campaign period of at least 21 days. The coalition noted that the first national elections in 1955 held under the British colonial government had a campaign period of 42 days, but by the last general election in 2008 the period had been whittled down to just eight days. In the past, such a short campaign period has severely handicapped opposition parties that are unable to effectively reach voters in rural areas.In contrast, the ruling coalition enjoys almost wall-to-wall coverage of its campaign over state-controlled national television and radio. BERSIH is thus also calling for free and fair media access to all parties. Other demands call for the strengthening of public institutions such as the Election Commission, the judiciary and the police, and an end to gutter politics.

The July 9 BERSIH gathering has been dubbed “BERSIH 2.0″ as it will be the coalition’s second major gathering. The first BERSIH demonstration was held in Kuala Lumpur in November 2007, a year after the coalition was established. Some 60,000 people, mostly wearing yellow T-shirts, flocked to the peaceful gathering in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

The government did not take the gathering lightly. Crowds in some locations braved tear-gas and water cannons fired by riot police. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Although news reports put the turnout at 40,000, thousands more were blocked from entering the capital by police checkpoints, traffic jams and the closure of light rail stations near the gathering points.

The rally was followed a couple of weeks later by another pivotal rally organized by the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), supported by disempowered Indian Malaysians who felt they had been marginalized from the mainstream of development. It also was harshly dispersed by police authorities.

Political observers have pointed to both these rallies and the government’s heavy-handed crackdown as major factors in the March 2008 general election that saw the opposition make historic gains, winning five of 13 federal states. (The opposition later lost control of one of those states through political defections.)

Rally organizers are at pains to stress that Bersih 2.0 is a civil society-led initiative; none of the 14-member BERSIH steering committee is from any political party. Among those in the committee are two former presidents of the Malaysian Bar Council, including the BERSIH steering committee chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan, and representatives from prominent rights groups.

Opposition parties, however, have thrown their support behind BERSIH. Despite making sharp inroads at the 2008 general elections, opposition politicians have expressed dissatisfaction with the current electoral process, seeing its shortcomings as a major stumbling block towards it capturing federal power.

PAS, the main opposition Islamic Party, has already vowed to bring 100,000 supporters to BERSIH 2.0. But given the expected lockdown of the capital and other tough measures likely to be taken by the authorities, that figure may be overly optimistic, one PAS state-level leader privately told Asia Times Online.

The party is fresh from a makeover after internal elections that saw moderates, including the charismatic Mohamad Sabu, take over key party leadership posts.

PERKASA, on the other hand, has demanded that Bersih call off its rally. Its leader, Ibrahim Ali, has drawn parallels between BERSIH’s planned rally and the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and warned that Bersih’s agenda was to create chaos.

True to form, he added a racial twist by controversially saying that minority Chinese Malaysians expected to participate in the rally needed to stay at home and stock up on food supplies. He later backtracked from the statement, saying he was misquoted.

Critics say PERKASA’s racially charged statements have made a mockery of prime minister Najib Razak’s ‘1Malaysia’ sloganeering, which appeals to racial harmony. While UMNO has officially distanced itself from PERKASA, there are widespread perceptions that the two groups are linked.

This perception was boosted when former premier and ex-UMNO president Mahathir Mohamad opened PERKASA’s first general meeting at a convention hall in Kuala Lumpur last March, an event attended by some 4,000 supporters. It has been further reinforced by the kid gloves treatment Ibrahim Ali has received from the authorities, allowing him leeway for his racial rhetoric.

“UMNO is outsourcing this kind of racist posturing to Perkasa which is totally outside the party to hoodwink the people into believing that UMNO is a changed, moderate party,” opposition parliamentarian Jeyakumar Devaraj was reported as saying,

Analysts are skeptical that PERKASA and UMNO Youth can match BERSIH’s expected turnout. It is no doubt not lost on UMNO that these gatherings come against the backdrop of fast-rising food and housing prices that have contributed to a grassroots sense that real wages have not kept pace with the cost of living. That has prompted Najib to say that he hoped a new minimum wage policy would be introduced by year-end.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has highlighted concerns about a serious and rising brain drain that threatens to undermine the country’s long term economic potential. Among the million-strong Malaysian diaspora, one third are college graduates. At home in Malaysia, paradoxically, the number of unemployed graduates in Malaysia has more than doubled since 2008.

The political stakes for the planned rallies and their potential impact on the next elections are thus high. A general election must be called by 2013. Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, a former UMNO Youth leader, says no permits have been issued for the gatherings planned by Bersih 2.0, UMNO Youth or PERKASA. Police have warned they will make preventive arrests before and during the rally.

Some observers are privately concerned that these warnings, coupled with PERKASA’s fiery rhetoric, could provide the cue for a more serious crackdown against opposition politicians and dissidents ahead of the general election – similar to the sweeping crackdown against dissent seen in 1987 during the Mahathir administration.

But much has changed in Malaysia since then. Many ordinary people, fed up with corruption, abuse of power and questionable electoral practices are expressing their dissatisfaction on Twitter and Facebook and in the comments section of independent news sites. And their voices of dissent are unlikely to be silenced by another round of tear gas, water cannons and arbitrary arrests.

Anil Netto is a Penang-based writer.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd

Breaking Link between Disadvantaged Background and Low Academic Achievement

June 23, 2011

Breaking Link between Disadvantaged Background and Low Academic Achievement

By Dr M. Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, Calfornia

Students from a disadvantaged background face many challenges; thus it is not a surprise that they lag academically. This has always been true and accepted as normal. The consequence to this acceptance is that the students’ disadvantaged background becomes too ready an excuse for teachers and policymakers not to address the issue of widening educational achievement gap, blaming instead such factors as poverty and lack of parental involvement.

While those are relevant, there is much that schools, teachers and policymakers can do to turn disadvantaged students into “resilient” ones. A recent OECD study, Against The Odds. Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School, (http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/6/12/47092225.pdf) confirms this. “Resilient” students, as defined by the study, are those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background relative to students in their country, and attain high scores by international standards.

Across OECD countries, nearly a third of disadvantaged students are resilient; in Finland and South Korea, nearly half. The bottom line, as the report confidently asserts, is: “Disadvantaged students can and often do defy the odds against them when given the opportunity to do so.” Note the report’s emphasis.

At first glance the report may be stating the obvious. We all can readily recall examples of those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have successfully overcome their many obstacles. Some would attribute their success to their innate ability, sheer grit, and unwavering determination. Those of humbler persuasion would generously credit other factors – talented teachers, superior schools, and opportune openings.

This OECD report marshals impressive data to support its contention that when the disadvantaged are given equal opportunities to learn, foster their self confidence, and effectively motivate them, they can exploit their potential. It then carefully collates and sensibly summarizes the experiences of those member countries that have successfully executed their strategies and achieved those desirable objectives.

Learning From OECD’s Experiences

Suitably adapted and with some enhancements, Malaysia could usefully adopt the findings of the OECD report. Granted, the disadvantaged in an OECD member country are a universe away physically, economically and in many other ways from their counterparts in Malaysia. Consider that in America students from poor families get free textbooks, transportation and school meals. They are also spared the expenses of uniforms and examination fees. Malaysian parents are burdened by these ancillary expenses. They make a mockery of our “free” schooling. A good beginning would be to get rid of such burdens.

We could go further and reward parents who pay attention to their children’s schooling. Brazil’s Bolsa Escola and Mexico’s Progresa pay parents if they were to keep their children in school. Such “Conditional Cash Transfer” initiatives are powerful incentives. If we pay our poor fishermen and rice farmers to keep their children at school, we would dramatically reduce the dropout rates. If we add a bonus in the form of extra payments if their children were to excel, then watch those parents become diligent in ensuring that their children attend school and do their homework.

A universality of the human trait is that we respond to incentives. The secret is to find the right one. For many, it is still cold cash.

The key finding of the OECD study is that resilient disadvantaged students attend more regular lessons at school than those who are not. Thus extend the hours of our rural schools to a full day, and increase the number of school days from the current 180 to 220 per year, as in Japan.

This means single-session schools. If these disadvantaged children are in school for much of the day, well fed, well taught and well supervised while there, then we could not care less if their parents were unable to help them with the homework or read to them at bedtime. Further, with an extended school day, the afternoon could be devoted to enriching extracurricular activities like athletics and fine arts. Thus instead of loitering in the afternoon or otherwise getting into mischief, they would be in school practicing their music or participating in sports. Those extracurricular activities help nurture a more wholesome development; they are also true and tried confidence builders.

Nurturing Self-Confidence

As for self-confidence, the OECD report emphasized the importance of instilling this, especially in disadvantaged children. This cannot be achieved merely by participating in cheerleading rallies and endlessly proclaiming our supposed glorious past.

Instead, and this is another key finding of the report, resilient students spend more time studying science. Excelling in science boosts their self-confidence; this in turn spills over in other areas. This benefit is particularly pronounced with disadvantaged students; the more disadvantaged they are, the more they benefited.

Resilient students spend more class hours on the subject. In France, Germany and the Netherlands these students spend an hour and 45 minutes more in science classes per week than disadvantaged low-achievers. Thus we must not only expand the school day of our rural schools, which are mostly attended by disadvantaged children, but also increase substantially the hours devoted to science classes. Their enhanced literacy in science, apart from boosting their self-confidence, would also greatly improve their employability later in life.

For disadvantaged Malay students, another effective way of boosting their self-confidence would be to enhance their English proficiency. Our leaders endlessly exhort our students to learn English, as if that can simply be wished upon or achieved by waving a magic wand. Instead we should, as the experience with science proficiency of resilient students in OECD countries demonstrates, devote more hours to the subject. Additionally, more subjects should be taught in English so students could practice their English skills outside their language classes. In this regard, the greatest burden of the recent decision to end the teaching of science and mathematics in English falls disproportionately on our rural (meaning, Malay) students, the very group our leaders profess to champion.

That fluency in English could greatly boost a student’s confidence is dramatically demonstrated in California. The state has a large number of immigrant children with severely disadvantaged backgrounds and who cannot speak English. In the days of bilingual education they would be taught in their mother tongue (most commonly Spanish) as well as English.

That policy ended with the passage of an “English Only” referendum in 1998. Today these students have to spend their first year in an English immersion class, and only when they are sufficiently fluent would they join the regular stream.

The results of that experiment are now clear. Whereas in the past these pupils would perpetually be handicapped by their limited English ability and remain at the bottom of their class right up to their final years in school, with the mandatory immersion classes, their ability to speak and write English improved quickly. That boosted their self-confidence, which in turn spills over onto other areas. Today those students readily mix in the playground with the other children and fully engaged socially and other ways while at school. In the past they would segregate themselves as they felt inadequate; they had low self-esteem because of their language handicap.

Today no one would wish to return to the bad old days of bilingual education, most of all those children and their parents. California’s success, now widely acknowledged, directly contradicts the opinion of a widely quoted UNESCO study that purported to show that mother tongue-based bilingual education has a positive impact on learning and learning outcomes.

The self-confidence of Malay students would similarly be boosted if they were to be fluent in English. We could achieve this by replicating California’s experience of English-immersion classes. We had something akin to that with our “Special Malay” and “Remove” classes of yore. Better yet, bring back the old English schools back to our rural areas where the need for enhanced English fluency is the greatest.

If we supplement that with an increase in the hours they stay in school, enrich the curriculum to devote more hours to science, and have a full offering of extracurricular activities to include sports and the performing arts like music and drama, then.

While parental and social factors are important, there is much that our schools and teachers can and should do to improve the current abysmal academic performance of our kampong kids. The key lies with the teachers and schools. In the next essay I will explore the experiences of those countries that have highly effective schools and how they have managed to attract the best to be teachers.

Learn from the experiences of the OECD countries. If we adopt the measures discussed here, then watch the miracles unfolding in our rural students. We can break the link between disadvantaged background and low academic achievement.

Reason seen as a Weapon, not a Path to Truth

June 23, 2011


Reason seen as a Weapon, not a Path to Truth

By Patricia Cohen*

For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena.

According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier (left above), who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber (right). “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

Indeed, Mr. Sperber, a member of the Jean-Nicod Research Institute in Paris, first developed a version of the theory in 2000 to explain why evolution did not make the manifold flaws in reasoning go the way of the prehensile tail and the four-legged stride. Looking at a large body of psychological research, Mr. Sperber wanted to figure out why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest — what is known as confirmation bias — leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

Other scholars have previously argued that reasoning and irrationality are both products of evolution. But they usually assume that the purpose of reasoning is to help an individual arrive at the truth, and that irrationality is a kink in that process, a sort of mental myopia. Gary F. Marcus, for example, a psychology professor at New York University and the author of “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind,” says distortions in reasoning are unintended side effects of blind evolution. They are a result of the way that the brain, a Rube Goldberg mental contraption, processes memory. People are more likely to remember items they are familiar with, like their own beliefs, rather than those of others.

What is revolutionary about argumentative theory is that it presumes that since reason has a different purpose — to win over an opposing group — flawed reasoning is an adaptation in itself, useful for bolstering debating skills.

Mr. Mercier, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, contends that attempts to rid people of biases have failed because reasoning does exactly what it is supposed to do: help win an argument.

“People have been trying to reform something that works perfectly well,” he said, “as if they had decided that hands were made for walking and that everybody should be taught that.”

Think of the American judicial system, in which the prosecutors and defense lawyers each have a mission to construct the strongest possible argument. The belief is that this process will reveal the truth, just as the best idea will triumph in what John Stuart Mill called the “marketplace of ideas.”

Mr. Mercier and Mr. Sperber have skeptics as well as fans. Darcia Narvaez, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and a contributor to the journal debate, said this theory “fits into evolutionary psychology mainstream thinking at the moment, that everything we do is motivated by selfishness and manipulating others, which is, in my view, crazy.”

To Ms. Narvaez, “reasoning is something that develops from experience; it’s a subset of what we really know.” And much of what we know cannot be put into words, she explained, pointing out that language evolved relatively late in human development.

“The way we use our minds to navigate the social and general worlds involves a lot of things that are implicit, not explainable,” she said.

On the other side of the divide, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said of Mr. Sperber and Mr. Mercier, “Their work is important and points to some ways that the limits of reason can be overcome by putting people together in the right way, in particular to challenge people’s confirmation biases.”

This “powerful idea,” he added, could have important real-world implications. As some journal contributors noted, the theory would seem to predict constant deadlock. But Mr. Sperber and Mr. Mercier contend that as people became better at producing and picking apart arguments, their assessment skills evolved as well.

“At least in some cultural contexts, this results in a kind of arms race towards greater sophistication in the production and evaluation of arguments,” they write. “When people are motivated to reason, they do a better job at accepting only sound arguments, which is quite generally to their advantage.” Groups are more likely than individuals to come up with better results, they say, because they will be exposed to the best arguments.

Mr. Mercier is enthusiastic about the theory’s potential applications. He suggests, for example, that children may have an easier time learning abstract topics in mathematics or physics if they are put into a group and allowed to reason through a problem together.

He has also recently been at work applying the theory to politics. In a new paper, he and Hélène Landemore, an assistant professor of political science at Yale, propose that the arguing and assessment skills employed by groups make democratic debate the best form of government for evolutionary reasons, regardless of philosophical or moral rationales.

How, then, do the academics explain the endless stalemates in Congress? “It doesn’t seem to work in the U.S.,” Mr. Mercier conceded.

He and Ms. Landemore suggest that reasoned discussion works best in smaller, cooperative environments rather than in America’s high-decibel adversarial system, in which partisans seek to score political advantage rather than arrive at consensus.

Because “individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation,” Mr. Mercier and Ms. Landemore, as a practical matter, endorse the theory of deliberative democracy, an approach that arose in the 1980s, which envisions cooperative town-hall-style deliberations. Championed by the philosophers John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, this sort of collaborative forum can overcome the tendency of groups to polarize at the extremes and deadlock, Ms. Landemore and Mr. Mercier said.

Anyone who enjoys “spending endless hours debating ideas” should appreciate their views, Mr. Mercier and Mr. Sperber write, though, as even they note, “This, of course, is not an argument for (or against) the theory.”

*Patricia Cohen covers ideas and intellectual life for The New York Times, a position she has held since February 2007. Previously, Ms. Cohen served as theater editor for three years. She joined The Times in 1997 as Ideas editor to create and launch the Arts & Ideas section.

Before joining the paper, Ms. Cohen was the politics and lifestyle editor at the Washington Post’s Style section. She was also senior features editor at Rolling Stone. She started her journalism career at Newsday and New York Newsday as a member of the editorial board, and then became political editor for New York Newsday. She covered City Hall and the federal courts before becoming the editor of the Sunday opinion section,Current.

From CLF to All

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS

July 9 BERSIH 2.0 Rally: Temperatures Rising

June 23, 2011

July 9 BERSIH 2.0 Rally: Temperatures Rising

by Kow Gah Chie@http://www.malaysiakini.com

BERSIH 2.0 today slammed the “cowardly” move of those behind the death threat SMS targeting its chief Ambiga Sreenevasan, in relation to its planned July 9 rally.

“This is unacceptable, the SMS is not only life-threatening, but also has connotations of racism,” said Maria Chin Abdullah (right), a Bersih 2.0 steering committee member.“Let’s be brave enough to come out and talk, instead of being so cowardly as to send threatening and racist SMSes. Let’s talk,” Maria told a press conference after lodging a police report at the Travers police station in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.

Maria also urged the sender to stop such moves. At least six reports were lodged against the death threat SMS, the earliest of which was sent last night and continued into the morning.

They were lodged by, among others, BESIH steering committee member Wong Chin Huat, PKR Youth deputy chief Khairul Annuar Ahmad Zainudin, Ambiga and PKR legal bureau chief Latheefa Koya.

Ambiga also appeared at the police station this afternon. “The threat will not change our plan (to rally),” said Ambiga. However, Ambiga said she and other members will take precautions to ensure their safety.

She said if the Police were operating efficiently, she had no reason to fear for her safety. She welcomed Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s statement that police would investigate the SMS, saying she has confidence in the police to locate the sender. “The Police have all the means to find the senders,” she said.

Nothing racial in BERSIH

To a question, Ambiga said that some groups are seeking to turn the BERSIH rally into a racial issue. “As far as we are concerned, we are going to do this peacefully. There is nothing racial about it.”

She said she also hoped that the force of law would be used against those who used racism and threats. Just as “there is no point if anybody wants to give advice to me,” Ambiga said she also has no advice for PERKASA chief Ibrahim Ali.

When asked on the progress of the police to call up the leaders of UMNO Youth, PERKASA and BERSIH who are organising rallies on the same day, Ambiga said the police has yet to contact her.

Ambiga said BERSIH would give its cooperation to the Police.“Since (Hishammuddin) had said no permit will be issued, we will not apply,” she said.

Ibrahim Ali is a boon rather than a blight to national reconstruction

June 22, 2011


Ibrahim Ali is a boon rather than a blight to national reconstruction, says Terence Netto

It must be one of the more poorly kept secrets, but Ibrahim Ali would be counted as among Pakatan Rakyat’s arsenal of weapons for fighting the coming general election.

There has not been a week that passes without the Pasir Mas MP saying or demonstrating something that would tend to increase the appeal of Pakatan among non-Malay voters, not to mention moderates among the Malays appalled by mounting confirmation of the man’s fire-breathing bigotry.

You can attribute Anwar Ibrahim ‘s refusal to be in favour of action under the ISA or Sedition Act against Ibrahim to a “principled stance”(?) against use of repressive legislation; there is astute political instinct as well to the opposition leader’s position.

Anwar knows that the more the PERKASA chief allows himself to be keyed-up, the more he would lose it for the causes he fronts.

Nothing would please the instinctive politician in Anwar more than making an unobserved gain from the vitriol that spews from a wound-up Ibrahim. Additionally, the spectacle provides an opportunity to test the trends of public opinion, from reactions generated by Ibrahim’s drivel.

NONEThis is why the BERSIH 2.0 rally for electoral reform, planned for July 9, is turning out to be a bellwether of sorts, due in part to Ibrahim Ali and his cohorts’ inflammatory responses to it.

Ibrahim’s warning to intending Chinese marchers that they should keep indoors on that day and placards carried by PERKASA supporters depicting BERSIH chairperson Ambiga Seenivasan as ‘Wanita Hindu’ would only galvanise support for the July 9 event.

Shrewder for BERSIH to meet EC

The offer yesterday by the Election Commission chief to discuss matters with the BERSIH organisers provided the latter call off their march is an indication of the increased voltage this event now carries following the amps that the PERKASA crowd has added to it.

Rather than reject the offer which was what BERSIH did on the grounds that it was too late to talk, it would have been shrewder to say Bersih are in favour of discussions without pre-conditions.

Ambiga should have rephrased John Kennedy’s “Let us never fear to negotiate but let us never negotiate out of fear” with “Let us never hesitate to discuss but let us not attach pre-conditions to discussions.”

Altogether though, BERSIH has trod a savvy path in the lead-up to the July 9 march by welcoming the copycat reactions of PERKASA and UMNO Youth in wanting to organise their own marches.

‘The more the merrier’ stance of BERSIH would strike as naive given the potential for trouble between different sets of marchers, each at cross purposes. But there is little cause to fear that this would be a replication of the situation that obtained in late October 1987 when Kuala Lumpur was gripped by fear of a Chinese gathering at the Hou Thean temple in Jalan Klang and a massive gathering, planned by UMNO, at the Merdeka Stadium.

Then, the issue was a high-tension one: the placement of non-Mandarin speaking administrators by the government in Chinese medium schools.This was regarded as an affront by the MCA which led by their deputy president, Lee Kim Sai, decided on gatherings at the Hou Thean temple, with UMNO Youth responding with a show of force at the Jalan Raja Muda Stadium where flaming speeches were made.

azlanThe stage was set for Prime Minister and Home Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to intervene to snuff out a confrontation by using the ISA to detain over a hundred opposition politicians and anti-government social activists.

Some UMNO firebrands were also detained, including Ibrahim Ali but the latter had mainly belonged to the Team B faction that earlier that year had fought a close but losing battle with Team A, led by Mahathir, in the triennial UMNO party elections.

It was a classic Machiavellian manoeuvre by Mahathir to deliberately allow a ratcheting up of tensions to justify the use of repressive measures against opponents while seeming to act to secure the higher purpose of maintenance of public order and security.

Multi-racial grouping

Suffice the issue in contention now is not racial: BERSIH’s electoral reform objective is not a parochial issue but a critical national concern.The intending marchers in the BERSIH ranks are not concerned with racial projection so much as transcending race to project a national concern.

It appears that the marchers arrayed on the PERKASA and UMNO Youth sides would be composed of one race but that is a self-imposed limitation.

The fact that two single-race groups intend to march on the same day that a multi-racial group wants to demonstrate its concerns over a national issue would inherently place the PERKASA and UMNO Youth marchers at a disadvantage, from the angle of public perception.

But this has been the quandary in which rabble rousing politicians like Ibrahim Ali have boxed the public into: their reactionary ways have induced them into a racial-cum-religious cul de sac whereas the more constructive exertions of Pakatan are drawing the country away from just this dead end.

Hence the notion that Ibrahim is more boon than blight to Pakatan’s project of national reconstruction.