Najib urged to stop Political Violence

February 29, 2012

Najib urged to stop political violence

BERSIH 2.0 urges Prime Minister Najib Razak to immediately stop the serial political violence inflicted on opposition politicians and civil society activists by thugs reportedly related to UMNO and PERKASA, while the Police often just looked on and no one has been charged so far.

Bersih 2.0 warns that such impunity on political violence, if it continues, leaves no room for clean elections in Malaysia. If political activisms are met with physical assaults even before elections, could the safety of opposition leaders and campaigners be guaranteed come the next election?

BERSIH 2.0 wants Najib to order an immediate investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the two latest incidents of political assault on February 26.

At Speakers’ Corner, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang, a group of thugs identified as UMNO Youth and PERKASA members attacked the anti-Lynas protesters and eventually injured two reporters. Most shockingly, the Police personnel looked on and did nothing. Later, the Chief Police Officer (CPO) of Pulau Pinang Ayub Yaakob blamed it on the organisers for not informing the Police of their event.

At Felda Lepar Hilir 1, Gambang, Pahang, YB Nurul Izzah Anwar, PKR MP for Lembah Pantai, was assaulted by Asrullah Affendi Abdullah, an assistant of UMNO Lepar state assemblyperson Mohd Shohaimi Jusoh.

These are not isolated cases. Forums by student activists and the Anything But UMNO (ABU) Movement have experienced similar attacks and no one has yet been charged in court.

If PM Najib Razak refuses to take action to end such political violence, to have the assailants prosecuted and to punish those Police personnel who shirked their responsibility, Malaysia may be pushed to the edge of chaos and unrest by electoral violence.

Political Violence in Penang

In this alarming development, BERSIH 2.0 calls upon Malaysians and the international community to establish a Election Observation Mission to mitigate such a threat.

* The Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0 comprises: Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan (Co-Chairperson), Datuk A. Samad Said (Co-Chairperson), Ahmad Shukri Abdul Razab, Andrew Khoo, Arul Prakkash, Arumugam K., Dr Farouk Musa, Liau Kok Fah, Maria Chin Abdullah, Richard Y W Yeoh, Dr Subramaniam Pillay, Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon, Dr Wong Chin Huat, Dato’ Yeo Yang Poh and Zaid Kamaruddin.

A Third Force is a Boon for UMNO-BN

February 29, 2012

A Third Force is a Boon for UMNO-BN

by Rashid

Almost all politicians who were expelled from their parties or who left because of internal strife have the tendency to re-brand themselves as the “third force”.

These politicians claimed they represent the voice of the disgruntled members and the fence-sitters.The latest to jump on the bandwagon is Jati, headed by Hasan Ali, who was expelled by PAS for allegedly not toeing the party’s line.

Selangor PAS, helmed by Hasan, has been a “torn in the flesh” of the state Pakatan Rakyat government, with Hasan persistently harping on Islamic issues, and always going against the wishes of the PAS national leaders.

With his expulsion, he formed Jati, which he claimed to be the third force that can sway the votes of disgruntled members and fence-sitters. But what Hasan has in mind is to swing the votes to the Barisan Nasional (BN). This is understandable considering that he had wanted to be part of BN when Pakatan took over Selangor in the 2008 general election.

Whether Hasan will succeed in influencing the disillusioned PAS members and the fence-sitters is open to question. But the fact remains clear: PAS and its partners PKR and DAP do not see eye to eye on many issues.

The internal feud has put Pakatan at a disadvantage as the 13th general election looms and this gives BN the upper hand: it can steal the votes of those uncomfortable with the arrangement of the loose alliance in the opposition front.

The third force – Hindraf – that threw MIC, the strong partner in BN, off-balance in the 2008 general election, had fizzled out and subsequently several other politicians have emerged claiming to represent the new force.

Thus with MIC and all other BN parties getting their act together again, the emergence of the new third force, if it is led by expelled leaders from the opposition parties, can help boost BN’s chances at the polls.

Stormy relationship

Hasan, though not a force himself, can help BN with his allegations by creating doubts in the minds of frustrated party members and waverers.

He can exploit the “internal” crisis plaguing PAS in its stormy relationship with DAP and PKR as they squabbled on many controversial issues.

For example, the row over Israel, the infighting between the intellectuals and the conservatives on the position of Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak, and the expulsion of Hasan himself are fodders for the BN.

Before Hasan, former MCA president Ong Tee Keat was also toying with the idea of forming a third force when he lost the party leadership to Dr Chua Soi Lek. However, Ong was not much of a political heavyweight with the Chinese community and soon his third force faded away.

Zaid Ibrahim, who left PKR in anger, took over a dying party – Kita – and tried to reinvigorate it as a third force but it was in vain. The subsequent quarrel and split left the party floundering.

As more and more politicians lay claims to leading a third force, the BN is smiling because the so-called new force is actually weakening the opposition parties.

Although the leaders of the third force claimed they are not working hand in glove with BN, the incontrovertible fact remains that all their actions are undermining their own parties. Whatever they say in their ceramah or press conferences will definitely hurt the chances of their former bosses.

In short, BN is the one that stands to gain from the political posturing of the leaders of the so-called third force.

Khazanah Director accused of ‘illegal shares’ deal

February 29, 2012

Khazanah Director accused of ‘illegal shares’ deal

by Teoh El Sen

A police report was lodged against Khazanah Nasional Director Andrew Sheng alleging that he had given authority to his sister to transact shares of companies that Khazanah has interest in.

A director of the Khazanah Nasional Bhd has been accused of transacting in shares in companies in which the investment holding arm of the government had an interest.

Andrew Sheng Len Tao (left), 66, has been named in a police report which alleged that he had failed to disclose that he had been transacting in these shares and thus possibly breaching the Companies Act 1965.

Andrew was appointed a director of Khazanah since July 22, 2008.According to the police report lodged by one Tan Teng Heng, 47, Andrew’s sister Sheng Lien, was given a “blanket authorisation” to transact shares on his behalf using their brother, James Sheng’s trading account.

Tan is the husband of Sheng Lien, and is now involved in a divorce proceedings in the Kuala Lumpur High Court with the latter. He stated in his report that these details were revealed by Sheng Lien herself in open court.

“According to Sheng Lien, following this blanket authorisation, she had transacted shares for and on behalf of Andrew for the period between 2007 and 2011. According to Sheng Lien, the profit and losses from these transactions belong to Andrew,” wrote Tan.

The report said that shares which were transacted on behalf of Andrew Sheng, include – but were not limited to – “Tenaga Nasional Bhd, UEM Land Holdings Bhd, Telekom, Time dot Com, Time Engineering, Astro, and Axiata”.

The report said that Khazanah has interests in all the companies mentioned and listed the percentages in shares Khazanah possessed within those companies. Tan said in the report that Andrew should have made disclosures of these interests. He also said said that Khazanah had confirmed that Andrew had made no such disclosures.

Key trends in the looming GE13

February 28, 2012

Key trends in the looming GE13

by Karim Raslan

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is slated to win the next general election, with the margin depending on how both sides of the political divide appeal to and win over the 1.9 million new voters.

I have spent the past three weeks almost exclusively in Malaysia – travelling and listening to people. A lot of this time has inevitably been spent with fellow writers and editors.

In fact, journalists prefer talking to other journalists so there’s always a danger that we’re living in a bubble — something that we often accuse politicians of doing! At the same time, and as explained by Malaysian Insider’s Jahabar Sadiq: “We were caught napping in 2008. Ever since, we’ve been over-compensating.”

So bearing in mind our collective fear of being wrong, here – for what it’s worth – are the key trends I’ve identified that will feature in the next general election (GE).

  •  The delayed pendulum: Ma­lay­sian GEs have tended to follow a pendulum-like movement, with swings to and from Barisan National (BN) in alternate polls.

However, in 2012/3 there will be a subsidiary trend at work in Sabah, Sarawak and Johor (dubbed BN’s “Fixed Deposit”) if there is a shift of Chinese support while the rest of the peninsula reverts to form.

  •  The democracy wave from Singapore: The vote in southern Johor will be impacted by the many Malaysians who live and work in the city-state.

Having observed the republic’s two nation-wide polls (parliamentary and presidential) in 2011 and witnessed the extent to which the PAP government subsequently reversed unpopular housing, healthcare and immigration policies, Johoreans will have learnt the value of tactical voting in order to engineer policy shifts.

  • Sabah: West Malaysian/UMNO leaders continue to underestimate the importance of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants for Sabahans (especially the KadazanDusun and Murut communities).
  • The Prime Minister’s two key performance indicators (KPIs): Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is slated to win the next GE.

However, victory is only the first of his KPIs.bThe second is that he must surpass his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s 2008 showing (140 seats). Indeed, the rationale behind Najib’s rise to the premiership was his unspoken promise of returning UMNO (and BN) to its earlier glory. Failure to achieve this will lead to a reassessment of his leadership.

  • Najib’s presidential style campaign: It has boosted the premier’s approval ratings. Given the fact that Malaysia has adopted the Westminster system, the PM’s popularity has not translated into greater support for UMNO (or BN), leaving many potential candidates to struggle.

As such, there is no guarantee that Najib’s personal popularity will strengthen BN in the 13th GE.

  • Newly-registered voters: Esti­mated at some 1.9 million, both sides are scratching their heads as to how to appeal to and win over this disparate and largely disinterested mass of voters.

There appears to be little party loyalty and commitment among this group. Their support may well depend on a last-minute and/or unexpected political “black swan-type” event triggering a sudden and massive swing in either coalition’s favour.

  • Indian community: The community is no longer virulently anti-Barisan. While Malaysian Indians are by no means “grateful”, the Hindraf-connected anger has dissipated with the departure of MIC honcho Datuk Seri Samy Vellu and Datuk Seri G. Palanivel’s low-key leadership.

The Indian vote will help BN in countless marginal seats.

  • NFC – “Istana” Mat Deros for 2012: In 2008 we had UMNO’s Port Klang Assemblyman, the late Zakaria Mat Deros, and his infamous “Istana” built on allegedly illegally-acquired land.

In 2012/13 we have the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal, which continues to unfold.The NFC has been very damaging in rural Malay and Indian communities where voters are most familiar with the economics of cattle-rearing.

  • Changing face of domestic politics: Malaysian politics is shifting. This will be the last GE for “institutional” players, the UMNO warlords who refuse to court public opinion.

Most of these political dinosaurs can’t be bothered to engage with the public, debate and/or win support from the media. Indeed, party hacks – from both BN and Pakatan – will become increasingly unpopular and loathed.

They have no future and will be replaced by those who can think, talk and argue in public such as Saifuddin Abdullah, Zambry Abdul Kadir and Shabery Cheek.

Emotional intelligence and humility will also be important. The absence of these two qualities will lead to the premature political demise of certain candidates.

  • Kedah: Pakatan extols its successes in Penang and Selangor. However, the coalition is strangely silent about the Kedah government’s less than sterling record of administration.
  •  Public trust in the Government: Widespread cynicism and distrust will force the Government to shelve many policy and business initiatives.

BN’s ability to command public support without extensive consultation and stakeholder engagement has evaporated. Put all this together and what do you get? A very, very interesting 2012/13 indeed.

Think, Think: The Golden Circle

Obama’s Economists: “The Escape Artists”

February 28, 2012

Books of The Times

Obama’s Economists

Obama’s Economists, Not Stimulating Enough
‘The Escape Artists,’ by Noam Scheiber

By Michiko Kakutani (02-27-12)

Much has already been written about President Obama’s economic team, and much of it has been highly critical.

Richard Wolffe described it as “the most dysfunctional group of the president’s advisers.” Michael Hirsh wondered why many of the people who “let the catastrophe” of 2008 happen — through their deregulatory policies in the Clinton administration — were back “running the show.” Ron Suskind argued that Mr. Obama’s bold campaign promises to implement a broad swath of new fiscal regulations gave way to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s more tepid, Wall Street-friendly approach. And the economist Joseph Stiglitz slammed the Obama administration for “directing most of its efforts at rescuing the banks” and for a stimulus that was too small and poorly targeted.

“The Escape Artists,” a new book by Noam Scheiber, a senior editor at The New Republic, echoes such sentiments and goes on to provide a depressing account of what the author sees as the Obama team’s repeated failures to grapple forcefully with the economy and unemployment. The book draws on interviews with more than 250 people, including many former and current members of the administration. But its reporting is mixed with Mr. Scheiber’s very decided opinions — about, say, the size and shape of the stimulus and the political feasibility of passing something larger — that some readers will vigorously contest.

When it comes to Mr. Obama himself Mr. Scheiber draws a portrait of a president with a messianic streak, whose “determination to change the course of history” made him reluctant to accept Mr. Geithner’s suggestion that his signature achievement would be preventing another Great Depression. Instead the President insisted on pursuing his vision of health care reform in his first year in office even though many of his advisers were warning that such an initiative would distract attention from the urgent need to focus on the economy and jobs.

This book retraces lots of ground that will be familiar to readers of earlier books and news reports about the Obama administration, but Mr. Scheiber writes with ease and authority about complicated financial matters like the regulation of derivatives and too-big-to-fail banks. What the book adds are more behind-the-scenes details about how the president’s economic team handled the fiscal crisis, especially the initial 2009 stimulus. Mr. Scheiber’s portraits of team members similarly amplify those laid out in earlier books by Mr. Hirsh and Mr. Suskind, but he proves particularly adept at showing how their personalities, philosophies and previous experiences with one another shaped their interactions and the policy-making process.

Mr. Scheiber suggests that in-fighting among members of the Obama economic team slowed decision making and resulted in often muddled policy. He argues that Lawrence H. Summers, the director of the National Economic Council who acted as a sort of gatekeeper for President Obama, was “next to hopeless” when it came to generating a workable plan.

“Summers’s talent was for influencing a particular decision at a particular moment,” Mr. Scheiber writes. “He was not someone with a flair for the long game — for the week-in, week-out slog of bringing colleagues around to his views. His N.E.C. meetings had a persistent aimless quality. The academic-style discourse would drag on for hours without producing a single concrete conclusion; it would yield only increasingly esoteric questions.”

As for Mr. Geithner, Mr. Scheiber says that his background at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — where he worked closely with Wall Street — indelibly shaped his view of banks. “Geithner’s problem wasn’t so much any one decision as his absolutism,” Mr. Scheiber concludes, “his conviction that anything that might cause the banks discomfort could tip the whole financial system back into chaos.” While “defensible, perhaps even necessary,” immediately after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which led to a cascading crisis of confidence, “over time it became a kind of crutch, more a matter of emotion than case-by-case judgment.”

Mr. Geithner’s outlook eventually prevailed in the administration, and, in Mr. Scheiber’s opinion, led to reform that amounted to little more than tinkering around the margins: the banks, he says, “won major concessions on nearly every element they’d fiercely resisted.” This not only fueled populist anger against the banks and the administration, Mr. Scheiber argues, but also left in place many of the elements (like poorly regulated derivatives and too-big-to-fail institutions) that had contributed to the 2008 cataclysm in the first place.

“As a package,” he writes, “the reforms might mitigate whatever crisis strikes in the next 5 to 10 years. But they will not prevent it.”

When it comes to questions about the size of the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus, Mr. Scheiber sides strongly with economists like Mr. Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, the columnist for The New York Times, who have argued that $800 billion just wasn’t large enough to do the job (in contrast to Congressional Republicans who thought it was too expensive and misdirected). This is why, Mr. Scheiber suggests, the recovery has been so slow, why unemployment remains high, why the American public has been so restive and pessimistic. He does not make a terribly convincing case, in these pages, for how the administration could have gotten a larger package through Congress.

As Mr. Scheiber sees it, there were “three giant cinder blocks weighing down the stimulus.” The first, he writes, had been obvious to the Obama brass from the start: the president was unfortunate enough to enter the White House with the economy still “spiraling downward, but well before the average voter grasped the steepness of the drop”; as a result “the ordering of events most people observed in 2009 — first Congress passed the stimulus, then unemployment hit 26-year highs — made it look as if Obama had worsened the problem, when the truth was the opposite.”

Mr. Scheiber regards the two other problems afflicting the Obama stimulus as self-inflicted ones. Although he reports that Christina Romer, chairwoman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers believed that “it would take something on the order of $1.8 trillion to heal the economy completely,” he says that Mr. Summers dismissed that figure as impractical and regarded even the smaller figure of $1.2 trillion as dead on arrival in Congress. And so the team settled on the more modest number of $800 billion: the president-elect, Mr. Scheiber writes, “had little reason to suspect that this amount was perhaps $1 trillion too small.”

To make matters worse, Mr. Scheiber adds, a flawed January 2009 report from the economic team seriously underestimated the severity of the recession and became a testament to what seemed like “administration incompetence.” The report predicted that the stimulus would hold unemployment to 8 percent or lower, he writes, when in fact the unemployment rate surged “after the president signed the bill into law, reaching 9.4 percent within three months and a high of 10.1 percent in October.”

Echoing other commentators on the left, Mr. Scheiber also argues that the White House was slow to realize that “the G.O.P. had no interest in compromise,” and that it repeatedly caved to the Republicans over taxes, the deficit and the debt ceiling. He contends that Mr. Obama did little to line up Democratic support in Congress for his jobs bill and other policies, and that he “rarely exploited the massive stature of his office as a tool for influencing legislation” during the making of the original stimulus in 2009, during the initial push for health care reform, or during bargaining over the Bush tax cuts and the standoff over the deficit.

Mr. Scheiber’s conclusion? “That Team Obama helped avert catastrophe” — that is, a slide into another Great Depression — is “beyond question,” but despite its heroic efforts, “the Obamans nonetheless failed at the task they set for themselves — of restoring the economy to something resembling its precrisis vitality.” Given that a lot of pre-2008 prosperity rested on shaky grounds (a housing bubble, huge amounts of leverage and deregulatory policies that fueled the Wall Street meltdown), and given recent sprouts of hope on the economic front (a rising Dow, an improving jobs picture), it feels like a glib and premature conclusion to what is a revealing, if polemical, book.

The Essence of Vladimir Putin

February 28, 2012

The Essence of Vladimir Putin

by Mikhail Kasyanov (02-27-12)

Few people, least of all Vladimir Putin, who plans to return to Russia’s presidency on March 4, could have imagined last December that Russians would, for the first time in 20 years, wake up and rally in their tens of thousands against the government.

Unlike the Arab Spring rebellions, the driving force behind the ongoing protests is not Russia’s poor and disadvantaged, but rather the country’s rising urban middle class. That is an important difference, for, historically, successful democratic transitions have almost always required a politically mobilized middle class.

Well-educated and successful, middle-class Russians have taken to the streets to gain respect from a Kremlin hierarchy that is mired in deceit and corruption. The last straw was the blatant falsification of December’s parliamentary elections, which reinforced citizens’ sense that the regime regards them with contempt. Russians are particularly outraged by Putin’s arrogant treatment of the presidency as an office that can be “loaned” to allies – like the current incumbent, Dmitri Medvedev – and reclaimed whenever he wishes.

But, despite the large protests in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other cities, the authorities rejected demonstrators’ demands to nullify the election results. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that, by hook or by crook, Putin will spend six more years as Russia’s ruler.

What will another Putin presidency mean for Russia? Securely fenced off from real political competition, Putin cannot return to the Kremlin as “the president of hope,” as he styled himself in 2000, at the beginning of his first term. Moreover, he no longer resembles Putin the “national leader,” who, in his second term, reinvigorated the state and presided over an economic boom.

So who can Putin III be? How will he use the enormous powers granted the Russian president in a political system that lacks any real checks and balances?

Putin’s pre-election monologues and articles suggest an ominous answer: his presidency will be based on a genuine misunderstanding of the structure of contemporary international relations, markets, and democracy, and will be driven by his uncontrollable messianism. Calls for liberalism coexist with statist dogma, and bloviating populism trumps regard for complexity and hard choices.

In fact, Putin has nothing to offer Russians aside from his own vulgar, hackneyed rhetoric. He no longer understands the problems facing the country, and therefore has no idea what needs to be done. Nor does he have any anxiety about the damage that his misrule portends for Russia’s future. Putin’s third presidency will be a reign of instinct and appetite, rather than a government of reason and restraint.

Of course, Putin will begin his new term with earnest words about renewal, development, democratization, and the scourge of corruption. He might even offer some symbolic gestures, such as dissociating himself from objectionable political and media figures, or showing leniency towards those he has imprisoned for opposing him. But all of this would be aimed at maintaining political power, rather than reforming it.

Indeed, the Kremlin has produced much lofty talk of freedom and modernization in recent years. But, without the political will to implement the necessary changes, such promises are destined to remain just that. The problem is that the principle of free and fair competition that characterizes the developed world is subversive of the Russian state that Putin has built – a state based on the merger of government and business.

As a result, even if the will to change suddenly and miraculously emerged in today’s Kremlin, the illegitimacy of the entire federal government would render effective policy making impossible. Instead of formulating and implementing comprehensive and transparent reforms, the government would have no choice but to continue to indulge – and, above all, avoid threatening – vested interests.

No one should be deceived by any concessions that the Kremlin makes. Russia’s liberals would gain nothing from compromising their consciences and blessing Putin’s third term. As before, they would get no real power in return, and any possibility of genuine change from within the existing power structure would remain minimal. Indeed, steps by the authorities to mollify public opinion will continue to be accompanied by increased pressure on the opposition and on civil-society organizations.

In the months following Putin’s return to the presidency, much will depend upon Russia’s civil society and the protest movement’s leaders. Russians must persevere and formulate a set of specific political demands. They must insist upon real and dramatic changes – rather than cosmetic improvements – to Russia’s political system. The main objective now is to strive for free and fair elections that will ultimately lead to a legitimate and responsible government.

The list of pressing issues facing Russia is already long, and their resolution can no longer be delayed. As long as Putin remains in control, that list will only grow.

Mikhail Kasyanov was Prime Minister of Russia from 2000 to 2004, and is the leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Union.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

If Malaysians are not mature enough for debates, who’s to blame?

February 28, 2012

If Malaysians are not mature enough for debates, who’s to blame?

by Ipohgal Click Here

Sorry to disappoint you guys, MM is not Marilyn Monroe, America’s legendary sex symbol, the beautiful blonde that drove all men wild and crazy. Here, MM is the country’s fourth Prime Minister, the man we all loathed and wished he would just fade away.

MM said Malaysians are not mature enough for debates. He said debates would only make the situation worse as Malaysians were too sentimental and emotional to appreciate arguments that were presented rationally.

“The Malaysian public is not yet that mature. This is not America. And even in America, the debates only expose how stupid the candidates are, that’s all,” he told reporters at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya a few days ago.

Not mature enough means not fully developed or lacking the wisdom usually associated with adults. In other words, Malaysians, by and large, are still mentally inadequate. For this, we really have him to blame and thank for, in the same breath.

Mahathir Mohamad as Education Minister

In 1974, MM was made the country’s Education Minister. That was when the decline began. Bit by bit, this man started to dismantle the strong foundation of a very sound education system which we have inherited from the British who once colonized us. Step by step, he began to take away the core, the essence, the fundamental part of education; then molded it into a tool to serve his political needs.

First, the teaching of English is limited to one subject only and English Literature were relegated to the trash bin. He then politicized subjects like History and Moral Studies. Without us realizing it, he closed our windows to the world.

Instead of studying world history, we were forced to focus on local history and even then, we have to study distorted history, history not written by neutral historians but by those appointed by the Education Ministry to glorify the government. It was a torture to read about the government coined slogan “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah” in Moral Studies when you can see corruption being practiced so openly among civil servants (and by politicians and the cronies) of all levels.

Political Control of Universities

Not satisfied with this, MM also enforced greater government control over Malaysian universities, despite very strong opposition from the academic community. He also moved to limit politics on university campuses, giving his ministry the power to discipline students and academics who were politically active and making scholarship for students conditional on the avoidance of politics.

All his evil plans were aim towards one motive – to stifle the intellectual growth of the populace. When we are stupid and ignorant, he can rule mighty over us. He does not want us to be smart and intelligent. In this way he could hold the grip longer. He managed to lord over us for 22 years (1981 to 2003) as Prime Minister, with iron fists and all the public institutions as well as the media at his disposal. Many of his opponents were banished off or put away behind bars without a fair trial.

The Lost Generation

I called those of us Malaysians who went to local government-funded schools after 1974 as “The Lost Generation” and I am among the first batch of “The Lost Generation.” I was only ten years old and in Standard Four when he became the Education Minister. His policies affected the quality of education that I received. It was not the all-round education which my much older siblings and those from their era received. What I had was a half-baked education. It was something that was neither here nor there, something which I was not proud of at all, something which could be a lot better if only a politician was not the person to dictate what I should learn in school.

Even today, my children are still trapped in his policies. They were the second batch of “The Lost Generation.” The things they are studying now are many times worse off than my time. What good knowledge can they get when there was a big “1Malaysia” logo on each of their textbook? How mature can they become when they are not allowed to think beyond their text books? How well-informed can they be when their History book said it was UMNO that got us our independence and we ought to be grateful to them?  How smarter can they grow when they are fed daily with poisons like “Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan?”

Education as a Political Weapon

I believe that as long as our education is being used as a political weapon by those in power, Malaysians will never get to grow maturely, not now, not in another 55 years. We need to separate politics from education as much as we need to separate politics from religion and ethnicity too.

What good will the Twin Towers, the Formula 1 in Sepang or the Kuala Lumpur International Airport do when our minds were shackled?  Isn’t it ironic that the same man who gave us these “feels good” icons also took away the very basic human trait that we all have – mental development?

So, MM, can you blame Malaysians for not being mature enough? It all started with you, actually. What you should do now is simply hold back your vilest tongue and let others clean up the mess you have created!


MACC will be given more independence if…, says Najib

February 27, 2012

MACC will be given more independence if…, says Najib

by Kuek Ser Kuang Keng–

In view of a looming general election, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak today offered an election promise that should BN regain a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the next general election, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will be given more independence.

najib putrajaya 280212An Anti-Corruption Service Commission, as suggested by the MACC advisory board, will be established to enable the anti-graft watchdog to have full control over its officials, including the power to appoint and sack them, he said.

“I agreed with the view of the MACC advisory board that to reflect to independence of MACC, an Anti-Corruption Service Commission should be created. This commission will be given the power to appoint and sack MACC staff.

“But this issue needs a constitutional amendment. God willing if BN is given a two-thirds mandate in the coming 13th general election, the constitutional amendment will be carried out and this service commission will be formed,” said Najib while officiating the Certified Integrity Officer Programme at Putrajaya today.

Draft bills may be made public

Elaborating, he said the commission will enjoy the same authority given to the current Police Commission and Education Commission, including the power to filter, choose, interview, appoint and sack their own staff, to ensure MACC has the specific talents to perform its duties.

“If it can be implemented, it will easier and more efficient for professionals who want to serve for MACC to do so,” he added. Currently MACC’s human resources is under the purview of the Public Services Commission, the same as all other government agencies.

Among other matters being considered by the government, Najib said, was the status of the MACC chief commissioner, which may be upgraded to a post stipulated in the constitution such as the posts of attorney-general, auditor-general and judges, to ensure independence and transparency.

Apart from giving more teeth for MACC, Najib also announced that the government, in line with the principle of transparency and public participation, is mulling to publish all draft bills on ministerial websites for public scrutiny and feedback before they are tabled in the Parliament.

“This will eliminate the public and international perception that there is law which only takes account into the interest of certain quarters,” he added.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard wins by a record margin

February 27, 2012

Kevin Rudd loses to Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard Defeats Kevin Rudd by an Impressive Margin

KEVIN Rudd’s 18-month bid to regain the Labor leadership has been smashed after he lost a ballot against Julia Gillard by a record margin.

Addressing the media after the ballot, Mr Rudd presented himself as a healer of Labor’s wounds as he committed himself to serving Prime Minister Julia Gillard. And he confirmed expectations by declaring he would not quit Parliament as Julia Gillard pledged to focus on voters and not the “ugly” bickerings of the Labor Party as she attempted to convince the electorate the days of distraction were over.

“I can assure you that this political drama is over and you are back at centre stage where you should properly be,” the Prime Minister told reporters in comments aimed at the general electorate.She said getting on with the work would win the 2013 election.

Rudd’s goodbye

There were no tears as Mr Rudd (left) accepted he was not prime minister, unlike on June 24, 2010, when he wept during his farewell from the office. He said he accepted without qualification his 31-71 loss to Ms Gillard in this morning’s caucus ballot.

“I congratulate Julia on her strong win today,” Mr Rudd said. “The caucus has spoken. I accept the caucus’s verdict without qualification and without rancor.” He thanked his supporters and made special mention of his enemies. “For those who have been a little more willing in their public character analysis of me in recent times, could I say the following?” he said.

“I bear no grudges, I bear no one any malice, and if I have done wrong to anyone in what I’ve said or in what I’ve done, to them I apologise.Time, in fact it’s well past time, for these wounds to heal. Because what we in this Government and this party and this movement are wedded to is a higher purpose.Our purpose is to serve the nation, not ourselves.”

Mr Rudd left the press conference with his family and without taking questions from reporters. He will now sit on the backbench with his promise not to instigate a challenge again, and Ms Gillard can expect to lead her party to the election scheduled late next year.

Gillard’s new mission

Meanwhile Ms Gillard said it was time for the Government to get back to focusing on the Australian people. The PM said she was impatient to use her renewed authority from today’s ballot to deliver more policies for the Government.

“Impatience is what I feel, I’m restless to get on with it,” she said. In her most confident language for weeks Ms Gillard added: “I intend to be a forthright advocate for the Government’s policies. So settle in.”

Ms Gillard also paid tribute to former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and claimed an overwhelming victory despite complaints by Labor MPs who “read the tea-leaves of opinion polls”.

She said Mr Rudd and his family were having ”a very tough day indeed”. “I want to say to Kevin Rudd, in the days that lie beyond, as a nation, as a Labor Party we must honour him and his many achievements as Prime Minister,” she said.

Ms Gillard said she had told “a truth that needed to be told” about events surrounding Mr Rudd’s removal as Prime Minister in June, 2010 but did not intend to repeat them, a reference to savage criticism of how her predecessor ran a “dysfunctional” government.

She accepted Mr Rudd’s assurances he would not challenge her from the back bench. The two shook hands and spoke briefly and privately together soon after the ballot result was announced.

But the Prime Minister’s most important chat was with an electorate which might still doubt her legitimacy as head of government. “The last week has seen us, the men and women of the Labor Party, focused inwards, focused on ourselves,” Ms Gillard said.

“At times it’s been ugly. I understand that. But as a result, Australians have had a gut-full of seeing us focus on ourselves. I understand the frustration of Australians in seeing us do that.So today I want to say to Australians one and all: This issue, the leadership question, is now determined.You, of the Australian people rightly expect a government to focus on you, for you to be at the centre of everything government does.”

Abbott wants an election

The victory comes as Tony Abbott (right) asked independent MPs whether they have confidence in Julia Gillard “given the bloodletting” of the leadership contest. The Opposition said he was “formally” asking the cross-bench MPs to declare their views, but stopped short of saying he would mount a no-confidence motion in his own name. He said 72 members of the Coalition and 31 members of the Labor caucus had no confidence in Ms Gillard.

“The challenge is to get them, and to get some of the independents to vote that way in the Parliament,” he said.

“I formally request the independents to state their position on whether they have confidence in this Prime Minister, given the bloodletting the Labor Party has engaged in over the last few days.”

The vote

Earlier, there was relief on the faces of members and senators as they emerged from the vote, returning officer Chris Hayes, MP for Fowler said. Ms Gillard strode from the meeting flanked by Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan, a key destroyer of Mr Rudd’s campaign, and Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

Mr Rudd will now not only have to deal with the loss of his prized foreign affairs portfolio but also the brutal message coming from the overwhelming rebuff from his colleagues.

Prime Minister Gillard, who ousted Mr Rudd in June 2010, will have her own recovery program to complete.

She will have to unite a team which includes five senior ministers who believe she is not the best option to win the election scheduled for late next year. Ms Gillard also will have to face a rampant Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who is certain to use the five days of infighting against the Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard’s 40-vote margin victory tally was a record. Since 1982, the biggest margin of defeat in a Labor leadership contest was 24 votes when Simon Crean defeated Kim Beazley in June 2003. The previous highest tally was the 58 won by Mr Crean in that contest.

After the count was announced, Mr Rudd and Mr Swan shook hands. It was a tense moment for the two Queenslanders, who both went to Nambour High School but have never been friends.

Mr Rudd congratulated Ms Gillard in a brief speech towards the end of the meeting and said he would not challenge her again.

Lindsay MP David Bradbury, who had jokingly offered to get a Julia Gillard tattoo to prove his support for her, today said the meeting ended with “a positive spirit” but acknowledged it had been a traumatic experience.

Mr Rudd gave a “gracious speech” after the ballot, said Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon, who described the result as decisive. “It was tense. These leadership battles can be quite traumatic for many,” Mr Fitzgibbon told SkyNews.

“Old friendships and loyalties are tested. But it was co-operative and I think everyone left the room very pleased that it is now behind us and we can get on with the important matters for the Government.”

He said Mr Rudd had acknowledged the decisive nature of the vote. “He made it very, very clear in that speech that he’d be going to  the back bench to do whatever he can in a positive way to help us to win the next election.”

Raking in the Bounty of FELDA’s IPO

February 27, 2012

Raking in the Bounty of FELDA’s IPO

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

In the run-up to the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of FELDA Global Ventures Holdings (FGH), there is little, in fact no discussion on how the exercise would benefit FELDA settlers. Surely that should be the foremost consideration. The only criterion upon which to judge the wisdom or success of any FELDA initiative, including this proposed IPO, would be to assess its impact on the settlers.

Instead the focus has been on bragging rights, as with trumpeting FGH to be the biggest IPO for the year, among the top 20 on the KLSE, and the world’s biggest plantation company. Such milestones are meaningful only if achieved as a consequence of the usual business activities and not through fancy paper-shuffling exercises.

Apple recently surpassed Microsoft in market capitalization, but that was the consequence of Apple’s much superior products like iPads, iPods, and iPhones. Contrast that with earlier achievements of such now-defunct financial giants as AIG and Lehman Brothers that were based on fancy “financial engineering” instead of solid products and services.

Instead of delineating the potential benefits that would accrue on the settlers from this IPO, its proponents are content with dismissing the critics and imputing evil motives on their part. There are legitimate concerns that this exercise would prove to be nothing more than yet another fancy scheme for the politically powerful to cash out on a lucrative but under-priced government asset. We already have many ready examples of such greed.

NFC Saga

Consider the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) “cowgate” mess involving considerably much smaller sum of money. Despite the presence of high government officials on NFC’s board to safeguard the government’s interest, NFC’s senior managers still managed to subvert those publicly-subsidized loans to purchase luxury condominiums totally unrelated to the company’s activities.

This oversight failure reflects both the incompetence of the government’s representatives in discharging their fiduciary responsibility, as well as the lack of integrity on the part of NFC’s management.

Such despicable omissions and spectacular failures are not unique only to NFC; they are endemic in government-linked corporations. Thus Malaysians have good reasons to believe that FGH would be no exception once the money starts rolling in.

It also does not escape the public’s attention that the man helming FGH, and thus whose hands would be at the till once the billions start pouring in from the IPO, is one Isa Samad, a former UMNO Vice-President. Not any VP however, but one who was found guilty by his party of “money politics” and subsequently suspended. UMNO is no paragon of virtue; to be found guilty by it would be akin to being called a slut by hookers. You have to be disgustingly gross.

Najib is a Poor Judge of People(?)

It would be easy to blame Isa Samad. The bigger question, and one that has yet to be answered, is why did Prime Minister Najib choose such a shady character to helm this major corporation? That is as much a reflection of Najib as it is on Isa.

Peruse FGH current corporate structure. It has nearly over a hundred subsidiaries, associated companies, and joint ventures, many with overlapping functions, markets and products. Those units are created less in response to commercial needs, more to create opportunities for senior civil servants to be appointed to the many governing boards, and thus garnering extra income in the form of directors’ fees, in addition to their regular civil service pay. Ever wonder why these GLCs lack effective oversight and our government departments are shoddily run? You would think that their regular government jobs, diligently executed, would keep them fully occupied.

A more sinister reason for these GLC directorships is that they are an effective trick to trap the loyalty of civil servants. Be too critical of the idiotic ideas of your political superiors and you risk being left out on those lucrative board appointments. With Isa Samad, it is also a case of Najib buying Isa’s silence, for reasons best known only to the pair.

Corrupting A Noble Initiative

FELDA was the crown jewel of Tun Razak’s imaginative rural development scheme. It was to provide land to otherwise landless villagers, the equivalent of land grants homesteading to early American settlers. The other reason was to encourage Malays to undertake an internal migration of sorts by uprooting them from their tradition-bound villages to begin a new life unencumbered by prevailing non-productive cultural practices.

With the expertise of and financing from the government, those villagers would develop hitherto virgin jungles into productive rubber and palm oil plantations, with those settlers eventually getting title to their holdings. At about 14 acres each, those units were definitely economically viable. To make sure that those lands would survive the next and subsequent generations and not be endlessly subdivided, the settlers had to agree to dispense with their usual Islamic inheritance practices. Meaning, the property would be inherited by only one of the children.

The surprise was the absence of howling protests from the ulama to this clear departure from Islamic inheritance practices as everybody saw the wisdom of the move; to maintain the economic viability of these holdings.

If this IPO were to enhance the condition of the settlers, then it should be supported. FELDA is meant to serve the settlers, not the other way around. Isa Samad had it backwards when he dismissed the concerns of the settlers as voiced through their cooperatives.

In response to the settlers’ concerns, Isa suggested a portion of the proceeds be placed in a “Special Purpose Vehicle” specifically to meet their needs. Unfortunately he did not provide the specifics. Consequently this SPV risks degenerating into yet another honey jar to be passed around among the politically powerful bears.

In my forthcoming book, Liberating the Malay Mind, I put forth ideas on how to maximize the use of these GLCs in improving the lot of Bumiputras. The focus should be on investing in people – human capital – not companies.

Companies are subject to business cycles; they can also be ruined by incompetent and corrupt managers. All you would be left with then are worthless stock certificates. Where is Bank Bumiputra today? Malaysia Airlines is in no great shape either, despite the billions expended through SPVs and other accounting gimmicks.

Invest in our people instead; the skills and knowledge they acquire would stay with them to benefit society through good and bad times. Thus I suggest selling these GLCs and putting the proceeds into an escrow account for the sole purpose of investing in and developing Bumiputra human capital.

Bringing the issue specifically to FGH, I would commit a third of the IPO proceeds to a special fund to be used to develop the human capital of the settlers and their children. That money would be used to air-condition their schools, build adequate laboratories and libraries, and to bring qualified teachers especially in English, science and mathematics. If you want the children of those settlers to be other than penorakas (homesteaders), the best route would be to provide them with superior education. That means their schools and teachers should be among the best; today they are among the worst.

I would use the funds to enrich the curriculum as with providing music classes. I would go further and provide free musical instruments and after-class music lessons, modeled after Venezuela’s highly successful El Sistema initiative. New York is modeling a similar Harmony program with its low-income students, and this week those students had the thrill of their lifetime when their orchestra was conducted by Placido Domingo. Gustavo Dudamel, the young conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, is a product of El Sistema, a tribute to Venezuela’s investment in human capital.

Similarly I would use the IPO funds to mechanize the operations on these plantations. Today palm nuts are still harvested in the same labor-intensive and back-breaking ways as they were 50 years ago; there is little innovation or mechanization. I fail to see why FELDA engineers could not design harvesting machines and trucks with hydraulic lifts like those used by utility repair workers to fix broken lines. Only through mechanization could the workers’ safety and health could be assured, and their productivity enhanced.

If through this IPO the lives of those FELDA settlers and their children were to be made better, then the initiative would find many ready supporters. What many fear is that this IPO would prove to be nothing more than a windfall for the likes of Isa Samad so they could acquire their luxury condos, fancy cars, and trophy wives.

Najib’s Divine-Inspired Bid to further boost ties with the US

February 27, 2012

Najib’s Divine-Inspired Bid to further boost ties with the US

By Paul Gabriel

Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Datuk Othman Hashim has been nominated to be the new Ambassador to the United States.

The senior career diplomat is said to be the only one considered to replace Datuk Seri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis, who has returned following a two-and-a-half year stint in Washington.

Dr Jamaluddin will serve as Special Envoy to the United States with his ministerial ranking retained.

Diplomatic officials said the US State Department had already granted agreement to Othman’s appointment.Othman had previously served as deputy head of mission in China, ambassador to the Czech Republic and Wisma Putra Deputy Secretary-General (1) before his posting to Geneva in 2009.

His nomination will restore a career diplomat’s posting to the United States after the political appointment of Dr Jamaluddin, a former minister who is the Rompin MP.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said he was confident that Othman would do well in Washington, adding that his UN experience in Geneva would be crucial. “We thought that Othman was the right man for the job and the Prime Minister gave his approval,” he told The Star.

Othman will receive his credentials fr om the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and a date would be set for him to present them to President Barack Obama at the White House.

Anifah thanked Dr Jamaluddin for performing his tasks with distinction, saying his services were still needed as special envoy. “He has done a great deal in furthering Malaysia’s interests in the US and has helped put our relations on a firmer footing,” he added.

Dr Jamaluddin pledged to complement the new Ambassador’s efforts to break new ground with the United States.“I thank the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for the continued trust placed on me and will continue to do my best in my new role,” he added.

On Muhammad Asad’s ” The Message of the Quran”

February 26, 2012

On Muhammad Asad’s ” The Message of  the Quran”

by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Director,Islamic Renaissance Front

Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullah

Allow me to take all of you down my memory lane so that the effort in translating and presenting Muhammad Asad’s “The Message of the Qur’an” is well appreciated.

Let me start by saying that my quest to read and understand the message in the Qur’an as it was supposed to be read and understood has been a life-long journey.

I started reading the Qur’an systematically at the age of 13, at that time more because it has been a ritual for me and many of my friends who frequented the local mosque in Kelawei, Penang. Completing the entire Qur’an during Ramadan was a must and we’re competing among each other to ensure that we will complete the task before the new moon of Syawal was sighted.

I was 15 when the entire country was swept with the euphoria of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. The rejuvenated spirit at that time was so immense that not even the recent Arab Spring is comparable to how the revolution waves hit and transformed many young hearts at that time.

It was during that time that even the Islamic Party (PAS) young firebrands disposed of their existing leader and emulated the Iranian style “Vilayat-e-faqih”. The eagerness to understand the words of God was so intense at that time that I ended up buying an Indonesian translation of the Qur’an by Prof Hasbi as-Siddiqi.

It was the first Qur’an with translation that I read for the years to come and keep until today. What stimulated me to read the Qur’an intently to understand the underlying message was none other than the experience I had at Yayasan Masriyah in Bukit Mertajam when I followed a Tamrin organized by the Islamic Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM).

During the Tamrin, I was exposed to a very influential Islamic movement in the Middle-East, Egypt in particular: al-Ikhwan al-Muslimum (The Muslim Brotherhood). It was during this time when I was exposed to the thoughts and methodology of da’wah of al-Imam asy-Syahid Hassan al-Banna. It was then when I first learned about Ma’alim fi at-Tariq (Milestones) by asy-Syahid Sayyid Qutb.

On the first chapter of Ma’alim fi at-Tariq, Sayyid Qutb discussed about the Qur’anic generation. It was the generation of the sahabah, the companions of the Prophet.  The entire premise of Milestones lies on a basic tenet of educating and motivating the potential vanguard of the re-Islamization movement. The book was written in order to re-orientate the Muslim minds in such a way that it could inspire the masses with a transformative revolutionary consciousness as inspired by the Qur’an. First and foremost was the clear spring from which the first generation of Muslims quenched their thirst.

The spring from which the companions of the Prophet drank was only the Qur’an, and only the Qur’an; as the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet were offspring of this fountainhead. The Qur’an was the only mold in which they formed their lives.

It was according to the well thought-out plan to prepare a generation pure in heart, pure in mind and pure in understanding. Their training was to be based on the method prescribed by God who gave the Qur’an, purified from the influence of all other sources.

The method described by Sayyid Qutb in creating the Qur’anic generation was similar to the method of the first generation. They read only a few verses, probably ten at most, and the they refected upon the verses and transformed their beliefs, understanding and actions according to those verses.

About the same time, I read Tafsir Surah al-Fatihah by asy-Syahid Hassan al-Banna where he strongly encouraged every Muslim to read and try to understand the Qur’an using the God given faculty. He recalled the verse: “And as for those who strive hard in Our cause – We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us” [al-Ankabut 29: 69]

It was then that I made it compulsory upon myself to consistently read the Qur’an every day after Maghrib prayer, at least an “’ain” or approximately ten verses and contemplate upon the meaning. I still remember, after two years of my persistent effort, at the age of nineteen, I managed to complete the entire Qur’an and the meaning finally, on one cold winter night. On that night I paused and recollected the important themes of the Qur’an.

Among the most important message that I understood, was the humane nature of the Prophet. He has no supernatural power and definitely not a supernatural being. Surprisingly this important concept was never emphasised before in my life. In Surah al Kahfi verse 110, God says: “Say [O Prophet]: “I am but a mortal man like all of you. It has been revealed unto me that your God is the One and Only God”. [al-Kahfi 18: 110]

This understanding would later turn out to be the most important premise in the evolution of my thought process in the future.

 My next task was to read a more detail explanation of the texts. That was when I got acquainted with two important Tafsirs available at that time in Malay, Tafsir an-Nur by Prof Hasbi as-Siddiqi and Tafsir al-Azhar by Prof Hamka. Coincidentally, just like Hassan al-Banna, Hasbi as-Siddiqi and Hamka were both students of the greatest reformer of the 20th Century, Imam Muhammad Abduh. Reading the Tafsir was accompanied by reading dozens of books on the Sciences of Hadith and Fiqh mainly by the students of the Reformist School of Muhammad Abduh like A. Hassan, Munawar Khalil, Isa Ansari and Hasbi as-Siddiqi; to name just a few.

One of the most important principles of Abduh’s thought is the struggle to reconcile reason (‘aql) and revelation (wahy). The relationship between reason and revelation has been the most problematic issue since the early Islamic centuries.

According to Abduh, “reason” and “revelation” cannot come into conflict with one another, because religion and science are the twin sources of Islam, and that they are active in different areas.

 Therefore, “reason” (‘aql) according to ‘Abduh, is the closest friend of revelation as it helps man understand the sacred texts. If man cannot use ‘aql properly, he remains incapable of showing due respect to God who created him.

A few years passed by before I stumbled across the most important interpretation of God’s word on this matter when I read the book “Islam at the Crossroad” by none other than Muhammad Asad.

 In the chapter About Education” Asad clearly emphasizes that the Qur’an is full of exhortations to learn “so that you may become wise”, “that you may think”, and “that you may know”.Asad also emphasizes on the importance of “reason” in his elaboration of the verse: “and He imparted unto Adam the names of all things”. [al-Baqarah 2: 31]

The Arabic term “ism” (name) in the verse implies according to all philologists, an expression “conveying the knowledge  (of a thing). According to Asad, in philosophical terminology, it denotes a “concept”.

The subsequent verses show that owing to his God-given knowledge of those “names” or conceptual thinking, man is, in certain respect, superior to the angels. The “names’ are a symbolic expression for the power of defining terms, the power of articulate thinking which is peculiar to the human being and which enables him, in the words of the Qur’an, to be God’s vicegerent (khalifah) on earth.

Clearly the attitude of Muslims nowadays who have the tendency to resort to literal interpretation of “texts” (nas), and refuting anything that falls within the realm of “reason” contributes to the stagnation and decaying condition of the ummah itself.

 This articulation in “Islam at the Crossroads” had a very profound effect on my mind and my soul. It answers the question that I have been asking myself all these while. What was it that was so special about being a mortal being, with temptations and definitely not free from committing sins to be more superior than the ever obedient angels.

The sudden enlightenment led me to search for “The Message of the Qur’an”. It answers many difficult questions that I have regarding this religion especially on the issues of pre-destination, the doctrine of abrogation (an-nasikh wal-mansukh), whether the Qur’an is time-bound or timeless , the seemingly contradictory verses of the Qur’an with modern science and other pertinent issues. Throughout the pages of “The Message of the Qur’an”, I found the answers to the questions that have been bugging my mind.

The most precious knowledge that I gained was the reformist agenda of Muhammad Abduh was even much clearer when I read “The Message”. The main problem to many Muslims nowadays is whether Islam would find a way to devise a system between faith and modernity.

A century ago, Muhammad Abduh had argued that while certain aspects of religion would remain immutable especially those concerning ibadah (worship) and aqidah (creed) or known as ath-thawabit (the immutables), however issues of governance should be addressed through human reason since they fall under the realms of al-mutaghaiyyirat (the changing).

It was Abduh’s reformist agenda and rationalism then, with its emphasis on reason (‘aql) and God’s justice (‘adl), which seemed as if it might be able to ground a dynamic Islamic theology capable of successfully meeting the challenges of modernity.

 Alas, what we see today, these promising attempts were thwarted by the rise of the literal Salafis and its ramifications.

 One of the main principles of Abduh’s reform agenda is asserting a claim to “renewed interpretation” (ijtihad)” of Islamic law based on the requirements of “social justice” (maslahah) of his own era. According to Abduh, where there seems to be a contradiction between “texts” (nas) and “social justice” (maslahah), then social justice must be given precedence.

Abduh supports the principle based on the notion that Islamic law was revealed to serve, inter alia, human welfare. Hence, all matters which preserve the well being of the society are in-line with the objectives of the syari’ah and therefore should be pursued and legally recognized.

Abduh believed that independent thinking  (ijtihad) would enlarge the scope of knowledge because most of the aspects of human welfare (mu’amalat) can be further elaborated with the use of reason (‘aql).

He pointed out that since fiqh means “understanding”, whoever makes a legal decision on the basis of the literal meaning of the text only, without understanding the spirit of the law (ruh al-Shari’ah) is not a jurist (faqih).

 ln this regard, he re-introduced the legal maxim “inna al ‘ibrata bi al-maqasid wa al -ma’ ani  wa bi alfaz wa al-mabani”- the consideration is to be given to the intentions and meanings, not to merely words and the phrases.

Consequently ‘Abduh also opposed the literal (zahiriyah) trend and understanding of the text without recourse to reason.

Abduh justified his use of ijtihad on the basis of the following Qur’anic verse: “And strive hard in God’ s cause with aIl the striving that is due to Him: it is He who has eIected you (to carry His message], and has laid no hardship on you in [anything that pertains to] religion.” [Al-Hajj 22:78].

 It was this reform agenda of Muhammad Abduh that was clearly explained by Asad while interpreting the verses of the Qur’an.Considering that the reform agenda is the “raison d’etre” of the Islamic Renaissance Front, it is our obligation then to make the intellectual basis of our organization reacheable to the majority Malay speaking Muslims in our country.

We believe that as the world continues to change, and true to the spirit of reform and renewal, there is a requirement for a second look at the Qur’an and other Islamic texts.

Speech during Book Launch Event of Risalah al-Qur’an at the Islamic Arts Museum on 26 February 2012

VOTING is about making good leadership choices

February 26, 2012

VOTING is about making good leadership choices

by Dato Dr.Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid(02-24-12)

One vote can make a difference.  The vote properly cast and counted can stop not only individual thieving but also institutionalised corruption.

Winnable candidates can be defined by political parties for ad hoc purposes of winning the elections. To the people, the wholesome winnable candidate is not just about the elections.

What the so-called winnable candidates do after the elections also matters. Legally, the winnable candidate will be with the people and their respective constituency for the full term of 1,825 days. In five years, leaders at any level can do much good or much damage.

Good leaders from any political party or any sector of human activities are hard to come by. Good leaders are not necessarily good through the life span but have to be constantly vigilant with self in order to be steadfast in integrity.

In any particular organisation or political party, leaders are expected to create conditions for the happiness, safety and security of the people. What political parties set as winnable candidates may really not be winnable enough. There are other criteria and checklists.

Candidates who will be rejected in the long-run are those who are pompous and arrogant, who are hate-mongers with destructive personal or sub-group agendas.

The negative attributes that the people do not accept include the following: the exercise of power distance; flaunting of power and living beyond means; covert looting, cheating, and wastage of public funds; and fraudulent behaviour or incompetence.

The leader must not be manipulative but must genuinely respect the people. The nominated person must not be uncompromisingly self-righteous with unresolved issues of relationship with others and with self.

The nominated leaders should not be people who would commit injustices towards neighbours or towards those who are not like them. The elected person must not be a “toxic” leader and must not damage the people or the country. He should not evidence inclination towards committing crimes against humanity.

The nominated leader would be one who fosters rational thinking and refinement of emotions of the people. The leader does not indoctrinate and debase God-given faculties to humans.

When the leader is elected, the people are proud to be Malaysian. It must not be the case that there is overall disappointment when a particular person with no credibility but with planned mischief comes to power to do damage in subtle and blatant ways.

The leader must not have the inclination to be corrupt but must be an example of integrity. Political manifestos come to nought when election promises are broken and not fulfilled. Leaders who lie to the people betray the people.

The nominated leader should have a level of practical and ethical awareness that he is answerable to his party in all matters. However, in important and critical matters he must have clear awareness that he is answerable to the people and to God.

In critical matters, his conscience should move to decide. There has to be clear willingness to draw the line between the relationship with party, and the relationship with justice, nation and God. Justice for the individual citizen, the common good, and the security of the nation overrides the interests of lobbyists or parties.

Leaders are expected to be the voice of conscience among peers and to have the courage to stand alone against the odds of injustice when a final judgment call is required.

True leaders make sacrifices and are not easily enamoured by power or wealth or adoration and are willing to lose all these in matters of first principles of justice. Good leaders would be willing to stand against the wrongdoers of their own political party.  It has been aptly said by Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

A gift to the people is when individuals and political parties will win the elections honourably, or lose with honour and dignity as good losers.

PDRM: Charge the NFC Chief with CBT

February 26, 2012

PDRM: Charge the NFC Chief with CBT


Police are proposing to charge the chairperson of the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) Dr Mohamed Salleh Ismail, the husband of the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil with criminal breach of trust.

Bukit Aman Commercial CID director Syed Ismail Syed Azizan said the proposal was in the investigation paper being prepared by police after it had been returned from the Attorney-General’s (A-G) Office on Tuesday to investigate several other matters.

“The investigation would be sent back to the A-G shortly,” he said when contacted by Bernama tonight.

The issue on NFC headed by Mohamad Salleh as the executive chairperson began to receive public attention after the Auditor-General’s 2010 Report in October said NFC failed to meet the objective of its establishment.

It became a hot issue when the opposition alleged misappropriation of the government’s RM250 million allocation to NFC.

NFC is a beef valley project in Gemas, Negri Sembilan to increase the production of local beef and reduce national dependence on imported beef.

Your Weekend Entertainment

February 25/26, 2012

Your Weekend of Songs by America’s Ladies of Song and Dame Shirley Bassey


Last week we bade farewell to the young, beautiful and talented Whitney Houston and New York gave her a celebratory funeral with eulogies by Kevin Costner, friends and relatives. Gone tragically, she will long be remembered as the finest of her generation. Her funeral was carried to our part of the world live by CNN.

For this weekend’s entertainment we wish to play her popular song just to remember her again. At the same time, we thought it is appropriate to bring back on this blog the voices of some of America’s superb ladies of songs like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald (Mack the Knife), Dinah Washington (with rendition of What a Difference a Day Makes), Sarah Vaughan, jazz pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn and Etta James (singing her popular tune, At Last). To conclude, we thought Nancy Wilson and Dame Shirley should brighten up things with their sultry voices. Please have another good weekend.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Farewell, Whitney: Gone Too Soon

Billie Holiday- What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Ella Fitzgerald–Mack The Knife

Dinah Washington-What a Difference a Day Makes

Sarah Vaughan-September in the Rain

Shirley Horn–The Meaning of the Blues

Etta James–At Last

Nancy Wilson-Like Someone in Love

Wives and Lovers

Shirley Bassey- The Birth of the Blues

Never, Never, Never

NEP is Affirmative Action for all Malaysians

February 24, 2012

NEP is Affirmative Action for all Malaysians, not just some crony Malays

by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

I am indeed honoured to have been invited to speak to all of you gathered here this morning on a subject of great importance for the continued preservation and survival of our nation.

As all of you are aware, our nation became free from the fetters of colonial domination about five-and-a-half decades ago. Sadly and strangely, after 55 years of independence, I think we are farther apart now than we have ever been before.

On August 31, 1957 our freedom from the shackles of a colonial past was greeted with euphoria by the different races who came together on the basis of a common vision for a shared future.

We then had a prime minister who believed that the purpose of independence was the pursuit of happiness for the different races in the country, and our success in that pursuit was to him the ultimate test of our success as a nation.

“Greatest happiness principle”, “what I gave to one, I also gave to others”

Tunkuʼs vision for the newly independent nation was based on the “greatest happiness principle”, a subject of intense political discourse in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe.

Like the enlightened political philosophers in the western world, our father of independence believed that governments existed to provide for the happiness of the people, and nothing more.

“For us in the Alliance we have no dogma other than to ensure happiness for the people,” the Tunku once said.

Tunku recognised that individual happiness was tied up with collective happiness, and that sometimes we needed to sacrifice our own comforts willingly so that people from another community were not deprived of happiness.

Like Jeremy Bentham, the great English philosopher would have it, Tunku therefore favoured policies that would bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of Malaysians.In his words, “what I gave to one, I also gave to others. In this way, we made everybody happy. This has always been my aim.”

In fact, according to him, “that is what I live for, to ensure peace, happiness and prosperity for our Malaya which we all love so well.”

Tunkuʼs policies were tied up with the golden rule that we must have respect for one another and treat others just as we wish others to treat us. This golden rule was an important principle in an interdependent, multi-ethnic society such as ours.

Tunkuʼs basic concept of happiness is best expressed in his favourite maxim, “live and let live”. It is a maxim that calls for acceptance of people as they are, although they may have a different way of life. Tunku applied the maxim in the public domain.

Dashed by May 13, 1969

Tunku was a real father to the nation, as expressed in these words, “… I am a happy prime minister and I have cause to be so. I can feel the pulse of this nation; I am not the prime minister of this nation, but the father to all the peoples who live here.”

If Tunku had boasted that he was the happiest prime minister in the world, it was only because the people were happy. In Tunkuʼs words at that time, “I pray and hope that this happy state of affairs will continue for all times.”

Unfortunately, however, Tunkuʼs dreams were dashed to dust by the events of May 13, 1969.This once happiest prime minister expressed the pain he felt as Father of Merdeka as he relived those traumatic moments:

“I have often wondered why God made me live long enough to have witnessed my beloved Malays and Chinese citizens killing each other.”

Such was the man that Tunku was. He was the moving spirit of the nation.

Tunku has long gone, and today his premiership is a distant memory. Since the time he left, inter-ethnic relations have taken a turn for the worse on all fronts.

Today, we have a regime that promotes the concept of 1 Malaysia with all its contradictions.We have an official document that explains the 1 Malaysia concept as a nation where every Malaysian perceives himself as Malaysian first, and by race second.

However, we have a leader who openly transgresses his own official policy by declaring that he is “Malay first” and “Malaysian second”.The statement comes as a severe blow not just to the concept of 1 Malaysia, but also as a nullification of Jiwa Malaysia or the National Spirit that Tunku was trying hard to inculcate.

No wonder that people can no longer recognise the jiwa — they just donʼt feel as though they are fully Malaysian.

A nation of strangers

It is strange that after 55 years of freedom, we have not learnt the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.The countryʼs source of strength is unity, and this source of strength has been slowly whittled away over the years.

We have become a nation of strangers, as evidenced in the fields of politics, the economy, education and the civil service.

The strong presence of communal political parties in the country is chiefly to be blamed for the sad state of race relations in the country. These political parties invariably support racial policies and imbibe racial sentiments among the people whom they represent.

In their day-to-day administration of the country, the powers that be often give scant regard to the constitutional provision contained in Article 8(1) which states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”; and Article 8(2) which states that “there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment”.

One major sore point in the area of race relations is the New Economic Policy, whose original intention to create unity has been subverted to become a major source of disunity not only between the various races but also among the Malays and Bumiputeras in general.

The New Economic Policy, which was conceived in 1971 not long after the Tunku had retired as prime minister, was primarily created to address poverty, and to raise the level of Malay participation in the economy.

NEP was meant for ALL Malayians

It was intended for all Malaysians, and not just for the Malays or Bumiputeras. As a former finance minister, let me emphasise that it was never the intention of the NEP to create an incubated class of Malay capitalists. If we visit the government departments or universities, we wonder where all the non-Malays have gone.

After 1969, suddenly there was this attempt to recruit mostly Malays into the civil service.It is tragic that the civil service does not reflect the racial composition of the Malaysian population, as the predominant presence of only one race tends to engender a sub-culture that is antithetical to the evolution of a dynamic and efficient civil administration in the country.

Our school system is not as it used to be. The non-Malays prefer to send their children to vernacular schools, as the national schools have assumed an exclusively Malay character.Needless to say, national schools have become even less attractive to the non-Malays as English is no longer used in the teaching of mathematics and science.

The situation will be very different if all discriminatory practices in the education system were to be abolished, and a common system of education for all is adopted.

National unity is the one area that we cannot afford to ignore, and the real genesis of national unity, I submit, is from an unlikely source: Parliament, warts and all.

It is the Parliament that has the final say in charting the direction the country is heading to.We must have a strong and resolute government which recognises the needs of all Malaysians, and formulates the right policies for the propagation of a cohesive and integrated society.

If Parliament enacts laws that are just and fair for all Malaysians based on meritocracy and need, more than half the battle for national unity would be won.

In this respect, the rakyat as voters must realise that in the ultimate they alone hold the key to the future of this country.

- Text of the speech by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah at the Breakfast Meeting at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre organised by Paddy Schubert Sdn Bhd on February 24, 2012.–

Be Realistic on Welfare State

February 25, 2012

Be Realistic on Welfare State: We can’t afford it

by Farish M. Noor (02-24-12)

“While it is tempting to fall back on sweet rhetoric and promises of a welfare state for all, the painful reality of global economics today reminds us that no state in the world can really afford it. One look at the economies of Greece and Portugal should knock some common sense back into our heads, if we need it still”.–Farish M Noor

The timing of this debate could not be more opportune, for it is obvious that election fever has gripped the country and all the political parties will soon be  on the hustings, trying to vie for the attention and support of the Malaysian electorate. And, in the face of the somewhat painful realities of the global economy today, talk of a welfare state may be comforting to some.

However, I am still left with the burning question as to where this will lead us — Malaysia as a whole — as the country is forced to chart its way through the choppy waters of a global economy that seems to be on the verge of a meltdown.

A quick glance at Europe might suggest that the welfare state model has become more controversial there of late; and some have argued that Europe is where it is today as a result of decades of state spending into a vast and top-heavy state apparatus that could never have been sustained in the long run.

Lest we forget, the welfare state has a long history to it, and its foundations were laid at the beginning of the 20th century. But it was the trauma of  World War 2 that led to the radical shift in the public’s political loyalties, and the growing demand for a more caring state.

In the wake of the war, the British public voted for a Labour government, defying the opinion that the Conservatives would have won a victory thanks to the pivotal role played by prime minister Sir Winston Churchill that rallied the country together in the face of Nazi and Fascist aggression. But, instead, the vote shifted from the Tories to Labour, at a time when the British working classes were all but fed up with their role as workers serving a capitalist economy they did not control.

We cannot deny that the welfare state — as it developed in the 1950s in Britain and other Western European countries — played a significant part in the social transformation of Western society.

For a start, it opened the way to universal education and created a generation of young scholars-turned-professionals who came from social backgrounds that hitherto prevented them from seeking higher education. The rise of literacy and higher education was matched by the creation of a national health service which served the public in general, ending the days when being poor meant being destined to live an unhealthy life.

However, it cannot be denied that these developments also incurred a cost to the economies of Western Europe, creating massive bureaucracies that were also job creation schemes for many, keeping unemployment down but at a cost to the taxpayers. Greece’s current economic impasse is the result of precisely such extravagant spending beyond its means, which ended up creating an unproductive civil service that was overpaid in many areas, performing overlapping duties and expanding the sphere of state control.

By the 1980s, the signs were already there that Europe would have to trim  its state apparatus if it was to compete with the other developing economies of the world like Japan and the United States. Yet, so strong had the welfare state grown, and so embedded in the popular imaginary, that to even talk of trimming down the state was tantamount to political sacrilege.

The break, of course, happened in Britain during the time of Margaret Thatcher, for by then she had managed to do one thing that no Labour leader had effectively done before her:  to tap into the aspirations of the British working classes and to seek their support in her plan to trim down the state. Thatcher’s privatisation policies — dubbed by the critics as a case of “selling the family silver” — was undoubtedly controversial, but the most startling thing about it is how it managed to secure her the support of the working classes, too.

In his biography of Thatcher, John Campbell notes that when state enterprises like British Telecom were put on the stock market, thousands of ordinary British workers chose to buy shares — despite the fact that the trade unions had explicitly warned their members not to do so. This signaled the end of the old politics of the Labour party but the welfare state lingered on for decades to come, in different guises.

Today, countries like Malaysia have to brave the difficult decade ahead when it will be certain that the coming years will witness a drastic change in the flow of global capital, benefiting some countries while impoverishing others. The whole of Southeast Asia is feeling the shock of these new political-economic configurations and the population in  many countries is  worried as to where they will find themselves by the 2020s.

While it is tempting to fall back on sweet rhetoric and promises of a welfare state for all, the painful reality of global economics today reminds us that no state in the world can really afford it. One look at the economies of Greece and Portugal should knock some common sense back into our heads, if we need it still.

This doesn’t mean that states and political  elite can abdicate their responsibilities to the populace either, for the fact that most states are democracies today means that governments that ignore the gripes and complaints of their voters do so at their peril. Yes, there is a need for some form of social security and some sort of cushion to buffer the impact of spending cuts that have to come.

And, yes, the public needs to feel assured for they are indeed fearful of the future. But let us at least meet these challenges with a modicum of sanity, reason and pragmatism — rather than populist rhetoric intended to win votes (but which may bankrupt the country). Talk of welfare state solutions that mean more and more state subsidies and spending is like giving aspirin to someone with a brain tumour: once the effect wears out, the pain will be greater than ever.–