A Malaysian answers Dr. Mahathir

December 31, 2012

A Malaysian answers Dr. Mahathir

by  Koon Yew Yin@www.malaysia-chronicle.com

Dr MI was reminded of the witticism on politicians that “we hang the petty thieves but elect the great ones to office” when I read Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s claim in his blog that the Chinese (and Indians) are the real masters of the country.

Specifically, he wrote that “[b]ecause they (the Malays) are willing to share their country with other races, the race from the older civilisation of more than 4,000 years and who are more successful, as such today whatever they have now is also being taken away from them”.

As election day approaches, this line of argument is being rehashed. We can expect more of this race baiting by Dr Mahathir and his kind in UMNO and UMNO Youth when they are addressing Malay voters.

Of course, this rehashing will take on new permutations such as “the PKR and PAS are selling out the rights of the Malays” or “the DAP is really the dayang master pulling the strings of the Pakatan coalition”.

What is important is not to get angry or remain silent but to refute it with facts, figures and arguments.

Political idiocy

For Dr Mahathir to accuse the Chinese of being the real masters of the country is really the height of political idiocy. If we want to go by racial perception, it would appear to everyone that Malays dominate in every sphere of life in the country. They form the majority in Parliament, Judiciary, the Army,  the Police, the MACC and all other important agencies. In the socio-economic and educational sphere, they control all the major banks except for Public Bank, the GLCs, PETRONAS, public universities, civil service, etc.

Any Chinese or orang putih wanting to do business has to kowtow to the Malays for licences and permits. Moreover, Malay businesses control some of the monopolies such as water, electricity, toll roads, etc. where it is so easy for them to make more profits by just increasing the price.

Even the richest and most powerful Chinese and Indians such as Robert Kuok, Ananda Krishna, Tony Fernandez, Vincent Tan and others are completely at the mercy of the Malays if they want to do business in Malaysia.

It’s UMNO-BN that has called all the shots

But let’s not go by simplistic perception. The indisputable fact is that the real masters of the country are the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional, which has ruled Malays and Malaysia for over 55 years.

During that period, Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister was the undisputed  numero uno. He changed the country’s constitution and laws; sent his political opponents into prison or oblivion; singlehandedly undermined the judiciary; and put the clock and our time back to ensure that we would all wake up an hour earlier.

He even took on the most sacrosanct of Malay institutions ― the Sultanate ― by reducing the authority of Malay rulers.Dr Mahathir also controlled and manipulated the country’s purse strings. His financial leadership of the country have left an indelible black mark on the country’s economic and financial fortunes.

First, he made the key decisions on economic white elephants and scandals such as Proton, Bakun Dam, Putrajaya, and Perwaja. The last resulted in a loss of RM2.6 billion. Dr Mahathir himself has admitted publicly in 2002 in a dialogue with Malaysians in London that the loss could have been as much as RM10 billion due to possible misappropriation of funds.

Mother of all scandals

The mother of all financial scandals took place during Dr Mahathir’s time. This was the forex losses incurred by Bank Negara’s speculative currency trading which cost us over RM30 billion.

The second outcome was the plague of privatization he inflicted on the country. A devoted fan of Margaret Thatcher, Dr Mahathir pursued privatization of telecommunications, utilities, airlines and other public sector services with a vengeance. But he lacked the British Premier’s caution and acumen and closed both eyes to the leakages and abuses that accompanied the privatization programme.

Dr Mahathir can be considered to be the godfather of the class of capitalist cronies who have cornered much of the country’s wealth and who, together with UMNO-Barisan, are the undisputed masters of the wealth of Malaysia. These big time tycoons comprise many Chinese but they are a multiracial cast and include an increasing number of Malay businessmen.

Today, Dr Mahathir blames the Chinese for working hard and enjoying the fruits of their labour. He is envious of the Chinese middle and upper classes living in high end housing estates and owning the lion’s share of urban property.

He himself lives in a gated community and is reputed to own numerous properties but he laments for the many Malays living in squatter houses.But who has been responsible for this situation?

No escape for you, Dr Mahathir

Dr Mahathir needs to look at himself in the mirror. He has squandered our petro-dollars on his projects of superficial grandeur and his love of cronies, many of whom he has helped with expensive bailouts. He could have solved the plight of hundreds of thousands of squatters by using treasury funds on them instead of his pet projects.

If he had invested the money wisely in skill acquisition for the young Malays and in public housing and urban infrastructure for all Malaysians, especially needy and deserving Malays, the racial economic divide will surely not be so conspicuous.

Dr Mahathir still does not want to go away from the centre stage. He wants to remain in it because he knows that the BN has to maintain power if he is not to be made answerable for the racial, political and economic mess that he was responsible for and left behind as his main legacy.

The extent of his desperation can be seen in his speeches aimed at shoring up Malay support by claiming that the Chinese are the real masters of Malaysia.But as the Malaysian saying goes, his talk has no walk!

Secretary-General: All BN candidates for Generel Election free of Graft and Crime

December 30, 2012


And then this : Secretary-General: All BN candidates for General Election free of Graft and Crime

All Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates for the 13th general election have been found to be free of corruption and other crimes, BN Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said today.

He said the candidates for the 222 parliamentary and 505 state seats had undergone screening by the Police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Department of Insolvency to ensure that they were “clean” and did not have any problems.

NONETengku Adnan spoke to reporters after presenting school aid and People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) uniforms at a gathering of the people here where a durian feast was also held.

He also said that the background of the candidates was subjected to scrutiny to ensure that they were the people’s choice.

“We want the candidates to be whom the people want, not whom the party or individuals in the party want. We want candidates whom the people feel they can represent them,” he said.

Asked about new faces and women candidates, Tengku Adnan said that was a confidential matter.

Recently, MACC’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel chairman Johan Jaaffar had proposed that all political parties send their list of candidates for the 13th general election for vetting by the MACC to ensure that they were free of corruption and to avert baseless accusations against any individual or party later.

Tengku Adnan, who is the MP for Putrajaya, said he would get the assistance of the Putrajaya Corporation to provide more facilities for the comfort of the residents here. He apologised to the residents for any shortcomings on his part and reminded them to be a model society for the country, saying that Putrajaya was a sustainable city.

- Bernama/www.malaysiakini.com

Independence of the Judiciary

December 30, 2012

Independence of the Judiciary*

by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran( 12-22-12)


Justice C.V.WigneswaranI was indeed pleasantly surprised when your President invited me to address you today. It is eight years since I retired. Though I have been very busy addressing here and abroad many a meeting on legal, social, religious, literary, historical  and many other allied subjects, and sometimes writing about them, the Original Judiciary to which I belonged and the tenure of which I cherished so much never invited me so far.

Perhaps it was because I spoke and wrote of matters that were not appreciated until now! At least, the fact that when a sense of apprehension, uncertainty and confusion has enveloped you, thanks to what is happening around you in Sri Lanka, you have thought of those who stood for the Independence of the Judiciary, and lived their life under much stress and indignity steeped in such Independence, speaks well of you.

It was not very long ago that this speaker together with another senior member of the Original Judiciary had to remind the Secretary to His Excellency the President of the undesirability of interfering with the Independence of the Judiciary when we were called upon to inquire into the dismissals of several Original Court Judges during the tenure of office of Justice Sarath N. Silva. We politely declined to serve on the special committee and indicated that if the request came from  the Judicial Services Commission we were prepared to assist.

 I have been called upon to speak today on your event-theme “Independence of the Judiciary” just as my esteemed friend Justice Salaam, the other speaker, today. We seem to be in the habit of attending conferences together – only a week ago Justice Salaam and I were at a USAID Legal Workshop for the Northern and Eastern Lawyers together.  I hope our discussions do not overlap. What is Independence of the Judiciary? Why is it important? Are these not pertinent questions to answer? Let me briefly define this much maligned phrase in my own way.

Independence of the Judiciary means simply that the Judiciary needs to be kept aloof as far as possible from the other branches of Government and other interest groups. In other words, Courts should not be subject to improper influence be it from other branches of the Government, that is the Legislature as well as the Executive, or from private or partisan interests. If Judges in a country could decide cases and make rulings in applications before them according to the rule of law and according to their judicial discretion, even if they be unpopular and even if they may embarrass powerful vested interests, then we might say there is Independence of the Judiciary in such a country.

Independence of the Judiciary has two facets – extrinsic and intrinsic or the outside and the inside. The extrinsic component is made up of the structural, systemic and environmental factors that form the set up within which Judges function.  The extrinsic component therefore includes the constitutional procedures for appointment of judges, their security of tenure, salaries and perks, as well as their personal security, including threats and inducements.  The intrinsic component includes how Judges think, react and behave.    This component is what is truly within our power.  However, even the most altruistic would agree that the extrinsic component greatly shapes the intrinsic.

What you are facing today with the impeachment of the Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission and the physical assault on the Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission are the extrinsic dimension. When the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was allowed to be passed by the Supreme Court, some of us were of opinion such outer aberrations might be the result.We had read as Law Students in 1961 or so as to what Lord Acton had said in 1887- “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” said he.

Checks and balances were not designed by Law for cosmetic reasons.  The concentration of power in one arm disturbs the delicate balance of power among the three arms of Government.  When there was already an imbalance of power, further concentration was a recipe for disaster.  To understand the extrinsic evolvements in our country we must understand what took place in the field of Constitution making in Sri Lanka.

For constraints of time I will not start from 1947. Let me begin with the pre-natal period of the present Constitution. The 1978 Constitution laid the foundations for a changeover from the Anglo – Saxon model of a Parliamentary Democracy to a centralised, almost absolute Presidency, modeled on the German/American Presidential system, though paying pious lip service to Parliamentary Democracy and Parliamentary traditions. While seemingly following the American model, the strict division of powers, between the executive, legislative and judicial, contemplated by Montesquieu, was conveniently ignored.

Before introducing the 1978 Constitution, Article 4 of the 1972 Constitution which read as “The sovereignty of the People is exercised through a National State Assembly of elected representatives of the People” was changed to read as follows: ‘The sovereignty of the People is exercised through a National State Assembly of elected representatives of the People and the President who shall, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, be elected by the People”.

So too Article 5 of the 1972 Constitution was amended to replace the National State Assembly, with the “National State Assembly and the President”, as being the  supreme instruments of state power of the Republic.

The more important amendment relevant to our deliberations here was that the Executive power, including the defense of Sri Lanka, which was exercised by the President and the Cabinet of Ministers according to the 1972 Constitution, after the Second Amendment, was to be exercised solely by the President, who happened to be the Executive President, unlike the earlier President who was a creature of the Legislature. The Cabinet of Ministers was to thereby lose its importance. Still the Cabinet is sterile. You hardly know these days whether a Cabinet of Ministers exists and what its views are!

This changeover sought by the Second Amendment to the 1972 Constitution completely metamorphosed the institutional set up introduced by the 1972 Constitution.

The Second Amendment to the 1972 Constitution was the catalyst that produced the 1978 Constitution. First the Second Amendment, and then the 1978 Constitution, transformed the office of the President of the Country from a creature of the Legislature to be the controller of the Legislature.

The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was not only going to be the Constitutional President but also the Executive head of the country as well. Like the President of the United States he was to be a Constitutional head plus the Prime Minister, two roles rolled into one.

He would appoint the Prime Minister and the other Ministers of the Cabinet.  (Vide Article 43(3) and 44 of the 1978 Constitution).

 He would appoint other Ministers not of cabinet rank too. (Vide Article 45-ibid).

He would not cease to be the leader of his political party and therefore it would be his policy that would be implemented.(Vide Article 31( 1) and 33(a)- ibid). So the fertilization and conception for the Chintanayas of the future  had taken place then.

The President would not be a member of the Legislature but from time to time he would use his right of audience to address the Parliament very much like the President of the United States who  would address the Congress when he felt disposed to deliver a message (Vide Article 32 (3)- ibid).

In other words the President was to become the supreme instrument of State Power of the Republic under the 1978 Constitution. But he was much more than a mere primus inter pares as far as the institution of the President and the Legislature were concerned.

The President was to become the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. (Vide Article 43(2) ibid).

The whole administration was to be brought under his control (Vide Article 54 – ibid). By virtue of his office he could give orders directly to any department or official. He could call for any report, documents or any other information from any department directly.

It was said that the President of the United States was a dictator for four years. In the case of Sri Lanka not only is this dictatorship extended by two more years, but it applies with far greater force here! The Cabinet is the President’s creature. Most importantly, by allowing Members of Parliament to become members of the Cabinet, Parliament as an institution has became emasculated.  Members of the Cabinet are beholden to the President, as they hold office at the President’s will and pleasure. (Vide Article 44(3) ibid).   They serve their Master and do not hold any allegiance to the institution of Parliament.

In the US, the House of Representatives and the Senate are completely divorced from the Executive.  The Legislature is not an appendage to the Executive, but actually acts as a check on the Executive.  With the evisceration of this separation, the Executive in Sri Lanka becomes even more powerful.  It is no surprise then that much respected stalwarts of Parliamentary Supremacy and Democracy in Sri Lanka have  become starlets kept by the Executive today.

Worse still the President was to keep himself insulated from blame for acts of omission and commission committed by him because it would be the Ministers who would be questioned and criticised in the House for such acts for which the President may himself be responsible.  Were there to be a challenge of no confidence in the Government, the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet would have to face it, since the President was not there to answer the criticisms that were to be leveled at the Government of which he is the fountainhead.

The President of the Republic according to the Standing Orders of the Parliament cannot be the subject of any adverse comment. And Article 35 of the Constitution assured immunity to the President from suits. As you can see the role of the President appears to be fashioned in the image of a King. In fact Mr.J.R.Jayewardene once said that he is the last of the lineage of Royalty in Sri Lanka!

Since the Presidential Elections would not coincide with the election to the Legislature the possibility of the Legislature and the Executive sporting different political complexions was definitely possible, as indeed we did have such parties of different hues called upon to co-habit after the 2001 Election.  However, this was hardly a check on the powers of the Executive.  The manner in which the then President cut the Gordian knot by taking over three Ministries stultifying the then existing Legislature’s performance thereafter, proves the point.  The emasculation of Parliament is almost complete with the power the President wields to prorogue and dissolve Parliament.

What was to be noted was that the Presidential System initiated by Mr.J.R.Jayewardene offered virtually unlimited scope for wielding absolute power, albeit for a limited period then. But the taste of unlimited power grows with time and office and the lust cannot be easily satiated. So the changeover brought about by Mr.J.R.Jayewardene must be deemed to have been designed to keep the incumbent in office of the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in absolute and unfettered power. In consequence, fundamentals of good governance such as accountability, transparency, consideration of conflict of interests and the avoidance of certain actions thereby, were all sacrificed at the altar of self interest. Yet after the demise of President Ranasinghe Premadasa it was not Mr.JRJ’s Party which reaped the benefits of his constitutional tomfoolery.                                      

This brings us on to the state of the Law under the Constitution pertaining to the Judiciary. It is important to examine whether there are provisions in the Constitution which favour the interference by the Executive vis a vis the Judiciary. A Constitution tailor-made for the enhancement and the stabilising of the power of the Executive President must no doubt have such secret innovations. Until the passing of the Seventeenth Amendment to our Constitution the discretion of the President with regard to the appointing process was essentially absolute.  The 17th Amendment restored some balance to the system and made the separation of powers contemplated in Article 4 meaningful.

Before getting on to the calamity that befell our Constitution thereafter, a word relating to the Office of the Attorney General may not be out of place. The Attorney General is the first Law Officer of Sri Lanka and the chief legal adviser to the Government. He and his officers are legal advisers of the national Government of which the Executive President is the head. The close relationship between the Attorney General’s Department and the Executive is thus visible. The relevancy of this would be referred to anon.

Dr.Colvin R. de Silva once pointed out “in the field of independence of the judiciary and of judicial independence it is the upper echelons of the judiciary that most matter being the final guardians of such independence against executive intermeddling and even legislative invasion.” (vide Socialist Nation of 09/08/1978).

The new 1978 Constitution provided for a transitional provision (Article 163) whereby all judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court established by the Administration of Justice Law No: 44 of 1973 holding office on the day immediately before the commencement of the Constitution ceased to hold office thus ensuring that thence onwards the appointments to the Higher Judiciary could be kept within the Executive President’s control.

It is to be noted that Article 164 categorically stated that all minor judicial officers and such officers and employees could continue in service or hold office on appointment under the same terms and conditions as before (the 1978 Constitution came into effect) But why were judges of the superior courts handpicked to “cease to hold office” while the minor judicial officers were allowed to continue? Did it give the then   President the liberty to pick and choose for appointment to the Higher Judiciary those favourable to the Executive, leaving out others?

Since then there has been an unhealthy practice of appointing comparatively very young State Officers from the Attorney General’s Department to the Higher Judiciary in large numbers thus effectively debarring older and experienced Original Court Judges as well as senior members from the Unofficial Bar or even senior educated Academics from the Universities entering and/or reaching the higher echelons of the Judiciary. By virtue of their long stint at the Attorney General’s Department these Judges carried with them a conditioned reflex which favoured the State generally. They were also necessarily quite close to the Executive by virtue of their having had to hobnob with politicians during the course of their day to day official life at the Department. This is perhaps the type of judges who, in the words of Lord Atkins’ famous dissent, become “more executive-minded than the Executive”!

Today the Superior Courts consist of large majority of Judges who entered the Higher Judiciary directly from the Department. They have had no experience at the Original Courts, especially the Civil Courts, except for some who came up from the High Courts, which mainly did Criminal cases at the time they were recruited from the Attorney General’s Department. I had noticed the ability to appreciate the nuances of Civil Law notably lacking among these recruits from the Department when I was on the Bench. You cannot blame them. The appointing authority if it was circumspective and farsighted instead of being offensively selfish could have seen through the consequences of such appointments. A long stint at the Original Judiciary is expected to mature and sober the incumbents before they take on responsibilities in the Higher Judiciary.

The role of the Attorney General and so-called Independent Commissions of Inquiry in relation to the Executive Presidency came into focus a few years ago. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) who were invited by the current Executive President himself from a number of countries to observe the work of the Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights, in their final Public Statement released before withdrawing from their responsibilities in disgust said as follows “An astonishing event occurred in November 2007 at the plenary meeting held between the Commission and the IIGEP. A letter dated 5th November 2007 from the Presidential Secretariat and addressed to the Chairman of the Commission was revealed to the meeting. It stated that: ’The President did not require the Commission to in any way consider, scrutinize, monitor, investigate or inquire into the conduct of the Attorney General or any of his officers with regard to or in relation to any investigation already conducted by the relevant authorities’”.

The report goe s(vide page 13 under the heading (a) The role of the Attorney General):-on to say “It was the single most important event prompting the IIGEP to decide shortly thereafter that it should bring its presence in Sri Lanka to an end”! In this case the IIGEP had been expressing its concern about the role of the Attorney General from the very beginning of its work saying there was a fundamental conflict of interest since the Attorney General while being legal adviser to all levels of the Government including the armed and security forces and the police was at the same time potentially in the position of being a subject of the inquiry where the incriminating hand by the dependents of the victims pointed at the Armed services, Police and paramilitary armed units.

It would therefore not be wrong to conclude that the Executive Presidency is in a position to interfere with the Judiciary on account of its close relationship with the Attorney General’s Department. The appointment of personnel in large numbers from the Attorney General’s Department to the Higher Judiciary can be seen as an extension of the process of such interference.

It might be argued that in the United States the appointments to the Supreme Court are made by the President. There is a glaring difference. The President of the United States, it must be noted, is hamstrung by the concurrent power of approval conferred by the Constitution on the Senate. As stated earlier, the Senate is not a mere appendage to the Executive, and thus takes its tasks seriously.  The Senate does not toss aside its obligations as a mere formality. That august body delves deep into the integrity, moral uprightness and the general demeanour of the President’s nominee. We saw this independence manifest itself a few years ago with one of the nominees of President George W. Bush.

Let me now come over to the national calamity – the Eighteenth Amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment has fundamentally transformed Sri Lanka’s political system, stripping away even the façade of democracy. It ended Presidential term limits, eliminated the Constitutional Council, increased the Executive’s control over appointments and gave the President the power to regularly attend and address Parliament, without being subject to question. It has removed vital checks on Executive power and has further undermined Sri Lanka’s imperfect democracy.  As we traced at the outset the Executive was already hegemonic.  Now the hegemonic Executive President had been made a juggernaut!

Were the consequences of removing vital checks on the Executive unknown to our Higher Judiciary? Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza of the Asian Human Rights’ Commission had said quite some time ago,that “Presidential term limits are critical to democratization. The concept of Executive term limits has been a part of discussions of democracy since its inception in ancient Rome and Athens. Without term limits, an individual and party may accumulate tremendous power. Incumbency advantages allow them to increase and preserve that power perpetually. The incumbent may rely on popular support, regime tactics, and opposition fragmentation to stay in office and set the country’s agenda ad infinitum. The consequences extend beyond the immediate issue of individual accumulation of power over a lifetime. As power becomes concentrated with a single individual and party, the range of views within the party decreases and opposition parties weaken and fragment, diminishing the representation of diverse views in democracy. The weakening of opposition parties undermines electoral choice, as voters have fewer alternatives to the party in power. Government and politics stagnate.”

She further continued- “In the absence of a Presidential term limit, corruption will increase within and outside of government. As an Executive and ruling party accumulate power, they become more likely to abuse that power. Parties are less vigilant in rooting out vice and officials are more prone to corruption when they perceive little threat of removal or electoral repercussion. Conversely, without the potential for political turnover, businesses and other non-governmental actors have a greater incentive to invest in bribing and corrupting government officials, whose positions are more likely to be long-term and secure.”(unquote)

All that this Political Consultant had said even before the Eighteenth Amendment became Law here, have found confirmation in Sri Lanka later.

The Eighteenth Amendment expanded the power of the Executive to make appointments, eroding the independence and power of other government actors and branches. Changes to the appointment process within the Eighteenth Amendment has presented a special threat to the independence of the Judiciary. The President’s expanded appointment powers has extended to the selection of the Chief Justice and the Judges of the Supreme Court, the President and the Judges of the Court of Appeal, the Members of the Judicial Service Commission other than the Chairperson, the Attorney-General, the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the Secretary-General of Parliament. Additionally, the Eighteenth Amendment’s expansion of the President’s privileges with regard to Parliament has compromised the autonomy of Parliament. The prerogative to address Parliament and the acquisition of full Parliamentary privileges has significantly increased the President’s influence on the Legislative branch, virtually eliminating the separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature.

Thus the 18th Amendment has destabilised the Sri Lankan political system. Its effects will only grow with time. The drama taking front pages in the Newspapers these days is only proof of such demoralizing effects. The Amendment has removed essential limits on Executive power and has crippled the Judiciary and reduced the independence and influence of the Parliament; further, it has ensured political stagnancy and precluded progress. By, passing the Eighteenth Amendment, Sri Lanka has destroyed what democratic framework that was in place rather than improving it.   When the Supreme Court decided on this issue it ought to have borne in mind the precarious balance of power and ought to have realised that changes of this nature change the essential structure of the Constitution and as such the very nature of a democracy.

Thus the Executive power under the 1978 Constitution, which is the Constitution still in vogue with many amendments so far, is reposed  absolutely in the President. But the checks and balances on his arbitrary activities have been effectively blunted. The office has all the hallmarks of a veritable dictator.  The desire to hold on to power by any means seems to have motivated the enactment of the existing Constitution which was passed effectively with the help of the steamroller majority that Mr.J.R.Jayewardene  enjoyed during his tenure of office  and now the majority enjoyed by the present incumbent has given birth to the Eighteenth Amendment. Use of violence, deception, and unethical means   characterized JRJ’s tenure in office. Stoning of Judges’ residences found its origins during J.R.’s time.

He effectively established a constitutional structure which appeared democratically feasible but in actual fact was a design for dictatorship. His deception lies in his successful enactment of the present Constitution. The present incumbent seems to be proving himself to be a worthwhile political progeny. And he is a self-confirmed artiste with histrionic abilities!

It is in the light of such constitutional provisions one has to look at the unfortunate assault effected on the Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission and the Impeachment process now enacted on the present incumbent to the post of Chief Justice.

No one had dared to assault a Judge until recently, just like none had stoned Judges’ houses until it was done during J.R’s time. It is the gumption that none would punish them because they are protected that allows such thugs to resort to such acts. There are some politicians who would raise the bogey of foreign conspiracies, and magnify insignificant incidents, as reasons for such happenings, forgetting that such occurrences, whatever be the reasons that prompted them, cannot be condoned.

Then again the process adopted to impeach the present holder of the office of the Chief Justice has been roundly condemned as unconstitutional and violative of any notion of Natural Justice or fair play.  The public domain is filled with learned discourses on this debacle and there is little that can be added, except that it is the logical extension of the process of aggrandizement of power by the Executive to the detriment of the judiciary and democracy.  And if I may say so, honest reflection will show that the Judiciary played its role in allowing this to happen.

To state that the extrinsic dimension of the independence of the Judiciary is in a perilous state would be an euphemism.  Let me now move over to the intrinsic dimension.

Whatever may be the extrinsic outward offensives undertaken and orchestrated by ill-advised political stooges and others vis a vis the Judiciary, there is an inner dimension which Judges must not lose sight of. By virtue of his or her office a Judge has per force to be independent. If a Judge has a condition of mind that sways judgment to one side or the other and renders such Judge unable to exercise his or her functions impartially in a particular case then his or her Independence could be said to have been lost. It is an elementary rule of natural justice that a person who tries a cause should be able to deal with the matter before him or her objectively, fairly and impartially.

No one can act in a judicial capacity if his or her previous conduct gives ground for believing that he or she cannot act with an open mind. The Law requires even handed justice from those who occupy judicial office. It expects the Judge to come to his or her adjudication with an independent mind without leaning towards one side or the other in the dispute. A judge must not be oppressed by the high status of a party in the dispute. In Courts of Law there cannot be a double standard- one for the highly placed and another for the rest. A Judge should have no concern with personalities who are parties to the case before him or the lawyers appearing for them but only with its merits. Judicial bias may be inferred sometimes from the manner in which a judge conducts the proceedings. Not granting a fair hearing to one of the parties may also lead to an inference of judicial bias.

While it would be naïve to think that the extrinsic aspects have no effect on the intrinsic elements of independence, the ultimate power to resist adverse extrinsic elements lies in how Judges control the intrinsic elements. It is the proper exercise of the intrinsic elements that is the true source of power for a judge.  A judge who deals purely on the merits of cases and who respects the Bar whilst being firm will get the reciprocal respect from the Bar.  There is no substitute for this respect.

There is also nothing that a tyrant fears more than an independent judge. A Dictator is not as worried about protesting or striking judges as he is about judges who uphold the Law.  As Judges we must remember that manipulating crowds and processions are in the domain of the political animal.  Judges who, by virtue of their office, are isolated cannot win that battle easily. The battle that can be won of course is the battle in their domain – the legal domain. 

Being independent does not mean holding against the powerful, but being unafraid to do so.  A reaction which results in holding against the Executive merely because the Executive is interfering with the Judiciary is as bad as being afraid of the Executive or seeking to curry favour from the Executive.  Such a situation will only play into the hands of those who seek to undermine the Judiciary.  Balance, though difficult at times, must be maintained. 

 After I made my speech in all three languages on being welcomed by the Bar consequent to my elevation to the Supreme Court, there was heavy criticism by a senior lawyer which appeared in the papers. This irritated my close friends. I laughed it off. A week or so later that senior lawyer appeared before me. I had studied the case the previous night and found merit in his case. I allowed both Counsel on either side to address me, as they would normally do and gave the determination in favour of the senior lawyer who had castigated me in the papers.

My lawyer friends were even more annoyed. One of them phoned and said “You have lost a good opportunity to teach that fellow a lesson” meaning the senior lawyer who criticised me. “You should have dismissed his case and taught him a good lesson” he said. I retorted “What nonsense! A lawyer fights his client’s case. If a Judge does not like the Counsel and therefore make a one sided order purposely, his client would suffer. My problem with the lawyer is something else. Don’t talk like that” I warned him. I did not allow the conduct of the lawyer turning abusive towards me, to colour my judgment.

Let me point out some of the common contributory causes, which lead to judicial bias-

Political pressures brought about directly or indirectly.

Desire on the part of a Judge to curry favour for his or her future prospect.

Pecuniary interest of the Judge in the subject matter of the case before him or her.

A desire to patronize any former colleague at the Bar or elsewhere.

Inherent tendency in a Judge to show favour to certain classes of cases.

Interest of the Judge in one or the other litigating parties for any reason whatsoever.

There are many more.

 A Judge needs to be alert with regard to his or her conditioned reflexes when hearing a case. We are all human. But it would do us good if we know ourselves – know our biases, prejudices, predilections and so on.  Inter alia gender bias, communal bias, racial bias and political bias have been noticed in recent times.

I know of a Lady Judge who would not seriously consider the need to have corroborative evidence to support that of the complainant in a rape case, regardless of how reliable the evidence was. I know of a Judge of an Original Court who refused to read a judgment of the Supreme Court produced in his Court by Counsel, which recommended corroborative evidence to support the confession given by the accused in a case under the Prevention of Terrorism (Special Provisions) Act with regard to the actual happening of the event mentioned in the charge sheet. The principle there was, even if a confession might be considered to have been voluntarily made, if the act confessed did not take place in reality how could an accused be convicted. Since the Judge refused to accommodate the Supreme Court Judgment in his anxiety to convict the accused, the matter is now in appeal.

There are other interesting cases of judicial bias. A senior High Court Judge told me this about thirty years ago. This Judge had been recently appointed a High Court Judge and sent to this station. A senior lawyer who practiced in that Court had been a batch mate of the High Court Judge at the Law College. The lawyer would daily come into the Judge’s Chambers and wish him “Good Morning” and inquire about his health and conveniences at the Official Bungalow, about his family, children and so on. The Judge attributed the lawyer’s concerns to their friendship at Law College until one day the Judge casually walked up to the window overlooking the pathway within the Court’s premises. The lawyer had just left after inquiring into the health and well being of the Judge. Standing behind the curtain in his Chambers, the Judge overheard the lawyer telling a client in Sinhalese “Work is done. I have given the Judge’s dues. You will be acquitted. You must bring me extra Rs.5000/- before evening today after you are acquitted”! The Judge was shocked. On looking into that day’s trial cases he found the one in which his Law College friend appeared, there was hardly any evidence to convict the accused. The lawyer knowing that the accused would be acquitted had made use of the Judge’s name to make a fast buck.

The Judge was furious. What did he do? He while hearing the case put many matters into witnesses’ mouths, made out a case which was not there and convicted the accused sentencing him with maximum punishment. I inquired from him “Sir! Was it correct to punish the client for a mistake made by the lawyer?” He said “May be you are right. But at that time I was furious and until I convicted him I could not control my anger. I refused permission to any lawyer thereafter to come into my Chambers.” Judicial bias thus could be the outcome of anger and annoyance.

A senior lawyer had played out several clients. While hearing the criminal cases against him I had shown my disapproval of his conduct at some stage. That was good enough for the accused and his lawyer to say I was prejudiced and have the case transferred to another Judge when in fact the lawyer’s cases were at their tail end after leading so much of evidence. I was annoyed with the transferring authority for not asking me anything or calling for my observations. I discussed this with Justice Jameel, who was then a High Court Judge. He said “The fact that you are annoyed and angry confirms the fear of the accused. What does it matter if a few cases are less for you? Whether this lawyer will ultimately get convicted or not is not your concern. You have done your part. Just leave it at that!” The lawyer died soon thereafter – due to natural causes of course!

Faith in the administration of justice is one of the pillars on which democratic institutions function and sustain. To establish that faith, Judges must do what is right both legally and morally. Whatever difficulties you face from outside agencies you must try your best to do what is legally and morally expected of you. For that we must require a degree of detachment and objectivity in judicial dispensation. If we think that we might not be impartial in a case it is best to have it transferred to somebody else. Nothing should be done which creates even a suspicion that there has been an improper interference with the course of justice. But if it is necessary to act without fear or favour, you must do so.

When I was District Judge/Magistrate, Mallakam the Army had shot dead a lame person traveling in a cycle near their Camp in Atchuveli. I had to go for the Inquest. They said in consequence of a shot from the direction in which the cyclist was traveling they had shot in self defense. Since the killers were known I asked the Police to take into custody the two soldiers who had shot and after Inquiry into the question of self defense they could be released. This had irked the Army. The next day when I walked up to my Chambers from my Official Bungalow behind the Courts there were over 25 soldiers with guns pointed at my direction standing outside the Courthouse. There were a number of Trucks and Jeeps inside the premises of the Court.

When I went into my Chambers I inquired from my Arachchi why they were there. “May be because you had ordered the arrest of two soldiers” he said. I asked him to call the Commanding Officer of that unit. One Major Wijeyeratne came into my Chambers. When questioned he said that they had come to give protection to the two soldiers. I told him protection to all prisoners is given by the Police. I further said there was need for the Army to be in the Court premises. Then I looked into his eyes and told him “I give you two minutes to take the Army personnel and your vehicles out of the Court premises.”He just stood there stunned. “I hope you heard me Officer!” “Yes Sir!.” There was a salute and the vehicles were all out within two minutes.

But another Officer could have refused. I had thought if that happened the Court was not going to function that day, prisoners were to be in Police custody and litigants and Staff would wait for the Army to leave even until 4.30 p .m. I was going to inform the Chief Justice of what was happening.

The Officer, Major Wijeyeratne, I must say was a gentleman! Therefore I had no problem! If you are known to be serious in carrying out your duties I believe those who are used to violence still respect you.

I know these days there is much stress in carrying out your duties. Your personal security is at stake.  Interference extends not just to your duties, but to other areas as well.  Even this Conference was sabotaged. That is why I attempted to give one tenth of my pension to your Association as my meager contribution to defray your expenses. But your President said I am a Guest and that they would not like to tax me.

I, however, see a silver lining at the end of all this. If the powers that be feel threatened by the Annual Conference of the Judges, surely that is a sign of fear.  That is a sign of weakness.  That is a sign that what you do and say matters.  That is a sign that together you are strong.  That is a sign that the tide has turned, that a battle has been won and that intrinsic independence shines strong amongst you – the younger members of the Judiciary.

You must continue performing your duties however challenging they are, bearing in mind the need to be balanced.  You must continue to remain together, for you can be certain that there will be moves to split asunder the unity.  You must continue this historic struggle for extrinsic independence.  Not just for the judiciary but for democracy. Thank You!

* Keynote Address at the 2012 Annual Conference  of the Judicial Service Association of  Sri Lanka on December 22, 2012


Character and Leadership

December 29, 2012

Character and Leadership

by Dato’ Ariff Sabri@http://sakmongkol.blogspot.com

Samuel SmilesThe Government of a nation itself is usually found to be but the reflex of the individuals composing it. The Government that is ahead of the people will inevitably be dragged down to their level, as the Government that is behind them will in the long run be dragged up.

In the order of nature, the collective character of a nation will as surely find its befitting results in its law and government, as water finds its own level.

The noble people will be nobly ruled, and the ignorant and corrupt ignobly. Indeed all experience serves to prove that the worth and strength of a State depend far less upon the form of its institutions than upon the character of its men.

For the nation is only an aggregate of individual conditions, and civilization itself is but a question of the personal improvement of the men, women, and children of whom society is composed.

Samuel Smiles (a Scottish author and reformer pic above) wrote the above. Every leader of any nation has grappled with the issue. What is the secret ingredient of a good government? Smiles had the answer- the secret of good government is having good people heading it.
singapores-lee-kuan-yewLee Kuan Yew (left) tackled this issue a long time ago, and set out to cultivate good people to lead the Singapore government. He must have done something right, because Singapore is now the richest country in the world.
North of the causeway, the UMNO leader who ruled for 22 years as Prime Minister and many years as, Senator, Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, must have done something wrong. Our country is getting top placing for the wrong reasons.
Mahathir has admitted his failure to improve the Malays, yet the Malays still want to support him? Mahathir has admitted that after 55 years, Malays are still beggars in their own country; Malays are urged to continue supporting UMNO? Are Malays political masochists? You get high as you are abused more. You want people molded after Mahathir’s image to come back and lead us so that they can whip us further to get us high?
We are looking for people with commitment, deep-seated beliefs in democracy, resolute in putting the interests of others before self. These traits are not inherited. Otherwise we will not have Najib Razak and Hishammudin Hussein. They didn’t inherit the characteristics of the fathers.
Just look at the state by which we are governed, it is clear that indeed the worth andTun Dr. Ismail strength of a State depend far less upon the form of its institutions than upon the character of its men. We are like this because our leaders lack character and integrity. The man, who says he is Prime Minister to all, keeps quiet when citizens are set upon and harm inflicted upon them.
The Home Minister in charge of the Police is equally mute suggesting that he has no character and integrity to hold such office. The rakyat are being bullied and set upon, the characterless people leading the State, the Ministry, the institution keep quiet. Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail (right) and Tun Hussein will never countenance these things.
We look around us, we don’t see Malaysia being deficient in the number of institutions that we have. We have the judicial institutions, the law enforcement agencies, we have the state legislative councils, we have Parliament, and we have Kings. Indeed we have everything. What is missing is the character of the men heading those institutions.
Where is the democratic right to move freely across this country? Interests groups are stopped from going into FELDA schemes because some supporters of the government will not allow NGO’s opposed to FELDA to speak to settlers. What is there to hide? If the people doing the explaining break the law, charge them under that particular wrong. The FELDA settlers are people who can think for themselves.
When I wrote about the FGV listing a long time ago, I received many e-mails suggesting that I was envious of FELDA people getting money. Now, FELDA people are realizing that have been conned into transforming their tangible assets into paper assets tradeable in the stock exchange where control over the assets depends on the quality of people managing those assets. Well, you have people like Isa Samad and his sycophants watching over the FELDA assets, I am sure settlers can sleep peacefully at night.
Opposition parties hold ceramahs under the watchful eyes of the Police, and the Police did not stop other groups from causing disturbances and bodily harm. We know these trouble makers are UMNO people- yet the Prime Minister for all the people, maintains his silence on this infringement of democratic rights. Is UMNO, which is now led and headed by many people lacking in character and integrity, condoning violence and aggression on people?
Zam2I was listening to an old video clip showing Zainuddin Maidin’s response to questions posed to him by Al Jazeera. The TV station showed scenes of demonstrators being fired upon by water cannons and teargases. The response ex tempore, by Zainuddin as Minister of Information then would make any Malaysian citizen cringe in embarrassment.
An Information Minister was talking like a person with a passable lower certificate of education. Not only could he not answer the questions in a rational sounding manner, he went immediately into a tirade accusing the media of manipulating the news.
How could a person of this caliber represent Malaysia as an Information Minister- he was simply gibberish. Fast forward to now, we can get a clear picture as to why the same person, not a Minister any longer can give the answers he gave when asked to assess former Indonesian President’s visit to Malaysia recently. Only a person of this mental caliber can come up with similarly hostile and hopelessly incoherent statements about BJ Habibie’s recent private visit to Malaysia.
And the Prime Minister of Malaysia, equally vacuous and pathetic, rationalized the incident by saying that these deranged statements are to be expected during `erection’ year.

The Choice: TIME’s Person of the Year

December 29, 2012

The Choice: TIME’s Person of the Year

By December. 19, 2012

In 1782 an expatriate French aristocrat named J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur who lived in New York’s Hudson Valley published a book in London called Letters from an American Farmer. The third letter was titled “What Is an American?” That question reverberated in the late 18th century as the Old World tried to make sense of the New. It’s still relevant 230 years later, in part because Americans are changing even as America itself remains much the same.

Crèvecoeur wondered, “What then is the American, this new man?” He was a citizen by choice, not birth — he had decided to come here. Such a thing had never existed before. In many ways, Barack Obama is the 21st century version of this new American. But he’s more than just a political figure; he’s a cultural one. He is the first President to embrace gay marriage and to offer work permits to many young undocumented immigrants. There has been much talk of the coalition of the ascendant — young people, minorities, Hispanics, college-educated women — and in winning re-election, Obama showed that these fast-growing groups are not only the future but also the present. About 40% of millennials — the largest generational cohort in U.S. history, bigger even than the baby boomers — are nonwhite. If his win in 2008 was extraordinary, then 2012 is confirmation that demographic change is here to stay.

Obama is the first Democratic President since FDR to win more than 50% of the vote in consecutive elections and the first President since 1940 to win re-election with an unemployment rate north of 7.5%. He has stitched together a winning coalition and perhaps a governing one as well. His presidency spells the end of the Reagan realignment that had defined American politics for 30 years. We are in the midst of historic cultural and demographic changes, and Obama is both the symbol and in some ways the architect of this new America. “The truth is,” the President said in the Oval Office, “that we have steadily become a more diverse and tolerant country that embraces people’s differences and respects people who are not like us. That’s a profoundly good thing. That’s one of the strengths of America.”

Time-Barack ObamaAll elections are about change, and 2012’s was as well. Pretty much everyone voted for change of some kind: 49% of voters wanted to change the President, while 51% of voters wanted the change that Obama promised four years earlier.

The pollster Frank Luntz told me that 40% of America is ecstatic, 20% is accepting and 40% thinks the country is going to hell. “The only other time we’ve seen this was FDR in 1936,” he said. “Those who are alienated believe the President and his policies are not grounded in American values.”But whose America is that? Is there a battle between the old America and the new?

Obama would say no. He sees his time in office as a kind of convergence of past and future. “I think about this eight-year project,” he says, as one in which “we’ve also accommodated all the demographic changes and cultural and technological changes that are taking place and been able to marry those with some of the old-fashioned virtues of hard work and discipline and responsibility — all in a way that allows us to succeed and to thrive.”

That’s the new America. And it’s finding its voice: the President we heard at the wrenching memorial service in Connecticut was more assertive, more personal, more willing to risk his political capital for what he truly believes.

At the end of Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s great 1952 novel about racial injustice, the central character says, “America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain … Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This is not prophecy, but description.” Just 12 years ago, Obama was so invisible that he attended the 2000 Democratic National Convention in L.A. and watched it on the Jumbotron in the Staples Center parking lot. Today he is universally visible — and known. But he would agree with Ellison’s observation that this change is indeed description and not prophecy.

The new America is not so much the old e pluribus unum — out of many, one — but, as Ellison says, one and yet many. That is Obama’s America. For finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union, Barack Obama is TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year.

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: President Barack H. Obama

By December. 19, 2012

Twenty-seven years after driving from New York City to Chicago in a $2,000 Honda CivicObama for a job that probably wouldn’t amount to much, Barack Obama, in better shape but with grayer hair, stood in the presidential suite on the top floor of the Fairmont Millennium Park hotel as flat screens announced his re-election as President of the United States. The networks called Ohio earlier than predicted, so his aides had to hightail it down the hall to join his family and friends. They encountered a room of high fives and fist pumps, hugs and relief.

The final days of any campaign can alter the psyches of even the most experienced political pros. At some point, there is nothing to do but wait. Members of Obama’s team responded in the only rational way available to them — by acting irrationally. They turned neckties into magic charms and facial hair into a talisman and compulsively repeated past behaviors so as not to jinx what seemed to be working. In Boca Raton, Fla., before the last debate, they dispatched advance staff to find a greasy-spoon diner because they had eaten at a similar joint before the second debate, on New York’s Long Island. They sent senior strategist David Axelrod a photograph of the tie he had to find to wear on election night: the same one he wore in 2008. Several staffers on Air Force One stopped shaving, like big-league hitters in the playoffs. Even the President succumbed, playing basketball on Election Day at the same court he played on before winning in 2008.

But now it was done, and reason had returned. Ever since the campaign computers started raising the odds of victory from near even to something like surefire, Obama had been thinking a lot about what it meant to win without the lightning-in-a-bottle quality of that first national campaign. The Obama effect was not ephemeral anymore, no longer reducible to what had once been mocked as “that hopey-changey stuff.” It could be measured — in wars stopped and started; industries saved, restructured or reregulated; tax cuts extended; debt levels inflated; terrorists killed; the health-insurance system reimagined; and gay service members who could walk in uniform with their partners. It could be seen in the new faces who waited hours to vote and in the new ways campaigns are run. America debated and decided this year: history would not record Obama’s presidency as a fluke.

So after his staff arrived, he left his family in the main room of the suite and stepped out to talk with his three top advisers, Axelrod, political strategist David Plouffe and Jim Messina, his campaign manager. He wanted to tell them what this victory meant, because it was very different the second time. “This one’s more satisfying than ’08,” he said. “It wasn’t just about what I was going to do as President. It’s what I’ve done.” In the end, the outcome would not even be very close, and this realization was sinking in, unleashing something, dropping a shield he had been carrying for a long time. Over three days in November, the man known for his preternatural cool won re-election and cried twice in public. And then, trying to find meaning in a tragedy in Connecticut, he did it again, all but breaking down in the White House Briefing Room.

In mid-December, as Obama settles into one of the Oval Office’s reupholstered chairs — brown leather instead of Bush’s blue and gold candy stripes — the validation of Election Day still hovers around him, suggesting that his second four years in office may turn out to be quite different from his first. Beyond the Oval Office, overwhelming challenges remain: deadlocked fiscal-cliff talks; a Federal Reserve that predicts years of high unemployment; and more unrest in places like Athens, Cairo and Damascus. But the President seems unbound and gives inklings of an ambition he has kept in check ever since he arrived at the White House to find a nation in crisis. He leans back, tea at his side, legs crossed, to explain what he thinks just happened. “It was easy to think that maybe 2008 was the anomaly,” he says. “And I think 2012 was an indication that, no, this is not an anomaly. We’ve gone through a very difficult time. The American people have rightly been frustrated at the pace of change, and the economy is still struggling, and this President we elected is imperfect. And yet despite all that, this is who we want to be.” He smiles. “That’s a good thing.”

Bjarne Jonasson for TIME

The Campaign Team: David Simas ran Obama’s opinion-research team, including focus groups; Stephanie Cutter managed the daily effort to defend Obama and dismantle Romney; David Axelrod, co-author of the Obama campaign story, oversaw the entire strategy from Chicago; Jim Messina, the campaign manager, designed, built and ran the whole campaign from scratch; Jim Margolis, the TV adman, relentlessly bombarded swing-state airwaves for months; Jeremy Bird, the grassroots organizer, created a smarter, larger Obama army than in 2008

Two years ago, Republicans liked to say that the only hard thing Obama ever did right was beating Hillary Clinton in the primary, and in electoral terms, there was some truth to that. In 2012 the GOP hoped to cast him as an inspiring guy who was not up to the job. But now we know the difference between the wish and the thing, the hype and the man in the office. He stands somewhat shorter, having won 4 million fewer votes and two fewer states than in 2008. But his 5 million-vote margin of victory out of 129 million ballots cast shocked experts in both parties, and it probably would have been higher had so much of New York and New Jersey not stayed home after Hurricane Sandy. He won many of the toughest battlegrounds walking away: Virginia by 4 points, Colorado by 5 and the lily white states of Iowa and New Hampshire by 6. He untied Ohio’s knotty heartland politics, picked the Republican lock on Florida Cubans and won Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis. (Those last two data points especially caught the President’s interest.) He will take the oath on Jan. 20 as the first Democrat in more than 75 years to get a majority of the popular vote twice. Only five other Presidents have done that in all of U.S. history.

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest by far are the nation’s changing demographics and Obama’s unique ability to capitalize on them. When his name is on the ballot, the next America — a younger, more diverse America — turns out at the polls. In 2008, blacks voted at the same rate as whites for the first time in history, and Latinos broke turnout records. The early numbers suggest that both groups did it again in 2012, even in nonbattleground states, where the Obama forces were far less organized. When minorities vote, that means young people do too, because the next America is far more diverse than the last. And when all that happens, Obama wins. He got 71% of Latinos, 93% of blacks, 73% of Asians and 60% of those under 30.

That last number is the one Obama revels in most. When he talks about the campaign, he likes to think about the generational shift the country is going through on topics like gay marriage — an issue on which he lagged, only to reverse himself last spring. He connects it to the optimism he felt as a young man, the same thing he always talks about with staff in the limo or on the plane after visits with campaign volunteers. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” reads one of the quotes stitched into his new Oval Office rug — an old abolitionist cry that Martin Luther King Jr. repurposed while marching on Selma, Ala. Obama believes in that, and he believes he is more than just a bit player in the transition. “I do think that my eight years as President, reflecting those values and giving voice to those values, help to validate or solidify that transformation,” he says, “and I think that’s a good thing for the country.”

Few experts predicted two years ago that Obama would be busy writing his second Inaugural Address. Pre-election polling showed depressed enthusiasm among young people and Latinos, for example, amid soaring interest among white evangelicals and the elderly. But the poll questions did not account for Obama’s secret weapon: the people who don’t much care for politics. A sizable chunk of the President’s most ardent backers don’t admire either party yet think Obama is somehow above it all, immune to all the horse trading and favor mongering that politics entails. These voters aren’t political in the cable-TV sense of the word. But in 2012, they stuck by Obama. In the last month of the Obama campaign’s voter registration, 70% of those signed up were women, minorities or people under 30.

The President feels a responsibility to advance the values he sees reflected in the changing electorate. Of the nearly 66 million people who pulled the lever for him, Obama says, “The choice that they made was less about me and more about them, more about who they saw themselves to be.” It’s a lovely sentiment for a winner, but even if Obama’s right, the question now is, Who exactly do they want to be? And can Barack Obama take them there?

Bjarne Jonasson for TIME

The Geek Squad: from left: Harper Reed, the chief technology officer, tweeted “My boss is awesome” after Obama won; Dan Wagner, the chief analytics officer, oversaw a team of number crunchers five times the size of the 2008 group; Dylan Richard engineered much of the software behind the campaign; Andrew Claster used analytics to develop new ways of targeting and predicting voter behavior

The election that Obama won, as he has said repeatedly, was in the end a choice, not a referendum. He proved to be a better option than Mitt Romney, who was an imperfect candidate by most measures. On the issues, Obama did not fare quite as well. While 51% of voters in exit polls in 2008 said they wanted the government to do more, only 43% said so in 2012, and Obamacare still polls badly.

But Obama doesn’t see his legacy in terms of an ideological imprint, like Ronald Reagan’s claim that “government is the problem” or Bill Clinton’s admonition that the “era of Big Government is over.” He says he just wants smarter government and a set of results that he can claim as he leaves office in early 2017: “That we had steered this ship of state so that we once again had an economy that worked for everybody, that we had laid the foundation for broad-based prosperity and that internationally we had created the framework for continued American leadership in the world throughout the 21st century.” Recent history and current headlines suggest he will fall short of achieving all those goals. But if he succeeds, it wouldn’t be the first time this leader beat expectations.

Since the moment Obama arrived on the national scene in 2004, the very idea of leadership has been under assault. Many of the old institutions that once anchored the American Dream have been bled of public confidence. Banks, Big Business, the news media and Congress all polled at or near record lows during his first term. Obama himself was the target of uncommon vitriol, but he has somehow managed to keep the public’s faith.

To understand how he kept his job, the best place to start is where he did. In early 2011, David Simas, a former registrar of deeds in Taunton, Mass., who had become a senior White House aide, switched on what might be called one of the largest listening posts in U.S. history. For months on end, two or three nights a week, Simas and his team secretly gathered voters in rented rooms across the swing states, eight at a time, the men separated from the women. The Obamans poked at their guinea pigs’ animal spirits, asked for confessions and played word-association games. (Among swing voters, Democrat often elicited Barack Obama, and Republican would yield words like old and backward.) Live feeds of the focus groups were shown on computer screens at campaign headquarters in Chicago. The first discovery Simas made held the keys to the kingdom. “Here is the best thing,” he said of Obama when he went back to home base. “People trust him.”

In an age of lost authority, Obama had managed to maintain his. In group after group, the voters told the researchers they believed the President was honest, lived an admirable personal life and was trying to do the right thing. “Here’s what I heard for 18 months,” Simas says. “‘I trust his values. I think he walked into the worst situation of any President in 50 years. And you know what? I am disappointed that things haven’t turned around.’ But there was always that feeling of ‘I am willing to give this guy a second shot.’”

In different rooms, behind different one-way mirrors, Republicans made the same discovery. “There was almost nothing that would stick to this guy, because they just liked him personally,” Katie Packer Gage, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, said after the election. Most of those who had voted for Obama in 2008 were still proud of that vote and did not see the President as partisan or ideological. When Republicans channeled their party’s many furies, attacking Obama as an extremist, it backfired among swing-state voters. “The kind of traditional negative campaign that the Obama campaign did was not available to our side,” explained Steven Law, who oversaw more than $100 million in anti-Obama advertising for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

So even before the first ad ran, Obama had an edge and a way of framing the race. While Romney tried to focus on Obama’s weak economic record, Obama made his race about confidence. The most important poll question in Chicago was, Which candidate is looking out for voters like you? “What we saw these undecided voters doing for literally a year,” Simas says, “looking at two very different people outside fundamental message, tactics and strategy, is, they were making a very trust-based assessment between Obama and Romney.”

This became the through line of the brutal and at times unfair Obama attacks on Romney — the cracks about car elevators, the specious mention of his potentially felonious Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the false claim that he supported an abortion ban without a rape exception, the endless harping on a Swiss bank account once held in his wife’s name. It all spoke to a central message built around trust: One man, despite his failures, had voters like you in mind. The other man, by contrast, knew how to make a lot of money for people you will never meet.

Bjarne Jonasson for TIME

The Geek Squad: from left: Michael Slaby, a veteran of the 2008 effort, hired the tech and data teams and kept them on track; Chris Wegrzyn built the infrastructure and software behind the massive data operation; Teddy Goff, the digital director, ran social-media, online and mobile outreach; Joe Rospars, the architect of online fundraising for Howard Dean in 2004 and Obama in 2008, oversaw digital efforts; Marie Ewald focused on e-mail fundraising, helping raise $690 million online

Of course, Romney turned out to be Obama’s biggest ally in that narrative. But back at campaign headquarters, Simas slapped a poster on his office wall that told an even bigger story. It had three lines: two showing the rise of per capita GDP and productivity in the U.S. since 1992 and one flat line showing household income. He opened all his presentations with the same chart. “Above it was just a phrase from a focus group — ‘I’m working harder and falling behind,’” Simas says. “That was the North Star. Everything we did and everything we said was derivative of that sentiment.” The words of the faceless focus-group participant passed from the rented room to the computer screens in Chicago and eventually right into the President’s stump speech. “As long as there are families who are working harder and harder but falling further behind,” Obama told crowds, “our work is not yet done.”

Message is one thing. but in modern presidential politics, it can’t go very far without a machine, and the machine is what really made Obama cry — first at his final rally, in Des Moines, Iowa, and then at his headquarters the day after the election. Appropriately enough for a campaign that redefined the limits of viral politics, the second set of tears became a YouTube sensation, seen some 9 million times in the weeks after the election, more than any other campaign video of the cycle.

You can see him walk to a microphone, looking easy and confident, chewing his gum. He starts telling the story of his first years as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, when he was 25 and trying to find his way, with little success. “It’s not that you guys actually remind me of myself,” he says to the young staff before him. “It’s the fact that you are so much better than I was in so many ways. You’re smarter, and you’re better organized, and you’re more effective … Even before last night’s results, I felt that the work that I had done in running for office had come full circle,” he continues, “because what you guys have done means the work that I am doing is important. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of all of you.” Then he breaks down. Tears well and drop.

Obama didn’t have to do much to build this machine the second time around. The same obsessive staff, who had never really left his circle, returned with the same set of techniques, a mixture of old-school community organizing and high-tech social networking: one-on-one conversations with supporters, repeat telephone calls, staffers focused only on organizing volunteers, registration drives where no presidential campaign had tried registration before. But Obama was also obsessed. On a tour through Iowa in September, his state director, Brad Anderson, told him that the campaign had arranged for an early-vote location at a Latino grocery store. “The President loved that,” says Plouffe, who traveled with him. “The Latino community in Iowa is relatively small, but we were trying to harvest every vote possible.” The President even got to play shop foreman at times, as if he were back in the projects overseeing voter-registration teams. A couple of days before the election, he confronted a salaried staffer at a staging office in Ohio who asked the President for a photo. “You’re a field organizer,” Obama replied reproachfully, citing the well-known rule that staff’s first job is to organize others. “You gotta be looking out for your volunteers.”

In its second incarnation, the Obama campaign began to blur and then obliterate the line between politics and daily life for millions of Americans. The President held off-the-record calls with FM disc jockeys in black and Hispanic communities. Aides signed up Latinos at amateur soccer leagues, circulated clipboards in bars and nightclubs and canvassed blockbuster-movie-premiere lines for new voters. “In Chapel Hill for a wedding,” White House aide Tommy Vietor e-mailed Plouffe in mid-September from North Carolina. “Multiple people with Obama clipboards have tried to register me to vote in the 5 hours I’ve been here.” Later that night, Vietor read the specials scribbled on a chalkboard at a bar. The Obama was a shot of Jack Daniel’s and a Pabst Blue Ribbon for $7. The Romney was a shot of Johnnie Walker Gold and a bottle of 1995 Altamura cabernet for $870. The message was breaking through.

And so were the new methods devised by a geek squad convened from multinational ad agencies, corporate consultancies and high-tech start-ups. The goals were the same as ever: more money in the bank, more door knocks, more phone calls, more voter registrations and more voters at the polls. But the methods for achieving those ends in 2012 bordered on the revolutionary. A squad of dozens of data crunchers created algorithms for predicting the likelihood that someone would respond to specific types of requests to accomplish each of those goals. Vast quantities of information were collected and then employed to predict just which television shows various target voters in certain cities were watching at just what time of day — the better to decide where to place TV ads. Facebook, which was an afterthought in 2008, became the new electronic telephone call, employed to persuade more than 600,000 Obama supporters to reach out to 5 million swing-state friends online with targeted messages in the days before the election. One woman in central Ohio who was living with her young voting-age daughter reported that her house got four different visits on the morning of Election Day, each from a different neighbor making sure both women had remembered to vote.

Bjarne Jonasson for TIME

The White House Staff: from left: Jay Carney, the spokesman, handled the White House press; David Plouffe, the political strategist, steered the campaign’s White House outpost; Alyssa Mastromonaco, the deputy chief of staff, kept the President focused; Pete Rouse, the senior adviser, was the go-to troubleshooter; Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s closest adviser, was his sounding board; Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, decided how to deliver the message

The geek squad also found new ways to make voters turn out their pockets. They refined meet-the-candidate lotteries into an art form, invented a system for texting dollars from a mobile phone that required entering only a single number and experimented with the language of e-mail pitches until they stung. Of his $1 billion campaign-cash haul, Obama was able to raise $690 million online in 2012, up from about $500 million in 2008. More than $200 million of that came in donations of $200 or less, a 10% increase over the history-making frenzy of 2008. In a campaign that big super-PAC money was supposed to dominate, Obama’s operation proved that many small efforts were more powerful than a few big ones. No one in either party thinks campaign finance will ever be the same.

How much of this survives for future Democrats when Obama exits the stage? Obama’s advisers are quick to say it won’t be around for others to tap. Too much of the Obama coalition, they say, is about Obama himself. It might reject anyone who tries to take up his mantle in a few years. “This organization is not transferable,” says a senior campaign adviser. “The next nominee on either side is going to have to build their own coalition.” But the Obama effort is going to try to live on. Bob Bauer, the campaign’s attorney, has been working on a plan for a new organization — likely to be incorporated as a nonprofit beyond the reach of the Democratic National Committee — that will be announced in the coming weeks. The idea is to create an outlet for Obama’s supporters, more than 80,000 of whom said after the election that they were willing to run for public office. A similar effort stumbled in 2009, when Obama reined in his grassroots supporters to avoid ruffling feathers in Congress. But the one thing Obama has learned in his first term is that he won’t be able to accomplish much in the second without an active outside game.

The fifth year of any presidency is always a sweet spot, a golden hour between re-election and lame-duck status, when a President has a chance to think more about history than about the tracking polls. And so the President must now decide how high to reach and what to accomplish while he still can. “I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms,” Obama said at his first press conference after the election. “On the other hand, I didn’t get re-elected just to bask in re-election.”

He began to navigate the issues in the days after the election by scribbling his hopes on a yellow legal pad. Obama has always thought best by writing, and for that reason he struggled to keep a diary during his first term, a task at which he hopes to redouble his efforts over the coming years. “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are,” he says. “The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”

But the yellow pad he began to fill after the election was not for himself or his next memoir. Instead, he wanted to work out what he should try to get done in the next four years, beyond his inbox and legislative to-do list for the next nine months. The immediate goals are clear: a major push on immigration reform and a way to lower the medium-term deficit through a combination of raising tax rates, reforming the tax code and finding some temporary truce between the parties on entitlements. He gathered his staffers for a “40,000-foot” view of what was possible.

They soon discovered that the yellow pad included some things spoken of only rarely during the campaign: dealing with the problem of climate change, for instance, emerged as a major thread, despite all the money the campaign had spent in southeastern Ohio praising Obama’s commitment to coal. He spoke of increasing opportunities for early-childhood education and finding new ways to lessen the burden of college costs. The long lines that forced millions to wait for hours to vote led him to talk about a broad sweep of potential electoral reforms, which would likely include a popular push on campaign-finance reform and new legislation to force states to improve ballot access. He also said he wanted to look at the criminal-justice system. “There’s a big chunk of that prison population, a great huge chunk of our criminal-justice system, that is involved in nonviolent crimes,” he tells TIME. “I think we have to figure out what are we doing right to make sure that that downward trend in violence continues, but also, there are millions of lives out there that are being destroyed or distorted because we haven’t fully thought through our process.”

Prison reform won’t become a top priority of his Administration, but his interest in it signals his determination to expand the boundaries of what a second-term presidency might be. When two states, Washington and Colorado, legalized marijuana for adults in November, Obama decided that federal law-enforcement resources should not be deployed to bust individuals who are complying with state law. “When it comes to drug enforcement, big-time drug dealers, folks who are preying on our kids, those who are engaging in violence — that has to be our focus,” he said.

Obama2In the wake of the killings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Obama asked if the country and its President had done enough in his first term to deal with mass shootings. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no, we’re not doing enough,” he said before promising to “use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental-health professionals to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.” He had made similar vows before, after other shootings. But this one affected him more. Never had he cast the issue so starkly as a question of moral and political courage. Never before had he so clearly reproached himself for failing to take action.

White House aides draw a distinction between what is possible legislatively and what they can do rhetorically and through public education. It’s not just what Obama gets passed, they muse; it’s the legacy he leaves for the next occupant of the Oval Office. “You recognize you’re not going to arrive with — you’ll never arrive at that promised land, and whatever seeds you plant now may bear fruit many years later,” Obama says. Only time will tell just how he fulfills that vision.

Which is O.K. with the President. In mid-November, White House aides arranged a postelection screening of the new Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, inviting the director and much of the cast, including actors Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the 16th President, and Sally Field, who plays his wife. Obama called the experience of watching the horse trading, corruption and compromise that allowed the passage of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery, “incredibly powerful.” For Axelrod, who attended the screening and who fought alongside the President through the disappointments and triumphs of the first few years, the story echoed the bruising and at times chaotic battle for health care reform, something he mentioned to his boss.

“Part of what Lincoln teaches us is that to pursue the highest ideals and a deeply moral cause requires you also engage and get your hands dirty. And there are trade-offs, and there are compromises,” Obama says of his favorite President. “Anything we do is going to be somewhat imperfect.”

Obama says he long ago decided that he should not compare himself to Lincoln. But he nonetheless begins his second term with a better sense of what is possible in his job as well as what is not, something Lincoln struggled with as well. “You do understand that as President of the United States, the amount of power you have is overstated in some ways,” Obama says. “But what you do have the capacity to do is to set a direction.” He has earned the right to set that direction and has learned from experience how to move the country. After four of the most challenging years in the nation’s history, his chance to leave office as a great President who was able to face crises and build a new majority coalition remains within reach.

My (surprise) picks for Persons of the Year

December 29, 2012


My (surprise) picks for Persons of the Year*

by Johan Jaaffar

Johan JaaffarWAS mulling over my choice of this year’s Person or Persons of the Year when Heyley Chow gave me an idea. Our encounter was brief but it was certainly an eye-opener. We were at a very interesting wedding reception. The theme was Hindi, so the look, décor and sounds were, what else, very Hindi. Hindi songs filled the air.

Heyley was seated near me. I asked her, if she liked the songs. She shook her head. “You like Gangnam-Style?” I asked. She nodded without hesitation. Heyley was hardly 7 mind you, but she gave me an idea. She likes Oppa Psy or Park Jae-Sang, so do I. I don’t know about her mother Jacynta, but she can’t possibly be a contrarian in this one.

Pys’ Gangnam-Style is biggest ever music video in the history of mankind. On YouTube it has passed the one billion-view mark, overtaking Baby by the teen sensation, Justin Bieber. One in every seven humans has seen Psy in action. He needs just one song to do that.

So Psy is one of my favourites to be the Person of the Year. No, I am not looking for a quarrel with Time magazine which has chosen President Barack Obama as its Person of the Year. This is a free world. I like Obama. And I have high expectations for him. Perhaps it is true Obama is the 21st century version of “a new American” — one that is a citizen by choice and not birth.

He has all the tributes of a great man and a great president. He is articulate, brilliant and a visionary. He won the re-election in one of the most bruising campaigns in US history. I am trying to figure out his achievements so far other than getting the SEALs to kill Osama Bin Laden or sending the most number of drones to kill the most number of US enemies in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. I will be happier if he makes good his promises to the Muslim world and if he uses his office to solve the Palestinian problem.

Seriously, I have Datuk Paul W. Jones high on my list of Person of the Year. I think he is the most engaging, affable and committed US Ambassador we have ever encountered. He is very concerned about how his country is perceived by the local populace. And he has travelled extensively, meeting people, eating the food and enjoying the country. Perhaps he knows this country better than most other ambassadors. How many of them send out tweets in Bahasa Malaysia anyway?

I was contemplating to name the Prime Minister as my Person of the Year. Without having to sound mengampu, it is an obvious that he is working extremely hard for his people. Like most Malaysians, I subscribe to his “One Malaysia” concept. A bit too late for such a concept in a multiracial country like ours, but better late than never. But I believe he has many more years at the helm, so for now I will not choose him.

I have Datuk Nicol David, who recently won her seventh world title in squash. I hope she will win our first Olympic gold in Brazil. Datuk Lee Chong Wei is also my favourite. Seriously, I have Datuk Ibrahim Ali on the list, too, for his tireless pursuit to make the age-old mantra “tidak Melayu hilang di dunia” his crusade, for better or for worse. I will include Datuk Zuraidah Atan whose tireless effort to create awareness and understanding of the cancer scourge is legendary, among her many interests.

Seriously, I want to include those at the Election Commission as Persons of the Year. They simply have to live through hell these last many years, taking beatings yet their efforts are never appreciated. And the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission guys who are trying hard to do their work in an environment filled with prejudices and suspicion of their integrity and commitment. And Mercy Malaysia is also top on my list, the volunteer relief organisation that has brought goodwill to the people of the world.

Finally I am looking at those using the social media for the goodness of mankind and to spread the words of peace and harmony and to share knowledge and information indiscriminately and with conviction. They are changing the landscape of the social media realm for the better. They make the cyberworld a better place, not a lawless and indisciplined one where hate and anger prevails. They are the unsung heroes of the modern world. They are my Persons of the Year.

 *Have fun with this Johan Jaaffar’s article. I chose to put this article for no other reason than the fact he mentioned Oppa Psy or Park Jae-Sang, whose song is posted here for having received more than a billion hits on youtube. An article that can entertain the thought of considering Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the arch racist, the toothless Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the biased Election Commission as Persons of the Year cannot be taken seriously. To me, it is one big joke. Maybe it is Johan’s cynicism and strange journalistic style. –Din Merican

Bob Teoh’s New Year’s Wish: Leave Allah Alone

December 29, 2012


Bob Teoh’s New Year’s Wish: Leave Allah Alone

COMMENT: Time flies and we are already at the doorstep of 2013. But time has stood still for three long years since December 31, 2009 at the gates of justice. It was on that New Year’s Eve that the Judiciary gave a flicker of hope for fundamental liberties when a landmark judgment ruled in favour of the Herald, the Catholic weekly.

But the Attorney-General Gani Patail fought back and appealed against the decision. The Court of Appeal has not set a hearing date nor is it likely to do so with any urgency. Justice obtained in one of His Majesty’s courts is denied by another one higher up through undue judicial delays.

NONEMy New Year wish is that the Attorney-General will do the sensible thing by withdrawing the appeal and let the High Court judgment stand. In doing so, one of the most fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by our Federal Constitution will be restored. So too will our confidence in constitutionalism.

Three years ago, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of the titular Roman Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, who is the publisher of Herald, that even though Islam is the religion of the federation, this does not empower the government to prohibit the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay edition of the Herald. It also found that the word ‘Allah’ was not exclusive to Muslims.

The Catholics won but the victory clearly belonged to all Malaysians because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion – the right to profess, practise, and propagate one’s faith – was bravely upheld by the Judiciary. This is not about religion but about fundamental liberty.

The Herald case goes back a long way to the days of the now defunct Internal Security Act 1960 and the old Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. Under the Najib administration, the ruling coalition tried making good its promise of opening up public space by reforming some of the draconian laws.

The ISA was repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 last April while the PPPA was also amended earlier this year where renewal of annual publishing licences are done away with, among other things.

The restriction on ‘Allah’

But ‘Allah’ remains more than just a word. In 1980, the UMNO-led Terengganu government became the first Malay state to enact laws to control or restrict the propagation of other religions among Muslims. It decreed a list of 25 Arabic words and 10 phrases that are deemed exclusive only to Islam. One of these words is ‘Allah’. This was done under the Hussein Onn administration.

Other states, including non-Malay majority states, followed suit and issued their own fatwas on usage of Arabic words and legislated them as state enactments. But these are essentially fatwas or Islamic edicts and are seemingly unenforceable on non-Muslims under the Federal Constitution.

The following year,  Al-Kitab or the Malay-language Bible which uses the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God was banned under the Internal Security Act 1960 on the basis that it is a threat to national security. Two thirds of the two million Christians in the country are Malay speaking bumiputeras who use the Alkitab as their daily Bible.

NONEThis ban came five months after Dr Mahathir Mohamad became the country’s fourth Prime Minister on July 16, 1981, after Hussein Onn stepped down for health reasons. He relented upon appeals from church leaders but  Al-Kitab remains under a restricted ban to this day.

His successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, continued the Al-Kitab ban. In addition, he banned the ‘Bup Kudus’, the Iban Bible while in his capacity as acting Prime Minister and Home Minister in early 2003 as it contained the words ‘Allah Taala’ (God Most High). The ban was withdrawn two months later following protests by Iban Christians.

Under the Najib administration, an attempt was made to resolve Al-Kitab and ‘Allah’ word problems under a ‘10-point solution’. But this is merely a superficial attempt as  Al-Kitab remains under a restrictive ban. The usage of the ‘Allah’ word by non-Muslims is still prohibited even though the High Court has ruled that this is untenable. This is because the Attorney-General has challenged its judgment.

This matter affects everyone not just Christians. It strikes at the root of our constitution that allows us to believe what we believe. The gangrene has been festering like a thorn in the flesh for far too long; 32 years under four Prime Ministers. The laws under which the disputes first arose are now defunct or amended. There is no further need for such laws that have outlived their usefulness.

The Attorney-General would do all of us justice by withdrawing his appeal against the High Court judgment favouring the titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and the Herald. Leave ‘Allah’ alone, please.

And Happy New Year to all.

BOB TEOH currently lives in Indonesia and is author of ‘Allah, More than Just a Word’ (2010).

Anwar is Pakatan’s Right Choice as Prime Minister

December 29, 2012


Anwar is Pakatan’s Right Choice as Prime Minister

To stop concerted attempts to break up the opposition coalition, Pakatan leaders must decide once and for all who should lead, and it’s obvious who the candidate is.

COMMENT by Ali Cardoba

 Amidst the display of greed among some Opposition members on the issue of the next Prime Minister of Malaysia, it is certain that the man to lead Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the elections should be its most popular figure.

There is little doubt who the man is who can lead the country towards the path for change. The thorns in the flanks of Pakatan, however, are not its political enemies but the leader’s nemesis who are acting as ‘resident evils’.

Several Pakatan members launched a controversial debate on who should lead PR after the 13th general election, ignoring the wishes of the people on the ground. In the past weeks, PR has generated the expected large crowds in its recent rallies.

Will PAS or DAP leaders come forward and tell the public that it is them and not Anwar Ibrahim who is behind this surge in support? If people are flocking to the rallies to listen to Pakatan, it due to the maestro of PKR who is the major crowd puller. If shamelessness has no borders and limits, then we will surely see some of trouble makers coming forward to claim they are the ones behind the massive support PR is generating!

However, the rise in tempo against Anwar’s leadership in PR is a not a simple ploy by some greedy people to do a ‘coup d’etat’ in the coalition. The whole episode has to do with a lack of certainty on the position of Anwar within PR itself. While the PKR sees Anwar as the sole candidate to lead PR and bring change – and they have excellent reasons to stick to this plan – the other coalition partners have been tip-toeing into a morass.

The absence of a declaration of leadership roles within the loose coalition is the number one reason for the claims by other partners to snatch the PM post after the polls. The fact that BN is wooing PAS to join a Anwarslamic’ coalition is a major factor in this crisis. PR needs to lay down its leadership strategy in its pursuit of Putrajaya. In the minds of a large majority of the people, it is Anwar’s name which comes first as the potential PM.

Anwar is expected to lead the coalition during the polls campaign and also declared as the PM in waiting. In the event PR decides to push forward such an agenda, which will be a popular one, the impact will be tremendous and the chances for PR taking power will be greater.At least, this is what a majority of the public is thinking and it will be incredible if such a popular wish is not granted.

Pakatan must decide

At this juncture in Malaysian politics, it is clear that Anwar is the leader in PR. It is also evident that he is leading the pack of leaders from the PKR, PAS and the DAP. What is not clear though is why some PR leaders are showing their greed and lack of tact and respect in publicising their ‘dreams’. Not that they are not entitled to such dreams but they are far from being the next ‘Martin Luther King’ in history!

With some of the PAS leaders kowtowing to the tune of the anti-Anwar lobby, they are allowing their opponents in power to drive a dangerous wedge between the coalition partners within PR. It is not possible that the campaign to decide whether the PAS should have its leader as PM or not was not well crafted from above within PAS itself. It is also impossible to believe that the PAS leadership was not aware that the gambit to seize the PM post within PR before elections are even called, was done with a specific goal in mind. And that goal is probably an attempt to ‘hijack’ the next electoral tsunami.

In the meantime, the DAP too was foraging into the controversy by raising the divisive issue of a non-Muslim PM. Now that it  has died down, it is hoped the DAP rallies itself behind Anwar. It is also hoped that the PAS buries its flimsy hopes of leading the nation with biggest wins in the polls and follow the leadership of Anwar.

In order to destroy the opponent’s drive to divide PR, its leaders must sit and decide once and for all on who should lead the grouping during the poll campaigns. To the masses who are following PR campaigns closely, it obvious that Anwar remains the ultimate candidate. Do any of the other Pakatan leaders have the courage to deny this publicly?

It is also a fact that not many among the leaders of PR are either capable or have the creed and charisma to be the next PM. Some have argued that Anwar, due to the numerous accusations against him can be labeled as ‘tainted’ while other leaders in PR are seen as ‘clean’. Such talks are purely selfish. It is who the people want to lead their country and who the masses want as the leader of the Pakatan coalition who should be the PM in making.

It is not the dream talk or the dreamed ‘purity’ factors of some leaders that will affect the poll results. It is Anwar, voted by PR as the one to lead the electoral battle, who should hold the job as the top shot of the country after a PR victory in the next GE.

Ambiga Sreenevasan is Malaysiakini’s Newsmaker of the Year

December 29, 2012


Ambiga Sreenevasan is Malaysiakini’s Newsmaker of the Year

Every year, for over a decade, Malaysiakini has named a top newsmaker as we bring the curtain down on the year.

AmbigaA newsmaker is defined as ‘someone whose actions make news headlines, who effects the course of public discourse and creates an impact in Malaysian politics, for better or worse’. For 2012, Malaysiakini has nominated 10 individuals for readers to vote on. A total of 697 participated in the five-day survey, opened only to paying subscribers of the news portal.

They voted by indicating their preference for each of the nominees – one vote being the lowest and 10 the highest. Interestingly this time around, Malaysiakini readers paid tribute to the individual who missed out on the newsmaker of the year award last year.

The award goes to…

And the newsmaker of 2011 is former Bar Council chairperson and BERSIH co-coordinator Ambiga Sreenevasan – the woman who launched the mother of all protests.

Perhaps this did not come as a surprise as yesterday, Malaysiakini readers picked the Bersih 3.0 rally as the top news of 2012. PKR Director of Strategy Rafizi Ramli aka ‘cow slayer’ came in second, followed closely by Himpunan Hijau leader Wong Tack.

The following are the full results:

NONE1. S Ambiga – Senior lawyer and Bersih co-coordinator

6,438 votes

NONE2. Rafizi Ramli - PKR Director of Strategy

5,480 votes

NONE3. Wong Tack - Leader of Himpunan Hijau

5,435 votes

NONE4. Dataran Merdeka – the hallowed ground for all Malaysians

5,194 votes

NONE5. A Samad Said – National Laureate and BERSIH co-coordinator

4,993 votes

NONE6. Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and family - Wanita UMNO chief, her husband and three children

4,037 votes

NONE7. Rosmah Mansor - PM Najib Abdul Razak’s wife

3,615 votes

NONE8. Nazri Abdul Aziz - Minister in the PM’s Department

2,416 votes

NONE9. Mahathir Mohamad – former Prime Minister

2,206 votes

NONE10. Chua Tee Yong – Labis MP and MCA Young Professionals Bureau chief

1,676 votes

Previous newsmakers

2011 – Bersih supporters
2010 – Ibrahim Ali
2009 – Teoh Beng Hock
2008 – YOU
2007 – VK Lingam
2006 – Mahathir Mohamad
2005 – Joint award – Rafidah Aziz and Mahathir Mohamad
2004 – S Samy Vellu
2003 – Husam Musa
2002 – Zainuddin Maidin
2001 – Rais Yatim

Why Najib, not the Opposition: A Point of View

December 29, 2012

Why Najib, not the Opposition: A Point of View

by John Teo (12-28-12)@http://www.nst.com.my

NajibDURING an animated discussion with a businessman friend this week, this friend admitted to liking much of the economic transformation programmes of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

What this writer was interested to know from him then was why, as a businessman, he was rooting for the Opposition. It was at this stage of the discussion that one basically gives up hope of a rational political discussion. A real pity indeed because this friend is hardly the rabble-rousing sort.

He is obviously thoughtful and methodical in his thought-processes, weighing different views and inputs before arriving at any decisions. Only such qualities mark him out as the successful businessman that he is.

There has been too much of perhaps exuberant irrationality on display in the run-up to the next general election. The irrationality goes something like this. Why not give the opposition a chance? And if it proves to be a failure, it can be thrown out in the following general election five years hence.

But why take the chance with the Opposition’s mere promises when one already likes what the current administration not just promises but is already implementing? Is it not far more logical for Najib to be given his mandate so he can go on deepening the economic transformations he has already started?

Why not give Najib’s leadership a chance? And if the current leadership proves to be a disappointment, will it not be far more rational and prudent to then say the Opposition deserves its chance five years hence?

So, my argument to those who keep asking why not give the Opposition a chance is this: yes, in the interest of a healthy two-party/coalition system, the Opposition certainly should in theory deserve a chance in government. But that chance must be earned, not given based on little more than blind faith.

The Opposition has certainly captured some popular imagination among some MalaysiansPakatan Rakyat in the past few years. It has shown itself to be occasionally a worthy Opposition. But far too many questions about it remain to cast doubt as to whether it can make the leap from worthy opposition to an effective national government.

Governing is a totally different ball game from opposing. It is easy to merely oppose government policies. It is even relatively easy to offer alternative policies. But the gravest doubt with the Opposition remains whether its hotchpotch of policy alternatives represents a cohesive whole that can withstand the inevitable stresses and compromises of any coalition government.

Or will those inevitable policy compromises that need to be struck only leave any alternative coalition government looking much the same as the existing coalition? Only it will possibly be worse? An Opposition-led government will by definition be inexperienced and will need to quickly learn the ropes of governing.

A steep learning curve will be combined with the likely outcome of an alternative governing coalition that secures only the barest and weakest of mandates. It could be a recipe for much political uncertainty, by far the worst possible electoral outcome for Malaysians in general but most especially for business people.

Far too many Malaysians, including those who should know better, are being swept up by the alluring seduction of the promise of “change”. The Opposition knows all about this giddy popular sentiment and is naturally exploiting it to the hilt.

But on closer inspection, or upon more sober analysis, Malaysians ought to have realised that political change has already arrived in Malaysia. For the very first time, Malaysians are experiencing the sensation of an opposition offering a serious alternative political platform and, therefore, the beginnings of a real two-party/coalition system with the checks-and-balance it entails.

As luck would have it, we have a government and, in particular, a Prime Minister who is not in the least bit in denial about the country’s political maturation but rising up to the new political challenges facing us.

Barisan Nasional’s new adaptation mode will soon be tested and should be given at least as much a chance as what the Opposition seems to be getting from voters.

We see in Japan last week its long-standing ruling party returned to office by voters deeply disenchanted after a brief hiatus under Opposition control. Japan is already a developed, stable polity with a homogeneous population. Its three-year political experimentation has thus been relatively risk-free. The risks factor for political experimentation in our case is inordinately much greater.

Political Islam at the crossroads in Malaysia

December 29, 2012


Political Islam at the crossroads in Malaysia

by Dr Zulkefly Ahmad

Dr. Dzulkefly AhmadIn 2005, Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the America Enterprise Institute wrote in ‘Bitterlemon International’ that ‘Islamists are intrinsically anti-democratic’. He asserted that as Islamists base their legitimacy upon a higher power, they are intrinsically anti-democratic and unwilling to accept popular rebuke.

Fast forward to Bobby Ghosh who penned Why Islamists are better Democrats in Time Magazine (December 5, 2011). The writer argued for a bright future for Islamists in the emerging democracy for the newly liberated Muslim world post Arab-Spring. He opined that Islamists are poised to do better than their liberal rivals because they were people-friendly and not corrupt.

The above contrasting scenarios of Islamists depicted by the western media in less than a decade aptly illustrate the changing perception of ‘Political Islam and Islamists’.

Lest you have been oblivious to “Political Islam and Islamists”, let me recapitulate. A good grasp of these value-loaded ideological terminologies would facilitate understanding of one of the most misunderstood political actors in contemporary power politics.

Admittedly though, ‘Political Islam’ is an invention of both Orientalist thinking and Socio-Political scientists of both Western and Middle-Eastern origin. Western discourse defines Political Islam as ‘the contemporary movement that conceives Islam as a political ideology and describe the people who subscribe to this view as ‘Islamists’.

An Islamist, going by this definition, ranges from a “Jihadi” to “Democrat”, in an ideological milieu that is far from monolithic or homogeneous. That said, one immediately perceives that this ‘narrow’ definition of ‘Islamic activism’ presupposes that Islam per se is ‘apolitical’, hence the need to affix the term ‘Political Islam’.

That premise is both misconceived and fundamentally flawed. The holistic paradigm of Islam includes its inherent and intrinsic interests in matters of ‘government and governance’, thus making it political from the very outset.

The West must come to grasp with this fundamental concept. Indeed as autocracies and despotic regimes crumble during those historical moments dubbed the Arab-Spring, vibrant Islamist political parties have emerged as winners, to evolve a new political landscape.

Ustaz Hadi AwangInterestingly, at home, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), represents the world phenomenon of “Political Islam”, although with its own political backdrop and historical narratives.Nonetheless, it would be appropriately categorised as ‘Political Islam’, insofar as undertaking the “political project” of advocating Islam as seeking ‘political dominancy and relevance’ in an open electoral contestation, ever since its inception.

Indeed, PAS was engaged in electoral contests and democratic processes earlier than its couterparts, such as the Middle-Eastern Muslim Brotherhood, Indo-Pakistan’s Jamati Islami or as well the Indonesian ‘Islamists’. Simply put, PAS were earlier ‘Democrats’ than many of her contemporary Islamists movements around the world.

That ‘Political Islam’ is currently undergoing a critical crossroad is indeed an understatement. The reasons are many folds and this piece attempts at exemplifying this phenomenon. Does PAS and by extension her Islamists counterparts, truly understand the challenges? Will they survive the political trajectory they choose to tread?

Retrospectively speaking, one of the distinguishing and defining features of ‘Political Islam’ in the early twentieth century was its call for the creation of an Islamic state. Methods and strategies of the many Islamists movements might differ with time and space, but the aim remained one and the same for all.

It is no coincidence that the late nineteenth and early twentieth century witnessed Islamists advocating the Islamic state agenda, conceptualised and premised on Islamic principles and articulated around the core concept of the Islamic Law or the Syariah.

But Political Islam has in the very recent times undergone a transformation of sort that immediately places them at a crossroads. In tandem with the ‘changing approach’ or ‘a generational shift’ of her counterparts, to paraphrase Professor Tariq Ramadan, PAS has similarly registered its coming of age.

 In a rare exercise of intellectual renewal or Ijtihad and Tajdid (Revivalism) the party committed to and shifted itself – prior to the 12th General Election 2008 – to a political trajectory and a manifesto of ‘Negara Berkebajikan’ (The Benovelent State) from an overworked concept of the Islamic State.

 While ostensibly playing down on its historical demand for the specific implementation of the ‘legal aspects’ of the Syariah (the Islamic Penal Code namely Hudud), PAS now prioritises and mainstreams a Political Islam that more importantly advocates for the cardinal Quranic message of ‘Justice’ or”Al-’Adaalah”. PAS outrightly ‘de-ethnices’ and distances Islam from Malay supremacy and the racial-religious bigotry while assertively proclaiming ‘Justice for all’.

The transformation of PAS towards the middle political ground is not without its attendingNik Aziz and Hadi Awang consequences. PAS’ political nemesis wasted little time in mounting a campaign accusing the Islamists party of ‘deviation’ and ‘compromises’ from its original advocacy of Islamic State. PAS must not bow down to these intimidations.

More challenging on a longer timeline is to explore and advocate a ‘Political Islam’ that goes beyond the usual ‘prohibition-oriented approach’. For Islam to be at the centre of national cohesion and solidarity, the promotion of Islam must be inclusive, voluntary and just as to exemplify the worldview of Islam of enhancing justice and fairness, and of prosperity and sustainability of the nation at large.

More specifically is to impress the urgency to embody the Maqasid al-Shariah (true compass and purpose of the Syariah) in the critical domain of government and governance. It must continue to mount an attack on the endemic corrupt and crony practices and gross mismanagement of the nation wealth and finances that have resulted in ‘inequality’ and ‘marginalisation’ of the rakyat ― both a yawning income and much worse, a wealth divide.

Besides, it is of vital importance to draw the line clear for Muslims and non-Muslims, when it comes to specific prescriptions as to avoid untoward consequences. The latest incidents on the issuing of summonses to the unisex saloons in Kota Baru and non-Muslims apprehended for indecent behaviour have been spun viciously by the BN main-stream media.

Again this calls for an appropriate and judicious response of Islamists in balancing, oftentimes mutually exclusive demands. The raging issue of the “kalimah Allah” will be another challenging case in point.

PASPAS’s consistency and steadfastness in upholding its conviction, policies and programmes will endear further trust and respect from the nascent support of the non-Muslims constituencies and the more discerning Malay-Muslims middle-ground citizenry. Similarly, PAS must be cautious and tactful as not to inadvertently alienate its traditional supporters wary of PAS’ changing trends.

Does PAS have what it takes to proceed on a longer term trajectory to maintain and enhance its support-base and the acquired trust and remain a ‘centrist’ Islamists party?

This writer is of the conviction that if PAS truly understands and internalises its current strength of being capable of strategically positioning itself in the ‘middle-Malaysia’, due essentially to its embodiment of the Quranic imperatives of ‘Al-Wasatiyyah’ (Middle Nation)and ‘Rahmatan Lil-’Alamin’ (A Mercy unto all Mankind), the negative perceptions will eventually give way to a more profound mutual trust and respect.

Together with its Pakatan partners, that would indeed provide for a sound and vibrant foundation for a mutually rewarding socio-politico-religious relationship of ‘A New Malaysia’.

* Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is the member of parliament for Kuala Selangor and executive director at the PAS Research Centre. This article first appeared in The Edge.


An Islamist Prime Minister for Malaysia?

December 28, 2012

An Islamist Prime Minister for Malaysia?

Farish M Noorby  Farish M. Noor, RSIS

The recent general assembly of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) was notable for less talk of theology or doctrine and an increased focus on PAS’ upcoming campaign for the 13th general election, scheduled to be held anytime between December this year and next April.

PAS, which ranked third for the number of parliamentary seats won at the federal-level general election of March 2008, will be aiming to gain more parliamentary seats at the coming polls. Discussion at the general assembly was directed toward that goal.

That PAS would want to expand on its gains at the next general election is understandable, considering that the party — which was formed in 1951 — is the oldest opposition party in the country. In 2008, however, PAS joined the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which also comprises the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and Democratic Action Party (DAP). The coalition is headed by Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the much smaller PKR, who is touted to be Prime Minister of any future Pakatan government.

An interesting development at the general assembly was the idea that PAS’ President, Ustaz Hadi AwangAbdul Hadi Awang, should instead be the preferred candidate for Prime Minister if the Pakatan Rakyat coalition were to defeat the ruling Barisan Nasional government. This was met by strong approval by delegates at the general assembly, and signalled a shift in PAS’ posturing within the Opposition coalition.

Thus far, PAS has been willing to take the backseat in Pakatan’s campaign for power on the assumption that Anwar would be the most likely candidate for Prime Minister. This stance was developed on the grounds that he is best positioned to bridge the differences between the Malay-Muslim-dominated PAS and the Malaysian-Chinese-dominated DAP.

The prospect of an Islamist Prime Minister, in the form of Abdul Hadi Awang, is a possibility that has never been seriously contemplated until now (although a similar proposal was raised at the 2008 PAS general assembly). Just why PAS members were keen to propose their leader as the next Prime Minister is an interesting question, coming as it does so close to the general election.

Firstly, there is the question of whether PAS’ membership of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition has cost PAS some of its votes and support from its traditional Malay-Muslim vote bank. Over the past five years the coalition has had to address issues ranging from environmental politics to the welfare state, which have not traditionally been the party’s focus. Some PAS members feel the party has veered off its Islamist path by its engagement with other issues. This was reflected in criticism by PAS’ youth wing that the party’s newspaper, Harakah, ought to serve the interests of the party first and foremost rather than focusing on broader concerns.

Secondly, there is the question of simple arithmetic: if PAS was and remains the biggest party in the PAS-PKR-DAP coalition, then why should the leader come from one of the smaller parties? PAS members may feel that as the oldest and biggest party in the coalition they should have the right to lead Pakatan and any government formed in its name.

However, this is all contingent upon PAS winning its share of 40 parliamentary seats at the election. Some PAS leaders have confided that while party members may be enthusiastic about an Islamist Prime Minister, the rest of the country may not be as excited by the prospect. This view is supported by UMNO leaders like Saifuddin Abdullah, who noted that ‘PAS has so far campaigned on things like the welfare state, and the DAP keeps saying that Anwar is their choice for Prime Minister. To have a PAS leader as Prime Minister is another matter’.

Talk of PAS members trying to push for an Islamist Prime Minister has so far been divisive. The Opposition coalition has tried to maintain its cohesion by campaigning on broad-based issues such as a minimum wage program and the welfare state, but many suspect that non-Malay support for the Opposition will erode if there is a real prospect of the country coming under the leadership of an Islamist Prime Minister.

Beyond the shores of Malaysia, the country’s neighbours, which have never had to deal with the prospect of a Malaysia under the leadership of Islamists, may be prompted to ask whether Malaysia’s foreign or defence policies will change significantly.

In the 2000s PAS leaders were mostly known for their fiery anti-Western rhetoric and their protests against American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. A decade on, the party seems to be closer to realising its domestic political goal, which may have implications for Malaysia’s regional standing and bilateral ties with other states.

Much, therefore, depends on whether PAS manages to improve its parliamentary representation at the next general election, and whether it ends up being the party with the most parliamentary seats in the Opposition coalition.

Dr Farish A Noor is Senior Fellow at the Contemporary Islam Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

A version of this article was first published here as RSIS Commentary No. 212/2012


PAS at odds with Pakatan partners

December 28, 2012

PAS at odds with Pakatan partners

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

COMMENT: They say in a race it is the last 50 meters that separate the men from the boys. In the final prelude to the 13th general election – the proverbial last 50 meters that separate a surging Pakatan Rakyat from a struggling BN – the latter is being handed proof that the former is a makeshift coalition which would unravel when underlying ideological differences among component parties become too stark to ignore.

In the last four years, the BN calculation that Pakatan’s ideological dissonances would eventually sunder the coalition turned out to be overly optimistic. NONEPAS, in particular, deftly rode out the troubles fomented by elements within it that had always nurtured misgivings about the Islamic party’s ties to fellow Pakatan component, the adamantly secular DAP.

As BN under its ‘new broom’ Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, floundered in implementing reforms that were only a cosmetic overlay to long-discredited ways of doing things, it seemed that the increasingly discernible desire of voters for wide ranging political change would enable PAS to feel justified in collaborating with its secular-minded partners in Pakatan to bring about real reform.

Now, on the morrow of a general election, with the Opposition coalition poised as never before with a chance of victory, some PAS leaders are displaying the twitches and lurches that are the telltale signs of psychological unease with the positions of Pakatan on issues ranging from entertainment to gender.

This has resulted in publicly aired disagreements between PAS, putative guardians of Islamic rectitude, and DAP, prickly sentinels of the church-state divide they espouse as fundamental for the practice of democratic politics.

Term not exclusive to Muslims

No one realistically expects the Pakatan coalition to sing in unison on all issues like the political version of a harmonic choir. But when some spokespersons of PAS appear oblivious of the consensus already reached within Pakatan on critical issues pertaining to specific religious rights of non-Muslims and Pakatan’s choice of PM-designate, it is cause for deep concern.

It’s time Pakatan revisits issues the public heretofore has been led to feel have already been decided by the Opposition coalition but which, courtesy of a distressing spell of amnesia on the part of some PAS leaders, are once again up for debate.

Rather unexpectedly, elements in PAS have in recent weeks chosen to disturb the consensus that has been reached on who should be Prime Minister of a Pakatan government should the coalition be empowered to lead the Federal government at the coming polls.

If that is not unsettling enough, comments made in the past week by some PAS leaders dissuading Christians from using the term ‘Allah’ in their rituals of worship and in faith education fly in the face of the consensus achieved within Pakatan three years ago that use of the term is not exclusive to Muslims.

NONEPakatan supremo Anwar Ibrahim said yesterday he would seek an urgent meeting to renew consensus on an issue thought to have been settled when it ignited in the national arena three years ago following a High Court decision that held that the Catholic Church was within its rights to use the term ‘Allah’ in the Herald, a weekly published by the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

The Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur had sued the government over the right of Christians to use the term in worship and in faith education.

The use of the term by non-Muslims had been proscribed by the government in most of the Peninsular Malaysian states since the mid-1980s, but not in Sabah and Sarawak where Christians have been using it the better part of the last century simply because ‘Allah’ is the word for God in the Al-Kitab, which is the Bahasa Indonesia version of the Bible, the standard text for faith education in the Borneoan states.

Firebombing of churches

PAS, in the eyes of non-Muslims, had shown itself to be a progressive Islamic party when its top leaders reminded Muslim Malaysians that the ‘Allah’ term was employed by Arab Christians long before the inception of Islam in the 7th century of the Common Era. Therefore the term could not be exclusive to Muslims.

This reminder was voiced at the height of the synthetic crisis that UMNO had fanned and hoped to take advantage of when the High Court ruled in favour of the Herald’s use of the term in the Bahasa section of its editorials.

When disturbances – such as the firebombing of churches and their daubing with red paint – occurred in the immediate aftermath of the High Court ruling, the firmness of the PAS position on the non-exclusivity of the ‘Allah’ term impressed non-Muslims as a principled and progressive stance.

PAS added several cubits to its national stature when it did not waver in the heat of that crisis. Two years on, in moving cautiously yet deliberately before expelling Dr Hasan Ali, an UMNO fifth columnist within PAS and purveyor of anti-Christian phobia, PAS ascended still higher in non-Muslim estimation.

All this makes recently expressed quavers by some PAS leaders over the issue of the PM-designate for Pakatan and now, over the non-exclusivity of the ‘Allah’ term, a troubling development that’s wholly at odds with prior PAS positions on these issues.

These quavers on matters of pivotal import cannot be viewed as permissible dissent within the ambit of a broad coalition. They are more like subversion and PAS should be on notice to quell it.

Professor Dr. Ir BJ Habibie: Freedom Man and Father of Indonesian Democracy

December 28, 2012

Professor Dr. Ir BJ Habibie: Freedom Man and Father of Indonesian Democracy

by Zairil Khir Johari, Executive Director, Penang Institute (received by e-mail)*

The diminutive elderly and dignified man waved his arms energetically as he explained his favourite recipe.“After neutralising the chicken with ginger, I steam it to cook the meat. At the same time, I heat up the oil. And then…,” he pauses for effect, “Just when the oil is hot enough, I send the chicken into thermal shock.”

Habibie the engineer-cook smiled satisfyingly. His use of technical jargon in describing a recipe was characteristically endearing of the man. “Voila! And that is how you prepare the best chicken in the world ― golden on the outside, white on the inside.”

I was at a loss for words. Had I not known any better, I would never have figured this humble, passionate and grandfatherly man to be the former Head of State to nearly a quarter of a billion people in a nation with a proud culture and history.

One is immediately put at ease in the presence of BJ Habibie, third President of the Republic of Indonesia. Ever ready to regale his surrounding company with a tale or two, Habibie’s greatest strength is perhaps his ability to seamlessly weave together his multiple facets ― scientist, technocrat, politician and now, very respected and admired elder statesman.

The former President was in town to deliver a speech at the Penang Institute’s invitation, during which he talked of aeroplanes (his pride and joy ― the N-250 turboprop), pluralism (a celebrated concept in Indonesia but a foul word in Malaysia), love and respect (for country, culture and community), and what he thought was the greatest gift that the Chinese gave to Indonesia ― the Islamic religion (long before the Arabs came, we were told).

However, no political leader is without his detractors, even one as genial as Habibie. I had expected his visit to elicit some critique and even the odd disparagement, but I was utterly shocked by what can only be described as a vengeful, intemperate and grossly personal attack by former Malaysian Information Minister Tan Sri Zainudin Maidin in his column in a national daily on Indonesia’s favorite son.

Without mincing his words, Zainudin labelled Habibie a “dog of imperialism” in a stinging piece that also likened the former President to a pair of “scissors in Suharto’s fold”, as well as a “traitor to the Indonesian race.”

Habibie, he opined, is to blame for the “political chaos” that has enveloped the country on the count of the fact that Indonesians are now “split” into 48 political parties. The shallowness of Zainudin’s arguments is not even worth pointing out. Exactly what is wrong in having 48 political parties in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country of 240 million people separated into 33 provinces spread across 17,508 islands? Is freedom of association not an expression of democratic rights?

I suppose it would be asking too much to expect an ideologue and unashamed sycophant from the very party which frowns upon freedom of assembly and of speech to grasp the fundamental precepts of democracy.

In his article, Zainudin also cynically attributed Habibie’s short reign in office (one year and five months) to his decision to allow a referendum for self-rule in East Timor, presumably under the weight of Western pressure. In other words, is Zainudin suggesting that Habibie is a traitor and imperialist stooge for giving a long-oppressed people the right of self deter

By the same token, would Zainudin also suggest that Palestine should not be allowed self-rule? Or that Malaysia should not have been granted independence because it would have been treacherous to the British monarchy to do so?

The fact is that the East Timor referendum remains one of Habibie’s proudest achievements. To his mind, he had righted a wrong. Historically, East Timor was not even a Dutch colony (it was under Portuguese control) and should not have been part of Indonesia. Hence, to lay claim to the land was, in Habibie’s own words, akin to colonising them.

Zainudin, though, is correct on one point. Democratisation and decentralisation are indeed Habibie’s greatest legacies. After all, it was under his short-lived presidency that sweeping reforms were made, including the lifting of restrictions on the formation of political parties, the unconditional release of political detainees, the provisions for press freedom and the setting of a two-term limit for the presidency. Even more significantly, it was also by his decree that the terms “pribumi and “non-pribumi” were abolished from all official circumstances.

One can only wonder whether Malaysia would ever see such transformational reforms. Having said that, it is also true that no one is perfect. Certainly, it is worth noting that Habibie himself had been a party to Suharto’s iron-fisted rule for over three decades, even if it was in a mostly technocratic role.

One can also say that he did not go far enough as President, but considering that he had come into office at a most tumultuous time, with an economy in free-fall, riots in the streets and a rebellious military descending upon him, it is not difficult to imagine that a lesser man would have yielded. But not Habibie.

For when the moment of history was thrust upon him, he did not disappoint his people. And that is the measure of the man. Let him be remembered as the devout Muslim and intellectual who championed freedom.

Zainudin, on the other hand, has been revealed to be of a completely different pedigree. His legacy will forever be cemented by this salacious attempt at cheap propaganda. Nevertheless, I daresay he has committed political hara-kiri, for not only has UMNO lost the support of moderate and sensible Malaysians, Zainuddin’s latest gaffe may have ensured that they will also lose the support of their phantom voters.

*Also published in The Malaysian Insider captioned “Dog of Freedom” dated December 28, 2012

KiniBIZ–The new Business Portal

December 28, 2012

http://www.malaysiakini.com (12-27-12)

KiniBIZ–The new Business Portal

P.Gunaby P GUNASEGARAM. Guna has been a journalist and analyst for over 30 years, having worked in key positions in Malaysian newspapers and magazines including Business Times, Malaysian Business, The Edge and The Star. He has also worked as an analyst and head of equity research at local and foreign brokerage firms. Early next year, he will help launch business news portal KiniBiz in a joint venture with Malaysiakini.

QUESTION TIME Starting a new enterprise in which you have a personal stake is no easy matter, especially when you have not done it before.

When Malaysiakini’s CEO Premesh Chandran talked to me about setting up a business news portal, I was excited. It was something I had thought about as well before, wondering how I could get it off the ground.

Over the past few months, we met from time to time and put our heads together on how we should get it going. We churned some numbers which looked encouraging for a paid subscription model which would be buttressed by advertising.

Kinkinibiz storyimageiBiz, a joint venture between Malaysiakini and myself, will start early next year. A small team has been assembled and will be in place by January and we hope to get it online within two months.

But why KiniBiz? What would a new business news website have to offer which would be very different from the offerings currently on the market, both print and online? What would be the reason for our existence? And why would subscribers have to pay?

To explain the first part, let me repeat what we said in a teaser/recruitment advertisement about KiniBiz:

“What’s the real deal? In the dark? We’re not surprised. Business news should go beyond the spin and the hype. We will smash through the barrier with independent, fast, and incisive business news to discerning readers.

We will break news, analyse it, dissect the complexities and comment unflinchingly. We will unravel and reveal the players behind the scenes and put things in the right context. And more. If you want to be informed and be ahead of the crowd and the market, you will want to read us – everyday and during the day. We will shed some light.”

We feel there is a gap to be filled in the coverage of business news. We aim to fill that gap. It would take effort and it would be a different kind of editorial stance from what we have seen before in the coverage of Malaysian business news.

KiniBiz also aims to be a complete portal for business news which means that we will closely follow foreign business news as well, especially those which have a major impact on the average citizen and this region. We will carefully select the news, analysis and commentary here, too.

We need a steady stream of income to be able to provide this – not much but enough. Chandran and GanUnfortunately in online news, advertising alone won’t do it. Which is why we have opted for paid subscription after a short period of free trial. It is likely to be higher than it is for Malaysiakini but it will still be less than a ringgit a day. Also, without undue dependence on advertising we can afford to be more independent.

These days, you can’t even buy half a cup of coffee with that one ringgit, so we figure it’s a good deal. And we will work very hard to ensure that it is a good deal for you, the reader.

Here are at least 10 things we will be focusing on doing.

1. Tell it like it is. Business news can get complicated. We will break it down into bite-sized pieces and tell you exactly what to look out for and where lie the essentials and controversies. We will have straight reporting of course, but we will look out for the details in the deals.

2. Do the groundwork. Oftentimes we have to dig to get to the roots of a deal and the important news. We are prepared to do that. That will range from having the courage to ask the right questions to developing contacts within government and industry to get the real picture and different viewpoints.

3. Be independent. The ultimate controlling shareholders behind KiniBiz are my two partners at Malaysiakini, Premesh who is chief executive officer of KiniBiz as well and Steven Gan, Malaysiakini‘s editor-in-chief, both of whom are founders of Malaysiakini, and myself. I take on the role of founding editor and publisher at KiniBiz. The point is, we are not beholden to anyone and can therefore report independently on any news.

4. Give all sides of the story. But we do recognise that independence comes with responsibility. We will give everyone involved an opportunity for fair say before articles are written and after that.

5. Analyse. We will have enough competent people and training to ensure that we can analyse complex happenings and write them in a manner easily understood by anyone. And we will call upon external expertise as and when required.

6. Provide an avenue for feedback. We will welcome feedback from readers and others. We also intend to be providers of feedback as well to the government, the companies we cover, regulators and other capital market players in the many events that they will be responsible for. We think that accurate feedback and criticism is a necessary condition for the progress of society.

7. Comment. We will have in-house and external commentators daily who will offer their personal opinions, backed up with data and reasoning, on the most current and important issues facing Malaysian business. And yes, we will get commentators for foreign news as well.

8. Raise issues. We intend to focus on some of the issues that periodically face us, highlighting them and looking in-depth at them and what we should be doing to overcome them.

9. Suggest solutions. We don’t intend to just highlight problems, we intend to also suggest possible solutions and alternatives through our own analysis and by talking to those in the industry who have the depth of knowledge and experience to offer remedies.

10. Monitor developments. We will keep track of key developments and initiatives and see how they are advancing. We will report and analyse these on-going developments on a regular basis.

That’s really quite a bit on our plate. There’s a lot to be done and we are all quite excited. We are working hard towards providing a product which will prove to be good enough for our readers. Wish us luck, and if we deserve it, please support us by eventually subscribing to us.

A belated Merry Christmas and hope that you have a happy, prosperous and fulfilling New Year.

Deepakgate–Musings on the Law and the Lawyerly

December 27, 2012

Deepakgate–Musings on the Law and the Lawyerly

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

COMMENT You can damn with faint praise; you can also achieve the same with an aria of it. An example of the first was when George Bernard Shaw extended two tickets to the opening night of one of his plays to Winston Churchill. “One for you and another for a friend, if you have one,” jibed the playwright.

Britain’s wartime leader volleyed back: He said he would like to attend the opening night’s programme but official duties prevented him; however, he would be free to attend the second night’s staging, “if there is one.”

NONEPrivate eye P Balasubramaniam’s lawyer, Americk Singh Sidhu, laid it on copiously when he praised fellow legal practitioner Cecil Abraham’s integrity which he said was a byword among lawyers in the latter’s 40 years of service to the Malaysian Bar.

Americk (right) said he could not conceive that someone of Abraham’s vaunted stature would countenance the drawing up of a false statutory declaration such as carpet trader Deepak Jaikishan had indicated was the case with Balasubramaniam’s second SD that reversed the sensational avowals contained in his first.

Given the gravity of the contents of his first SD, elements of which shed light on the 2006 murder of the Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, there was no taking the matter lightly.

Days have passed since Americk unequivocally vouched for Abraham’s probity, but Abraham himself is seemingly unperturbed by the brouhaha, holding his counsel in the face of a hail of imprecations.

cecil abrahamThe chairperson of one of the panels within the ambit of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission interjected in the unfolding drama of the contradictory statutory declarations and its attendant issue of responsibility for them by revealing that Abraham had nothing to do with the MACC’s decision to close its investigation of Balasubramaniam’s conflicting declarations. Abraham (left) is a member of the panel tasked with reviewing the MACC’s operational procedures.

Here was a case of weighty individuals rising to speak up for someone who apparently opts for the silence that is not of the kind that purveyor of aphoristic maxims, La Rochefoucauld, held was the mark of a man who distrusts himself.

This silence is possibly the choice of one who seems intent on tiptoeing through a frightful thicket, mindful or not of what the poet Dante said about the hottest places in hell being reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality (read: silence).

The law is a charged field

Lawyers are trained to deal with complex situations by finding both precedents and innovative pragmatic procedures for dealing with them.

The deeper their knowledge of precedents, both inside and outside of the law, the likelier it is that their exertions would result in the protection of human values – like allowing the innocent to go free and punishing the guilty.But if it’s only the law they know and little else, they would soon find that the law is a charged field where principles may be traduced by interests, and interests may be disguised as principles.

Oliver Wendell HolmesKnowing much law but, more importantly, the philosophic matrix from which emerged the Greco-Roman statues that formed the basis of English common law, the famed American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes made this observation on contrasting dispositions individuals may bring to the practice of the profession:

“If you want to know the law and nothing else, you must look at it as a bad man, who cares only for the material consequences which such knowledge enables him to predict, not as a good one, who finds his reasons for conduct, whether inside the law or outside of it, in the vaguer sanctions of conscience.”

Troubling little scruple that – “the vaguer sanctions of conscience.”These proved no trouble at all to the lawyer Vernon Jordan, Bill Clinton’s amoral chum whose advice was sought in the days when the latter was readying for a run for the US presidency.

According to a biography of Clinton by David Maraniss, Jordan, renowned civil rightsJordon and Clinton advocate, proffered a simple advice when the grapevine began to hum with legends of the Arkansas governor’s womanising and the debate among Clinton’s advisers revolved around whether he should wait for journalists to raise the matter or simply preempt them. Jordan’s advice was, “Screw ‘em! Don’t tell ‘em anything!”

Some years later, when another sex scandal occurred on Clinton’s watch at the White House (1992-2000), Jordan was alleged to have told Monica Lewinsky, an intern suspected to have had an affair with the president: “They can’t prove anything. Your answer is, ‘It didn’t happen. It wasn’t me.’ “At least, Jordan’s proclivity for denial pertained to cases involving infidelity, not murder.

A murder most foul

But we know that for an ethical standard to hold, it must forbid lying in all circumstances, regardless of the magnitude or lack of the moral transgression entailed. Whither the ethical standard when we are faced with the silence of peripheral players in the case of a murder most foul, as was Altantuya Shaariibuu’s  killing.

The silence is lawyerly; it is not impugnable. In the end, it makes the point that law alone, no matter how comprehensive, cannot assure practice of what is morally imperative.

Back in the 17th century, Hugo Grotius, the father of modern law, quoted with approval the advice that the classical Greek playwright Euripides in ‘The Trojan Woman’ put in the mouth of Agamemnon addressing Pyrrhus: “What the law does not forbid then let shame forbid.”

This counsel retains its moral worth. While the law and its practitioners are extremely important for the existence of civil society, they cannot be considered sufficient guarantees of human decency.

The exemption Dr Samuel Johnson, the most quotable of writers after Shakespeare, made for his principle of not speaking ill of a man behind his back was well taken.On one occasion, the sage was derisive about a man who had just left his company but Johnson said he believed that the man he was referring to was an attorney.

A Fresh Political Storm is brewing over the Allah Issue

December 27, 2012

A Fresh Political Storm is brewing over the Allah Issue

by  Maria Begum, Malaysia Chronicle

Najib frowningIt looks like another storm is brewing over the use of the Arabic word for God – Allah. And if not careful, the latest flare-up in Muslim-Christian friction could incinerate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s remaining hopes of defending his tenuous hold on the federal government at the coming general election.

Arch rival Anwar Ibrahim is already moving quickly to shield his Pakatan Rakyat coalition from the fall-out, calling for an urgent meeting between the heads of PKR, PAS and DAP, the 3 parties that form the Pakatan.

“This issue was resolved. We not only had a meeting but elaborated in discussions on the subject, and referred to texts, including Quranic texts. Now it has resurfaced, it would require an urgent meeting,” Anwar, Leader of the Malaysian Opposition, told reporters on Thursday.

Misleading the people again?

DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng had started the ball rolling in his Christmas addressLGE when he urged the Federal government to allow Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ in their Malay-language Bible.

But it was Najib who turned the spotlight back onto himself. At a Christmas event where Guan Eng was also present, Najib declared that Christian rights had never been trampled on and that he was “PM for all Malaysians”.

Whether this was yet another foul-up in Najib’s long string of political ‘boo-boos’, his remarks certainly revived hope in the Christian community that he might withdraw a government ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah. Christians form more than 10% of the country’s 28 million population.

“Najib doesn’t seem bothered about lightning striking twice. He seems to think all he needs to do to win back Christian votes is to make a pretty speech but the Christians are having none of that. They want concrete action, they want the Home Ministry to withdraw the Allah appeal. Najib  cannot promise to restore Christians rights and then deny them the use of the word Allah,” PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

Tian was referring to a landmark High Court ruling in 2010 that overturned a government ban on non-Muslims using the Allah word. The ruling, controversial in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, sparked a series of violence against churches here, catching international attention and criticism from world Christian bodies.

Political hypocrisy rears its head

According to Wikipedia, Allah is used mainly by Muslims, Arab Christians, and often, albeit not exclusively, by Bahá’ís, Arabic-speakers, Indonesians, Malaysians, Maltese Christians, and Mizrahi Jews.

However, in recent years, former UMNO Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar banned non-Muslims in Malaysia from using Allah, claiming exclusive rights over the word for Muslims although such an act would contravene the spirit and letter of the Federal Constitution, the country’s highest law.

When the Catholic newsletter, Herald, successfully sued to have the ban lifted, current Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein immediately appealed the High Court ruling. The Appellate Court has yet to fix a date to hear the case. However the appeal did not stop a series of demonstrations from erupting.

Egged on by Najib’s tacit green light to show Muslim displeasure, UMNO groups held rowdy rallies and launched Facebook campaigns such as Allah For Muslims Only. The heated atmosphere resulted in violence, death threats against the Judge who made the decision, culminating in arson attacks against several Christian places of worship in the country.

Najib and Hishammuddin were blamed for playing the racial and religious cards to win over the Malay-Muslim voters, who form 55% of the electorate. The cousins were condemned for their political hypocrisy and the Allah incident is among major factors contributing to Najib’s loss of credibility among Malaysians, resulting in the hollowing out of his inclusive 1Malaysia platform.

Pragmatic U-Turn?

PAS ErdogansMeanwhile, Islamic party PAS has made tentative suggestions that “pragmatism” should prevail in the recently revived debate on whether or not Christians in the country should be allowed to use Allah in their religious texts.

PAS said while it defends their right to use ‘Allah’ as previously stated, it would be better for Malay-language Bible to use the Malay word ‘Tuhan’.

“There are sensitive elements such as the Declaration of Faith (Shahadah) and Allah, which must be used in the correct context, otherwise there could be unease in a multi-religious society in view of the present situation,” PAS Information Chief Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man had said.

The PAS remarks were immediately seized on by the BN media to ‘highlight’ the growing rift between the Islamic party and its two other partners – the secular DAP and the multi-racial PKR.

In 2010, PAS researchers had made it clear it was not against Islam for non-Muslims to use the word Allah. It also vowed to stand by the Pakatan common policy framework, where all three partners have agreed to abide by the Federal Constitution.

“I don’t think PAS is making a U-turn as the UMNO media is trying to suggest. On the contrary, PAS’ statement is that it defends the rights of non-Muslims to use the word Allah. It is only advising an approach that it thinks is more conciliatory. This is its right. But it doesn’t mean that it is going to renege on its previous decision.” said Tian.

“This is why Anwar has to call for an emergency meeting where the 3 parties can clarify and re-affirm their cause and struggle for all Malaysians. We do not want to be like Najib – say something which creates confusion and then quickly run away or pretend not to notice.”

Equal partnership & common goal

In his Christmas message, Anwar had reiterated that the rights of Malaysian ChristiansDSAI were guaranteed by the Constitution and must be protected.

 “The fundamental liberties of all Christians as guaranteed by the constitution must be protected and upheld. This is essential for Malaysia to move forward as a nation united for peace and prosperity,” said the PKR adviser and Pakatan de-facto chief.

“Let us be committed to a Malaysia of equal partnership and a common goal. My colleagues in Pakatan Rakyat and I have worked hard over the years to reaffirm our commitment to a Malaysia for all Malaysians.”

Walk your talk, Christians tick off Najib

In remarks made at a Christmas Day hi-tea, Najib was on the defensive. He insisted that the Christian community have not been marginalised. “I don’t want to be Prime Minister for only a particular section of the community,” asserted Najib. “I’m Prime Minister for all Malaysians, and I’ve said that repeatedly.”

However, Najib, who is also the UMNO President, drew cynical reactions including from the highest levels of the Christian community.

Malaysian Christians have been angered at the PM’s deafening silence over a series of incidents since the 2010 church arson attacks. These include UMNO groups ‘mocking’ their faith by accusing several priest of trying to overthrow the government and replacing Najib with a Christian Prime Minister. Ongoing apostasy accusations, raids and the unresolved row over the use of the Allah word are other unhealed wounds.

Bishop Paul“I don’t want to sound churlish, particularly in this Christmas season of goodwill, but if you shake down the PM’s rhetoric, what have you left – syrupy sentiment and clichés that have little or no connection with realities on the ground,” said Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, the Head of the Catholic Church of the Melaka-Johor diocese.

“It’s odd that Najib has seen fit to remark that he has to be PM of all of our diverse nation and not just one or another part of it. That he has to say a thing like that shows how far his office has tended to depart from a broad-gauged conception of its responsibilities that now there is the suspicion that it is enthralled to exclusivist notions of its actual import.”

“If he had a broad view of his office, how come when Christians were accused over the last two years of not just being ‘pendatang‘ but sinister fifth-columnists, there was not a word from official quarters to stem that patently false accusation which was aimed at creating suspicion and hatred for Christians on the part of the Muslim majority of this country?” queried the Bishop.

Malaysia Chronicle