In Praise of Dissent (Reasoned Discourse) and Freedom

October 20, 2014

In Praise of Dissent (Reasoned Discourse) and Freedom

by Azmi

When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.–Azmi Sharom

Azmi Sharom 3LAST Sunday a group of people gathered at the Speakers Corner in Penang to protest against the Sedition Act. They did not get very far because a bunch of, now how shall I put this politely, unruly humans shouted abuse at them and harassed them to the point where it was impossible to continue.

Now I think these fellows who wanted to stop the gathering have just as much right as anyone else to voice their opinion. Apparently, they will defend the Sedition Act till their dying breath.

What a wonderfully dedicated lot of humans they are; so very committed, so very brave. Maybe they should get a medal.However, I would like to point out a small point regarding the right to assemble and to speak.

This is not meant for those courageous men who so fearlessly chased away a couple of tourists from Speakers Corner. I am sure their craniums are already full to overflowing with whatever it is they like to put in there and I doubt there is any room in that space between their heroic ears for any new ideas.

No, this message is for the Police. I want them to know about certain international standards regarding protests and counter-protests. I am using international standards because I am certain our men and women in blue would like to be an international-standard police force. Surely they want to be seen as one of the best police services in the world.

Anyway, back to the lesson. Everyone has the right to assemble and speak their mind on issues they think are important.Conversely, those who dislike their point of view also have a right to assemble and speak their minds.

The job of the police, nay, the duty of the Police, is to allow both groups the space with which to express them. However, when you have competing groups, the blood might rise a bit higher than normal and thus, there could be a possibility of unpleasant clashes.

This is why it is the police’s job, nay, duty, to ensure the groups are kept separate.In this way, everybody’s right to expression is upheld. It is not the Police Force’s job to pick sides. It is not their job to allow one group to chase another one away. In fact, it is the antithesis of what they are supposed to do.Now ideally I would like to have a Police Force which truly appreciates the values of a democratic country.

It would be wonderful beyond belief if they understand that when they protect the citizen’s right to speak,they are in truth protectingthe very essence of our independent nation – that is to say, a nation built upon the promise of civil liberties, Democracy and the Rule of law. But if this is too abstract a concept to be passed on, allow me to make another argument.

When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.

Let me explain. If I am going to organise a protest and I know there will be a bunch of unruly humans who will try to break my gathering up, I could do one or two things. First, trust the Police to keep us apart.Or secondly, gather a group of people to confront the unruly humans. The second option could very easily lead to fisticuffs and a whole lot of overweight men wheezing for breath.

Wouldn’t it be better if the cops were to just do their duty and prevent such things from happening?After all, they are always going on about how important peace and security is.Besides, wheezing fat men are most unsightly.

By the way, in case the police think it is better not to let people gather at all, may I point out two things? One, it is our right to gather and to express ourselves. And  Two, if you don’t allow people to speak peacefully and if they get frustrated at the suppression of their rights, that is when people turn to unlawful means to get their message across.

Therefore, no matter how you look at it, if the Police of Malaysia are truly concerned about peace, then they have to get their act together and start behaving according to international standards of respecting everybody’s right to express themselves. Here ends the lesson.

Remembering our History

October 5, 2014

Remembering our History

by Tan Siok

RECENTLY, a former judge said only the Malays sacrificed their lives to fight the communists and this was the reason why “those who demanded independence were the Malays”.He claimed the Malays fought for independence to free the country while the non-Malays did it to safeguard their interests after independence.

Tunku A Rahman and his early team

Collectively, these statements reflect the former judge’s ignorance – whether wilful or inadvertent – about the then Malaya’s struggle for independence and the sacrifices all communities made during the Emergency.He has also overlooked one incontestable fact – the British agreed to grant independence ONLY if the Malays, Chinese and Indians showed they could work together.

That the Malays demanded independence isn’t disputed. Equally, indisputable, some Chinese and Indian leaders fought for independence – not because of vested interests – but because they didn’t want to live under a colonial regime. One such individual is my grandfather, the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock.

As early as 1926, Cheng Lock said “our ultimate political goal should be a united self-governing British Malaya.” He also called for “fostering and creating a true Malayan spirit and consciousness among its people to the complete elimination of racial and communal feeling.”

Critics may argue Cheng Lock’s proposal was for self-government, not independence. While this point is conceded, Cheng Lock’s objective was far-sighted. In 1926, individuals living in this country thought of themselves as Malays, Chinese, and Indians rather than as Malayans.

Working towards self-government, nurturing a Malayan consciousness and eradicating racial sentiment – these were essential way stations on the road to independence.

In his inaugural speech at the Malayan (now Malaysian) Chinese Association (MCA) – an institution he founded in February 1949 – Cheng Lock said “One of the basic aims of the MCA is to help, in cooperation with the Malays and other communities, the development of the process of making the whole of Malaya one country, one people and one government.”

After my grandfather passed away on December 13, 1960, in his condolence speech in Parliament, Tunku Abdul Rahman said: “If not for the great support and contributions rendered by the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock, I must admit that the struggle for independence for Malaya would not have succeeded.”

Tun Tan Cheng Lock

Furthermore, the retired judge also overlooked one fact about the Emergency: on April 10, 1949, the communists threw a hand grenade at Cheng Lock in Ipoh. Although his shoulder was pierced by shrapnel, he survived this attempted assassination.

Given the retired judge’s worrying ignorance about this country’s two significant events, the Education Ministry’s decision, implemented last year, to make history a must-pass subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination is, theoretically, a very welcome initiative. Equally noteworthy, effective this year, history will be part of the core curriculum for primary school students.

Whether these two policies will succeed in nurturing Malaysia-centric students will depend on how history is taught. If the emphasis is on memorising a long list of dates and events, this will prevent students from appreciating other ethnic communities’ contribution towards the making of Malaya and later Malaysia.

Also crucial is whether students will also be taught the 20th century and 21st century history of ASEAN countries as well as that of China, India, Japan, North Korea and South Korea.

History is the study of individuals, societies and countries and their actions throughout the centuries. Without this knowledge, it will be difficult to foster a better understanding between Malaysians and all those living in other ASEAN and Asian countries.

Because the causes of conflict and the reasons for a country’s ascension to greatness or for their decline have remained unchanged for millennia, knowledge of the past is useful in planning for the future. Students should also be encouraged to visit museums like the Memorial Kemerdekaan in Malacca.

While its conception is excellent, it is a pity the Memorial Kemerdekaan provides little information about the active involvement in the independence struggle of leaders like Cheng Lock and Tun V.T. Sambanthan. Previously, the memorial showcased my grandfather’s handwritten speeches. Today, for some inexplicable reason, this is no longer on display.

Arkib Negara Malaysia plans to build in Kuala Lumpur a Memorial Negarawan to highlight the contributions of leaders like Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Cheng Lock, Sambathan, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Tun Mohd Fuad Stephens and Tun Temenggong Jugah Anak Barieng.

Although I congratulate Arkib Negara for this commendable initiative, I have three concerns.First, will Memorial Negarawan be built on an open tender basis? Second, will sufficient funds be allocated each year for its maintenance? Third, will it become a building that few care to visit – like Tunku’s former house, the Residency?

George Santayana said: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is something individuals like the retired judge should note.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at


The Unending Mahathir-Anwar Spat: A Clash of Visions

October 4, 2014

The Unending Mahathir-Anwar Spat: A Clash of Visions

by Mariam

We all know what Malaysian politicians say, but what do they mean? We are aware of mahathir-and-anwarthe bitter rivalry between former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his former deputy, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Their public spat has been brewing for at least thirty years.

Even after Mahathir’s retirement, the battle between the two, has not abated. Malaysia is desperately trying to move forward and discard the divisive ploys and unfair affirmative action policies which have split the nation, but Mahathir refuses to leave the limelight.

He has taken potshots at his successor, Tun Abdullah Badawi and the current PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Like a man possessed, Mahathir also sees fit to ensure Anwar’s destruction, before he dies.

Anwar is the greatest threat not just to Mahathir, but also to UMNO-Baru. If UMNO-Baru were to cease to exist, it would be impossible for Mahathir’s son, to continue the Mahathir legacy.

Najib may seem like a recurrent headache to Mahathir, but one which cannot be cured with a dose of aspirin. Anwar is a different proposition. He is like a growth in Mahathir’s head, that must be excised. Anwar is like the fatty deposits in UMNO-Baru’s arteries. If the arteries remain clogged, blood flow may eventually stop.

Last January, soon after the Kajang Move was announced, Mahathir mocked Anwar and said Anwar was prepared to take “small steps”, just to become MB. In a Radio 24 broadcast, he said, “He (Anwar) has always wanted to become the government leader. If he cannot get the highest post, a smaller post at least would do for him.” What Mahathir meant was, “I will not allow him to be MB, by hook or by crook.”

Anwar, his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, or anyone in Pakatan Rakyat, whose closet does not contain some skeletons, which UMNO-Baru could use for blackmail, will never become MB. Someone once said, “You can never con an honest man”.

anwar-mahathirThe relationship between Mahathir and Anwar started in the late 1960s, when Mahathir courted Anwar, who was then an active student leader in University of Malaya (UM). Anwar had attended the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), he excelled in debating, became a school prefect and led many Islamic study groups.

At UM, Anwar was a frequent visitor to Mahathir’s house, to discuss various common concerns about the Malays and Islam. Both men were cultivating their Malay nationalist credentials – Anwar as student leader, Mahathir as a parliamentarian. In later years, Anwar mellowed somewhat and became more inclusive of other races and religious groups, but Mahathir retained his “Malay supremacist” streak.

Barry Wain wrote, in his book “The Malaysian Maverick”, that Anwar the student leader, was active in addressing Malay backwardness in health, education and economics, but by the following decade, things took on a different complexion. Anwar found himself at odds with Mahathir, who by then had been readmitted to UMNO by Tun Abdul Razak, and made the Education Minister.

Anwar led many marches to bring awareness of the rural poor. To curb student unrest, Mahathir ordered the arrest of Anwar, under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and jailed him for 22 months. This was to punish the students for protesting, and highlighting the suffering of the rural farmers and villagers of Baling, Kedah, in 1974.

Anwar was also head of The Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (ABIM), and Mahathir recognised in him a vehicle to promote his own government, especially as Anwar had the backing of the students and was champion of many Malay and Islamic causes.

Then, and now, Anwar was able to galvanise many NGOs and students. Mahathir knew that Anwar was able to unite various people, but with that realisation, Mahathir must also have known, that at some point, Anwar could also be a most lethal adversary.

What did Mahathir do? He enticed Anwar to leave ABIM and join UMNO, so that in one fell swoop, Mahathir removed a potential threat to his power, and manipulate him for his own agenda. Anwar, in his naïvety, probably thought that he could promote various causes, from within UMNO.

Mahathir made use of Anwar in the 1970s, just as he is using the rakyat now. Mahathir may have curbed the power of the sultans soon after, but he was careful to leave them with sufficient power to be useful tools for UMNO-Baru, in the future.

anwar-ibrahim-recentIncredibly, last January, after the Kajang Move was announced, Mahathir said, “He (Anwar) did not join UMNO because he loved the party. Anwar saw it as one step closer to achieving his ambition to become PM. If he did not join UMNO he cannot become the PM.” (sic.)

Mahathir meant, “In 1970, I removed the threat to Umno, by making Anwar one of us. He gave my administration respectability, because he was better at championing Malays and Islam. He galvanized the people, but I did not like it when he became more popular, than me. I have a legacy to protect. That is why, Anwar must be finished off.”

Today, we see a manifestation of Mahathir’s revenge, with the prolonged character assassinations, court cases and sex videos against Anwar. If that is not sufficient, Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah’s candidacy for Selangor was not endorsed by the Sultan, and no reasons were given. So much for the constitutional monarchy we are supposed to enjoy, in Malaysia.

Mariam Mokhtar is “a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.”


Japan is still No.1 in Asia

September 5, 2014

Japan: Efficiency and Sense of Economy is a Way of Life

by Din Merican, Tokyo, Japan

Kamsiah and Din in Tokyo2In my book, despite what has been written about the country over the last 2 decades since the Plaza Accord of 1985 when the Yen was revalued against the United States Dollar, Japan is still No.1.

As a frequent business visitor to this Land of the Rising Sun in the 1980s, and after a considerable lapse of time  before this visit,  I reaffirm this assessment when I arrived with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah yesterday at Narita Airport on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH88.

It was indeed a very good flight where we enjoyed the excellent service provided by a team of very kind and dedicated crew of pilots and stewards and air hostesses. If they were affected by the MH370 and MH17 tragedies, they certainly did not show it.

Japan is an outstanding example of efficiency. That has not changed despite negative reports we read about Japan after the 1985 Plaza Accord. Why? These reports overlook the character of Japanese society and its culture, values, and heritage. The Japanese are hardworking, dedicated, efficient, friendly, and proud people. Their work ethics remain legendary.

The Samurai

We saw Japanese efficiency at Narita. It took us less than 15 minutes to clear immigration and customs and get our bags. After these formalities, we were met by two City Police officers who introduced themselves in good and fluent English, took our particulars and handed us a pamphlet containing contact numbers for emergency and ambulance services. We were then driven to our hotel by well dressed hotel chauffeur who greeted us with the usual bow of welcome. At the hotel, we again saw efficiency in action. The hotel staff attended to us promptly. After checking in at the Grand New Takanawa Prince Hotel, we were driven by a shuttle bus to Shinagawa station. We then took the train to Shinjuku and Ginza for some sightseeing.


The Japanese standard of efficiency is everywhere on display. Be it time efficiency, traffic management and system,  economic use of space , and fuel efficiency; this apparently is ingrained in the Japanese psyche. We are told that this habit is taught to Japanese kids in their schools. Tokyo is a very clean city and environment. Its garbage separation and collection system is second to none, and we feel that both Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya can learn a lot about how to deal with our rubbish and care for the environment

july 4th 2007Get Politics Right and the rest will follow






“Diplomatic Immunity” is not a License to commit crime

July 2, 2014

Understand “Diplomatic Immunity”: It is not a License to commit crime

Extending diplomatic immunity to a diplomatic attache accused of sexual assault and burglary sends the signal that such immunity is a license to commit crime. Saying this in a statement yesterday, NGO Lawyers for Liberty’s executive director Eric Paulsen said that extending such immunity jeopardises Malaysia-New Zealand ties.
New Zealans

Further, he said, such “abuse” could also undermine ties with other nations as Malaysia “is not able to guarantee that its diplomats will be able to respect the laws” of the host state. As such, the NGO urged the government to extradite Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, who is defence assistant staff at the Wellington consulate, immediately and not just try him in military court in Malaysia.

Not just a discipline breach

“Lawyers for Liberty is shocked and appalled that the Malaysian government has asserted diplomatic immunity to protect Rizalman from what is obviously a serious case of sexual assault and burglary, acts of which are unconnected with his diplomatic role.

“We remind the Malaysian government that diplomatic immunity is essential for diplomats to work without harassment in a foreign state, but it is not a licence to commit crimes and certainly not to be used in the present case,” he said. He also said that Rizalman (left), should not just be court-martialed as suggested by the Foreign Ministry as he is not just accused of discipline breach.

“(It) is preposterous as this is not a disciplinary issue but serious criminal offences that have been allegedly perpetrated against a woman. Further, the alleged crimes were committed in New Zealand and obviously, the most convenient forum to try the crime would be in New Zealand and it would be absurd and extremely burdensome to get all the witnesses and evidence to be brought to Malaysia,” he said.


Tun Dr. Mahathir Thwarts Sultan’s Power Grab

Taipei. Taiwan

June 18, 2014

Mahathir Thwarts Sultan’s Power Grab

Written by Our Correspondent

Sultan of Johore

Malaysia’s aging former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had to act earlier this week to save Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak from an embarrassing legislation that would have given the Sultan of Johor executive powers to run the housing authority of the country’s second biggest state.

Eventually the legislation was amended to remove the threat. But once again it is Najib, in the eyes of political analysts in Kuala Lumpur, who is regarded as having suffered a blow to his political standing because of his failure to act. Former Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam, at 80 still a political force in Johor, also joined the fray to stop the legislation.

Although Najib’s position remains secure because there is no threat from anyone either inside or outside the United Malays National Organization, the country’s dominant ethnic political party, he is the subject of widespread criticism. He has come to be viewed as indecisive ever since the 2013 general election, in which the ruling national coalition lost the popular vote for the first time since 1969 although it maintained its majority in parliament,.

TDM--21 March“Thank God for Mahathir,” said a prominent Kuala Lumpur opposition source. “I never thought I’d say that, but thank God for Mahathir.”

The hereditary rulers in nine of Malaysia’s 13 states supposedly merely perform ceremonial functions except in matters related to Islam, where they have powers of intervention. The Johor Sultan, Ismail Idris, was attempting to go far beyond that.

That is largely because during his 22-year period as Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Mahathir, now 88, engaged in a ferocious struggle to break the absolute power of the rulers, who take turns swapping the country’s kingship among them. Even after Mahathir broke their absolute power with legislation, the sultans have continued to get away with physical assaults and large-scale gambling debts in London and other casinos that have had to be paid from state coffers.

In 1993, in a speech before the Dewan Rakyat, or Parliament, the then Prime Minister pushed through legislation that allowed commoners to criticize the sultans including the king without fear of the country’s Sedition Act. However, in recent years, Mahathir’s measure has been largely ignored, including by the former premier himself, as UMNO has played politics to use the sultans to stifle dissent.

Now UMNO got caught in its own contradictions. The Johor Sultan suddenly made a power play in a sweeping bill tabled by his ally, the state chief minister, Mohamed Khaled Nordin, in the Johor legislature that would have given the Sultan control over vast amounts of lucrative state land through the Johor Property and Housing Commission. The measure would have given the sultan the power to appoint board members and investigate the commission‘s books, among other functions.

It was the latest in a series of moves by the Johor monarch, which critics say have been designed to eventually effectively take full power in the state, the country’s second richest and one that is growing richer because of its proximity to Singapore across the narrow Singapore Strait. The vehicle is the huge Iskandar development region, covering the city of Johor Bahru and three adjoining towns. The Iskandar project, encompassing 2,217 hectares of land, is in effect becoming Singapore’s industrial and residential suburb. It is estimated that as much as 40 percent of infrastructure spending for the country under Najib’s Economic Transformation Program is being spent in the state.

Enter the Sultan, who since the project got underway in 2006 has assumed greater and greater control over the region. He has been accused privately of sanctioning kickbacks, money laundering and a variety of backroom deals. He was a college classmate of Chief Minister Khaled, whom he appointed to his job. But in the growing atmosphere of political repression of comments about the sultans, his misdeeds have remained unreported and the power play was largely hidden in shadowy language in Malaysia’s mainstream press, along with his behavioral antics.

Despite Mahathir’s legislation outlawing the use of sedition laws to stifle criticism of the sultans, for instance the late Karpal Singh, the former chief of the opposition Democratic Party, was convicted on appeal of sedition charges in February this year after he merely said in Kuala Lumpur in 2009, during a political squabble over the leadership of the state of Perak, that a decision by the Sultan of Perak could be questioned in court. Karpal was stripped of his legislative seat and fined. He was appealing the decision when he was killed in a car wreck.

That use of sedition against opposition members left Najib and UMNO in a quandary when it came to the Sultan of Johor, who is hardly a Boy Scout. Ibrahim was jailed on allegations that he had beaten people in nightclubs before he became sultan and committed other offenses including shooting a man in a nightclub after an argument during the 1980s. The charge was dismissed because of the then-prince’s immunity. Ibrahim was also involved in two other separate assault cases.

In a 2005 case, a young woman reportedly was assaulted by Ibrahim after he accused her of two-timing him. His late father, Iskandar, who died in 2010 and for whom the Johor project was named, was alleged to have murdered two people but was not charged because of his immunity as a sultan. It was one of those murders that impelled Mahathir to push through laws removing the sultans’ immunity from prosecution.

Thus the ruling coalition and UMNO in particular were presented with a dilemma — how to criticize the actions of a state ruler they themselves had deemed untouchable. Najib, say sources in Kuala Lumpur, simply abandoned the situation, ignoring a letter sent to him by Mahathir demanding he take action. Apparently it fell to Musa and Mahathir to force amendments in the legislation behind the scenes to stop the sultan’s ploy.

Part of Najib’s dilemma stemmed from the fact that UMNO has seen its local political clout diminish. Although it still The Silent Onecontrols 56 of the 74 seats in the State Legislative Assembly, it lost 18 seats to the opposition in the 2013 national election. In that relatively weakened state, political analysts said, opposing the sultan, who remains the figurehead of rural Malays, was considered politically unwise by Najib.

That was when Mahathir stepped in from Kuala Lumpur to criticize the legislation, along with Musa, who told the Straits Times Sunday edition that “If the allegations are true, then it will affect the fundamental principles of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. One cannot expect the people to keep quiet on the matter.”

Ultimately the bill was modified to remove the sultan’s power to make appointments and vest it in the chief minister, which remains a continuing concern. It was passed on June 9. Mahathir himself remains suspicious, saying Chief Minister Khaled might succumb to the Malay tradition of considering the sultan the head of state.

“This is the Malay custom, if the sultan says something, it must be followed,” the former Prime Minister told Malaysiakini. “I am worried that it would not be the [chief minister] advising the sultan, but the sultan advising him.”