Malaysians, you truly deserve this Malaysiakini recognition: Newsmaker of 2008

Avoid Lying: New Year Resolution

Yes, my fellow Malaysians, you have done it. You truly deserve this Malaysiakini recognition as newsmaker of 2008. Congratulations, but let us not rest on our laurels.

Because of you, politics of our country can never be the same again. You have overcome fear of intimidation, marched with Anwar Ibrahim, Ustaz Haji Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang and their PR colleagues and BERSIH to our King’s Palace by the thousands despite threats of FRU brutality and chemical sprays to demand electoral reforms, participated in ISA vigils and helped Raja Petra, refused to accept the spin and empty promises of the Badawi administration and his UMNO-BN cronies, and voted against Barisan Nasional in the March 8 General Election. As Malaysiakini says, “you have all sent out the unequivocal message that you are no longer spectators, but movers and shakers of the nation”.

We can no longer be bystanders and allow politicians to act in defiance of the rule of law and we must continue our struggle for change and fight to free those ISA detainees who are still held in Hotel Kamunting and denied their right to have legal recourse. 2009 will be another critical year in our political history. We must take to the streets peacefully— if we have to– so that our concerns will be listened to and addressed by the government of the day.

As a blogger with the Raja Petra Group, I will walk with you in the name of justice and will write relentlessly on issues which are of our mutual concern. As a member of Parti KeADILan Rakyat, I will serve its cause for freedom, democracy and justice with renewed vigor.

Let us make 2009 a year where we can begin to transform our country into a liberal and democratic state where men and women are truly free to be what they want to and can be. We have the power to make our country a great and respected member of the international community.

Government should get out of our way; it must stop meddling into our daily lives. We are not a bunch of kids requiring nannies. We have shown the government that we can decide what is good for ourselves, families, friends and our country.

Mediocrity, racism, religious bigotry, corruption, and sheer incompetence must be things of the past.

Happy New Year, my Malaysian brothers and sisters. We have unfinished business to settle and we cannot afford to waste time. Welcome 2009 with confidence and together we will meet the challenges of slow economic growth, rising unemployment and inflation. Hidup dan majulah Malaysia.—Din Merican

And the Newsmaker of 2008 is…

December 31, 2008

The signs first surfaced late last year, but the intelligence reports, the alarming graphs and the ground readings were ignored.


Was it complacency or sheer arrogance that led the authorities to embark on a mission of vilification, arrests and charges in court?

The ‘shock and awe’ tactics did not work. Out of this, instead, grew the courage of convictions that was expressed in the outpouring of disgust which swept away decades of fear, differences and indifference.

For thinking the unthinkable and daring to achieve it, Malaysiakini proudly declares that its Newsmaker of the Year is…

…the rakyat!

newsmaker 2008 cartoonWe salute the silent majority which was sufficiently rankled to find its voice especially in cyberspace, a frontier which dissenters exploited to maximum benefit.

Blogs mushroomed – including that of the never-been silent former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He kept up a constant bombardment of successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his ambitious son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and members of the Fourth Floor.

Ordinary people – as never before – huddled in desperate contemplation of a nation falling apart on the political, economic and social fronts.

They found unity in the diversity – everyone was pissed off but for different reasons, and there was no dearth of deep-seated, festering complaints:

  • the spike in fuel prices and knock-on effects on the cost of living, while ministers continued to enjoy all-expenses paid holidays;
  • the perceived unfairness to non-Muslims caught up in cases of conversion to Islam;
  • the recurring episodes of crass, even crude, remarks in Parliament by those elected to represent the people;
  • the perceived persecution of the Catholic community over the use of ‘Allah’ to mean ‘God’ in the Bahasa Malaysia version of their newsletter, which almost lost its publishing licence, and the confiscation of Bibles;
  • the continuing fallout from rhetoric over ‘Malay supremacy’, bumiputera rights, racist remarks and racially-divisive politics;
  • the litany of grievances in Sabah, where locals alleged they were in danger of becoming strangers in their own land because of ‘favoured’ immigrants; and
  • the constant leakages from the national coffer, from the disappearance of savings in reduced fuel subsidies to the unholy haste to invest in indelible ink that could not be used.

The hammer-blows fell with telling accuracy on a ‘selfish, heartless, arrogant, ineffective, greedy and inconsiderate’ BN government led by the sleep-deprived Abdullah.

bersih 1st year anniversary pj vigil arrest 111108 amcorpIn January, a group of disgruntled young Malaysians even handed him a pillow and bolster, in recognition of his all-too-frequent ability to catch 40 winks in the middle of official business.

And still Abdullah was oblivious to the shift in sentiments – perhaps he believed a little too much in his pantang dicabar brand of governance and politics.

The final nail was supplied by Barisan Nasional component parties themselves, which imploded over a squabble for plum seats ahead of the general election on March 8.

All this while, the opposition front avoided pitfalls of the past and presented the public with a plausible alternative. Their veterans and newbies drew mammoth crowds to their ceramah nationwide, coaxing voters to shed inhibitions and embrace a ‘new dawn’.

The Year of the Rakyat

As with the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) and the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) in 2007, the general election of March 8, 2008 stamped the arrival of a new force in Malaysia.

In this, the Year of the Rakyat, Malaysians were shaken awake from deep slumber and kicked out of their comfort zone to make a conscious choice that, in turn, has shaken up the status quo.

YOU, the defiant, threw out the rotten, the corrupt and the inept in an election that was nothing short of inspiring.

YOU, the fearless, continued to press for reform and speak up against discrimination and injustice.

YOU, the marginalised, showed up with a six-year-old’s handwritten letters, teddy bears and roses to appeal to the better nature of those who have locked up husbands and fathers. When outlawed, you have refused to disappear.

YOU, the outraged, have turned up – some with young children – at weekly protests and candlelight vigils against the Internal Security Act, risking arrest in the process.

YOU, the supportive, wore T-shirts declaring ‘I’m with RPK’, paraded these before watchful eyes, and stood with blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin in his darkest moments of captivity.

YOU, the imaginative, gate-crashed the biggest party of the year – the UMNO ministers’ Hari Raya ‘open house’ – to take your message to the highest leaders of the land.

YOU, the fed-up, protested the hike in fuel prices in your thousands and later, the fatwa against tomboys, albeit in a smaller number.

YOU, the brave, stood against bulldozers and barricades for days on end, resisting the demand to pay toll charges.

YOU, the indefatigable, cycled for 16 days from north and south to Kuala Lumpur, campaigning for attention to unresolved issues and impending concerns, in the face of police harassment to the last.

YOU have all sent out the unequivocal message that you are no longer spectators, but movers and shakers of the nation.

Yes, YOU are indeed worthy recipients of the Newsmaker of the Year award.

Report by Malaysiakini team.

Malaysiakini’s 2008 X-files

What now, Malaysia?

December 30, 2008

How many shocks will it take for Barisan Nasional to realise that its days are numbered, unless it makes itself relevant to Malaysians?


Only true-blue supporters are waiting for the answer.

Others have already moved on to the ‘new dawn’ held out by Pakatan Rakyat in the five states that it has administered since the general election on March 8.

The year’s unresolved issues, therefore, revolve around the ‘what now’ of political transition on both sides of the divide. And whether the hitherto silent – from plebian to royalty – can keep politicians in line.

Here are 10 unsolved cases of 2008. This list is by no means complete. And don’t expect answers anytime soon.

10 indian community micIndian Malaysians any better off?

Riding high on its successful 30,000-strong people’s rally in Kuala Lumpur the previous November, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) started the year on a high despite the absence of five detained leaders and its chairperson who went into self-imposed exile.

The awakening of the Indian Malaysians and their Makkal Sakthi strategy had a direct impact on the results of the general election – they abandoned BN in droves. However, Hindraf is now outlawed, leaving supporters to mainly target the release of its leaders.

MIC became almost irrelevant – veteran president S Samy Vellu lost his Sungai Siput seat which he had held since 1974 and, consequently, his place in the cabinet. He is trying to keep its grip on the community by rebranding the party as a people-centric one.

However, with the community no better off now, questions abound as to whether MIC can truly claim to represent it in the government.

09 mismanagement of government fundsScandals galore

Malaysiakini reported in July that two senior officials in government subsidiary Pempena Sdn Bhd were involved in scams that allegedly diverted millions of ringgit in tourism-development funds into private pockets.

It did not faze Tourism Minister Azalina Othman, who responded that internal auditors would probe allegations of corrupt practice in the company.

She was forced to reveal in Parliament that “some investments in the company are questionable”. A report released two weeks later revealed that the company had been making dubious investments that will have to be written off.

The report, though, was of limited value, failing to mention the RM10 million e-tourism portal.

The government also announced the purchase of 12 units of Eurocopter’s Cougar EC-725 choppers to replace the ageing fleet of Nuris at a cost that eventually settled at RM1.6 billion.

Mentari Services Sdn Bhd chairperson Capt (rtd) Zahar Hashim, the former UMNO Petaling Jaya Selatan division chief, exposed ‘irregularities’ in the deal and existence of a cheaper alternative.

The Public Accounts Committee jumped in to probe the matter. While it ruled out irregularities, it said there had been no physical examination of the goods – opposition MPs naturally demanded the release of the full report.

So far, all the government has done is to buy time by delaying the purchase until the economic situation permits it. The main questions posed by Zahar remain unanswered.

08 royalty supportRoyals check in

Better known for discretion in matters of politics and governance, the palace took active interest over the post-election appointment of the menteri besar in three states – Perlis, Perak and Terengganu.

A similar exercise of constitutional power was seen on Nov 26, when rulers of Selangor, Perak and Negri Sembilan expressed disapproval that the National Fatwa Council had issued a decree against yoga without consulting them in their capacity as heads of Islam.

Meanwhile, young royals chose to speak up on issues that their constituents were robustly debating.

Tengku Mahkota Kelantan Tengku Muhammad Faris Petra caused a stir with a speech on Malay unity and rights at a forum in Kuala Lumpur on April 12, leading to MCA president Ong Ka Ting and DAP chairperson Karpal Singh lodging police reports.

Perak Regent Raja Dr Nazrin Shah addressed several conferences, including the annual Conference of Malaysian Judges on April 9. His views on good governance, Malaysian unity and judicial renaissance won him plaudits.

However, citizens have been less enamoured with a request for immunity from civil and criminal proceedings to be restored to the royalty. It had been withdrawn in 1993.

It is also becoming a norm for groups to petition the royalty to resolve their grievances. But there’s an old story about Pandora’s Box that they would do well to remember.

07 islamIslam rattles the nation-state

Controversies over Islamic matters made the headlines almost every month this year.

It started with another tussle over the body of an individual who was said to have died a Muslim. This time, his relatives were able to persuade the Federal Court of the invalidity of the claim.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stated the need to ensure that such tussles do not recur, saying that non-Muslims should inform family members before converting to Islam.

The religion came into the picture again when about 100 Muslim groups called for Islamic teachings and practices to figure prominently in the election agenda of political parties.

Later in the year, it was disclosed that PAS had flirted with nemesis Umno over possible collaboration for Malay-Muslim unity, until PAS leaders reiterated their commitment to the policies espoused by the opposition coalition.

It did not help Pakatan when leading PKR member, Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin, figured prominently in protests against a forum on religious conversions organised in August by the Bar Council.

The controversies mounted, as Muslim students described the school uniform worn by girls as being too sexy and the National Fatwa Council banned the practice of yoga among Muslims.

There is nothing to suggest that religion will not continue to be used to divide and rule.

06 ketuanan melayu and racismBattle to end ‘Malay supremacy’

The once-incontestable notion of ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) came under siege after voters sent out a clearest demand yet for a ‘new Malaysia’.

On April 15, PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim alleged that Malay supremacy is only advocated by Umno leaders to enrich the elite and that ketuanan Rakyat (People’s supremacy) is the way to go.

Many ordinary Malays accepted his point of view, which has become a rallying call for increasingly resentful non-Malays.

Former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim agreed that the Malay supremacy concept has failed, and that an egalitarian form of democracy must be practised.

Kelantan Mentri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Abdul Mat pointed out that Islam is neutral and that Muslims who place nationalism and race ahead of religion are “disillusioned followers”.

Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon noted that the right term for the special position of the Malays is kedudukan istimewa as stipulated in Article 153 of the federal constitution.

Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek insisted that ketuanan Melayu did not imply a master-slave relationship, but refers to the institution of the Malay monarchy.

When MCA deputy president Dr Chua Soi Lek said the concept is no longer relevant, he was investigated under the Sedition Act 1948.

The debate is far from over.

05 pak lah reformAbdullah’s lame duck ‘reforms’

For all his pledges of reform since November 2003, the premier delivered nothing at all to clean up the police force, return independence to the judiciary and add bite to the Anti-Corruption Agency.

This fed into the general election and unprecedented loss of faith in the premier, who will step down next March. Umno wanted him out earlier, but he wangled time to set key ‘reforms’ in place.

His two ‘reform’ Bills placed before Parliament were disappointing. The Malaysian Commission on Anti-Corruption Bill and Judicial Appointments Commission Bill revealed that the status quo will not change, but these were rushed through Parliament anyway.

In tandem with the Bills, proposals were tabled for a code of ethics for judges and for protection of witnesses.

Abdullah is due to re-table the watered-down Special Complaints Commission Bill in February but this is unlikely to be much more than another lame duck.

Premier-in-waiting Najib Abdul Razak will have a firm hand over the country’s most important institutions for accountability. What he will do with this is anybody’s guess.

04 bn futureBN searches for answers

No one expected the opposition parties to win big in the general election, least of all its own candidates. But it happened and parties in the ruling BN have been forced to see that they have to move with the times.

BN component parties realised quickly that UMNO had dragged them down, so they decided that they could no longer play second fiddle to the dominant party.

Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon and MCA deputy president Dr Chua Soi Lek have told UMNO to discard its ketuanan Melayu mindset, if it hopes to regain non-Malay support.

Even MIC, seen as the most docile in the coalition, has been critical of UMNO and urged it to change its stance, especially in regard to the predicament of Indian Malaysians.

There was a hurricane in the east – Sabah’s Sapp declared that it no longer had confidence in the BN and threatened to pull out of the coalition if the federal government did not heed its complaints – and withdraw it eventually did.

PPP then threatened to leave BN if the loathed Internal Security Act is not amended substantially by the next election. The response was, in effect, ‘expect no change, do as you like’.

MCA, at its annual assembly, demanded a second deputy premier’s post for its president to assist in expediting reform and to allow its representatives to head cabinet committees.

BN chairperson and premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has hinted at a scheme to allow supporters to become direct members of the coalition, without going through component parties. This is to respond to restlessness against race-based politics among those who see themselves as Malaysian first and last.

Whether BN can really walk its talk remains uncertain, as does the outcome of its special meeting in February since decisions will depend on consensus being reached.

03 economyDoomsday scenario for the economy

The year started optimistically enough. In January, the Sabah development corridor was launched to add to the regional projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

There was confidence that the economy would maintain its momentum, with some predicting that the second half of the year would “outshine” the first half, due to the high prices of palm oil and mineral oil.

Financial troubles, however, were brewing in Europe, Japan and the US. At the end of the first quarter, government-linked research group MIER forecast lower growth of 5.4 percent compared to 6 percent earlier.

By July, Bursa Malaysia’s composite index had registered the worst performance in the Asia-Pacific region. The government cut back on fuel subsidies and tabled a ‘stimulus package’ to the disgust of opposition parties, which came up with their notions of how the economy should be managed.

Bad news has kept coming in from all corners of the world, with no end in sight. It will take joint action to work out solutions.

But BN leaders have taken their eyes off administration since March, to secure their political future.

The momentary relief brought on by dropping world crude oil prices has yet to filter through to the sale of goods and services. As anxiety levels go up over bread-and-butter issues – and possibly high oil prices again, something will have to give…

02 pakatan rakyat september 16 takeoverAnwar awaits new date with destiny

PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim must regret having marked Sept 16 as the date for opposition Pakatan Rakyat to take over Parliament and Putrajaya and making extravagant promises.

The day came and went without the promised change of federal government, amidst high anticipation among his supporters and panic in the BN ranks.

It all began a month after Pakatan’s powerful showing in the general election. Anwar capitalised on discontent among MPs in BN, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak who felt their loyalty had not been adequately rewarded.

With 82 federal seats in opposition hands, Anwar put about the claim that he had the support of at least 31 defectors to topple the government. BN retorted that Anwar was bluffing and resorting to sneaky tactics to destabillise the administration.

The mind-games and spin-doctoring continued into September 16. When the day passed, Anwar blamed various factors for the failure to make good his claims and has since repeatedly said he is in “no hurry” to take over.

To date, the only ‘defections’ have been two Sabah Progressive Party MPs who became Independents when their party left BN after a vote of no-confidence.

Worse still, Pakatan is expected to lose one of its MPs after a disgruntled S Manikavasagam, its representative for Kapar, vowed to quit the party and join the growing number of Independents by December 31.

With 2009 stretching before him, Anwar can have his pick of dates on the new calendar if he does not want to wait for the next polls due by 2013. There’s also that secret “list of defectors” to reveal, if it exists.

01 umno pollsTesting times for UMNO and Najib

Ahead of the 12th general election, spray-painted messages in public places urged voters to choose ‘anyone but UMNO’. It was prompted by fury over the arrogance of the Malay-based party, with even its BN partners.

UMNO paid dearly for this in the polls, triggering an instant demand for accountability that led to the door of party president and premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He was told to go, despite his plan to hand over power to deputy Najib Abdul Razak in mid-2010.

The beleaguered Abdullah then brought forward his departure and also said he will not defend his post during the UMNO polls in March. Najib then won the presidency uncontested and, by convention, will become prime minister.

But the public finger-pointing by leaders and members has revealed serious fissures that have left the party’s future open to question. Both long-serving and younger leaders are impatient to step into slots being vacated – or which they feel should be vacated sooner rather than later.

A divided and unrepentant UMNO will see support being further eroded within and without BN.

All eyes are now on Najib and whether he will be able to pull off the party’s great escape – that is, if his lieutenants don’t turn against him.

Reports prepared by the Malaysiakini team.

Uncle Jay Explains 2008 in America

Let Uncle Jay explain 2008 in America for you.

To dear friends Dato Ramish Chanda, Dr. Khoo Swee Joo, Joe Lopez, Ambassador John Malott and Mrs. Malott, Dr. Bakri Musa and Karen Musa, Dr Azly Rahman and Mutiara, Mr. Bean (The Prince from Kedah), Shrek and others living in the United States, I wish you all Happy New Year. May you continue in good health. Tough times ahead. But take comfort in the fact that tough times don’t last, only the tough and steadfast do.—Din Merican

Selamat Tahun Baru and Salam Muhibah dari Anwar Ibrahim & Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail

Saudara dan Saudari sekalian,

Setiap kali tiba tahun baru, maka kita berkesempatan melakukan dua perkara: merenung kembali apa yang sudah kita usahakan sepanjang tahun yang bakal berlalu pergi serta menetapkan matlamat baru mahupun menjayakan apa yang belum kita capai.

Tahun 2008 merakamkan beberapa peristiwa bersejarah. Sekian lama kerajaan Barisan Nasional yang dipimpin UMNO tidak pernah digugat kedudukannya, namun tahun ini rakyat membuktikan perubahan tidak pernah mustahil untuk dilaksanakan. Nuansa politik perkauman yang dipantal bersama ketakutan ditolak rakyat.

Pilihanraya Umum ke 12 menyaksikan kerusi milik pembangkang bertambah dan menafikan Barisan Nasional majoriti 2/3. Harapan rakyat begitu besar, perubahan mesti dilakukan, makanya hasil dari persetujuan dan permuafakatan ketiga-tiga parti, PAS, DAP dan Parti KeADILan Rakyat (PKR) melahirkan Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Sepanjang tahun ini tidak dapat dinafikan pelbagai cabaran yang datang untuk menggugat permuafakatan ini.

Hasrat Barisan Nasional untuk melihat kehancuan Pakatan Rakyat nampaknya menemui jalan buntu. Mereka lupa, asas kepada permuafakatan ini berpasak kuat dari cita-cita memperjuangkan agenda rakyat dan melakukan perubahan mendasar. Perubahan adalah tuntutan melewati sempadan kaum dan politik kepartian.

Negara kita berdepan dengan kedudukan ekonomi sejagat yang tidak menentu. Kesannya kepada rakyat semakin terasa. Kadar inflasi yang tinggi menyebabkan harga barang melonjak naik. Krisis keyakinan terhadap institusi keselamatan dalam negera juga terhadap siste, kehakiman ternyata tidak membanti menarik pelaburan bagi menjana eknomi negara. Kita tidak boleh lagi berada dalam keadaan penafian (state of denial). Kepimpinan yang menggalas beban pastinya menghakis kepercayaan rakyat. Pengurusan ekonomi memerlukan kepimpinan yang berpandangan jauh, tegas dan jujur.

Sering saya ulangi, negara ini dan rakyatnya yang berbilang kaum sudah mengharungi pelbagai rintangan bersama. Kita yakin dengan berlakunya perubahan, dan bila negara ini mula berada di haluan yang tepat, maka sekali lagi kita akan dapat melepasi cabaran ini.

Kami ingin mengambil kesempatan ini untuk mengucapkan Selamat Tahun Baru 2009 kepada semua rakyat Malaysia.

Ubah sebelum parah, ubah demi maruah.

Selamat Tahun Baru 2009


Good Try, RPK, but you’re dealing with a quitter and a shirker.

Pak Lah, how would you like to be remembered? As the man who abandoned the nation in its hour of need or as the man who stayed and fought and who completed the job?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Prime Minister’s Office
Main Block
Perdana Putra Building
Federal Government Administrative Centre
62502 Putrajaya

Dear Pak Lah,

First of all, allow me to address you as Pak Lah, as you prefer your friends to address you. I may not be your friend in the real sense of the word — seeing that I am bent on cutting UMNO and Barisan Nasional down to size, plus your government has detained me under the Internal Security Act and is still trying to appeal the court’s decision to free me so that I can be sent back to Kamunting, not to mention the four criminal charges I still face which, if I am found guilty, can result in a total of more than ten years in jail if the sentences were to run consecutively.

Nevertheless, this open letter is not about me. It is about the future of this country. And my opposition to UMNO and Barisan Nasional is exactly that, about the future of this country, nothing more and nothing less. My aspiration is to finally see the emergence of a two-party system where no one party has a hegemony that has been the political landscape of this country for half a century since Merdeka.

I regard you not as the Prime Minister of UMNO, like how the UMNO members seem to think, but my Prime Minister as well. Maybe the UMNO members have forgotten that you are the Prime Minister of all 26 million Malaysians and not just of the 16 million Malays, or worse, the three million UMNO members. This is why I take it upon myself to write you this open letter seeing that you are my Prime Minister as well.

I know this may sound puzzling. Why do I still write to you and regard you as my Prime Minister when I oppose you so violently? Well, I also opposed Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister for 22 years, plus Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he was number two to Mahathir. This is no secret and is, in fact, well documented. Under Mahathir I was also detained under the Internal Security Act plus taken in by the police a couple of times. But ever since Mahathir retired I treat him as a friend and did not carry any grudges about our past animosity. I would go so far as to say that I treat Mahathir with the respect due to an elder statesman and one-time Prime Minister of this country — hand kissing included.

Political maturity means we must be able to set aside our personal differences for the greater good of the nation. And we must be able to agree to disagree in a respectful and civil manner. This is what education means and going to school does not mean you have received an education. It just means you went to school. Education is about what you become after you leave school. And I would like to believe that I did not just go to school but received an education as well.

Pak Lah, your paternal grandfather, Syeikh Abdullah Badawi Fahim, was one of the founding fathers of PAS. This means PAS exists today because of your family. And the fact that Syeikh Abdullah went on to become the first Mufti of Penang is no small achievement. This proves your grandfather was able to set aside his political differences and serve the government he opposed for the sake of Islam and the nation. Today, how many are able to do this?

By the way, your grandfather served under my grandfather, Raja Sir Tun Uda, the Governor then, and Datin Seri Endon Mahmood’s family was close to my family even before you married her. So, in that sense, we are ‘family friends’, although political adversaries, and maybe you should be my Abang Lah rather than Pak Lah.

Your maternal grandfather, Ha Su-chiang, was a Chinese Muslim from Hainan. Your late wife, Endon, is said to have Japanese blood while your current wife, Dato’ Seri Jeanne Danker a.k.a Jeanne Abdullah, is of Portuguese descent. Have we ever had such a multi-cultural Prime Minister before this (notwithstanding the four Prime Ministers before you were also not ‘pure’ Malays, if we really want to get technical)?

I feel your family background is unique and can serve as the best example of what a multi-cultural Malaysia should look like. If I had my own way I would ban same-race marriages. Malaysia should pass a law that you must marry outside your race and not marry someone from your own race. Anyway, that would certainly not be realistic and is just my wishful thinking.

If there is something Malaysia really needs is an end to racism. What is currently happening is alarming. What’s with these demonstrations by the ultra-Malays protesting the non-Malays questioning ‘Malay rights and privileges’? Are these Malays trying to push Malaysia to the brink of race riots like what we saw in May 1969? Have they forgotten the concept of freedom of opinion? Are they implying that only Malays have the right to speak and all others must shut up?

Pak Lah, you must no longer keep quiet. You must call for an end to all this racist rhetoric before the fire burns out of control. Have you forgotten that you too have Chinese blood and that the non-Malays are as Malaysian as you and me? Malaysians, Malays or otherwise, have equal rights and this means the right to speak their mind, without fear or favour.

Anyway, back to the purpose of this letter. I am of the opinion that you should not retire in March 2009 as you had planned to do so. When you made that decision to retire, Malaysia had yet to face a severe recession, which we can’t deny is going to hit our shores like a Tsunami and earthquake both rolled into one in the months to come. Since you made that announcement to retire, the situation has changed so drastically that it may be prudent for you to reconsider your earlier decision.

Pak Lah, how would you like to be remembered? As the man who abandoned the nation in its hour of need or as the man who stood and fought and who completed the job? A captain is never the first to abandon ship. He must be the one who leaves last and goes down with the ship if need be. That is the mark of a good captain and is what you should also strive to be.

The recession is not your fault. It is a global thing and Malaysia is merely a victim of circumstances. But it will be your fault if you do nothing to address the impending doom. There are times we can’t avoid crashing. But the captain should not keep the passengers in ignorance while he seeks the safety of retirement. You, Pak Lah, can afford to retire. You have the financial means to do so. But I can’t say the same for the rest of the 26 million Malaysians who are surviving from hand to mouth.

You have never been to jail, Pak Lah, not even to a police lockup. I have, more than once, and the reality of the suffering of this nation is very prominent behind the high walls of a prison. Do you know that prison warders and policemen earn less than RM1,000 a month? How do they survive? How will they survive in three month’s time when their Ringgit will be worth less than half the value today? And I am not yet even touching on the life of the most unfortunate prisoners who are in prison because they had to steal just to fill their bellies that had not seen food for days.

You will probably be jet-setting around the world by the time all hell breaks loose next year. The rest of us, however, will be forced to stay back in Malaysia, pondering on where our next meal will be coming from. And many will be forced by circumstances to resort to a life of crime just to stay alive. And Malaysians will remember and curse you, the Prime Minister who abandoned them and retired to an easy life while they tighten their belts to ward off hunger or go steal from their neighbours if they can’t stand the pangs of hunger.

It is time politics is set aside for the good of the nation. You need to bring in to your government people who know what to do in times like these. Your Finance Minister said that Malaysia is not facing a recession and never will. This is like a pilot telling his passengers that all is well while he slowly creeps to the back of the plane with a parachute strapped to his back. Come on, Pak Lah, the country is sliding down a slippery slope. Please tell the people this and ask them to brace for the crash. And, at the same time, get the government to do something about it and not keep announcing good news to lull everyone into complacency.

It is your patriotic duty to stay and fight the recession, not to abandon ship. But you can’t do it alone. And the nincompoops you have in government can’t do it either. If you are not prepared to ask the opposition for help by forming a ‘unity government’, at the very least bring in people from outside UMNO to do the job like how Singapore normally does. Why do you think Singapore is much better run and its Dollar is stronger than the Ringgit? Singapore doesn’t care if you are a PAP member or not. They bring in the best brains for the job even if you are not a ruling party member.

The people you have in government are archaic and outdated. They are goods with an expired shelf life. And the only reason they are in government is because they are UMNO warlords. This must end. We need to see some meritocracy. People must be given the job because they are capable and not because they are UMNO gangsters who can rouse 10,000 people and get them to march on the streets. That would be the only way to save this country when the Tsunami cum earthquake hits our shores around the time you want to leave in March 2009.

Barisan Nasional won the election on 8 March 2008 because you are the Prime Minister. If you had announced, before 8 March 2008, that you would be retiring a year later and would be handing the country to your Deputy, then the results would have been very different. Barisan Nasional would have been kicked out and, today, Pakatan Rakyat would be running this country. You would be betraying the voters by leaving in March 2009 when they gave you the mandate to rule till midnight of 7 March 2013.

If you want to leave then dissolve Parliament in February 2009 and call for fresh elections in March 2009. Let the voters decide if they really want Najib Tun Razak as their Prime Minister. This is the right of all Malaysians. Who are you to choose the Prime Minister on our behalf?

Mahathir retired on 31 October 2003 and handed the country over to you on 1 November 2003 — just before the election, which should have been called by November 2004. He gave you one year to get a fresh mandate from the voters. And you held the elections five months later where you received your mandate, the best ever in the history of Malaysian elections. Then you obtained a fresh mandate in March 2008 and, one year into your second term, you leave without consulting the voters as to whether they agree to the change in Prime Minister or not.

If you want to leave, then either hold fresh elections first, or else wait one year before the next election, say sometime in 2012, and then call for elections a few months after that. This way the people can decide whom they want as Prime Minister. The way it is done now is like the people were tricked into voting for one Prime Minister and suddenly discovers they are getting someone else they never chose. As I said, it is not up to you who becomes the Prime Minister. It is up to the voters. And the voters chose you, not Najib.

You can retire as the UMNO President. That is your prerogative and is an internal UMNO matter. But you need not also retire as Prime Minister even if you are no longer the UMNO President. The Federal Constitution of Malaysia does not stipulate that the Prime Minister must also be the UMNO President.

Article 4 (1) of the Constitution says: This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

This means the Constitution takes priority and precedence over all other matters, such as what UMNO desires. UMNO does not appoint the Prime Minister. The Agong does. And the Agong appointed you and not someone else as Prime Minister. Who are you, therefore, to decide who becomes Prime Minister? Are you above the Agong? On this matter Article 40 of the Constitution says as follows:

2) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong may act in his discretion in the performance of the following functions, that is to say:

(a) The appointment of a Prime Minister;

(b) The withholding of consent to a request for the dissolution of Parliament;

This means it is not up to you whether to dissolve Parliament and whether to appoint a new Prime Minister. You can only request this but the matter is entirely up to the Agong. So you need to first consult the Agong and see whether His Majesty is okay with your idea or not. And if the Agong says, “Beta tak pekenan”, then you go back to your home in Putrajaya and continue running this country until, the latest, midnight of 7 March 2013.

Most people have had enough with UMNO throwing its weight around to the point of even ignoring the powers of the Rulers. We need you to restore the independence of the four branches of government that we used to have up to 20 years ago — the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Monarchy. That should be your first task and you should stay until you get that done.

Next, we need to reform both the general election system as well as the UMNO party elections. The gerrymandering is ridiculous. How can an ‘UMNO’ seat be just 5,000 voters while an ‘opposition’ seat is as high as 120,000 voters? If the gerrymandering is eliminated and the variation between seats is not more than 15%, like how the Reid Commission recommended, then the opposition would not need to garner 60% of the votes to form the federal government. Even back in May 1969, when the gerrymandering was not yet that bad, the opposition garnered 55% of the votes and was still not able to form the federal government.

The 58 nominations to qualify to contest the UMNO Presidency and Deputy Presidency is another ridiculous ruling, which makes a mockery of democratic elections. And we are yet to touch on the corruption in Umno, which has erroneously been called ‘money politics’. Even the UMNO Disciplinary Board is sighing and lamenting and is saying that UMNO is in its death throes all because of corruption. UMNO is on self-destruct mode and no one dare deny that.

You see, we from the civil society movements do not want to see UMNO dead and buried, as what the opposition would like to see. What we want to see instead is an UMNO minus its arrogance and high-handedness and a strong opposition in Parliament and the State Assemblies. Who that ruling party may be and who is the opposition is not of too much concern to most of us, as long as they are almost equally matched and both respect the wishes of the voters. Currently, the ruling party that you lead has no respect for the voters and treats the voters with contempt. You insult the intelligence of the voters and think that we are all fools. And we are worried that your anointed successor will be even worse.

Sure, you are not the best Prime Minister we ever had, that I do not deny. But you are also not the worst. And we believe it can get worse if you hand the reins over to Najib. Let’s not pretend that Najib does not have any baggage with the many allegations of corruption made against him and that huge question mark of the Altantuya murder hanging over his head, which has yet to be satisfactorily settled.

It is not that we want you so much. It is more that we don’t want Najib. And we resent the fact that you are deciding on our behalf that Najib is going to be our Prime Minister. Let the voters decide this in 2012 or 2013 during the next general election. If the voters still give Barisan Nasional the government, knowing that Najib will be taking over soon after that, then I rest my case. If that is the voters’ choice then I have no quarrel with that. But, as it stands now, the voters voted on 8 March 2008 on the basis that you, and not Najib, would be the Prime Minister.

I think I have already rambled on far too long and maybe I should stop here. Anyway, my friends don’t call me ‘cheong hei’ for nothing, so forgive my long-windedness. I hope you will seriously consider what I have said. This is not just my personal opinion. This is the feeling of most Malaysians.

I would like to end my open letter by wishing you a Happy New Year and hope that, next year, when I again write to you on New Year’s Eve, it will be still as Prime Minister and not as ex-Prime Minister.

Yours truly,

Raja Petra Al Haj Bin Raja Kamarudin
Bukit Rahman Putra
Sungai Buloh
30 December 2008

My Favorite Raja Petra (RPK) Piece for 2008: Opening the door to your heart


In the run-up to the 8 March 2008 general election, PAS, PKR, DAP, PRM, MDP, PASOK and PSM endorsed the People’s Declaration or Deklarasi Rakyat, which was launched by the civil society movements at the Blog House in Bukit Damansara in Kuala Lumpur.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The title of my piece today is ‘borrowed’ from the book, ‘Opening the door to your heart’, by Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk. In the first chapter of the book, called ‘Two bad bricks’, Ajahn talks about how he built his first wall. It is very difficult, of course, for one with no bricklaying experience, Ajahn lamented, and he challenged the readers to try building one. Nevertheless, he finally completed the wall and stepped back to admire his handiwork.

To his horror he noticed that two of the bricks were crooked and he felt these two ‘bad bricks’ spoiled the appearance of the wall. He then asked the abbot for permission to tear the wall down and to start all over again. The abbot, however, told him to leave it as it is. Since then Ajahn felt ashamed of his shoddy workmanship.

One day, a visitor visited their monastery and expressed admiration for how the monks had built it from scratch with their own hands and without any outside expert help. Ajahn pointed out that the monastery was actually far from perfect because one of the walls had two bad bricks. The visitor replied that he did not notice it because all he saw was the 998 good bricks, not the two bad ones.

It suddenly dawned upon Ajahn that all this while he was upset about the two bad bricks without noticing the 998 good ones. And to think he actually wanted to tear the wall down because of these two bad bricks while not realising he would be destroying 998 good bricks in the process.

Yes, many see half a glass of water as being half empty rather than half full. And that is also how we see people and situations. We only notice and become concerned about the two bad bricks while totally overlooking the 998 good ones.

And how do we see PAS (the Islamic Party of Malaysia)? Do we see it for the blunder that Husam Musa made during his recent debate with Khairy Jamaluddin or do we see the 998 good bricks in PAS? Husam blundered big time with his retort on Hudud — thanks to the very clever Khairy who trapped Husam into a corner that resulted in the latter blurting out without thinking. Not only was Husam wrong in saying that Pakatan Rakyat has not dropped the Hudud issue, when it is PAS and not Pakatan Rakyat that is propagating Hudud, but he was also wrong in not repeating what he had said so many times in the past on the matter of Hudud and the Islamic State.

And what was it that Husam and many of the other PAS leaders said so many times in the past? They had said that while the Islamic State is still very much the ideal of the party, PAS, however, is prepared to drop it from their agenda as they realise they will never have the two-thirds majority in parliament to turn Malaysia into an Islamic State.

PAS is pragmatic. Without a doubt they are an Islamic party, so they can’t but talk about Islam. This must be expected just like how the Christian Democrats would never stop talking about Christianity or a Hindu party stop talking about Hinduism. But turning Malaysia into an Islamic State would be a tall order if you do not have at least 150 seats in Parliament. And, as has been pointed out many times in the past, how to get 150 seats when PAS contests only 60 seats and wins not even half those seats?

In other words, I would like to do it but will not because I just can’t do it. I suppose the same goes for many Muslims who would like to marry a second wife but will not because there is no way they can marry a second wife without their first wife skinning them alive — and we are not talking about foreskin here. Wanting it in your heart but actually doing something about it is a separate matter altogether.

So, PAS has two bad bricks, maybe even ten. But there are one million PAS members, grassroots leaders and national leaders. Are we going to judge and sentence PAS because of two bad bricks, or even ten? Are we going to tear the wall down because of two bad bricks? What about the 998 good bricks, the one million other PAS members and leaders? Do these count for nothing?

Let us look at just some of the 998 ‘good bricks’ in PAS.

In 1990, when PAS first formed the government in Kelantan together with Semangat 46, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the Menteri Besar, summoned the Hindus for a meeting and offered them permission to build a temple in the state. The Hindus were delightfully surprised. For more than a decade they had tried to get the Umno government to approve their request to build a temple but with little success. Suddenly, even before Nik Aziz could warm his seat, he summoned the Hindus for a meeting to grant them permission to build a temple — even though they had not approached the new state government to ask for it.

In the past, pigs could not be slaughtered in ‘Umno’ Kelantan and pork had to be brought in from the other states. Now, under the new PAS-led government, the Chinese can slaughter pigs in the state.

Yesterday, the Umno-backed Malay NGOs sent PAS a petition protesting the slaughter of pigs in ‘Umno’ Melaka. Hello, why protest to PAS about what is going on in an ‘Umno’ state? And why does the PAS Youth Movement not also send a petition to Nik Aziz to protest the slaughtering of pigs in Kelantan since PAS is supposed to be more radical and intolerant than Umno?

Liquor and beer can still be purchased and consumed in Kelantan, contrary to what is being reported. (The same thing happened in Terengganu when PAS ruled the state from 1999 to 2004. Liquor and beer were not banned). Furthermore, the Chinese can now do business without any hindrance and they no longer need to pay bribes to get things done or approved like in the days of ‘Umno’ Kelantan.

And so on and so forth, the list goes on.

These are but some of the ‘happy stories’ that people relate and there are certainly many, many more. But people do not want to look at the 998 good bricks. They would rather focus on the two bad ones and keep harping on them till the cows come home.

Can we look at PAS’s 998 good bricks and then compare the party to Umno with its so many bad bricks? Sure, Umno does have some good bricks. The party is not 100% bad. But the Umno bad bricks far outnumber its good bricks and you need to use a fine toothcomb to look for these good bricks.

It appears like Hudud is the main and only issue for most to reject PAS. Actually, Hudud is not even an issue any longer. It was a stupid slip that Husam made and which the mainstream media is going to town with. But is life only and all about Hudud, a law which can never be implemented anyway? Surely there is more to life than just Hudud.

What about good governance, transparency, the independence of the judiciary, restoration of the rights of Malaysians, plus an end to corruption, racism, abuse of power, wastage of public funds, and much more? Are these no longer important? Do these 998 good bricks become irrelevant because of the two bad bricks, which were not really that bad in the first place but was a mere perception issue?

In the run-up to the 8 March 2008 general election, PAS, PKR, DAP, PRM, MDP, PASOK and PSM endorsed the People’s Declaration or Deklarasi Rakyat, which was launched by the civil society movements at the Blog House in Bukit Damansara in Kuala Lumpur. These are the 998 good bricks that we should focus on. These 998 good bricks overshadow the two bad bricks — the blunder Husam made in his debate with Khairy.

Maybe during the Kuala Terengganu by-election campaign PAS should reiterate its stand and reinforce its support for the People’s Declaration. Let the voters, in particular the Chinese, Indians and liberal Malays, see that PAS is committed to reforms and to the propagation of a civil society (masyarakat madani). PAS needs a makeover. It is suffering from a serious image problem. And it is a victim of mainstream media propaganda. PAS needs to correct public perception about what it stands for.

I challenge PAS to prove its critics wrong. Re-endorse the People’s Declaration and prove, once and for all, that a civil society and not the cutting off the hands of thieves is the priority of the party. In response to the move by PAS to, again, endorse the People’s Declaration, the civil society movements, even those whom PAS labels as ‘deviant Muslims’, will go down to the ground to explain the issue to the voters. This, we promise PAS.

I can assure you of one thing. Even those who are not Muslims plus those, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who are opposed to the setting up of an Islamic State and Hudud will be campaigning for PAS in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. Re-endorse the People’s Declaration and see whether this happens or not.