August 1, 2009: Anti-ISA Protest on a massive scale in Kuala Lumpur

mk50July 31, 2009

SHOWDOWN in KL streets on August 1, 2009

by Tarani Palani

PAS has made it compulsory for all of its members to participate in an anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, said its vice-president Salahuddin Ayub.

He added that the party’s spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and president Abdul Hadi Awang have given the nod for the rally.

He also said the duo, who are Islamic scholars, had also decreed that the rally would not be haram or forbidden by Islam.

“Whether the gathering is deemed haram (by others) is immaterial because our top leadership has already given their blessing,” Salahuddin told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

The vice-president was responding to an article published in Berita Harian today which featured several religious authorities condemning the proposed gathering as being un-Islamic. Unfazed, Salahuddin said: “I urge PAS members not to be influenced by fatwas (edicts) issued by other parties.”

Some 50,000 PAS members are expected to take part in the gathering tomorrow.

Anwar, Hadi and Kit Siang to be there

The Abolish ISA Movement (GMI by its Malay abbreviation) and Majlis Permuafakatan Ummah (Pewaris) will stage two separate gatherings to voice their protest and support for the security law respectively.

The rallies are being called to mark the 49th anniversary of the passage of the ISA. Top opposition leaders who will be leading the anti-ISA rally include PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang.

Despite stern police warning to call off the gatherings, both groups remain adamant. Salahuddin, who also sits in the central committee of GMI, said the police were notified of the gathering although no permit was obtained.

He stressed that previous gatherings planned by groups such as Bersih and PPSMI, tomorrow’s rallies are expected to be peaceful.

With the two interlocking ideological groups protesting simultaneously, there has been some anticipated tension as the two groups are set to face-off while taking the same route to the palace where both memorandums will be presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Pro-ISA group to avoid Masjid Negara

But Pewaris this morning issued a statement saying that they have decided to avoid one of its meeting points – Masjid Negara – which would have brought it face-to-face with the rival group.

The pro-ISA group will now meet at only two points- Pasar Seni and Padang Merbok – before marching to Dataran Merdeka at 2pm.

Meanwhile, GMI plans to start its rally at 2pm from three locations – Sogo shopping complex, Masjid Jamek and Masjid Negara.

In a related development, students from a MCA-owned private university have been told not to attend the rally. The University of Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) has issued a circular today stating that “Utar wishes to advise all staff and students not to participate in any illegal gatherings”.

How P. Ramlee would have dealt with ISA agents

Pakatan Rakyat to be a formal alliance before GE13, says Zaid Ibrahim

The Malaysian Insider

July 31, 2009

Pakatan parties will seal pact, says Zaid

By Leslie Lau
Consultant Editor

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is working towards registering the alliance officially to underline its commitment towards being a viable alternative coalition to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), says Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

zaid-july31The former BN minister, who joined PKR less than two months ago, wrote in his blog yesterday that he was aware of the criticisms levelled at PR parties for not formalising a common platform.

“All the members of Pakatan are ready to serve the public in the name of Pakatan.In fact in all our daily activities we are already acting as members of Pakatan and not just members of PKR, PAS or DAP,” he wrote.

Since joining the federal opposition, Zaid has been given the task of coordinating the activities of the joint PR secretariat. The Malaysian Insider understands the act of formalising the alliance as an official coalition like Barisan Nasional has one major hurdle.

Under the rules of the Registrar of Societies, a political coalition must consist of at least seven parties. This means PR will have to attract more political parties to join its fold before it can be registered. But Zaid appeared confident that this could be achieved.

“The people will be given a real choice in the next elections; there will be one-to-one contests,” he said.

PR leaders are understood to be in talks with several political parties to join the alliance. But there are also ongoing talks between PKR, DAP and PAS to come out with common policies.

“I am aware of many critics who say Pakatan does not have concrete policies or even common policies. People say that because of our different ideologies Pakatan cannot be united like Barisan Nasional.”

He said PR leaders and members were already tired of being in opposition and have proven their abilities to withstand pressure from what he referred to as “dictatorial Barisan Nasional government.”

“They have been tested time and again. They have been jailed, detained under the ISA and their supporters are brave and strong.”

He claimed that Barisan Nasional’s strategy now was to create fissures among PR parties “because they are afraid of one-to-one contests.” While Zaid acknowledged there were weaknesses in the PR alliance, he said the leaders remained committed towards formalising their current arrangement and offering a viable alternative to Barisan Nasional.

Anwar Ibrahim is South-East Asia’s most extraordinary politician, says The Economist

Malaysia’s Chameleon

July 30, 2009
From The Economist print edition

The rise, fall and rise of Anwar Ibrahim, South-East Asia’s most extraordinary politician

PKR Adviser Anwar Ibrahim

PKR Adviser Anwar Ibrahim

ONE evening in mid-July Anwar Ibrahim was deep in the rubber-tapping state of Kelantan in northern Malaysia, urging a crowd of rural folk to vote for a devout fishmonger. The candidate was from the conservative Islamic Party (PAS). A tiny by-election for the state assembly PAS already dominates is ordinarily small beer (or would be, if PAS allowed such a beverage, which it does not). But Mr Anwar needs PAS. For the paradox is that without the Islamists, the alliance he leads of Malay modernisers, Indians and secular Chinese has little chance of driving the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) from power. The coalition that UMNO dominates has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. Mr Anwar longs for UMNO’s destruction. The feeling is mutual.

That morning, Mr Anwar had been in Perth where he had met Australia’s foreign minister. What had he been doing with Stephen Smith? “Plotting,” replies Mr Anwar, with a conspiratorial wink. Mr Anwar spends a lot of time abroad with national and religious leaders whose names he drops slightly too easily into an engaging conversational style. He moves like quicksilver from one intriguing subject to the next, but you get the uncanny sense that he is speaking to what interests you.

Mr Anwar thinks he will soon need international support. Two days after stumping in Kelantan, pre-trial hearings began in a case in which Mr Anwar stands accused of sodomising a political aide “against the order of nature”. Mr Anwar vigorously denies the charges. He says he is the victim of a political stitch-up. International outrage might help him. Much is fishy about the case. Photographs of the former aide who brought the accusations show him with UMNO members, including people close to the current prime minister, Najib Razak. The charge has been changed from sexual assault to “consensual sex”, yet his accuser has not been charged. (All homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia.)

Mr Anwar has been here before. In 1998 he was charged with corruption and homosexual acts. In custody, he was beaten up by the chief of police. He spent six years in jail, mostly in solitary confinement, until his conviction was overturned. Upon release, his political career seemed over.

It is easy to forget now but for many years Mr Anwar led a charmed life. He made his name as an Islamist student leader in the 1970s and was even jailed under the draconian Internal Security Act. Then he shocked his former colleagues by joining UMNO, where his rise was spectacular. By 1993 he was deputy prime minister and heir to Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s long-serving leader. Malaysia seemed about to fall into his lap. “Ah,” says Mr Anwar, “the good old days.”

But during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, Mr Anwar moved too soon against his mentor, who after 16 years in power was not ready to bow out. Mr Anwar railed against the UMNO cronyism from which he had benefited. Livid, Dr Mahathir threw him out of the cabinet and launched Mr Anwar’s persecution. Mr Anwar’s reformasi movement sputtered out with his jailing.

Yet the hopes which that movement represented surged again after the general election of March 2008, and especially after August 2008 when Mr Anwar won a seat in Penang. In the election the ruling coalition lost its precious two-thirds majority which gave it power to change the constitution. It has since lost five out of six by-elections to Mr Anwar’s forces, which also control four of 13 states. In getting out its message, the opposition has been helped by an explosion of internet opinion that has undermined the influence of the UMNO-controlled mainstream media.

UMNO’s back is against the wall. Even its own officials admit to its arrogance, with corruption bound into the fabric of its power. The New Economic Policy (NEP, introduced in 1971) instituted racial preferences for majority Malays, when ethnic Chinese and Indians owned much of business. But instead of helping the poor, the NEP has enriched rent-seekers around the ruling party, while dragging down economic growth. Resentment has spread from Chinese and Indians to poor or pious Malays.

This has made possible Mr Anwar’s strange alliance. In calling for the end to the NEP, he says poor Chinese and Indians need help as much as Malays—but because there are more poor Malays than other races, they will still get the lion’s share of government help. It is a possible way out from the baneful influence of race on Malaysian politics. But the real strength of this alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) is that Mr Anwar’s charisma and political nous holds it together. Alas, that it is potential weakness, too.

Trials and tribulations

The challenges for Mr Anwar and his alliance will now multiply. For a start, Mr Najib, prime minister since April, has said the NEP must adapt, stealing some of his opponent’s thunder.

Then there is the time-consuming trial. Mr Anwar says he will win whatever the verdict. If he is acquitted, the government which brought the case will be discredited. If found guilty, tens of thousands of supporters will take to the streets. Mr Anwar hints tantalisingly at new information in a murder case that has gripped the country partly because of its links to Mr Najib. This, he suggests, gives him ammunition to fight back.

Intriguing, but it is unlikely to be enough. If Mr Anwar does go to jail, the alliance may not survive the loss of its leader. If he calls out his supporters—for something of the martyr lurks in him—he may be blamed for the ensuing chaos. And if he appeals to international opinion, his local supporters may question that.

This points to a trap waiting to catch the silver-tongued Mr Anwar, who deftly tells different audiences—religious or secular—what they like to hear. The same blogosphere that helped his meteoric rise may one day pay more attention to his chameleon qualities. Malaysians would then come to ask more closely: who and what exactly does Anwar stand for?

The Culture of Corruption: Can we trust our Government?

July 30, 2009

The Culture of Corruption

by G. Krishnan (

One Malaysia Prime Minister

One Malaysia Prime Minister

“No stone will be left unturned in finding out the real cause of death and, if there is any foul play, action will definitely be taken.” So says the Prime Minister to Teoh Beng Hock’s family.

Of course the above statement should come as a reassurance not just to Beng Hock’s family members but to all Malaysians. And the operative term here is “should”. That is the part that troubles me and is something that I find rather difficult to get over. Ideally, we should have confidence in Najib’s reassurance; we should take solace in the fact that the truth will be revealed; we should have faith that if there has been any criminal wrong-doing which led to or contributed to Beng Hock’s death, that justice would be served; we should have no hesitation about such an eventuality.

Just as we should be able to trust the fact that our government agencies designed to serve and protect the public are in fact themselves not infested with corruption. We should be confident that those who head these agencies are not themselves compromised and simply obedient political instruments of their political masters. We should be able to have faith that our corrupted political culture has not just tainted – but in fact is sharply reflected and entrenched in the working of government agencies such as the MACC and the police force.

Let me suggest the following: Any arm of the government – you name it – is only as good as the political culture practiced in that society. A society whose political culture is riddled with corruption, nepotism and cronyism will find that is various government institutions are but a mirror image of that reality.

And only when there is a genuine, serious political commitment in the leadership to weed out such a culture – rather than to even just tolerate it, let alone contribute to it – will there be a realistic chance for cleansing such agencies. Decades ago, Singapore was in a similar boat as us with respect to having rampant corruption. But something definitive happened – the leadership there made a serious commitment to stamp-out the culture of corruption. A systematic and sustained effort was made to pull this off. Today, when one thinks of countries in Asia where corruption is rampant, Singapore is not one that typically comes to mind.

Ask yourself this: Can we say the same about Malaysia? I think we all know the answer to that question. Indeed, Transparency International ranks Singapore – along with Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden as the top five countries in the world with the lowest level of corruption. Singapore did not get there by just plain talk about good governance, producing slogans year after year plastered all around the media and our billboards. Its leadership did something about it – and not just talked about good governance and all that other nice stuff that amounted to empty promises.

There is nothing magical about implementing changes and reform. Even incompetent leadership, with even a minimal desire and determination to do so, can produce some, albeit limited, results. And we’ve had decades of UMNO dominance that has essentially given us more of the same.

As long as there is no political will to change the culture of corruption, it will shape how our government works. And so long as those who govern benefit from – and at the very least are not harmed by this culture of corruption – there is no incentive for them to change it. Well, unless of course if they are committed to a higher calling to create a better society.

Yes, we should expect that “no stone be left unturned” in uncovering the truth about Teoh’s death, and about Gunasegaran’s and Kugan’s deaths, and about the deaths of numerous others under mysterious circumstances while under the custody of the authorities.

This is what we should expect from our elected representatives. Maybe then we stand a chance to get leaders with a political will to change our culture of corruption.

PR Decision-Making Mechanism

July 30, 2009

Pakatan Rakyat Decision-Making Mechanism is a principal milestone, say Khalid Samad, MP

by Terence Netto

mk50Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad believes that the creation of a decision-making mechanism within Pakatan Rakyat is the principal milestone in the quest for a two-coalition system in Malaysia.

In remarks made at a seminar organized by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore earlier this week, the PAS legislator said such a mechanism was created by the Pakatan government that ruled Perak from March 2008 until it was ousted by the Barisan Nasional last February.

Khalid, one of the Malaysian Parliament’s least partisan voices, credited the DAP, which held the overall majority in the Perak State Assembly, for the success of the concept of consensual government whereby no policy would be passed if coalition partners were not in agreement.

He claimed the Pakatan governments of Selangor and Kedah have yet to emulate the mechanism successfully wrought by the Perak Pakatan government led by Nizar Jamaluddin, the PAS assemblyman who became menteri besar.

Khalid, a resolute believer in persuasion through reasoned argument, said the mechanism was necessary to obviate the impact of differing ideologies of Pakatan partners on decision making.

Overriding political ideologies

He explained that Pakatan coalition partners were propelled by a desire to provide responsible and transparent government in the five states where they were enthroned.

He said this motivation was sufficiently potent to override ideological differences among coalition partners such that the immediate policies that were being implemented were not held hostage to fundamental differences.

He added that the Pakatan desire to provide government that moves the “country away from racial politics that has been the defining character of politics under BN” overrode the centrifugal pull of clashing ideologies.

Khalid said the “fear of one race being sidelined” and the fear of another race coming into power “has always been the bogeyman that has been projected by UMNO-BN in order for them to stay in power”.

He said the Pakatan faced the challenge of educating the public that this “racial politics” was a tool employed by the BN to extend their hold on power rather than an actual danger posed by Malaysian society.

Cautionary note to Pakatan

According to Khalid, another challenge faced by Pakatan was how to manage change. He held that change would be better managed if Pakatan partners correctly identified the reasons why the public supported Pakatan in the last general election.

He said he personally believed the main reason why Pakatan did well was that the people were tired of BN’s corruption and racial politics.

He said attributions by PAS for their success to increasing Islamic consciousness and of PKR and DAP to their attractiveness to voters, were not necessarily correct.

Khalid cautioned that incorrect attributions for their success would lead Pakatan coalition partners to “bring about changes which probably society at large is not completely ready to accept”.

He said the management of change would be better effected if Pakatan emphasised the need for political socialisation and reconstruction of social values which were warped by UMNO-BN’s domination of access to Malay society through mosque, and surau, and through the positions of village chiefs and security committees.

Khalid said the values perpetuated by UMNO-BN were based on fear, suspicion and racialist policies. He added that Pakatan should counter this politics of fear and race with a “more positive political philosophy where issues of social justice, economic justice and the role of government in ensuring national unity” is emphasised. He said this philosophy must be imparted and explained to Malay society “in a more Islamic perspective”.

Farish Noor on Politics, Power and the Violence of History

July 29, 2009

Politics, Power and the Violence of History

By Dr Farish A Noor (received via

The guillotine, it ought to be remembered, was originally conceived of as a safe, clean, efficient and ironically ‘humane’ method of murdering people when it was first introduced. Dubbed the ‘revolutionary razor’ when it was first used to execute the enemies of the state at the outset of the French revolution (1789), it was seen as an improvement and advancement from the age of neo-feudal rule where the despotism of the King of France was manifest in the macabre and gruesome spectacles of public violence that were enacted in the kingdom against those who were seen as the enemies of the regime.

In time, however, it is clear that even this mode of public execution has been inscribed with negativity and regarded as a brutal way for the state to express its power in the public domain. Robespiere, Danton, Saint-Just were all victims of the same mode of state violence that they had originally supported and promoted, and it is ironic that Robespiere and his contemporaries met their end at the same guillotine that they had used to execute their enemies earlier.

The tale of the guillotine is an apt reminder of the historical impasse that Muslim societies are in today, and how the dream of Political Islam is now turning onto itself and demonstrating its internal unsustainable contradictions in no uncertain manner. In his landmark study of the regimes of violence and punishment before, during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, Darius Rejali notes that the Iranian revolution – despite its distaste for all things secular, western and modern – was nonetheless a modern enterprise that was couched in the same secular, materialist and modernist premises it sought to distance itself from.

Today the Muslim world is witnessing an internal pluralisation on a scale that is unprecedented. Modern developments ranging for mass rural to urban migration, the urbanisation of Muslim societies (Iran was the most urbanised Muslim country in the world at the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979), mass education accompanied and aided by the rise in Muslim literacy levels, the availability of off-the-rack communications technology etc. have all conspired to create a Muslim global community that is wired up, networked and integrated and which lives in a virtual time-space that is forever present and immediate.

Yet despite these material advances that have been furthered by the march of global intellectual and financial capital and its attendant technologies, there remains a huge disconnect between the material-economic life of Muslims and their socio-cultural-religious realities.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that Muslim normative social, cultural and legal discourse has remained by and large stuck in the past, harking back to an age of Empire where Muslim power was dominant and where the epistemology of Empire – to paraphrase the term made popular by Ebrahim Moosa – remains the defining epistemic standard by which all utterances in the public domain are made. It is partly thanks to this disconnect that we witness the manifold contradictions that now exist in the Muslim world, where even the most materially and economically developed Muslim states may still cling on to an understanding of Muslim law and legal-social praxis that is  totally out of date, if not outright medieval and out of sync in 21st century realities.

A case in point in the present furore in Malaysia – long since regarded as one of the most economically developed Muslim countries in the world and a model for other developing Muslim states in South Asia and Africa – where a Muslim woman (Kartika Sari Dewi) has been sentenced to whipping by the Syariah court for the offence of drinking alcohol in public.

It is not often that such news reports reaches the wider global community for the simple reason that Malaysia has long since cultivated its image as a ‘model Muslim state’ for others to emulate and prides itself with the role it wishes to play as the cultural bridge-builder between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Yet this is the same Malaysia where books are banned on a regular basis, where the state-employed morality police regularly raids homes and public spaces to morally police the private lives of citizens, where the religious authorities see fit to pronounce judgements on all matters ranging from sexuality to the use of witchcraft, and where authors like Karen Armstrong are allowed to speak at conferences hosted in the capital while their books are banned and not allowed to be sold or read in the same country.

Furthermore it should be noted that in Malaysia today where Political Islam has made an impact thanks to the constant political instrumentalisation of Islam by the two main Malay-Muslim parties, UMNO and PAS, the public domain has been increasingly defined by Islam (of a politicised variety) and has shrunk as a consequence. Despite the heated political contestation between the two parties, neither PAS nor UMNO have shown any willingness to engage with other Islamist/Muslim actors and agents, be their alternative Muslim intellectual groups, NGOs, lobby groups, Muslim minority faith communities (such as the Shias or Ahmadis) and Muslim women’s groups.

It is telling that in the case of the sentence of whipping meted out to Kartika Sari Dewi in July 2009, both UMNO and PAS leaders claimed that the judgment was in keeping with Islamic law and ethical norms. The PAS leader Dr. Lo’ Lo’ Ghazali – who initially expressed her reservations over the judgement – later reversed her stand and came out in support of the Syariah judge who had meted out the punishment of whipping thus:

“When the Syariah Court passed the sentence I was shocked not by the decision but by the boldness of the judge. I congratulate him for it.”

On both sides of the political divide, the leaders of UMNO and PAS and the state’s religious authorities maintain that the punishment was in accordance with Islamic legal norms and ethical values; that the punishment was not intended to physically harm or mutilate the condemned but rather to ‘reform her’ through the ‘symbolic’ act of publicly whipping – and thereby humiliating her; and that such forms of public humiliation and punishment were carried out to maintain and police the ethical standards of society and to safeguard public morals.

In short, as was the case of the guillotine of the revolutionaries, the public act of whipping someone in public was presented as ‘humane’ and meant to serve the utilitarian needs of society as a whole and to maintain a sense of social order and cohesion – albeit through a regime of social policing, public humiliation, sanctioned (and therefore legitimate) state violence and social conditioning. This was yet another instance where Muslim law and social policing was and is understood in terms that deny the rights of the individual and the sanctity of privacy, private agency and the right to personally conduct one’s life on the basis of one’s own personal judgement.

To compound the matter further, practically none of the major political parties of the country have spoken out against the judgment, for fear of appearing to challenge the primacy of the Shariah court and legal system when it comes to the policing of the private morality and private choices of Muslims in particular. It would appear as if despite the hype and talk of how Malaysia is such a developed country in material-economic terms, its religious laws have evolved in a completely different direction from the march of capital in the country. What is more, with the exception of a small minority of dissenting voices emanating from Muslim lawyers, scholars and human rights activists, it would appear as if the normative ethical and moral standards of Malaysians – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – have been set by those whose moral standards are based on a legal and moral vocabulary that is traditionalist, essentialised and bound by scripture.

The legal reasoning that has gone into the justification of the sentence meted out to the condemned in this case – as with the legal reasoning that has informed so many other instances of moral policing, book banning, marginalisation of minorities – is one that is rooted in history, but that history happens to be one that is defined mainly by conservative scholars who have opted to highlight the evolution of only one stream of Muslim legal thought, the conservative tradition.

Muslim power and politics in Malaysia as in so many other Muslim countries is understood and foregrounded with history as its springboard, but we need to ask, which Muslim historical tradition is being used to justify the present-day policing of Muslims all over the world? And are there no other alternative historical traditions that we can consult? Where, in short, is the history of progressive Islam in the midst of all this sound and fury?