A Tribute to former President of Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)

December 31, 2009

The Passing of Southeast Asia’s Prominent Spokesman for Pluralism in Muslim Politics

by Terence Netto

The death of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, ‘Gus Dur’ to legions of his admirers, in a Jakarta hospital yesterday deprives Southeast Asia of its pre-eminent spokesman for pluralism in Muslim politics.

anwar ibrahim and gus dur former indonesia president 110808 01For a man with his long history of ill-health, death at 69 could not be said to have come early. Still, it is untimely because Gus Dur’s voice was a major one against monism: the human delusion that life is explainable by a single, overarching principle.

By leveraging on his stature as the son and grandson of pioneers of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said to be the world’s largest Muslim social organisation, Gus Dur influenced the direction of Muslim politics in his country towards democratic pluralism at a time when the country was groping following dictator Suharto’s ouster in the late 1990s.

Ordinarily, a Muslim potentate like Gus Dur would be expected to be in favour of Islamist prescriptions like syariah in a time of national questing after a more equitable social order, but Gus Dur was flatly opposed to theocracy.

Though his term as Indonesian president was curtailed because of a scam over rice supplies, Gus Dur remained untainted by the dross of scandal such that while out of office he continued to extend his much-sought patronage to those on the fringes of Indonesian society.

His defense of the right to exist in Indonesia of the dissident sect, Achmadis, was a notable example of his courage in taking positions at odds with the majority of his countrymen.

In the mid-1990s, his decision to accept an invitation to the Nobel ceremony honouring peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, whom Jakarta suspected as a East Timorese separatist, was typical of Gus Dur’s bucking of the majority view.

Support for Anwar’s decision

In an interview with Malaysiakini in Kuala Lumpur in August 2008, that streak was evident in his support of Anwar Ibrahim’s decision not to swear on the Quran as proof he was innocent of an accusation of sodomy leveled by a former aide.

anwar ibrahim and gus dur former indonesia president 110808 04In other opinions expressed in the interview, it was clear that Gus Dur was one Islamic leader who could be counted on to take the side of the rationalists against the orthodox in their recurrent debate of issues that is subsumed by what is defined as the Socratic puzzle.

This is the question that is so abstruse it gives philosophy a bad name: Is an action good because God commands it? Or does God command it because it is good?

In other words, do the categories of right and wrong have an existence independent from divine will?

Secular reason, the building blocks of democratic pluralism, says yes; theocracy holds there is no independent criterion of morality outside the will of God.  The death of Abdurrahman Wahid represents a loss to the argument that holds with the former and dissents from the latter.

A Nation in Waiting

December 31, 2009

A Nation in Waiting

by Liew Chin Tong

Today is not just an ordinary end to a year. It happens to be the end to a decade — the Noughties.

I have been in search of words to describe the state of our nation during the first decade of the 21st century and felt compelled to borrow the title of Adam Schwarz’s acclaimed book on Indonesia in the 1990s.

Malaysia is a nation in waiting for a profound change, especially since the 1999 general election, when sufficient numbers of Malaysians voted for a corrupt-free government, a democratic political system, and a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources.

The themes that captured the attention of the electorate during the 1999 general election remained the same for the two subsequent elections, 2004 and 2008, except that in the 2004 elections, it was former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who stole the reform platform.

The cry for reform was real ever since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assumed the premiership nearly 30 years ago. Under his rule, politics and economy in Malaysia in general became a get-rich-quick scheme that had gone awry.

This issue is highlighted in a new book on the former prime minister “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times” which is still being withheld by either the Customs Department or the Home Ministry’s Quran Publication Control and Text Division.

In the book, author Barry Wain suggests that:

“(B)ased on incomplete public information, RM15 billion was a conservative estimate of Perwaja’s losses. Similarly, Bank Bumiputra dropped at least RM10 billion. Bank Negara’s foreign exchange forays drained perhaps RM23 billion from Malaysia’s reserves.

“The cost of trying to push up the price of tin seemed paltry by comparison, may be RM1 billion. The total, RM50 billion or so, could have easily doubled if a professional accounting has been made, factoring in all the invisibles, from unrecorded write-offs to blatant embezzlement and opportunity costs.”

While the get-rich-quick scheme did go wrong, Malaysia was fortunate enough in the 1980s and 1990s because of the influx of foreign capital into Southeast Asia to finance the productive sectors and income from petroleum was sufficient to support a nascent rent-seeking culture.

But the last 10 years saw our nation hanging in the balance. The economy did not really pick up after the 1997-1998 crisis. It is stuck in the low skill, low productivity, and low wage, unhappy trinity that heavily depends on foreign labour while inevitably fuelled the exodus of the skilled and professional class. A World Bank report recently reported that only 25 per cent of Malaysian jobs are of skilled nature.

While the real sectors did not grow, the civil service as well as the rent-seeking parts of the economy grew like nobody’s business. The federal government employed fewer than 900,000 people at the turn of the century. Today, almost 1.3 million are on its payroll. The national budget tripled, from RM68 billion in 1998 to RM209 billion in 2009. Only now the government realises that it should reduce a bit, planning to spend RM191 billion for 2010.

Yet, the quality of public service of all kinds, including public safety, roads, transportation, hospitals and healthcare, education, etc has visibly declined due to protectionism, wastage, corruption and collusion, as well as the wrongly done privatisation.

And, because of poor public provision of services, the cost is borne by private citizens in various forms, which eats into their disposable income, unavoidably widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

At the core of all these is politics. The one-party state that has ruled the country since independence refused to recognise the need to change despite suffering heavy blows in the 2008 general election.

Moving into a new decade, it is my fervent hope to see the nation in waiting for more than a decade will rise again to democratise our political system, to free our government from corruption, and to see through the transformation of our society that has social justice and equal opportunity at heart.

Only in such a society that we can restore hope and trust, and bring a new lease of life to our nation that is tired of waiting for change.

Liew Chin Tong is International Secretary, Democratic Action Party and  Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera

The Malaysian Insider’s Malaysian of the Year:MACC

December 31, 2009

MACC is Malaysian Insider’s  Malaysian of the Year 2009

Today marks the first year of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) which started with promise and is now dismissed as another political tool to earn it being named The Malaysian Insider‘s Malaysian of the Year for 2009.

At a time when politics continue to dominate the national discourse, one institution — the MACC — has stood out as an unfortunate symbol of all that is wrong in the country, unkept promises.

Indeed, the idea for a Malaysian of the Year should inspire a search or a look-back at a personality or institution that we should aspire or look up to.

But there are times in history — such as in 1938 when Time Magazine controversially chose Adolf Hitler as its Man of the Year — when negatives, such as tyranny in the case of the German leader or failure in the case of the MACC, merit the award of the accolade.

From the ashes of the impotent Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) which made few headlines during its existence, the MACC was born on January 1, 2009.

The cynical among the public expressed little hope that the new institution could achieve much more than its maligned predecessor. The more optimistic ones among us would give the MACC a chance to prove itself.

After all, it had been invested with more powers by the departing administration of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to deal with the one scourge — corruption — which has grown to a level that it has become part of the country’s fabric.

But few would have anticipated the depths the MACC would sink to. As an independent law enforcement agency, the MACC is supposed to wield its powers without fear or favour.

But the unsavoury means and the fervour it chose to investigate the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government that ultimately led to the mysterious death of Teoh Beng Hock could only be matched by how it appeared to look the other way when it came to some Barisan Nasional (BN) personalities.

This is not to say that the MACC must only probe BN and ignore any corrupt practices by PR government officials. Nor is it the point that the MACC must arrest and charge members of both political coalitions to show its even-handedness as it did recently when it brought to court a host of minor BN and PR politicians.

In all of these cases and more the MACC has failed to win over the public to believe that the administration is serious about tackling graft.

Soon after Teoh, the DAP aide, was found dead, Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, a member of the MACC advisory panel was quoted as saying: “We must get the support and confidence of the public to combat corruption. In Hong Kong I believe that 97 per cent of the population has confidence in the IACC. The same cannot be said of the ACA and now the MACC.”

A glaring example of why the MACC has not received the backing of the public is the investigations into the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal. Newspaper reports that something was amiss in the massive government project surfaced as long ago as 2007.

The ACA then conducted an investigation, but nothing happened. It was only after the exposure caused by the public mudslinging in MCA that the MACC finally decided to spring into action.

But so far after more than two years of investigations, a parliamentary probe and task force reports by major auditing firms, the MACC has only managed to charge in court a few little-known individuals while leaving the “big fishes” untouched.

At least that is the public perception of what the MACC has done so far. A recent poll conducted by the independent Merdeka Center found that 74 per cent of those surveyed were dissatisfied with the government’s handling of corruption and abuse of power issues.

The poll also found that a majority of Malaysians thought the MACC was biased. Crucially, the MACC has just not risen to the task of tackling corruption, from vote-buying in Umno to graft in public institutions.

A year on, the tougher anti-graft body has been a monumental failure, and that is why The Malaysian Insider is naming it the Malaysian of the Year. Looking forward, we hope to, however, award this accolade once again a year from today, for the right reasons.

Selamat Tahun Baru dari Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim

31hb. Disember, 2009

Selamat Tahun Baru dari Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Ketua Umum, Parti KeADILan Rakyat dan Ketua Pembangkang, Parlimen Malaysia

Kita menyambut kedatangan tahun 2010 dengan penuh harapan, agar keadaan menjadi lebih baik buat diri sendiri, keluarga, masyarakat dan negara. Tahun yang baru, secara simboliknya, menandakan, satu permulaan kepada yang lebih baik dan berusaha menyingkirkan segala kelemahan dan keburukan. Sudah tentu semua ini tidak bermakna sekiranya kita hanya berpeluk tubuh dan gagal melakukan sesuatu. Pendek kata, iltizam untuk melakukan Perubahan sahaja tidak lah mencukupi, ianya memerlukan satu tindakan yang jitu berasaskan kefahaman terhadap Perubahan yang ingin dilaksanakan. Rakyat sesungguhnya bijak serta berkemampuan untuk membezakan di antara intan dan kaca. Mereka sedar yang manakah program perubahan palsu serta satu agenda Perubahan berhasrat untuk membawa kemaslahatan kepada rakyat. Namun sekiranya kita gagal untuk menunaikan hasrat dan cita-cita baik tersebut untuk dikecapi rakyat, ianya akan kekal sebagai satu laungan kosong semata-semata.

Tahun 2009 menyaksikan Pakatan Rakyat berjaya melahirkan satu dokumen penting yang dikenali sebagai Agenda Bersama Pakatan Rakyat. Kita menyediakan suatu rencana dasar untuk membawa bangsa dan negara keluar dari kemelut yangmencengkam. Dokumen tersebut merupakan penzahiran kepada satu permuafakatan yang bukan otoritarian sifatnya. Ianya adalah permuafakatan berasaskan kepercayaan dan benar-benar jujur untuk membawa Perubahan. Kita akui sebagai satu permuafakatan yang muda, dalam proses pembentukan kepada satu permuafakatan yang lebih utuh, sudah tentu kita berhadapan dengan pelbagai pertanyaan. Ini adalah lumrah, kerana kita menuju kepada yang lebih baik, kita menawarkan satu yang baru buat rakyat dan kita berhasrat mahu sentiasa bersama mereka memastikan kesejahteraan negara ini terjamin.

Alhamdulillah rakyat menyambut baik kehadiran dokumen bersejarah tersebut. Mereka sedar untuk mengembalikan negara ini ke persada negara-negara yang sudah jauh meninggalkan kita seperti Singapura, Taiwan, dan Korea Selatan agenda pembangunan yang selama ini berasaskan perkauman sempit dan hanya membawa keuntungan kepada segelintir yang dekat dengan pemerintah mestilah diketepikan. Kini tibalah waktu untuk kita mendakap satu agenda Perubahan yang terperinci, cermat dan menyegarkan. Pakatan Rakyat menawarkan satu agenda yang seimbang; tidak hanya tertumpu memulihkan kembali ekonomi negara, akan tetapi juga berusaha mengembalikan hala tuju negara ini sebagai satu negara yang berasaskan Demokrasi Raja Berperlembagaan.

Pakatan Rakyat yakin untuk mengemudi negara ini ke taraf negara maju dengan memastikan pertumbuhan ekonomi yang sihat, agenda pembangunan yang adil untuk semua, institusi kehakiman yang bebas dari cengkaman pemerintah dan pembinaan sebuah masyarakat demokratik yang berteraskan kemuliaan insan. Dengan kepercayaan rakyat  yang kita perolehi, kita akan menggembeling seluruh tenaga dan keringat untuk memastikannya terlaksana. Keyakinan terhadap semangat rakyat, faith in the power of the spirit of the people, akan menjadi satu lagi sumber kekuatan kita, rakyat Malaysia.

Moga tahun 2010 merupakan tahun yang lebih baik buat semua dan negara ini. Inshaallah kita semua berusaha menjayakannya. Saya mengambil kesempatan ini untuk mengucapkan Selamat Tahun Baru 2010 kepada semua rakyat Malaysia.

Ubah sebelum parah, ubah demi maruah.

Sent via BlackBerry from Maxis

Malaysiakini’s 2009 Newsmaker is Teoh Beng Hock

December 30, 2009

And the Newsmaker of the Year 2009 is…Teoh Beng Hock

by Hazlan Zakaria

2009 was a tumultuous year. A rousingly colourful collage of days that saw the fulfilment of changes made imminent and the culmination of troubles long brewing. A bevy of events, stirred up and brought to be, by last year’s political tsunami.

In politics, we had the involuntary sneeze-change of prime ministers, the knee-jerks of crises in the ruling coalition’s component parties, Barisan Nasional’s takeover of Perak, and an apparent attempt at a coup in Selangor. But the fledgling opposition coalition was not spared as it struggled with making good its election promises and

Malaysiakini's 2009 Newsmaker

ruling the additional states it gained in the last election.It suffered agonising pangs and growing pains as the three ideologically different bedfellows were forced to make good and formalise their political marriage. A process that is painful to watch and perhaps more than painful in the making.

The year also saw more troubles with the royals as the monarchy was put before the public eye. Once more, for all the wrong reasons. The ruckus fueling calls for rules to regulate the royals. Some even advocating a straight exit to a monarch-less republic.

We also saw a slew of civil disobedience by the civil society and the attack of the killer disease once known as swine flu (now referred to by its politically correct moniker of H1N1). As well as a global economic downturn crippling economies and bankrupting nations.

Needless to say, this Gregorian year was filled to the brim with news events of gigantic proportions. The ripples, splashes and waves made by movers and shakers, almost giants and more than titans.

But this year’s newsmaker tops them all. Not only in how this particular person made headlines, but also because of the resulting aftershock which drastically affected the multi-layered landscape of our nation.

Standing Tall amongst Giants

Neither titan nor giant, nevertheless, this person stood tall amongst them. He was the active, humble and pleasant 31-year-old political secretary to a Selangor executive council member, youthful, eager and full of anticipation.To those who knew and worked with him, the late Teoh Beng Hock was an earnest, diligent and reserved person. His often expressed intention was to serve in politics and work towards a better Malaysia.

The second youngest of five children, he came from a humble family. His father was taxi driver, while his mother a dedicated home maker. He was the first in his family to have ever attended university.

Formerly a reporter for Sin Chew Daily, he was plunged into the heady world of politics in the wake of the March 8 political tsunami.Approached by then political underdog Ean Yong Hian Wah of DAP, Teoh was asked to scout for viable candidates to serve as the newly-made politician’s aide. Instead, he eagerly volunteered himself.

When Ean Yong unexpectedly won in what was once the MCA stronghold of Seri Kembangan, he was sworn in as a state assemblyperson, and at 29, went on to become the youngest state exco. Teoh followed Ean Yong in his sojourn at the state secretariat and became the latter’s political secretary.

Benh Hock last seen talking on handphone

He is remembered often as a friendly person, albeit with the habit of often talking on his handphone, probably because the nature of his work. Indeed, that was how he remained in the memories of many… talking on his handphone, while walking towards his date with destiny in the office of the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission).

Before him was a vibrant future, a bright career and plans of matrimony. He was supposed to tie the knot with his fiancee the next day. With a child already on the way. But it all was not to be… Teoh’s broken body was found on the fifth floor rooftop of Plaza Masalam the next day, scant hours after his ‘interrogation’. His tragic death opened up a whole cans of worms on many spectrums – in politics, governance, and a myriad of other mentions.

His demise added fuel to rumours of an attempted BN takeover in Selangor, sparked the debate over the misuse of MACC as a political tool, magnified the issue of transparency in allocations to MPs and state representatives, as well as highlighted cases of suspicious deaths in law enforcement custody.

Beng Hock’s Legacy

His death is probably most poignant to many, for it echoes what the nation itself is going through. His ghost continues to haunt us at the inquest into his death, news reports, coffee-shop talk, online chats and nationwide discussions.

Even in missives beyond the grave from a self-professed ‘medium’ and the ghostly apparitions, some claimed, to haunt still the hallways of Plaza Massalam.

More than 2,000 people attended Teoh Beng Hock’s funeral, but his travails touched more and affected many others. While he might not have lived to see it, his death did force the change that he so wanted to make.

His memory, a comfort to friends and family.

His name, the battle cry of activists.

His visage, a banner for justice.

His tragedy, society’s wake-up call.

His legacy, a spur to Malaysia’s ailing democracy.

Teoh Beng Hock, our Newsmaker of 2009.

On Malaysia’s Mr. Clean (2003-2009)

December 30, 2009

On Malaysia’s Mr. Clean

by Justin Ong

“Don’t work for me, work with me.”

That one sentence heralded what was supposed to have been a New Age for Malaysians. After over two decades of iron-fisted rule by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a prime minister who cared about what the country thinks was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Most Malaysians thought as much. Together with the promise of a softer approach towards running the country was Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s image as “Mr Clean”. An image that he played up further by vowing to come down hard on a culture of corruption so entrenched that, far from being a crime, it was treated as an entitlement.

More than just giving Pak Lah — as he is popularly known — the benefit of the doubt, Malaysians handed him the keys to the country. In Election 2004, Barisan Nasional was given its most convincing mandate yet, winning 198 out of the 220 parliamentary seats. Whatever gains the opposition made during the 1998 Anwar Ibrahim debacle was all but wiped out.

But despite the overwhelming support of the electorate, it did not take long for it to be obvious that instead of using this mandate to implement policies that might have taken the country somewhere, anywhere, Pak Lah seemed content to rest on his laurels.

An administration paralysed by indecision, it was painful to watch what was essentially the most powerful man in the country being unable — or unwilling — to decide which direction the country should be heading. Instead, Malaysians were treated to mere rhetoric.

If ever there was an example of how indecision can be as harmful — and perhaps even more so — than bad decisions, this was it. National policy — when they made any — seemed to change on a whim, before being reversed soon after if objections were raised.

Dr Mahathir, “recalcitrant” as he was, was at least decisive. And once he made up his mind, for better or worse, he stuck by it. Pak Lah, in contrast, ruled with all the consistency of a limp noodle. And before long, some quarters even began pining for the return of his predecessor.

Anecdotal accounts now seem to suggest Pak Lah was more than happy to let the country run itself, rather than be bothered with the minutiae of administrating the day-to-day affairs of the nation. It also did not bode well that the man who was in charge of the country brought more than a metaphorical meaning to the phrase “sleeping on the job”. In any case, rather than running itself, the country was quickly running aground.

Besides residing over periods of harsh “unofficial” inflation, when the rakyat was increasingly feeling the pinch yet kept being told that everything was, is, and ever will be all right, it was also obvious that Pak Lah was failing miserably at his earlier promise of combating national graft.

Not only was he not doing much to cut down on corruption, merciless insinuations and accusations of cronyism by Dr Mahathir also ripped Abdullah’s “Mr Clean” reputation to shreds. Allegations of corruption in the UN Oil for Food programme certainly didn’t help matters. Nor the unfortunate discovery of a nuclear smuggling network involving Scomi Group owned by his son, Kamaluddin Abdullah.

Given carte blanche to run the country, Pak Lah chose to play the bureaucrat at a time when the country needed a strong steward to guide it into uncharted waters. Promises of fighting corruption, Islam Hadhari that no one understands till today, and stillborn economic progress all lie in the wake of possibly the country’s most ineffectual prime minister to date.

What had started with so much potential ended as a major letdown. Hounded out of office by the man who put him there and the man who would be there, Pak Lah cut a lonely and forlorn figure in his final days.

In the end, Pak Lah’s years will be remembered as a lost opportunity to reform Malaysia by a man who was paralysed by indecision and manacled to the status quo demands of his own political party.