KTMB Land Issue: The Last Train into Tanjung Pagar

June 29, 2011

KTMB Land Issue: The last Train  into Tanjung Pagar

by Din Merican

In signing the Points of Agreement (POA) on Malayan Railway (KTM) Land with Singapore on June 27, 2011 Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nor Mohamed Yakcop said, “It’s a very happy day. It’s a new beginning for us in cooperation in attracting investment. It’s excellent for both countries. We are confident this is a new beginning for good cooperation and plenty of investments. Certainly,  not only Iskandar will do well but the whole of Malaysia will do well because of confidence factor in attracting foreign investment.”

In reciprocation, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said: ”It really takes the relationship to a different level. It’s win-win….for both countries and promises much more. In that sense, in every sense, it’s historic moment.”

As a long time friend of Singapore who had the privilege of living and working there in late 1980s, I join Malaysians and Singaporeans in supporting and welcoming this enhancement in bilateral relations between our two countries on a mutually advantageous basis, one that could be continuously strengthened in the future.

But I am of the view that to sustain this positive momentum in bilateral relations, cooperative efforts and other confidence building measures cannot be undertaken in an opaque manner. There is, therefore, a need for our government to keep Malaysians informed on vital issues like the KTMB Land issue.

Murkiness, obfuscation and mystery have unfortunately overshadowed the so-called “win-win” deal in respect of a land swap deal in Singapore involving KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd), which was agreed to between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, in Kuala Lumpur May 24 and September 20, 2010.

Six rounds of talks have been held between Heads of Foreign Ministries of both countries, even if the main negotiators have been our Khazanah National Bhd and Temasik Holdings, the respective government’s investment arm.

To-date, no details on the definitive outcome of the deal have been made public by either government even after the conclusion of the sixth and final talks, which were held in Singapore on December 31 last year.

Instead, out of the blue, The STAR newspaper ran a story on June 9, 2011 under the caption “Party plans on track for last train ride to Tanjung Pagar”. And on June 14, 2011, The New Straits Times in a front page report said “Tickets snapped up for KTMB’s final Tanjung Pagar service”.Apparently, KTMB had recently taken some of our journalists on a tour/special trip down to Tanjung Pagar (picture above right).

Historical Significane of June 30, 2011

It would appear that KTMB as well as some in our media tend to treat the pending closure of the nearly 100-year old Tanjung Pagar Station and the historic building as something merely nostalgic. Seeking out and keeping our public informed regarding details on the outcome of the six rounds of official talks by the two countries or on related issues of the railways service or its history seems unimportant to them.

Singaporeans must have been in glee over KTMB’s idea of entertaining our  history-deficient journalists, who do not seem to know that our country could have taken for a ride by Singapore over tens of billions of KTMB real estate in Singapore without adequate compensation.

A rather perceptive member of the public, a certain Karim Mahsood, on June 13, 2011 wrote to The STAR newspaper, reminding readers that June 30, 2011, the date of the last train to Tanjung Pagar “… is not a joyous affair, but a heartbreaking episode in the history of KTMB in Singapore… “

Karim Mahsood attributed this development to “… a series of unfortunate steps…” that were taken by our own leaders, which began in 1990 with a lopsided agreement between Malaysia and Singapore called the Points of Agreement (POA), and culminating in the 2010 deal for KTMB to relocate its services from Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands on June 30, 2011.

The Najib-Lee Hsien Loong Deal

Under the Najib-Lee Hsien Loong deal, the Singapore Government would vest four tiny land parcels in Marina South and two parcels of land in Ophir-Rochor in MS Pte Ltd. (a joint-venture company set up by Khazanah National Bhd. and Temasik Holdings in a 60-40 % equity arrangement respectively, for the development of the said six parcels when KTMB  vacates the Tanjung Pagar Railway Station), in lieu of the three parcels of so-called POA land in Tanjung Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands and three pieces of land in Bukit Timah. The long and short of the deal is that KTMB’s Tanjung Pagar Station will be closed on or by July 1, 2011 and relocated to Woodlands temporarily.

And on June 26, 2011, there was yet another bolt out of the blue: that Nor Mohamed Yakoop (and not Foreign Minister Anifah Aman) and Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Law, K. Shanmugam, would sign “the instrument containing details of the implementation of the POA on KTMB land in Singapore” on June 27. It was couched innocuously  that Tanjung Pagar would be closed down by or on July 1, 2011. Perhaps, both governments want this momentous event to pass off unnoticed.

Nor Mohamed and Shanmugam also confirmed that Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to open a “rapid transit system (RTS) link” between the two countries by 2018 and, secondly, that yet another joint-venture company had been established – in addition to MS Pte Ltd – known as Iskandar JV Co. , held 50-50 by Khazanah Bhd and Temasek Holdings to undertake two development projects in Iskandar Malaysia involving 87 hectares of land.

Despite the above, the public in both countries, particularly in Malaysia, remain uninformed especially as to how the Najib-Hsien Loong deal would contribute to mutually advantageous relationship between our two countries in the future and, specifically, how the deal would safeguard Malaysia’s “national interest”. Indeed, there are wider political implications that our Government leaders must face.

The KTMB Land saga(and other properties in Singapore) does raise several important points:

a) The move by KTMB to Woodlands will signal the beginning of the transfer to Singapore, not only the historic railway station building in Tanjung Pagar, but also some 175.7 hectares of KTMB land, in exchange for joint development of six parcels of land in Marina South and Ophir-Rocher whose total value is also not known to the public. ASIAWEEK magazine in its March 31, 1995 issue estimated the 32 hectares of prime property of Tanjung Pagar alone to be worth USD 2 billion, making KTMB “… the republic’s second-biggest land owner after the local government”.

b) When KTMB vacates Tanjung Pagar Railway Station to “tumpang”(squat) at Singapore CIQ building in Woodlands by July 1, 2011, it would actually mean that all KTM land in the Island nation, south of Woodlands, will revert to Singapore. This Malaysian real estate in Singapore – some 175.7 hectares in all – will be gone forever without adequate compensation to Malaysia. Again based on ASIAWEEK’s estimate in 1995 of the 32 hectares of Tanjung Pagar property, KTMB’s entire 175.7 hectares of real estate in the island Republic could today easily be worth between USD 0.25 to USD 0.5 trillion.

c) The Woodlands checkpoint is not a railway station in the normal sense but a Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint belonging to Singapore. It is indeed difficult to imagine how KTMB can effectively use the Woodlands checkpoint as its new terminal in Singapore.  It does look like KTMB will be compelled to retreat further north to Johar Bahru, sooner rather than later. When that happens, a glorious chapter in the history of KTMB operations to and from Singapore would be forced into an early closure.

d) The 1990 POA was Lee Kuan Yew’s strategic move to subtly uproot the KTMB Railway line which literally divides the Island State into two halves from North to South. Therefore, the move by KTMB from Tanjung Pagar to Woodlands is also the beginning of the fulfillment of Lee Kuan Yew’s dream since 1990.

e) The injection of the so-called “development charges” by the Prime Minister of Singapore at the eleventh hour into the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur  is seen as one made in bad faith.

As a matter of fact, Singapore’s insistence that Khazanah will have to pay certain “development charges” might mean that in reality Singapore would get KTMB’s entire 175.7 hectares in Singapore as well as Khazanah’s investment in joint development projects in Singapore  practically for free.

f) And, in the meantime, the dispute over the so-called “development charges” has still not been resolved. There is absolute silence over the status of the matter, which both countries agreed in Kuala Lumpur in 2010 to be brought up to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

g) No less serious are real concerns here that not only will KTMB lose 175.7 hectares of its land and even Khazanah’s investments in Singapore but, more importantly, that Malaysia, as a whole, over the longer haul, would effectively lose control of large chucks of Johor and even land as far as Malacca to Singapore through the Iskandar- Malaysia ventures and other similar plans.

How some Singaporeans look at the Najib-Hsien Loong Deal? Many Singaporeans who are friends of Malaysia are puzzled why the Malaysian negotiators agreed to such a deal in the first place? They ask what possible quid pro quo benefits Malaysia could have. Surely, they say Malaysia does not need the money.

Is maintaining KTMB’s assets in Singapore a burden to Malaysia? If this is not the case, then Malaysia has the upper hand. So, what and why the rush and why the bending-backwards? Why so eager to close the deal? Worse still, friendly Singaporeans ask why “so cheap”?Many Singaporeans believe Malaysia is “incompetent” and, as a result, gets short-changed. That Malaysia is always ill-prepared and that it is not thorough enough. They attribute this to a number of factors:

i) partly due to interference by our politicians and that our civil servants have been marginalized;

ii) structurally, Malaysia does not have and fails to attract the brightest brains into the Civil Service, people with the long-term interest of the country at heart;

and iii) politicians and civil servants with too much personal, short-term interests to fight the kiasu, no-holds-barred, win-all, no tolak ansur (no give and take) Singapore’s Team. This, Singaporeans say, is at the root of the problem, one that is most unfortunate.

Why Nor Mohamad, not Anifah Aman

Singaporeans are also generally puzzled as to why Nor Mohamed Yakoop represented Malaysia at the recent signing ceremony in Singapore? They expected Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to have accompanied Nor Mohamed and do the honours for Malaysia.

But as proud Singaporeans, they say the deal is okay – after all it is Malaysia’s loss and Singapore’s gain. As Singaporeans they feel proud of their Team, who got the best deal for Singapore. As for Lee Kuan Yew, getting such a deal from Malaysia makes the outcome even sweeter.

Need for Transparency

All told, transparency is crucial in ensuring positive, forward movement in bilateral relations as well as in winning the hearts and minds of the public. One can try to mask underlining problems of any deal by words and promises of future infrastructural development and consequent economic growth. But good intentions can produce bad results.

Foreign policy should be concerned with a country’s “national interest”. Diplomacy as an instrument of Foreign Policy is the art of negotiation, of getting deals that serve the national interest.  In other words, “national interest” should dictate Foreign Policy.

Unless “national interest “is firmly embedded in the minds of government ministers, it is not likely that the making of foreign policy will return to its proper, central place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in our case, Wisma Putra). In this regard, Singaporean diplomats and their political masters are stark realists, always serving their country’s national interest.

In conclusion, there is a need for proper national debate in Malaysia on the Najib- Hsien Loong deal– in the media, in intellectual and business circles and, indeed, ultimately in Parliament. Perhaps, a White Paper should be presented to our legislators in Parliament.

Christine Lagarde is IMF Managing Director

June 29, 2011

France’s Christine Lagarde is IMF Managing Director

WASHINGTON: France’s Christine Lagarde was named on Tuesday (June 28, 2011) as the first-ever female chief of the IMF, faced with an immediate crisis as violent Greek protests rocked the stability of the eurozone.

The French Finance Minister, respected for her leadership during the financial crises that have rocked Europe over the past three years, was chosen to replace countryman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned abruptly on May 18 after being arrested in New York for an alleged sexual assault.

“I am honoured and delighted that the board has entrusted me with the position of MD of the IMF.” Lagarde said via Twitter minutes after the announcement.

Despite grumblings from emerging economies over Europe’s 65-year lock on the IMF’s top job, the solid support of the United States and European nations made it virtually impossible for Mexican challenger Agustin Carstens.

Ultimately key emerging nations, including Brazil, China and Russia, also gave Lagarde their backing. Choosing Lagarde was expected to ease concerns in Europe over the Fund’s support for the fragile bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland in the wake of the unexpected departure of Strauss-Kahn.

“The executive board of the International Monetary Fund today selected Christine Lagarde to serve as IMF managing director and madame chairman of the executive board for a five-year term starting on July 5, 2011,” the Fund said in a statement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office declared it a “victory for France.”

Since the race began in late May, 55-year-old Lagarde has been the strong favourite over Carstens, Mexico’s central bank chief, despite his formidable resume.

Despite an effort to cobble together a developing world challenge to Europe’s lock on the job, key emerging economies were persuaded by Lagarde’s lobbying to cast in for her.

And few had expected Washington to break the tacit pact, dating to the founding of the International Monetary Fund and sister institution the World Bank, that an American would run the Bank while a European headed the Fund.

The 187-nation Fund, which plays a crucial but often controversial role aiding countries in financial straits, was left reeling after Strauss-Kahn resigned in the middle of tense negotiations over Greece’s massive bailout and anxiety over other struggling European economies.

Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief since 2007, was arrested in New York on allegations that he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid. He denies the charges, and remains under house arrest while preparing his defence.

With their crisis festering, Europe’s powers aggressively put forward Lagarde. Though not an economist, she has gained wide respect as France’s point-woman during its leadership of the G20 as well as in European debt talks.

“The big advantage of Christine Lagarde is representing a continuity in the cooperation between the Fund and the eurozone,” said a source close to the IMF. Nevertheless, Lagarde had to tour the world to convince emerging economic powers like China and India that she would not be too biased to take tough stances on the European bailouts.

“I am not here to represent the interest of any given region of the world, but rather the entire membership,” she told the IMF board last week.

– AFP/de

Backing Down would be Unthinkable

June 29, 2011

BERSIH 2.0 Rally: Backing Down would be Unthinkable

by Terence Netto

By now, the tactics of self-declared opponents of the BERSIH 2.0 march are clear: PERKASA and UMNO Youth want to ratchet up the pre-march tensions such that the atmosphere becomes taut enough to crack. If it does, it would not be difficult to guess who would be blamed for the ensuing clashes.

Seldom in recent Malaysian history has a looming public event such as the BERSIH march on July 9 polarised opinion so sharply: one would be hard put to encounter a public issues-aware citizen who does not have an opinion – either for or against – on the march.

Thanks to provocative statements by PERKASA’s Ibrahim Ali and the reported threats by some UMNO Youth firebrands to burn the PKR headquarters down, the stage is set for a confrontation.

Of course, things need not be that way. All parties should be free to demonstrate, to engage in what can be called ‘symbolic speech’ – the espousal of opinion in civilly demonstrated forms. However, for that to take place peacefully in the context of the marches scheduled for July 9, you need the Police to be present to see that demonstrators don’t get carried away.

But the Police have pre-judged the issue by coming out early with a stand against allowing the BERSIH march. They followed up by calling up for questioning several players from the side that favours the march for electoral reform.That was not all.

By arresting some 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) activists, who are actually fringe players in the BERSIH drama on grounds that the detained may have committed offences under Section 122 of the Penal Code which entails rebelling against the King, the Police are opting to be partisans in the fray rather than umpires above it.

A late attempt at balanced action against the contending parties – their calling up Ibrahim Ali for questioning and their investigation of inflammatory statements by UMNO Youth hotheads – won’t wash as demonstrations of Police neutrality.

The Police can rescue things by freeing the PSM detainees and allowing the BERSIH and other marches to go on with them opting for a policing of good behaviour role. What chance is there of that happening?

Beckoning Police’s better instincts

Well, the good point about political behaviour in a democratic arena is that it allows for redemption by the hitherto erring.

This was what PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim was hoping for in remarks he made when he emerged to speak to the press after being called for questioning by the Police yesterday. He beckoned the Police to the courage of their better instincts, alluding to unseen hands as working to deviate the force from their fiduciary duty. He said he felt that absent the manipulation, the Police were wont to do the right thing.

That is an opinion that national literary laureate A Samad Said may be loath to agree with after his experience of Police questioning a day earlier. Literati love the ineffable and Samad proved no exemption. He gave vent to his instincts by penning ‘Unggun Bersih’, a lilting ode to democracy.

The Police asked if he was paid to write the poem. Writers like Samad rarely respond to commissions; they write as the instinct takes them.

The chagrin Samad felt at the question must have singed his flowing whiskers, for he emerged from the ordeal to declare that he would be at the BERSIH march. For someone who is pushing 80 and reportedly in not too healthy a condition, the Police questioning must have recharged his batteries, for there was steel in his determination to be among the marchers.

Which is precisely what the inflammatory statements from Ibrahim Ali and his ilk have contributed to the situation in the prelude to the July 9 event.

Ibrahim Ali’s Orwellian doublespeak

Ibrahim’s latest provocation, couched in Orwellian doublespeak, sees him urging PERKASA types not to bring weapons to their march on the same day. That would be like Mullah Omar suggesting that as an earnest of the Taliban’s desire to parley with the Americans, his side would renounce suicide bombing.

The rhetoric, from one side at least, has been of the ‘offer no hostages to fortune’ type. Backing down from these prideful positions would be unthinkable. The only way out would be if the Police allow all to march and content themselves with policing the behaviour of the marchers.

Or if the Election Commission, without imposing pre-conditions, commences talks with BERSIH on their eight demands, with prior acquiescence to a couple of the demands. That would be the lever to break the looming jam.-http://www.malaysiakini.com

Cambodia After Year Zero

June 28, 2011


Cambodia After Year Zero

By Joel Whitney
Published: June 24, 2011

In the preface to “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land,” Joel Brink­ley recalls his first encounter with Cambodia. Brinkley was reporting for The Louisville Courier-Journal from a refugee camp near the Thai border in 1979, in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign.

“As they tell of years of horror and misery,” Brinkley wrote, “their faces are expressionless and dull . . . as if they’re talking about a dull day of work. Their tales end with a nodding acknowledgment of the death of their nation and culture.” Brinkley, who later worked for The New York Times, finds little has changed in the 32 years since then.

As the title suggests, his book is an unabashed plea to refocus international aid and diplomacy on a suffering people. It is also an attempt to hold some of those responsible for that suffering accountable — but not all.Cambodia lost a quarter of its population under the Khmer Rouge. For many, survival meant 14-hour days of backbreaking work, often on little more than a cupful of rice or a smattering of gruel. You could be killed on the least suspicion you sympathized with the Vietnamese. The effects of this period have proven hard to shake.

Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries. “Among Southeast Asian nations,” Brinkley writes, “only Burma is poorer, on a per capita basis.” At least 30 percent of Cambodians live on less than a dollar a day. About 40 percent of children suffer from stunting (failure to develop because of poor nutrition). In 2010 only 30 percent of Cambodian middle-school-age students were enrolled in school. Asia’s self-described “longest ruling prime minister,” Hun Sen, is a murderous kleptocrat, Brinkley shows. Corruption is rife. The sick may die waiting for treatment if they cannot pay doctors’ bribes in hospitals.

Statistics of suffering aside, “Cambodia’s Curse,” when it is at its most thorough, acknowledges the role of rich countries in this disaster. Every year for more than a decade, Brinkley recounts, donor organizations and states made toothless pleas that Hun Sen pass an anti-corruption law. But once money was pledged, the law would stall another year. As a result of this annual pas de deux, donors had given Hun Sen $18 billion by 2010, essentially with no strings, before the law was enacted. And when it finally did pass last year, it had been gutted into meaninglessness.

“Some Cambodians and others remained astounded by the donors’ behavior,” Brinkley writes. Why didn’t they withhold aid? Echoing the economist Dambisa Moyo, Brinkley suggests that the corruption is symbiotic. “If they cut off aid to the government, as the human rights groups were demanding, many donors would lose their jobs.”

Cambodians also suffer from widespread post-traumatic stress disorder. A study by the Cambodian psychiatrist Muny Sothara found PTSD “in 47 percent of the population”; another study, of Cambodian refugees in Massachusetts, found that 60 percent of PTSD victims there suffered from sleep paralysis, a half-conscious state of catatonia. Even Hun Sen shows signs of the malady. One official, describing his own PTSD, relives his experience of starvation: “I would like to inform you that I am very, very hungry.” Social scientists are finding that PTSD is being passed from one generation to the next. Has this become Cambodia’s curse?

Or is impunity the curse? In the aftermath of Pol Pot’s death in 1998, the United Nations partnered with Cambodia’s judges to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Brinkley explains the logic of the costly proceedings. “If nothing else, Ieng Sary fed the state’s omnipresent culture of impunity,” he writes of one Khmer Rouge leader. “If he, with the blood of two million people on his hands, faced no penalty, no censure, no retribution, how hard was it to accept the killing of a journalist here, a trade-union official there?” On June 27, three Khmer Rouge leaders will face trial. Last July, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was sentenced to 19 years.

Americans too frequently seem to enable monsters abroad, then recommend policies to reverse the damage. The United States did not directly foist the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia. But Brink­ley describes how Lon Nol, who was friendly to Washington, overthrew Prince Sihanouk in a 1970 coup, and how the prince, in frustration, implored Cambodians to join the Khmer Rouge.

Brinkley disputes any further American complicity, even though the United States continued a secret carpet bombing campaign until 1973. But two scholars, Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, have seized on data on the bombing released by President Bill Clinton; beginning under Lyndon Johnson, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia than the Allies dropped in all of World War II.

Brinkley seems to dismiss the argument that the extensive bombing, with its tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, might have added urgency to Sihanouk’s plea to join the Khmer Rouge. Yet Owen and Kiernan report that former C.I.A. and Khmer Rouge officers affirmed the American bombing helped the Khmer Rouge win support.It seems clear that “Cambodia’s Curse,” apart from providing a portrait of a “troubled land,” holds implications for other American interventions that are worth serious debate.

Brinkley portrays Cambodia from what some may see as a post partisan humanitarian standpoint. But given Washington’s role today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might have been braver if he had chosen to hold Americans, and not just Cambodians, accountable for the suffering he so movingly describes.

Joel Whitney is an editor of Guernica: A Magazine of Art& Politics.

A version of this review appeared in print on June 26, 2011, on page BR13 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: After Year Zero.

BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia

June 28, 2011

BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia

My friend, Terence Netto, writes about the on-going tussle between our Government and the civil society coalition called BERSIH2.0. Netto sees it in stark US versus THEM terms. I do not because I believe that the Prime Minister’s intervention will do the trick. He must display true leadership and act with wisdom.

The outcome of the July 9 rally will determine the course of democracy in the years to come. That is why the stakes are high. However, I am concerned about what can happen the day itself, if the protest takes place without Police  permit.

Opposing forces like PERKASA and UMNO Youth are going to disrupt it. The marching crowd will in turn react to provocations in unpredictable ways, and there is no way we can control the passions of the moment with water cannons, tear gas and truncheons. Both sides are headed for confrontation with tragic consequences on Malaysia’s body politik. God Forbid.

The issues are clear: most Malaysians want free and fair elections and this can come about only when there is electoral reform. An opportunity was created when the Elections Commission Chairman suggested that BERSIH2.0 organisers should meet up with him to deal with their well known 8 demands. The fact that this appeal has fallen on deaf ears indicates the level of public confidence in the Elections Commission’s  will  and capacity to institute electoral reforms.

It may be recalled similar demands were in November, 2007 when Malaysians marched in unprecedented numbers (some 60,000 in number) to Istana Negara to petition His Majesty The Yang DiPertuan Agong. Furthermore, if the recommendations of the two Royal Commissions on the Police and the Lingam Tapes were ignored by the Government (under Badawi at that time), there is no assurance that either the Chairman singly or collectively with his colleagues on the Elections Commission can do it now without the clearance from the Government. The Commission’s independence has been compromised far too often.

The onus now rests on Prime Minister Najib and his Government. At this time, given the pressure from the Malaysian public — to the extent that BERSIH2.0 represents them– and reactionary groups like PERKASA and UMNO Youth, the Government has responded to BERSH2.0 organisers and other dissidents including the well known poet and novelist, Dato A. Samad Said (picture above) with an iron fist. Police crackdown has begun with the threat of the draconic ISA looming. Only the Prime Minister can diffuse the mounting tension in the run-up to July 9.

There is still room for a peaceful resolution to this impending crisis. The Prime Minister’s leadership is required. Only he can stop this rally from happening with an olive branch. We all should start listening to each other, and work towards a united Malaysia where there is place for everyone. But we must recognise that there are elements in our society who could be itching for a fight to settle old scores. A showdown is in the works but it can be diffused. It requires an act of true leadership.–Din Merican

Government Versus BERSIH: An eyeball-to-eyeball situation

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The parallels and differences between then and now have to be dwelt on for insight and illumination.

Then would be October 1987, when tensions were rising in the country over an issue to do with the placement of non-Mandarin speaking administrators in government-aided Chinese schools.

Party elections in UMNO earlier that year had resulted in a controversy-marred close victory for the incumbents. Internecine conflict in the dominant political party is always tinder for the lighting. The lighted match would come with the controversy over the government’s decision to appoint non-Mandarin speaking administrators in Chinese schools.

Switch forward 24 years and the country finds itself in a situation of rising tensions in the immediate prelude to the BERSIH 2.0 march planned for July 9, though this time the drivers for the heightened tensions have nothing to do with race or language.

True, there is competitive rivalry in the dominant political party, UMNO, but it does no longer bestride the political arena like a colossus as it used to.  Now the party displays symptoms of a different ailment to the one that afflicted it in 1987: its weakened position in the parliamentary calculus has emboldened right-wing elements within in to push for a crackdown on an opposition that could defeat it in the fast approaching general election.

bersih rally 271207 02Because perception is almost everything in Malaysian politics, the planned march for July 9, if it draws a bigger attendance than did its predecessor in the Bersih march of November 2007, it could well be curtains for UMNO-BN in the 13th general election.

As in the comparative 1987 period, the question, in the lead-up to the BERSIH 2.0 march in 11 days time, of how to assure the stability in power of the ruling elite is central to all other factors riding in the balance.

Issues of race, religion, independence of the law enforcement authorities and the like, are like patterns in a kaleidoscope whose formations are dependent on who does the shaking.

Najib miming the pantomime

As the baton of UMNO leadership was passed to him in April 2009, the prognostications for Prime Minister Najib Razak were that the man, whose father was the catalyst for the tectonic shifts to the Malaysian political landscape in the immediate post-May 13 1969 period, would either be the initiator of a radical revamp to save the construct or perish in the attempt.

najib pc in parliamnet on altantuya murder case allegations 030708In the two years since he has taken over, Najib has made the shifts and feints indicative of a desire to revamp the system, but a creaking edifice, entrenched in its ways, has budged but little.

This has left the leader miming the pantomime but unable to effect substance of change. On an array of issues, ranging from education to electoral reform, the entrenched system asserts its unchanged ways in spite of good intentions to effect change.

Perhaps the system has to be changed from top to bottom and the main superintendent of change is too embedded in the old to be a harbinger of the new. Sensing this, the opposition knows that a crumbling system and its defenders-cum-reformers are a final push away from oblivion.

This realisation has propelled them to arrive at a consensus that has shoveled away major differences in their agendas.They now enjoy unanimity of outlook and aim which is symbolised by their determined support for the BERSIH 2.0 march.

An Ode to Democracy

All successful mass movements need a rallying point around which their disparate aims can coalesce. The Malaysian opposition has found in the call for electoral reform.

It has helped that the ham-fisted manner in which the authorities are seeking to prevent the BERSIH 2.0 march has had the effect of widening the array of support for the event.

NONEWhen the penning of a poem, ostensibly an ode to democracy, by a national literary laureate, Dato A. Samad Said (right), is occasion for the police to haul up the author for sedition – the indictment of the authorities by their asininity towards the march is self-evident.

Thus the immovable object, which is the BERSIH march itself, and a seemingly irresistible force, which is the security establishment, is poised in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

The side that blinks would be the one that resorts to uncivil methods – repression by the one side and disorderly conduct by the other.

National Laureate A Samad Said hauled up by the Police

June 28, 2011

National Laureate A Samad Said hauled up by the Police

by Joseph Sipalan@www.malaysiakini.com

National laureate A Samad Said today decried police investigations into  his poem recital during a BERSIH 2.0 event and said the  authorities  are now treating poetry as a weapon.

The septuagenarian was hauled up for about 90 minutes of questioning today at the Dang Wangi district police station on his poem recited during the June 19 ‘launch’ of the BERSIH 2.0 rally.

“Poetry has now become something extraordinary; it has now become a weapon,” he told a throng of journalists jostling to hear the soft-spoken man.

Pak Samad, as he is popularly known, is being investigated under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 27(5) of the Police Act 1967 which relates to unlawful assembly.

The laureate, easily recognisable by his shock of white hair and long white beard, said he was “saddened” that the authorities viewed his poem “with prejudice”.

“In my poem, I did say that we need to purify democracy, not muddle it or pollute it… and in poetry, those are suggestions that are very pure and should be appreciated, not viewed suspiciously.

“Personally, I find it rather strange why this has happened. A writer contributes through his art, to document a situation that is worsening, (but) it is viewed with such prejudice. This saddens me so,” he said.

Samad pointed out that rather than cowing the nation’s literary community, the actions of the Police against him could likely spur a more spirited movement from his peers and fellow writers in pursuing the freedom of expression.

“It may be seen as a warning, but for writers, this would spur them and encourage them as they begin to realise that literature has power too,” he said. “I intended to produce something that was pure, not to incite,” he added.

“It is the actions of the police that will spur the nation’s literary community to respond to his predicament.This act should motivate our literary community (to state their views openly),” Samad said when asked if the investigation into his poem would spook other writers and artistes from going public with their views.

‘Art cannot be interrogated’

Samad’s counsel, N Surendran, slammed the police for launching the probe into his client’s poem, stressing that this could possibly be the first time a literary great is being hauled up for “simply reading a poem”.

Surendran claimed the Police had also asked “strange” questions, which insinuated that the BERSIH 2.0 rally is politically motivated and at other times, matters completely unrelated to the investigation.

“They asked him where he got his datukship, whether the poets at the event (BERSIH 2.0 launch) were paid to read out their poems and they even asked him if the event is politically motivated.

“I cannot recall an instance where a national laureate has even been investigated for poetry… we cannot cross-examine or interrogate art,” Surendran said.

Samad  stood firm in his support for the rally, saying it should not be allowed to be hijacked and turned into a racial issue. “I don’t want to touch on race. This is not about one race going against another, this is about Malaysians… I will be there,” he said.

Samad, a celebrated Malay poet and novelist, is no stranger to protest rallies, being one of the big names who joined the March 2009 mass gathering to protest the government’s policy on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).

A strong proponent of Malay literature, he penned at least a dozen novels and countless poems, and has also worked as a journalist in several national Malay-language papers including Utusan Melayu, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian. He was honoured as a national laureate, or Sasterawan Negara, in 1985.

Suhakam: Respect Freedom of Assembly

Meanwhile, in another related development, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) reiterated its position that it is the right of members of public to assemble and to express their views in a peaceful manner, as provided for under Article 10(1)(b) of the federal constitution, as well as Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The statutory human rights institution has called on the government to respect the freedom of assembly in many of its previous annual reports submitted to Parliament.

The reports also recommend that proportionate and non-violent methods be employed should the police find it necessary to control or disperse a crowd during an assembly.

“The commission calls on the authorities to allow the planned peaceful assemblies to be held, and on the parties intending to hold these assemblies to exercise their rights in a peaceful and responsible manner.

“The commission shall duly monitor the event,” its chairperson Tan Sri Hasmy Agam  said in a statement issued today.


Note: A. Samad Said read out only the last two stanzas of his poem

Semakin lara kita didera bara –
kita laungkan juga pesan merdeka:
Demokrasi sebenderang mentari
sehasrat hajat semurni harga diri.

Lama resah kita – demokrasi luka;
lama duka kita – demokrasi lara.
Demokrasi yang angkuh, kita cemuhi;
suara bebas yang utuh, kita idami!

Dua abad lalu Sam Adams berseru:
(di Boston dijirus teh ke laut biru):
Tak diperlu gempita sorak yang gebu,
diperlu hanya unggun api yang syahdu.

Kini menyalalah unggun sakti itu;
kini merebaklah nyala unggun itu.


As the coals that molest us rage higher
we shout still the message of Merdeka
for democracy as bright as the sun
as pure as dignity our purpose is one

Deep is our worry – as democracy’s wounds
long is our sadness – as democracy’s woes
at arrogant democracy we scorn
for a strong free voice we dream

Two centuries ago Sam Adams decried
in Boston was tea poured into blue seas
no need for riotous shouts full of ire
only for a truly heartfelt fire

Alight now the sacred fire
spread afar raging higher.