What is a Disgrace

May 5, 2015

Phnom Penh by the Mekong

What is a Disgrace


The Ministry of Rural and Regional Development will consider whether to appeal to the Southwark Crown court in London to reduce the sentence imposed on former Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) loan student Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, 23.

Nur Fitri AzmeerIts Minister, Mohd Shafie Apdal said this when commenting on the London court’s decision to sentence Nur Fitri to five years in prison on 13 offences of possessing more than 30,000 pornographic images and videos of children.

“We can appeal (to reduce the length of the sentence), the problem is we are subjected to the prevailing laws of the country. We have to respect the laws that other countries practise,” he told reporters after attending the MARA programme with Rompin entrepreneurs in Kuala Rompin here, today.

According to British newspapers, the smart mathematics student at the Imperial College London was arrested during a raid at his home in Queensborough Terrace nearby Hyde Park on November 20 last year, while 600 category ‘A’ videos and images – defined by British authorities as ‘extreme form of child sexual abuse’ were seized.

MARA, who were reported to have sent Nur Fitri to London to further his studies last year, terminated the study loan upon his conviction on April 30.


Silence is NOT an Option

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Silence is NOT an Option

by Ambiga Sreenevasan@www.malaysiakini.com

AmbigaThe sight of the youngsters in handcuffs and chains had a profound effect on many of us who saw them. I remember trying to make them feel better by saying that I too had been arrested. But it sounded hollow.

I had a battery of lawyers and friends by my side. I was not handcuffed and chained. They were alone, and I will never forget the fear in their eyes. The lawyers there then jumped in to help them. But what if we had not been there?

And what was their offence? Maybe some of them took part in the same rally – but so had 10,000 others. Some of them said they were sitting and having  a drink at a time after the rally had ended when they were set upon by the police.

The rally was peaceful. No one was hurt. People had fun. The police facilitated it well. Yes, there were firecrackers and one or two smoke bombs, which could have been dealt with by the police on the spot. Not much more. These youngsters had not forced a religious house to take down a cross. They had not asked for holy books to be burned. They had not made racist and extremist comments. Yet here they were, being treated like criminals..

They were bewildered, and alone

I chanced upon some of them the next day when I was sent to be photographed and fingerprinted. They were there to be photographed and fingerprinted too,I believe. Was this necessary? They still looked bewildered and alone. Some of them had not even contacted their families.

That morning the magistrate had issued a three-day remand order against them. Three days? For what? To frighten them? To punish them?

These children (and I call them children because I have children that age) will never be the same again after this traumatic experience. They will grow up having experienced the ugliness in the system that we have allowed to fester and grow. We have failed them.

We have allowed some of our institutions to become monsters with power. They push us around like we are criminals just because they can, not because they have a basis to. They flout all best practices because they believe they are not answerable to anyone. They practise selective prosecution blatantly because they know they will get away with it.

We owe it to our children to fight this abuse of power and restore our institutions to the highest standards of professionalism. Neither they, nor any of us who were arrested, deserved to be treated like common criminals.My fear is that it is happening so often that we are getting used to it. For the sake of the next generation, we must never get used to it.

On reflection, I am thankful for the experience that I had. I am thankful that we could help the youngsters in some small way and that we were there to witness the horrors that they faced. Most of all, I am thankful that so many of us witnessed an entrenched system of dehumanisation, first hand. But all this will be meaningless if we stay quiet.

Silence is not an option. Not if we want Malaysia to be a place where our young can grow up in peace and security and feel safe, knowing that the institutions will be fair and will not behave as if they are above the law.

AMBIGA SREENEVASAN is a former chairperson of the Bar Council. She, too, was detained overnight in connection with the anti-GST rally.

Unleashing ASEAN into the World

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Unleashing ASEAN into the World

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

ASEAN Summit KL 2015WHEN countries in a region act in unison, it can be so reassuring particularly when policing the region against any misdeeds. Peer pressure can be useful, but only up to a point and if it is wielded advisedly. However, things can get difficult when the misdeeds happened a century ago.

Such was the situation when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the US Congress on Wednesday. It was roundly criticised by South Korea, China and even Taiwan for failing to account fully for Japan’s war crimes in what they described as a historic opportunity for Abe to do so.

In what seemed like a Japanese production of “Mr Abe Goes To Washington”, his speech seemed designed exclusively for his hosts. It expressed “repentance” but nothing more substantive, mentioning Pearl Harbour while skirting around Imperial Japan’s horrors in China, Korea and elsewhere in Asia.

Titled “Toward An Alliance of Hope”, Abe’s speech was well calibrated: tentative yet optimistic, it sought to strengthen commitments to the US-Japan military alliance while playing on the keyword “hope” to trigger interest in the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, in the second half of the period since Imperial Japan’s surrender in 1945, China’s inexorable rise has exerted an economic pull on Japan and other countries. Tension has also risen lately over several disputed maritime territories involving Japan, China, Taiwan and some ASEAN nations.

Some of that tension is said to come from China’s recent assertiveness on disputed islands. For countries like Japan, China’s rise suggests several uncertainties about Beijing’s future conduct and its relations with countries in the region.

Flashback three weeks before Abe’s Congressional address: Singapore academic and former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani had delivered a lecture at Harvard University, noting no shortage of bad examples that the United States has set for China to follow as a superpower.

Regional analysts regard a general lack of commitment to international law as impacting on the troubling maritime disputes. Universal respect for international law is the missing ingredient in the waters of North-East and South-East Asia.

The United States had demanded, and obtained, changes in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) a generation ago. But until today, the US Senate has refused to ratify it even after more than 160 countries including China had done so.

Meanwhile, ASEAN had sought to accommodate South China Sea disputes in a Code of Conduct (CoC) with China. Beijing wrestled with the prospect until a compromise Declaration of Conduct (DoC) was agreed upon as a staging post.

China’s accession to a CoC remains elusive and no less essential today. But the United States has hamstrung itself in voiding any moral high ground by abdicating its responsibilities towards Unclos.

When, as in recent days, Washington preaches to China about respect for international conventions for regional security, it invites only a resounding rebuttal from Beijing. Thus, rhetoric and counter-rhetoric have replaced judicious behaviour on the high seas.

Somewhere between Kishore’s speech at Harvard and Abe’s in Congress, a momentous event was being played out in Kuala Lumpur: the 26th Asean Summit. Observers were anxious to see if ASEAN Chairman, Malaysia’s statement would include references to the South China Sea disputes. A combative Philippines and to a degree Vietnam wanted a strong statement against China’s claims, but a more conciliatory Brunei and Malaysia sought a more moderate tone.

The statement on Tuesday contained four paragraphs on the disputes towards the end. The tone was measured, observing that efforts at building and extending islands in disputed waters posed a risk to regional security and could undermine peace.

It was not hectoring or demeaning language intended to antagonise. Malaysia saw no need in confronting China or any other claimant country over the multi-cornered disputes. But within hours, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a response expressing “serious concern” over the statement. Still, Malaysia remained hopeful that China could be persuaded that continuing the dispute would benefit nobody.

The significance of South China Sea tensions meant that no ASEAN Chairman’s statement of the day could ignore the matter. Neither could ASEAN itself as an institution.

China has long had the impression that since the disputes involve only some ASEAN countries, ASEAN as a whole has no position on it. It then assumed that ASEAN should have nothing to say about it.That is an unfortunate fallacy. True, ASEAN as a whole cannot take any side on the disputes since most of the claimant states are within ASEAN, and most ASEAN countries are not party to the disputes.

However, that does not mean ASEAN can or should ignore the disputes since they impact so clearly on regional security. It cannot mean that ASEAN has an option to pretend that the disputes either do not exist, or they can somehow be resolved through neglect.

At the same time, countries seeking a more spirited condemnation of China’s land reclamation activities forget that some of them are doing the same thing. The difference is one of scale: no country can solely be blamed for doing what some countries are doing themselves.

Thus, the statement did not name or blame any country for reclaiming land on disputed islands. However, it also did not call for an immediate moratorium on land reclamation, which would have helped to arrest rising tensions.

In the meantime, it would not help matters to raise the stakes in any unnecessarily provocative manner. The Philippines is reportedly banking on its security treaty arrangements with the United States to press China on its claims.

Japan itself is considering joint military patrols with US forces over maritime zones. Abe’s visit to Washington has produced new defence plans that will see a more active Japanese military role in the region.

Although Japan’s plans are reportedly still tentative, there is the prospect of joint US-Japanese patrols in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Ultimately, there could also be joint Japanese-Philippine military patrols in the South China Sea. But formal arrangements still have to be worked out on this, beginning with Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s meeting with Abe in Tokyo next month.

However, regional security can best be assured only by moderate practices rather than rash or extreme measures. ASEAN itself has lasted for half a century, far longer than any of its predecessors in the region, because of its moderate nature.

Part of that temperate character sees ASEAN committed to the resolution of disputes by peaceful means as its standard operating procedure. This particular nature of ASEAN is also evident in the tone of its official statements. Nonetheless, moderation is not the only important feature of ASEAN. No less important is its inherent sense of pragmatism.

If disputes are ever to see satisfactory resolution, that resolution is going to be effected through negotiations rather than force. And that conciliatory mode is encouraged by measured and mature approaches rather than raising the stakes and the temperature.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

By-Elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin Mired in the Muck

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

By-Elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin Mired in the Muck

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

The dominant theme of Permatang Pauh and Rompin has been one of negativity. On one level this is not a surprise, given that the circumstances surrounding both by-elections are grim. In one, a man in his prime lost his life in a helicopter crash, and in another a man was put behind bars in an attempt to crush the opposition. Rather than act as a catalyst to bring positive change, the campaigns have been mired in the muck.

We have witnessed base gutter politics in UMNO’s vulgar sexual innuendo campaigning. We have seen persistent attacks on politicians (including their wives) across the political divide in Malaysia’s ‘destruction’ mode of politics. The prominence of sabotage and division has overshadowed sensibility and dignity. Despite all of this, there are important markers at stake in these contests and in Malaysia’s electoral landscape.

Najib needs strong victory

The outcome of these by-elections will affect the country’s national leadership. In Permatang Pauh, a victory for PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will likely move her into the opposition leadership position, at least in the short-term. This is despite the obstacles she faces from those within the ranks of Pakatan Rakyat, and even within her own party.

The weak machinery, the open defiance tinged with sexism and limited momentum in the campaign itself are all products of problems within the opposition coalition as a whole.

Reduced Majority expected

While attention has centered on the differences over hudud, older issues are at play, including continued resentment over the Kajang Move of last year, the resurgence of the push toward an all-Malay unity government and the real ambitions of alternative leaders to take over leadership within the opposition.

Permatang Pauh: Pakatan Rakyat  is vulnerable

The results of Permatang Pauh will shape what form the opposition will take nationally, whether it will be a multi-ethnic national opposition with the potential to reconfigure itself as an alternative for national governance, with Wan Azizah and other moderate national-minded leaders at the helm, or other alternatives. With Permatang Pauh’s ethnic composition mirroring Peninsular Malaysian demographic trends, it will be telling to see what type of representation voters will choose.

Rompin: Najib needs a strong win

Rompin has not received the same level of attention as Permatang Pauh, at least in the English language media, but it is equally important. At issue is Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s political future. This contest emerged after his friend and ally died, and the slated candidate and campaign is closely connected to Najib. His cousin Hishammuddin Hussein is leading UMNO’s campaign in the party’s political base.

Najib needs a strong victory to assure that he has the support of his party and its core. This will be similarly challenging as the machinery is not as revved up as in the past, when an incumbent leader was running and a Pahang premier was seeking a national mandate.

Najib Vs MahathirToday’s reality is that there is open opposition to Najib’s leadership within UMNO led by former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad and nationally, as the Premier has the lowest public support in his tenure. It is thus not surprising that the stakes are high in Rompin, for a reduction in support in Rompin will signal trouble to Najib’s political future. Unlike Permatang Pauh, where a reduction in the majority is expected, given Najib’s position and resources, even a small decline in support will be perceived negatively.

From goodies to grumbles

By-elections have traditionally been ‘buy-elections’, with goodies galore. The BN, with its hand on the national till and control over the mainstream media, has always had the advantage, especially in the more semi-rural and rural areas. Given the stakes in these contests, there are many items on offer, with even the Penang government making promises of new projects. It remains to be seen how impactful the use of financial incentives will be this time round.

One item that is marginally different than GE 2013, and reminiscent of conditions surrounding GE 2008, is a perceived decline in the economy. Ordinary Malaysians are feeling the economic pain, compared with the past, with a depreciated ringgit, the goods and services tax (GST), inflation and lower purchasing power.

Even in the FELDA areas of Rompin, where the drop in the prices of rubber and palm oil has hit hard, there is a sense ofnajib and his deputy relative economic deprivation. More than any issue – rights, religion or race – the main driver in voting in Malaysia is the economy, as surveys consistently show that the main issues that concern voters are the bread-and-butter realities.

As Finance Minister in charge of the economy and as a Premier who has prided himself on the country’s economic performance, negative views of the economy increase BN’s and Najib’s vulnerability.

As the campaigns come to a close, the promises of allocations have risen, with less open defence of the GST and more attention to where GST funds will go – be it towards civil servants, higher pensions and more.

Najib is trying to hold onto his political base and strengthen his position in his ongoing fight with Mahathir to stay in office. The question at play will be whether the electorate will buy into the promises in these campaigns. Will Najib maintain his credibility? Will the entrenched pattern of patronage hold out? Or has greater realism and cynicism taken root?

While the economy tests Najib, it offers a solution for the opposition. Economic realities arguably now serve as the bedrock for any base for opposition unity.

Even as the President of PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang , talks about the need for a unity government with UMNO in his speech this week in Singapore, implicitly acknowledging how close he and his conservative ulama faction are to UMNO, he cannot take away the fact that most Malaysians, and members of his own party PAS, are unhappy with UMNO’s current economic performance.

The PAS delegates at the coming June muktamar cannot ignore the common bonds the new economic realities foster. On some levels, the by-elections will be a marker of how the economy and governance drives politics as opposed to religion. On others, it will test how much the opposition leaders are concerned with the welfare of citizens, rather than imposing their ideological agenda that is not in keeping with the priorities of most ordinary Malaysians.

The results – along with the decisions of PAS voters in both elections – will spill over into the PAS party elections in June and shape the opposition as a whole.

Hollow victories or hallowed outcomes?

The expectation for both contests is reduced majorities. The main reasons for this is the expected lower turnout, with voting coming after a long holiday weekend, the negative mode of the campaigns, active sabotage and weakened support for both sides.

The last few days of the electoral campaign will include efforts to ratchet up support, to oil the squeaky electoral machinery. Surprises cannot be ruled out. Whatever happens, however, these by-elections will matter and reverberate politically after the votes have been counted.

For Malaysians looking at these contests, Permatang Pauh and Rompin may appear hollow victories, killing hope for many amidst the negative sentiment. Yet, within these contests, there may be unforeseen dynamics in the electoral landscape that reveal ongoing changes taking place.

It is indeed hard to see these changes with the muck around these campaigns, but the shifts in coalitions and conditions have created new dynamics that will likely move Malaysia towards a different political future.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research associate of the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University, where she conducts research on democracy and politics.

Dragon Tun Dr. Mahathir better than a Young Leader, says Azmin Ali

May 4, 2015

Dragon Tun Dr. Mahathir better than a Young  Leader, says Azmin Ali

PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali drew on the criticism by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as campaign material for the Permatang Pauh by-election, saying it was better to support a 90-year-old who fought corruption than a young candidate with no courage to speak up against wrongdoing by the government.

Azmin told voters at a ceramah last night that there was no use being young when one’s brain was 100 years old and lacked principles and idealism. “Better we support a 90-year-old. There is one who is making a lot of noise everywhere in the country. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is like a dragon. His type becomes stronger when he fights. He would fall ill if he doesn’t fight. I have known him for a long time. He can only survive through crisis. If there is a fight, he will be strong,” Azmin said at a ceramah on opposing the goods and services tax (GST) in Kubang Ulu last night.

Azmin was drawing a comparison between Barisan Nasional’s young candidate Suhaimi Sabudin, 44, and PKR’s more senior and seasoned candidate, its 62-year-old president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. He said Suhaimi would not have the courage to criticise Putrajaya on matters like the GST and corruption.

Najib as 1MDB advisor

Young But Weak and Unprincipled Leader

Dr Mahathir has become a vocal critic of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over various policy and governance issues, including 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) financial troubles. Azmin also touched on the lavish wedding of Najib’s daughter recently.

“All this is why Dr Mahathir is angry. Would Suhaimi have the courage to reprimand? So what is the use of being young but having no principles or idealism? What kind of leader do we want? Better a 90-year-old who has the guts to fight corruption. We will support all efforts to topple Umno and Barisan Nasional. People are going through difficult times, even reporters. We want to speak up for reporters who are having a hard time, too. Report the news properly.”

Azmin was on a roll yesterday, cracking jokes and poking fun at leaders from BN, such as Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan, who has been criticised over his effort to explain why the GST was a good tax. He made cheeky remarks about hair, lobsters which were not subject to the GST, and bashed Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar over the May Day anti-GST rally arrests, which saw several PKR leaders arrested.


The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples

by Zurairi-Ar@www.themalaymailonline.com

A lot of young Malay couples get indoctrinated into their spousal roles the moment they get married.

obedient_wives_clubDedicated to Blog Reader Nora–A Good Muslim Woman

A popular prayer recited during the Malay solemnisation ceremony wishes that the couple will emulate the relationships of Adam and Hawa (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar), Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaikha, and Muhammad and Aisyah. As it stands, none of them are particularly the best role models for a young couple in a modern world.

One fell in love with the other since she was the only female around at that time. Another left his wife and son stranded in the middle of the desert, only to attempt sacrificing his son years later. Another fell in love with the temptress wife of another man. The lesser said about the last the safer.

A Malay woman takes many vows after she is married. Among others, the husband now becomes her top priority, way above her parents. As for the husband, his number one priority is still his parents. Another vow is for the wife to never leave the house without the consent of the husband.

The message is simple, the husband is the master of the house. As for the wife, she is just a wife. For some, the indoctrination begins a bit earlier, during the pre-marriage courses that are mandatory for Muslims nationwide.

In theory, a pre-marriage course should benefit a Muslim couple. It gives essential education on the jurisprudence of marriage, and should it not work out, the divorce. The courses also offer advice on reproductive health, stress and financial management. But more often than not, these more important aspects are easily overlooked and reduced to rushed slides and presentations.

As for the rest, it would sometimes be nothing more than male religious teachers, or ustaz, telling adult jokes in order to keep students awake. At times, there will be lessons on how women are “different” from men in the way they think, and how a husband should handle his wife. For example, how to be strict with a wife who loves shopping so much until she wastes the alimony given to her.

These skewed gender roles are recycled every so often: Men are the breadwinners. Men are the more frugal ones. Men are good with money. Men spend their money wisely.Not women. They love shopping.

These course are so “effective”, that the federal Islamic authorities had even considered making another course, post-wedding, mandatory for Muslims due to the rising number of divorce cases. As soon as these youths get into their married lives, some would often get their marriage advice from of all people, popular religious clerics. After all, they see them so often, either on TV shows, or giving speeches in mosques, or on their social media accounts.

The abundance of questions on sex and intimacy being posed to the clerics, is just proof that many young couples are clueless not only of marriage, but their own spouse.

But why would they not be, when marriage is presented as a sweet dream, an end goal that must be reached as soon as possible? It’s a running joke that the top 10 bestselling Malay books will almost always be about a dream husband or wedding. It is almost the same with the Malay TV scene.

A reason behind this is mostly the cultural restriction behind pre-marital relationships. Portraying halal relationships in fiction is almost always safer than the forbidden ones. But at the same time, it provides a safe narrative to explore intimacy and sexual tension between the characters. Which ultimately resonates with young Malays, especially the girls, when such excitements are frowned upon publicly.

In the end, this has led to marriage being seen mostly as a way to obtain “halal” sex between boys and girls. Which leads to younger and younger couples getting married to seek a “morally-acceptable” sexual relationship.

Add to that the way clerics feel about how husbands should treat wives, and it is no surprise that many just cannot fathom that it is possible for a wife to cry rape against her husband.

Harussani and NajibThe attitude posed by religious clerics and Islamist groups in the renewed marital rape debate has been nothing but shocking. Instead of recognising the existence of marital rape, the Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria (above) argued that it was just a “European invention.”

Razali Zakaria, a senior editor of Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), shifted the attention to other religion, accusing them of allowing sodomy. To Razali, Muslim men are masters of the bedroom who do not need to force their wives into sex as they can always marry more wives, or divorce any who refuse them sex.

But more shocking is how many young Malay men view wives as nothing more than property held by a man, and how some women submit to the same notion.

It is undeniable that men and women, husbands and wives, have different roles to play. But these roles should always put them on equal terms, complementing and completing each other. One should not be subservient to the other.

So it all comes down to this: What exactly are we teaching young couples, with the way we view marriage and our gender roles? What sort of men are we telling young husbands to be? And when these young husbands grow to be fathers, what then, will they teach their sons and daughters?