November 8, 2018
Mahathir on Malaysia’s Foreign Policy
November 8, 2018
April 29, 2018
A new generation’s contest over Sarawak’s lost autonomy may force voters to reconsider how today’s leaders are trapped by the past.
by James Chin
Something is simmering in Kuching, and it’s not just the fragrant laksa soup of Sarawak’s capital.
Long seen as the barometer of Chinese politics in Sarawak, the Stampin constituency at the 14th general elections (GE14) will see a contest between the leaders of two political parties that claim to speak for the Sarawak Chinese community. The two parties are the Sarawak Democratic Party (DAP) and the Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP), fondly known by the locals as “soup”.
Representing the governing SUPP party is Dr Sim Kui Hian, the party president who’s had a meteoric rise. Sim only became active in SUPP a decade ago, stood as a candidate for the first time in 2011, and became party president in 2014. On the opposition side is Chong Chieng Jen, the chairman of Pakatan Harapan Sarawak (PHS) and chairman the Sarawak DAP since 2013.
SUPP-BN’s Dr. Dr Sim Kui Hian
While the Sarawak and national media try to portray the contest as the “battle of the titans” or “clash of the kings”—and focus on the fact they are the most senior Sarawak Chinese leaders on opposing sides—in reality the real meaning of the contest goes deeper than just this symbolic clash.
TO UNDERSTAND WHAT the Stampin contest means, you need to understand the personal history behind these two leaders and the historical context. First, the historical context, and then the personal history.
Under Sim, SUPP has made Sarawak nationalism and parochialism the cornerstone of the GE14 campaign. Using the tagline “I’m In for a Stronger Sarawak”, SUPP is telling ethnic Chinese voters that the Sarawak Chinese must vote SUPP in order to help SUPP and the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) “take back” political autonomy as promised under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
The irony of course lies in the fact that SUPP, together with its partners in the Sarawak BN, willingly surrendered Sarawak’s autonomy to the federal government in 1970. Most Sarawakians (or for that matter Malaysians) do not realise that Sarawak lost its MA63 autonomy in 1970 when SUPP deliberately chose Parti Bumiputera to form the coalition state government in Sarawak. SUPP then was in a unique position—it could go with either the Sarawak National Party (SNAP), an Iban-led party, or Parti Bumiputera, led by Melanau-Muslims. The SUPP-Bumiputera coalition government became the founding members of BN in 1974 with UMNO and other parties of the peninsula.
Parti Bumiputera in 1970 was a proxy for UMNO and UMNO sent a Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) minister to come to Kuching to pressure the then-opposition SUPP into a coalition government with Parti Bumiputera. From the first day of the Bumiputera-SUPP government, it was clear the while Sarawak had some powers, ultimate power was held by UMNO and the federal government.
In 1973, when the MA63 explicitly gave all the three remaining partners (Sabah, Malaya, Sarawak) a period to formally review the MA63 agreement, the meeting was abandoned and was never held. In 1974, Sarawak (and Sabah) gave up their oil and gas to Petronas. I can detail other events where Sarawak (and Sabah) lost their autonomy but suffice to say that in Sarawak, it all happened under Sarawak BN rule and all Sarawak BN MPs (including SUPP) voted in favour of many constitutional amendments which centralised powers in the federal government.
Despite this history, voters in Sarawak have short memories and get highly emotional when it comes to Sarawak nationalism. Thus SUPP and the Sarawak BN can suddenly appear as Sarawak nationalists today despite this contrary history.
Who can forget the infamous Mahathir mantra “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays forget easily)? Well, to that I can add “Sarawakians mudah lupa”.
This context of this electoral battle is therefore rooted in this idea that it is “us” (Sarawakians) versus “them” (Malayans). Sarawak DAP and Pakatan Harapan (PH) are painted as “them” as their roots are in Malaya. Ditto for the other opposition parties PKR and Amanah.
In the 2016 Sarawak state election, former Sarawak Chief inister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem was very successful in rebranding the Sarawak BN as the true defenders of the MA63 autonomy. What was remarkable was his campaign speeches in which he promised to “keep UMNO out” of Sarawak. Sarawak voters swallowed the message despite it being crystal clear that Sarawak BN was keeping UMNO in federal power. Without the Sarawak MPs from Sarawak, UMNO would have fallen from power!
The same is likely to happen this time. The SUPP’s Sarawak nationalism mantra, backed by a sophisticated social media campaign, has dented the opposition claim to be the true defenders of MA63. Prior to 2016, SUPP’s social media has been dismal, allowing the DAP to dominate cyberspace. Unlike earlier SUPP presidents, Sim has taken to social media like ducks to water. He brought in a professional team from Malaya to handle the social media, selling SUPP’s Sarawak nationalism like a slick advertisement campaign. So far, it’s working and I would argue that the SUPP’s social media presence in this GE14 is superior to the DAP’s.
THE PERSONAL HISTORY lies in the background of the two candidates: Sim Kui Hian is the son of Tan Sri Datuk Amar Sim Kheng Hong, one of the original strongmen of Kuching SUPP. Sim Kheng Hong was Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister for 17 years (1974–1991) and was known to be particularly close to Tun Rahman Yakub, Sarawak’s Chief Minister from 1970 to 1981. The standard joke among insiders is that SUPP’s Pending branch is actually the Sim family branch, since the family has exerted control over the Pending branch since its founding. In a nutshell, Sim Kui Hian was born into SUPP royalty and his rapid rise to the Presidency was aided by his family tree.
DAP’s Chong Chieng Jen
Chong Chieng Jen’s pedigree is almost similar to that of Sim Kui Hian. Chong Siew Chiang, Chieng Jen’s father, was a founding member of Sarawak DAP in the late 1970s. Prior to that, he was a SUPP state assemblyman for the Repok constituency (Sarikei town). The twist in the story of how DAP came to Sarawak occurred when Chong Siew Chang consulted Rahman Yakub, then Sarawak’s chief minister, about bringing DAP to Sarawak. Prior to that, Rahman Yakub had used Sarawak’s immigration autonomy to deny Lim Kit Siang, DAP’s national leader, entry into Sarawak. According to Siew Chang, Rahman told him he would not ban Kit Siang from Sarawak if there were DAP branches in Sarawak. The real reason, of course, was to weaken SUPP’s hold over the Chinese community by giving the Chinese an alternative to SUPP.
So the current two contestants have history going back to the early years of SUPP and Sarawak DAP. They are both the children of the most senior party members and heirs to their fathers’ political legacy. The upcoming contest is thus a clash between the second generation. Sim became SUPP president in 2014 while Chong became chairman of Sarawak DAP a year earlier.
Kuching–The Capital of Sarawak, Malaysia
The choice for the Chinese voter in Stampin is not simply “Dacing vs Rocket”—rather, it’s informed by historical context and personal history. Without understanding this, you will not be able to really understand the significance of Stampin at GE14.
June 5, 2017
Comment: It is easy to forget what it is like to be on the way down into the dumps, especially when one is heading to, or already, reaching the top. Of course, staying on and surviving the top of the totem pole is an even tougher one since it involves political acrobatics in a Malaysian situation.
Arrogance gets in the way, suddenly one feels that like Jesus Christ one can walk on the water and then gets hit by a point of inflexion when things begin to crumble and everything seems to go wrong. Your friends desert you and cheerleaders stop cheering. These are fair weather friends. Even politicians experience this sense of rejection when their political luck ditches them.
Two Fernandezs (Aegile (and her late sister) Irene are different because they lead simple lives, and are very much in touch with reality. They have witnessed human suffering, discrimination and humiliation and deprivation. Yet their dignity and integrity cannot be measured by money; their commitment to service is legendary and their sense of being compassionate Malaysian admirable. I do not know Aegile personally, but when it comes of Irene, I am privileged to know her by association with Anwar Ibrahim-lead PKR in 2007-2009. Irene was committed to her cause for justice and service to the unfortunate and the downtrodden. So in honoring Aegile, Annabelle Lee is remembering Irene who dared to be different by speaking the inconvenient truths.–Din Merican
by Annabelle Lee
Aegile Fernandez always wears the same thing.
On top of a black “Anti-human trafficking” T-shirt, she wears a blue denim shirt with a button badge with the words “I am not for sale” pinned to her left breast pocket.
People in shopping centres always ask her about that badge, and she uses these opportunities to explain what human trafficking is. The denim reminds her of her youth in the 1970s.
On both her slender wrists are stacks of colourful rubber bracelets with slogans like “Freedom”, “Stop Human Trafficking” and “Do Rescues”. A colourful scarf, “a symbol of Asian women”, completes her uniform.
“What I wear is part of my activism. It is my way of educating the public,” says Aegile, who is 68 this year.
She began doing social work as a 16-year-old, visiting the sick in the hospital in Sungai Petani, Kedah. She went on to work with prisoners, sex workers, drug addicts, HIV/AIDS patients, domestic abuse victims, refugees, human trafficking victims and abused children before becoming director at the migrant and workers’ rights NGO her late sister Irene founded – Tenaganita.
Sitting on the metal swing in the garden in the compound of Tenaganita’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Aegile shares about her 52 years in social service. This is her story in her own words:
MY PARENTS ALWAYS SAID put other people before yourself. We grew up in a rubber plantation in Sungai Petani, Kedah. My father was brought over by the British from Kerala, India as a migrant worker.
My mother, Margaret, always believed in equality and justice. She loved people. My mother had this thing where she would open the front gate at 6am, and women would drop by for a cup of Milo and biscuits before walking to work. Sometimes they would tell my mother their problems and she would advise them.
I remember even on weekends when I would sleep in, I would hear voices in the kitchen and wondered, “Why are these people in my house so early in the morning?”
We did not have much to offer, but my mother always made extra food because she said “somebody hungry might come by”.
She always reminded me, “remember you only need half of that plate of food. The other half must be given to someone who does not have food.”
She also taught me that my choice of work must not be to control somebody or to make lots of money. Rather it must be about serving other people’s needs.
I MOVED TO KUALA LUMPUR IN 1970 as a 21-year-old to work as a secretary in a big company, but after eight months I felt that it was not the job I wanted. There was something missing.
I thought about my mother’s words and decided to do the thing I love – working with people. That is when I decided to go into social work and activism. I started with organising workers.
IN ALL, I WORKED IN MORE THAN 22 JOBS. From being a waitress, a petrol pump attendant, a factory worker, to a door-to-door salesperson. You name it, I’ve done it. I deeply felt that if I was not there with the workers, I would not understand their issues and problems, or how to organise them.
I got kicked out so many times for trying to organise my co-workers. I would get kicked out from one hotel and go to work at another hotel, until I think it was at the sixth hotel when I found out I was blacklisted from all hotels in Kuala Lumpur.
When I moved on to the restaurant industry, I realised my co-workers in all these five-star restaurants were having money deducted from their salary every month for accidentally scratching or breaking wine glasses.
At the end of the month you would find them with no money left. I gave them RM5, RM10 so they would have something at least. By the end of the month, I would tell Irene “I have no money”. All my money went to sharing.
These experiences made me question arbitrary salary deductions and the low pay workers were getting. I began fighting for what workers should have been getting.
It also showed me how the Labour Department was just keeping quiet about all the broken rules. They only acted when someone walked into their office and complained. But all these workers are not going to come to you, I told them, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.
MY FRIEND CATHERINE AND I WERE PICKING UP ALL THESE BODIES AND BURYING PEOPLE of all races and religions while the authorities stood far away writing notes, telling us to wrap the bodies up in garbage bags. In the 1980s, no one wanted to help people on the streets who were drug dependent and had HIV/AIDS.
People used to ask me, “Are you not afraid of touching the bodies?” and I replied saying “I think God will bless us because we’re helping another human being, even though he or she is dead”. This was when people did not understand HIV/AIDS.
ON MY WAY TO WORK, I WOULD SEE ALL THESE YOUNG GIRLS WORKING AS SEX WORKERS along Petaling Street and wondered how could I help them.
So I went to sit in a coffee shop and got to know these girls when they came by the shop. I got to know about their life, their experiences and why are they were there. I became a friend and a sister to them.
With all the people I worked with, it was important for me to first sit down with them and be their friend. I wanted to understand all that surrounds them and why there were in those situations.
In the process I learned about the whole issue, like how drugs is not just about the person buying it but also about how they come into the country and how they get sold. I learned about these new worlds that few even knew existed.
THESE PEOPLE BECAME MY FAMILY. These people who were shunned by society were the first to offer to buy me food and take me to the hospital when I fell ill. It was much more than what my friends, who were busy with their lives, were willing to do.
WHEN IRENE ASKED ME to join Tenaganita in 1993, I was reluctant at first. In all my years of social work I never joined any organisations because I did not want to be limited by rules and regulations. But Irene had asked me to set up a migrant and human trafficking desk, and I had already been working with those communities since the 1980s.
“With all your experience, come open the desk and start this,” she told me. It was a continuation of the work I was already doing so I said I would give it a try.
THIS WAS A TIME WHEN NOBODY KNEW WHAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING WAS. I remember the police asking me once, “Why are you coming here and taking our jobs? Are you talking about traffic jams?”
This was a group of people, unseen by Malaysians, who were being brought here into the country and sold. Tenaganita became a platform, an umbrella in which to unite all my advocacy work especially when working with authorities.
In the 1990s was also when many women from rural areas were coming into the city to work in the free trade zones, in the electronic industry. Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers began coming into Malaysia. We had a lot of migrants coming in at this time and Tenaganita became a platform where these communities would seek help.
IRENE’S DEATH IN 2014 WAS SUCH A SHOCK. We always joked that I would be the one to go first. Running an organisation is not my cup of tea, I don’t like doing administrative work! My thing is to do be with communities. Like rescuing abused domestic workers.
We get people calling us saying their neighbour is abusing their domestic worker, asking us to come save her. Sometimes the community themselves helps to arrange for a way for the domestic worker to escape from the house.
Previously, we would never get such help because people did not want to get involved. People are more aware now. More are talking about the rights of domestic workers have.I AM 68 THIS YEAR AND I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL I AM IN THE COFFIN or in the ground, I must say, because I don’t even know if I will have a coffin!
As long as I have a body that can work, I will continue. There is no such thing as retiring. There is still so much to do. So much to teach the young people to take over.
MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.
October 21, 2016
Watch and decide what you think. I am of the view that both Presidential candidates lacked sense of humour. They could not put their bitter rivalry behind them even for this charitable dinner at The Waldorf Astoria, Park Avenue, New York City. It was all politics. However, Hillary’s message of unity resonates with me since this election season has been the most divisive ever in American politics. I wish American voters all the best as they go to the polls on November 8, 2016 and elect the new POTUS.–Din Merican
November 26, 2013
Non-Malays should never again dispute the special rights of the Malays and the position of the rulers, Khairy Jamaluddin said today, adding that Malays themselves never questioned vernacular schools and the citizenship of non-Malays.
The UMNO Youth Chief said in his policy speech at the party’s general assembly that the Malays had “accepted and they had never questioned” the social contract they agreed upon during the formation of Malaysia.
“If the Malays can accept it by not raising the matter of citizenship and acknowledging that we cannot shut down vernacular schools, why are there those among non-Malays who refuse to honour what they have previously agreed upon? Why are there those who ask for the Malay special privileges to be stopped, those who dispute the position of the Malay rulers and even those who cannot speak a word of the national language? If the Malay people are steadfast in their principles of upholding the agreement, we want to demand that they uphold their end of the bargain. Never again dispute what has been agreed upon,” said Khairy.
“The demography of the nation changed drastically when the Malays opened the doors of the land to other races to build the nation together. We cannot imagine how big a sacrifice this is.So great were the sacrifices of the Malay people, and all that we ask in return is for the non-Malays to accept several of those matters which I just brought up as the other end of the bargain”, he added.
Khairy also defended the existence of vernacular schools, saying that they were allowed as part of the “status quo” which had “existed pre-Independence, and which will continue to exist”.
Despite Khairy’s statement, some UMNO grassroots leaders have in the past few months demanded that Chinese and Indian schools be shut down for the sake of national unity.
Last Sunday, a coalition of 58 Malay-rights groups repeated the call, and even urged Putrajaya to silence “radical” education organisations like Dong Zhong with the threat of de-registration.
Khairy conceded today that there were “fringe voices” questioning the existence of vernacular schools, but stressed that the UMNO leadership has long accepted the current education system.
“It is already forged in the laws of the land and not even the Minister of Education can change the fate of the vernacular schools.If we do not want to bring up these matters of the things that have been given, do not question the special rights and privileges of the natives,” he said. – November 26, 2014.
Tariq Ismail is the grandson of the late former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman. He is from Aura Merdeka – Ikatan Sejagat (AMIS) group on Facebook. Tariq was brought up by the grandfather and his late wife, Toh Puan Norashikin, and is related to PM Najib and Home Affairs Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein. He has something to say about UMNO-Baru (below).
And I wonder why this diversion from Khairy Jamaluddin, the UMNO Youth Leader. The real issue is endemic corruption and UMNO Baru’s politics of patronage, race and religion, which Khairy chose not to mention. The Special Position of the Malays and Sovereignty of our Malay Rulers was never an issue. UMNO Baru played this card because it is under seige.Unless there is a serious attempt at reform, it will be a rough road ahead for the party.–Din Merican
Here is why from Tariq Ismail.
“MY FAMILY is all UMNO and I was raised in the UMNO mould. However, my family had instilled into me a sense of Bushido, which included passion and fair play. Always uphold your religion as it is a personal matter and treat others with equality.
I had tried to join UMNO in 2002 with my grandmother pulling my ears after she found the application form and her words were – I raised you and over my dead body will you join the very party that will eat you inside. Moreover, in 15 years time you will be part of a machine that your very soul will diminish.
In 2008, I did try to join UMNO because I thought the wind of change that were apparently blowing then would lead the party to progress. However, no cawangan in Johor or KL would accept me. I scouted around from one UMNO division to another with no result. The Special Branch spooks that looked after Southern Johor told me UMNO will never accept a true blue blood like me.
Just before my grandmother passed away in 2010, she made me promise her to never join the party. I never understood why until I received a call from Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) to lead the Johor siege in 2013. I refused DSAI ‘s request for me to join as I knew I would be a scapegoat if PR had lost.
I still have an affinity with UMNO, but the pragmatic and secular UMNO of old, in which they worked together with all races to ensure this nation was prosperous and united in spirit via tolerance, compassion and recognising and accepting each other’s diversity.
Today’s UMNO is a cesspool of bigoted nouveau riche that has split the Malays and encourage the Malay siege mentality. Mahathir gave the Malays a cosmetic makeover but over looked the Malay inner soul. The Malay soul is lost. Will it be recovered? Yes. Will it be from UMNO…No!
Would I support Anwar Ibrahim to be Prime Minister? No, as he was part of that UMNO Baru sheananigans. However, if DSAI were to retire and promise the public that he will not fight for “justice” and the PM seat, and if Azmin were to take the lead, I may consider joining PKR.
My strategy is such that I shall follow the winds, and forecast the tide. The ship will be steered in one direction – a Malaysia for Malaysians without bigotry or intolerance. A first step is AMIS. Show that a united Malaysian movement of social moderates can steer the nation without playing into anyone’s cards.”–Tariq Ismail
October 16, 2014
Greetings from George Town, Penang
Defending oneself against persecutors in Government service is a very expensive undertaking. Those persecutors can rely on the resources of the state and have no worry about where to obtain money to defray legal costs and related fees. They will get the money from the Treasury.
People like Kassim Ahmad who is no longer working and other activists are under enormous pressure when they have to defend themselves against the oppressive power of the state and its agents. There is no legal aid for them.Kassim Ahmad is fortunate since he has the services of my competent lawyer friend Rosli Dahlan, but he must still bear legal fees defending himself in our court, and in his case the Shariah Court.
Some friends have suggested to me some time ago that a special fund should be created to help individuals like Kassim Ahmad, Hishamuddin Rais, Azmi Sharom, Adam Adli, and others who are charged under the Sedition Act to fight their cases. I was reluctant to do so because funding involves asking money from members of the public. Of late, I was persuaded because these brave people do need our help.
So I am making appeal to all Malaysians who are prepared of their own free will to make a minimum donation of RM10 each for a worthy cause. Please send your contribution to a special account at Maybank Berhad.
Please give generously. We must do our bit to fight oppression and persecution and defend freedom and justice. I am asking you to sacrifice a cup of coffee at Starbucks and that should not be hard to do. Thank you.–Din Merican