Guna’s Take on Fake News


November 8, 2017

Guna’s Take on Fake News

One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.–P. Gunasegaram

by P. Gunaegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

QUESTION TIME | One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.

In its simplest form, fake news is just manufactured news but there are degrees. Some are outright lies while others combine untruths with elements of true news to project an image which is not wholly correct while appearing to give the impression that it comes from accurate news sources.

It is most easy to do this online by setting up websites and/or blogs to propagate the news and manufacture news to the benefit of the sponsoring authority. Thus, political parties and candidates up for election pay so-called cyber troopers large amounts of money to boost their image in the eyes of the public.

Simultaneously they engage in activities to drag down the image of the opponents through smear campaigns, sometimes unearthing true stories and twisting the context and at other times broadcasting outright lies.

In Malaysia, as elections loom large and have to be held by August next year, this whole idea of fake news, especially on social media, has grabbed the attention of politician and layman alike, especially when US President Donald Trump, who has propagated fake news against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, accuses US mainstream media of fake news in repeated tweets.

 

But in Malaysia, the situation is very different. We have had fake news with us for decades now, especially during general elections, when more or less the entire regulated media industry gets commandeered by the ruling government – BN and its predecessors.

Look at for instance, how newspapers either directly owned by political parties or those close to them behave at election time – UMNO’s Utusan group, MCA’s The Star, as well as New Straits Times, RTM1, RTM2, TV3, and even ntv7, the other broadcast media.

It is as if the government can do no wrong, it is as if the opposition is a major threat to the unity of the country. The only viable party that can rule the country is, of course, the BN, everyone else will take the country to ruin.

So the heavily-controlled mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcast organisations not just spewed fake news but engaged in regular propaganda blasts about how the government was so great, with documentaries about what it did, and through advertisements. The poor opposition is denied any airtime or space in the newspapers while the ruling party of the day runs riot over the opposition in all the various broadcast and print media.

Is it any surprise that the ruling party thrashed the opposition soundly in almost all the elections since 1969 (until the tide turned in 2008) when the opposition denied the ruling party two-thirds majority for a while? BN regained it following the collapse of many opposition parties into BN in the aftermath of oppressive measures following the May 13 riots shortly after the elections, riots which many consider to have been manufactured.

 

And then came 2008 – BN did not lose but soundly lost its two-thirds majority and five states in the general elections, its biggest setback yet. And the opposition finally began to think about riding into Putrajaya in triumph. In 2013, despite all of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts, BN did not regain the two-thirds majority although UMNO did better.

So what made the change in 2008 and 2013? In two words, social media, which remained largely uncensored and unregulated and which gave the opposition a lot more space than it ever did before – there was a new medium to send news out instead of just print and broadcast and it was accessible to all.

A game changer

The control of the print and broadcast media no longer ensured that only some news of the favourable kind reached the general public. In Malaysia’s case, social media stopped the avalanche of fake news spewing out of the mainstream manufactured news factories.

But unfortunately, with fake news making such an impact on social media in the US for instance, with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the polls significantly attributed to it, the importance of social media is being increasingly recognised as a game changer for elections in Malaysia.

Thus, both Najib and his deputy have been increasingly talking about fake news on social media and the need to counter it effectively. But in all probability what they mean is that the true news is coming out from many sections of the social media, so we have to do something about it.

 

Their thinking goes something like this: We have to counter all these things which are true which are coming out from social media – we can blank it out from the print and broadcast media but we need a social media attack to counter these truths with lies.

Thus, we see Najib claiming in his blog rather preposterously that 1MDB will save RM200 billion in 20 years for Malaysia when the truth is that it has in all probability it has already lost as much as RM40 billion.

Expect this broadside by the BN on social media in Malaysia to increase – in the US, fake news may have reached epidemic proportions already, but in Malaysia, the process is just beginning but will increase very rapidly.

It is not going to be easy to differentiate the truth from the fake news but if you stick to respected and established online new organisations such as … – you know who they are, I don’t have to tell you – you will be safe.

Stick to independent news organisations who have a strong tradition of respect for truth, accuracy and balance and who cover both what the government as well as what the opposition has to say. Look at who are behind news portals – if they are not specific enough about ownership and editorial team, be suspicious.

Verify and crosscheck sources of information. Much is passed on over social media websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp with not even a mention of the source. If you want to check the source, type a key extract into a search engine and look at the results.

Please remember, especially at election time – you are more likely to get fake news and inadequate news of the right kind from mainstream media who have had a long track record compared to some of the online news portals who may not have as long a record.

And finally, please support those who supply good, fair information at reasonable prices (less than 60 sen a day) by subscribing to them (instead of sharing passwords indiscriminately), and take out advertisements with them and donating to them. It’s a small price to pay.

The sad truth is that information that is free is more likely to be tainted. Now, who was it who said that there is no such thing as a free lunch?


P GUNASEGARAM says truth often lies hidden under a pile of lies. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society


November 7, 2017

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society

by Kevin Hewison@www.newmandala.org

http://www.newmandala.org/illiberal-civil-society/

In the mid-1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the expansion of civil society in Southeast Asia. At the time, there was an efflorescence of activism as activists campaigned against trade agreements, foregrounded gender issues, worked to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment, advocated for workers and consumers, exposed corruption, bolstered human rights and agitated for democracy.

Image result for rethinking civil society in southeast asia

The optimism of the decade was driven by a feeling of confidence that democracy was taking root in the region, growing on a foundation of thriving capitalist economies. The resonance of 1960s modernisation theory was palpable—the “Third Wave” of democratisation was said to be washing over the region. This was emphasised by the triumphs of popular uprisings in the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), Thailand (1992) and Indonesia (1998). These events were associated in the theory with the rise of the middle class and an expansion of civil society.

Two decades later, this optimism has faded. There is now more pessimism about civil society and democratisation. To understand these changing perspectives, it is necessary to give attention to recent political events, and rethink how we conceptualise civil society and its role in Southeast Asian politics today.

Civil society and democratisation

The notion of “civil society” has meanings embedded in the development of capitalism and the end of absolutism in Europe, and the consequent reduction of the weight of the state. The idea of a space relatively autonomous of the state developed quite late in colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. While anticolonial, socialist and communist movements, religious and educational organisations, trade unions and the like were established from the late 19th century, they were usually repressed.

When writing of civil society in late 20th century Southeast Asia, analysts tended to emphasise the non-state nature of civil society organisations (CSOs). Many have agreed with David Steinberg, who defined civil society as:

composed of those non-ephemeral organizations of individuals banded together for a common purpose or purposes to pursue those interests through group activities and by peaceful means. These are generally non-profit organizations, and may be local or national, advocacy or supportive, religious, cultural, social, professional, educational, or even organizations that, while not for profit, support the business sector, such as chambers of commerce, trade associations, etc.

The organisations mentioned can be formal or informal, may be charitable, developmental or political. Yet when considering democratisation, authors usually associate civil society with efforts to expand political space. Some authors identify a “political civil society,” where “non-violent … organisations and movements … seek to promote human rights and democratisation…”. Their efforts mean that the political space of civil society becomes a site of intense competition and struggle—including for the organisations that occupy this space.

Civil society and political conflict

Image result for Indonesia Ahok Protest

 

But this conceptualisation of civil society—one which views the groups making up civil society as only being non-violent and peaceful—is too limiting. Civil society and its political space is open to many groups, not just those considered “democratic” and “progressive”. That space can also be occupied by state-sponsored, right-wing, anti-immigrant and anti-democracy activists, and many others considered nasty, fascist, and reactionary. That the groups occupying civil society’s political space will sometimes be violent, and will oppose other groups, should be no surprise when we consider that all societies are riven and driven by conflict over all manner of resources.

Thinking this way of political space and civil society is not uncontroversial. Much of conventional political science, heavily imbued with modernisation theory, has romanticised civil society as the natural domain of individual and group freedoms, and sometimes conceived of NGOs and CSOs as representative interest groups. Such a perspective treats conflict and division as pathological, and misses the fact that political space is created through contestation with the state and with other groups in society. It is a view that fails to give sufficient attention to how civil society groups have actually behaved.

Contestation within civil society

Image result for malaysia bersih 5 rally

Bersih Movement in Malaysia

When we think of civil society as a site of struggle, it becomes clear that it is not always a ballast for democratisation. Islamic militias in Indonesia, racist Buddhist gangs in Myanmar and right-wing ultranationalists in the Philippines and Thailand are not forces for a democratic society—yet each undoubtedly occupies the space of civil society.

Islamic militias have re-emerged at various times during Indonesia’s reformasi era and engaged in mobilisation and violence. While the use of violence might exclude such groups from the romanticised approaches to civil society, militias have occupied a space created by democratisation, even if their activities are meant to mobilise anti-democratic groups and against some freedoms. A recent example of such anti-democratic opposition was seen in the defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the 2017 Jakarta governor’s election. The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) joined with several political parties to oppose Ahok in an acrimonious contest that involved the mobilisation of Islamic identity in huge demonstrations that targeted Ahok as a Chinese Christian portrayed as “threatening” Islam. Eventually, Ahok’s opponents gained the support of elements of the state to jail him on charges of blasphemy and inciting violence.

In Myanmar, religious groups have also engaged in racist and xenophobic activism. Radical Buddhists such as the ultra-nationalist 969 Movement and Ma Ba Tha (Myanmar Patriotic Association) have been able to mobilise mass demonstrations against Muslims and have fuelled extreme communal violence since 2012. Such groups have also been supported by elements of the state and by elected politicians, all the while taking advantage of the expanded political space created by Myanmar’s political transition to mobilise and propagandise.

Image result for Radical Buddhists in Myanmar
Buddhist monks walk during a prayer ceremony for the victims of the recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay, at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s capital Yangon on Friday, July 4, 2014. (Reuters)

 

Indonesia and Myanmar demonstrate how extremists use the political space of civil society, and elements of electoral democracy, to oppose and challenge the freedoms that have come with democratisation. These groups are connected with some of the most regressive elements that continue to populate some state agencies. So far, they have not managed to destroy the political basis of these new democracies. But to see how the political space of civil society was used to re-establish authoritarianism in a Southeast Asian “democratic success story” of years past, we only need to turn our eyes to Thailand’s decade of high-octane political contestation.

Thailand: civil society for military dictatorship

 

Image result for thailand red shirts vs yellow shirts

The Yellow and Red Shirts of Thailand

Thailand’s recent political mobilisations have been designated by the colours that define their motivations. Their massive street demonstrations mobilised many, including NGOs and CSOs. The broad Red Shirt movement and the official United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship bring together supporters of electoral politics, those opposed to military interventions, and supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirts, of course, developed to oppose the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement. The latter initially coagulated as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), wearing yellow to announce their royalism. Yellow Shirts tend to support the status quo, are anti-democratic, ultranationalist, and supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups.

In the 1990s, Thailand’s civil society, dominated by middle class interests, gained a reputation for opposing the military’s domination. NGOs and CSOs also tended to support the liberalising ideas that permeated the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997. When Thaksin was elected under the rules of this constitution in 2001, his government gained the support of many NGOs and CSOs. This support was forthcoming because of Thaksin’s initial nationalism, and his attention to grassroots issues and poverty eradication. That early support quickly drained away, with Thaksin coming to be viewed as authoritarian and corrupt.

The PAD, which was formed to oppose and bring down the popularly elected Thaksin, came to include many CSOs and NGOs which, at the time, would have been bundled into the broad category of “progressive civil society”. As the anti-Thaksin campaign expanded, the middle class, including spokespersons for civil society groups, began to denigrate the grassroots. The latter appreciated Thaksin’s “populist” policies and, especially in the north, northeast and central regions, voted for his parties in large numbers. Mobilised Yellow Shirts vilified this grassroots support for Thaksin, labelling those who voted for his party as ignorant, duped or bought.

As pro-Thaksin parties won every election from 2001 to 2011, the Yellow Shirts began an inevitable shift towards the denigration of the electoral processes itself, while declaring themselves the protectors of “true democracy”. The Yellow Shirts—the PAD and its clone, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)—emphatically rejected electoral politics, arguing that electoral victories amounted to a dictatorship of the majority. In the 2013–14, PDRC protesters opposed an election called by then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yellow Shirts blocked candidate registration, prevented the distribution of ballot papers, and tried to prevent voting on polling day. The PDRC argued that no election could be “free and fair” until the “Thaksin regime” had been destroyed. Their ultimatum was that the Yingluck government had to be thrown out, replaced by an appointed government and an appointed “reform” committee to purge those associated with Thaksin’s rule.

Backed by Bangkok’s middle class, including CSOs and NGOs, PAD and the PDRC campaigned for a “democracy” that rejected voting and elections. They wanted a greater reliance on selected and appointed “representatives”, usually opting for a royally- appointed government of “good” people. This paternalism was taken up by protesters, who claimed to champion transparency and anti-corruption while begging the military for a coup. Such Orwellian doublespeak was also in evidence when the military responded and seized power in 2014. The junta defined a coup and military dictatorship as a form of “democracy”. One pronouncement called on:

all Thai citizens [to] uphold and have faith in the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State. [The] NCPO [junta] fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democracy and a violation of the people’s liberty. However, this military intervention was inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy (emphasis added).

The result has been more than three years of military dictatorship that has narrowed political space and heavily restricted much civil society activism. Red Shirts had championed electoral politics, arguing that winning elections should count for something and reckoned that electoral democracy was the appropriate platform for political reform. Under the military junta, they have been demobilised, jailed, and repressed.

Interestingly, most of the PAD and PDRC-affiliated NGOS and CSOs have either supported, or at least not opposed, the junta. Some have continued to receive state funds. However, the relationship with the junta remains tense, not least because the junta sees some of these groups as contingent supporters, worrying about their capacity for mobilising supporters and considering them more anti-Thaksin than pro-junta. Few high-profile leaders of these groups have expressed regrets about having supported the 2006 and 2014 coups.

Complicating “civil society”

The travails of electoral democracy in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are not unique in Southeast Asia. Certainly, any notion that increased national wealth results in a civil society that becomes a “natural” ballast of democratisation should be rejected. Democratisation does increase the space identified as civil society. However, this space is not always a stronghold of progressives. As a site of struggle, civil society can be occupied by groups that are anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist, and sectarian. As the experience of Thailand and other countries has made clear, much abstract talk of “civil society” runs the risk of crediting its constituent parts with a uniformly pro-democratic outlook that they manifestly do not hold.

This post appears as part of the Regional Learning Hub, a New Mandala series on the challenges facing civil society in Southeast Asia, supported by the TIFA Foundation.

Raja Petra’s Short Story–Indian and White Women


Raja Petra’s Short Story–Indian and White Women

My friend, now on the other side of the political divide and an apologist for Prime Minister Najib Razak, is a fiction writer. Raja Petra is fun to read if you wish to wish to find comic relief and cope with the political nonsense that has transformed Malaysia into Malusia.

That Prime Minister Najib Razak is the most corrupt leader in our country’ s history is fact, not fiction. He is also a liar.  Raja  Petra disagrees with the majority of us.

Image result for Din Merican and Raja PetraPete as I know him

That Raja Petra, Pete as I know him, has abandoned his cherished civil society causes– for which he was charged under ISA, sent to jail and later released– is a fact. It is  also a fact that he has let his friends like the late Bernard Zorro Khoo, Magick River’s Antares (pic below), Haris Ibrahim, Art Harun, Lim Teck Ghee, and yours truly down et.al down.

Image result for Bernard Zorro Khoo

The Late Bernard Zorro Khoo and Magick River’s Antares

Pete  has changed his mind.  He seems to have adopted John Maynard Keynes’ dictum,  “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” But have facts changed? –Din Merican

This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance or similarity to people already dead, still alive, or about to die, is purely coincidental and we would like to apologise in advance if anyone makan cili rasa pedas

NO HOLDS BARRED

by Raja Petra Kamarudin

This is a tale of an Indian woman and a White woman colluding to oust the Prime Minister of a country that they say is going bankrupt. Hence the country needs to be saved, the Indian woman and the White woman say. To save the country they will oust the Prime Minister and replace him with an Indian Prime Minister who used to be the Prime Minister for 22 years and who was the reason the country is going bankrupt in the first place.

Image result for Ambiga and Clare

The fictional Indian woman and the fictional White woman

The Indian woman and the White woman then came out with a plan. They will accuse the Prime Minister of stealing RM42 billion of the country’s money and will spread this story far and wide. The Indian woman and the White woman were brought up to believe if you keep repeating the same lie over and over again and if you can get many other people to repeat it as well, especially other White people from White countries such as the United States, then even black can become white and white can become black.

Image result for Najib and Hadi

The problem, though, while it may have been a good plan, this Indian woman and White woman got distracted. Before the Prime Minister can be ousted, and before the old Indian Prime Minister who ran the country for 22 years and practically bankrupted the country can take over, the Indian woman and the White woman allowed their anti-Islam prejudices to get the better of them. They also tried to oust the President of the Islamic Party.

So they plotted to plant a story that the Prime Minister has bought off the President of the Islamic Party for RM90 million. Then they said another Islamic Party leader was bought off for RM200 million. And that was why, the Indian woman and the White woman said, these people decided to bring the Islamic Party out of the opposition coalition.

The fact that they did not bring the Islamic Party out of the coalition and instead the coalition was closed down is a small detail. The fact that the State Assemblymen in the opposition-run state refuse to resign even when told to do so because they still want to be part of the state government is another small detail. They say the Islamic Party left the coalition because of the bribe, which they said is RM90 million and now say is RM200 million.

The White woman then mocked the President of the Islamic Party and dared him to sue her. If her allegations are false then the President of the Islamic Party should sue her. So he did and now the White woman is upset and says that the President of the Islamic Party and the Prime Minister are colluding to smear her good name and destroy her sterling reputation. She is also counterclaiming for damages because, according to her, she is suffering from severe stress, anxiety and distress.

Why this White woman is so kaypoh about another country that has nothing to do with her is a mystery yet to be solved. Her own country is so kecoh and yet she does not talk one word about her own country and talks non-stop about another country that has nothing to do with her. Racism is so high in her own country and Muslims are being attacked but the newspapers do not talk about it. Even the capital city of her country is regarded as the most dangerous city in Europe, especially if you are Muslim.

Some say she is being paid a large sum of money to attack the Prime Minister and help the old Indian Prime Minister who bankrupted the country to take back power. I doubt it, though, because White people are noble and honest and surely they cannot be bribed. We seldom hear about White people doing bad things like non-White people. The fact that Hitler was White is coincidental and cannot be used as the measurement for all White people.

It is equally puzzling as to why the Indian woman talks so bad about her adopted country when she became very rich because of her adopted country. In her own country about 100 million Indians are involved in the prostitution industry. That is more than three times the population of her adopted country. Children are kidnapped from villages and teenage boys and girls are sold into prostitution. If they try to escape they are murdered and one person admitted on TV that he has personally murdered 500 people who tried to escape.

If this Indian woman were back in India she would probably be working in a brothel pimping children for a living. Yet she condemns her adopted country and does not say a word about the appalling conditions in her own mother country. The English call this looking a gift horse in the mouth. Muslims call it kufur nikmat — kufur coming from the word kafir.

Anyway, the White woman was told to show proof to support her allegation that the Prime Minister bribed the President of the Islamic Party for RM90 million. But she could not. Instead she told the court the Indian woman was the one who told her the story. When the media asked the Indian woman she replied ‘no comment’.

So it looks like either the White woman got the Indian woman into deep shit or the Indian woman got the White woman into deep shit. Anyway, whatever it may be both are now in deep shit. Nevertheless, the White woman has fingered the Indian woman as the person who started the story.

And this is not the first bribery story the Indian woman started, mind you. In an earlier incident this same Indian woman started the story about the Chief Minister of an opposition state being bought off by the Prime Minister regarding his Islamic Bank case. The poor Chief Minister was forced to resign because of that story and the person who went all over the country carrying this story was sued in court and eventually had to apologise to settle the case out of court.

So this Indian woman has been traced to more than just one bribery story. She somehow gets an orgasm when she tells stories about people receiving bribes. Considering some people get an orgasm when they have sex with corpses in a mortuary it makes sense that the Indian woman gets aroused when she spreads false stories about people receiving bribes.

Anyway, that is the tale of the Indian woman and the White woman who spread false stories in the hope of bringing down the Prime Minister and replace him with an Indian Prime Minister who ran the country for 22 years and practically bankrupted the country. Whether they are prostituting themselves for a lot of money or whether they get sexually aroused by doing this is not known at this stage. What is known, however, is that the White woman has shifted the blame to the Indian woman while the Indian woman refuses to say anything.

But then this is what the Indian woman is so fond of doing. She throws stones while hiding her black hands and lets others take the fall for it. And then she tells the Prime Minister that whoever wants to form the government will need the Indian votes or else, without the Indian votes, they cannot win the elections. And then they talk to both sides and offer their votes to the highest bidder like in an auction.

http://www.malaysia-today.net/the-tale-of-indian-and-white-women/

Ops Lalang: Time to set things right


November 1, 2017

Ops Lalang: Time to set things right

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang

by Dato’  Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Ops Lalang

The 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang has rightly generated much discussion about a dark chapter in our history when 106 of our fellow citizens were unjustly arrested and detained under the ISA. As a nation, we need to hear again the personal accounts of the detainees and their families, we need to confront the injustices of the past, if only to remind ourselves of the unfinished task of building a more just and democratic nation.

Taking responsibility

At the time, the government offered various reasons for the arrests including the need to forestall imminent racial riots. We know now that it was nothing but a sideshow to forestall a challenge to Dr. Mahathir’s rule from within his own party and to subdue opposition from without. And if racial tension had reached alarming levels, it was because the government then, as it still does today, sought to manipulate racial and religious issues to serve its own ends.

As Prime Minister and Home Minister at the time, Dr. Mahathir must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang. The then IGP was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more. To argue otherwise is both dishonest and disingenuous.

Dr. Mahathir may now concede that many of those who were detained were good people that he had simply demonised for political purposes but it is not enough. He should take personal responsibility and apologise to each and every detainee for the injustice he visited upon them.

Dr. Mahathir today is, of course, not the same man he was thirty years ago. He is now part of the political struggle for change and, though he is loathe to admit it, he is working to undo much of the damage that he himself inflicted upon our nation. I hope he will rise to the occasion by doing what is right.

Some have argued that insisting on an apology from Dr Mahathir would simply detract from the on-going efforts against UMNO-BN. On the contrary, an apology would immensely strengthen those efforts. It would also reaffirm that the struggle we are embarked upon is not simply about ousting an unpopular government at the next elections but about building a more just and democratic nation.

A national apology

UMNO-BN’s current leaders are no doubt relishing the fact that Dr. Mahathir is being taken to task over Ops Lalang but they should not be too smug. Some of those presently in government collaborated, acquiesced or defended Dr. Mahathir’s actions 30 years ago.

Image result for Najib Razak and Ops Lalang 1987The then IGP, (Tun) Hanif Omar was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more.

 

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, for example, was UMNO Youth Chief at the time and did his share of sabre-rattling in support of Dr. Mahathir. Other BN parties, for their part, never challenged Dr. Mahathir’s narrative or protested the mass arrests.

Image result for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

And besides, if those in authority today disagree with Dr. Mahathir’s action, they have it in their power to set things right by issuing, on behalf of the government, a public apology to all those who were detained during Ops Lalang and awarding them appropriate compensation for the wrong that was done them.

After all, it was done for the judges whose removal from office Dr. Mahathir contemptuously engineered during the 1988 judicial crisis; there’s no reason why it cannot be done for the victims of Ops Lalang as well. It’s the honourable thing to do if there is still any honour left to be found in this government.

Other countries – South Africa, Chile, Argentina, to name a few – have taken courageous steps to confront their dark past through an open accounting of the wrongs that were done. It’s time for us to do the same with Ops Lalang. It is the only way to bring closure to this dark episode in our history and a measure of comfort to those who were so badly wronged in 1987.

Tyranny triumphs when people do nothing

The other point that is worth remembering, as we mark the 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang, is that undemocratic rulers only succeed when there are people who go along with what’s morally wrong in order to get along, who bend their knees to what their heart denies, who turn away from the truth because it is inconvenient or who simply “menurut perintah” regardless of conscience or consequence.

I was Political Counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington DC when Ops Lalang took place. We were deluged by protests from concerned US politicians and civil society groups and it fell to me and my colleagues to defend the government’s actions, unwittingly repeating the falsehoods about racial tension, Marxist agitators and threats to our democracy and stability.

Now, whenever I hear the stories about how even women were tortured and mentally abused while in detention, how those in power manipulated events and people for political expediency, I am filled with dismay and remorse that I was part of the machinery that caused the detainees and their families so much anguish.

The truth is its not just Dr. Mahathir who is culpable but the entire machinery of government, the judiciary, the police, and the politicians; they may not have given the orders but they stood by and watched it happen, or worse still, allowed themselves to be used in one way or another.

To paraphrase a well-worn quote, evil triumphs when ordinary people do nothing in the face of injustice.

The unfinished struggle

The Ops Lalang detainees have modelled for us courage and determination in the face of injustice and tyranny. Years later, many remain committed and active, undeterred by their ordeal. It is now up to us to be inspired by their example and continue the unfinished struggle for justice and democracy in Malaysia.

Dato’ Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget


October 28, 2017

Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget

COMMENT | I remember vividly the day when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then Prime Minister cum home minister, revoked the publication licenses of two dailies, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and weekly newspaper Watan on October 27, 1987.

Just earlier on that day, opposition leaders Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang, as well as Chinese educationist Lim Fong Seng and Kua Kia Soong had been arrested under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA).

Image result for Ops Lalang

At 18, I was old enough to appreciate Mahathir’s autocratic act.

Shell-shocked and in disbelief, I reached for the phone and called Sin Chew‘s head office in Petaling Jaya. The guy answering my call couldn’t tell me what was really going on other than that there would not be any Sin Chew newspapers in circulation the following day and suggested that I wait for further developments.

Image result for mahathir and anwar

Anwar and Mahathir’s Requiem for Malaysia– a little too late. But an apology is required from Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

It was a sleepless night for me. Never a fan of Mahathir and growing angrier at the hawkish rhetoric of Anwar Ibrahim, then Education Minister who was widely seen as equally responsible for the crackdown, I had vowed never to support Umno/BN for the rest of my life.

Things became worse the next day as the Mahathir regime spread its dragnet far and wide. Soon, I learned that another well respected Chinese educationist, Sim Mok Yu, was also detained. In total, 106 Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds became the immediate victims of what came to be infamously known as Operasi Lalang.

Sim was already 74 years old at the time; which politician would subject an increasingly frail septuagenarian to arbitrary detention and constant fear, except for one who was heartless and power-hungry?

It was no doubt the nadir of Malaysian politics since May 13, 1969.

Outraged and feeling helpless, few classmates and I paid a visit to the staff at Sin Chew Jit Poh’s office in Jalan Maju Jaya, Johor Bahru and offered our moral support.

One Mr Foo received us and kindly advised us to focus on our studies and leave politics to others.

“The time will come for you to shoulder your responsibility as citizens of Malaysia.” Mr Foo said gently.

The rest is history.

Operasi Lalang indeed marked my political awakening. If more than 100 ordinary citizens who had done nothing more than exercise their civil rights could be detained without trial, what guarantee would there be for me to live in this country with dignity and pride?

Later on, I read from books and articles how the Operasi Lalang detainees and their family members suffered mentally and emotionally – parents, siblings, spouses, children all living in profound fear with no certainty over the future. What a heavy price to pay to speak up for injustices, I thought to myself.

After 30 years, Mahathir finally admitted that Operasi Lalang was meant to win elections, but at whose expense?

Image result for kua kia soong detained under ISA in 1987

When the remnants of Pakatan Rakyat decided to form an alliance with Mahathir more than a year ago, many saw it as a historic opportunity to defeat Umno in the next election, but I was among the very few who actually thought they were going to be beset with a host of challenges and internal feuds.

The reason is simple – Mahathir has too many skeletons in his closet and Harapan leaders just cannot attack Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak without some of the issues rebounding at them.

For instance, one risks being reminded of the lop-sided deals on Mahathir’s watch when one chastises Najib for toll hikes on highways.

And how can Harapan accuse the judges of being beholden to Najib yet expect the public to not remember how Mahathir sacked six supreme court judges in one go and subjected the judiciary to parliamentary rule?

Which is perhaps why Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, once critical of Mahathir’s obsession with our national car project, now chooses not so subtly to overlook Mahathir’s role in making Malaysia a car-dependent society with haphazard public transportation systems nationwide.

Lim Kit Siang used to call for Mahathir to own up to Operasi Lalang, and vociferously so, but has since fallen silent. Does he think Malaysians are malleable and stupid to not see it as being opportunistic?

How ironic, that an Operasi Lalang victim like Kua Kia Soong is derided as being ‘naïve’, ‘vengeful’ and ‘makan dedak whenever he writes of the need for Mahathir to face up to his political sins.

Don’t the detractors know Kua is also the one who untiringly pursued Najib for an answer for the dodgy Scorpene-class submarine deals and the tragic death of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu?

What is wrong if a former ISA detainee seeks justice from the perpetrator?

Harapan would say the timing is not right because we must all unite and work towards getting rid of Najib.

So when would be the right time for an apology from Mahathir over Operasi Lalang?

Truth be told, every Malaysian has the constitutional right to demand an apology from Mahathir, and when and how this should be done should not be dictated by any partisan considerations. Malaysia does not belong to any political party but to the people.

If a so-called government-in-waiting can procrastinate on the restoration of justice on dubious grounds, how can I not be concerned that there would be myriad of excuses to delay institutional reform upon regime change?

It is truly pathetic that many civil society leaders, mindful of the ‘big picture to save the country’, are now hesitant to endorse the statement that calls for Mahathir’s apology. If we only speak up when it is our material interests that are at stake, how different are we from the powers-that-be?

Perhaps this is why many maintained their elegant silence when Mahathir was clamping down on dissent in a merciless manner. After all, the economy was ‘booming’ and radical Islam had yet to rear its ugly head.

It does not mean that I hate Mahathir. Far from it.I merely hold Mahathir responsible for the moral decadence so prevalent in our country today – the haste to get rich and economic growth trumping human rights, to name but two.

Mahathir must, therefore, first repent before we can move on as a nation, following which we would need a real transformation of the country in which we no longer value material achievements more than human rights, for the two are not mutually exclusive to one another as either Mahathir or Najib would have us believe.

True reform cannot come about without the dark legacy of Mahathir being addressed, and a sincere and collective acknowledgement of the injustice of Operasi Lalang is the first step towards national reconciliation and restoration.

Didn’t we often cite the famous quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

Let’s not prove Mahathir right when he said Melayu, or Malaysians, mudah lupa.


JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

A Grim Outlook for China’s Civil Society in the Wake of the 19th Party Congress


October 27, 2017

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin

Number 402 | October 26, 2017

ANALYSIS

A Grim Outlook for China’s Civil Society in the Wake of the 19th Party Congress

By Ketty Loeb

Since 2012, when President Xi took the reins of power at the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, the Party has taken significant measures to both control and develop China’s civil society sector. In the first five years of Xi’s leadership, the period of civil society diversification and empowerment that characterized the Hu era was brought to a close as legal advocates, civil rights activists, and journalists working on topics deemed sensitive to the Party state were censored, harassed, rounded up, detained, or arrested.  At the same time this crackdown has been occurring, however, the Xi administration has also placed an increased emphasis on “governing the country according to law” (yifa zhiguo) and using the law to strengthen “law-based administration” (yifa xingzheng).

China has passed several significant laws surrounding the legal governance of civil society, including the long-awaited Charity Law, which the leadership claims will clarify the rights of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and citizens, improve the fundraising infrastructure, and make the management of civil society much more transparent and efficient.

The Xi administration also appears to be cultivating a swath of CSOs for public-private partnership by enabling the development of capacity building organizations, national charity fairs, and building out the domestic philanthropic sector. Meanwhile, in an apparent ‘win’ for environmental CSO groups, a recent law made it possible for them to engage in public interest litigation against polluting enterprises.

The concurrent crackdown on some aspects of civil society with the apparent “opening” of legal and administrative efforts, then, form the fine balance of the Xi administration’s approach to civil society thus far. As time has passed, though, it has become apparent that the new laws far from guarantee the rights and organic development of civil society. For instance, while some CSOs – specifically those that serve the social, economic, and environmental aims of the Party – are being actively cultivated under the new laws, CSOs and individuals working on issues sensitive to the Party are being passively or actively rooted out under this system. The 2016 Foreign NGO Law places foreign NGOs under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security (rather than the Ministry of Civil Affairs where all domestic CSOs must register) and establishes high barriers for legal registration on the Chinese mainland.  The Party has also passed several new laws aimed at strengthening the surveillance capabilities of China’s vast security apparatus vis-à-vis civil society and private citizens.  Legal scholars have argued the emerging legal system surrounding civil society in China is characterized as a rule by law system rather than rule of law system, wherein the law becomes a tool for social control by the Party rather than an independent and objective institution.The question now, and in the wake of the 19th Party Congress, is what’s next for Chinese civil society? The short answer is that the legal developments of the recent past and decisions at the 19th Party Congress suggest a potentially grim outlook.

First, Xi Jinping has now established himself as a supreme, undisputed leader whose “Thought” is being enshrined in the constitution and who seems to be setting himself up for yet another term despite the two-term norm of previous leaders. This move is unsettlingly reminiscent of the Mao era, especially paired with other developments.

Second, the power of the Party is to be significantly strengthened vis-à-vis the state and society, and the Party will continue to build out social management and “law-based administration” tools of governance. Viewed in the larger context, this indicates that the law will continue to be used as a tool for social control rather than a basis for openness.

Third, even while being strengthened, the Party will itself be subject to “strict discipline,” “zero tolerance on corruption,” and a renewed emphasis on “correct ideology.” These points put Party members on notice to fall into step with Xi Jinping Thought. The insinuation is that if they deviate (either in deed or in thought), they may fall prey to the anti-corruption campaign, or otherwise be labelled as a threat to the Party.  This looks like a move against pluralism in the Party, which will likely also serve to curtail pluralism within civil society as the Party increases its control.

Fourth, the emphasis on “correct ideology” and thought is also extremely worrisome given the new anti-terrorism and surveillance laws, as well as the recent announcement that by 2020 the Chinese government will launch a “Social Credit System” a big data platform that rates individual citizens by their “trustworthiness.”  This potentially sets the scene for social – and thought – control beyond what already exists.

Fifth, Xi’s opening speech placed great emphasis on the presence of “grim challenges” to party rule and the need for enhanced security that will require the party, state, and society to vigilant for threats. Again, this could be setting the stage for a wider crackdown on civil society.

“The legal developments of the recent past and decisions at the 19th Party Congress suggest a potentially grim outlook.”

Sixth, in tandem with the “zero tolerance on corruption” directive, Xi called for the creation of a new National Supervision Commission that will root out corruption with a far broader jurisdiction than the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which oversees CCP members.  The new super organ will expand its watchful eye to include all public service employees, including faculty at public universities, judges, and lawyers – individuals who are often on the frontline of effecting social change.  While the President claims this supervisory body will better protect the rights of those under investigation, defendants will not be given access to lawyers.

These developments largely signal a return to Maoist-style governance that has little tolerance for pluralism, and increased capacity for social control.  We have yet to see how this will play out. The ascent of former friend to civil society Wang Yang and Jiang Zemin acolyte Han Zheng to the Politburo Standing Committee are bright spots in the 19th Party Congress, and could indicate a greater tolerance for civil society than the other signals suggest.

About the Author

Ketty Loeb is the Grants and Development Specialist at the East-West Center, and holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Washington. She can be contacted at LoebK@EastWestCenter.org.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

East-West Center in Washington, 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036