At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

October 20,2016

At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

by Tess Bacala

As the international backlash continues over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the lack of due process and the consequent deaths of “suspects” in his campaign, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), along with its individual member states, has been characteristically silent.

Image result for rodrigo duterte

For instance, ASEAN’s leaders and ministers met at their summit in the Lao capital Vientiane last September and discussed a range of issues in the region and beyond. But neither the organization nor its members raised a whimper about rights concerns on the extrajudicial killings of supposed drug users and pushers since Duterte assumed office on June 30.  News reports put the figure of alleged users and pushers killed at more than 3,000 since Duterte took over.

ASEAN’s silence on this issue was not particularly a surprise, but it was the latest example of how it is not the organization’s habit to tell off a member state about its domestic issues.

More typically, it was an outside state like the United States, though not a disinterested country, that brought up the issue of human rights at the September 6-8 summit, where Duterte made his debut on the regional stage.

To human rights advocates across the region, the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, held back to back this year, should have been an apt occasion to discuss a subject that is otherwise anathema to the Southeast Asian organization, especially given its theme, ’ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together’, which defines the vision of the ASEAN Community for the next decade.

At the ASEAN-US summit in Vientiane, President Barack Obama called to mind a “common vision” for the region — “(a)n open, dynamic and economically competitive Asia-Pacific that respects human rights and upholds the law-based order.”

But this is far from how the situation is from the view of the sectors that have been at the receiving end of certain governments’ systemic suppression of dissent at home. This also comes at a time when the ASEAN Community has been formed with its three pillars — political security, socio-cultural, and economic – and where its peoples can enjoy “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

ASEAN continues to steer clear of human rights issues in line with the principle of non-interference in its member states’ internal affairs. But as ASEAN turns 50 next year, critics say this adherence to non-intervention should not be absolute, especially now that economic integration is going full throttle after the launch of the ASEAN Community’s in December 2015.

Economic but not political openness

The organization has shown much more openness – and willingness to let go of sovereignty concerns – in the areas of economics and business rather than in political areas such as human rights.

“ASEAN has promoted a harmful contradiction. Member states have abandoned ASEAN principles of ‘non-interference’ and ‘state sovereignty’ in relation to capital and economic policy but doggedly retained them in relation to human rights,” says the alternative document titled ‘Vision 2025: ASEAN Women’s Blueprints for Alternative Regionalism’.

Image result for Dr. Sorpong Peou

Ryerson University (Canada)’s Dr. Sorpong Peou

Over recent decades, Southeast Asia has experienced three ‘miracles’: economic growth, the disappearance of mass atrocities, and efforts to promote regional peace and community building,” said Dr. Sorpong Peou, chairperson of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Canada. “Large-scale killings or genocide such as those in Indonesia (1965–66), Cambodia (1975–1978 under the Khmer Rouge), and East Timor (1975–1999 under the Indonesian occupation) “have all disappeared from contemporary Southeast Asia.”

“But authoritarianism keeps threatening to return,” wrote the Cambodian-born scholar in a commentary published by the East Asia Forum in March. “Below the surface of official declarations lies an acceptance among most ASEAN leaders that democracy and human rights should not be pushed too fast and too far.”

Appreciation and interpretation of human rights are subject to national interest rather than international human rights standards,” said Jaymie Ann Reyes, program manager of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The Working Group, a coalition of individuals and organizations that include civil society and academics, engages ASEAN on specific rights initiatives.

Rights? It depends

Image result for asean human rights declaration 2012

Some human rights themes and focuses are more acceptable to ASEAN such as women’s rights, children’s rights, and rights of persons with disabilities,” Reyes added.

All 10 member states have ratified the UN Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Rights of the Child, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “But there are more ‘sensitive’ issues that are not discussed for fear of violating the principle of ‘non-interference,’” she said.

One of these is refugee protection. The majority of ASEAN countries have not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1954 Statelessness Convention.

A wide range of other rights concerns continues to exist today across the region of 620 million people.

In Indonesia, the vigorous implementation of the death penalty, the enactment of more discriminatory laws against women, and violent attacks against religious minorities are bedeviling the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

Image result for Malaysia's Human Rights record

Neighboring Malaysia recently passed the National Security Council Act (NSCA), which empowers the government to declare martial law in areas where there are perceived security threats. Singapore’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, passed in Parliament just a month ahead of the Vientiane summit, is seen as yet another attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the city-state.

The decades-old Internal Security Act, which allows arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial, remains firmly in place in Singapore. (A similar law in Malaysia was abolished in 2012. Yet four years later, the NSCA came into force.)

Thailand’s new constitution — approved in a referendum on August 7 — is seen to reinforce the military’s two-year hold on power.

“For the people in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, the democratic crisis has meant increasing crackdowns on journalists, human rights lawyers, opposition politicians, bloggers, activists and religious leaders. Political deterioration has also contributed to internal conflict in Southeast Asia,” said Yuyun Wahyuningrum, senior advisor on ASEAN and Human Rights at the Human Rights Working Group, a coalition of more than 50 groups advocating for human rights in Indonesia.

The Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), sees “a trend of shrinking civil society space” despite “ASEAN’s aim to be a people-centered and people-oriented community”.

In Cambodia, government critics have been jailed, and more oppressive laws passed. For instance, Kem Ley, leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer, was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital Phnom Penh on July 10 this year.

Although Myanmar has ceased to be a pariah state, its democratic transition has been marked by concern over discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless in the mainly Buddhist country.

Punishment under Hudud

Image result for Hudud Punishment

Critics have also dubbed as medieval Brunei’s announcement in October 2013 to impose a tough shariah penal code system, after its chairmanship of ASEAN that same year.

Yet ASEAN prides itself on having an “overarching human rights institution” such as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

In fact, the ASEAN Chair’s statement in Vientiane commended the commission for “the progress of (its) work” and urged it to “promote the mainstreaming of human rights across all three pillars of the ASEAN Community”. But how such “progress” is measured and improves the rights landscape is not clear.

On the eve of the Vientiane summit, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights appealed to ASEAN leaders “to press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rights and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.”

This referred to the unresolved disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, missing since December 2012. The Lao government had earlier said the issue had no place at the ASEAN meetings.

Looking back, ASEAN’s road to setting up a human rights commission – whose limitations its own commissioners concede – has been far from smooth. The commission’s creation was already a feat by itself.

Image result for asean charter

ASEAN launched in Bangkok in 1967

The regional grouping laid down the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which stipulated the creation of a human rights body. AICHR was created in 2009. In a process criticized by civil society for falling short of international standards, ASEAN drafted an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012.

From being taboo, human rights principles were slowly integrated into ASEAN documents, institutions, and language. ASEAN bodies and government representatives are slowly adopting and using human rights language,” said Reyes of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism.

But the AICHR’s limited mandate does not include receiving and investigating rights complaints. “It is high time it (AICHR) evolved from promotion to the protection of human rights,” said a statement by the Thai Civil Society Network on ASEAN and AICHR.

Today, “all ASEAN human rights instruments recognise universal human rights standards with caveats: the principle of non-interference and due regard to the different culture, history, and socioeconomic condition in each ASEAN member state,” Ranyta Yusran, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law, said at a legal conference in Beijing in May.

Wahyuningrum of the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group said: “Human rights and democracy issues (in the region) are not going to simmer down. How is ASEAN going to keep up with these changes if it remains too bureaucratic and difficult to engage with?”

But she said there are encouraging signs. At a recent meeting she attended in Bangkok on legal aid and witness protection for victims of cross-border trafficking, participants acknowledged the political differences among the member states they were representing, but nevertheless focused on cooperation. The participants wanted to develop a cross-border witness protection standard operating procedure, which is a “good start,” she said.

Although AICHR has not adapted to “the changing context and structural challenges” of rights protection, Wahyuningrum credited it with initiating activities that have helped set “different platforms for subregional debate on human rights and clarified the ASEAN dimension on responses to human rights issues”.

For Reyes, there has also been “more robust engagement between and among non-governmental and civil society organizations,” though this faces challenges.

All eyes are now looking to 2017, when the Philippines takes its turn as ASEAN chair during the organization’s 50th year. The country has had a record of speaking up against rights abuses in ASEAN, but there are questions about how – and whether it can still do this credibly – given the furore over extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

Tess Bacala wrote this as a fellow of the Reporting ASEAN project of Inter-Pres Service (IPS) Asia-Pacific (  This story was produced under the “Reporting Development in ASEAN” series of Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific. 

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties

October 13, 2016

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties: A Case of Muslim Hindu Relations

by Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

Image result for Muslim-Hindu Ties in Malaysia

Although Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, the understanding of many Malaysians since independence in 1957 was that the minority religions and races ought not to be made to feel threatened that they would not be able to maintain their respective identities and promote their cultures. This understanding was based on the belief that there was sufficient political and cultural space for all religions and cultures to thrive while Islam continued to be the state religion.

The belief in the possibility of harmonious co-existence between the different communities in the country has recently been shaken due to the assertion of a more exclusivist Muslim identity among the religious and political elite. This has affected Malaysians’ perceptions of the state of ethnic and religious harmony in the country. A case in point is the relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Recent incidents involving Hindus and Muslims serve to heighten fears that Malaysian harmony is gradually being eroded.

The decades of peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims are slowly giving way to a more intolerant stance taken by some Malays in which a Malay-Muslim identity is stressed at the expense of non-Muslims, sometimes resulting in the denigration of their ethnicity and religions. For example, in June this year, Malaysians were shocked to learn that in the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Islamic and Asian Civilisations module, derogatory remarks were made about both Hinduism and the Sikh faith.

Image result for Moderation in Malaysia

What was so insulting about the content of the module was that the lecturer claimed that Islam had introduced civility to the lives of Hindus in India. It was also said that Hindus preferred to be “dirty”, and that it was only Islam that had taught Hindu converts to Islam the importance of cleanliness. Although UTM conducted a probe and subsequently terminated the service of the offending lecturer, it was astonishing to many that such content could be taught at a university. The UTM fiasco was not the only example of bigotry against Hindus. There were five cases of Hindu temples being vandalised in recent months in Perak and Penang. While these are all isolated incidents, they have led many to wonder if this is the beginning of the onset of mistrust and intolerance between Malaysia’s different racial and religious communities.

Muslims in Malaysia should think more about who their Hindu countrymen are. One way to do so is to acquaint themselves with the writings of Abu al-Rayhan Al-Biruni, a Muslim scholar who was an authority on the religions of India. Born in 973 in Khwarazm in what is present-day Uzbekistan, Al-Biruni was in the court of Mahmud Ghaznavi (979-1030), the ruler of an empire that included parts of what is now known as Afghanistan, Iran and northern India. Al-Biruni travelled to India with the troops of Mahmud and lived there for years, during which time he mastered Sanskrit, translated a number of Indian religious texts to Arabic, studied Indian religious doctrines and wrote several books and treatises, including the Kitab Fi Tahqiq Ma li-l-Hind (The Book of What Constitutes India).

Image result for Extremism in Malaysia

He refrained from making value judgments about other religions from an Islamic perspective. He was very conscious of the need to present India as understood by Indians themselves. In order to do so, he quoted extensively from Sanskrit texts. His objective was to study the religions of India in order to bring the two communities closer together. He states that the reason for embarking on his research on India was to provide Muslims the essential facts they would need when they encountered Indians and wished to discuss with them aspects of Indian religion and culture.

Al-Biruni considered such dialogue with Indians as crucial as it would create more understanding on issues about which Muslims remained very vague, as far as their understanding of Indian religions was concerned.

It was also his view that the Indians believed in a single god, by which he meant the same god that is worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims.He was the first scholar, in the Muslim world as well as the West, who approached the study of Indian religions objectively and avoided treating the Indians as mere heretics.

Image result for Kerismuddin

Malaysia is generally speaking a harmonious society. But, the political developments of recent years, which have seen an unhealthy development of identity politics in the form of, among other things, reckless statements made by politicians, religious leaders and educators, threaten to upset the current harmony that informs our society. This will potentially affect Hindu-Muslim relations.

The worrying trend in Hindu-Muslim relations suggests that there is clearly a need for dialogue between the Hindu and Muslim communities of Malaysia. The purpose of this dialogue would be to examine the commonalities in values, beliefs and culture that exist between Hinduism and Islam and to reaffirm the commitment that the two communities have to peaceful co-existence.

It is vital, for the sake of maintaining mutual respect and tranquillity in this country, that the political and religious leaders continuously speak out against bigotry and violence in the name of religion. Muslim leaders have a particularly greater responsibility in view of the fact that Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. This means that the Muslim political and religious elite should not merely tolerate the presence of non-Muslim minorities but actively protect their rights and property.

The writer is an associate professor in the departments of sociology and Malay studies at the National University of Singapore.

S.E.A. View is a weekly column on South-east Asian affairs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline ‘Malaysia’s troubled Muslim-Hindu ties’. Print Edition |


Malaysia is a Garrison State–Fijian soldiers died in Vain



A few days ago I sent an old friend and a Ph. D colleague – Dr. James Anthony who now lives in Hawaii – a copy of a forum article on the sources of UMNO’s hegemony in the country. The article was written for Sahabat Rakyat, an NGO on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. See

Jim worked on urban politics in Malaysia for his dissertation and has kept up a keen interest in Malaysia. This is his sharp and chastening reply reproduced with his permission.Ending on a dismal note, Jim is among many foreign friends who are concerned about the train wreck happening to our beloved country.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Malaysia is a Garrison State–Fijian soldiers died in Vain

by James Anthony

Hegemony of this kind–or indeed any kind–is hard to dislodge with logic and appeals to reason.

In Malaysia there is a hardened (ossified is a better word), foundation of hegemonic systemic units in place and have been in place for close to six decades. That a while. Besides, consider the contextual political situation: For all intents and purposes UMNO’s long-standing position is that Malaysia is a Muslim country — all of the disinformation and blather and lip service to “democratic ideals” aside.

The Federal Treasury is UMNO’s piggy bank (bad metaphor for a so-called Muslim country). Deep pocket is a more value neutral metaphor. Old law of politics: Those who control the purse strings are effectively in control of the country. UMNO is not going to voluntarily give up on its stranglehold. In all likelihood UMNO will do whatever it can get away with to strengthen its stranglehold. People in power do not just give their power away to be nice and gracious. That is not the way the world works. You know that.

So what to do?

1.You keep talking about it as you are now doing and have been doing. Not much happens.

2. In a vague way reformers HOPE that something will happen to change things. HOPE IS NOT A PLAN

3. Any type of structural reform is not in the cards. You have a domestic army, stitched together from top to bottom with members of one ethnic group in control. Well armed and well-trained.

4. The Malaysian version of Islam is part of an Pan-Islamic movement very much on the move world-wide.

5. Push too much and what? –back to 1969?

6. If you expect too much from the Opposition you are headed for heartbreak. The Opposition is tied to the “system” — jobs, bread, money, some crumbs to distribute to followers.

Image result for Malay racists

You are on site, in the belly of the beast. Do you sense that the walls of Jericho are beginning to develop cracks, fissures? I do not sense that. The Malaysian elite is dug in. UMNO is dug in? The Judiciary is toothless, I think. There is no evidence from 1948 till now of the UMNO Malays giving in to anything–they are in power and intend to remain in power. I think they know that the Opposition, such as it is, –for want of a better term – is a limp penis.

Can Malaysia Be a Mature Democracy?

Malaysia does not act in its own best self interest by tenaciously clinging to anti human rights legislation that has been on its books since 1948. Malaysia needs to grow up and cast aside old myths and face new realities.

Malaysia’s repressive legislation, including the latest, does not enhance its standing in the world and — and this is of great importance — it also left-handedly taints Islam’s standing in the world. From the years of the ‘Emergency’ through the immediate post Emergency period when local government in both Kuala Lumpur and Penang were eviscerated by the then UMNO-MCA-MIC government (I know. I wrote a PhD dissertation on the subject based on CONFIDENTIAL files I pored over for more than a year). This slippery slide continued well into the tragic events of 1969 and on into the 21st century, Malaysia seems to be governed by sleight of hand and by double talk, worse than anything that Orwell could ever imagine.

Image result for Malay racists

Malaysia has become more of a Garrison State papered thinly over by paper-thin democratic forms which are symbolic and not much more.

Sad. Very sad. Malaysia’s assault on the human rights of its citizens makes it look shabby, cheap and unworthy of Islam’s great truths. Malaysia’s record of anti human rights legislation demeans and diminishes the best and the brightest of its citizens (and many others) and in that process demeans, diminishes and belittles its own image in the eyes of the world.

Image result for fijian soldiers british army

Hundreds of soldiers from the land of my birth (Fiji) fought in Malaysia’s jungles against freedom fighters dubbed “Communists” by the foreign regime which had been unceremoniously driven out by the Japanese at the outbreak of World War II. Fijians were told that they would be fighting to establish democracy in what was still then Malaya. Fijian soldiers fought and died for an empty promise. What they fought for was a lie. What you have in Malaysia today is anything but democracy. The big lie of the late 1940s is still a lie, a cancerous growth that has grown … and grown … and grown.

It is reasonable and plausible to argue that Malaysia has long been in the tightening grip of a religio-political-ethnic elite deeply committed to xenophobic religio-cultural–ethnic parochialism.

Image result for Najib and his kleptocrats

UMNO has the national government on a very short leash that has grown shorter over the years. Instruments that have had the net effect of diminishing human rights have been on the rise and continue to rise. Under these circumstances it appears that the national government can neither rule fairly nor govern in a way that remotely resembles democracy.

The instruments of accountability are weak, anemic might be a better word.. It might even be argued to good effect that the national government is running out of time. The national government might be well advised to do what train crossings advice: ‘Stop, Look, Listen.” There’s a train coming.

Book Review: Hero of the Empire

October 6, 2016

by Jennifer Senior

Candice Millard’s third book, “Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill,” would make a fine movie, though Richard Attenborough did, in a sense, get there first. In 1972, he made “Young Winston,” drawn from Churchill’s own account of his early life, and it includes the same material Ms. Millard recounts so thrillingly: the future prime minister’s brash heroics in the South African Republic in 1899, which culminated in a prison break and nine days on the lam.

“I’m free! I’m free! I’m Winston bloody Churchill, and I’m free!” he shouts in the film, just as he crosses the border to safety — a moment, we later realize, that could just as easily have referred to Churchill’s psychological relief as his physical freedom: He had finally shaken off the legacy of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, whose formidable early accomplishments and later humiliations stalked him like the moon.

Image result for hero of the empire millard

As her subtitle suggests, Ms. Millard similarly believes that the conflict in the Boer Republics profoundly influenced Churchill. But her book is much shorter on the anxiety of influence and far longer on the blustery impatience of youth. In Ms. Millard’s retelling, young Churchill was entitled, precocious, supernaturally confident — one of those fellows whose neon self-regard is downright unseemly until the very moment it is earned.

Image result for Young Churchill of the Boer War

“Churchill seemed far less Victorian than Rooseveltian,” she writes. (Well, his mother was American.) Or, as his first biographer wrote: “Winston advertises himself as simply and unconsciously as he breathes.”

On its face, Churchill’s role in the Second Boer War may not seem like a substantial enough subject for a book. Don’t be fooled. Over the years, Ms. Millard has made a stylish niche for herself, zooming in on a brief, pivotal chapter in the life of a historical figure and turning it into a legitimate feature-length production. In “The River of Doubt,” she focused on Theodore Roosevelt’s adventures in the Amazon basin to recover from his defeat in 1912. (These excursions seemed to be the political equivalent of rebound girlfriends for him.) In “Destiny of the Republic,” she focused on the assassination of James A. Garfield, particularly the doctors who serially bungled their attempts to save his life.

The story Ms. Millard tells here is no less cinematic or dramatic. Churchill covered the Second Boer War as a correspondent for The Morning Post, but he was hardly an ordinary reporter: He insisted on traveling with his valet; he took along roughly $4,000 of fine wines and spirits, including 18 bottles of St.-Émilion and another 18 of 10-year-old Scotch.

Most critically, though, he brought with him a great thirst for redemption. Churchill, 24, had just stood for Parliament and lost, having made the dire mistake of running “on the strength of his father’s name rather than his own.” Though he’d already fought in two wars — one in Sudan, the other on the northwest frontier of British India — and witnessed another as a reporter in Cuba, he “returned home every time without the medals that mattered, no more distinguished or famous than he had been when he set out.”

It was not for lack of trying. He charged the Pashtun while riding a bright gray pony. He stuck out like a bride.

Churchill hoped that the Second Boer War would finally do the trick. It did, and how. While on a scouting expedition on an armored train, he and scores of British soldiers were shelled by pom-poms, vicious weapons with a deceptively quaint nickname. His army instincts took over, and it was in large part because of his courageous efforts — and a dash of MacGyver ingenuity — that anyone on the train came back.

The bad news: Churchill was captured. The good news: Everyone in England knew about his bravery. The headlines were the stuff of his dreams. “MR. CHURCHILL’S HEROISM” screamed The Yorkshire Evening Post.

Image result for hero of the empire millard

This part of the book — where the train derails — is the only part where the narrative derails, too. (The logistics of this particular skirmish? A bit of a bore. Or rather, too minutely conveyed. They’re hard to follow.)

Soldier through. The rest of Ms. Millard’s book — about Churchill’s time as a prisoner of war, his audacious escape, the outcome of the conflict — are as involving as a popcorn thriller. Ms. Millard does an excellent job conveying the drama of confinement, both inside the prison and out. Being on the run meant hiding in many dark, dank, undignified spaces. It meant tolerating uncertainty, which Churchill hated. It meant being powerless, utterly dependent on the mercy of strangers, and he hated that, too. “It had been hard enough,” she writes, “to take orders from his superiors while he was in the army.”

Ms. Millard also shows, as she has in her previous work, that she has a great ear for quotes — an underrated virtue in writers of history. (Favorite example: The British Ambassador to Berlin wrote that Churchill’s mother had “more of the panther than of the woman in her look.”) Her eye for detail is equally good. With just a few key images, she conveys how the most formidable empire on the planet could be so discomfited by an unpolished, seemingly ragtag army of Boers: “At most, British soldiers spent two months of the year actually training to fight,” she writes. “The other 10 were devoted to parading, attending to their uniforms and waiting on their officers.”

It didn’t help matters that the British soldiers brought heaps of amenities into the field, which required many mules and oxen to lug. They were the hopeless dowager aunt who brings way too much luggage on holiday.

But the real example of profligacy in this story may be young Churchill’s ego. It’s not a surprise, exactly. What’s striking is the high volume of evidence Ms. Millard has compiled to show how unswervingly he believed in his own majestic destiny more than 40 years before he fulfilled it, and how early this belief began to appear, like the first visible outlines on a Polaroid.

“I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending,” Churchill wrote to his mother from Bangalore, trying to reassure her he wouldn’t be killed in India.

The powerful really are different from you and me. They have more confidence. It requires outsize stamina and self-assurance to save a nation. “The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults,” his first love, Pamela Plowden, once said. “And the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.”

Hero of the Empire

The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill

By Candice Millard

Illustrated. 381 pages. Doubleday. $30.

A version of this review appears in print on September 22, 2016, on page C6 of the New York edition with the headline: That War Where Churchill First Earned His Spurs. Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Rukun Negara: Make our National Ideology the Preamble to our Constitution

October 4, 2016

Rukunegara: Make our National Ideology the Preamble to our Constitution

By G25


G25, a group of moderate Malaysians concerned about peace and national unity among the various races, issues this public statement to support the suggestion by Dr Chandra Muzaffar that the Rukun Negara be made the preamble to the Malaysian Constitution. The Rukun Negara is the national ideology for creating a united and prosperous country and it is, therefore, appropriate that it be elevated to be the preamble to the Constitution, which is the supreme law in our parliamentary democracy.

Dr Chandra’s suggestion is timely in view of the current state of national unity which is still fragile despite the country achieving remarkable progress in its 60 years of economic development. While in terms of income and key social indicators Malaysia is fast approaching the status of a developed country, all these impressive statistics will have little meaning if we continue to be a divided nation. Indeed, unless we resolve the socio-political issues of race and religion that continue to cause friction among the population, and which often create barriers in formulating strong policies for growth, quality education, talent development, meritocracy, innovation and creativity, there will always be doubt about the sustainability of our development process and our progress towards a truly united nation.

Image result for malaysia one people ome country

It is worthwhile to remind Malaysians that when the government launched the Second Malaysia Plan (1971-1975) – the first five-year plan to incorporate the objectives of the New Economic Policy in the development programme – the plan document stated in paragraph 7 of Chapter 1 that “these objectives will be guided by the principles of the Rukun Negara, proclaimed on 31st August 1970.” We would like to quote from paragraph 10 of the plan document for further clarification:

“10. The quest for a national identity and unity is common to many countries, especially new and developing countries. This search for national identity and unity involves the whole range of economic, social and political activities: the formulation of education policies designed to encourage common values and loyalties among all communities and in all regions; the cultivation of a sense of dedication to the nation through services of all kinds; the careful development of national language and literature, of art and music; the emergence of truly national symbols and institutions based on the cultures and traditions of the society. The basic point is emphasised in the Rukun Negara ‘…from these diverse elements of our population, we are dedicated to the achievement of a united nation in which loyalty and dedication to the nation shall over- ride all other loyalties’. ”

The plan document was adopted by Parliament in April 1971 and marked the start of an ambitious Outline Perspective Plan 1970-1990 under the New Economic Policy to develop the country with growth and distribution to eliminate poverty and reduce the racial imbalances in the country. Although much of these social engineering objectives have been achieved, national unity remains fragile.

G25 concurs with Dr Chandra that by making the Rukun Negara the preamble to the Federal Constitution, it will confer upon the national ideology the status of law that will guide the courts and other institutions of justice in making fair and just decisions on issues of race and religion that threaten to adversely affect racial harmony and national unity. By giving constitutional status to the national ideology, policy makers, administrators, civil servants, teachers and law enforcement authorities can refer to it for guidance in making the right decisions that will contribute towards national unity.

Image result for End Red Shirt Racism in Malaysia

Stop these Racists from destroying Malaysia

Civil society, human rights activists and the public can refer to the Rukun Negara and cite its fundamental principles in seeking fairness and justice in the social and economic policies of the government and in the implementation of the civil and religious laws.

In these ways, the Rukun Negara will become the overriding philosophy by which Malaysia develops into a truly united country with mutual respect for our diversity and multiculturalism.

We appeal to all civil society organisations and the government to give serious attention to the suggestion by Dr Chandra Muzaffar.

Watch this with thanks to Dr Phua:

National Ideology (Rukunegara)–The Unity Glue

October 3, 2016

Malaysia: National Ideology (Rukunegara)–The Unity Glue

by Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

Image result for National Unity for Malaysia

 A nation without an ideology is like a teenager without a direction. A direction of some sort, even a broad and general one, for example, to appreciate life and its gifts is essential to determine the quality of life.

It also acts as a fence that reminds the teenager to be wary of influences that may make him unappreciative of life’s gifts, such as indulgence in drug abuse.

Image result for The Racist Red Shirts in Malaysia


Likewise, a nation will just float along aimlessly and in conflicting directions if the people lack a national ideal they can use as a yardstick. I have written many times before, asking what is our national dream and philosophy, keeping in mind we are a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and cosmopolitan nation.

We require a common national philosophy and a set of national values that can unite us as Malaysians and guide our Malaysian spirit to evolve and grow. Like nurturing a child, a nation requires constant nurturing, too.

Today, we perceive our nation to be in a state of ethnic, religious, social and economic tatters. Madness in behaviour and speeches, and mediocrity in work and productivity appear to have become a national norm.

Our leaders have to be proactive to reverse this trend and correct the perception. If the leaders are able to remove the political cataract blinding their eyes, they will see the nation is crying out for a direction and a national philosophy all Malaysians can identify with.

As a nation that achieved independence, we were learning how to co-exist as Malaysians due to our diverse backgrounds.

We had our first racial clash, albeit politically originated, in May 1969. That was our first and I am sure our last bitter experience of a civil clash.

Image result for May 13 Riots in 1969

As a result of this bitter experience, our past leaders were wise to recognise the need for a national ideology which can be a guiding force to unite and provide a national direction for the people.

The National Consultative Council, headed by the late Tun Abdul Razak, had the unity and “soul” of the nation in mind when the principles of the Rukunegara were formulated.

What is so special about the Rukunegara? Firstly, everyone seems to have forgotten it was formalised as a national ideology through a declaration by none other than DYMM Yang diPertuan Agong on  August 31, 1970.

I learned the Rukunegara in school and I recall reciting it at school assemblies. It represented our national values. It has five main principles namely, Belief in God, Loyalty to the King and the country, upholding the Constitution, Rule of Law, and good behaviour and morality.

The purpose of instilling these five principles is explained by the preamble to the Rukunegara. The preamble provides Malaysia aspires to achieve a greater unity for all her people by:

  • Maintaining a democratic way of life;
  • Creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation is equitably shared;
  • Ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions, and;
  • Building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology;

The Rukunegara contains not only universal values so relevant to a diverse society like ours, but it also sets a clear direction which we all can share to make this nation great. We really need to be united by common values before we are pulled apart by mischief makers in our society who are bent on dividing us.

Image result for The Racist Red Shirts in Malaysia

Image result for The Racist Red Shirts in Malaysia

What is urgently required now is the rebirth of Razak’s political will to give life to the principles of Rukunegara. I support the increasing call that the Rukunegara is made as a preamble to the Constitution of Malaysia.

This will allow the courts to interpret the Federal Constitution within the context of the national philosophy particularly with regards to the protection of the fundamental liberties of the citizens as enshrined in the Constitution.

It will also enable the protection of the constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary democratic political structure of our country.

If our current leadership has Razak’s wisdom, foresight and courage, I foresee discussions, conversations and the political will to promote the Rukunegara to the position it was meant to be.

However, as JUST International President Dr Chandra Muzzafar recently pointed out, since the 1980s, the Rukunegara seemed to have been systematically shunted aside. Is it any surprise then there is a feeling today that our nation seems to have lost its soul while we may have generally achieved major material progress?

I appeal to our current leadership to put back the soul in our nation.

* Jahaberdeen is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement which encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at