Happy 58th Birthday, my Country


August 30, 2015

Happy 58th Birthday, my Country

Din and Kamsiah at Bersih4.0August 31, 2015, Malaysia, my country, turns 58. I congratulate fellow Malaysians. I pray that we remain free, strong and united as a people, that we will no longer in the coming years be identified by the color of our skin, our ethnicity and religion, and that we will live in peace. We must not call just ourselves Malaysians, we must think and act like Malaysians.

We face difficult times in the months ahead. The politicians like  Prime Minister Najib Razak want you and I to think that our economic fundamentals are strong. Economists and pundits have been paid to endorse that view. If we believe them, we do so at our own peril. If you want to know about our economic health, please talk to small businessmen and the ordinary struggling Malaysian workers, and they will  tell you the truth.

The performance of the Ringgit against the US dollar and other major currencies including those in ASEAN is good indicator of loss of confidence in our government led by Najib Tun Razak.  I was with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah at the Bersih rally in the Dataran Merdeka and Jalan Tun Perak area this afternoon and was privileged to have the opportunity to a number of Malaysians who had spent the previous night sleeping in the open space. They showed great courage and determination, not despair because they know change is coming because they want change.

Our Prime Minister cannot connect with ordinary Malaysians like I was able to do. I am one of them. Like the Malaysians, I know what it takes to make our country great again. It will require commitment, hard work and self belief.  So my fellow Malaysians, Malaysia is you and I, not bricks and mortars. You and I as free individuals can determine its future. When politicians let us down, we remove them. Prime Minister Najib can no longer be trusted.  And that is  why thousands upon thousands of Malaysians at Bersih 4.0 want him to go.

Congratulations to you all, my fellow Malaysians. Let us resolve on this special day to do our best for our King and country. –Din Merican

Bersih 4.0 is a Call for Democratic Reform in Malaysia


August 28, 2015

Good Luck to All Malaysians at Bersih 4.0. Don’t be easily provoked byDM B.40 agent provocateurs who will be among you on August 29 and 30. It is important that we keep our cool so that our protest will be peaceful and orderly. All will be lost if we cannot maintain order and discipline. Never give the Prime Minister the opportunity to declare a state of emergency and rule by decree. Remember the rest of the world is watching us in our struggle for democracy and good governance.–Din Merican

Opinion: Bersih 4.0 is a Call for Democratic Reform in Malaysia

by Maria Chin Abdullah

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Bersih4

This weekend, Malaysia will have a mammoth 34-hour “Bersih 4” rally in the national capital Kuala Lumpur and regional capitals Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia. Hundreds of thousands are expected to color the cities yellow, echoed by the Malaysian diaspora in 56 cities worldwide.

“Bersih” means “clean” in Malaysia’s national language. It is the fourth rally organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), a coalition now consisting of 88 civil society groups, which I chair.

The previous Bersih rallies held in 2007, 2011 and 2012, – all in yellow, our official color – had sought to advance Malaysia’s democratization process, by not only demanding for electoral reforms, but also catalyzing citizens to take ownership of their country.

This time, we are calling for clean elections, a clean government and the right to dissent, so that we may strengthen parliamentary democracy and save our ailing economy.

I have a Dream

We are also calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak. He chaired a state development company, 1MDB, which is now RM42 billion in debt with dubious dealings. Funds related to 1MDB totaling nearly US$700 million were found to have gone into his personal accounts in Malaysia, before nearly all of it was transferred back to another personal account in Singapore, which was closed after the funds were transferred out somewhere overseas.

Najib and his ministers have been quoted in news reports effectively saying that the money was used as a slush fund to win the 2013 general elections.  His coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) won the poll with only 47 percent of votes but 60 percent of the parliamentary seats due to extensive malapportionment and gerrymandering of the constituencies.

In any decent parliamentary democracy, a prime minister implicated in corruption of such scale would have been investigated for corruption and/or election misconduct by the Police and charged if there is sufficient evidence.

But before that, the Prime Minister might have resigned, been ousted by his parliamentary caucus or defeated in the parliament through a vote of confidence. In the best scenario, with the consent of head of state for parliamentary dissolution, he would be fighting a fresh election.

Unlike executive presidents who enjoy full-term tenure unless being impeached, prime ministers in a parliamentary democracy serve only as long as they enjoy the confidence of the Parliament.

Najib has instead responded by disarming and silencing his critics. He threatened to sue the Wall Street Journal, suspended two local business dailies and blocked an investigative news portal for exposing the 1MDB scandals.

He sacked his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and another senior minister for questioning him on the matter. The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was paralyzed with ministerial appointments which effectively removed its chair and three other members.

A multi-agency special task force on the 1MDB scandal was dismantled, with the Attorney-General abruptly removed, and officials from the Central Bank and Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested and investigated.   

Already hit by the 6 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) imposed in May to replenish the state coffers, Malaysia’s economy is on a free fall as the assault on public institutions hurts market confidence.

The Malaysian ringgit has depreciated below the levels of RM4 to US$1 and RM3 to S$1.  The Malaysian and Singaporean currencies were on par in value when the two countries split exactly 50 years ago.

The Bersih 4 rally will end just before the nation’s independence celebration on August 31. In Kuala Lumpur, the rally venue will be in the vicinity of Merdeka Square, where the first announcements of Merdeka –Independence – were made in 1957 by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the father of the country.

But this is neither another Arab Spring nor another color revolution. Malaysia’s struggle for democracy is completely different from those of the Arab countries for two reasons.

First, Malaysia started off as a democracy in 1963 when four former British colonies – Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore – merged. Second, we are multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual while having a Malay-Muslim majority.

The first fact made us a Westminster parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchs at both federal and state levels. The second fact, many pundits believe, poses a challenge to democracy or even statehood.

Najib’s institutional might to defy all democratic checks and balances stems from the dominance of ethno-religious politics in Malaysia. His United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has ruled Malaya and later Malaysia in coalition since 1955, two years before Malaya’s independence.

When a Sino-Malay riot broke out in Kuala Lumpur after the ruling coalition suffered significant setbacks in the 1969 elections, his father and then Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak took the opportunity to turn the country into a de facto one-party state with elections.

The party-state has three pillars: electoral manipulation, suppression of dissent and the New Economic Policy (NEP) that privileges the Malay-Muslims to tie them to UMNO.

The one-party state morphed into personal rule under 23 years of Mahathir Mohamad’s premiership.

Dr.  Mahathir made the seat of Prime Minister more powerful than an executive president by sacking top judges, taming the Parliament, and creating a huge Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) that makes even the cabinet a rubber stamp.

Today, in Najib’s 37-member cabinet, 11 are placed in the Prime Minister’s Department and Razak also holds the powerful Finance portfolio, a convention set by Mahathir.

Mahathir, once Najib’s pivotal backer, has turned around to be his strongest critic. The former premier wants Najib to resign to save UMNO and revive his old-style authoritarianism. For Bersih, we don’t want to just change a corrupt Prime Minister. We want to change a political system that produces corrupt, authoritarian politicians in the name of ethno-religious nationalism. We don’t want a revolution. We want a smooth transition from a decaying one-party state to a vibrant multiparty democracy. That cannot happen in another Arab Spring.

We have dared Najib to do two things. First, promise safety for the Bersih 4 rally so that he could dismiss us if Malaysians do not support our call. Second, seek a vote of confidence in the Parliament after the rally – if he has the backing of the Parliament, then regardless of the rally’s size, we accept his right to stay in power.

Unsurprisingly, Najib has ignored our challenges. He instead falls back to communalism to defend corruption. His spin doctors are now saying the US$700 million is a donation from Arab royals to fight an opposition purportedly controlled by the Jews.

While the Inspector-General of Police threatens us with arrests, thuggish groups are making open threats to rough up Bersih protesters. We experienced both police violence and the threat of riots in the Bersih 2 rally in 2012.

Paradoxically, Police violence has united Malaysians asking for democracy and good governance. Under fire of water cannons and tear gas, we realized we are not each other’s enemy despite our differences in ethnicity, faith, language and social class.

We went to the streets to seek democracy, only to find the nation we have long been denied, crying as we sang our national anthem Negaraku [My Country] in the streets.  We felt we were truly independent, overcoming both our distrust of each other and our fear of government. Bersih has proved to be a vehicle of not only democracy, but also of patriotism.

This time we Malaysians will rise again to the occasion. We will prove that diversity is not an obstacle to democracy. As corruption destroys us, where communalism divides us, democracy will unite and heal us.

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Maria Chin Abdullah is chairman of the Bersih political reform NGO.  This was written for Asia Sentinel

Malaysia’s Penang: The Pearl of the Orient


August 24, 2015

bersih-4.0

Malaysia’s Penang: The Pearl of the Orient

by Zairil Khir Johari

Penang1 Pearl of the Orient and Rugged Society

When tabling the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) in Parliament on May 21, the Prime Minister waxed lyrical about the government’s intention of “anchoring growth on people” in this upcoming five-year development plan that is set to bring Malaysia towards the “aspiration of an advanced nation that is inclusive and sustainable by 2020.”

As usual, the Prime Minister is never short on verbosity. The 11MP document is replete with impressive jargons that tick all the right check boxes. However, the devil is always in the details, and the details in this case belie the grand promises of the Prime Minister.

Is the 11MP truly inclusive?

The term “inclusive”, for example, is used judiciously throughout the entire document. This implies a commitment towards ensuring that any gains from development and progress would be spread and shared by all Malaysians. Unfortunately, the inclusiveness of the 11MP is cast in serious doubt when one finds that the RM260 billion development plan has conveniently ignored certain regions, despite its massive scale.

For example, one of the six “game changer” strategies that have been introduced – “investing in competitive cities.” This strategy rightly recognises cities as a critical growth engine of the 21st century economy which plays a key role in spurring growth not only by providing jobs and trade opportunity, but also by connecting them to rural and suburban areas. Such a strategy is all the more relevant given the current context of a globalised world where talent migration is increasingly influenced by choice of city before choice of jobs.

Therefore, the 11MP seeks to develop “competitiveness master plans” for four major Malaysian cities, namely Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. These master plans are based on the principles of “creating density, expanding transit-oriented development, strengthening knowledge-based clusters, enhancing liveability, encouraging   development and practices, as well as ensuring inclusivity.”

The list of chosen cities appears to have one major exclusion – Penang.Notwithstanding the fact that Penang is the most well-known and developed city after KL, as well as the most liveable city in Malaysia and the eighth most liveable in Asia according to ECA International, the exclusion of the city-state is also incongruent with the very criteria purportedly used in making the selection.

According to the 11MP, the four cities were chosen based on their potential in terms of “population size, GDP contribution, existing major infrastructure, concentration of higher learning institutions, geographical advantage, and also the principle of inclusivity and fair distribution.” On each of these criteria, there is nothing that suggests why Penang should be sidelined.

LGE1LGE leads a Clean, Accountable and Transparent Government

In terms of population, Penang constitutes 1.7 million people, while the “Greater Penang Conurbation” metropolitan area covering parts of central and southern Kedah, along with northern Perak, encompasses almost three million people. In addition to that, Penang can boast of having the second highest population density in the country after KL, with about 1,500 people per sq km. These are ideal conditions for a competitive city.

Statistics from the 11MP itself also recognises Penang as a major GDP contributor. In 2014 Penang produced a GDP of RM67bil, which is the fifth highest in the country after KL, Selangor, Johor and Sarawak – a significant achievement considering the fact that Penang is also the second smallest state after Perlis. This translates to an impressive GDP per capita. This year Penang is expected to surpass Selangor with a GDP per capita of RM46,019, compared to RM45,617 for the most developed state in Malaysia. Thus, there is no better evidence of Penang’s role as an integral cog in the Malaysian economy.

Where infrastructure is concerned, Penang is already an established logistics hub for the northern region, in which the principal seaport, airport and rail station are located. In fact, the conditions are ripe for the government to invest in expanding and integrating the existing infrastructure in order to create a world-class urban conurbation.

In terms of higher learning institutions, Penang is also a well-known centre for education at all levels. Besides nine international schools, Penang also houses one of the country’s top public universities, USM, along with many other private colleges and university colleges. In addition to that, Penang has also attracted foreign institutions such as Hull University from the UK which will be setting up a campus in Batu Kawan in the near future.

As for geographical advantage, it is almost impossible to deny Penang’s optimal location, be it by air, land or sea. More importantly, Penang is also an important link that connects northern Indonesia to southern Thailand.

Finally, the four chosen cities represent the two states of Borneo, as well as the central and southern regions of Peninsular Malaysia. This induces a very glaring question – why is the northern region of the peninsula left out? How then, can the choice of cities be said to reflect the principles of inclusivity and fair distribution?

Based on all the above criteria, Penang not only qualifies, but should in fact be a prime candidate for the development of a competitive cities master plan. Clearly, Penang’s progress would help drive growth in the entire northern region in particular and Malaysia in general. Unfortunately, despite such a logical corollary, the federal government has chosen to exclude Penang for reasons known only to them.

The Malaysian stepchild?

It must be noted that this is not the first time that Penang has been unfairly treated. In the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010), Penang was promised many things, including two massive public infrastructure projects in the form of an rm 2 billion monorail line and an RM1.5 billion highway called the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR).

We don’t double check – we trust what people tell us. They might be lies, but I think a lie invented by a person who is lying also tells you something about them.

Both the monorail and the PORR projects were put on indefinite suspension during the mid-term review in 2008, coincidentally following the 12th General Election in March the same year.

The monorail project looked set to be on its way when a tender was held in 2007 and awarded in 2008. However, both the monorail and the PORR projects were put on indefinite suspension during the mid-term review in 2008, coincidentally following the 12th General Election in March the same year, which saw the ruling BN coalition losing power in Penang. Two Malaysia Plans later, both projects have yet to resurface.

Penang Port. The state is already an established logistics hub for the northern region of Malaysia, where the principal seaport, airport and rail station are located

Penang Port. The state is already an established logistics hub for the northern region of Malaysia, where the principal seaport, airport and rail station are located.

However, in spite of the federal government’s non-cooperation, the Penang state government has moved to resolve the longstanding problem of traffic congestion in the state by developing the Penang Transport Master Plan. This long-term transport infrastructure project seeks to alleviate traffic congestion by incorporating transport systems with development plans in order to achieve optimum mobility.

At a total estimated cost of RM27 billion, this integrated plan is based on comprehensive studies that began in 2011, and will encompass the construction of new road highways, a light rail system in the form of LRTs and trams, upgrading of the existing bus system, innovative features such as water transport and South-East Asia’s first under-seabed tunnel.

penang-free-schoolThe Oldest School-Born 1816-Fortis Atque Fidelis

Despite many challenges and financial limitations, the Penang state government has signalled its commitment by pressing ahead with its ambitious plan. Currently, the public transport portion is being tendered for a Project Delivery Partner, while some of the highway improvement projects are scheduled to be completed in two to three years’ time.

The federal government’s attitude towards Penang is, on the one hand, regrettable, and on the other, ironical. Treating the state as an unwanted stepchild is akin to cutting their nose to spite their face. And while they may feel smug about it now, they will regret it in the future when they realise that Penang will, as it has in the past, prove its resilience as the prodigal child of Malaysia.

Zairil Khir Johari is MP for Bukit Bendera, Penang, and executive director of Penang Institute.

Unity Government–An Alternative to Najib Regime?


August 23, 2015

COMMENT:There is hope and there is despair when we contemplate Din MericanKa unity government as an alternative to present regime led by our 1Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Unity government idea is interesting  if such a concept can be brought into practice quickly since time is critical for us to bring Malaysians together to deal with our economic problems.

In reality it cannot be done since it involves putting together political parties of different ideologies and conflicting interests. Compromise cannot lead to a sustainable outcome. It is a committee of political parties turning a horse into a camel. Can Ku Li be the man who will ride this odd camel? I have no doubt that he has stature and experience as a politician and an outstanding corporate manager.Hence my despair.

We have seen this unity concept in Pakatan Rakyat itself. It could not even agree on a shadow Cabinet. It was created after the 2008 General Election as a coalition of equals. Today with the breakup of PAS, Pakatan Rakyat remains only in name. Why? Because they cannot agree to disagree. Hadi wants to be Prime Minister. He also wants Hudud. Anwar Ibrahim has not abandoned his hope for the top job in Putrajaya. DAP won’t compromise on Hudud. PKR tries to keep PAS and DAP at loggerheads to ensure Anwar Ibrahim remains relevant.

Barisan Nasional, on the other hand, has survived all these years because UMNO is the dominant partner with MCA, MIC, Gerakan and others in the coalition playing minor roles. UMNO will not accept a unity government where its dominance will be diminished. In order to retain its hegemonic power, UMNO must now solve its leadership problem and reform itself. Otherwise, it will be the next opposition if it allows Najib to remain President and Prime Minister.

Will UMNO members act to save the party from corruption and blatant abuses of power and the country from an impending crisis, or will they allow their incumbent President to continue as the Prime Minister in the knowledge that Najib Razak is already taking the country down the road to perdition and their party to extinction?

If they choose the latter option, UMNO members know what the consequences  can be on themselves and their families, the party and the country.

In my view, Najib is an UMNO problem first and a national nightmare second.If the Najib problem is resolved, the nightmare will disappear to enable us to focus on rebuilding our country ground up. Let us not complicate things with this unity government idea unless we are reasonably certain that it can be formed urgently to deal with our economic and political malaise. I have my doubts.–Din Merican.

Malaysia:The Politics of Compromise–The Unity Government Model

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

If politics is the art of the possible, compromise is its blood plasma. If Malaysia’s politics is stalemated between an UMNO-BN that is reflexively – though not monolithically – for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to continue in office and an opposition which knows that the longer he stays the more decrepit the system becomes, then the avenue is open to a compromise that will ease the country out of its present economic and political malaise.

Dr M and Ku Li

Just as the formation of the Barisan Nasional (BN) four decades ago was a compromise that was regarded as an amelioration of the politics of that time, the required compromise to eject Najib would be a palliation of the fraught circumstances that presently obtain.

One won’t arrive at that compromise from an attitude that holds ‘What’s mine is sacrosanct, what’s yours is negotiable.’Both sides must think anew and act anew for the stakes are no less than the pulling back of the country from the precipice on which it is precariously perched.

For cooperation between BN dissenters and an opposition united on removing Najib, the two sides need to relent on core demands and meet halfway.

There’s a leader available in Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the UMNO MP for Gua Musang, around whom the sides that need to come together can readily rally.

He has the economic acumen and enough practical political sense to manage the compromises that need to be struck in order to make the bargain between a rump BN and a united opposition work.

His non-partisan stature, non-confrontational style, and an ability to move matters along without dealing with the substance of the issues raised would be critical to the whole outcome.

It’s not that he does not have the substance to deal with the issues, but some matters are better left to the adjudication of a later day.

Under Ku Li’s stewardship

At a wisened 78 years, Razaleigh has accumulated the experiential wisdom to differentiate between what can be accomplished in the 33 months to the next general election (GE14) and what has to wait.

Meanwhile, our straitened economy and sulferous politics demand immediate nostrums. And that Ku Li, as he is popularly known, can provide on the strength of his past as finance minister, his knowledge of our economic history, and on the basis of prescriptions he voiced in periodic disquisitions on the state of the nation over the past eight years.

Men of destiny have their starts; Ku Li had his in being the scion of Kelantan’s first appointed Menteri Besar.

He would have been prime minister of Malaysia had presumption not undid him earlier in his career when as a formidably popular Umno vice-president, he had the No 1 post well within his grasp.

But he didn’t reckon with a scheming Mahathir – nobody could – among whose strengths was shrewd calculation of the impact of competitors’ weaknesses and how these can be levered to his advantage.

But now all that is water under the bridge and Mahathir needs to recognise that it is Ku Li who can pull it off – our withdrawal from the precipice towards which the country is galloping with Najib in charge.

If we are not already a failed state, we are headed to being one, under Najib’s continued stewardship. You know you have consensus on that score when opinion makers as divergent as the fervently pro-UMNO columnist Kadir Jasin and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang agree that the ship of state is at a precarious pass.

Cometh a national unity government

The dissenters in UMNO must atone for the party’s reckless abandon in allowing a person with Najib’s baggage to become PM.Now he cannot leave office for fear that what possibly awaits him in retirement.

This was not what UMNO’s two previous prime ministerial retirees-under-duress had to face: Tunku Abdul Rahman and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi quit rather than see the party erupt from fracticide if they had chosen to stay.

It was graceful of them to yield what they could no longer withhold.In the perspective of the intervening years, and in light of the current occupant’s obduracy, their withdrawals must be seen as just graceful but, more importantly, as virtuous.

Virtuous atonement by primarily UMNO (and BN) dissenters for the irresponsibility of allowing a leader with baggage to become PM would presently take the form of agreement to back the no-confidence motion against the government at the next session of Parliament.

Mature recognition by a united opposition of the precariousness of the country’s situation would take the form of joining a rump of BN in not only supporting the no-confidence motion, but also backing a subsequent government of national unity Ku Li’s steering.

A united opposition need only demand that the Election Commision must be headed by a new chairperson of proven impartiality and that all future judicial appointments be persons of the calibre of Justice Hishamuddin Yunos.

Those two demands would be sufficient to place the opposition in as advantageous a position for GE14 as they cannot under a continued premiership by Najib.

Cometh the hour, cometh Ku Li and a necessitous government of national unity

Malaysia’s great – and recent – identity crisis


August 16, 2017

Malaysia’s great – and recent – identity crisis

If ever there was a country chronically afflicted by an identity crisis, it would be ours. Debates rage on about how we should define our identities. For example, do I say I am Malaysian first, or Malay first, or Muslim first?

But why not all or none of the above? After all, many of us from George Town may consider ourselves Penangite first.

While I believe identities are fluid and should not be set in stone, there is something to be said about the pervasiveness of racial identity in our public sphere. Discourse on almost every issue, be it the economy, education and especially anything political, cannot escape the inevitable question of race.

penang-free-school

pfsheadmastersBorn in 1816 for Multiculturalism

In the Malaysian context, this is translated into the great dichotomy of our country – the division between the Bumiputeras, a bureaucratic label with no constitutional basis, against the others, who are collectively reduced to the ignominious label of “non-Bumiputera”. As the state actively promotes a distinction between these two groups of citizens, the perception now pervades that there are some Malaysians who are considered to be more Malaysian than others.

Ironically, even the Bumiputera identity itself is full of ambiguities and contradictions. Deriving its modern definition from the genesis of the New Economic Policy (NEP), the term generally encompasses the Malays, the Orang Asli and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Yet while government employment and education quotas are supposed to favour the Bumiputeras, its practical application has raised questions about some Bumiputeras being more Bumiputera than others.

malaysiansThis is Penang

Issues revolving around Bumiputera, particularly Malay, rights and privileges are often emotional and confrontational in nature. In fact, for a race that is probably the most inclusive in definition, as anyone can be a Malay provided they fulfil the constitutional requirements of language, religion and culture, the Malay race is perhaps one of the most exclusive and parochial of political identities in Malaysia today. Not only have they walled themselves into a self-created mental fortification, Malay nationalism also adopts a fiercely antagonistic attitude towards their politically constructed rivals, the non-Bumiputeras.

It is no wonder then that former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once commented that the current Prime Minister’s “1Malaysia” slogan would never be coherent, simply because it essentially means different things to different people.

Ethnicisation

According to sociologist Frederick Holst, identity has become central to socio-politics in Malaysia because both public institutions and social structures have undergone a process of ethnicisation – the infusing and intertwining of economic or political contestations with collective identities. As a result, the question of race, or more accurately, ethnicity, cannot be separated from any form of discussion regarding our country’s social and political dimensions.

Yet, it is important to realise that such a situation is not naturally occurring but instead a social construction. In other words, the ethnicisation of Malaysian society has taken place through a conscious agenda to create an identity that is primus inter pares (first among equals) in order to legitimise policies that favour a certain ethnic group. Hence, the construction of the Bumiputera identity. While the term is not new and has been used in various contexts prior to independence, its adoption as an umbrella identity for the Malays was essentially a post-NEP concept.

At another level, the concept of “race” is also a problematic one because our understanding of it is essentially derived from colonial knowledge. In fact, race as a genealogical concept to describe the societies in the Malay Archipelago was almost non-existent in pre-colonial times. Often, race was used to describe the milieu, such as humanity, as was the case in the Malay Annals or the Sulalatus Salatin, which I quote below:

Maka sahut Nila Pahlawan, “Adapun kami ini bukan daripada jin dan peri, dan bukan kami daripada bangsa indera; bahawa adalah bangsa kami ini daripada manusia.”

Similarly, the concept of “migrants” or “pendatang” has no historical basis. In Hikayat Hang Tuah, for example, the word “asing” or “foreign” is rarely used, and only in reference to foreign countries. When describing traders from foreign lands, the simple and universal term dagang or merchant is used, without any ethnic, racial or national connotation.

In fact, the concept of race as a social identity only became dominant following the arrival of colonialism. As a case in point, the first modern census in the country was conducted in 1871 in the Straits Settlements and had no reference to “race.” Instead, people were categorised into a multitude of ethnicities, such as Acehnese, Boyanese, Bugis, Burmese, Jawi Peranakan, Malay, Malayalam and so on. It was only in later censuses that the term “race” was used in the context that we are familiar with and the Malay, Chinese and Indian races officially became collective identities.

Overcoming our psychological problem

Ketuanan_zawawiHow right you are, Dr. Zawawi

As can be seen, our own history has much to offer in trying to make sense of our post-colonial nation-state. If we seem confused as a society and unable to escape our identity crisis, it is because we do not truly appreciate the richness of our origins. As controversial as it may be, the conversation about who we are, where we came from and who this country belongs to is one that needs to take place. However, it also needs to be discussed rationally and objectively, without being pulled into the myopic frames of ethnocentrism.

Contrary to what the federal government thinks, the way to foster such constructive discourse is to allow greater space and more debate, rather than stifle alternative opinions through draconian legislation. But while ideas should be allowed to propagate, there must also be room for them to be challenged. It is only through such a process, of mature deliberation and openness to contrarian opinions, that we can shake off the noise surrounding the issue and finally discover our true Malaysian identity – or identities.

Zairil Khir Johari is MP for Bukit Bendera, Penang, and Executive Director of Penang Institute.

The UnBersih Rm2.6 Billion Man Meets BERSIH 4.0


August 15, 2015

Malaysia: The UnBersih Rm2.6 Billion Man Meets BERSIH 4.0

by Josh Hong@www.malaysiakini.com

bersih-4.0Stand Up for Democracy, Freedom and Liberty

The BERSIH movement began in 2007 to urge clean and fair elections in Malaysia. Since then, three mass rallies have been held, with the number of participants reaching as high as 250,000 on April 29, 2012.

Considering Malaysia’s chequered history of democratic struggle and the politics of fear, it is indeed no small feat that the movement has successfully planted in the minds of many the idea that street rallies are part and parcel of a healthy and mature democracy.

Lest one forgets, the theme that ran consistently through these highly significant street protests has been nothing other than clean and fair elections. In other words, a government that has ‘won’ an election through trickery, gerry-mandering, vote-rigging and blatant bribery is devoid of legitimacy, plain and simple.

Mahathir and Najib in the same UMNO podTwo of a Kind

Now that we know RM2.6 billion had been channeled into Najib Abdul Razak’s personal accounts just before the 13th general election in May 2013, as confirmed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), there is every reason to believe that this astronomical amount of money was meant to save Barisan Nasional – and UMNO in particular – from a potential defeat.

Najib himself has done nothing to clear the air, other than reiterating that the money was not for ‘personal gain’ and issuing a hilarious ‘legal letter’ to The Wall Street Journal ‘asking for explanations’. In fact, he now has the nerve to argue that the MACC has cleared him of corruption claims.

This aside, Najib has resorted to extra-constitutional measures to stay in power, the abrupt sacking of the attorney-general being the most shocking.

DPM Zahid HamidiPartnering with the Ponorogo Man

Nur Jazlan Mohamed, chairperson of the public accounts committee, has been co-opted into the government, the special task force on the 1MDB scandal has been disbanded, while efforts have been made to ensure the MACC and Bank Negara would toe the line, not to mention the suspension orders against the Edge Financial Daily and the Edge Weekly.

If there is one single person who is now the biggest stumbling block to any substantive and meaningful change in Malaysian politics, it is Najib, no other than Najib.

Hence, it is right and proper for the BERSIH 4.0 rally to be focused on Najib the 2.6 billion Man, for he clearly used unethical and questionable means to secure a win in 2013.

BERSIH 4.0August 29/30,2015–The Day of Freedom and Liberty

While I agree getting rid of Najib will not immediately solve all the problems confronting the country right now – if anything, it could even benefit the conservative faction within UMNO that is closely linked to (Tun) Mahathir Mohamad – but it is strategically imperative that we capitalise on the public sentiment against the current government over the 1MDB fiasco, the hidden sources of the RM2.6 billion as well as the falling currency to ensure a massive turnout.

There are others who are wary that a rallying call such as ‘Undur Najib’ would alienate UMNO supporters. Still, we have seen very clearly from 1998 that those who still put their trust in UMNO have never supported any socio-political movement for change. So why worry over whether too ‘radical’ a slogan would put them off from BERSIH 4.0? We can just count them out and write them off, concentrating our effort on mobilising the potential participants instead.

Fought on an unequal footing

We are, of course, allowed to dwell on the negative sentiment that all that we had done prior to May 2013 came to naught, but not for too long. After all, while the Najib regime did make certain concessions (such as the abolition of the notorious Internal Security Act), the last electoral battle was fought predominantly on an unequal footing with all the odds against us. It is precisely for this reason that we must go all out against Najib once again.

A paltry turnout for BERSIH 4.o would mean Malaysia has no issue with a  shamelessly corrupt, incompetent, and incorrigibly dishonest leader who is seeking to bring the country back to the political darkness under Mahathir, or worse.

Liberte CheLiberty and Justice

Our absence from BERSIH 4.0 would also indicate our failure to stand up for our legitimate rights and to acknowledge all those brave souls who have been fighting relentlessly against a rotten regime to reclaim Malaysia, including Anwar Ibrahim who is languishing in jail while pondering on the country’s democratic future, the journalists behind the Edge and Sarawak Report, the oppositionists and all those who have risked multiple arrests to take to the streets on our behalf.

Of course, we would also have lost a golden opportunity to tell Hadi Awang of PAS in his face that this time, we have made it without you.

Most important of all, what would we have to tell the future generations when questioned on why we had allowed the Najib regime to go on?

I do want a peaceful rally, but it can only happen if we are ready to fight for it. If we can’t even make up our mind for BERSIH 4.0, we may as well forget the tall order for a real democracy in our lifetime.