Maria Chin Abdullah et. al and the Fight for Regime Change


December 2, 2016

Maria Chin Abdullah et. al and the Fight for Regime Change

by Ambassador Dato’  Dennis Ignatius

Maria Chin Abdullah & the quest for change

No one should underestimate the power of the simple faith that was on display through all those days, at all those events, the belief that somehow justice will prevail in the end, that what we do as citizens, no matter how small, can make a difference.–Dennis Ignatius

maria

The crowds that turned out to support BERSIH 5.0 and the vigils and rallies to free Maria speak volumes about the hunger and thirst for change, for justice and good governance in Malaysia.

An outrageous act 

The arrest of Maria, in particular, seems to have generated an upsurge of public anger at the outrageous behaviour of those in power. That the government would treat a widow, a crusader for justice, a woman who has spent most of her adult life fighting for the disenfranchised, the dispossessed, the downtrodden in such a cruel, callous and capricious manner was simply beyond the pale.

Instead of intimidating the people, however, Maria’s arrest appears to have strengthened their conviction that their struggle for justice, for good governance, for accountability is a righteous one and must be pursued with vigour for the sake of our nation.

And they turned out in force to send a message to those in power that such actions are simply unacceptable, that no citizen should be deprived of his or her liberty and rights and incarcerated in such an arbitrary manner, that laws such as SOSMA have absolutely no place in a democratic society.

Can we still call Malaysia a democracy?

The authorities can, of course, spin their fanciful accounts of foreign interference, sinister plots to overthrow the government or undermine the state but they fool no one but themselves.

In fact, the more frantically they spew out such drivel, the more they lose credibility. The more they insist they are acting within the law when they act in such a high-handed manner, the more the law itself becomes suspect.

In any case, the state does not have the right to claim legitimacy with laws like SOSMA that are brokered on false promises and applied in bad faith.

The Prime Minister’s recent statement that he has no reason to apologize for SOSMA because it is needed to fight terrorism is appalling given that it has just been used against Maria. Is the Prime Minister now suggesting that all his critics and political opponents are terrorists?

After these events, can we even refer to Malaysia as a democracy any more?

Intimidation stiffens resolve

Somehow illiberal governments never seem to learn that harsh measures against those who fight for freedom and democracy stiffen resolve rather than weaken it. Far from discrediting human rights activists, they make martyrs of them. Instead of diminishing the stature of advocates for justice, they empower them.Have they learned nothing from history?

They tried to suppress the late Irene Fernendez, judicially harassing her for more than a decade; far from crushing her spirit, it made her stronger, more determined. In the process she became an international symbol of justice for migrant workers and refugees.

They tried to railroad another crusader for justice and change – Anwar Ibrahim – and today he has become a symbol of hope for Malaysian who long for a better nation. The longer they incarcerate him, the more his stature grows.

And now they are about to discover the full measure of Maria.Already, she is something of an icon in the struggle for freedom, good governance and justice in Malaysia. It was plain to see that the jubilant crowd that gathered in the city center last Monday night to celebrate her release, love her, admire her and look to her. Rarely do public figures evoke such enthusiasm.

A generational struggle for justice 

It is also heartening to see the generational mix in this struggle for a better Malaysia which people like Maria now lead.

The older folks, the Merdeka generation, some in their twilight years now, are coming out of retirement to join the fight. They were there when the dream of Malaysia was born and still hold on to it despite everything that has happened, still believing that we can be that nation we thought we would be.

So many youthful activists are rising up as well to fight for change and reform. It reminds me of the anti-war (Vietnam war for those of you who were not born then) movement in the US and the student activism of an earlier era in our history.

At the Free Maria – Mansuh SOSMA rally last Friday, for example, they sang protest songs and spoke with great fervor. Young student activists like Muhammad Luqman, Anis Syafiqah and Adam Adli are already paying a high price for their political convictions but they are undeterred.

They stand testimony to the fact that even the mighty power of the state – with its vast system of indoctrination, manipulation and patronage – cannot suppress the desire for change.

Clearly, the torch is being passed to a new generation with a passion for justice and democracy.

Malaysia’s wonder-women

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These smart women put Malaysian men to shame–They have guts to take on UMNO and its corrupt leader, the Rosmah controlled Najib Razak

It is said that crisis often brings out true leaders.In Malaysia, many of the remarkable leaders and voices for change that crisis has brought forth are women.

Despite deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes, they rise like giants in the land, inspiring us all with their courage, quiet determination, fortitude and integrity; cajoling us to action.

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Mariam Mokhtar and Cartoonist ZUNAR

Women like Irene Fernandez, Wan Azizah, Maria Chin Abdullah, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Zainah Anwar, Cynthia Gabriel, Marina Mahathir, Noor Faridah Ariffin, Ivy Josiah, Anis Syafiqah, Siti Kassim, Zuraidah Kamaruddin, Theresa Kok, Hannah Yeoh, Mariam Mokhtar and others are now household names across the land.

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The Late Dr.Irene Fernandez –Champion of the Underdog and Down trodden and Human Rights

And when the authorities raid a women’s rights group aimed at encouraging women’s participation in the political process and threaten to charge them with activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy, you know that these women are becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Thank goodness for these remarkable women who inspire and encourage us to press on. Our nation is stronger, and better, because of them. They deserve our respect, admiration and gratitude.

The faith that brings change

Some may say that events like last Friday’s Free Maria-Mansuh SOSMA rally, and the vigils that preceded it, make little difference but Maria is now free!

Perhaps the authorities heard the roar of the people after all.Now the struggle continues for democracy, for justice, for the abolishment of repressive laws like SOSMA and an end to harassment and arbitrary arrests.

No one should underestimate the power of the simple faith that was on display through all those days, at all those events, the belief that somehow justice will prevail in the end, that what we do as citizens, no matter how small, can make a difference.

The words of that towering figure in the fight for justice – Martin Luther King – come to mind:

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

 

 

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery


November 27, 2016

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery on the Malaysian Economy

by Koon Yew Yin

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 

I can see clearly that there are various push and pull forces at work in our economy. Some of these forces are linked to political ones which economists attached to banks or universities do not want to talk about publicly. But they are happy to do so privately or in coffee shops with their good friends.

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Other forces are more obvious but it is still useful to emphasise them in case they are easily forgotten.

Let me flag some of these which will be of special concern to investors in the market.Firstly, there is of course the “Trump effect”.

Readers will recall that I had predicted – contrary to many analysts – that the US stock market would head higher post-Trump. Well, for now, my prediction has proven to be correct.

One of the world’s foremost business newspapers, The Financial Times, in a lead article on November 26 noted that when Wall Street traders departed for Thanksgiving, they could celebrate a rare achievement. On Monday and Tuesday, the four most widely cited indices of US stocks — the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite and the Russell 2000 —hit all-time highs simultaneously. The last time a “grand slam” took place was on New Year’s Eve 1999, at the height of the tech bubble.

The article noted the breakthrough for stocks in the US which had moved sideways for two years since the Federal Reserve stopped its quantitative easing programme, seemed to confirm a regime change. Prompted by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the narrative has changed to preparing for an era of tax cuts, deregulation and fiscal stimulus, after eight years of markets being guided by the Fed’s historically low interest rates.

I also predicted in my article “Trump is better for business than Hillary, that the Malaysian stock market and other Asian markets will also strengthen as a result of the US economic recovery.”

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The UMNO Redshirt Buffoons

Specifically I had written: “History has shown that when the Dow goes up, almost all the stock markets in the world, including KLCI, go up.”

 Well, the second part of my prediction has still to happen.On November 10 when my article was published, the KLCI stood at 1652.74. At the close of November 25, it stood at 1627.26 – a drop of 25 points.

Of course it is much too early to say what will happen next but my prediction that our market will move in tandem with the US market – that is upwards during the next 12-18 months still stands.

There are two big dark clouds hanging over the market. One is the big black hole left by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which most analysts are aware of but are too afraid to talk or write about openly for fear of being branded as anti-national or taken under Sosma and put into solitary confinement.

I will not go into the size of the 1MDB financial hole but will leave it to our accounting experts to do the mathematics. My main concern is not so much the actual financial loss incurred by the government.

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CIC of the Red Shirt Buffoons

Although this will go down in history as one of the biggest scandals carried out on a nation’s financial guardians and gatekeepers, frankly the actual financial loss is really not that big and it is one which the nation’s treasury can well afford.

What we cannot afford is the loss of confidence among foreign and local investors which cannot be easily quantified. Should this lack of confidence continue, then my predicted Malaysian market upturn will be undermined.

There is a second dark cloud – and this is the Red Shirts phenomenon. We have now seen the Red Shirts political ‘mat rempits’ come to centre stage in our political life. I am not only referring to Jamal Yunos but also his supporters and leaders who are now engaging in the use of force, threats of violence and other provocative actions in Parliament, Komtar and elsewhere and aimed at whoever they see as opposed to their vision of party, racial and religious dominance.

Everyone who has access to a smartphone will have seen the behaviour of these street and parliamentary hooligans and how they are destroying the peace and harmony of the country. Well, perhaps not everyone. It seems like the country’s leaders including the Prime Minister, the entire Barisan Nasional cabinet, the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney-General and others responsible for law and order in this country have not seen these videos.

Or if they have viewed them, they do not care.

Let me be very blunt. The business community and investors in the country – foreign and local – do not read Utusan Malaysia or any of the Malay papers. They do not listen to Radio Malaysia or view TV3.

They care about how their money and the market is affected by these thugs and hooligans. They can make up their own mind on which way our national politics is going.

And if the Red Shirts phenomenon gets worse, we can expect some of them to take out their businesses and money.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

 

Malaysia: From a thriving democracy to a degenerate nation under Najib Razak in 7 Years


November 26, 2016

Malaysia: From a thriving democracy to a degenerate nation under Najib Razak in 7 Years

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21710820-opposition-has-do-more-win-over-rural-malays-malaysians-underestimate-damage

by The Economist

FORTY thousand people wearing yellow shirts gathered in Malaysia’s capital on November 19th, to protest against corruption and impunity in government. The rally was orderly and restrained; the response of the authorities was not. On the eve of the protest, police arrested Maria Chin Abdullah, leader of a coalition of human-rights groups that organised the event. She was placed in solitary confinement, and can be held there for 28 days. Even by Malaysia’s dismal recent standards this marked a fresh low. Ordinary Malaysians should not stand by while their leaders undermine the rule of law so casually.

Ms Chin Abdullah’s detention was justified by an anti-terrorism law which the government had promised would never be used against political opponents. The true motivation was to stifle outrage over 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm from which billions have gone missing. In July American government investigators said they thought that $3.5bn had been taken from the firm and that hundreds of millions of dollars went to the prime minister, Najib Razak (who says he has never taken public funds for personal gain). The investigators’ findings corroborated exposés written by local and foreign journalists, who have been unravelling the saga for several years.

Elsewhere the scandal would have sparked a swift change in government. But the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has held power for six decades and enjoys broad support from Malaysia’s ethnic-Malay majority, some of whom resent their ethnic-Chinese and Indian compatriots. The party has devised many ways to protect its leaders from internal revolts, so Mr Najib found it easy to purge critics, delay a parliamentary investigation and replace an attorney-general said to have been preparing charges against him.

No one in Malaysia has been charged over 1MDB’s missing money. But a court has handed a prison sentence to an opposition politician who frustrated efforts to hush up the affair. The editor and publisher of one of Malaysia’s last independent news organisations face jail under a rule which forbids certain content published with “intent to annoy”. A competitor closed in March after authorities ordered its website blocked.

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Mr Najib’s party is carelessly widening Malaysia’s ethnic and religious splits. Seeking to bolster support among conservative Malay Muslims, it is toying with a proposal to intensify the whippings which may be meted out by sharia courts. It has failed properly to condemn pro-government gangs that last year menacingly gathered in a Chinese part of the capital. Their leaders paint ethnic Malays as victims of sinister conspiracies—dangerous rumour-mongering in a country where politics is still defined by the racial violence of the 1960s.

Easily broken, hard to fix

Until now foreign investors have been fairly sanguine about the economy. But they are growing rattled. The ringgit has depreciated faster than other emerging-market currencies (see article). Last week the authorities asked foreign banks to stop some ringgit trading abroad, raising fears of harsher controls.

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Rural ethnic Malays, a crucial constituency, feel that the scandal is a remote affair. Even some educated urbanites still favour Mr Najib’s government over the opposition, underestimating the damage being done by the scandal. If change is to come, the disparate opposition needs to do a better job of winning such people over; its fractious parties must overcome their divisions and present a plausible candidate to replace Mr Najib in a general election that could be held as soon as next year. Malaysia has always been an imperfect democracy, but the rot eating at its institutions is harming its international standing and its economic prospects alike.

BERSIH 5.0 reminds Malaysians of their Diversity and Plurality


November 25, 2016

BERSIH 5.0 reminds Malaysians of  their Diversity and Plurality

by Hew Wai Weng

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The crowds at BERSIH 5.0 may not have hit previous heights, but their greater ethnic diversity is a positive sign, Hew Wai Weng writes.

Threats of violence by the anti-BERSIH shirted group, as well as the political fatigue of many Malaysians after the racialization of BERSIH 4.0 because of its low Malay turnout, had led many observers to expect an unenthusiastic level of public participation in BERSIH 5.0.

On the eve of BERSIH 5.0, many key leaders of BERSIH and opposition parties were arrested. The Police also blocked most of the road access to the gathering points of the BERSIH rally. Despite these obstacles, more than 50,000 people marched the streets in downtown Kuala Lumpur on  November 19, 2016 to demand fair and clean elections.

Even though the overall turnout was lower than the 100,000-strong crowd at BERSIH 4.0, a notably increased Malay participation in BERSIH 5.0 was an encouraging and positive sign, especially in the context of various attempts by the Najib-led UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) to racialize various dissident movements in Malaysia.

Here are my thoughts on the mobilization and participation of ethnic Malay in BERSIH 5.0, based on my observations and conversations with various participants at the rally. By concentrating on Malay participation, I do not intend to discredit the involvement of other ethnic groups, including Chinese, Indians and Orang Asli who have all contributed to the success of BERSIH 5.o. Besides ethnic composition, gender and class dimensions of the participants also deserve further attention.

At 10 am I joined the crowd at Masjid Negara, the National Mosque of Malaysia its peak, there were about 6,000 people and half of them were Malays. Many of the Malays gathered there were mobilised by political parties such as Keadilan (People’s Justice Party) and Amanah (National Trust Party, a new party formed by the progressives who left PAS, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party), as well as Islamic-based NGOs such as IKRAM (Malaysian IKRAM Association) and ABIM (the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia).

As the crowd marched from Masjid Negara to Masjid Jamek, a mosque near to the Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square), many people joined along the way. In the beginning, the participants were quite ethnically mixed. But that changed once they marched through Pudu area. Thousands of spectators and protesters, many of them young Chinese, stood at both sides of the street, clapping hands and cheering when the protesters paraded through.

As the protesters walked from Masjid Jamek to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, where Petronas Twin Tower is located), I witnessed increasing numbers of young Malays among the crowd, and the crowd appeared more ethnically-mixed, with an estimated 40 per cent Malay among the participants.

By my estimate, at least 20,000 Malays attended Bersih 5. Although the number is lower than the amount at BERSIH 2.0 and 3.0 (approximately 30,000-40,000) when the Islamist party PAS were supportive of BERSIH and had mobilised its supporters, it is still an encouraging figure. It showed that without PAS endorsement, it is still possible for civil society and political parties to mobilise Malay Muslims to join rallies.

How were these Malays being mobilised? Keadilan and Amanah have committed to mobilising their members and supporters. Both parties have also helped in the pre-BERSIH convoys in many rural and semi-urban areas. These efforts might have convinced more Malays to join BERSIH 5.0. Aside from political party mobilisation, Muslims NGOs especially IKRAM and ABIM, have fully supported the rally. There is also an increasing number of young Malays present at Bersih 5. Some of them might have been mobilised or inspired by the August-held Tangkap MO1 (Arrest Malaysian Official 1) rally, organised by the university students. Others might be left-leaning Malay activists. Some also joined the rally on their own.

Although the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad openly urged Malaysians to join BERSIH 5.0, the crowd mobilised by its newly-formed political party, Bersatu (Malaysian United Indigenous Party) was ultimately not as large as some observers expected. Mahathir himself, however, had rushed back from a visit to Sudan in order to be present at the rally. His presence, together with the strong Malay turnouts at BERSIH 5.0, might help to convince the anti-Najib UMNO supporters to leave UMNO or at least to vote against UMNO in the coming elections.

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The UMNO Goons

I took a Grab car service before the BERSIH 5.0 rally. The middle-aged Malay driver told me, “Because of Najib, many of us have to suffer. I could not join BERISH, because I have to work more to make ends meet. I will morally support the causes of BERSIH.” Does his view represent the silent majority? Would increasing discontents towards Hadi-led PAS and Najib-led UMNO translate into votes against both UMNO and PAS in the elections, and contribute to a change of government in Malaysia?

A few factors will be crucial in determining whether or not we will see an increased support among Malays towards the change of government: first, the support of Malay youth, for which social media might be an important battleground; second, the support of rural Malays, yet it is a challenging task to counter UMNO’s rural patronage and money politics; third, a strong and efficient Malay leadership among the opposition parties in all the states, as a way to debunk UMNO’s allegation that DAP (Democratic Action Party) or the Chinese will dominate if UMNO loses power.

Last but not least, Malay support for a change in government will also depend on the ability of opposition parties, especially Bersatu and Amanah, to swing the support of anti-Najib UMNO members and anti-Hadi PAS followers towards them.

Hew Wai Weng is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. His research interests focus upon the intersections between ethnicity, religiosity, class and politics in Malaysia and Indonesia. He has been writing on Chinese Muslim identities, Hui migration patterns, and urban middle class Muslim aspirations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Bersih 5 and the increase of the Malay discontents

 

A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0


November 24, 2016

A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

 

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The recent yellow-shirt 60,000 strong-mass rally in Malaysia, urging cleaner elections and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak ended in both warring parties winning – the protesters got their message across for the fifth time and the government got to test-drive the 2012 Special Offences Act (Sosma), its new anti-terrorist law, for the first time.

The leader of BERSIH (‘Clean’ in Malay), Maria Chin Abdullah, a long-time human rights activist, is now in solitary confinement, detained like a suspected Islamic State (IS) terrorist while investigations on her alleged links with the American intelligence-gathering-legit-government agency, the CIA, are being carried out. Exactly how she is linked will be a puzzle and a mystery, like those of the world-famous money-laundering and high-profile case of the Malaysian 1MDB.

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But the government, as always, is winning. I attribute this perpetual victory to one concept – hegemony. Rousseau and Gramsci have written a lot about this idea of ‘common sense’. The control over Man, machinery, media, and money.

The former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia with an iron glove for 22 years mastered this concept. Today he marches with the BERSIH protesters, outside of the real of hegemony he created, and trying to figure out how to play the game of counter-hegemony and feels what it is like to play with authority.

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Najib learned politics from Mahahtir Mohamed

Ironically, the authority he is trying to bring down was a child of his own creation – his Frankenstein. Or rather, culturally speaking, his Badang. It is a tough and complicating act and one which seemingly has no poetic justice in sight.

Recently, in a US-based publication, I wrote about the representation of the Malays on the eve of the red-shirt-yellow-shirt confrontation:

“ … Aren’t Malaysians tired of seeing the Malays being represented as buffoons, stupid, amok-prone, close-minded, rempits, kris-kissing fools, Ali Baba forty-thieves, rejects, religious fanatics, red-shirts, whatever shirts… it is a clever production and reproduction of the Malay ruling class, both feudal and wannabe-feudal… so that the Jebat aspect of the Malay – the amuck, the wannabe-sultan, the misogynic, the sex-maniac-royal groper and rapist of ancient Malacca, the royal-jet-setting-good-for-nothing-ancient-kings, the hedonistic, the grotesque epicure, the gangster, the absurd – is pushed forward and propagated to strengthen the Tuah aspect – the fool that followed the foolish orders of the foolish and idiotic Malacca sultan, the womaniser-cum-religious leader – the bad hombre of Malay culture – these are the twin representation of the Malays. A laughing stock – the Malays are made to become…” Source here.

So – how now brown cow? What are Malaysians to do after yet another rally? After yet another governmental pounding on the protesters with arrests a la Machiavelli?

The way forward

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Dr. Azly Rahman–An Educator for Peace

As an educator for peace and an advocate of long-haul bloodless revolutions focusing on changing consciousness through education and self-reflection, through living an ethical, morally-compassed, and intelligible life for the collective-good of society, I would suggest the following as a long-term plan for a radical change:

It is better to focus on raising your children well in adjusting to a changing, globalising, and very diversifying Malaysian and global society. We must work harder to improve race relations, be stronger to fight corruption and power abuse, and be more intelligent in designing policies that will benefit the poor, the marginalised and the powerless.

We must teach our children to focus on ways to understand others, improving their English language skills, perfecting their moral compass, encouraging them to think well and good about children of other races and religion, to encourage them to make friends with people of other races, to be grateful that schools offer the great opportunity to love and respect teachers of different races.

Teach them to learn about the dangers of generalising, stereotyping, and projecting hate that would lead to mass deception, to encourage each child to learn about other cultures and religion, and to teach them that all of us in Malaysia are now Malaysians and not this or that group of immigrants.

We all are migrants in time and space and in history and that all of us are human beings with emotions, struggles, challenges, history of joy and despair, memory of pain and pleasure of living, and that all of us are merely of differing skin colour tone and born to speak different languages and to believe in different things about salvation and that we are all travelers in this life.

We cannot allow Malaysia to come to a point in which riots such as those race-based against the police to take root. We cannot allow the Malaysian version of #BlackLivesMatter to be the impetus for urban violence.

We are all these and will not need moments of history where we cultivate hate for the bigger picture of oppression we do not understand. We may all be pawns in this great political game of big-time plunderers and multi-ethnic robber-barons skilled at mass deception and distractions. Today, the level of corruption and the growing cases of mass corruption and power abuse that are going unpunished have made Malaysia a critically ill nation.

We should be grateful that we are still alive and breathe daily and that we must think happily and joyfully like Malaysians in order for each and every one of us to prosper in peace. We cannot travel the path of America in which racism is on the rise and of late especially in places such as Texas, Islamophobia is brewing.

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Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

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Let us design a safer journey towards a progressive and harmonious Malaysia, beyond for example, the red T-shirt red-river of blood march of some mangled manufactured propaganda of Malay dignity.

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My Thanksgiving wish is to see a saner and more peaceful America as well as Malaysia – two countries I have loved and will continue to love. On that note: Have a blessed Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans!

BERSIH brought out the best in Malaysians


November 24, 2016

BERSIH brought out the best in Malaysians

by Ambassador Dennis Ignatius

http://www.dennisignatius.com

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BERSIH brought out the best in us; it renewed our hope to believe that change is possible.

Now that BERSIH 5.0 is over, the campaign to define it has begun. BN parties, worried about the BERSIH effect, have embarked upon a Goebbels-like effort to rewrite the history of those few hours when yellow became the colour of our nation.

All sorts of falsehoods, misinformation and disinformation are being put out about what BERSIH stands for, who and how many attended, why they attended, what transpired that day and what was achieved. In the process, they are demonizing, discrediting and delegitimizing the people who participated.

We are being told, for example, that Saturday’s rally was a riot, that BERSIH supporters were confused or clueless as to why they were demonstrating, that they felt exploited by opposition politicians, that it was largely a gathering of DAP [read Chinese] supporters, that participation was mostly confined to so-called urban elites, that no more than 15,000 attended, that it was an attempt to overthrow the government.

For all these reasons, they would have us believe that BERSIH was a failure, a non-event, an insignificant gathering of rabble-rousers and troublemakers. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Defying intimidation

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Defying threats and intimidation, harassment and disruption, and the very real possibility of violent attack, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens flooded the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other cities in support of BERSIH.

They came with an unambiguous message to a government that has long since broken faith with its people – they want a government that upholds our constitution, that is committed to democracy, good governance and transparency, that respects the voice of the people, that puts their interests ahead of the cronies and fat cats. 

Malaysia in all its hues and colours 

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And what an eclectic mix they were: Malays, Chinese, Indians and Orang Asli; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians; professionals, traders, hawkers, students, farmers, retirees. They came from every state, their respective state flags, and of course, the Jalur Gemilang fluttering in the wind.

Some are insisting that it was largely a Chinese affair but that is a lie that disenfranchises the thousands of Malays who were present and who came in defiance of both UMNO and PAS as well as the religious establishment.

To see Malaysians marching together as one was truly inspiring. We have our differences, of course, but there was a unity of purpose, a sense of brotherhood, a shared pain over the sad plight of our nation.

It was Malaysia in all its hues and colours, strong, proud and free. It showed us what could be, what we ought to be. Only those whose power rests on dividing the nation, of playing off brother against brother, would find nothing to rejoice about such a gathering.

A mockery of truth 

The atmosphere too was remarkable. People chanted and sang and laughed together. With the support of the police (who did an outstanding job keeping us safe), the rally was peaceful, respectful and orderly. And there was courtesy, kindness, respect, civility – something that those in power have largely forgotten.

To call it a riot, an attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy or accuse its leaders of plotting to illegally topple the government is to make a mockery of truth, to call good evil and evil good.

Of course, we were there to press for change; citizens in a democracy have the right to peacefully vent their frustrations over the abuse of power, misgovernance and corruption, to tell the Prime Minster that they have lost confidence in his leadership.

Only in authoritarian regimes is that considered subversive or unlawful. In any case, both the courts and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) have consistently upheld this fundamental right to protest. SUHAKAM, in fact, emphasized that Saturday’s gathering was by no means illegal and that “participants conducted themselves in an acceptable way, not threatening public order and the security of the country.”

Tip of the iceberg of discontent

Much is also being made about the numbers – that there were less this time around compared to previous BERSIH rallies – but BN shouldn’t be too quick to gloat. BERSIH is more than a numbers game. Those who turned up were but the tip of the iceberg of discontentment and anger. For every single person who marched on Saturday, a hundred more were at home cheering them on, marching with them in spirit, sharing their frustration, believing in their dream for a better nation.

We’ll yet hear from them come election day.

Clueless or clued-in?

Image result for Tajuddin Abdul Rahman on KOK

Tajuddin Abdul Rahman is what UMNO has to offer to Malaysia

BN leaders also give the citizens of our country far too little credit, esteem and respect when they assert that most rally-goers were clueless about BERSIH’s goals.

Ordinary citizens may not be as sophisticated as some of these BN elites but they understand enough to know that the country is in a mess, that unbridled corruption is destroying us, that all the race-baiting and religious extremism is pushing the nation towards the brink, that the abuse of power is turning our country into an ugly dictatorship.

After all, unlike so many politicians and their cronies, it is the people who are the first to feel the effects of corruption, failed policies and mismanagement. They are the ones who have to carry the burden of GST and pay more and more for basic necessities. They are the ones who have to struggle with substandard education, low wages and unemployment. They are the ones who have to live further and further out and pay more and more to get to work.

They are hard pressed, and they were there Saturday to tell the government of their pain.

Justice or vengeance? 

Whatever it is, the harsh reaction of the government, was totally unwarranted. As SUKAHAM itself noted, there was simply no justification for the arrest of BERSIH leaders. It was an abuse of power, plain and simple.

Image result for Suhakam Chairman Razali zzzzzzzismai.

Seldom has the state expended so much of its resources or brought so much of its power to bear to deter a peaceful gathering of citizens seeking to exercise their democratic rights.

Even that was apparently not enough for some politicians. The leader of a once-progressive political party accused BERSIH of being “out of control” and urged the government to bring back the Internal Security Act to deal with BERSIH supporters.

There’s simply no telling how low such morally-bankrupt politicians will go.

maria-bersihWorst of all, however, was the arrest of the heroic and courageous BERSIH leader, Maria Chin Abdullah, under SOSMA, the draconian anti-terrorist act, a new political low even by BN standards.

And now Maria is being made out to be some sort of sinister super villain heading a foreign-funded, CIA sponsored, ISIS-infiltrated network working in tandem with an assortment of apparently dangerous civil society groups like election monitors, Sisters in Islam and feminist NGOs to terrorize the nation.

It’s laughable really if not for the fact that a grave injustice is being committed against a true patriot and a great Malaysian.

The harsh treatment of Maria smacks of vengeance more than anything else. Malaysians will not soon forget so great an injustice.

As well, it makes the struggle for democracy and accountable government all the more urgent and justified.

BERSIH brought out the best in us

tengku

Whatever may be said about BERSIH, one thing is clear: it brought out the best in us. It inspired a great many Malaysians to reach beyond the narrow and petty divisions that have divided us. It taught us that the dream of our founding father, Tengku Abdul Rahman, of a progressive constitutional democracy, united in diversity, is not as forlorn as they would have us believe.

The road ahead may be long and arduous but BERSIH gave us hope to believe that change is possible and it inspired us to press on.

For now, at least, that is enough. And they can’t take that from us.