Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang


February 19, 2017

Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred!”

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Pebble in the Sky’

COMMENT: Readers interested in what I write should consider this a companion piece to my article describing how non-Malay Malaysians (specifically) are a tolerant lot.

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Mahathir’s First Carma (Cari Makan) Journalist–A Kadir Jasin

De facto opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad casually mentioned last week that he was partly to blame for the demonisation of DAP. I suppose this went together with veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin’s admission that he was part of the brainwashing that went, and goes on, in UMNO. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, but I doubt that the indoctrination of Malay youths will cease any time soon when the opposition is made up of Islamic groups determined to use Islam as a political tool.

I wrote the last part of the above paragraph after the opposition had suffered a setback in the by-election where the current UMNO grand poobah was supposed to receive a black eye but apparently, the opposition punched itself in the face. A reader had emailed and asked if the schadenfreude tasted good, especially since I had predicted the results.

I take no pleasure in any opposition defeat and neither do I take pleasure in a UMNO win. This is the bitter taste of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, when I say “evil”, do not get your panties in a twist because it is an expression and not a description of either political fronts. These days I cannot tell the difference between winning and losing when it comes to “saving Malaysia”.

As I have argued before, a country can recover from corruption scandals, but it rarely recovers from that type of Islam that neutralises the democratic imperative. In Malaysia, where race and religion are not mutually exclusive, the threat from Islamists is coupled with ethno-nationalism.

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The  First Malay Nationalist (or is it Racist?)

The de facto Opposition Leader is right when he says that he demonised DAP as DAP and other opposition parties had demonised him. However, the reality is that these political parties were not only demonising their political rivals, they were demonising entire communities.

So, when you want to win, and you demonise your political opponents, and by extension whole communities, the political terrain becomes a battleground for competing racial interests instead of ideological or policy ideas.

This is why I have always been sceptical of the opposition propaganda about voting across racial lines. In one of my numerous articles about race relations in this country, I wrote: “In addition, this idea that voting across racial lines as some sort of evidence of burgeoning multiracial solidarity is complete bunkum. The real test is when people vote across ethnic and religious lines in support of ideologies that run counter to the interests of their communities and by this, I mean egalitarian ideas that run afoul of constitutional sacred cows and social and religious dogma.”

While the former Prime Minister (and now de facto Opposition Leader) and the system contributed to Malay fear of DAP, the whole political system and voting patterns of Malaysians is also culpable for this sad state of affairs. UMNO succeeded because the majority of Malaysians voted for race-based parties. Racial preoccupations were the currency that sustained BN politics and still does.

The problem is that because we do not have an alternative, BN politics is the only game in town. Non-Malay oppositional voices and voters do not demand an alternative but rather that the system continues but in a more “fairer” manner.

DAP and MCA furiously battle for the Chinese vote. Meanwhile Malay-dominated so-called multicultural parties battle with UMNO and now PAS for the Malay vote. Until the former Prime Minister showed up, there was no central theme that united the Opposition.

While the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim and the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat discovered that populism does not necessarily mean racial or religious preoccupations when it comes to cobbling together a formidable coalition, the emergence of the former Prime Minister as the de facto opposition leader has given the current UMNO regime an opportunity to:

1) Revisit history.

2) Dredge up the financial scandals of the former Prime Minister.

3) Point out that their strategies for securing the Malay vote is based on his strategies that kept him in power for decades.

If anyone is wondering why questions of race always revolves around the Malay and Chinese dialectic, it is because… well, if you are going to ask this question, you have obviously not being paying attention.

All are participants in race game

When I argued that Malaysians were a tolerant lot, the thrust of the piece revolved around how systemic inequalities were a detriment to the non-Muslim population but I failed to emphasise how the non-Malay communities were active participants in the race game in this country.

Voting for race-based parties meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with egalitarian concepts that would have been the basis for a more democratic system. It was not that we were “immature” or “uneducated”, it was just easier to vote for a political hegemon that provided security and stability for decades but not the rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of a functional democracy.

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UMNO’s Money Stealing Grand Poobah

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Tolerance may have been a one-way street, it was also the street where we stopped by the sidewalk and spat at the “Malays”. There is the other narrative of non-Malays engaging in subtle and overt racism, all the while supporting racial political parties that claimed inclusiveness.

The majority of us did this to ensure that our racial preoccupations were satisfied by a plutocrat class instead of demanding for an accountable and transparent government, but more importantly demanding for a principled opposition who fearlessly made their positions clear instead of championing communal causes under the guise of “multiracial/culturalism”.

The private sector was (is) dominated by Chinese polity who were perpetuating their own form of systemic inequalities and contextualising this reality as a response to the systemic inequality perpetrated by the UMNO Malay state.

While I think, there is generally “a live and let live” vibe between Malaysians, it would be a mistake to assume that this is some sort of national identity or some form of stable unity. I realise that this is political incorrect to say, but the hard truth is that while race relations have been manipulated by establishment (both UMNO and the Opposition), the reality is that there was always tensions between the various races of this country.

This is why talking about “race” in this country is such a demoralising endeavour. Appeals to emotion replace rational discourse. The fact that our constitution is compromised, the system itself is predicated on maintaining racial and religious superiority, makes any discussion about how the non-Malays react to such a system, their complicity in sustaining the system difficult to articulate.

The fault of UMNO and the Opposition is that nobody offered an alternative and Malaysians never expected anything better.

You know what the big difference is between the corruption scandals of UMNO back in the day and the one now is? The difference is that a vast majority of Malaysians kept voting UMNO-BN back then than they do now. This is a testament to not only the political strategies of Mahathir but also the apathy of the Malaysians. This of course is a boon for the Opposition because Mahathir seems to be the only person who can galvanise the opposition. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and Free Media


February 18, 2017

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and  Free Media

 

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister of Malaysia (PMOM) Najib Abdul Razak must be feeling tremendously superior to his alleged erstwhile golfing buddy and recently-elected President of the United States (POTUS) Donald J.Trump, even without a chance to play a round with him recently.

Because, however many courses Trump owns, and however close to scratch his game might be, he’s competing at world-class level according to US and international rules in full view of a global gallery, and thus has no chance of hiding just how green, gruesomely handicapped and doomed to defeat that he thus far appears to be.

Whereas Najib plays mostly for Malaysia on a minor circuit restricted to such similar small-timers as North Korea and Zimbabwe, who all consider themselves winners because they not only make-up the rules of the game and fake their own scorecards, but also feel free to club anyone who dares criticise or oppose them into silence or submission.

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Or, in some special cases, to death, as in the current case of the alleged hit on a member of North Korea’s Kim family at the KL International Airport 2, or the murder and C4 dismemberment of Mongolian ‘model’ Altantuya Shaariibuu (pic above) in Kuala Lumpur a decade ago.

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No wonder POTUS Trump is so mightily teed-off at the way he’s thwarted at every stroke as he strives to triumph over obstacles like that mother of all sand-traps, the Middle East, and looming water hazards like the South China Sea, while simultaneously trying to deal with domestic challenges ranging from hostile Democrats and disaffected Republicans to hostile news media and intractable courts.

At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US Presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking glibly because he’s getting so much stick.

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Najib’s Team of Goofers

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figure eaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

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Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as  UMNO-BN owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words, traditional news media. In contrast in the United States, freedom of expression is guaranteed by The First Amendment, making the media an independent and countervailing force in American society.

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the public services and crony based ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by rights be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

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At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking bitingly because he’s getting so much stick.

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figureheaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as UMNO–BN either or both owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words traditional news media.

From left: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin and Sen. Jeff Sessions have all been nominated to high-profile positions in President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. Alex Wong/Getty Images; F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the civil services and crony so-called ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course  backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by right be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

One tiny flaw

Admittedly this game-winning strategy has one tiny flaw, which is that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man who devised and from whom Najib has inherited it, was so keen to create a world-class IT complex he grandly conceived as ‘Cyberjaya’ that he promised global players like Apple and Microsoft that he wouldn’t censor the Internet.

Cyberjaya, like so many of Mahathir’s alleged megalomanic projects, never really took off. But at least the Internet has surprisingly remained relatively free in Malaysia, and thus I can write what I like, or rather what my editors deem not so dangerously politically provocative as to get Malaysiakini raided or banned, in this column.

But Najib and his UMNO-BN accomplices and supporters are apparently quite prepared if not happy to tolerate this relatively minor annoyance, as it gives them a pretext on which to pretend they permit at least some slight degree of press freedom.

And in any event they must figure that however much bad news gets out about them, they can keep buying enough voters to keep them in power with money they SK1M from the public purse to fund annual hand-outs billed as BR1M, which Najib recently boasted increases in amount every year.

Or, to put this another way, there are always enough Malaysians prepared to be so D1M as to accept BR1M and in return to pretend that they’re unaware that Najib, like every one of his fellow UMNO-BN members and cronies, is a KR1M.

In short, though Najib Abdul Razak might seem to the embarrassed, embarrassing and deeply-embattled Donald Trump to be a winner in the contest between himself and the essential democratic institutions of truth, transparency and justice, the Malaysian people are the ‘sure-fire losers’.

Just as the American people will be if Trump and his goofers can’t be persuaded or if necessary forced to finally get themselves on the ball, stop playing around like dimwit banana-republic demagogues and realise that there’s as huge a gulf between their performance so far and true world leadership as between hit-and-giggle golf and the real thing.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng


February 17, 2017

Book Review:

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng

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From the very first chapter of this book to the last, it is full of detailed and astonishing revelations about the mainstream media in Singapore. It is an incredible resource for those trying to understand the control of the media and Singapore’s brand of self-censorship. Indirectly, Cheong Yip Seng’s My Straits Times Story is invaluable in helping to explain the dominance of one political party through its “symbiotic” relationship to all the mainstream print media in our country.

The book begins with an account of how Cheong was appointed to his job as editor-in-chief of the Straits Times in 1986. This was not a private dinner with a publisher or a board meeting or even the result of a secret ballot at a conference of editors.

Instead, Cheong describes how he was summoned by Chandra Das, a prominent Singapore politician, on a plane to Burma with the words “The boss wants to see you”. Cheong was given a seat in the first-class cabin next to the then-Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Goh wanted him to take over the editorial leadership of the Straits Times from the previous editor, Peter Lim, who had been found wanting.

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Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore

Apparently Lim’s “sin” was that he (and the ST) had during the regional uproar over the Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore “failed to recognize the educational role of the Straits Times” which infuriated then PM Lee Kuan Yew who believed that the ST coverage “did not help Singaporeans fully understand the facts of regional life and what it took to be an independent sovereign nation.”

Apparently Lim had relied too much on the Malaysian English-language media in its coverage of the Malaysian outrage without adequately carrying some of the more rabid reactions from the vernacular media from across the causeway. This was the final straw which led to Lim’s firing as the Istana had apparently “reached the point of no return with the Straits Times.”

Related imageBelieve him or not, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew stood up for a responsible and accountable media

In the months before that, Cheong reveals, the government was planning on a “GTO (government team of officials) moving into Times House” similar to what was done with the bus company. The response by the ST leadership is instructive. Instead of protesting against this attempt at interference in professional journalism, apparently Peter Lim and CEO Nigel Holloway met the PM at the Istana repeatedly to negotiate against the presence of government officials in the newsroom. The solution they negotiated was instead a “monitor at Times House, someone who could watch to see if indeed the newsroom was beyond control”. This person was identified by Cheong as (former Singapore president) S R Nathan.

The threat of a GTO together with the presence of a “monitor” made sure that the SPH newspapers toed the party line. This is something that many in civil society in Singapore have suspected for a long time but it is nice to see it confirmed here from the best source possible.

There is more evidence of intimidation documented in this book, mainly from Lee Kuan Yew, who actually endorsed the book prominently. For example, after an early event at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Cheong was threatened by Lee with the words, “If you print this, I will break your neck”. Cheong’s response to what appears on the surface to be a brutal threat is interesting was: “I was taken aback by his thunderbolt…It was my first taste of Lee Kuan Yew’s ways with the media…Thankfully not every encounter would be as bruising as (that)…but there were many occasions when the knuckleduster approach was unmistakable.”

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All said and done and for all  the criticisms, Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore a great and globally admired Island Nation in the Sun–Din Merican

Such blatant intimidation is presumably rare in Singapore. The title of the book, however, describes the life of a Singaporean journalist constantly trying to negotiate the “OB” or “Out of Bounds” markers. Cheong explains the origin of the term “OB markers”, ascribing it to former minister George Yeo, who described them as “areas of public life that should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.”

Outside of race and religion, the most important OB marker was then PM Lee Kuan Yew’s argument that the press could not be a “fourth estate” or center of power because it was not elected.

This is not a valid argument to me as it could be argued that the press are far more accountable than politicians as they have to seek the approval of the newspaper purchasing public every day rather than every four to five years in elections.

Instead, Lee’s view of the press was that it was a tool for dissemination and promotion of government policies. One illuminating illustration was a “furious” call from Lee’s office that was received by the (now defunct) New Nation Editor David Kraal. The editors were “flummoxed” to discover that the then PM was provoked by a photograph of a large family to illustrate a story of a happy Singapore family. Apparently, this was perceived by the PM as “subtle but effective criticism” of the “Stop at Two campaign” in which Lee sought to limit families to two children.

There are other OB markers which Cheong found “bewildering”. These included stories on Stanley Gibbons, a stamp dealer; carpet auctions; monosodium glutamate or MSG; feng shui; unflattering pictures of politicians, and scoops.

I think many Singaporeans too would find it difficult to understand why these “should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.” These are, however, hallmarks of an authoritarian regime which can install boundaries at whim without having them questioned.

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The Emeritus Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo

Another OB marker was appearing overly critical of local TV programs. George Yeo apparently pointed out that “If the Straits Times created the impression that our TV programs were not worth watching, Singapore would lose an important channel of communications.” As a result, even the TV critics were reined in.

The issue of scoops is a recurrent theme. Cheong reports that “Lee Kuan Yew was determined to purge the newsroom of the culture of scoops”. He did not want a situation like the Watergate affair in which a dishonest president was exposed by investigative journalists who became cult heroes. Cheong writes that “The PM took the position that Singapore was not America: he had no skeletons in the closet and challenged the press to find one because he wanted to be the first to know…”

But of course, the press could not use investigative journalism to find out – they had to depend on the official version of events. This kind of Alice in Wonderland argument doesn’t seem to trouble Cheong or perhaps by re-stating the argument in this context, he is exposing its hollowness.

Cheong actually admits how much of a struggle this was for him as a journalist. He quotes Number 5 Chinese Leader Li Changchun as urging mainland Chinese journalists to go for scoops and explains his predecessor Peter Lim’s Faustian bargain for Singapore journalists thus: “it was better to produce the best story than the first story…Finding scoops in Singapore with many OB markers carried a real risk”.

Indeed, one gets a sense of how difficult life is for journalists who might inadvertently break a story that covered the sensitive subject of MSG or bad local TV programs or some other OB marker and end up being hauled up by the government.

Cheong makes it clear that while he had hoped that the “knuckleduster era” belonged to the 1970s, it could reappear any time. For example, he describes how while “recovering” from the 2006 general election, he received a phone call in a hotel in Phuket, from Lee Kuan Yew who was “livid” about a “powerfully argued column by Chua Mui Hoong” in which the deputy political editor had questioned the policy of placing opposition wards at the back of the queue for upgrading works. According to Cheong, Lee was “his old 1970s self. If the Straits Times wanted a fight, he was prepared to do it the old way, with knuckledusters on”. This is depressing but not surprising to any reader of the ST today.

The extent of micro-management of the local press Cheong reports is amazing. Apparently, Goh Chok Tong had made a suggestion during the launch of The New Paper: “Why not consider a Page 3 girl”. Cheong quickly clarifies that Goh was not suggesting topless women that had been made famous by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun but rather girls that (as Cheong quotes Goh) “can be scantily dressed”. The character and direction – and not just the OB markers – of the local press are thus apparently suggested by Singapore’s political leadership.

Cheong also provides details about the ST personnel’s relationship with the ruling People’s Action Party, the PAP. He writes that “senior PAP leaders had been impressed with (columnist Warren Fernandez’s) work for us. His columns in particular have been generally supportive of PAP policies.” He was about to be selected as a PAP candidate for the 2006 elections.

Cheong then emailed the Prime Minister asking to keep Warren at the ST “unless he was earmarked for higher office. But the PM’s response was that he needed Eurasian representation in parliament”. Apparently Cheong’s email had been circulated to the PAP selection panel before the final interview and Kuan Yew agreed to keep Fernandez out of the PAP slate. Of course, now Fernandez is the Editor of the ST.

Reporting on the “opposition” politicians was even more of a “minefield”. Cheong recalls the 1984 elections when “Peter Lim, then editor in chief, was under pressure from James Fu, the PM’s press secretary, conveying the PM’s request to publish Chiam (See Tong)’s O-Level results….Peter Lim refused: he was convinced it would backfire against the PAP…The result proved him right”.

What intrigues me about the incident was not just that the Prime Minister would intervene to try to persuade the national newspaper to publish such data, but rather that the editor-in-chief refused not because of journalistic integrity but rather because he thought it would “backfire against the PAP”.

This is typical of what Cheong describes as the “symbiotic relationship” between the ST and the PAP which is in fact enshrined in the editorial policy that Cheong crafted in response to then PM Goh’s unhappiness with the local mainstream media. The three pillars of that policy are (1) “Accuracy and objectivity” of coverage (2) The nation-building task of advancing and informing the public as Singapore develops and (3) The symbiotic relationship with the government. Some journalists were unhappy about this relationship but it stayed in the ST editorial policy at Cheong’s insistence. This documentation again, is what makes this book valuable to all who read the local press.

There are many revelations in Cheong’s book. We learn that the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts kept a dossier on local press articles which they found offensive. These include not giving enough prominence to ministers’ speeches. We also learn that when editors were “called up for meetings” with then PM Lee, they had to send detailed CVs including their O-Level results and their wives’ educational qualifications.

Other specific examples of censorship included restrictions on reporting conditions in national service camps in the early days and telling stories of the people who actually lost out through the Housing and Development Board (HDB) construction and resettlement process. The latter is poignant as Cheong describes the contrast between the 30,000 square feet (including a pond and a farm) that a friend living in Kampong Henderson had to give up in exchange for less than $3,000 compensation and a much smaller HDB flat. The ST was not allowed to report on such negative aspects of our “urban renewal” process or the HDB “success story”. The threat of the disapproval of the Times House “monitor” which could cost them their jobs through a GTO ensured compliance.

Interestingly, the “foreign investors” whom we religiously try to attract to Singapore are not as keen on press controls as we have been given to believe. According to Cheong, the American Business Council, supported by the US State Department, argued that investors would be deterred without the free flow of information. Cheong reports how the Singapore government stood their ground but paid the price, in his words: “liberal democracies and some members of the Singapore intelligensia saw it as too intolerant for its own good.”

Cheong is dismissive of the online alternative media but he devotes a paragraph to responding to Seelan Palay’s film “One Nation Under Lee” specifically by explaining that the ISD agents hired by the ST were not sent by the government, they were in fact, according to Cheong, willingly brought in by himself.

Later on, Cheong describes Lee Kuan Yew’s response to the online question “Who paid for the flying hospital for his wife” as marking the legitimization of online media. Cheong acknowledges that the days of traditional media are numbered worldwide, even in Singapore. He quotes the current PM Lee Hsien Loong as admitting that he cannot persuade his own daughter to read the news pages of the ST.

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The book is not all about the travails of a court announcer trying to keep the king happy. For me, the most promising section was the one describing the ST’s finest hour – exposing a scandal involving the National Kidney Foundation. Here is where you get a sense of what might have been should the ST have decided to serve the people of Singapore by performing the task of investigative journalists rather than as disseminators of official information.

Cheong was aware of “strong pro-NKF sentiments in powerful quarters” including two ministers (Lim Hng Kiang and Khaw Boon Wan) as the NKF had taken a tremendous load off the public healthcare sector by keeping alive and healthy 1,800 Singaporeans through its excellent dialysis centers.

He was initially prepared to pay S$20,000 as compensation, publish a statement of clarification about the article by Susan Long, which had the infamous gold taps as part of a “generally laudatory article” and settle the matter out of court. Cheong does not reveal who or what made him change his mind and go against Mrs Goh Chok Tong’s efforts to mediate.

T T Durai, then NKF CEO, who was at the center of the controversy, was incensed and accused the media of trying to be the fourth estate, which Cheong had already established was a role that the Singapore mainstream media had given up – except in this case!

Here the ST team excelled themselves – they tracked down the contractor who prepared the gold taps and other witnesses who were prepared to sign affidavits. In other words, good old-fashioned investigative journalism. Like the good journalists that many in the ST are (before they censor themselves), they want their readers to have all the facts, including those below the surface so the readers could make intelligent decisions for themselves.

While the stories in the book are exciting to any media watcher (and there are many more), there are many errors such as the misspelling of my uncle David Tambyah’s name and SARS was described incorrectly as occurring in 2002 in one instance (although the proof readers picked out the correct dates for the three subsequent mentions of the outbreak).

Cheong himself acknowledges the problem with the quality of English in the newspaper and says that the ST paid the price for the “neglect” of the teaching of grammar in schools. It got so bad that he had to “scour” the world for good copy editors whom he eventually found in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India.

For those of us who lament that our education system seems to have switched from teaching life and career skills to teaching what is required to top international standardized tests, that is a statement worth paying attention to.

The question on many Singaporean’s minds is: Why did he write this book? Cheong does explicitly reveal this. Near the end, however, he gives a telling account of how journalists found official spokespersons unhelpful as their priority was “reflecting better on the ministers” rather than allowing journalists to do investigative or background work. He describes frustrated journalists recounting their bad experiences in explicit detail – perhaps that is what he is trying to do himself as some kind of catharsis.

Perhaps wistfully, he talks about a time when the ST was indeed the “fourth estate” when it did occasionally demonstrate its independence – although he has to reach as far back as 1956 when the ST condemned the takeover of the Suez Canal by British, French and Israelis. British expats in Singapore were incensed and the managing director of the ST, a member of the British establishment was “spat on in the (then British only) Tanglin Club.”

When I asked a prominent civil society figure about the reasons for this book, he pointed out that when authoritarian regimes in Latin America or Eastern Europe were crumbling, “everyone claimed to be a reformer.”

I am an optimist. I think that Cheong has seen the signs from the recent general, presidential and by-elections and he knows that the people of Singapore are waking up. Establishment voices are raising questions about some fundamental assumptions.

The first step, as anyone with a serious problem knows, is acknowledging that you have a serious problem. Perhaps this is Cheong’s first step. Hopefully for the mainstream media, acknowledging the problem of control and domination will be the first step to the recovery of an independent media which can evolve into a free press, a necessity for democracy for the people of Singapore. The book is a worthy read.

(Another version of this review first appeared on yoursdp.org. Assoc Prof Paul Tambyah is a member of the Singapore Democratic Party’s Healthcare Policy Panel. He contributed this in his personal capacity.)

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All


February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

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God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

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Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

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To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14


February 15, 2017

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14

by Dato Dennis Ignatius@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak (pictured with de facto PM Rosmah Mansor) recently offered three reasons why Barisan Nasional (BN) can expect a significant increase in support from the Chinese community at the next general elections – “the opposition’s shortcomings despite being given the opportunity; Malaysia’s good relations with China; and, the good moral politics practiced by the BN.” (Bernama, 5th February 2017)

It is an astonishing assertion to say the least. In the first place, by any reckoning, the Opposition in both Selangor and Penang has, in fact, performed far better than previous UMNO-BN governments. In a few short years, corruption and waste are significantly down; there is greater accountability and transparency and people are better off than before. And this despite the unrelenting hostility and lack of cooperation from the federal government.

The Opposition may have their shortcomings but there’s little doubt that if they ever came to power at the federal level, Malaysia would be the better for it.

As for the claim that BN practices “good moral politics,” it is so risible that it isn’t even worth a second thought.

The China card

The reference to China, on the other hand, is significant if only for the mindset it reveals. It suggests that the Minister  who is notorious when he was a Sabah state minister  considers Malaysian Chinese more parochial than patriotic, that the Chinese community will overlook the bigotry and racial prejudice perpetrated against them as well as the injustice, corruption and scandal that have blighted our nation simply because they prize good relations with China.

Acting on this belief, UMNO-BN ministers have assiduously sought to co-opt China into their elections strategy in the expectation that China’s ringing endorsement of the current Malaysian leadership will play out well with Malaysian Chinese.

At the ground level, a senior UMNO minister even went so far as to accompany the Chinese Ambassador around as the ambassador distributed Chinese government assistance to Malaysian Chinese schools, something that was always frowned upon in the past.

The MCA too appears to be counting on China’s endorsement to restore its fortunes as the party of choice for Malaysian Chinese. By setting up a PRC affairs committee and an OBOR (One Belt One Road) centre, the MCA is clearly hoping to convince Malaysian Chinese that its close relationship with China will bring huge dividends to the Malaysian Chinese community through lucrative deals, projects and other businesses.

But is relations with China a key election issue for Malaysian Chinese? Even a cursory survey of Malaysian Chinese attitudes suggests otherwise. In fact, their key concerns – security, education, tolerance and good governance – are not even on Salleh’s radar.

Security and safety

There is no doubt that Malaysian Chinese have been quite traumatized by the rising level of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country as well as the threat of racial violence.

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The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur (2015)

For many, the 2015 Petaling Street affair – when senior UMNO leaders shamefully stood by and did nothing even as the Red Shirts threatened a bloodbath – was a turning point; it indicated that Malaysian Chinese could no longer count on UMNO-BN for their safety and survival.

Frustrated at the lack of government action and fearful for their safety, many Malaysian Chinese, and others as well, applauded when the Chinese Ambassador finally intervened to stop things from getting out of hand.

Those who believe that China might provide some protection for Malaysian Chinese might, therefore, welcome closer relations with China; not because of any loyalty per se to their ancestral homeland but simply in the hope that it would bring a measure of stability.

Some also harbour the hope that closer relations with China might somehow forestall the growing drift towards Islamic extremism in Malaysia, another area of great concern to Malaysian Chinese as well as to other Malaysians. They reason that the more indispensable China is to Malaysia’s economic well-being and to UMNO-BN’s survival, the less UMNO would want to scare them away with any dramatic Islamisation initiatives.

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The Anti-Chinese Malays

Whether China can or will provide such a security blanket is, however, an open question. Observers have argued, for example, that the Chinese Ambassador’s intervention in the Petaling Street affair was aimed more at avoiding the kind of internal instability that could jeopardize China’s economic and political gains in the country rather than out of any particular concern for Malaysian Chinese.

Education

It is no secret that Malaysian Chinese also place a very high premium on education and the opportunities that a good education provides. It is, after all, education that transformed a ragtag bunch of largely indentured labourers into an economic powerhouse that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently described as “the group that will carry the nation forward.”

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The Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi with UMNO Racists, Noh Omar and Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos

In this context, the Chinese school system occupies a special place in the Malaysian Chinese psyche. It is more than just education; it is about inculcating traditional values, culture and language. Its very existence is a psychological beacon of hope and comfort, an assurance that their language, culture and identity will endure.

When the Chinese school system is condemned as unconstitutional, detrimental to national integration and threatened with closure, when the Unified Examination Certificate is refused recognition, when funds are withheld, it is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a thinly veiled attack on the Malaysian Chinese community itself.

After all, how is it justified to demand the closure of Chinese schools on the grounds of national unity when Chinese schools today are more integrated than national schools, when foreign English-medium private schools proliferate, when monoracial educational and religious institutions continue to flourish with government support?

To be sure, we have a serious national unity issue in this country that needs urgent attention. However, the way to build unity must surely be through consultation, cooperation and accommodation rather than further marginalising besieged minorities or demonising them for political expediency.

Tolerance

As well, Malaysian Chinese are deeply concerned, even grieved, over the way they have been racially harassed and taunted by many from within UMNO and PAS itself.

It hurts that even after more than a century of living in Malaysia and contributing to its development as much as anyone else, they are still considered interlopers, intruders and “pendatangs.” It hurts when they are taunted as unpatriotic, as disloyal, as ungrateful. It hurts when decades of blood, sweat and tears in the service of their nation are dismissed as irrelevant or deliberately downplayed. Or that their votes are not solicited with promises of wise policies but demanded with threats of punishment and retribution.

And it hurts when those who come from countries like Indonesia are permitted to be proud of their heritage while Malaysian Chinese must always be watchful lest they be accused of chauvinism and disloyalty.

Sure, no community is without their faults but the constant racist polemics is discouraging, discomforting and disquieting.

Good governance

Finally, there is the issue of good governance.Like other Malaysians, Malaysian Chinese are sick and tired of the corruption and abuse of power that has become commonplace in our nation today.

It was this concern that compelled thousands of them to join their fellow citizens in participating in the BERSIH rallies, despite the threats and intimidation, to press for political change, for respect for the constitution and for good and clean governance.

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Malaysian Chinese, in fact, feel insulted that politicians think they can be won over simply on the promise of good relations with China. They are, first and foremost, Malaysians and it is national issues like good governance, justice and respect for diversity that matter far more to them than relations with China.

Malaysian Chinese want what other Malaysians want

If UMNO-BN wants to win the support of Malaysian Chinese, it does not need to look to China; it simply needs to treat them with respect and dignity as fellow citizens of this nation we all call home.

In the final analysis, Malaysian Chinese want what everybody else in Malaysia so desperately wants – good governance, security, respect for our constitution and for the rights of all citizens irrespective of race or religion, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in peace with their fellow citizens. And the answer to that is not found in Beijing but in Putrajaya.

 

 

 

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot


February 15, 2017

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot over Najib Razak, bigotry, racism, corruption

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“The difference between fundamentalists and moderates – and certainly the difference between all ‘extremists’ and moderates – is the degree to which they see political and military action to be intrinsic to the practice of their faith. In any case, people who believe that Islam must inform every dimension of human existence, including politics and law, are now generally called not ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘extremists’ but, rather, ‘Islamists’.” – Sam Harris

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak described (an example of) the beauty of Malaysia as the Chinese waiting (uncomplaining) for Muslim potentates while they prayed when an official function was about to begin. This really sums up the concept of “moderation” in this country. The non-Muslims do not complain and indeed make pacts with Islamists, and life carries on as usual as long as there is money to be made.

In this country, “tolerance” is a one-way street. It is a street only used by the non-Malay population. The claim that the constitution guarantees certain rights is a complete sham. Mind you, the word “tolerance” is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, “enduring” instead of “accepting” and “understanding” – all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.

When it comes to race and specifically religion, I wrote – “…The reality is that the only people who find themselves disturbed by another religion are the non-Muslims. If there is a disparity in treatment, a lack of fairness, outright persecution or double standards, it is faced by non-Muslim communities.”

The post-69 history of Malaysia is the history of non-Malays non-complaining, as we allowed our country and our politics to be hijacked by charlatans who promised security, stability and prosperity if we continued tolerating everything that deep down inside we knew was destroying this country.

Image result for Najib Razak QuotesThat’s a lot bull, Prime Minister Najib, you betrayed our Trust, and one day you are going to pay the price for doing so.–Din Merican

When the Prime Minister of this country claims that “The Federal Constitution stresses that we must respect our difference in diversity in terms of culture, language and religion”, I double up in laughter because the constitution is meaningless without people who actually believe in discovering and enforcing the intent of the constitution.

Honestly, this is the same regime where a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to crack down on religious pluralism (amongst others) because “They are trying to do this by putting pressure on our country to surrender and adhere to what they said as ‘international standards and laws’ to allow total freedom of human rights, which contravenes the principles and teachings of Islam, the cultures of our multiracial people, and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

This has never been about a government of equals. This has always been about creating a monolithic community under the yoke of UMNO. Always remember what the Pahang mufti said after he backtracked form his genocide comment – “We are not forcing but I urge non-Muslims to convert to Islam to be safe in the afterlife and for unity in Malaysia. There will be no more chaos and we can focus on development” – which is the canard that Muslims shove down one another’s throats in attempt at solidarity.

So yes, we are a “tolerant” people. And if you are Malay and feel the same way about what non-Malays have tolerated, then perhaps you understand the situation deeper than the average establishment supporter.

Unilateral conversions

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The man who destroyed our institutions–Can Malaysians think?

We tolerated a great many things. Here are some of things I think we tolerate.We are tolerant that a specific race is defined in our constitution. We are tolerant that race determines privileges. We are tolerant that a religion is deemed superior and this is codified in our laws and constitution. We are tolerant that the security apparatus in our country determines which laws to follow. We are tolerant when our religions are mocked and we are branded traitors because we defend our rights which are supposedly enshrined in our constitution.

We are tolerant when religious personalities imply that oppositional political parties are the enemies of Islam and thus open to war-like retribution. We are tolerant when our public spaces are invaded by a state-sanctioned religion. We are tolerant when we are warned not to interfere in the state-sponsored religion even though it has been objectively proven that the same religion interferes in our rights.

We are tolerant when our children are indoctrinated in our public schools. We are tolerant when our politicians play the race-and-religion card at every opportunity. We are tolerant when men convert to the state’s religion to vindictively attack their wives and children. We are tolerant when public spaces are raided by religious officials and our fellow countrymen and women are dragged out and humiliated. We are tolerant when the propaganda organs of the state lie and disseminate fake news vilifying Malaysians as “racist”, “chauvinist” and “anti-Islam”.

We are tolerant when members of the so-called opposition claim that they have to use the same tactics as UMNO to remove the current grand poohbah. We are tolerant when voices tell us that we should be grateful for being allowed to live here. We are tolerant when our history is distorted.

We are tolerant when foreign Islamists came to this country and mock our religions. We are tolerant when we are warned by the mainstream political establishment that we can never assume to lead this country because this would hurt the sensitivities of the majority. We are tolerant when the natives of this land are abused and expelled from their ancestral homes.

We are tolerant of unilateral conversions. We are tolerant of attacks against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. We are tolerant of attacks against liberalism and progressive ideas. We are tolerant when our education system is used as a petri dish. We are tolerant of quotas in our education system. We are tolerant of quotas in our civil and security services. We are tolerant of deaths in custody. We are tolerant when laws are created that would give the executive unlimited powers. So yes, we tolerate a great many things.

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The UMNO racists

The UMNO state understands that the non-Muslims would not do anything about it. Sure, a majority of non-Muslims would like to see Najib go and they would be joined by Muslims with the same cause, but ultimately the UMNO state knows when the chips are down, the opposition will not do anything to challenge UMNO hegemony on race and religion.

Indeed, the regime is extremely confident that the Malaysian non-Malays will tolerate this, too.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.