Disturbing Questions surrounding GE13 polling


May 7, 2013

Disturbing Questions surrounding GE13 polling

by Bridget Welsh@http://www.malaysiakini.com

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GE13 SPECIAL: The GE13 results are in and the BN has managed to hold only power, winning by a 22-seat majority. This result is the worst performance for BN in Malaysia’s history.

For the first time, the incumbent government has lost the popular vote nationally (in 2008, it was only on the peninsula). The BN coalition has still managed to hold onto power. This piece, in a series analysing the election results, looks at the concerns raised regarding the electoral process and the potential impact these issues may have had on the final results.

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In analysing the fairness of any polls, one asks whether the irregularities in the process could have affected the final outcome. Were the problems enough to change which coalition would have formed government? These issues will be debated and assessed in the days and weeks ahead. Let me share some preliminary observations that suggest that in this election, some things appear not to be quite right.

Integrity of electoral roll

This was the longest wait for an election, and both sides were extremely active in registering new voters, especially in the urban areas where the party machinery was well honed.

Even factoring in the more robust voter registration efforts, changes in electoral procedures to register people where they live rather than where they are from, population demographics, and possible housing developments in different seats, the increased numbers in the electoral roll are significantly not in line with historical patterns of voter registration. This out-of-line pattern is in every state, except Negeri Sembilan.

The figure that stands out in voter increase occurred from 2004 to 2008 in Sabah. The questions about the electoral roll in Sabah have been long standing, and are the subject of the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry into Immigrants.

These increases from 2004 through 2008 are by any measure – huge – in places such as Liburan, where caretaker Chief Minister Musa Aman state seat is located, in Semporna, the seat of Shafie Apdal and in Ranau currently held by Ewok Ebin.

Yet, after 2008, while the numbers have dropped, there is still on average 21% new voters in Sabah seats, a high number not in line with demographic trends. Migration appears to continue be a factor shaping voter numbers in Sabah in this GE13, despite calls to tighten the flows.

We also find that new voters have flooded states like Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu and Johor in GE13. The average increase in voters nationally between 2004 and 2008 was 8.2%. In the run-up to GE13, the voters registered doubled to 19.4%. The national and statewide averages however obscure the differences among different seats within states. It is clear that some seats have been special recipients of new voters.

Much has been made of the 28% of new voters in Lembah Pantai. This seat is actually on the low side compared to others. Consider the whopping 61.5% increase in Tapah, recently re-won by BN, or Subang with 52% new voters, won by Pakatan with a larger majority this election but shaped heavily by Pakatan’s registration of new voters.

A total of 90 seats, or 41% of all parliamentary seats, have more than 25% new voters. Many of these were in races with tight contests in 2008, and continued to have tight contests in GE13. The new voters has advantaged the opposition in urban areas, but benefitted the BN in rural and semi-rural areas or in states where the machinery of the opposition is comparatively weak, such as Johor.

Such races also won by BN that had large number of voters include Cameron Highlands (20%), Pasir Gudang (39%) and Tebrau (45%) in Johor. While some of the increase in the latter two seats might be explained in part by development, bizarrely there are sharp increases in voting populations in the remote interior state of Pensiangan (33%) and remote coastal seat of Kota Marudu (32%) in Sabah. These abnormal high increases raise questions.

The placement of new voters is even more intriguing when studying the actual polling stations results. Many new voters are concentrated in more less populated areas within constituencies, often in rural and semi-rural seats.

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This is where the questions over the large number of unexplained voters grouped in bunches in places like Bachok (21% new voters and won by PAS with less than 1% margin) and Bukit Gantang (29% of new voters and won by PAS with 2% margin) come in.

It appears that the localised remote placements of new voters may have had an impact. For example, the placement of 3,600 new voters in a remote Felda schemes occurred in Segamat, which was won by the BN with a 1,217 majority. The voting in this Felda scheme was over 90%, with one stream at 99%. In 2004, the voter turnout in this area was much lower.

This spike pattern of voter turnout in particular polling stations was found in Terengganu in 2004, when the BN wrested back the state, and questions were raised at that time as well.

Spike patterns out of line

This GE13 spike in voter turnout at the local level is being witnessed in specific places across the country. With the national level of turnout at 80%, the spike patterns that are well out of line with historic patterns of voting behaviour raise questions, even accounting for the overall rise in participation and voter turnout.

Another pattern in the placement of new voters beyond tight races involves prominent leaders getting large shares of new voters, such as Najib Razak’s own seat Pekan with 38% new voters, or Rompin represented by Jamaluddin Jarjis at 29% new voters. It remains unclear why these largely rural constituencies would have such large voter increases.

Generally out-migration areas such as Perak and Pahang receiving large numbers of new voters does not conform with population patterns. Why are places with people leaving to work outside get sharp increases in voters?

The lack of clear transparent explanations on why voters are registered in some areas in such high numbers this election, compared to past patterns in these areas, understandably raises questions.

Many seats that were lost by the opposition or were in tight races have large number of new voters, including, including Tanah Merah (24%) and Balik Pulau (25%), although in some cases the opposition picked up or retained seats with large voter increases in these seats, such as Kota Raja (47%) and Kuala Nerus (25%), among others.

This issue of voter registration and voter turnout levels needs further study, with more information on who are these new voters and their pattern of voting. The fact is that the polling station results will show the spikes at the local level and careful study will tell us statistically the impact of these new voters on electoral outcomes.

The Electoral Commission (EC) and electoral administration as a whole are facing a real trust deficit. A reliable electoral roll is essential for any fair elections. Repeatedly questions have been raised about the veracity of many new voters.

Election watchdog Merap and others have time and again drawn to the questions of electoral roll integrity. Before the polls, these matters were essentially ignored or dismissed. To date, the scope of phantom voters and questionable placement was not fully known. Now the results themselves will show the impact at the local level.

This is why the sharing of all results through the Borang 14 is essential in order to make a systematic and thorough assessment. Preliminary reviews of results are already raising red flags as they have shaped the outcomes at both the parliamentary and state levels.

Early and postal voting

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Queries about the early and postal voting have also emerged. Here the question is about double voting, with individuals having the opportunity to vote twice. Postal voting numbers increased in this election. Historically, there have always been questions about the veracity of postal voting, with reports questioning that this voting is secret and others arguing over the accuracy of the results.

There have been improvements in recent years over postal voting involving polling agent access to this process in many locations. Yet, even with these improvements, questions about whether postal voting is fair and accurate remain.

In this election, further questions emerged over the numbers and placement of these postal voters in different constituencies. Many tight races, such as Sibu, had increases in postal voters. In some cases, the list of names of new postal voters were reportedly not provided openly.

Early voting, an estimated 240,000 people, is also a new addition for this election and being queried. Early voting includes many Malaysians within Malaysia, such as the wives of army officers and journalists who can vote before polls.

There was not a clear distribution of the list of early voters provided nationally, and in some cases even individual candidates were not able to access the names of who were the postal and early voters.

No clear explanation was given to why some constituencies received early voters and others did not. Importantly, this information was not properly shared so that it could be verified. Furthermore, there were unexplained instances when the numbers of early and postal voters increased. In Lembai Pantai, for example, the number stated was 200, but 600 showed up. How did this happen?

Given the reality that the indelible ink was in many cases not indelible, the possibility of double voting exists. On voting day there are numerous reports of individuals finding out that someone had voted fraudulently using their name, leading to concerns also about electoral disenfranchisement.

The indelible ink was in many cases not indelible.

The indelible ink was in many cases not indelible.

There were also reports of non-Malaysians being transported to the polling stations by buses and even flown in, some of these believed to be phantom voters. The scale and impact of these on the results is not yet clear, but given the combination of a non-transparent early and postal voting process in various locations and non-indelible ink issues on election day, and sightings of non-Malaysians in contentious seats, troubling questions are being raised.

The close results make these issues and questions more salient. A total of 72 of seats (or 32%) were won by less than 10% margins of turnout. Twenty percent of seats, 44 seats, were won with less than a 5% margin. The closeness of these races could easily have come down to a few voters. These razor-thin margin seats were won by both sides, but given the questions raised about the process of voting in these close seats, they need to be carefully reviewed.

To date, the total number of seats affected by either non-transparent new voter increases and early voting allocations and unexplained incidents of disenfranchisement appears to be more than the actual margin of victory for the BN. These reports need to be properly vetted and verified, but fundamental questions remained.

A spoilt-vote victory

Finally, this brings up the questions on the election night itself. There are queries surrounding the recounts and spoilt votes. How many recounts which overturned the results at the last moment were there? In Perak, for example, three state seats – three is a famous number in Perak – Alor Pongsu, Manjoi and Pangkor results were overturned at the last minute. Questions were also raised at Kamunting as well.

The need for transparency at the final count is essential for a fair election. When the EC asks people to leave and there are new ballot boxes seen outside of a polling station, as was reported in Lembah Pantai, there are questions. It is not fully clear what exactly happened with the recounts in Perak and elsewhere – as there were numerous recounts nationally this election – but the climate of distrust that has permeated the assessment of the election process raises doubts.

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In the days ahead, a better sense of the numbers and recounts will emerge. With reports of sudden changes in the voting results such as Bentong and Labis, questions are being raised. Many people cannot understand how a result that was statistically a large margin ahead could be overturned. These need to be clarified, particularly in Bentong where the margin was larger.

Part of the problem is that in some cases, the number of spoilt votes exceeded the actual majority in places where recounts took place. Here are some of the seats at the parliamentary level where this happened: Kuala Selangor, Cameron Highlands, Bachok, Bentong, Sungai Besar, Kota Merudu and Baram won by the BN and Sepang and Kuala Nerus won by the opposition. Another seat with high spoilt votes is Segamat, at 950.

What distinguishes these close recounts from the famous cases of Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh losing in 1999 with more spoilt votes than the majority, is the process of the administration of the indelible ink in this election – before marking the ballot paper – thus staining the papers and contributing to higher spoilt votes.

This pattern of higher spoilt votes than actual margins of victory was also replicated at the state level as well in many areas, where only a few seats mattered for who should win state power. The process of administering the ink appears to have had an impact on the results in some areas.

It is important to be careful when reviewing the election results and not rush to judgement about what happened and why. It is also important to see the election holistically. The focus here has not touched on the use of money in the campaign, which was rampant, labeled ‘bombing’ in Sabah, or the mainstream media reporting.

The aim has been to raise the preliminary questions revealed in the results and the impact actual numbers of voters associated with the election. As the evaluation of the election moves forward, the call to answer these questions will only increase and intensify. Further study and analysis is essential.

Nevertheless, from the non-indelible ink and spikes in voter turnout to being not allowed to vote, concerns with the electoral process itself are not sitting right with many in the public, and this is not just supporters on one side or another. Transparent and truthful answers are both needed and welcomed.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She is travelling around Malaysia to provide her GE13 analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini. Bridget can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

A Tribute to Aishah Ghani: An Examplary UMNO Leader and Patriot


April 20, 2013

A Tribute to Aishah Ghani: An Examplary UMNO Leader and Patriot

by Zaharah Othman | features@nst.com.my

http://www.nst.com.my

Between the pages of her book is an eye-opening journey and an ode to love. Zaharah Othman finds out more

Aishah Ghani

TAN Sri Aishah Ghani’s tale is a love story on many levels. Love for her husband, her children and her country. But it was what she called her first love that took her away from them. In search of her first love that had long eluded her, she boarded The Canton at Tanjung Pagar Harbour in Singapore on April 10, 1955 leaving her husband and children aged 8 and 6 at the harbour. The youngest, aged 20 months, was too young to be there.

During the voyage that took her halfway around the world, Aishah, who wrote Ibu Melayu Mengelilingi Dunia: Dari Rumah Ke London under the pen name Aishah Aziz, documented her visits to Colombo, Bombay and Eden where the ship docked, taking her readers on an eye-opening journey as she described the local politics, commented on social issues and customs and traditions.

Aishah Ghani's book

The book, published by The Standard Engravers & Art Printers in Campbell Road, Kuala Lumpur, was written in Malay and featured some black and white pictures of the writer during her travels. What shone through was her attempt at travel writing at a time when not many people were traveling, putting into perspective her astute observations for her readers to experience.

After reaching her destination at Tilbury Docks in London on May 9 of the same year, she embarked on what could only be described as her passionate affair with that first love — education. In the beginning of her book, she had penned a very moving poem, promising to come back to her husband once her thirst for education was quenched and her passionate affair with her first love was over.

All these and more were written in a slim book that I found sandwiched between other heavyweight titles of Malay books on the shelf at the British Library nearly 20 years ago. With the colour of its pages fading, it would have gone unnoticed, if not for its title Ibu Melayu Mengelilingi Dunia: — Dari Rumah Ke London.

Reading through the thin, fragile pages of the 83-page book, I couldn’t help but feel in awe of this woman who must have wrestled with her conscience and struggled with her sense of responsibilities, to give priorities to an ambition she had nurtured even before her marriage.

“Only God knows the pain,” said Aishah, her voice resonating with the pain she must have felt as she lost sight of her husband and children standing at the harbour in Singapore that day 57 years ago.

As a writer she used her husband’s name Abdul Aziz Hassan, her rock throughout her political career. After discovering the book in London, I blogged about it at http://www.kakteh.blogspot.com and the entry attracted a lot of readers including her family. I had wanted this interesting book to be reprinted. It did not materialise until last year when I met Mohd Khair Ngadiron, Managing Director and CEO of Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia, who immediately put the wheel in motion.

The new edition was published late last year with a new cover and new black and white pictures.What is profound about Aishah’s writing is her nationalistic feeling, her yearning for the country to be independent and progressive. She had visions and great ambitions for her country and the people she left behind. Her accounts of her stint in London, her visits to places like Liverpool and Kirkby resonate with reflections and comments on current affairs and social developments during that time. While she enthuses about women’s rights and the British love for arts, she laments the moral decadence, infidelity and free sex.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this again,” said Aishah when we met at her office in Kampung Baru in December last year. She had admitted that she didn’t even have the original copy of the book and was indeed delighted with the reprint.

“But let me tell you something. My husband was one in a million. He encouraged me to further my studies and was willing to look after the children while I was away. He wrote every day about the children and never once did he complain,” she said of the sacrifice her husband made to enable her to realise her ambition.

For someone who had just celebrated her 89th birthday, her memory is still sharp and she took me back to the day she met her husband — an English teacher in Padang, where she was studying at Maktab Perguruan Tinggi Islam.

“I met him on Jan 1, 1942. I remember the day because it was during the war and we were all stranded. It wasn’t really a love affair. I saw him three or four times but there was something about him. He was a caring person. That attracted me to him. We didn’t get married until 1946,” she said.

After her marriage, it was apparent that she was still restless. As a bright child, she was made a trainee teacher at the age of 11 and was handpicked by the school inspector to go to the Kajang Convent. However, her father opposed. But she was thankful for the opportunity to study in Indonesia the year after as it allowed her to be independent and, more importantly, that experience sowed the seeds of nationalism and politics in her young mind.

Upon her return, she became politically active but she still harboured the ambition to continue her studies.

“My husband took me to see Dr MacPhearson, who told him that there was nothing wrong with me. He said there was something that preyed on my mind… something that I have not achieved.”

Her husband’s willingness to look after the children enabled her to pursue her course in Journalism at Regent’s Street Polytechnic. On her return, she worked as a journalist at Berita Harian. When she became active in politics again, it was her husband who stayed at home when work demanded that she travelled.

“Some colleagues made fun of him and they phoned him and asked him what he was doing at home. He would say, ‘I am wearing a skirt!’” she laughed. Upon being made the first woman senator in the country, her husband bought her a Mercedes, while he himself drove an old car.

“It was my husband who wanted me to write this book. He was very proud of me. He helped to publish it,” said Aishah. In a way the reprinting of the book is a tribute to not only a great politician but also to her dedicated late husband.

The book may not be true to its title of a woman’s journey around the world. But spurred on by her political aspirations and achievements, Aishah has indeed travelled extensively as a leader who had contributed so much to the country.
Excerpts from the poem on her opening page:

“Tahukah kau, oh, sayang,
Sebelom kau dan aku berkenalan,
Aku telah menchintai sesuatu,
Kuanggap ia sebagai kekasehku pula
Tapi keadaan tak meizinkan kami bertemu,
Kerana kekurangan sharat pada diriku.
……..
Sayang:
Izinkan aku pergi menemui kekasihku,
Dan aku akan kembali kepadamu,
Setelah kami puas berchumbu, berchengkerama,
Di-pantai chita-chita.”

Did you know, my darling,
before you and I met,
I have loved before,
one that I consider my lover
but situations did not allow us to meet, because of what I lacked

…..

My love,
allow me to go and meet my lover,
and I will return to you,
after our passionate affair
on the shores of ambition… “

A Friend’s Tribute to Pak Non


April 7, 2013

A Friend’s Tribute to Pak Non

by A Vaithilingam (04-06-13)@www.malaysiakini.com

Pak Non

OBITUARY: We knew Pak Non as hilarious Zainon Ahmad more than 50 years ago. Last week, journalism in Malaysia lost one who could be a considered a role model not only for journalists but for all Malaysians.

zainon ahmad at kancil awards 2010I have followed with great interest the well deserved accolades showered on my Kedah born friend Zainon, whom I have known from my youth more than 50 years ago and now popularly known as Pak Non by his journalist colleagues.

It is such a relief to note that he has so many fellow journalists writing so many lovely things about him showing him to be the true Malaysian he has always been, long before our PM Najib Razak declared the concept of 1Malaysia.

One may be surprised to note how I came to know him. I believe it was in very early 60s, when he was a young teacher. Many would not believe that he was a liaison officer (LO) in the 1st Asian Youth Football Tournament.

Those days the footballers in international tournaments including Merdeka Tournaments were housed either in school hostels or teacher training college hostels.

He was an LO at the Technical Institute, located just behind the present Maxwell School, KL. It was a multi- racial group of LOs, almost all of whom are now above 70s, with some no more with us.

He was such a jovial chap and so dedicated to his duties which included attending to the needs of teams from about 6.30am until the team went to rest at about 11pm on match days, not forgetting carrying of pails of iced towels for the use of players during half time!

Bundles of energy

Later at night he will still have the energy to entertain us, the officials, with Tamil, Hindi and Malay songs.

During the short period of about two weeks in camp he excelled in his devotion to duties.He was ever ready to sacrifice his time, being the good team man that he was, by covering for his colleagues who were over burdened with demands of the difficult teams.

He probably was only an LO for a couple of years, mainly because of his desire to further his studies. The LOs later missed his hilarious, jovial and entertaining comradeship in a team of LOs who were all volunteers.

Many years later I became very interested in reading his news and comments as a journalist.His feelings for fellow humans of all the divisions of race and religion in his writings impressed me most. Though we have met occasionally saying ‘Hello!’ to each other, I was fortunate to have had an appointment with him in early August 2000.

He was interviewing me before my attendance at the Millennium World Peace Summit, a global inter religious conference held at the United Nations in New York from August 28 to 30, 2000 as President of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and also as the president of the Malaysian Hindu Sangam.  Zainon was then the Deputy  Chief Group Editor of the NST Group.

He read my conference paper and was taken up by my quotation of a great ancient Tamil poet Kanniyan Poongkunranar in the “Poorananuru” who sang “Yathum Ooray Yaavarum Kaylir”, meaning “All the world in my village and all its people my kinsmen”.

He later had a journalist in the NST highlight this article on the conference in a full page spread in the NST.

Regular admirer

I have also been following his struggle together with other journalists to get the restrictions on a free press in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 repealed, and to assist the government in forming a National Media Council instead.  I sincerely hope his partners in this effort will pursue the matter successfully.

malaysian media congress forum 030407 sun newspaperI have always kept up with his progress in journalism and was a regular admirer of his in the Sun column ‘What They Say’ which always gave the pros and cons views provoking the readers to seek unity in diversity in multi-racial Malaysia.

Each time I sent him an article for publication he promptly acknowledged it and had it published within a few days. The last one I sent a few weeks ago received acknowledgement but was not published. I never realised that he was so seriously ill.

His sudden demise is a true loss to all those who believe in a united Malaysia. The Almighty God has His own ways. May Brother Zainon Ahmad’s soul rest in peace.

* A Vaithilingam is former President of the Malaysia Hindu Sangam

The Passing of My Journalist Friend, Zainon Ahmad. Al-Fatihah


March 27, 2013

The Passing of My Journalist Friend, Zainon Ahmad. Al-Fatihah

Bernama

KOTA BARU, March 27 — The Sun Daily’s Consultant Editor Zainon AhmadZainonAhmad_6 died due to liver cancer today. He was 70.

According to his daughter, Zuhailawati, Zainon died at 2.25pm at the Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital (HRPZII) here. She said her father was admitted to the hospital after complaining of chest pains at their house in Jalan Bayam here at 1am yesterday.

HRPZII director Datuk Dr Mohd Ghazali Hasni Mat Hassan confirmed Zainon died at the intensive care ward at 2.25pm.

Zuhailawati said her mother Hasnah Abdullah, 65, and two siblings were at his bedside when he died. According to Zuhailawati, her father’s body will be brought to their house in Jalan Bayam here before being laid to rest at the Banggol Muslim cemetery in Kota Baru tomorrow.

Zuhailawati said her father had contracted liver cancer for quite sometime and it began to get serious in October last year. She said before this, her father had been getting treatment at a private hospital in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

Zainon, who was a teacher for three years before joining journalism 35 years ago, was the Assistant Group Editor of The New Straits Times Group. He later joined The Sun as the Editor-in-Chief in 2002.

He was a regular speaker on the role of the media at local and international conferences and was active in various young journalist training programmes.

He was bestowed the Media Personality Award in 2010. Zainon held a degree in History and a Masters’ degree in International Relations from Universiti Malaya. He had also studied newspaper management at the Thomson Foundation, London and was a fellow of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tuft University, Boston in the US. — Bernama

Researchers Find 25 Countries Using Surveillance Software


March 15, 2013

Researchers Find 25 Countries including Malaysia Using Surveillance Software

by Nicole Perloth (03-13-13) @http://www.nytimes.com

Last May, two security researchers volunteered to look at a few suspicious e-mails sent to some Bahraini activists. Almost one year later, the two have uncovered evidence that some 25 governments, many with questionable records on human rights, may be using off-the-shelf surveillance software to spy on their own citizens.

Morgan Marquis-BoireMorgan Marquis-Boire (left), a security researcher at Citizen Lab, at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, and Bill Marczak, a computer science doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the e-mails contained surveillance software that could grab images off computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The word “FinSpy” appeared in the spyware code. FinSpy is spyware sold by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations.

Now, one year later, Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak have found evidence that FinSpy is being run off servers in 25 countries, including Ethiopia and Serbia, without oversight.

Until Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak stumbled upon FinSpy last May, security researchers had tried, unsuccessfully, for a year to track it down. FinSpy gained notoriety in March 2011 after protesters raided Egypt’s state security headquarters and discovered a document that appeared to be a proposal by the Gamma Group to sell FinSpy to the government of President Hosni Mubarak .

Martin J. Muench, a Gamma Group managing director, has said his company does not disclose its customers but that Gamma Group sold its technology to governments only to monitor criminals. He said that it was most frequently used “against pedophiles, terrorists, organized crime, kidnapping and human trafficking.”

But evidence suggests the software is being sold to governments where the potential for abuse is high. “If you look at the list of countries that Gamma is selling to, many do not have a robust rule of law,” Mr. Marquis-Boire said. “Rather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance.”

As of last year, Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak (right), with other researchers Bill Marczakat Rapid7, CrowdStrike and others, had found command-and-control servers running the spyware in just over a dozen countries. They have since scanned the entire Internet for FinSpy.

The Munk School is publishing their updated findings on Wednesday. The list of countries with servers running FinSpy is now Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Britain, Brunei, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Qatar, Serbia, Singapore, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Vietnam.

In Ethiopia, FinSpy was disguised in e-mails that were specifically aimed at political dissidents. The e-mails lured targets to click on pictures of members of Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian opposition group. When they clicked on the pictures, FinSpy downloaded to their machines and their computers began communicating with a local server in Ethiopia.

“This continues the theme of FinSpy deployments with strong indications of politically motivated targeting,” the researchers wrote in their report.

A Turkmenistan server running the software belonged to a range of I.P. addresses specifically assigned to the ministry of communications. Turkmenistan is the first clear-cut case of a government running the spyware off its own computer system. Human Rights Watch has called Turkmenistan one of the world’s “most repressive countries” and warned that dissidents faced “constant threat of government reprisal.”

In Vietnam, the researchers found evidence that FinSpy was running on Android-powered phones. They found one Android phone infected with FinSpy that was sending text messages back to a Vietnamese telephone number. That finding was particularly troubling, researchers say, given recent clampdowns by the nation’s government. Last year, Vietnam introduced censorship laws that prohibit bloggers from speaking out against the country’s ruling Communist party. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 40 people had since been convicted and sentenced to prison terms. Many are now serving terms ranging from three to 13 years.

The sale of surveillance technology is still largely unregulated, but Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak’s findings have prompted greater scrutiny. Responding to their findings last fall, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called for an Europe-­wide ban on the export of surveillance technology to repressive regimes. And last month, Privacy International and other groups filed complaints with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development against Gamma Group and Trovicor GmbH, a German company that also sells surveillance software.

“I don’t think you can put technology back in the bottle,” said Mr. Marquis-Boire. “I understand why police would want to use this type of technology, but I’m just not for commercial companies selling them to nondemocratic regimes with questionable human rights records.”

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/researchers-find-25-countries-using-surveillance-software/

Army General: Intruders ‘well-trained’


Army General: Intruders ‘well-trained’

http://www.malaysiakini.com

by Nigel Aw | 1:08PM March 3, 2013

Army General Zulkifli Mat ZainArmy General Zulkifli Zainal Abidin opinied that armed intruders in Sabah have shown combat experience and adeptness in insurgency tactics.

“From our intelligence and observation, they have combat experience and their insurgency guerilla tactics are quite good, I would say,” he said.He said that the group has positioned snipers in one area with a large public space. He did not name the area.

“They know we are not able to go in without casualties because of the open area,” he told a press conference in Felda Sahabat Residence, Lahad Datu.

Today was the first ever joint press conference by the Police and Army, more than three weeks after the first standoff in Kampung Tandou, some 15km away from here.

The press conference was held following another landing by intruders in Kunak and an ambush on a police team in Sempoerna. It is still unconfirmed if the two incidents are related to armed intruders loyal to the Sulu Sultanate.

Journalism for a Free Society


February 16, 2013

Journalism for  a Free Society

by Eric Loo (02-15-13) @http://www.malaysiakini.com

Journalism

It’s been years since I last bought and read the mainstream papers. I thought I’d give it a go during my week’s stay in Penang for Chinese New Year.

Besides the usual sycophantic reporting of ludicrous comments by BN politicians, the mainstream papers have, again, failed in fairly representing the public sentiment.

NONEFor instance, the Prime Minister’s eager attempt to engage with the Penang crowd at BN’s Chinese New Year open day at Han Chiang College on February 11.

‘Najib wins over crowd in Penang,’ says the NST headline. ‘A tight slap in Najib’s face,’ says Malaysiakini. Same event, different takes.

You have to be in Penang to know which take is closer to actuality, although journalists’ perceptions are not immune to ideological sway, thus the selective coverage. What I heard and saw was not what I read in the mainstream papers.

Waxing nostalgic with relatives and friends, we bantered on how many more seats BN would lose this time round, the Penangites’ angst for BN, the public relations disaster for Najib and the ‘million dollars’ wasted on a four-minute pointless act by a one-hit wonder to woo the Chinese votes.

Shortly after Psy’s prancing with his all white-clad Gangnam troupe, I received an email alert to a YouTube clip of Najib’s attempt to muster the youngish crowd.

Felled, buried, in cyberspace

Psy in PenangThe ‘Are you ready for Psy/BN’ clip had recorded more than 95,000 views as of February 13.  Not one mention of Najib’s gaffe in the mainstream papers, although the NST published a letter from Penang BN’s chairperson Teng Chang Yeow (February 13) that sections of the crowd did yell ‘Yes’.

Indeed, there were ‘Yeses’ and ‘Noes’ depending on where you stood in the crowd. The fact is the ‘Noes’ were louder and the ‘Boos’ clearer. ‘Aiyah, why you still buy the government papers?’ a friend asked.

‘Boycott them. Go-lah online,’ another chipped in as I flicked through the papers looking for editorials and commentaries that would pass muster for reflective analyses, or at least, inspire the average reader to ponder what we, the people, should do to hold politicians accountable and cause fundamental changes in the system for the benefit of all.

Here, I seek some inspiration from journalism practised in places where, in spite of death threats, the journalists will stay on course to expose corrupt and philandering politicians.

I copy below an excerpt from an interview I did late last year for a book on journalism training in Asia with, Yvonne Chua, one of the founders of VERA Files, a non-profit news outlet in Manila.

Yvonne has trained journalists from Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal and Mongolia.

Vital ingredients in shaping journalists

I asked her what she saw are the critical training needs of journalists from developing countries.

She said in part: “Training programmes should, beyond imparting skills, untiringly emphasise the role of journalism in a free society – which nearly all countries claim to have – so journalists can live up to this role and assert their rights, including pushing the limits of press freedom.

“I know the media landscape across the globe is highly uneven, brought about by the diverse political, social and economic milieus that we work in. But the right to freedom of expression – and of the press – is fundamental.”

There appears to be a low awareness among many journalists themselves even of the international guarantees of free expression (Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and what it truly means to them.

It also saddens me when it is unclear or unknown to journalists that they owe their allegiance to the public and not government. It is ironic that while many journalists defend the rights of other people, they themselves don’t know their own rights and thus cannot defend these.”

Critical thinking, of utmost importance

“In training journalists, especially on investigative reporting, I always feel the urgency of developing critical thinking skills among them, so they would ‘challenge’ information, particularly spins, from sources. More so with journalists in emerging or new democracies.”

“Helping journalists acquire what we call the ‘documents state of mind’ continues to be a challenge I face as a trainer. Usage of documents is minimal, even nil, for some journalists for various reasons such as the lack of appreciation for document analysis, dearth of training on this, or a question of access.”

“Because investigative reporting turns up voluminous reams of information,Journalism2 many journalists I’ve come across have problems organising and analysing the data, and then transforming this into powerful, compelling stories.

“Many journalists are weak when it comes to long-form journalism, regardless of the medium, so the wealth of data they have amassed is, alas, lost in the poor storytelling. Many also have difficulties visualising data, which is much needed in this day and age of data journalism.”

Journalism in the Philippines was shaped by the nation’s struggle against imperialism, colonial rule, inequality and injustice.

Return to past, inject live in present

Journalism in the 50s in Malaya was likewise shaped by quite similar struggles to break free from British colonial rule.

Today’s brand of journalism should return to the questioning and challenging form of the early post-colonial era, investigating the human condition, exposing the corrupt and asking why the poor, exploited and oppressed were exploited and oppressed, and what we, the people, can practically do to address the situation.

It is the duty of journalists to represent the common people, and give voice to issues that afflict the human condition rather than the fluff and spin that consumerism and political patronage prefer.


ERIC LOO left Malaysia for Australia in 1986 to work as a journalist. He currently lectures at University of Wollongong, Australia, and serves on the advisory committee of UPI Next (http://next.upi.com), a journalism education and training platform run by United Press International. He edits a refereed journal Asia Pacific Media Educator and conducts journalism training workshops in Asia. Email: eloo@uow.edu.au

Press Freedom is not only possible but essential


February 9, 2013

Press Freedom is not only possible but essential

by Bob Teoh@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The worst headline that can greet a journalist is this: Malaysia records worst-ever ranking on press freedom. Let’s face it, we have reached rock-bottom.

Malaysia's Press FreedomIn the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia dropped 23 spots to a new low ranking of 145 out of 179 countries. Some are quite happy to live with this sorry state of affairs. After all, we are three steps ahead of Singapore, which is ranked lower than Malaysia at No 149.

But this is no consolation, considering that Bangladesh, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei are better off than us. And if that’s not bad enough, Burma is fast catching up – it climbed 18 spots to No 151, just two steps behind us.

The moot point is that journalism as practised in Malaysia has fallen fromThe Reporter grace. Journalists, particularly senior editors, should start redeeming their profession.

Sure, there are many things we can’t influence or change, but one thing we can do: We can change our attitude towards journalism and believe that press freedom is not only possible but essential.

That begs the question, what is journalism? The world over, journalists who treasure press freedom subscribe to what is universally known as the ‘Ten Commandments’ that define the essence of journalism.

These are:

Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.

We can’t serve two masters. We either pursue the truth or pander to half-truths and languish in self-deceit.

Its first loyalty is to the citizens.

Our first duty is not the ruling or opposition coalition or to advertisers and media owners but to citizens. It is they who give us the primary reason for our being.

Its essence is a discipline of verification.

A good journalist is a professional and responsible one. Nothing is fit to be published until and unless the information received is verified. This requires time and hard work, but needs to be done.

Journalists must maintain an independence from those who cover.

This is easier said than done in our prevailing culture, but it is no excuse for not trying to be independent. We cannot afford to succumb to biased reportage.

It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

Again, this is easier said than done. So, like it or not, someone has to bell the cat. If we are afraid to do so, then don’t be journalists.

Journalists must have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.

If journalists do not exercise their conscience, they pose the first hindrance to press freedom.

Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

We can never understate the right to a citizen’s privacy and protection from defamatory speech.

It must keep the news comprehensive and in proportion.

Essentially, news must have context and even-handedness. A case in point is the current ‘Allah’ controversy. The reportage thus far lacks both context and balance.

It must make the significant interesting and relevant.

The Malaysian experience, sadly, has been one that news which is significant is often hidden between the lines.

It must serve as a forum for public criticism.

Such forums are often self-censored and I can find no reason for it. I can see merit in self-restraint or prior censorship, but never in self-censorship.

Break these Ten Commandments and we may end up burning in hell.

Our Biggest Challenge: Apathy


February 6, 2013

Our Biggest Challenge: Apathy

by Jun Watanabe (05-02-13)@ http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

On Malaysia

In spite of the fact that Malaysia has just plunged to record lows with the latest international ranking on press freedom, we now possess better access to information with the advent of the Internet and social media than our parents ever did in the dark decades they lived through since Merdeka.

The veracity of the information, however, is always suspicious. While it is easy to dismiss mainstream media, with manipulation as its main agenda, as biased and selective, alternative media has not fared much better. It is at best a contrarian voice, and at its worst suffers the same lack of journalistic integrity as its counterpart who they readily condemn.

Though this fault is untenable, because of its intrinsic association with official media, there is a two-fold problem — that the powers-that-be are subjecting information to spin and misdirection to suit their purposes, and thus facts and figures are not readily verifiable, and the system simply renders everything suspect.

But this essay is not about the media or the freedom of the press. It is the recipients of information who worries me, because the citizenry are cavalier with the information they receive. We blindly digest information we want to hear, no matter what our personal agendas are or which side of the political divide we are on.

Taking things at Face Value

Najib-ChangeWe take them often at face value and we do not subject them to rigorous scrutiny. That in schools we are not taught to think, that as a culture we are nurtured to avoid confrontation, that as a nation we have been programmed to not question authority, and as a people we have become the risk adverse; all devastating ingredients in turning us into an apathetic lot.

While encouraged by the recent showing in the 2008 elections and with BERSIH, we are as a general population distracted easily. This distraction is easily explained — that the average Malaysian is just too caught up in their daily lives in the middle-income trap of a country we are. We make too little money to afford imported items and overseas vacations and we pay too much for transportation to spend too much time in traffic and too much for decent housing. We have so many other short-term things to worry about than to worry about something as abstract as leaving the earth for our children.

Whatever furore we conjure up — with news of police beatings, MACC suicides, white-collar crimes, corruption scandals, misuse of public funds, Bible burnings, territorial disputes, abuse of power, judicial injustices, university rankings — dissipates from public consciousness almost as fast as they enter it. There will be small groups of people who would always work to keep the issues alive, but the majority of us will have discussed and complained in coffee shops, cracked some “Malaysia boleh” jokes and accepted the anal penetration as the prevalent way of life.

We do not know our neighbours, we do not volunteer for anything, our idea of supporting a cause is to like a Facebook page, but yet we do not contribute money to the cause. We worship titles and luxury cars. We lead shallow lives, governed by traffic conditions and Astro programming. Our kids are encouraged to memorise and score in standardised tests. We do not care if our kids speak badly mangled English, Malay, Mandarin or Tamil that someone from England, China or India would see as acutely bastardized.

We complain about AirAsia yet we ride on its planes. We do not stick to our principles and accept the RM300 summons, preferring the RM50 bribe. We hide behind the computer and sign off with fake names. We vote for the hot-looking contestant in a reality show.

We have collectively lowered our standards. That the majority of us haveMalaysians chosen to not to fight for equality in this country, to stand up to racists and bigots and history revisionists. That we do not protest when the civil servant instead of true public service is in the position to betray our trust, to hold us to ransom.

That he can be unreliable, mercenary, partisan, unscientific, unprofessional, irrational, wittingly or unwittingly part of a patronage system that is characteristically weak of ideals and accountability.

The average civil servant certainly does not think he is accountable to the public, he thinks he is owed a living by the government; he does not readily make the distinction between government-of-the-day and the public he serves. Like the rest of us, he also thinks he is able to get away with prolonged coffee breaks and leaves of absence. He was not taught by his civil servant teacher in school that as the civil servant he is supposed to be holding himself to the highest of standards.

The description of the civil servant is interchangeable for the judge, the university professor, the prime minister, the policeman, the clerk in the Land and Survey Department who if you protest too strongly will conveniently “lose” your file and asks you to resubmit.

Why is it so difficult to understand that for the off-duty policeman in his squad car that if he were to be speeding beyond the limit in a non-emergency without the sirens and the flashing lights then it would constitute an abuse of power? And the civil servants in the car with “Jabatan Warisan Negara” logo on the door panels, when they speed at 160km/h on the Karak highway, are abusing public property.

Why is it so difficult to understand that there should and must be a double standard? A private citizen who speeds at 160km/h on the highway risks his life and others on the road, and faces the consequences on his own and the responsibilities are his and his only. But public servants who do the same with public assets must be held to a higher standard simply because his purposes are much bigger and more consequential than any single individual’s.

Albert EinsteinMalaysian society in general does not require the civil servant to commit hara-kiri, but perhaps it should. That society condones by way of apathy is the biggest crime of all, and we are all guilty of it.

In most elections, most people vote anonymously. For some of us, it will not be. From the longhouses of Sarawak who face sanctions if a particular candidate loses, to whole states denied federal funding, the upcoming GE13 will probably have the most painful repercussions in Malaysian history. A likely BN victory will make it unlikely that necessary reforms be made to keep the country off the path to financial and moral bankruptcy.

A PR victory will likely see influx of the vast wealth of BN trying to wrest back control, interest groups and the partisan civil service resorting to subterfuge and sabotage to destabilise the government, and/or a larger outflow of capital from our shores than what we have already experienced; whatever it is, it will keep the PR government in its rightful lame duck place. Voting either party in may potentially leave the country tethering on the edge.

Therefore what is more important in the coming years than the results of GE-13 will be the ability of grassroots and non-partisan organisations like BERSIH to galvanise the public in the spirit of fraternity and justice and equality, to actively take part in the improvement of our society.

Our participation will have to start from a paradigm shift.We have to first accept that we the ordinary citizens have the power to change the world we live in. That our words and actions mean something; that our votes mean something. That we do not take for granted the relationships that tie us to fellow human beings.

We must learn the true meaning of hard work and sacrifice. We must take calculated risks. We must learn to question authority, to question the news makers, to decide for ourselves if something we choose to believe in is based on hard evidence rather than hearsay or just faith. That because of the differing preferences in the population we must inculcate altruism as the leading actor to meld the religions.

Instead of waiting for someone else to call for help in an accident scene, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to report a rape in a parking lot, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to improve the cleanliness of our neighbourhood, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to accept the gay friend first, we do it. Instead of waiting for someone else to bring down the illegal tree-logger, we do it. If we were Muslim, we defend our Christian friend. If we were Indian, we let our daughters convert and marry a Malay.

Be a good Malaysian

To be a good son first, a good mother first, a good worker first, a goodWe the Rakyat employer first, a good neighbour first, a good policeman first, a good land and survey clerk first, a good Prime Minister first. To be Malaysian first.

When we improve our surroundings, our workplace, our family lives, we improve our standard of living. We will become more exigent with how we want to live — the whole of society benefits.

We must realise that we do not want real power in the hands of idiot politicians from both sides of the divide, that we must maintain our voices and our rights in a democratic government. We must learn that the nation’s fate will not be dependent on any political party but the change within ourselves.

“To know and not act is not yet to know.” — Wang Yang Ming, 12th-century philosopher.

RIP, Barry Wain


February 5, 2013

RIP, Barry Wain

http://asiasentinel.com

Veteran Journalist and Editor dies in Singapore

by Asia Sentinel

barry wain

Barry Wain, who died Tuesday in a Singapore hospital, was one of the finest, most dedicated foreign journalists to have worked in Asia, with a career in the region spanning more than forty years. His last major published work, Malaysian Maverick, a biography of Mahathir Mohamad, is ample testimony to his combination of in-depth research, fair judgment and willingness to confront his subject with some unpalatable truths.

Barry, an Australian from Brisbane, worked for The Australian in Canberra before moving to Hong Kong where he worked on a local newspaper and then on the desk of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He joined the Asian Wall Street Journal when it was established in 1976 and was soon posted as its correspondent in Kuala Lumpur and to Bangkok in the early 1980s. During his time there he wrote, The Refused, a book about the plight of Vietnamese refugees. He later moved back to Hong Kong as Managing Editor of the Journal and subsequently became a roving correspondent and columnist focusing on Southeast Asia.

For the past several years he has been a scholar at the Institute for South East Asian Studies in Singapore. His position as writer in residence enabled him to undertake the research for his book on Mahathir  a work widely praised as the only balanced account of the career of one of Asia’s leading and controversial political figures.

Barry was a fine tennis player as well as an amiable colleague who kept trim and fit. His death followed months of complications from what was supposed to be a routine operation earlier last year.

He is survived by his wife Yvonne and son David. He will be missed by his many former colleagues and by the readers who learned so much from his dedication as a journalist who combined hard work with high principles.

Read Asia Sentinel’s review of Barry’s last book: Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times

Book Review: Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times
Written by John Berthelsen
Friday, 04 December 2009
Imageby Barry Wain. Palgrave Macmillan, 363pp. Available through Amazon, US$60.75. Available for Pre-order, to be released Jan 5.In 1984 or 1985, when I was an Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in Malaysia, an acquaintance called me and said he had seen a US Army 2-1/2 ton truck, known as a “deuce-and-a-half,” filled with US military personnel in jungle gear on a back road outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Since Malaysia and the United States were hardly close friends at that point, I immediately went to the US Embassy in KL and asked what the US soldiers were doing there. I received blank stares. Similar requests to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense brought the same response. After a few days of chasing the story, I concluded that my acquaintance must have been seeing things and dropped it.

It turns out he wasn’t seeing things after all. In a new book, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times,” launched Dec. 4 in Asia, former Asian Wall Street Journal editor Barry Wain solved the mystery. In 1984, during a visit to Washington DC in which Mahathir met President Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others, he secretly launched an innocuous sounding Bilateral Training and Consultation Treaty, which Wain described as a series of working groups for exercises, intelligence sharing, logistical support and general security issues. In the meantime, Mahathir continued display a public antipathy on general principles at the Americans while his jungle was crawling with US troops quietly training for jungle warfare.

That ability to work both sides of the street was a Mahathir characteristic. In his foreword, Wain, in what is hoped to be a definitive history of the former prime minister’s life and career, writes that “while [Mahathir] has been a public figure in Malaysia for half a century and well known abroad for almost as long, he has presented himself as a bundle of contradictions: a Malay champion who was the Malays’ fiercest critic and an ally of Chinese-Malaysian businessmen; a tireless campaigner against Western economic domination who assiduously courted American and European capitalists; a blunt, combative individual who extolled the virtues of consensual Asian values.”

Wain was granted access to the former premier for a series of exhaustive interviews. It may well be the most definitive picture painted of Mahathir to date, and certainly is even-handed. Wain, now a writer in residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, is by no means a Mahathir sycophant. Advance publicity for the book has dwelt on an assertion by Wain that Mahathir may well have wasted or burned up as much as RM100 billion (US$40 billion at earlier exchange rates when the projects were active) on grandiose projects and the corruption that the projects engendered as he sought to turn Malaysia into an industrialized state. Although some in Malaysia have said the figure is too high, it seems about accurate, considering such ill-advised projects as a national car, the Proton, which still continues to bleed money and cost vastly more in opportunity costs for Malaysian citizens forced to buy any other make at huge markups behind tariff walls. In addition, while Thailand in particular became a regional center for car manufacture and for spares, Malaysia, handicapped by its national car policy, was left out.

Almost at the start of the book, Wain encapsulates the former Premier so well that it bears repeating here: Mahathir, he writes, “had an all-consuming desire to turn Malaysia into a modern, industrialized nation commanding worldwide respect. Dr Mahathir’s decision to direct the ruling party into business in a major way while the government practiced affirmative action, changed the nature of the party and accelerated the spread of corruption. One manifestation was the eruption of successive financial scandals, massive by any standards, which nevertheless left Dr Mahathir unfazed and unapologetic.”

That pretty much was the story of Malaysia for the 22 years that Mahathir was in charge. There is no evidence that Mahathir himself was ever involved in corruption. Once, as Ferdinand Marcos was losing his grip on the Philippines, Mahathir pointed out to a group of reporters that he was conveyed around in a long black Daimler – the same model as the British ambassador used – that the Istana where he lived was a huge mansion, that he had everything he needed. Why, he asked, was there any need to take money from corruption? Nonetheless, in his drive to foster a Malay entrepreneurial class, he allowed those around him to pillage the national treasury almost at will, which carried over into UMNO after he had left office and which blights the country to this day.

Wain follows intricate trails through much of this, ranging from the attempt, okayed by Mahathir, to attempt to rescue Bumiputra Malaysia Finance in the early 1980s which turned into what at the time was the world’s biggest banking scandal.

In the final analysis, much as Lee Kuan Yew down the road in Singapore strove to create a nation in his own image and largely succeeded, so did Mahathir. Both nations are flawed – Singapore in its mixture of technological and social prowess and draconian ruthlessness against an independent press or opposition, Malaysia with its iconic twin towers and its other attributes colored by a deepening culture of corruption that has continued well beyond his reign, which ended in 2003. Mahathir must bear the blame for much of this, in particular his destruction of an independent judiciary, as Wain writes, to further his aims.

Mahathir, as the former Premier said in the conversation over his mansion and his car, had everything including, one suspects, a fully-developed sense of injustice. He appears to this day to continue to resent much of the west, particularly the British. Wain writes exhaustively of Mahathir’s deep antagonism over both British elitism during the colonial days and the disdain of his fellow Malays (Mahathir’s parentage is partly Indian Muslim on his father’s side), especially the Malay royalty. That antagonism against the British has been a hallmark of his career – from the time he instituted the “Buy British Last” policy for the Malaysian government as prime minister to the present day.

Robert Mugabe, in disgrace across much of the world for the way his policies have destroyed what was one of the richest countries in Africa, remains in Mahathir’s good graces. Asked recently why that was, an aide told me Mugabe had driven the British out of Zimbabwe and was continuing to drive out white farmers to this day, although he was replacing them with people who knew nothing of farming. That expropriation of vast tracts of white-owned land might have destroyed Zimbabwe’s agricultural production. But, the aide said, “He got the Brits out.”

For anybody wishing to understand Mahathir and the nation he transformed, Wain’s book is going to be a must – but bring spectacles. The tiny type and gray typeface make it a difficult read. And a disclaimer: Wain was once my boss.

Ramon Navaratnam disappointed with drop in Malaysia’s ranking in PFI


February 4, 2013

Ramon Navaratnam disappointed with drop in Malaysia’s ranking in PFI

Ramon NavaratnamAs a regular reader of the newspapers, I am, like thousands of other Malaysians, very disappointed that our ranking in the Press Freedom Index (PFI) 2013 has dropped by 23 places to 145 out of 179 countries.

I am aware that much of our news is either self-censored or restrained because of official pressure. But I have to confess that I did not realise that Malaysia’s purported press freedom is as bad as it turns out to be, judging from the international Press Freedom Index.

So I have no doubt that more Malaysians will now, more than ever, sincerely ask: “What went wrong with the government’s management of the Malaysian press and mass media?”

Is this apparent suppression or stifling of the news – or worse still, some distortion of the truth or massaging of the facts – undertaken by some over-enthusiastic officials and Little Napoleons, or is it emanating from the highest levels of the government itself? This critical question has to be answered soon in the public interest.

The Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders is credible internationally, but admittedly, it has its shortcomings. Hence, the Press Freedom Index like most indices is not without discrepancies and criticism. For instance, it is strange that Brunei is ranked higher than the Philippines and Indonesia. Is it because small Brunei has little news to monitor?

However, this does not mean that we should simply belittle or dismiss the general conclusions of the index. Even the well-respected Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) and its Executive Director, Masjaliza Hamzah, have openly claimed that “last year saw the biggest violation on journalists’ freedom to report news and information during the Bersih 3.0 rally, when more than 12 journalists were reportedly harassed, threatened, assaulted and arrested… “

So this could be the main reason that Malaysia’s freedom has suffered so much! What a pity that despite some progressive and laudable initiatives taken recently by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to amend the Printing Press and Publications Act, the press freedom in Malaysia has received such a bashful bashing. Can the government take urgent steps now to improve the index?

Our own professional National Union of Journalists (NUJ) President Chin Sung Chew has publicly stated that the poor press freedom ranking reflects badly on Malaysia. He also sounded grave concern over the drop in the Press Index, and has advised the government to take the sad decline in the Press Index very seriously.

Thus, there is substantial consensus that our press image has been badly tarnished, not only in the eyes of Malaysians, but also amongst the foreign press, businessmen, and domestic and foreign investors. How reliably will they now view our own socio-economic statistics, policies and performances?

GE13 around the corner

Now that the 13th general election is to held in the very near future or even the next few weeks, all attention – at home and abroad – will be focused on the degree of our professed press freedom. In fact, the perception of the quality and also the outcome of the 13th general election can depend largely on the extent to which the government will promote and ensure greater press freedom as soon as possible before the election.

All political parties should be given much more, and better access to the mass media to air, debate, and discuss their views widely and deeply. Only then can we redeem our country’s poor ranking and performance in press freedom. We all need to be satisfied and convinced that we are indeed a maturing democracy. Will we succeed?

More importantly, unless we significantly improve in our press freedom immediately by reducing any authoritarianism in the management of the media, the election results, however well conducted, will always be held in some doubt.

We, as responsible Malaysians, will want to be confident and proud of our election results. We all have to play our role as observers of press freedom in all events leading up to and on the Election Day itself.

This is necessary to ensure fair press coverage of the election process to ensure free, clean and transparent elections, so that there is full public accountability and national integrity. We need to help the Election Commission achieve free and fair elections.

Hence I would, on behalf of millions of caring Malaysians, appeal to the government to give the highest priority to raise our standards of press freedom urgently, and well before the impending GE13. This public appeal is made in the best interests of our national self-respect (maruah) and long-term progress, unity and sustainability.

Finally, I hope and trust (nambikai) that our government will be responsive to our sincere call for more freedom of the press as a top priority to uphold the principles of “1Malaysia”.

Tan Sri (Dr.) Ramon Navaratnam is chairperson of the Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies (CPPS).

Malaysia records worst-ever ranking on Press Freedom


January 30, 2013

Malaysia records worst-ever ranking on Press Freedom

Reporters-without-bordersThe state of press freedom in Malaysia has hit a historic low, with the country being ranked No 145 in the latest World Press Freedom Index – the worst since the annual index was begun in 2002.

Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) – or Reporters Without Borders – attributed the poor standing to issues linked to the police crackdown on the BERSIH 3.0 protest last April, as well as repeated censorship and the undermining of basic freedoms, in particular the right to information.

InNONE 2010, Malaysia stood at No 141, but then clawed its way up to No 122 in 2011-2012. Despite this, Malaysia is listed with countries that are placed in a difficult situation, media-wise.

Several unfavourable reports on Malaysia noted by RSF include the deferment of a three months’ prison sentence imposed on blogger Amizudin Ahmat (right) pending his appeal for defaming Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, and the court decision favouring the seizure order on cartoonist Zunar.

The BERSIH 3.0 protests saw at least two journalists injured after they were reportedly assaulted by policemen.

The authors listed Bangladesh, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei above Malaysia in the current index of 179 countries.

azlanSingapore was ranked lower than Malaysia at No 149, while Burma is fast catching up – it climbed 18 spots to No 151 after the “dramatic changes” of last year.

The report that states Malaysia’s drop to its lowest position was because access to information was becoming more and more limited.

Japan also recorded the sharpest decline in Asia, by 31 notches from 22 recorded in 2011-2012, to 53rd spot this year. This is attributed to the a lack of transparency and almost zero access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Mali recorded the biggest drop after its internal turmoil following the mediamerdekahires1military coup in Bamako on March 22, and the takeover in the north by armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists that brought censorship and violence upon the media in the north.

The report states that seven journalists and four netizens were killed this year, compared with 90 journalists and 47 netizens during the whole of  last year.

At present, 191 journalists, 13 media assistants and 180 netizens are being held in prisons worldwide over issues concerning the media, it adds.

Dealing with Corruption in Indonesia


January 3, 2013

Dealing with Corruption in Indonesia

by  Thee Kian Wie, LIPI

 

Corruption in Indonesia is pervasive. It exists at all levels of the executive branch of government (central, provincial and local), and in other institutions including the Parliament (central and local), the Attorney General’s office, the Police Force, and the Judiciary.

No country with such a high degree of corruption has been able to become truly prosperous, democratic and equitable. This is because an enormous amount of funding is accumulated by corrupt officials, instead of being invested in sectors of the economy which could aid Indonesia’s development, such as health and education.

The Indonesian government, specifically the central government, has to work to create an environment where anti-corruption efforts can succeed. Reform effort aimed at creating such an environment should include a number of important measures.

The first is campaign-finance reform. Since Indonesia became a democracy in 1999, a large number of new political parties have been created. These, of course, have legitimate financing needs for their election campaigns. But, the very high cost of campaign finance in such a large and populous country as Indonesia often leads to corruption.

Reform should aim to partially level the playing field. Practical measures could include partial budgetary funding for campaign finance; reducing the costs of party politics by allocating free time slots on state TV and radio, with no additional time allowed; prohibiting the use of state resources for political purposes; requiring the contending parties to have their funds audited; ensuring that the public service is neutral during elections; and ensuring the independence of the General Election Commission.

Second, the institutions responsible for upholding accountability must be strengthened. Five key institutions dominate the accountability-monitoring landscape in Indonesia: the General Election Commission, which helps the people choose their representatives in the national and regional governments and parliaments; Bank Indonesia, Indonesia’s Central Bank, which guards the country’s financial health; the Supreme Audit Agency; the Supreme Court; and the Constitutional Court.

The Indonesian government and Parliament should act to strengthen these institutions and make them truly independent. Adequate and transparent funding, preferably through the Ministry of Finance, is important. Ensuring that these institutions are headed and staffed by individuals of integrity is also crucial. The autonomy of these institutions needs to be protected, including by a free press.

Third, public services must be adequately funded. One significant factor driving corruption is the failure of the government’s budget to adequately fund its activities, and the tacit tolerance of a wide range of practices intended to overcome the insufficiency of budgetary funds. Blurring the distinction between public and private funding, and reducing the accountability of public money, creates a culture of corruption which has the potential to threaten Indonesia’s young democracy. This problem cannot be solved overnight, but a consistent, ongoing approach is required.

Fourth, the government needs to simplify the existing maze of overlapping and contradictory regulations. It is crucial that fewer better-drafted regulations that focus on achieving medium- to long-term outcomes replace regulations that are deliberately framed to facilitate corruptive practices. A practice should be adopted of providing the parliament with the draft regulations together with every draft bill submitted for enactment. This would see regulations reviewed for their consistency with the law, and thus ensure that the purpose of the law is achieved.

Fifth, the system of impunity must be reviewed. Previously, corruption flourished in Indonesia because there was little likelihood of being caught. But since the Corruption Eradication Commission was established in 2003, many individuals involved in corruption have been convicted and jailed. Unfortunately, the deterrent effect of these convictions has been considerably softened, as many of the convicted persons have been granted remissions (court-granted reductions to prison terms).

Finally, accountability cannot be ensured without transparency. The prevailing bureaucratic culture of secrecy creates a veil behind which corruption flourishes. That veil needs to be removed as Indonesia proceeds along the path of democratisation. While the process has opened up greatly due to civil society pressures and a free press, systematic efforts are required to ensure policies, draft laws, and regulations are incorporated as standard operating procedures in all government ministries and agencies.

A law that enshrines and guarantees transparency, along with the other measures discussed above, is necessary for anti-corruption reform to be successful in Indonesia.

Thee Kian Wie is Senior Economist at the Economic Research Centre, Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/01/03/dealing-with-corruption-in-indonesia/

My (surprise) picks for Persons of the Year


December 29, 2012

http://www.nst.com.my

My (surprise) picks for Persons of the Year*

by Johan Jaaffar

Johan JaaffarWAS mulling over my choice of this year’s Person or Persons of the Year when Heyley Chow gave me an idea. Our encounter was brief but it was certainly an eye-opener. We were at a very interesting wedding reception. The theme was Hindi, so the look, décor and sounds were, what else, very Hindi. Hindi songs filled the air.

Heyley was seated near me. I asked her, if she liked the songs. She shook her head. “You like Gangnam-Style?” I asked. She nodded without hesitation. Heyley was hardly 7 mind you, but she gave me an idea. She likes Oppa Psy or Park Jae-Sang, so do I. I don’t know about her mother Jacynta, but she can’t possibly be a contrarian in this one.

Pys’ Gangnam-Style is biggest ever music video in the history of mankind. On YouTube it has passed the one billion-view mark, overtaking Baby by the teen sensation, Justin Bieber. One in every seven humans has seen Psy in action. He needs just one song to do that.

So Psy is one of my favourites to be the Person of the Year. No, I am not looking for a quarrel with Time magazine which has chosen President Barack Obama as its Person of the Year. This is a free world. I like Obama. And I have high expectations for him. Perhaps it is true Obama is the 21st century version of “a new American” — one that is a citizen by choice and not birth.

He has all the tributes of a great man and a great president. He is articulate, brilliant and a visionary. He won the re-election in one of the most bruising campaigns in US history. I am trying to figure out his achievements so far other than getting the SEALs to kill Osama Bin Laden or sending the most number of drones to kill the most number of US enemies in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. I will be happier if he makes good his promises to the Muslim world and if he uses his office to solve the Palestinian problem.

Seriously, I have Datuk Paul W. Jones high on my list of Person of the Year. I think he is the most engaging, affable and committed US Ambassador we have ever encountered. He is very concerned about how his country is perceived by the local populace. And he has travelled extensively, meeting people, eating the food and enjoying the country. Perhaps he knows this country better than most other ambassadors. How many of them send out tweets in Bahasa Malaysia anyway?

I was contemplating to name the Prime Minister as my Person of the Year. Without having to sound mengampu, it is an obvious that he is working extremely hard for his people. Like most Malaysians, I subscribe to his “One Malaysia” concept. A bit too late for such a concept in a multiracial country like ours, but better late than never. But I believe he has many more years at the helm, so for now I will not choose him.

I have Datuk Nicol David, who recently won her seventh world title in squash. I hope she will win our first Olympic gold in Brazil. Datuk Lee Chong Wei is also my favourite. Seriously, I have Datuk Ibrahim Ali on the list, too, for his tireless pursuit to make the age-old mantra “tidak Melayu hilang di dunia” his crusade, for better or for worse. I will include Datuk Zuraidah Atan whose tireless effort to create awareness and understanding of the cancer scourge is legendary, among her many interests.

Seriously, I want to include those at the Election Commission as Persons of the Year. They simply have to live through hell these last many years, taking beatings yet their efforts are never appreciated. And the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission guys who are trying hard to do their work in an environment filled with prejudices and suspicion of their integrity and commitment. And Mercy Malaysia is also top on my list, the volunteer relief organisation that has brought goodwill to the people of the world.

Finally I am looking at those using the social media for the goodness of mankind and to spread the words of peace and harmony and to share knowledge and information indiscriminately and with conviction. They are changing the landscape of the social media realm for the better. They make the cyberworld a better place, not a lawless and indisciplined one where hate and anger prevails. They are the unsung heroes of the modern world. They are my Persons of the Year.

 *Have fun with this Johan Jaaffar’s article. I chose to put this article for no other reason than the fact he mentioned Oppa Psy or Park Jae-Sang, whose song is posted here for having received more than a billion hits on youtube. An article that can entertain the thought of considering Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the arch racist, the toothless Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the biased Election Commission as Persons of the Year cannot be taken seriously. To me, it is one big joke. Maybe it is Johan’s cynicism and strange journalistic style. –Din Merican

KiniBIZ–The new Business Portal


December 28, 2012

http://www.malaysiakini.com (12-27-12)

KiniBIZ–The new Business Portal

P.Gunaby P GUNASEGARAM. Guna has been a journalist and analyst for over 30 years, having worked in key positions in Malaysian newspapers and magazines including Business Times, Malaysian Business, The Edge and The Star. He has also worked as an analyst and head of equity research at local and foreign brokerage firms. Early next year, he will help launch business news portal KiniBiz in a joint venture with Malaysiakini.

QUESTION TIME Starting a new enterprise in which you have a personal stake is no easy matter, especially when you have not done it before.

When Malaysiakini’s CEO Premesh Chandran talked to me about setting up a business news portal, I was excited. It was something I had thought about as well before, wondering how I could get it off the ground.

Over the past few months, we met from time to time and put our heads together on how we should get it going. We churned some numbers which looked encouraging for a paid subscription model which would be buttressed by advertising.

Kinkinibiz storyimageiBiz, a joint venture between Malaysiakini and myself, will start early next year. A small team has been assembled and will be in place by January and we hope to get it online within two months.

But why KiniBiz? What would a new business news website have to offer which would be very different from the offerings currently on the market, both print and online? What would be the reason for our existence? And why would subscribers have to pay?

To explain the first part, let me repeat what we said in a teaser/recruitment advertisement about KiniBiz:

“What’s the real deal? In the dark? We’re not surprised. Business news should go beyond the spin and the hype. We will smash through the barrier with independent, fast, and incisive business news to discerning readers.

We will break news, analyse it, dissect the complexities and comment unflinchingly. We will unravel and reveal the players behind the scenes and put things in the right context. And more. If you want to be informed and be ahead of the crowd and the market, you will want to read us – everyday and during the day. We will shed some light.”

We feel there is a gap to be filled in the coverage of business news. We aim to fill that gap. It would take effort and it would be a different kind of editorial stance from what we have seen before in the coverage of Malaysian business news.

KiniBiz also aims to be a complete portal for business news which means that we will closely follow foreign business news as well, especially those which have a major impact on the average citizen and this region. We will carefully select the news, analysis and commentary here, too.

We need a steady stream of income to be able to provide this – not much but enough. Chandran and GanUnfortunately in online news, advertising alone won’t do it. Which is why we have opted for paid subscription after a short period of free trial. It is likely to be higher than it is for Malaysiakini but it will still be less than a ringgit a day. Also, without undue dependence on advertising we can afford to be more independent.

These days, you can’t even buy half a cup of coffee with that one ringgit, so we figure it’s a good deal. And we will work very hard to ensure that it is a good deal for you, the reader.

Here are at least 10 things we will be focusing on doing.

1. Tell it like it is. Business news can get complicated. We will break it down into bite-sized pieces and tell you exactly what to look out for and where lie the essentials and controversies. We will have straight reporting of course, but we will look out for the details in the deals.

2. Do the groundwork. Oftentimes we have to dig to get to the roots of a deal and the important news. We are prepared to do that. That will range from having the courage to ask the right questions to developing contacts within government and industry to get the real picture and different viewpoints.

3. Be independent. The ultimate controlling shareholders behind KiniBiz are my two partners at Malaysiakini, Premesh who is chief executive officer of KiniBiz as well and Steven Gan, Malaysiakini‘s editor-in-chief, both of whom are founders of Malaysiakini, and myself. I take on the role of founding editor and publisher at KiniBiz. The point is, we are not beholden to anyone and can therefore report independently on any news.

4. Give all sides of the story. But we do recognise that independence comes with responsibility. We will give everyone involved an opportunity for fair say before articles are written and after that.

5. Analyse. We will have enough competent people and training to ensure that we can analyse complex happenings and write them in a manner easily understood by anyone. And we will call upon external expertise as and when required.

6. Provide an avenue for feedback. We will welcome feedback from readers and others. We also intend to be providers of feedback as well to the government, the companies we cover, regulators and other capital market players in the many events that they will be responsible for. We think that accurate feedback and criticism is a necessary condition for the progress of society.

7. Comment. We will have in-house and external commentators daily who will offer their personal opinions, backed up with data and reasoning, on the most current and important issues facing Malaysian business. And yes, we will get commentators for foreign news as well.

8. Raise issues. We intend to focus on some of the issues that periodically face us, highlighting them and looking in-depth at them and what we should be doing to overcome them.

9. Suggest solutions. We don’t intend to just highlight problems, we intend to also suggest possible solutions and alternatives through our own analysis and by talking to those in the industry who have the depth of knowledge and experience to offer remedies.

10. Monitor developments. We will keep track of key developments and initiatives and see how they are advancing. We will report and analyse these on-going developments on a regular basis.

That’s really quite a bit on our plate. There’s a lot to be done and we are all quite excited. We are working hard towards providing a product which will prove to be good enough for our readers. Wish us luck, and if we deserve it, please support us by eventually subscribing to us.

A belated Merry Christmas and hope that you have a happy, prosperous and fulfilling New Year.

Newspapers and Defamation–The Malaysian Insider


December 27, 2012

Newspapers and Defamation–The Malaysian Insider

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

There is defence of fair comment; defence of justification; absolute or qualified privilege.These are among the defences available to individuals or newspapers fighting off charges of defamation. And occasionally, there is the out-of-this-world defence, or sometimes known as a dud defence.

Datuk FirozDatuk Firoz Hussein (left), Utusan Malaysia’s lawyer, told the court today that it was unrealistic to expect newspapers to verify the truth before publishing a news report.Really? Does this leniency also extend to lawyers, lawmakers and political leaders? That they can just say what they want or repeat statements without verifying its accuracy?

It is no secret that Utusan Malaysia does not represent the stellar qualities or standards of top class journalism. But even by the standards by which the UMNO-owned paper operates, this defence offered by Firoz is shocking because it shows that he and the paper he represents does not understand that seeking and publishing factually accurate information must run through the veins of every journalist.

Newspapers generally delay publishing any report until they have verified information from a couple of sources. Or at least they seek comment from the target of a news report. This is the minimum standard required.

Firoz pulled out this amazing defence during the trial where Opposition Leader AnwarDSAI Ibrahim is suing Utusan Malaysia for defamation in relation to an article which accused him of being a proponent of gay rights.

Among other things, the Utusan lawyer said that if newspapers went through the full rigours of checking facts, it would not be able to publish the next day! Amazing.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and most newspapers around the world publish after their journalists have verified info. It is the norm, not the exception.Even with Malaysia’s sycophantic mainstream media, there is some checking involved, unless it involves bashing the Opposition. Then usual standards of journalism are suspended.

The journalistic truth process starts and ends with assembling and verifying the facts. When this minimum standard is not met, journalists and media outfits, including this one, get into a pickle.

Bar Council mulls over probe against lawyers in Bala case


December 18, 2012

Bar Council mulls over probe against lawyers in P I Bala case

http://www.malaysiakini.com

The Bar Council is prepared to establish an independent body to examine the professional conduct of the lawyers allegedly involved in preparing the second statutory declaration (SD) for former private-eye P Balasubramaniam, if there is “compelling evidence” to do so.

NONEIn a statement today, council president Lim Chee Wee (left) urged those who have the facts and evidence to come forward and lodge an official complaint with the disciplinary board.

If there is compelling evidence of any professional misconduct, he said, a statute-based independent body will investigate the professional conduct of the lawyers named and discipline them.

“The Bar Council will render assistance to the public in this regard in having any such matters properly directed for investigations by the disciplinary board,” Lim said, noting that the council views this issue seriously.

Lim also said that carpet trader Deepak Jaikishan, who made the recent expose surrounding the second SD, has claimed that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is aware of the matter, but had covered it up and closed its investigation on this.

“We would urge the MACC to shed light on the reasons for closing its file on the investigations conducted earlier,” he said.

NONEThe role of the lawyers – apparently a senior lawyer and his son – was revealed in a series of explosive revelations by Deepak (right) who has claimed to be personally involved in the “flipping” of Balasubramaniam.

The one-time private investigator had signed the first SD which linked Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was brutally murdered.

One lawyer’s name was supposedly mentioned by Deepak in a video interview with PAS organ Harakah which was posted on YouTube, with the name edited out. In the interview, Deepak had related how the senior lawyer had drafted and prepared the document along with the latter’s son, though only his son came to see the other parties involved at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur where Balasubramaniam was allegedly “kept”.

Haris’ report received

The senior lawyer was fingered, though not named, by human rights activist Haris Ibrahim in his blog-post four days ago. NONEHaris (right) lodged a report with the Bar Council yesterday, seeking that the identity of the lawyers be established.

Former Federal Minister Zaid Ibrahim has also pointed out in his blog that the senior lawyer in question was the same one who sits on one of five MACC panels.

Lim said the Council has noted the media reports on Deepak’s interview.

“We have also received yesterday a letter from Haris requesting the Bar Council to launch an investigation to identify the lawyer(s) concerned, when it appears to us that Haris may know the identity of these lawyers,” added Lim.

“This has caused unnecessary speculation and confusion.” Malaysiakini is withholding the name of the senior lawyer and his son pending their response to inquiries.