Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

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

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God Bless Malaysia with these guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

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

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

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

The importance of being secular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

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

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

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah: Understand Malaysia better through its History

February 14, 2017

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah:  Understand Malaysia better through its History

COMMENT: HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Oxford and Harvard-educated political economist, is to be congratulated for publishing a monumental book on Malaysia’s economic history.

One cannot dispute His Royal Highness’ view that understanding the country’s economic, political and socio-cultural history is important since it enables us to appreciate the progress we have achieved since Independence in 1957 due to the contributions of our diverse communities, and learn from our policy failures, and follies and frailties of our past leaders and administrators.

Our achievements have been spectacular by any measure  to earn the respect of the world. The developing world used to look up to us for our economic success. But in recent years, while we enjoy continued economic growth (in GDP terms), albeit modest by comparison with our past attainments, the management of our economy has been increasingly disappointing and depressing. The level of corruption is now the worst I have ever witnessed in my nearly 45 years of public, corporate, academic and civil society life.

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It is obvious to me at least that our present generation of UMNO-BN leaders have not learned the lessons of history especially why nations can and have failed because of corruption, abuse of power and sheer incompetence. HRH Sultan of Perak would, therefore, be well advised to remind Prime Minister Najib Razak of the consequences of poor governance. Preaching to the converted like me and others is inconsequential since we are not in power.

Finally, I must add my disappointment with this piece by Hanis Zainal. While publicizing HRH Sultan Nazrin’s book, she chose not acknowledge that scholars and academics like James Puthucheary, Agoes Salim, Lin See Yan, Rais Saniman, Junid Saham, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Edmund Terrence Gomez, Mohamed Ariff (formally with MIER),Kamal Salih (USM), Lim Teck Ghee, Johan  Saravanamuttu et.al have contributed immensely to our understanding of Malaysia’s political economy and history. They have, in fact, preceded HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah.–Din Merican

by Hanis Zainal@www.thestar.com.my

The key to understanding a country better is through its history, so it is logical to assume the key to studying a country’s economy is through studying its econo­mic history.

This was what Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah set out to achieve in Charting the Economy: Early 20th Century Malaya and Contemporary Malaysian Contrasts which was launched yesterday.

The book charts the country’s economic activities under colonial rule and contrasts it with the economic growth and development in contemporary Malaysia.

During the launch at a hotel here, Sultan Nazrin said that lessons learned from history carry “great relevance” for overcoming the economic challenges of modern-era Malaysia.

 “To better understand contemporary economic performance, it is necessary for us to go back into history to understand long-term trends,” he said.

In his book, Sultan Nazrin charts the changes – from an economy based largely on agriculture and mining in the past to one that is more diversified and broad today.

One of the most important lessons he learned in his study was of people’s contributions to the economy, said Sultan Nazrin.

“The truly remarkable economic and social transformation that Malaysia has experienced is due to the outstanding contributions made by all of our diverse communities working together.”

Quoting novelist Henri Fauconnier, who wrote the Soul of Malaya, Sultan Nazrin said the soul of Malaysia “is found in the country’s diverse people”.

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In his address, Harvard University’s Professor of Political Economy Prof Dwight Perkins noted the book’s importance to the economic literature of Malaysia.

Charting the Economy is published by Oxford University Press and retails at RM99 at all major bookshops in Malaysia.


Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation

February 10, 2017

 Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘They present solutions, but I don’t like them.”

– Noam Chomsky, ‘Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy’.

Image result for Malaysia --Failed Nation by Rustam SaniThe Late Rastam A. Sani arguably was the first Malaysian public intellectual to talk about Malaysia as a Failed Nation

In another article, I admitted that I was one of those people who were pushing the failed state narrative after another Malaysiakini columnist Josh Hong pointed out in his own piece of the intellectual bankruptcy of promoting such an agenda.

Of course, I felt justified in promoting such an agenda – “I have lost track of how many times I have pushed the ‘failed state’ narrative. Moreover, let me tell you it is very easy to push that narrative when we see the failing system around us. It is very easy to push that narrative when we have something as calamitous as the National Security Council Act.”

Running around claiming failing state status is easy in Malaysia. We are a Muslim-majority country that has managed to pull through over the decades when the world was going through radical political and social changes. The Arabisation process crept up on us because we were too busy engaging in other affairs instead of keeping a close eye on the corrupt and incompetent UMNO hegemon.

Three recent contradictory statements by politicians in this country brings into focus why the opposition has been unable to gain traction with the idea that a vote for them would save Malaysia from an apocalyptical fate and why UMNO still has a grip on power in Malaysia.

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Muhyiddin Yassin paid  a heavy price for loyalty. He was sacked from UMNO by UMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Razak

The first is by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) point man Muhyiddin Yassin – “Through decades of government policies being initiated by UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN), the country has become progressive, renowned and in the Islamic context, a model country.”

And right here is the problem for the opposition because this is really is what most voters who vote Barisan National think. Through the decades, despite of all the corruption scandals, the sustained attacks against independent institutions, the slow process of dismantling our individual rights, Malaysia, in the words of Josh Hong, “for all its flaws, Malaysia remains a prosperous, relatively efficient and economically vibrant country.”

Meanwhile, Muhyiddin admits that it would difficult to dislodge BN if the opposition remains in disarray and straight one-on-one fights was the most viable stratagem of replacing UMNO-BN.

Nowhere does he consider that if people think that the country is functional and prosperous (and that this is something even he as a powerbroker in the opposition acknowledges), why should there be any regime change when things are running if not smoothly but better than in many other Muslim countries?

Which brings me to what the honourable DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang asked, “Is Najib aware that Malaysia has taken a first step to become a ‘failed state’ when we ascended to the ‘global kleptocracy’ club without any sense of contrition or compunction, whether by the cabinet or Parliament?”

The problem here is that over the decades there have been numerous corruption scandals and yet the country remains standing. Furthermore, coupled with these corruption scandals, the UMNO hegemon has carried out a deliberate process of racial engineering that changed the political, legal and social institutions of this country, and yet the country did not become one of those Islamic paradises that most Muslims would prefer not to go to but instead head West.

Keep in mind the “failed state” narrative was used in the run-up to the 2004 election and former UMNO President (Badawi) – who campaigned with a reform agenda – won by a landslide for BN. This was the same coalition that had ruled for decades and engineered the problems that are affecting Malaysia today.

Image result for grand poobah of umnoUMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak and Poohbah Jr.
Image result for grand poobahBarney and Fred of The Flintstones

Meanwhile, UMNO Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak thinks that if there is no religious and racial harmony, Malaysia will turn into a failed state. The problem with this is that over the decades, the supremacy of Islam and Malay privilege has supplanted whatever grand ideas, the founding fathers – I still have no idea who these men and women were – had in mind.

Indeed, the only reason why the UMNO big cheese was raising the spectre of a failed state was because everyone else is doing it. But this idea that Malaysia is becoming a failed state ultimately is nonsensical when employed by either UMNO the opposition.

10 reasons

All this talk of Malaysia becoming a failed state, made me dig up an old article by the Foreign Policy magazine that in my opinion is one of the more accessible articles on why states fall apart. Actually, the title of the article says it all – ‘10 reasons why countries fall apart’.

While I have reproduced the first two paragraphs of the article, readers are encouraged to seek out the article and pay close attention the countries mentioned. The reason why I like this article because it accurately describes the various processes that go into making a failed state.

From the article – “Most countries that fall apart, however, do so not with a bang but with a whimper. They fail not in an explosion of war and violence but by being utterly unable to take advantage of their society’s huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty. This type of slow, grinding failure leaves many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America with living standards far, far below those in the West.

“What’s tragic is that this failure is by design. These states collapse because they are ruled by what we call ‘extractive’ economic institutions, which destroy incentives, discourage innovation, and sap the talent of their citizens by creating a tilted playing field and robbing them of opportunities. These institutions are not in place by mistake but on purpose. They’re there for the benefit of elites who gain much from the extraction – whether in the form of valuable minerals, forced labour, or protected monopolies – at the expense of society. Of course, such elites benefit from rigged political institutions too, wielding their power to tilt the system for their benefit.”

The following are the 10 reasons:

1) Lack of property rights

2) Forced labour

3) A tilted playing field

4) The big men get greedy

5) Elites block new technologies

6) No law and order

7) A weak central government

8) Bad public services

9) Political exploitation

10) Fighting over the spoils

Becoming a failed state is a gradual process and in the Malaysian context, nobody comes out clean. Not UMNO. Not the opposition, and certainly not the citizens of Malaysia because we voted for BN and we never demanded the kind of opposition that is the exact opposite in terms of ideology of what the ruling coalition is.

I have said many times, the coming general election is a make or break election for the opposition. If the opposition is determined to play the same game as UMNO and loses, then the opposition is also to blame when we eventually get to our failed state destination.

However the world over, there is a shift in political sentiment. In the West, the shift is to the right. I honestly believe that although we may not have a “left”, what the citizens of this country want is something new.

I believe that if the opposition rolls the dice, discards conventional Malaysian political wisdom, they may actually accomplish a hail Mary and with policies that are radically different from UMNO, halt the decline of Malaysia into a failed state.

If not, do not panic. There is still some ways to go, before we are inducted into the failed state hall of fame. It is going to be a slow but painful process.

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

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

China’s Quest for Regional Community

February 3, 2017

China’s Quest for Regional Community

by Zhang Yunling, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


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China’s Xi and Indonesia’s Jokowi

China’s meteoric rise has put the spotlight on the relationships it shares with its neighbours. Distinct national interests and the substantial social and political diversity in the region make the development of a regional community a complex and delicate task.

China shares land borders with 14 countries and has eight maritime neighbours. But to truly understand China’s relations with its neighbours, one must go beyond geography and consider how history, culture, geopolitics and geo-economics have shaped, and will continue to shape, these relationships.

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President Duterte of  the Philippines and China’s Xi Jinping

Serious consideration must also be given to competitive national interests in the evolution of these increasingly interdependent relationships. The rise of China presents new challenges and opportunities for the development of neighbourhood relations and regional strategies. The close involvement of extra-regional powers, such as the United States, Japan and India, serves to further complicate China’s relationships with its neighbours.

China and its neighbours have a shared interest in maintaining a peaceful and friendly relationship. If mishandled, all sides will suffer. This is the implication behind the Chinese leadership’s call for a ‘community of shared interests and common destiny’ with its neighbours through a number of new initiatives. This new, grand strategy is underpinned by China’s growing confidence in its ability to shape the regional environment. It reflects a new mode of strategic thinking on how to position China among its neighbours and how to understand the new importance of China’s neighbouring regions.

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President of China Xi Jinping and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen

China has developed initiatives to enhance regional ties, but the political, social and economic diversity among China’s neighbours is immense. Relations are further complicated by conflicts of interest between the neighbours themselves, as well as by intervention from extra-regional powers, which engage in overt and covert competition in the region.

As China’s influence rises, its neighbours’ distrust grows. Some of them worry that China’s harbours ambitions for regional hegemony. Maritime and territorial disputes, over the exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea and South China Sea in particular, have resulted in rising tension between China, Japan and some ASEAN members. There has been widespread concern that confrontations may lead to a military conflict. The announcement and implementation of the United States’ ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, which stokes US–China competition in the region, has amplified these difficulties.

China’s rise has triggered complex reactions among its neighbours. In some cases, it has exacerbated existing disputes. When China was weaker, disputes were more likely to be shelved — China often lacked the capacity to address them, and neighbouring countries considered their relations with China to be a lower priority.

As a rising power, China will naturally expand its interests and exert its influence. This could lead to competition and conflict, particularly with the United States. As a result, a growing sense of anxiety has emerged among regional states that fear that a strong China would seek regional hegemony at their expense.

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak with President Xi Jinping

Disputes among nations, including territorial disputes, should — for the sake of all involved — never be resolved by resort to war.

Traditional Chinese culture advocates peace and harmony, commends defusing contradictions, pursues reconciliation and believes in the tactical principle of subduing enemy troops without resorting to war. The time for China to display this ‘culture of harmony’ may be arriving.

The concept of harmony has shaped Chinese culture and politics for centuries. In September 2011, the Chinese State Council Information Office incorporated these values into China’s foreign policy by releasing a white paper entitled ‘China’s Peaceful Development’. This report outlines the core values that should define China’s strategic rise to global prominence, with an emphasis on the concept of a ‘harmonious’ culture.

The Chinese leadership has recently called for building a ‘community of shared interests and common destiny’ among China and its neighbours, based on the guiding principles of ‘amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness’. But realising this communal dream will depend on the will and wisdom of both China and its neighbours.

Both sides have made great efforts made to develop the China–ASEAN relationship. The China–ASEAN Free Trade Area and strategic partnership is just one example of an attempt by both parties to build a cooperative framework based on good will and real interests. But tensions in the South China Sea, especially in light of the Philippines’ unilateral action through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, hamper progress. And the United States’ military presence pours oil on the fire.

Fortunately, China and ASEAN have reconfirmed their commitment to a peaceful solution based on negotiations, and the Philippines’ newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, supports this approach. Both China and ASEAN recognise that cooperation, rather than confrontation, will lead to the best outcome in handling the dispute. Such an agreement could be based on consultation and negotiation, focusing on easing regional tensions and finding the best way to allocate resources.

The process of regional cooperation helps to build up a sense of community spirit and shared interests. One of the most important changes for East Asia is that the foundation of regional cooperation is now based on a multilayered structure ranging from bilateral to regional-level mechanisms, such as the ASEAN+3 and +6 frameworks and the East Asia Summit.

China has so far played an active role in promoting this kind of regional cooperation, showing that what a rising China wants is to build and reinforce the regional community — not a China-dominated ‘Middle Kingdom order’.

Zhang Yunling is Professor of International Economics and Director of International Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Managing China’.

Original intentions

January 31, 2017

Original intentions

Original intentions are usually captured in words, symbols, photographs and recordings, plus scripts of any event; whether intended by the co-organisers or not. Truth matters are recorded and captured in history of time; and such matters do tell the different truths of related observers.

If such a spirit of truth of those moments is missing in later life; the original actors and players, as witnessing observers,will revert to those words and phrases implying the original intentions!

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Therefore recently, the Deputy President of UPKO and a minister in the current government of Sabah stated that they are not obliged to blindly follow all federal laws, especially those that do not accord with the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 (MA63).

I posted that news on Facebook and I received some legitimate views and opinions of objection about such a non-compliance with Federal Laws. They are valid concerns, but do not the jurisdiction of all such laws and practices involved, have a right to revert to the unconditional historical truths of both; the spirit of those laws, and also the actual words in legal documents?

One case study of our ‘Jalur Gemilang’

Does the flag of our federation therefore reflect such an arrangement of the three (formerly four) colonies of the British Commonwealth into one united nation-state? Those three constituents include the original federation (of 11 Malay states) plus two new states; to make the nation-state we now call Malaysia.

Our federation is also a full member of the United Nations of global nation-states with even some non-nation-states; but all considered entities within some legal but qualified recognition for membership. This includes Taiwan.

Now, let us review the flag of the Federation of Malaysia:

The flag of Malaysia, also known as the Jalur Gemilang (Malay for ‘Stripes of Glory’), is composed of a field of 14 alternating red and white stripes along the fly and a blue canton bearing a crescent and a 14-point star known as the Bintang Persekutuan (Federal Star).

What was the original logic of 14 alternating stripes with 14 points of the star? Can I proffer one logical guesstimate? The constituent member states (the composition with three original others) plus 11 members of the Federation of Malaya made for 14 states. But, today, about 54 years later, we have differing views about whether it should have been only three colonial states and cannot agree to reconstitute them as 14 equal states, per se. Some argue there are only three colonial states; never 14

I have now also heard this argument taught in schools that 14 include (the thirteen plus Federal Territory, to replace Singapore as the fourteenth). But as a rationalist and believer of all human logic systems, I would argue that it could never have been 14; if we understand mathematics of numerals with a base of 10.

Why thus I stopped flying the flag

Some years ago, at the height of federal abuse of Sabah and Sarawak, when most everyone came to full knowledge about the shenanigans of the federal government’s abuse of “Federal Constitution-ordained state rights”, it became obvious to me that Malaysia should have been called ‘Melayusia’ instead.

In my lexicon and language, Melayusia is the real and original Malay word that would have been framed if the original framers wanted to make the ‘Orang Melayu’ the Tuan or Master of all aspects of Malaysian life and therefore conditioning us to be coloured by Malay-Muslim logic systems.

That did not happen, and in fact, Sabah and Sarawak explicitly stated that they are not Muslim and will not accept Islam as their official religion. These views are well-documented.

Therefore, some years ago, I first met a Sabahan minister who challenged my “peninsular Malayan thinking” when he said to me, “We are not part and parcel of your social contract; we have a clear and legitimate membership directly as a result of the Malaysia Agreement 1963”. It only then dawned upon me the full meaning of what he meant about their real independence.

When the truths about that statement and their one-third state argument finally drove into my heart, I realised that as a neo-colonial Malayan, I had genuinely treated my brothers and sisters from Sabah and Sarawak with a post-colonial attitude and a subjugation mindset.

That very year, I wrote a column in Malaysiakini that explained why I could not honestly fly the Jalur Gemilang any more in my home. I have since stopped flying the flag which I had always saluted in the Royal Military College (RMC). I even explained my reasons to my children who grew up being taught to equally respect this symbol of our nation-state.

Integration with integrity

Some Old Puteras, or the alumni of the RMC, recently decided to launch a movement we call OPs4A; or OPs for Accountability on January 15, 2017. We hosted an event of OPs, by OPs, and for OPs plus their guests. We had some notable and a credible group friends and guests, including the Group of 25 (G25) members.

Image result for malaysia tanah air kuNational Monument–Of Any Significance to Sarawakians and Sabahan?

Our theme for the next three events also remains the same: ‘National Integration with Constitutional Integrity’. I was therefore rather amused when some formidable members of the alumni could not decipher this essential meaning of our theme.

Integrity is the adjective and integration is the verb, right? What then is the storyline we are creating or starting for our movement for change? Our honest and legitimate question to every member of our audience is therefore: Is Malaysia moving in the right direction?

Can the current direction and momentum result in our communities being integrated and can we do it clearly and honestly with the sense of integrity found and established in our Federal Constitution? That must be our only legal framing measure of our integrity, right?

Therefore the integrity of the tall and large Flag at the Dataran Merdeka of Malaysia depends on two kinds of constitutional integrity:

  • Upward integrity of the flag being planted exactly 90 degrees upright and therefore fully aligned to the Federal Constitution of the 1957 and 1963 agreements.
  • Outward integrity of policies and public positions taken on every issue and concern on behalf of all citizens, and in most cases also; non-citizens who are here with legal work permits in Malaysia.

May God bless Malaysia to move in the right direction. Truth always matters.

Politics is in the Blood of the Young

January 26, 2017

Politics is in the Blood of the Young

“Give me 1,000 men and I will move a mountain. Give me 10 young men and I will shake the world.” (Sukarno)

Where political involvement is concerned, young people are generally perceived to be outliers – either too radical in their views or completely indifferent. Yet they make up a potent political force especially in developing nations where they dominate in demography. Once tapped, they are capable of delivering change.

With the median age in Malaysia being 27.1 years and with 72% of the population being under 40 years of age, the relevance of young people in our country is far from insignificant. Faced with the need to engage this important demographic group yet not quite knowing what their needs and desires really are, political parties and governments often end up baiting them with concerts, football tournaments and “tweet famous” celebrities.

While the general view that young people are politically apathetic is not entirely without basis, it is a patronising generalisation that belies the fact that young people, both historically and in the present day, play a very important role in political processes, both formal and informal.

History of Youth in Politics

It is interesting to note that many Southeast Asian nationalist movements at the height of the colonial resistance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were spearheaded by young people.

In the Philippines, for example, José Rizal wrote his influential anti-imperialist novel Noli Me Tangere in 1887 when he was only 25 years old, while pioneering revolutionaries Andrés Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto were in their 20s when they founded the Katipunan movement to oppose Spanish rule. A female colleague of theirs, Gregoria de Jesus, was only 21 when she joined them in 1896. In 1898, when the flag of the Republic of the Philippines was hoisted for the first time, the man chosen to be the newly independent nation’s first president, Emilio Aguinaldo, was only 29 years old.

In Burma, nationalist fervour began when a youth organisation called the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) organised protests against the British colonial regime’s introduction of laws that suppressed student freedoms. Following on from their success, various splinter groups from the YMBA went on to form political parties that would eventually lead the charge for independence.

One important personality from that era was Aung San, the Burmese nationalist icon who, having been a student leader, left university in 1938 to enter formal politics at the age of 23. Eight years and a world war later, he became president of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in 1946 and deputy chairman of the executive council, which effectively made him the titular head of the Burmese civil government. In this role, he led independence negotiations with Britain, culminating in an agreement jointly signed with British prime minister Clement Attlee in January 1947. Unfortunately, he was not to see the fruits of his efforts as he was assassinated later in the year at the age of 32.

Pioneering revolutionary Andrés Bonifacio, who was in his 20s when he co-founded the Katipunan movement to oppose Spanish rule.

Over in Indonesia, it is impossible to discuss the nationalist revolution without touching on the decisive influence of the Second Youth Congress in 1928. Not only was the national anthem Indonesia Raya played for the very first time, the conference also saw the recital of the “Youth Pledge” – a declaration that forms the basis for the Indonesian national ideal until this very day, namely the idea of “one motherland, one nation and one language”. So influential was the role of young people in the independence movement that Benedict Anderson even termed it a “youth revolution”.

Young people played no less significant a role in the lead-up to Malaysian independence. For example, one of the earliest nationalist movements in the country was formed in Kedah during the Second World War. Known by its acronym Saberkas, it was officially set up as a welfare cooperative called Syarikat Bekerjasama Am Saiburi. Yet its founders meant for the society to be a cover for their true intent – an underground nationalist movement. Accordingly, the acronym Saberkas also had a hidden meaning, which was “Sayang akan bangsa, ertinya redha korban apa segala” (to sacrifice everything for the love of one’s nation).

It is unfortunate that while young people in Europe are increasingly recognised for their abilities and entrusted with responsibilities as political leaders, our youth are suppressed and prevented from playing too active a role in politics, at the threat of university expulsion and jail.

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Senu Abdul Rahman and Syed Kechik Al-Bukhary

Sabekas was founded by a group of young men in their early 20s, including Khir Johari, Senu Abdul Rahman, Abdul Aziz Zain and a few others, under the patronage of a Kedah Prince, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. Besides providing shelter for refugees fleeing the Burmese death railway, the group also organised bangsawan stage plays that carried nationalist undertones. These plays were written and performed by members of the group and became quite popular, drawing large crowds in Kedah and Perlis.


Tan Sri Mohamed Khir Johari

Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, there was a two-week void before the British could re-establish order in Malaya. During this time, the young men of Sabekas played an important role in keeping the peace, physically helping to defend villages and police stations from communist guerrillas who attempted to seize control. Following the creation of the short-lived Malayan Union in 1946, Sabekas was one of the many organisations that gathered at the Third Malay Congress to form UMNO. Eventually, many of Saberkas’s founders became leading figures in the government, the civil service and the judiciary.

Young people were pivotal to the Malay nationalist movement on the national stage as well. For example, the very first national political movement in the country, the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM), was founded in 1938 by Ibrahim Yaacob and Ishak Haji Muhammad, then aged 27 and 29 respectively. The movement’s membership was made up predominantly of young journalists and students from the Sultan Idris Teaching College, College of Agriculture Malaya and the Technical School of Kuala Lumpur. Although eventually suppressed by the British due to its leftist tendencies, KMM’s contribution to the overall nationalist consciousness should not be downplayed.

The Depoliticisation of Youth

Although young people were at the forefront of the political struggle against imperialism, it was inevitable that postcolonial national development would necessitate the production of workers for the industrial economy rather than political activists. Thus in Malaysia, young people began to be discouraged from active political involvement and laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) were introduced to curtail their activities.

As the economy grew, so too did the spoils, and political party hierarchies became a much steeper climb for younger cadres who found it difficult to unseat entrenched elites. This caused the mainstream relevance of young people to decline, as even the various party youth wings were beginning to be led by people who could no longer be reasonably described as youth, despite how young they may consider themselves to be. Even the average age of the federal cabinet, which was around 43 years of age at the point of independence, gradually increased to nearly 60, as is the case today.

This is of course an unfortunate trend that runs counter to developments around the world, particularly in Europe where youth involvement in mainstream politics is in vogue. In the UK, the 2010 general election saw the election of three men in their early 40s to the positions of Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Opposition Leader. In Malaysia, their counterparts would merely be youth wing chiefs and junior ministers at best.

If there is a perception that young people in Malaysia are not interested in politics, it is because they have been shaped over decades by a system that muzzles and subdues them in the name of protecting the status quo.

In recent times, Sweden appointed ministers in their 20s[1] to important portfolios while the current Austrian foreign minister is only 30, having been appointed at age 27 in 2013. I have personally met the former Serbian minister of finance who was below the age of 30 when appointed, while a parliamentary colleague of mine in the UK who is younger than me is now a second term MP and a junior minister in the department of international development.

It is unfortunate that while young people in Europe are increasingly recognised for their abilities and entrusted with responsibilities as political leaders, our youth are suppressed and prevented from playing too active a role in politics, at the threat of university expulsion and jail.

Therefore, if there is a perception that young people in Malaysia are not interested in politics, it is because they have been shaped over decades by a system that muzzles and subdues them in the name of protecting the status quo.

A Youth Revival

That said, changes have begun to take place, especially since the 2008 “political tsunami” which served as a baptism of fire for a whole new generation of young leaders, mostly from the opposition. With greater youth representation at the political front lines, the reform agenda gained greater momentum and even the UUCA was amended to allow students to join political parties.

In this youth revival, it is clear that opposition parties have been the main beneficiary due to their flatter hierarchy and willingness to empower younger leaders. As a result, the federal opposition can now boast of having the youngest representatives in the country at every level of legislature – the senate, parliament, state assembly and local government. On the other hand, the ruling regime would be hard-pressed to name anywhere near as many young politicians holding similar responsibilities.

As mentioned earlier, there is no disputing the fact that young people form an increasingly dominant demography in our country, thus making them more and more relevant from an economic, social and political standpoint. Correspondingly, just as the youth of earlier generations played a crucial role in the formation of Malaysia; so too will the youth of today in charting the future of our nation.

Aung San, the Burmese nationalist icon who, having been a student leader, left university in 1938 to enter formal politics at the age of 23.
[1]In 2014 Gabriel Wikström was appointed as Health Minister at age 29, while Aida Hadzialic was appointed as Minister of Higher Education at age 27. In August 2016 Hadzialic resigned.