Hishamuddin Rais: Malaysia’s Che

sMay 16, 2016


 Hishamuddin Rais fined RM5000

The Court of Appeal today overturned the nine-month jail sentence imposed on social activist Hishamuddin Rais for sedition.The three-member panel led by judge Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat accepted the appeal by Hishamuddin on his sentence.

“This is a unanimous decision; we find no reason to dismiss the appeal on the conviction.We find no compelling reason to disturb the decision of the Sessions Court,” Tengku Maimun said in her judgment.

The Sessions Court – which slapped Hishamuddin with a fine of RM5,000 – had applied the correct sentencing, she added.The judgment was received with applause by Hishamuddin’s many supporters who packed the courtroom today.

Apart from Tengku Maimun, Court of Appeal judges Ahmad Asnawi and Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil were in the panel for today’s decision.

Hishamuddin was sentenced to a nine-month jail term for sedition by the High Court in January after it allowed the prosecution’s appeal for a heavier sentence.The Sessions Court had previously sentenced him to a fine of RM5,000.

In 2013, Hishammuddin was, together with politicians Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar and activists Adam Adli Abdul Halim, Haris Ibrahim and Muhammad Safwan Anang, charged with sedition for their speeches at a forum made on May 13 that year. Hishamuddin and the others were accused of inciting the public to overthrow the government through street protests after the Barisan Nasional won the general election, although the popular vote was won by the opposition.–— Alyaa Azhar

Hishamuddin Rais: Malaysia’s Che

by Masjaliza Hamzah


MALAYSIANS KINI If you ask the state who Hishamuddin Rais is, the answer is a laundry list of anti-government actions spanning five decades. The authorities can point to the student rallies he helped organise, aligning those attending lectures at universities with peasant uprisings of the 1970s.

During the Reformasi period in the late 1990s, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad pinned on the firebrand’s lapel the notorious label of “dalang reformasi” (mastermind of Reformasi, the period of political tumult), earning him stints at lock-ups in Dang Wangi, Pulapol and Jalan Stadium.

Today, the 65-year-old is a “seditionist” for calling for the toppling of the newly-elected government in 2013. If his final appeal in the court today fails, he will be spending nine months behind bars.

Hishamuddin is no stranger to life in detention. He has been been detained eight times in Malaysia – the longest being a 26-month stay as a political prisoner at Kamunting Detention Centre, from 2001-2003, twice in India, once in Russia and once in Australia.

But who is Hishamuddin Rais?Ask those from Universiti Bangsar Utama (UBU), a collective he founded in the late 1990s to instigate youth to take up political action, and they will call him their own Che Guevara, a big brother figure for youths whose coming of age was during a volatile political period in Malaysia’s history.

Ask others still and they will speak of his food column, his excellent dishes and even his foray into food styling for a photo shoot for ‘The Last Supper’.Others will recall his television scripts – uncredited due to the controversy it could bring – for TV dramas and comedies. Among them was ‘Mencari Anak Wayang’, which ran for 123 episodes.

He has written songs and at least one play – ‘Bilik Sulit’ – which was first featured in Malaysia in 2005, then in 2008 and 2013 it and closed in London after a month-long tour in the UK in April 2014. More recently, Hishamuddin has also done stand-up comedy, all to spread the message that Malaysia needs democracy, plain and simple. But this message is not always well-received.

“(Even today) I can say that at certain venues, I can’t perform as a stand-up comedian. Apparently, Hishamuddin can’t be involved. My political comedy is seen as offensive, subversive and a danger to the club,” he said in an interview with Malaysiakini recently.

Having lived in self-imposed exile for 12 years, he has picked up some European habits – he wears cravats and an assortment of hats, appearing in a television show in 1994 in a beret, with fat prayer beads in his hands to make a political point.

He braves Malaysia’s blazing heat in a blazer, but his reasons are practical – he needs pockets for all the keys he carries around. The eccentricity and his court jester ways make the former Bersih steering committee member a crowd-puller at ceramah sessions, cracking jokes and making the makcik and pakcik giggle through his spot-on socio-political commentaries.

It is debatable whether he coined the term ‘NGI’ (non-governmental individual), as opposed to NGOs (non-governmental organisations) but among those critical of the government, he is a veritable institution. Of all the things he does well, there are many things he does not, or cannot do. This includes driving.

Despite lacking a driver’s licence, his feature film ‘Dari Jemapoh ke Manchestee’ is a coming of age road trip movie, featuring a classic white Volvo and features landscapes of his native Negri Sembilan. He has also acted twice in TV dramas, ironically, as taxi drivers – the car, dragged on the road by another vehicle to simulate driving.

An old school kind of guy, the Kuala Pilah-born and Jelebu-raised Hishamuddin does not know how to click ‘like’ on Facebook. Despite earning some income from his popular blog ‘Tukar Tiub’, with the 20,000-plus Twitter followers, he holds a critique of “technology” and social media and how humans use these communications platforms.

Just as well, as he does not keep to well-defined boundaries, often found politically incorrect and at times taken to task for sexist remarks.Ever reflective, he says that he recognises “traits of masculinity, sexism, and patriarchy” in him, and would not mind attending a gender awareness training session “after Kajang”, where he could be serving the sedition sentence, if the conviction is upheld.

But the occasional faux pas is not enough to turn off fellow activists who are lining up to care for his many pets if he is sent away. One would think a man with such a legion of fans would have, by now, put together an autobiography. In Hishamuddin’s head, the biography will be three-parts, but for now, it will remain in his mind.

“One doesn’t write a biography about oneself until you get a heart attack. My health is okay. When you write something, it’s almost as if you are coming to an end. I’m not. I am still at my prime. The nation will have to bear with me for a few more years.”

Here is his story, in his own words.

I WAS A PROBLEM CHILD for my parents. Once, before I was of schooling age, I went with my parents to visit a newborn. I looked at the head – the skull was still forming – and I could see the ubun (crown) moving and I touched it (and gave everyone a fright).

Every time before we visit anybody, my mum would say: “Jangan cakap ini, jangan buat tu” (Don’t say this, don’t do that).

IT WAS NOT A BAD CHILDHOOD. The whole ricefield was my playground, the river was my swimming pool, the jungle behind my house was my hunting ground. I had, as (English writer) EM Forster said, “a well-developed heart, a well-developed character”.

I DEVELOPED A REPUTATION. Some parents used me as a tauladan (an example), some as sempadan (a limit).

I remember being on the same panel as the now mufti of Perlis (Asri Zainul Abidin) in Shah Alam four or five years ago. (He said) when he was in UIA (International Islamic University), he was a rebel and the VC asked him, ‘You want to be Hishamuddin, ke?’. I have also met a Malaysian artist in Paris. She told me her father said, ‘Don’t be like Hishamuddin’.

I DON’T HAVE A SMARTPHONE ‘COS I DON’T ALLOW ANYTHING I OWN TO BE SMARTER THAN ME. I don’t have WhatsApp. I have Facebook but I don’t even know how to click ‘like’. I have never clicked ‘like’.

In Europe, at least in Belgium, on the weekends, there are no newspapers. In London, the news is shorter on weekends; it’s as if nothing happened. After 7.30pm, the world slows down.

I don’t own a laptop. I have a tablet. When I go out of KL, I use it as my desktop. I read (about) a research (finding) recently that people who communicate using these things less are more sober, less assaulted by, the German word, angst.

THESE MODES OF COMMUNICATION ARE ALL OVER THE TOP. For example, you have dinner with two or three friends and they are constantly on their mobile phone. Come on. Pay full attention to the food on the table. This is my criticism and one of my obsessions.

TV IS BAD ENOUGH. (On TV), you go for soundbites. With Twitter, in these 140 characters, in that short form, you minimise spelling, minimise the idea. We communicate less and in a less human way.

I use Twitter and Facebook to publicise events; that’s all. I rarely, rarely respond. I don’t know if I have liked anything. I don’t follow anybody. I have about 20,000 followers, kot (maybe)? I put it (my post) there, I retweet public forums, events, some gigs, mostly political ceramah.I tweet from my desktop. After 7.30pm, I stop my tweets.The thing about humans is their ability to communicate in using language; it can be very beautiful.

I AM NOT AGAINST TECHNOLOGY. I am not raging against the machine, but I have more confidence in the ability of the human person to communicate using his oral ability, his brain, not (mediated) by technology. I object to WhatsApp (being used to discuss important decisions). it has created problems – people say something and it gets shared.

The difference (between communicating using these platforms and) talking with someone in front of you is that there is body movement; you can look at the face, gesture.

When in front of a machine, you can’t see what people on the other side are doing. If machines take over, humanity has diminished in its value.The best thing technology has offered me is the washing machine – I was liberated from washing my dirty clothes.

I DO stand-up comedy, theatre, my plays, my films, songs that I write – these are just mediums. People get confused.I am still sending the same message. The medium changes from time to time. Sometimes the medium overlaps with one another, but the text hasn’t changed. The text is that we still need to have plain democracy in Malaysia. That’s it.

MALAY IS NOT BIOLOGICAL; it’s a social construct. It’s also a sense of being. And there’s also another modern form – Melayu kad pengenalan (identity card Malay) – constitutional Malay. For me, being Malay is a sense of being, an attachment to a geographical area, to a culture, cultural norms and beliefs in the general sense.

It’s like in Britain, there’s King Arthur, Excalibur, Camelot – the myths. Same with my Melayu. I play Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. Whether they exist or not, it doesn’t matter. I identify as a Malay in that sense, not above or below anybody; just my sense of being.

BEING MALAY IS ALSO IN THE FOOD. Malay food is excellent. The taste is there, well-developed, with spices. It’s peasant food.The presentation is a bit of a failure; it hasn’t come to the state of being a cuisine, it’s just dishes. In Malay you say, hanya makanan, belum jadi santapan. The ratio of kuah (gravy) and ikan (fish), for example. Those days, we were poor (and ate the sauce with a lot of rice). We must learn to make less sauce.

I HAVE NEVER IMAGINED MYSELF OWNING A CAR, never had the desire to own a car. If I were to own a car, it would be this French car called (Citroen) 2CV – like (Perodua) Kancil, it’s small; they don’t make them anymore. The Kancil or 2CV, they’re elegant because they are small. In a big city, it’s easy parking. I don’t know about the engine; I am looking only at the flexibility of the vehicle.

PEOPLE SAY I LIVE POORLY. I live better than the New Yorker yuppie. People have no base; I have a base. My base is the Indian jail (in 1982) – a crowded small place with a toilet with dry shit in it. It’s in the basement, with the suffocating smell of urine and shit.

Whenever I am done, I compare it to the Bombay Central lock-up and Arthur Road. (In recent times, Bollywood actor) Salman Khan was there too. I don’t know his block; I was in Block 3. Ya, that was where I was.

I shared the same lawyer as (‘Bandit Queen’) Phoolan Devi. Before Indarjit Singh defended Phoolan Devi, she defended me. She is a competent, female human rights lawyer appointed by the NGO which supported me (during my incarceration in India).

PEOPLE WHO SAY I AM SEXIST AND ‘MASCULINE’ are probably right. I have traits of masculinity, sexism, and patriarchy. I have not developed into a full-blown feminist. I’m also not into PC (political correctness).

In stereotyping, if you look carefully, there are certain truths. This is how message is relayed – simple version. I am up for criticism. For that matter, sometimes, in my comedies, some of my jokes are not PC.

I went to a fully male boarding school (Malay College Kuala Kangsar); had little interaction with females. I think I don’t discriminate. I will not look at someone as male or female. This is my attitude; I need to be more sensitive.

UBU is a reflection of that. We failed in the gender balance; our female activists were not many. In UBU, they come and go. ‘Dapur Jalanan’ (a food project for urban poor) is less political, more social welfare, so a bit of safe ground (and has more women participation).

In UBU, we were not masculine in the sense of being men. We were unable to recruit women; it’s that, actually. You have raised a profound question: why didn’t evaluate or dissect (why women did not join the collective). We (UBU) did not intelligently debate the idea (of feminism and masculinity). I know there was no gender balance.

THE SEDITION JAIL SENTENCE IS NOT POLITICAL, IT’S CRIMINAL. It follows a criminal regime. There are rules and regulations.When I was a political prisoner before (under the Internal Security Act), I didn’t have to wear a uniform, I didn’t have to cut my hair. Now I have to cut my hair.

To be locked up is about breaching your routine – that is what will upset me most. You are not able to do things you usually do.I am zen about this (impending jail sentence). You receive it and you transform it into your body and soul. I tell people (who are going to be locked up), ‘Don’t look at the lock. It is small but you are unable to do anything with it. Just accept it.’

I AM A VERY ROUTINE-ORIENTED PERSON. People think I am chaotic. I have coffee with a biscuit at 12 noon. I have lunch at 12.30pm. I am predictable. I sit down at a coffeeshop in Brickfields till 1 or 2am – that is also my routine. My radicalism is in my ideas, in my writing, in the things I try to promote.

I am a rather open person. The Police know where I live and what I do. To have the notion that you are being followed, it’s a waste of time for the state to follow me.

The ‘deep state’, I can understand how it identifies me. In the last ‘Kita Lawan’ (protest), I had lunch with some people and when I came out of the restaurant (in the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman area), they detained me and sent me to Jinjang.

In front of the magistrate, the arresting officer said we were having a press conference (PC). The anak muda (youths) had a programme but I was not at the PC.

It’s like the last segment in Casablanca (the movie), after Ilsa flew out of Morocco. Captain Renault spoke to Rick and asked them to ‘round up the usual suspects’. They always need to round up the usual suspects. I am always on of the usual suspects.

I AM UPSET THAT THE STATE HAS CREATED ME AS BIGGER THAN WHAT I AM. I am just a routine person. The state has created me; it’s unnecessary. It has created people it wants to identify as ‘enemies of the state’.

In the last (sedition) trial, the judge said: “The guy has given a speech in the hall, but no one followed what he said.” Yes, it is true I spoke at the May 13 meeting in 2013. They said it was seditious but nothing happened; everybody dispersed in peace.

IN 1998, I HAD NO CLUE WHO WAS BEHIND ‘REFORMASI’. I was there (at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur) as an observer, on the way to Bagan Lalang to be a member of the jury for TV3 telemovie and film fest.

I was detained. Mahathir said “dalang reformasi telah ditangkap” (the mastermind of the reformasi movement has been detained).I had just come back from Europe. It was convenient to connect me back to the history of 1974 (university student protests) to Anwar Ibrahim.

There is some truth (to the idea of Hishamuddin Rais as not just a construction of the state). There are certain historical events – 74 protest in Tasik Utara, 74 protest in Baling, activities in Australia and Europe; yes, it’s true. But that is my responsibility as a citizen. It’s a way of saying thank you to Malaysia.

I WAS BORN IN THIS COUNTRY. MY LOYALTY IS TO THIS PIECE OF LAND. This is my thank you – to uphold what is just and speak the truth.If that is a crime, I suppose I am a criminal. If that is what the state construes me as criminal, then the state can identify me as a criminal.

I used to live in Baghdad in the late 70s. There’s a proverb – whoever drank water from the river Tigris – which separates old and new Baghdad – will always belong to Baghdad.

I LOOK FORWARD (to the nine months in jail), if they send me. I can have a break. I will stop writing, my column, my blog will be on hold. That’s it. I take a break.Let’s see what happens after nine months. Now is a bad time, but good times are coming.

You know the story of Nabi Yusuf, where there was (the dream of seven skinny cows devouring seven fat cows, interpreted to mean) seven dry seasons to be followed by seven prosperous years? Now we are in the bad season but the good season will come.

Not tomorrow. The future is not the day after tomorrow. Next change. Akan datang. Change could be a long time coming.

MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.

Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly

May 13, 2016

Third Rate Diplomacy: Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Seoul. (Yonhap)

We can’t but wonder whether it is proper to use taxes to pay the wages of our diplomats who appear incompetent at best and engrossed in self-interest at worst, concerning their response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima.

The way the Ministry reacted to this rather anticipated affair is not just disappointing but, worse, makes the Korean people feel a sense of shame. The diplomats should have more clearly stated the country’s stance, asking for the public’s understanding, if necessary, or using the Obama plan to call attention to Japan’s wartime atrocities and warn against Japan’s efforts to feign as the victim of World War II. (Remembering that FDR declared the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as, “A day that will live in infamy,” it would make him turn over in his grave to see the Japanese pleas of victimhood today.).

Our diplomats should look no further than Beijing ― warning Japan not to use the Obama visit as a ruse to whitewash its colonial rule of barbarism, while refraining from directly raising any issues about the visit itself in its apparent consent for the need of a nuclear-free world Obama’s visit symbolizes.

In contrast, the Korean Ministry, in its official response, tried to emphasize that Washington had consulted with Seoul in the process of the Obama decision. The government was most concerned about a public that would feel easily slighted by the United States and the political opposition, now in control of the National Assembly, which would use it against the government. The Ministry would claim its action is restrained by a more important need to keep the U.S. and Japan on the same page as it is for the ongoing efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

This usual litany of excuses would mean the Foreign Ministry has their priorities in the wrong order, revealing they are still stuck in an inferiority complex that was overcome by the rest of the nation before the new millennium.

Just in case they don’t know, their top priority should be to act boldly in the nation’s interest and for the pride of the people on the basis of popular consent. Its behavior, however, exhibits nothing of the above. In other words, the ministry ended up insulting the people’s intelligence and let go of a chance to build national consensus and keep pressing Washington or Beijing. Rhetorically, the statement deserves scrutiny only for it is used as a bad example.

Through an anonymous official, a method that gives the impression of the lack of transparency and confidence, the Ministry said without identifying who was making the statement, “President Obama’s decision was made on the basis of his conviction in pursuing global peace and stability through a nuclear-free world.”

It sounded as if Seoul was a bystander in the Obama decision contrary to the Ministry’s insistence that it was consulted but didn’t share his vision, when Korea could be the biggest beneficiary from a North Korea that is separated from its nukes.

The Ministry went a step further by saying that the U.S. position about the use of its nuclear weapons against Imperial Japan has not changed. This obviously means Obama’s intention not to apologize for the bombings. Then, the ministry lost its coherence completely, saying, “The U.S. clarifies that the public acknowledgement of historic facts is indispensable to understanding the past.” Whose acknowledgment and understanding does this mean?

Not least, it ended by a highly questionable claim without corroborating evidence by saying that the Obama visit would also aim at bringing consolation to Korean victims of the Hiroshima blast. It is not until Obama mouths such a consolation that it should be seen as the Ministry’s wishful thinking.

Obama’s Hiroshima visit can be meaningful in that it is an effort to remove one of the biggest existential threats to humankind. However, it is worrisome for Korea and China, the victim countries that can’t forget Japan’s brutal colonial rule and its consistent efforts to shun its culpability for the war. It’s deplorable for the ministry to fail to register this national feeling openly and passionately. Who does this Ministry work for? We wonder.


Intolerance, violence and the media we need to defend

May 4, 2016

Intolerance, violence and the media we need to defend

by Howard Lee | What You Think | Malay Mail Online

In a casual living room setting filled with diplomats, writers and bloggers, the conversation eventually turned to a question about whether a blogger can be considered a journalist. The room was undecided, compounded especially by bloggers who felt that they could not represent journalism in any professional sense. But one participant, highly regarded in our journalistic circles, brought it all back to the ground by giving this basic definition of “journalist” – “someone who keeps and writes a journal”.

While in no way definitive of the journalistic profession we are familiar with today, it does highlight what every society needs: Someone who is able to share the stories of a community, using media that extends beyond the scope of a one-to-one conversation. Journalism, when view in this way, is not about whether you have a press card or if you get paid to write for a bona fide newspaper. Journalism is about applying the skills of the trade for an audience that needs to read the stories you want to tell, and doing so with the best ethics that you can put into every single word. Around the world, these journalists do not just fill large corporate newsrooms, but also work for small town newspapers, local radio and community newsletters.

And Singapore, too, has no lack of such journalism, despite our small size that makes the concept of community media sound implausible. For too long, the ridicule of Singapore’s dismal ranking in international press freedom indices had but one saving grace: That there are still individuals committed to speaking up for their community, even if the mainstream media would not or cannot. These individuals have found their place in the (relative) freedom of the Internet, where they can express their views in their blogs or social media platforms. Unfortunately, recent years have given rise to an increasing threat of violence to such individuals.

Of course, compared to our regional neighbours, where journalists risk life and limb, face death threats and have real guns pointed at their heads while working in politically regressive regimes or societies overrun with organised crime, our woes seem laughably insignificant. But the slew of legal action brought against individuals like Alex Au, Roy Ngerng and Leslie Chew for voicing their opinions, as well as every major social-political website currently on our shores, should give us pause to ask: Are we any less under threat?

Ours is a political system of intolerance towards dissenting voices, and such intolerance has recently gotten bolder in attitude and harsher in tone. Even a teenager who posted disparaging remarks about a political leader can win the wrath of the law. Not only that, but we are starting to see a growing intolerance among our population, who have no qualms about advocating violence towards contrarian voices.

The same voices who are at times doing nothing more than applying the skills of the journalistic trade for an audience that they believe needs to read the stories they want to tell. For sure, not every case can be seen as applying standards worthy of the journalistic profession, and clearly the polish, nuancing and simple EQ of some leave much to be desired. But such factors should not, however, be justification for the State and individuals bent on reading only the “right thing” to clamp down on these contrarian voices.

Freedom of expression allows us to debate freely, disagree or come to a consensus. It lets society solve its own problems, not through the use of a gun, online lynch mob, police report or a letter of demand; but through reason and respect. Singaporean society, unfortunately, has relied too heavily and far too long on the State apparatus to resolve our differences for us, and it is clear today that it has made us more retarded in our ability to think critically and engage meaningfully. In effect, we gave up our collective right to free expression, in exchange for a police state, where we are happy only if we are all made deputies. This is not free speech. It is not even a sufficient excuse for championing responsible speech.

It is violence committed upon others who have done nothing more than state an opinion different from yours. It is violence that has consequences more lasting than simply unfriending someone on Facebook. It is violence that has seeped into our national psyche as something that is justifiable, when in reality nothing justifies it. World Press Freedom Day this year will be remembered as the day in a year where Singapore as a nation exhibit to the world precisely how narrow our minds are towards those who seek free expression.

Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power. For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety.” — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

We will stand in solidarity with those who have suffered violence for daring to speak out, for so have we suffered violence. The oppression we face is the same, even if the face of that oppression is different. Singapore needs to do better, and if the duty of making it better falls on those who keep and write a journal, then so be it.


Of Donations, Islam and The Real Malays

April 6, 2016

Of Donations, Islam and The Real Malays

by Cmdr S Thayaparan


The oppressors do not favour promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

It is never a good sign here in Malaysia or anywhere else in the world, when rival Islamist parties agree with each other. PAS and Amanah finding common ground against UMNO is like two siblings agreeing that their parents have been unfair to them.

PAS Vice-President Iskandar Abdul Samad in a statement that was revealing of the UMNO strategy but at the same time an unintentional condemnation of Islam, questioned the efficacy of the use of dubious funds in the eradication of Muslim poverty, here in Malaysia.

Would it have been acceptable to PAS if the so-called gift from The House of Saud was used to “uplift” Muslims here in Malaysia?

Of course, PAS splinter group Amanah is equally myopic in its version of how Islam is practiced in Malaysia.

When pundits throw around the term “Arabisation”, most Muslims or at least those Muslims who favour the kind of politics advanced by PAS, UMNO and Amanah would find no problem with such a description.

Only in Malaysia could PAS and Amanah bemoan the fact that illicit funding was not used to help the cause of their brethren and still go on about how we are all “Malaysians” or some such variants.

PAS and Amanah (Kadir Sheikh Fadzir) laughable

The Political Ulama and The Confused Mamak

Many others, and I have argued that despite the so-called special privileges Malay politicians vociferously defend, Muslims form an underclass that supports a system that cuts them of from the mainstream of Malaysian society – a mainstream defined by an urban class and contextualized by UMNO and opposition politics, which favours a specific class.

Islam, as UMNO, PAS, Amanah and every Malay politician knows very well, is used to form political and social control meant to sustain “Malay” hegemony in a fast changing Malay polity.

PAS and Amanah attempting to gain political mileage from presenting an “Islamic face” to this corruption scandal is laughable and indicative of the kind of intellectual and spiritual legerdemain that Islamist tend to use to drum up support.

It also reeks of the kind of racial politics that plagues this country but unfortunately sustains Malay political power structures. After all only in Malaysia, is a “Malay” automatically a “Muslim”.

Hence the underlying dissatisfaction expressed by these defenders of the faith is the problem that there is no evidence that illicit funding had improved the lot of the Malays in this country.

Moreover, let us face the reality that the urban Malay middle class was created by the former Malaysian Prime Minister, who is now hell bent on taking down, the current Prime Minister, who used the system the former created, to further entrench a system of patronage.

If there is no evidence that the fortunes of Muslims have improved with the House of Saud gift or the long UMNO watch for that matter, what evidence is there that Muslims fare any better under a “pure” Islamic system of governance that PAS has in Kelantan or has been advocating all these years?

Muslim utopia?

As recently as 2013, a UNICEF surveyed showed Sabah and Kelantan recorded the highest number of children living in poverty and undernourishment. The survey also found of the dire need for doctors in Kelantan.

Furthermore, Kelantan and Labuan also recorded the highest numbers in child mortality rate. The report stated: “The risk of a new-born child in Kelantan to die before reaching the age of five years old is twice higher than the risk of a newborn in Kuala Lumpur.The risk of a Malay new-born to die before reaching the age of one year old is twice as high as the risk of a Chinese new-born,”

In addition, let us not forget that Kelantan under PAS has always recorded the highest rape cases.

Amongst the numerous social problems it faces, is a high drug use amongst youths, high unemployment rate, women discouraged from entering the civil service, high percentage of female HIV cases and to my mind the worst problem of all, a state government who attempt to impose hudud, with the justification that it would solve all these problems.

I would argue that UMNO has done more for Muslims in this country by doing nothing for them or at least chaining them to a feudal system of governance, than PAS who through Islam has done everything in its power to envision a Muslim utopia.

No sense of logic

Meanwhile “spiritual advisor” to Amanah, Ahmad Awang – what does a spiritual advisor actually do – said that things have gotten worse for Muslims. He comes to this conclusion with:

1. “[…] none of the Islamic movements was given government aid.”

So let me get this straight. Federal and state governments have at their disposal various instruments that supposedly offer aid to Malaysians based on their race and religion.

Millions of ringgit have been used [or so we are told] to help Muslims in this country. Then why is there a need for Islamic movements? The answer is simple of course. All these so-called Islamic movements and charities are part of a cottage industry that have blossomed under the long UMNO watch.

These so-called movements are there to sustain a system of governance and to profit its members and superficially to alleviate the plight of the Malay underclass.

2. “Even if Najib has an NGO (that he aided), it would be the ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderate) ones…”In other words, the so-called spiritual advisor to a supposedly moderate Islamic party is bemoaning the fact, that illicit funds could have benefited “moderate” Muslim movements.

Does anyone else see the absurdity of this, or has the recent Citizens Declaration finally drained any sense of logic and rationality from the Malaysian political ecosphere?

Apparently, not only Malaysian taxi drivers are living under a system of modern day slavery.

Recently Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar said this:

“If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practice Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you,” he said, adding: “I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia. That is your right but I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture.”

My wish was that monies from that supposed gift from the House of Saud, should have been used to help those Muslims who want to be like the “Arabs” to migrate Saudi Arabia.In this way, the real Malays would have an easier time integrating with the rest of us Malaysians.

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

Facebook Politics –Reaching out to Cambodians

March 24, 2016

Cambodia: Facebook Politics –Reaching out to Cambodians

by Caitlin McCaffrie

Facebook is a powerful tool in Cambodia, and the nation’s political leaders are all too aware of it. Caitlin McCaffrie reports. 

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has the second highest level of Facebook ‘engagement’ of any world leader, according to social media monitoring site Social Bakers.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen’s Facebook–Staying in touch

This level of engagement is unsurprising for anyone connected to the PM’s Facebook account, as he regularly posts photos from meetings he attends, selfies from hospital beds, photos of himself playing golf or relaxing at home with his family.

In addition to self-promotion, the Prime Minister also regularly uses the social media site to announce policy changes, often as a first port-of-call. In January, a week after enacting a long-awaited and generally unpopular new traffic law, the PM responded to public outcry by posting a video to his page cancelling the need for a drivers licence for anyone driving a motorbike of 125cc, declaring that anyone who had already purchased a licence should request a refund.

Such populist policy amendments may seem minor, however they create a belief that laws are malleable and that the Prime Minister wields ultimate control. Furthermore, Hun Sen’s regular Facebook ‘engagements’ work to weaken state institutions.

Last week two people arrested over an ongoing land dispute in Kampong Speu were released on bail a mere hour-and-a-half after Hun Sen called for their release on Facebook.

As well as being used to boost popular support, Facebook has also been used to target dissent. Earlier this month a teenager who made a post calling for a “colour revolution” was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. Defamation suits based on Facebook posts are becoming increasingly common, and the Deputy Opposition Leader Kem Sokha is currently embroiled in a Facebook scandal of his own, after an anonymous source posted audio he alleges is of Sokha and a mistress.

Cambodia PM Hun Sen poses for a selfie. Photo from his Facebook page.

Although only 33 per cent of Cambodians have access to the Internet, according to Asia Foundation data, 94 per cent of those who do have internet access have a Facebook account. Not only do Cambodians use Facebook for social networking, they also overwhelmingly use it as a source of news: approximately a quarter of all Cambodians use the platform as their primary source of news.

Cambodia’s two main political parties have been tapping into Facebook to boost their popularity since the 2013 election. For a long time, the opposition Cambodian National People’s Rescue Party (CNRP) has had a stronger Facebook presence and closer ties to the youth vote. Many attribute CNRP leader Sam Rainsy’s use of Facebook as a key reason for his party’s significant jump in the polls three years ago.

Since much of Cambodian media is still controlled by the state, the CNRP was forced to turn to social media accounts to get their message out, and their strategy was a huge success with the youth. As two-thirds of the Cambodian population is aged under 30, this is a critical market.

With the 2018 elections fast approaching, the CPP has been actively working to tap into the market traditionally held by the Opposition.  Although an account linked to Hun Sen’s name has been around for a few years, he only officially acknowledged ownership of it once it surpassed one million ‘likes’ in September 2015.

For many years Sam Rainsy outranked the self-proclaimed “Father of Facebook” in terms of numbers of followers. However since January Hun Sen has held the lead, and as of writing he outstrips his opponent by some 400,000 ‘likes’. Recently though, these numbers have been called into question.

Analysis conducted by Social Bakers and published in the Phnom Penh Post revealed that only 56.3 per cent of the Prime Minister’s ‘likes’ were from Cambodian accounts. His overseas support doubled in the last month, with most support originating in India, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia, bringing Hun Sen’s total foreign support to 1.25 million from an approximate total of 3 million.

The data revealed that Sam Rainsy significantly outranks Hun Sen for domestic support, and commentators were quick to suggest that the Prime Minister has been paying for overseas ‘click-farms’ to boost his numbers — an allegation he has publicly denied, claiming the support reflects his popularity overseas.

It remains to be seen whether the recent allegations of ‘like-buying’ will harm Hun Sen’s well-constructed image. Regardless, the policy of governing via social media seems set to continue in Cambodia. On 18 March a cabinet reshuffle was announced through a letter posted to the Facebook page of the Counsel of Ministers, in a move which is becoming typical.

With the 2018 election fast approaching it seems most of the race will play out on social media; for better or worse.

Caitlin McCaffrie has an interest in Southeast Asian regional politics and is currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where she works on fair trial rights and justice issues.

Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

March 23, 2016

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) interviews Malaysian Insider editor

On March 14, The Malaysian Insider abruptly closed its editorial operations less than a month after the state media regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, blocked local access to its news site.

The Edge Media Group, owner of The Malaysian Insidersaid in a statement that despite the site’s “courageous news reporting” it “did not receive enough commercial support to keep it going.” In a statement posted on The Malaysian Insider website, Editor-in-Chief Jahabar Sadiq confirmed the site was closed for commercial reasons.

The closure of the English language portal comes amid a government clampdown on independent media, particularly outlets that have critically covered the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. In recent months, CPJ has documented how authorities have censored, harassed and threatened individual journalists and media outlets in retaliation for their critical coverage.

In an email interview, Sadiq spoke about the government pressure his now-shuttered site experienced and the broad deterioration in press freedom in Malaysia.

CPJ: Last month, The Malaysian Insider’s website was blocked by the state’s media regulator. What article did authorities cite to justify the censorship and why did they consider it sensitive?

Sadiq: Until today there is no official explanation by way of a letter to The Malaysian Insider as to the reasons for the block. All we have is a minister saying we were blocked for an article that was confusing the people of Malaysia and a foreign ministry statement saying that the article was a threat to national peace and harmony.

The news related to an unidentified panel member in the local anti-graft authority saying they had prima facie evidence to back criminal charges against the Prime Minister over a huge sum of money found in his private bank accounts. The Attorney-General had earlier said there was insufficient evidence for a charge.[EDITOR’S NOTE: Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.]

CPJ: Before the commission’s censorship order, did The Malaysian Insider face any official harassment, warnings or threats over its critical news coverage, including of the 1MDB scandal?

Sadiq: We faced investigations for another case last year, but not related to this. However, the Internet regulator issued a general warning to all news portals last July over news coverage, specifically the 1MDB scandal, and the need to avoid using “unverified” news from other sites. There has always been unofficial harassment and threats by supporters and activists linked to the government.

CPJ: How did the government’s blockage of your news site impact your readership? Were readers able to work around the block or was your site, in effect, blacked out?

Sadiq: Our news site saw traffic decline up to 30 percent after the block. Most readers were able to work around the block and traffic remained ahead of other news portals, but eventually it affected our earnings more as advertisers pulled out. In a sense, that loss of revenue led to a permanent blackout.

CPJ: How did the censorship impact your news site’s financial situation? Do you think Najib’s government has a deliberate policy of using economic means to bring down independent online media?

Sadiq: The block led to the permanent blackout as revenue plunged. Only one advertiser insisted on putting advertisements despite the block and, ironically, it was a government agency. I have no proof that there is a deliberate policy to use economic means, but advertising agencies have told us that government-linked companies have been discouraged from advertising with us. In our time, only one bank, CIMB, which is owned by the state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah [Nasional Berhad,] has consistently advertised with us. The others did not.

CPJ: What role, if any, did government pressure play in the final decision to close The Malaysian Insider?

Sadiq: As far as I know, there is no government pressure in the decision to close down The Malaysian Insider. The shareholders had indicated from January that they wanted to sell the business and received several inquiries. But the continued block was a factor that affected the sale price of the news portal and perhaps pushed the decision [by the Edge Media Group] to shut it down rather than sell at a lower price.

CPJ: How has Malaysia’s independent online media’s reporting on the 1MDB scandal differed from the state-influenced mainstream media’s coverage?

Sadiq: Well, it is as clear as night and day between both mainly. Several mainstream print media have tried to be as comprehensive as the online media’s wall-to-wall coverage, but the threat of losing their license has curbed them. Most of them have been defending the government in the 1MDB scandal, while the online media has reported the issues and exposés reported by foreign media and whistleblower websites.

CPJ: The Malaysian Attorney-General has proposed intensifying penalties, including possible life in prison and judicial caning, for violations of the Official Secrets Act. What impact would such revisions, if implemented, have on journalists, whistleblowers and press freedom in general?

Sadiq: The proposals, if true, are chilling. No one would want to work as journalists or if they did, they would just censor themselves rather than run the risk of jail or caning for reporting something remotely seen as a secret. There are whistleblower laws but this seems to contradict the laws that seek to keep the government transparent and accountable. Such revisions, if passed, will just mean the death of professional journalism in Malaysia, and what a sad day that would be.

CPJ: What is your broad assessment of the press freedom situation in Malaysia? Is there still a future for independent journalism, or is the government effectively moving to outlaw its existence?

Sadiq: I have always maintained that there is press freedom in Malaysia and our existence was proof of it. But I guess I am wrong now–we don’t exist. There is a future, but it is under severe attack if people shy away from funding it or think that it is someone else’s problem to fund and run it. The government does not have to do much except ensure that there is enough sycophantic media to lavish praise at it while market forces and bureaucracy stops us from doing our job.

Today, news sites can only exist and do well if they don’t actually cover the real news of governance and scandals that plague Malaysia. The authorities would be happier if we covered entertainment, gossip and travel shows. Anything else threatens their well-being and, in turn, the media’s well-being.

Reprinted from the Committee to Protect Journalists website, CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based Bangkok in where he has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 15 years.