Malaysiakini–A Story of Devotion to Web-Journalism for Democracy in Malaysia

May 25, 2018

On Two Courageous Friends (Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan) and Malaysiakini–A Story of Devotion to Web-Journalism for Democracy in Malaysia

by Marc Lourdes


Image result for Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

INTERVIEW | Malaysiakini was born in 1999, in the crucible of the Reformasi movement that sprung up in the wake of the arrest and imprisonment of then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran started the online news portal to give Malaysians an unvarnished view of what was happening in the country – the kind people were unable to get from the government-controlled mass media newspapers and TV stations at the time.

The little outlet is now one of Asia’s most influential news sites. But the journey has been perilous. In its two decades of operations, Malaysiakini has been raided by police numerous times, dragged to court and most recently faced the threat of seeing its founders incarcerated for their work.

Yet, it has also won numerous awards for its journalism and has a special place in the hearts of Malaysians the world over. More than 17 million people used the site to track the Malaysian election results on May 9 and a multitude more followed along on social media.

Anwar Ibrahim, on his release from prison on May 16 after obtaining a royal pardon, specifically thanked Malaysiakini for its work and its journalism.

I spoke to CEO Premesh Chandran to find out more about the Malaysiakini journey – and what comes after this remarkable chapter in its life.

What was the genesis of Malaysiakini?

Steven and I used to work at The Sun, and before that we were student activists. We often talked about how independent and free media propels a country forward, and we felt that independent media in Malaysia was the weak link.

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After Anwar Ibrahim was arrested in September 1998, a lot of people approached us, suggesting we start up an underground newspaper. So then I said, “Look, the internet is coming in and the government has already promised not to censor the internet. I think an online thing would work.”

This was very early days – think dial-up modems – and at the time most of the websites were just blogs.

In the 20 years you’ve been around, you’ve seen a lot of competition come and go. Yet, Malaysiakini has consistently been number one, and consistently the most trusted site in the country. Why is that?

We moved first and developed a large following very early on. And we were in multiple languages.

We really tried to run it professionally, and slowly, over time, we’ve been able to build up linkages and support across the political divide. After the 2008 elections [in which the opposition made unprecedented gains], we also reported very independently on the state governments run by the opposition.

I think we built up our brand very strongly over the years. And in 2002, we decided to go subscription. That was pivotal.

At the time, advertising was clearly not working out. So we had a choice to either go subscription or basically close down.

Nobody thought it would work but we decided to try it anyway. The idea there was: Who really wants Malaysiakini to survive? We felt our readers were our strongest backers. They would be the ones saying, “Here, I will support you.”

It was a tough route – not many people were using credit cards in those days, there was no such thing as PayPal, no subscription systems around.

So how did you make it work?

We did things like create our own prepaid cards. In those days, even prepaid cards were a rarity. And just a lot of marketing, getting the word out. A lot of people were paying in cash, paying in cheques, and we were figuring things out as we went along.

I think not having a print product helped us because when you have a print newspaper, your focus is on that and online is a stepchild. So I think because we were only digital, that helped us focus only on digital and become really good at digital.

People talk a lot about the Malaysiakini commitment to good journalism, but the technology part of your business is very underrated. Tell us a little bit about that.

We’ve been investing in technology since 2001. Because we started very early, there were not a lot of systems we could buy. If we started today, it may not make much sense to build lots of our own technology – we could just get whatever is there.

But because there was nothing there back then, we had to build a lot of our technology ourselves. So we’ve invested in our CMS, subscription system, advertising – now we work with Google – we’ve got our own HR system, CRM. We’ve done everything ourselves.

You were also an early mover into video, having spun out KiniTV a few years ago. What was the thinking behind that?

We actually launched it in 2006 and it was first called MalaysiakiniTV. At that time YouTube had just started, and the government promised broadband connections.

We felt video would be a way to really allow more people to connect. But the first three to four years were very disappointing. Broadband took a really long time to come in, people couldn’t really watch without buffering, and the cost of equipment was high.

It was only much later, around 2012 and 2013 when mobile phones became much cheaper and bandwidth costs came down, that you could see a huge jump in people watching video online. I think we were a bit too early on that and because of that we were not able to generate much revenue so we kept it small – only about three to five people.

But some of the videos we did were very important. We broadcast a series of three to four public rallies in 2007 and 2008 [Hindraf, Bersih, Bar Council]. A lot of those videos got pirated on to CDs and distributed. It was great marketing for us.

Did Malaysiakini find it hard to attract advertisers because of what it was?

That’s been true from day one. Advertisers found it difficult to advertise because we are very political, we ask tough questions, the government attacks us a lot.

Our advertising team would put up a proposal and we wouldn’t be able to get the ad dollar. So, we did earn ad money but if you look at our earnings per reader, it was much lower than what the mainstream guys were earning, even though we had a large audience.

What we’ve always done at Malaysiakini is keep our costs very low. Even top management here don’t earn as much.

With the new government in place, do you see the ad market changing for you? Will it be easier for you to operate and do business?

I think it will be definitely much easier; I think we will be getting more [advertising] campaigns.But online advertising itself is problematic for publishers generally. Facebook takes a lot of the money, Google takes a lot of the money. So we need to think of the ad market as a globalised market, it’s not just Malaysians competing. It’s not me versus The Star or NST.

The previous political hurdles will no longer be there, but that doesn’t mean we are going to earn millions and millions and millions of dollars.


Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan gives a speech in the Malaysiakini newsroom at about 4am on May 10. The team had just finished a marathon day at work that culminated in the biggest story of its existence – the 14th Malaysian general elections, which saw the BN government ousted after 61 years of rule. (Photo: Marc Lourdes)

As things stand today, what’s the percentage of your revenue split between advertising and subscriptions?

Last year, it was 70% ads and 30% subscriptions. Subscriptions have taken a bit of a hit; it used to be much more but has gone down a little bit.

When people feel disillusionment in politics, our subscriptions tend to go down. Now that people are excited about politics, our subscriptions will go up.

Malaysiakini has been fundamental to the first time we’ve had a change in government in Malaysia. What does this mean for your sense of achievement and purpose?

In many cases, people work very, very hard but don’t live to see the day. But to actually see it is very exhilarating and euphoric, almost surreal.

What comes next for Malaysiakini?

The political and regulatory environment will be easier to handle; there’ll be less business obstacles to us and we can go into more areas.

But the media field will be much more competitive. With any country in post-transition, we see this bloom of media. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to set up a news website or TV station. So I think the field is going to get really crowded.

And I’ve also seen in many countries, there’s a honeymoon period – but it only lasts six to 12 months. We will obviously be reporting critically of the government. And then the honeymoon will be over. We’re not under the illusion that we are going to be the golden boys forever.

And it’s not in our DNA to try to parrot the government and be the government’s PR agency.

Do you have plans for growing beyond Malaysia?

We’ve always talked about Malaysia as being possibly a very interesting intellectual hub for both Southeast Asia and for Asia.

We are a melting pot, we have different languages here, different ethnic groups, different religions. We speak English, so we can be connected to the Western world.

It’s a very fertile place for ideas and engagement, but has always been held back by a government that’s less than democratic. So, with those obstacles removed, we can see a lot of intellectual discussions happening, not only about how Malaysia should be in the future but how Asia should be.

So, I think there is a possibility we can position Malaysia as kind of an intellectual centre and media centre for Asia. And maybe Malaysiakini has a role in that space.

What are the most useful lessons you’ve learned over the past 19 years?

One is to be consistent. We don’t hold grudges. Mahathir [Mohamad, in his first stint as Prime Minister] tried to shut us down. But when he left and his voice was being silenced by his successor [Abdullah Ahmad Badawi], we gave him space because his views were important. So we’re very consistent with our mission – that’s one key thing.

The decision to rely on our readers and on subscription in hindsight was a good move. But we have also kept the Malay language site free, so it reaches a wide audience. So although we are talking about subscriptions, we aren’t dogmatic about it. We’re not saying that’s the only way forward.

Another good lesson is that Steven and I have this division: he looks after editorial and I look after the business. It’s very often that online media is started by journalists and editors, and they are really gung-ho about [doing] the best journalism in the world.

What they end up doing is over-investing in the journalism part and under-investing in the technology, advertising, operations, etc – because everybody who is sitting at the management table are all editors and journalists.

So I think that a key lesson would be that if you want to be successful in media, you need a good editor, you need a good technology lead – that’s really key – and you need someone looking at revenues, whether it’s advertising or subscription.

These three key aspects you can’t do without. Too many companies fail because it’s unbalanced.


MARC LOURDES is a Malaysian journalist and editor, and is among Asia’s leading experts on digital news media operations. Until recently, he was CNN’s digital director for Asia Pacific. Follow Marc Lourdes on Twitter.

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity

May 20, 2018

Fellow Malaysians–Lead a Life of Integrity

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I admire Rex Tillerson not because he was Secretary of State in the Trump Administration. He was never given the chance by the insecure and ego-centric  Donald Trump to prove his worth as America’s top diplomat. I believe, he could have done a great job in that role, given his education and experience in the private sector.

I respect him as Chairman, Exxon-Mobil, a Fortune 500 corporation, and for being a corporate executive with integrity. In his Commencement Address to his Alma Mater’s Class of 2018, he urges graduates of VMI to lead life of integrity (both personal and professional). The  Truth shall make us free, he said.

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Listen to Rex Tillerson so that we too shall be free. Let us make ourselves Malaysians with high standards of ethical leadership, and  build our country into great nation which is admired and respected by our neighbours in ASEAN and the world.  Yes, we can.–Din Merican


Senator and War Hero John McCain roils Washington

May 13, 2018

Senator John McCain roils Washington for speaking out on torture and a Trump nominee

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been receiving treatment for brain cancer, but he revived a tense debate over torture this week by speaking out against Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA. (Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. John McCain is 2,200 miles from Washington and hasn’t been on Capitol Hill in five months, but he showed this week that he remains a potent force in national politics and a polarizing figure within the Republican Party.

From his home in Sedona, Ariz., where he is receiving treatment for an aggressive and typically fatal type of brain cancer, McCain has challenged and praised the Trump administration’s actions on national security — his voice limited to news releases and Twitter.

But his declaration Wednesday in opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, has uniquely roiled the political scene. The denunciation has prompted reactions from fellow senators and a former Vice President, as well as intemperate remarks from some Republicans aligned with Trump, including a White House aide.

It has revived the fierce debate over torture and its effectiveness in extracting information in the years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — from a man who speaks from experience. McCain was held for 5½ years in a North Vietnamese prison, often deprived of sleep, food and medical care, after a jet he piloted was shot down over Hanoi.

And while McCain is not expected to cast a vote, his opposition to Haspel — based on her record overseeing controversial CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists — has injected uncertainty into her confirmation.

As Republicans and Democrats come to grips with a Senate without him, McCain has remained in Arizona, receiving visitors on the deck of his cabin.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of McCain’s closest friends, returned this week from an extended visit there and described his outlook: “One foot in front of the other.”

“We’re talking about the future,” Graham added. “We talk about what’s going on in the Mideast. I was pleasantly surprised [by his vigor], and I’m looking forward to going back.”

But there is little expectation on Capitol Hill that McCain, 81, will ever return to his old haunt as elder statesman, jet-setting diplomat, military expert and conscience of the Republican Party. That is the subtext of his forthcoming book, “The Restless Wave,” an elegiac volume set for release later this month in which McCain recounts and defends his efforts to expose and prevent torture, combat Russian expansionism and advance the postwar international order.


“Before I leave I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations,” he writes. “I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. We are citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one. Even in times of political turmoil such as these, we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it.”

McCain also questions Trump more directly in the book, acknowledging “glimmers of hope” in his foreign policy but expressing grave doubts about Trump himself.

“I’m not sure what to make of President Trump’s convictions,” he writes, adding, “The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values.”

McCain’s illness has added gravity to his opposition to Haspel, who as a senior CIA official during the post-9/11 war on terrorism oversaw “enhanced interrogations” of terrorism suspects that some — including McCain — have described as torture.

During a confirmation hearing Wednesday, Haspel pledged that she would never allow the CIA to engage in those types of interrogations under her watch. But she repeatedly declined to characterize the CIA’s previous interrogation methods as immoral, saying they were authorized under the law.

The same day, former vice president Richard B. Cheney — the leading proponent of the interrogation techniques inside the George W. Bush administration — told the Fox Business Network that the CIA’s actions did not amount to torture. He also argued, in contradiction of a Senate report on the issue, that “it worked.”

“If it was my call,” he said, “I’d do it again.”

Hours later, McCain issued a statement declaring that “the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” he said. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

That denunciation infuriated some Republicans who have seen McCain as a motivated opponent of Trump and have moved away from the more idealistic strain of conservatism that McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, has embodied.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reported Thursday that Kelly Sadler, a White House communications official, dismissed McCain’s opposition in a staff meeting, saying, “It doesn’t matter; he’s dying, anyway.”

The White House has not disputed the report. “I’m not going to comment on an internal staff meeting,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

Separately Thursday, retired Air Force Gen. Thomas McInerney said during an appearance on the Fox Business Network that torture “worked on John” during McCain’s years in captivity. “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John,’ ” McInerney said.

Neither Sadler nor McInerney has publicly apologized. Independent accounts of McCain’s time in North Vietnamese captivity do not include any suggestion that he offered material information to his captors, and McCain says the same. He did, by multiple accounts, refuse offers of early release based on his status as the son of a Navy admiral.

His defense fell to his family and some of his old friends in Washington. His wife, Cindy, tweeted a rebuke at Sadler, and daughter Meghan addressed the attacks during Friday’s broadcast of “The View,” the ABC daytime talk show she co-hosts.

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable, and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job,” she said.

She added: “My father’s legacy is going to be talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years. These people? Nothingburgers. Nobody’s going to remember you.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a sharp statement, accusing the Trump administration of hitting “rock bottom.”

“John McCain is a genuine hero — a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable,” he said. “As he fights for his life, he deserves better — so much better.”

It is possible, though unlikely, that McCain’s opposition to Haspel’s nomination could sink her prospects for confirmation. Most Democrats have opposed her appointment; Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) both cited McCain in announcing their opposition to Haspel on Friday.

Several senators have yet to announce their intentions, and one key vote belongs to Arizona’s junior senator, Republican Jeff Flake, who recently visited McCain in Sedona and said Thursday that McCain’s words were weighing heavily on his decision.

“I’ve always shared McCain’s views on torture and looked up to him on this,” he said.

Sean Sullivan, Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.–alert-national&wpmk=1

What James Comey and Donald Trump Have in Common

April 21, 2018

What James Comey and Donald Trump Have in Common

Truth is good. Truth is great. Truth is so much better than loyalty that the former F.B.I. director James Comey wrote a book about it. Much of the coverage of Comey’s new memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” has focussed on the insults its author has hurled at President Donald Trump, and on Comey’s narrative of how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, but these two topics make up relatively small parts of the book. The true subject of “A Higher Loyalty” is the goodness of James Comey. The premise is that a man whose value is truth is superior to a man whose value is loyalty, and Comey’s understanding of “truth” is as basic as Trump’s understanding of “loyalty”: he believes that there is such a thing as “all the truth” that exists outside of history, context, and judgment.

Dishonest men who value loyalty bracket the book. Early in the story, Comey narrates his career in the New York U.S. Attorney’s Office that was working to break up La Cosa Nostra. He describes vicious killers who demanded and promised loyalty but were rotten to the core—not so much, one senses in Comey’s telling, because they killed, as because they lied to one another about the killings, Mafia rules, and drugs. Two hundred pages later, he describes the now-infamous February, 2017, White House dinner during which the recently inaugurated President of the United States asked the F.B.I. director for his loyalty. Comey rightly points out that Trump has the style and the substance of a Mafia boss.

In between, Comey marches through life telling the truth. He falters at first: when he was a law student at the University of Chicago, he confesses, he sometimes fibbed about having played basketball in college. But then he found his way to truth, and even wrote to his former law-school classmates confessing the lie. (They seem to have known all along.) From that point on, truth was his sole guiding light.

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In a country whose politics have been hijacked by lying liars, a man of truth has a palpable appeal. If only we had a leader who told the truth! The longing is so strong that Michiko Kakutani, the former book critic for the Times and the author of a forthcoming book called “The Death of Truth,” devoted six paragraphs of her recent review of Comey’s book to comparing Trump and Comey. One has “autocratic instincts,” while the other is “an apostle of order and the rule of law.” One “uses language incoherently,” while the other is so devoted to truth telling that when he gave a tie decorated with tiny Martini glasses to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, he made sure to note that it was a regift. One is a narcissist, while the other wrote his college thesis on the religious ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr. The reader might wonder how exactly the last pair of characteristics stand in opposition to each other, or, indeed, who but a narcissist would consider it appropriate to inform the reading public that he not only regifted a tie but informed the recipient that it was a regift. But this side-by-side comparison of Trump and Comey—which his book all but explicitly invites—has the peculiar effect of highlighting their key similarities. Both are anti-political politicians, each of whom has a single, simple solution for how to run things.

One should wonder about the argument for the primacy of a single moral value, even if that value is truth over loyalty. Part of Comey’s zeal is prosecutorial: he headed an agency that loves to punish people for the coverup rather than the crime. For Comey, this is principle rather than method. As a U.S. attorney, he writes, he made sure that Martha Stewart went to jail—not, he stresses, because she engaged in insider trading of a kind that would have warranted but a warning, but because she lied about it. As the F.B.I. director, he hoped that his agents would catch Hillary Clinton in a lie about her e-mail servers. By this time, investigators had concluded that the use of Clinton’s private server had caused no damage, but Comey makes it clear that his primary concern and objective was to catch the former Secretary of State in a lie. The pursuit of the prosecutable lie has been a cornerstone of F.B.I. strategy, especially in its post-2001 incarnation as an anti-terrorism agency, and Comey wastes no time reflecting on its tenuous relationship to actual crime, or actual justice.

As Comey walks the reader through American history since 9/11, truthtelling is his only lens. It’s not always a good fit—it’s not clear, for example, how illegal surveillance or torture were lies, exactly, or how these crimes could have been remedied by telling the truth. By the time the story gets to the Black Lives Matter movement—which was gaining momentum when Comey was serving as director of the F.B.I., under President Obama—the moral vacuousness of an ahistoric focus on facts becomes painfully clear. Comey positions himself as the good guy because he can “tell the truth” about “both sides”: the Black Lives Matter activists and the police. In two different speeches in 2015, Comey discussed what he saw as communities of color and the police pushing each other away. “Each time somebody interprets the hashtag #blacklivesmatter as anti-law enforcement, one line moves away,” he said in a speech in Chicago, describing police and African-Americans as two arcing lines. “And each time somebody interprets the hashtag #policelivesmatter as anti-black, the other line moves away.”

During this period, Obama met with Comey to try to explain to him how his comments were coming across to black communities, including his use of the term “weed and seed” when referring to poor black neighborhoods suffering from high levels of crime. (In the 2015 speech in Chicago, Comey said, of his past work as a prosecutor in Richmond, Virginia, “We worked hard to weed those neighborhoods by removing those who were strangling it, so that seeds could be planted to allow good things to grow and fill that space . . . We did this work because we believed that all lives matter.”) Comey writes, “I hadn’t taken the time to consider how the term ‘weed and seed’—one we had been using in law enforcement for decades—might strike people, especially black people at a challenging time.” But he persisted in asserting the equivalence of “both sides”: if Comey had to give up “weed and seed,” then Obama should give up “mass incarceration,” which, Comey said, was offensive to the police: “The term was both inaccurate and insulting to a lot of good people in law enforcement who cared deeply about helping people trapped in dangerous neighborhoods.” This passage is one of the most tone-deaf and self-absorbed in a book characterized by tone-deafness and self-absorption.

The book’s subtitle contains the third keyword of the book: leadership. The words “leader” or “leadership” show up two hundred and fourteen times, to a hundred and ten instances of “truth” or “true.” It’s a hollow word: Comey thinks that a good leader is someone like his first boss at a grocery store, who didn’t lose his temper even when Comey broke a price gun or spilled milk. He thinks that he himself was a good boss because, as F.B.I. director, he coerced his employees into dressing more casually, directing both men and women to attend his morning meetings in shirtsleeves. A good leader has a sense of humor—Comey points out that both George W. Bush and Obama could laugh, while Trump does not. A good leader can listen: Bush wasn’t great at this, Obama was a master, and Trump simply doesn’t do it. All of this is undoubtedly accurate, but one wonders if a good leader—especially the leader of a country, this country—might also need vision, beliefs, values, principles, judgments.

In one striking passage, Comey describes telling F.B.I. agents that they need to get enough sleep because “when you sleep, your brain is actually engaged in the neurochemical process of judgment. It is mapping connections and finding meaning among all the data you took in during the day.” It’s a telling detail—this idea that judgment is the unconscious processing of data—and it seems characteristic of a technocratic understanding of political leadership that Comey and Trump in fact share. Comey’s conviction that a man who faces, discloses, and processes the whole truth is the best leader, is surely more appealing than Trump’s belief that a man who can run a company can manage a country. But both are equally devoid of substance.

Indeed, Trump and Comey appear to share a fundamental perception of reality. Comey begins his book with a description of surviving a break-in as a teen-ager, and frames his career in law enforcement as a reaction to what is apparently constant and mortal danger. He claims that anyone who has ever stared down the barrel of a gun sees the world in similarly catastrophic terms. (I feel compelled to say this is not a true statement.) He and Trump are looking through the same window at a terrifying, us-versus-them world. Comey is simply making the argument that, amid American carnage, a truthful man makes a better protector than a loyal one.


What it means to be Chinese

April 5, 2018

What it means to be Chinese

by James Chai

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COMMENT | Last Friday, MCA President Liow Tiong Lai wrote a piece in The Star Online called “What it means to be Chinese”. Liow started with a moving recount of his family’s struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty, and how the history of Malaysian Chinese is one of pride and joy. The piece was sincere.

Despite the fact that “MCA” was only mentioned once in the 890-word article, Liow’s main takeaway was for us to think about what it means to be Chinese before voting in the 14th general election.

Hard work and Independence

I agree with Liow when he said being Chinese means being hardworking, enterprising and independent. While I don’t agree that these qualities are natural, I do agree that they form an intrinsic part of the Chinese cultural legacy and character.

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Tun Tan Siew Sin, former Sime Darby Group Chairman, was Malaysia’s outstanding Minister of Finance. It was said of Tun Tan that even The Ringgit was scared of him.He was epitome of Prudence and Fiscal Discipline. It was my privilege to serve him as Sime Darby’s Director of Corporate Planning–Din Merican

But being Chinese is also about being aware of the reality that hard work and independence do not guarantee success. Circumstances around you, which the government has a role in shaping, are crucial as well. And these circumstances have deteriorated.

Most Chinese today are concerned with the rising prices of goods, pressures of life, and low wages. Talk on the ground is filled with abomination of the GST that has sliced profits and put many small and medium Chinese companies out of business. The weakening ringgit, unemployment, and underemployment have added insult to injury.

My parents share the same history as Liow of coming from dirt-poor backgrounds. And while we were lucky to break out of poverty, many of our relatives still struggle today. Economist Muhammad Abdul Khalid’s research has found that most Chinese are not rich as perceived. 70 percent of Chinese are wage earners, and half of those earn less than RM2,350 a month.

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Tun Lim Chong Eu–Penang’s Chief Minister–was a Man of Vision. Dato Khalid Ahmad worked with him

As Liow would attest, education occupies a special place in Chinese hearts because it carries a promise of moving upwards on the social ladder. But the inattention of the government to issues most central to Chinese education like funding, quality training, and recognition has resulted in many just baying at the elusive “final mile”.

Being Chinese means being hardworking and independent. But being Chinese also means recognising the unjust circumstances on the ground and boldly seeking political solutions.

Embracing diversity

Moreover, I also agree with Liow that being Chinese means embracing diversity and appreciating the truth that we are indeed stronger with our unique identities. We strive to progress under one umbrella where all race, religion, and creed are included.

But being Chinese also means recognising that we are regressing from that sacred goal. Since the Prime Minister attributed BN’s lacklustre performance in GE-13 to the “Chinese tsunami”, BN had evidently shifted to the right when they realised they could do without Chinese votes.

The hudud chapter (RUU 355) in 2017 symbolised a creeping monopoly of religion in this country. Growing racial intolerance against non-Muslims and non-Malays can also be seen from the public threats by Malay extremist groups. BN had not only refused to denounce such acts, but instead publicly endorsed people like red shirts leader Jamal Md Yunos as well as working closely with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

Image result for Tan Sri Robert KuokBillionaire–Philanthropist  Tan Sri Robert Kuok


The recently-passed redelineation bill that effectively created super majority Chinese and Malay seats is bound to exacerbate racial polarisation. When we are meant to move closer, politics has drawn us further apart. MCA and Gerakan MPs chose to toe the Umno line rather than vote with their conscience. The bill drew lines in the sand: a Chinese vote is now worth less, soon they will be worthless.

This proves that MCA, Gerakan, and other Chinese representatives of BN do not have equal standing with UMNO at the negotiating table. UPM researcher Lee Yok Fee has stated that MCA used to hold important Cabinet positions and have an equal say in the government. These days are gone. All component parties are like “beggars compared to UMNO”, as the late former Gerakan President Lim Keng Yaik once said.

UM researchers Lee Kam Hing and Thock Ker Pong also highlighted that UMNO’s dominance could clearly be seen when MCA didn’t oppose policies that weakened the Chinese’s standing in business, education, employment, and culture. Today, the mere fact that UMNO was allowed to speak ill of businessperson Robert Kuok without thinking twice proves that the Chinese’s influence in government is at best marginal, and at worst superficial.

Being a Chinese means embracing diversity. But being a Chinese also means being Malaysian – of being treated as an equal for all our worth.

Being proud of roots

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Dr. Ridhuan Tee Abdullah- The Infamous Chinese Islamist who forgot his roots

Last but not least, Liow was right in saying that being Chinese means being proud of your ancestral roots and heritage. The Chinese have a firm appreciation of their own history and take pride in those who made their common heritage richer. They know that, being a minority in Malaysia with a shrinking population, they must make sure they do not fade into the background.

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PKR MP Sim Tze Tzin–A People-Center Leader

The Chinese are eager to put the best of their race as representatives. They want leaders who reflect their strong will, integrity, and diligence. But the current few who represent the Chinese in government do not inspire confidence as they did in the past.

Ridden with scandals the size of PKFZ and supporting a government that accommodates debacles like 1MDB, the people have been embarrassed and humiliated.

Gone are the days where the Chinese revere the diplomacy of a Tan Cheng Lock, the astuteness of a Tan Siew Sin, and the foresight of a Lim Chong Eu. It is no wonder that the young now turn to the other side for better representation: in search of the intelligence of a Tony Pua, the progressiveness of a Hannah Yeoh, and the courage of a Liew Chin Tong.

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Politician cum Public Intellectual Liew Chin Tong– DAP’s Man of Conviction

Being Chinese means being proud of where you come from. But being Chinese also means looking for pride in who represents us.

GE14 will be a watershed moment in Malaysian history. Whichever way the Chinese will go, trust that they have fully appreciated what it means to be Chinese. When still waters start to rock the boat, we will grab onto a raft to keep ourselves afloat.

JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai.

Malaysian Joker

March 20, 2018

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I know Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim very well. We have been close  friends for a long time. At one time, we were in Parti KeADILan Rakyat helping Anwar Ibrahim who was leading the coalition Pakatan Rakyat of PKR, DAP and PAS for GE-12 in 2008.

For reasons of our own, we left PKR. Dato Zahrain rejoined UMNO while I chose to remain a private citizen and a strident critic of the Najib  administration. We have remained close friends and we did not let politics divide us.

When he was appointed our Ambassador to Indonesia, he consulted me about the nature of the job, and sought my advice. I told him to accept the appointment but added that the job would be a challenging one since it would involve representing the elected government and the country at the same time. His duty, I said, was to do a professional job.

On the basis of the feedback I got from my Indonesian friends and associates, he is a good Ambassador with close ties to the business community, the media, the politicians, civil society leaders, and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. While we may disagree on many issues, we have been have not allowed our differences to affect our friendship. In my opinion, Dato’ Seri Zahrain is not a Malaysian joker. He is our country’s Ambassador appointed by our King to represent Malaysia.–Din Merican

Malaysian Joker

Despite the probe into 1MDB in several countries, there is “no case” against it and all allegations involving it are part of a “political game”, Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim said.

“There is no case. The police, MACC and the attorney-general have studied (the 1MDB case) and found there are no elements of fraud. It is the same case in the Parliament.

“There is no theft involved, no missing funds and no illegal flow of funds from 1MDB. 1MDB is formally still in business,” he was quoted as saying.

Zahrain also said that it has been established that no money from 1MDB – started by the government to develop investment and business – had been channelled into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s personal account, as alleged in a report by TheWall Street Journal.

The RM2.6 billion in Najib’s account was instead a gift from a Saudi Arabian donor, he stressed.

Zahrain also questioned why US authorities did not liaise with their Malaysian counterparts if they were “sincere” in addressing the 1MDB issue.

Our comment

There is a simple question to be put to the latest joker to dance naked on behalf of Najib  Razak. If the Attorney General’s report exonerates 1MDB, then why was it unconstitutionally declared an Official Secret?

Furthermore, if “there is no case” how does he describe the civil case in the US, now pending whilst the criminal side of the investigation gets under way?  If there is no action, how does he describe the forceable seizure of the yacht Equanimy in Indonesia and Jho Low’s jet in Singapore?

If no imprisonments, how does he explain the present incarcerations of Khadem Al Qubaisi, Mohammed al Husseini and Prince Turki in their various jurisdictions?  All were key players in the 1MDB scams.

And why are Jho Low, Casey Tang, Jasmine Loo, Nik Faisal et al all on the run afraid to show their faces?  Why did Jho Low buy himself a St Kitts & Nevis Island passport?

Lastly, why did Riza Aziz’s personally owned company Red Granite Pictures just plead a deal with the US authorities and pony up US$61 million, in a plain admission that the money was – as stated only too clearly in the DOJ submissions – stolen from 1MDB?

Sadly, the Malaysian government has now evolved into a fully fledged criminal enterprise and its representatives have been transformed into gangsters of the sort that deny even the most glaring and obvious facts when challenged.

If the people want to be governed by such shameful shysters it is up to them, but they ought not to forgive these thieves and liars for attempting to steal the election as well as the country’s wealth.