23 November, 2006

Stupid is as stupid does


The Malaysian cabinet on Wednesday agreed to recommend switching off live televised ruling party debates, following a public outcry over racially sensitive speeches.

The cabinet said the screening of live debates should be reconsidered during the ruling party's general assembly, after some delegates made "extreme" speeches.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the live telecast was viewed as inappropriate as it gave a distorted picture of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) proceedings during its key general assembly.

"The cabinet has come to the conclusion that there are more negative than positive implications from the live telecast of the opening proceedings of UMNO," Najib, who is also the deputy president of UMNO, told reporters.

"It has given an inaccurate picture of the proceedings of the general assembly," Najib said.

He said the debates of the general assembly which were aired live on cable television had showcased at least three speeches that could be deemed as "extreme."



POLITICIANS who believe they can get away with racist remarks at their party general assemblies by stopping live telecast on TV should think again, writes WONG CHUN WAI- The Star : "No place for racist remarks"

t is no longer possible, thanks to the Internet.

The newspapers and TV stations can be directed to tone down political temperature but Internet news websites and bloggers are there to record the irresponsible words spouted by these politicians.

And thanks to free video-sharing website YouTube, we may even get to see the antics of those who get carried away with their rhetoric in the belief that they can play to the gallery, be popular and still not be held accountable for their words.

The days of politicians saying one thing in the Malay newspapers and giving another version to the English or Chinese newspapers, to cater to different audiences for political expediency, are over too.

Nothing escapes the attention of Malaysians these days and if politicians have still not woken up to this reality, then they will be haunted by the ghosts of their communal statements at the next general election.

Neither can they escape the heat by blaming the press for misquoting them. Politicians must be accountable for their words and actions. It’s that simple.

The issue is not whether the annual general meetings of communal-based parties should be telecast live. The issue is that delegates to these party assemblies must take responsibility for what they say. It’s the content, not the communication tool, that matters.

The speakers are after all picked by their respective state liaisons. The permanent chairmen of the various parties, who preside at these meetings, can interrupt to stop speakers from making remarks that are not just hurtful to other Malaysians but can be seditious in nature. In short, there is no place for issues relating to race and religion in Malaysia.

If these delegates were to carry on with their fire and brimstone speeches, then the wrong message would be sent out. Worse, Malaysians may assume that their views have been endorsed even if they were just expressing their personal views.

But when delegates speak at assemblies, they also represent their respective state or division.

In one particular case, Umno Youth information chief Datuk Azimi Daim is a state executive councillor in Kedah.

He is a senior Umno leader and should be wise and responsible enough to refrain from making remarks that might give rise to misinterpretation.

On Monday, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said future Umno general assemblies may not be telecast live, given the flak the party has received over this year’s proceedings.

Many people felt that the telecast was an inappropriate thing because it gave a distorted view of Umno proceedings.

Najib who is Deputy Prime Minister said it was up to the Umno supreme council to decide but said the leadership was seriously looking into the wisdom of having a live telecast.

He also admitted that certain speeches during the just concluded assembly were extreme, adding that delegates should realise that “when they speak, there are others outside the party who are also listening.”

The racist remarks by a few delegates created unease among the Barisan Nasional component members and have continued to be a talking point among ordinary Malaysians, who felt it was out of place in our attempts to forge national unity.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said yesterday that several Umno delegates who touched on extreme racial sensitivities during their speeches at last week’s general assembly may face action.

Najib said the party had identified several speeches which were deemed “extreme”, and would leave it to the “relevant authorities” to take action – implying the police.

According to Lim Kit Siang, Umno leaders who had committed the offences against the Sedition Act in making extremist, incendiary and seditious utterances such as:

• Malacca delegate Hasnoor Sidang Hussein who stated that “Umno is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defence of race and religion”;

• Umno Youth exco member Azimi Daim, who said “when tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins”;

• Perlis delegate Hashim Suboh, who directed his question at Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein: “Datuk Hisham has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham when is he going to use it.”

• Razak Idris, Ketua Penerangan Pemuda Umno Terengganu who said that “Hak Orang Melayu tidak boleh dicabar, jika tidak orang Melayu akan mengamok, peristiwa Mei 13 akan berulang yang ianya akan lebih teruk daripada tahun 1969 yang akan menjadikan Kuala Lumpur padang terkukur”.

• Former Minister, former Barisan Nasional and Umno secretary-general Datuk Mohamad Rahmat who warned that the Malays can run amok.

Malaysia's government regularly cautions its constituents that open and honest dialogue of the "sensitive" subject of race is strictly off limits. Writes Ioannis Gatsiounis - Asia Times "The racial divide widens in Malaysia"

Then comes along the week-long United Malays National Organization (UMNO) annual assembly, at which Muslim Malay party leaders warn the country's minority Chinese and Indians that questioning the special status of Islam and Malays in society will be met with violent doom.

Remarks by Hasnoor Hussein, an UMNO delegate from Malacca, were typical: "UMNO is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood to defend the race and religion. Don't play with fire. If the [other races] mess with our rights, we will mess with theirs."


What troubles many Malaysians about UMNO's lack of restraint is that it comes at a time when the country appears more racially polarized than it's been in decades. Malaysia's mix of ethnic Malays, Indians and Chinese has long been resentful of each other and willfully segregate themselves. Those resentments exploded into full-blown race riots in 1969, when ethnic Malays attacked and killed scores of ethnic Chinese.

n the face of a creeping Islamization, non-Malays and social activists have recently pressured Malaysia's UMNO leadership to grant equal rights to all of the country's citizens regardless of race or religion - as is guaranteed under the federal constitution.

In particular, they have also become more vocal in questioning a controversial affirmative action program intended to help Muslim Malays catch up economically with the ethnic Chinese, who comprise 60% and 25% of the population respectively.

Started in 1971, the so-called New Economic Policy (NEP) was originally intended to last 20 years but has since been extended indefinitely. That's because, according to the government, its target of 30% Malay ownership of the country's total corporate equity still has not been achieved. According to official statistics, that percentage now hovers around 18%. Yet a study conducted by an independent academic last month contested that figure by claiming that ethnic Malay total equity ownership could already be as high as 45%.

The push for more democracy in authoritarian Malaysia leaves its ethnic Chinese and Indian minority groups particularly vulnerable - a fact reflected in the racial bashing at this year's UMNO assembly. At the same time, UMNO's preoccupation with racial politics raises growing doubts about its ability to lead the country forward faced with the challenge of China's economic emergence. The party leadership has openly acknowledged the need for Malaysia to change course if it is to remain competitive with its fast-rising neighbors.

Economic growth slowed from 7.2% in 2004 to 5.2% last year, while foreign investment dropped 15% to $3.9 billion. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has promoted his concept of Islam Hadhari, or Civilizational Islam, a modernist interpretation of the faith that stresses moderation and technological and economic competitiveness. In that direction, his party has also introduced plans to transform Malaysia into a regional information technology, agricultural and biotech hub.

"We need an economic transformation," Abdullah said in his opening address at the UMNO assembly. Yet tight curbs on personal freedoms, implemented to curb racial tensions, have hindered the open inquiry and innovative spirit necessary to achieve Abdullah's vision. The next phase of economic development will require coincident social transformation, reforms the current race-obsessed political leadership is reluctant to implement.

Oddly, UMNO was once a progressive party, championing what seemed a viable vision to improve equity among the races. Even into the 1990s, under the iron-fisted leadership of Mahathir Mohamad, UMNO looked primed to lead Malaysia toward developed country status. The shimmering steel and glass that spangle Kuala Lumpur's skyline are remnants of that now fading vision.

But the plan went awry as UMNO became politically entrenched in power. Meanwhile, Malaysia's social development and technical know-how has not kept pace with its infrastructural achievements. A common concession in Malaysia, even among its own leadership, is that the country has first world infrastructure but a Third World mentality. Now, that dubious distinction is becoming increasingly obvious to outsiders.

The country's leadership must take much of the blame. UMNO has clung to old solutions, such as the NEP, to fix new problems. Put another way, UMNO, which has ruled Malaysia for four-plus decades through a coalition of other race-based parties, has become bitter, cynical and defensive - a party that is emphasizing preservation at the expense of progress.

Even younger UMNO members, once portrayed as idealistic, urbane and liberal, have quickly come to resemble the party's conservative old guard. And now they often represent the front edge of the party's increasing racist angst. For instance, Abdullah's Oxford-educated son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, who is coincidentally the deputy chief of UMNO's youth wing, warned in September that Chinese political groups would try to take advantage of any split inside UMNO.

When pressured to apologize, according to media reports, the 31-year-old said, "What is there to apologize for? ... I am only defending my race." At the annual assembly, meanwhile, UMNO youth chief Hishammudin Hussein urged the government to reject proposals for an inter-faith commission intended to foster better understanding among Malaysia's various religious groups.

He brandished a Malay dagger, known locally as a keris, when speaking. Some delegates, it seemed, urged him to go further. "Datuk Hisham has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham, when is he going to use it?" said UMNO Perlis delegate Hashim Suboh.

Non-Malays are seeking to exploit the fiery tone of the UMNO assembly to their own political advantage. Liow Tiong Lai, youth chief of the Barisan Nasional component of the Malaysian Chinese Association, said the day that the assembly wrapped up, "All of us are Malaysians in this multiracial country and hatred must not exist. Instead, we must find strength in diversity. We must inculcate love and unity among the races in order to overcome obstacles together."

Malays and UMNO party members will question the sincerity of such remarks, and not without reason. Following UMNO's example, all of Malaysia's major political parties are explicitly race-based, and all have been known to play the race card to shore up their support bases. But only UMNO has the weight of an assembly that has incited anger, mistrust and ridicule of other races.

This year's assembly could mark a dangerous turning point for a country that not long ago was often applauded internationally as a model moderate Islamic nation for its seeming religious tolerance and clear economic achievements. Nowadays, it's altogether unclear if a racially charged UMNO can even manage to maintain short-term social and political stability.



Malaysia 81 on list of flawed democracies

Malaysia is a "flawed democracy" and falls nearly at the bottom of the list, below Mongolia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia, Timor Leste and Palestine in a new Democracy Index developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The index, which is available in The Economist's annual publication The World in 2007, grades 167 countries out of 192 independent states according to their degree of democracy.

The index looks at 60 indicators across the five categories of electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture.

Countries are spread across four regime types Ð full democracies (28 countries), flawed democracies (54), hybrid regimes (30) and authoritarian regimes (55).

"Sweden leads the pack with a near-perfect score followed closely by Iceland and the Netherlands.

"By contrast, the United States (ranked 17th), Britain (23rd) and France (24th) are near the bottom of the full democracy category," a press statement from The Economist said.

South Africa leads the "flawed democracy" category at 29th position, followed by South Korea at 31, Taiwan 32, India 35, Mongolia 56, Sri Lanka 57, the Philippines 63, Indonesia 65, Timor Leste 65, Bangladesh 75, Hongkong 78 and Palestine 79.

Malaysia ranks 81, sharing the spot with Bolivia at the bottom of the category.

The statement said "flawed democracies" were concentrated in Latin America and eastern Europe.

"Many of these countries remain fragile democracies. Levels of political participation are generally very low and democratic cultures are weak," it said.

Malaysia, however, remains ahead of Singapore (84), Thailand (90) and Cambodia (105) which fall under the "hybrid regimes" category, of which Iraq (112) anchors.

Pakistan (113) tops the list of "authoritarian regimes" while North Korea ranks last. In between are China (138), Vietnam (145), Laos (155) and Myanmar (163).

The Economist said more than half of the world's population lived in a democracy of some sort, although only 13% reside in full democracies.

"Despite the advances in democracy in recent decades, almost 40% of the world's population still live under authoritarian rule," it said.

It added that after decades of progress, the most recent global trends in democratisation have been negative, signalling a pause in the spread of democracy.

Report Here.


Meanwhile, Malaysia signed a deal worth 417 million ringgit (US$114 million; €88.7 million) Wednesday to acquire fighter trainers from Italy's Alenia Aermacchi SPA.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force will use the eight MB-339 jets to train its next generation of pilots to fly advanced aircraft, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Malaysia will receive the trainers in stages starting early next year, the statement added.

The acquisition is also expected to help speed up Malaysia's talks with Italian officials to boost landing rights for flights to Rome and Milan, the ministry said.

Defense Minister Najib Razak said earlier this year Malaysia wanted Aermacchi fighter jets to add to 10 similar planes currently used for training purposes to produce better pilots to fly sophisticated Russian-made Sukhoi fighters that the air force will receive soon.


3 Malaysian Palm Oil Entities to Merge.

Three of Malaysia's largest palm oil producers are to merge, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister said Thursday, a fusion that could potentially create the world's biggest biofuels company and its largest publicly-traded palm oil entity.

Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd., Sime Darby Bhd. and Golden Hope Plantations Bhd. all halted trading in their shares and listed subsidiaries Thursday, ahead of the announcement that could come as early as Monday, according to industry executives. The companies are under the government fund manager Permodalan Nasional Bhd. umbrella.

"This is a PNB initiative," Najib Razak told reporters Thursday, referring to Permodalan.

"They want to rationalize the companies within the group ... They believe the companies should be consolidated," Najib said. "We (the government) support the move by PNB."

The deal will create the biggest listed palm oil producer in the world in terms of output and market value, analysts said. The new entity could be merged under a new company called Synergy Drive. Malaysia Boleh !!

"The one good reason I can see is that they can benefit from combined hectarages," said Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Peter Chin said. "They would be able to synergize in their mills and refiners" while reducing cost and improving efficiency, he added

The government has said it would attempt to streamline its enterprises in a bid to cut costs and reduce overlap in businesses. It has also said it would push Malaysia's palm oil producers to develop its biofuels industry, which has attracted attention as countries try to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

Malaysia is the world's biggest palm oil producer, and its companies are also big players in neighboring Indonesia, another major producer of the edible oil.

Palm oil and soybean oil are the world's top edible oils, but palm oil is becoming a top ingredient in biofuel as well.

Biofuels development could require companies to revamp, or build new, plants for expanded production, and a merger is likely to save on cost.

A combination of the three companies' palm oil businesses will yield annual revenue of at least $2.02 billion and yearly operating profit of around $248 million.

The three companies also have a total 1.3 million acres of land in Malaysia and Indonesia planted with oil palm, producing more than 2.1 million tons of crude palm oil annually _ equivalent to 13 percent of Malaysia's total output.





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