30 April, 2007

"You Can't Kill Journalism"

"You Can't Kill Journalism"
(Interview with Wilf Mbanga)

Zimbabwean publisher and editor Wilf Mbanga will mark this year's World Press Freedom Day (May 3) in Britain, along with several other reporters from his country who have fled the repressive regime of President Robert Mugabe. As the political and economic difficulties gripping Zimbabwe have intensified, so have government's efforts to clamp down on journalists covering the crisis.

Media is restricted in its activities by legislation, notably the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which requires all reporters and media organisations to register with the Media and Information Commission (MIC), controlled by government.

The law has enabled officials to take action against press outlets which have been critical of Mugabe's rule, such as Zimbabwe's sole privately-owned daily -- the 'Daily News'. This paper was denied registration, and shut down in 2003.

In addition, journalists who work without MIC authorisation face legal action. But, this may be the least of the dangers facing them, as the recent abduction and murder of Zimbabwean cameraman Edward Chikomba suggests. A former employee of the state broadcaster, he was reportedly beaten to death, and his body dumped outside the capital of Harare in March.

The killing has been linked to Chikomba's alleged leaking to international media of footage showing the injuries sustained by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, during a Mar. 11 prayer meeting in Harare that was violently dispersed by police. Images of the battered Movement for Democratic Change official were viewed around the world, prompting renewed criticism of the situation in Zimbabwe. Foreign correspondents are effectively blocked from working in the country.

Mbanga has responded to these challenges by editing and publishing a weekly, 'The Zimbabwean', outside his country -- then getting the papers back across the border into Zimbabwe. He spoke to IPS writer Moyiga Nduru about the difficulties faced in putting out the publication.

IPS: Where do you publish?

Wilf Mbanga (WM): We publish simultaneously in London and Johannesburg. Since the draconian AIPPA laws were promulgated in 2002, five newspapers have been closed. This makes it impossible for us to operate in Zimbabwe.

On top of that, there's a hit list of 27 names…Somebody posted a copy of the list to me; we think it's a scare tactic. We scanned and published it in 'The Zimbabwean'…There are only two journalists on that list -- myself and Gift Phiri, our correspondent in Zimbabwe. The rest are politicians and civic leaders such as Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku.

IPS: What's your circulation?

WM: We began with 5,000 copies in 2005. Now we distribute 40,000 copies weekly…We could send more if we had the means. The problem is transport…Interestingly, there's also demand for second-hand newspapers. People read it and sell it.

IPS: How is the newspaper delivered to Zimbabwe?

WM: We move the papers by road transport; it's expensive to transport it by air. In Zimbabwe, it's sold freely on the streets of Harare and Bulawayo.

IPS: Doesn't this indicate a certain tolerance for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe?

WM: You can't say there's freedom in Zimbabwe…The government monopolises the media: it owns two dailies and four weeklies. Zimbabwe's only TV station and radio stations are owned by the government…They refused to grant licences to private radio and television stations. They have gone to the extent of confiscating radio sets in rural areas so that people cannot listen to foreign news.

IPS: Do officials tamper with your newspaper in any way?

WM: So far they haven't tampered with it, but they intimidate our vendors. Recently, a (cabinet) minister was spotted buying a copy of 'The Zimbabwean' and reading it (laughing)…There's incredible thirst for news in Zimbabwe…I have got people on the ground who send me stories and pictures whenever something happens. Some of them are not even journalists.

IPS: Recently, Gift Phiri was reported as having been abducted and tortured by state security agents. What is his situation at present?

WM: Gift has joined the long list of journalists who've been arrested and tortured. He's much better now, but they broke his fingers, which makes it difficult for him to type. The beatings on his soles and buttocks were severe. For days he could not stand or sit. He's undergoing psychological counseling; he wakes up in the middle of the night screaming that they are coming to get him…More than100 journalists have been arrested, detained and tortured in Zimbabwe since 2002. No-one has been convicted (for these crimes).

IPS: How many journalists have left Zimbabwe?

WM: I don't have the figure. But almost the entire staff of the 'Daily News' has left the country. It was the largest employer of journalists in the private media.

IPS: How do you see the future of journalism in Zimbabwe?

WM: You can't kill journalism. We have young talented journalists who are interested in getting stories out.

IPS: There are claims that your paper receives funding from Britain, which Mugabe has long accused of seeking to destabilise Zimbabwe. What's your reaction to this?

WM: This is not true. We appeal for funding from well wishers. We got assistance from organisations such as the Open Society (in South Africa), Free Voice and Press Now in the Netherlands. We have not received assistance from the British establishment…We have attacked the British government in our editorials. We don't see eye-to-eye with the British government on asylum cases for Zimbabweans.

(But) they don't kick us out of Britain for criticising them. They don't accuse us of being a puppet of Mugabe or Zimbabwe.


Anwar alleges fraud in poll loss

Anwar Ibrahim has alleged electoral fraud after he suffered a blow to his political comeback when his opposition party was defeated by the government in a by-election.

The weekend poll for a state assembly seat took on national importance when Anwar used it to re-enter politics before a general election expected this year. The contest was seen as a proxy fight for the future leadership of Malaysia between Anwar and Najib Razak, the deputy prime minister. Both men headed the campaigns for their parties' candidates.

His People's Justice party said it would lodge a protest over alleged irregularities in the by-election.

The National Front government increased its majority (from the 2004 general election) in Ijok district, winning 59 per cent of the votes after spending heavily on infrastructure projects there.

Anwar has said he will stand against Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister, in the next election and had hoped the Ijok polls would revive the fortunes of his party, which lost four of its five parliamentary seats in the 2004 general election.

Analysts say he has no hope of regaining power unless he rejoins the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), from which he was ousted in 1998. Abdullah and Najib have opposed his return to Umno, but he still enjoys support among the party's ranks.

Anwar's re-entry into Umno could pose a threat to Najib's hopes of succeeding Abdullah as prime minister. During the Ijok election, Anwar raised questions about Najib's possible link to a murder case and allegations over military procurement deals overseen by Najib in his role as defence minister.

The allegations have threatened to weaken his standing in Umno.

Najib denies any association with the murder victim, a Mongolian beauty who was the mistress of Razak Baginda, a political analyst close to Najib.

The analyst and two government bodyguards are due to go on trial in June for their alleged roles in the murder.

The defence ministry last week denied allegations by Anwar that hefty commissions had been paid to middlemen in its purchase of Russian aircraft and French submarines.

I am sad for Malaysia - Anwar

Former deputy premier and PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim in response to his party’s defeat in the Ijok by-election.

“I have been talking about the fraudulent process all the while but I did not think it was going to be so bad … intimidation and blatant bribery … the whole conduct of the election today,” he said.

Top Keadilan leaders were absent when the results were announced. Anwar said the by-election was ridden with phantom voters and police harassment against the opposition.

“We will launch an official protest on a charge of fraudulent conduct of the election,” he said.

However Election Commission secretary Kamaruzaman Mohamad Nor had earlier dismissed the oppositions allegations.

“There are no phantom voters,” he said. “You have to follow our (electoral) list,” he said.

“The confusion arised because they used another electoral list,” he added, referring to the commission’s official list of voters.

The ruling coalition has fended off a spirited opposition campaign led by Anwar to retain the semi-rural Ijok seat in Selangor with an increased majority.

Reflecting on the party’s loss, Anwar said he remained optimistic of the people’s support for PKR.

“It is a very good turning point as I was able to articulate our views but we are dealing with a dirty process here,” Anwar said.


29 April, 2007

Thailand : Buddhism the state religion, a “useless and dangerous” proposal

Monks hold protests, urging the Constitutional Assembly to recognise Buddhism as the national religion, “to preserve and improve the profession the faith”. The population, politicians and religious, maintain that the proposal is both useless and dangerous and warn: “it could aggravate tensions in the South”.

The proposal to insert Buddhism as the state religion within the new Constitution, currently being finalized, has little support among Thai people. The proposal was put forward by monks from the Buddhism Promotion Foundation and the Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand, who have been peacefully rallying before Parliament in Bangkok for the past ten days in efforts to pressure the Constitutional Assembly, (CDA) to “protect Buddhism”, by elevating it to the ranks of a National Religion, within the Constitution.

The monks appeal has re-awakened a ten year old debate. The front pages of the main newspapers speak of little else. Even if the CDA has promised to evaluate the request, the chances that it will come to pass are few. Noranit Sethabutr, Chief of CDA appealed to the protesters “ may I suggest all Buddhists to reconsider their request and listen to other people faiths as they were also Thai”. Yesterday an advisor to interim premier Surayud Chulanont, also warned of the grave risks this proposal ran: it could aggravate tensions in the Southern provinces, where relations between the Muslim and Buddhist communities are already strained”.

Neither are the monks and people of the countryside in favour of this move; many feel that the recognition of Buddhism as a state religion “will do little to guarantee the correct practice of Buddha’s teachings”. Out of a total population of 62.8, 95% are Buddhist with 4% Muslim and 1% other including Christian. There are only 300,000 Catholics in Thailand including hill tribe inhabitants.

Saknarin Keun-onn, the youngest CDA member, has invited the protesters to see the positive aspects of the future constitution, which aims to “guarantee a greater participation for the people of the nation in the country’s political life”.

In order to be approved, a draft text of the Constitution will have to pass a referendum vote due to take place in September.
(AsiaNews IT)

Related Topics

Thais Debate Making Buddhism the State Religion - Asia Sentinel
Junta backs call for state religion - Bangkok Post
Buddhism Was Never A Thai State Religion! So, What Are Those Fanaticism About?- Nation Weblog


Farewell Freelunch !

As promised. After Ijok. THE END.

Jumpa lagi, di mana-mana.
It's been an amazing journey.


Good Luck, take care !


Indian migrant worker tortured to death

I cannot believe a human being can brutally inflict such torture and degrade another person to such an extent. Just like I cannot believe the
gruesome murder of a Mongolian beauty whose body was blown to bits. Malaysia, I weep, for thou.

R Ganesh, 28, from Tamil Nadu, allegedly tortured and starved by his Malaysian employer, has died !

Reports said Ganesh, who had come to Malaysia to work, had allegedly been beaten up by his employer and his family in their factory in Penang state, scalded the youth with hot water and chained him up without food for several days before dumping him in the jungles of Kedah. He had to work from 8 am to midnight each day and was not given any day off or proper food for the past eight months.

"They hit me with sticks, rubber hose and iron rod. I was also deprived of food and water. They chained my hands and legs before locking me up in a dark room in their house every night," he was quoted as saying.

Authorities had detained his employer, who owns a sauce factory, and his wife for investigations into voluntarily causing grievous hurt to Ganesh. But now police have re-classified the case as murder following his death.

According to New Straits Times, the three suspects in the case had previously been accused of abusing their Indonesian maid by pouring hot water on her. The couple and their son had allegedly mistreated the maid in 2005. However, the case was settled amicably after they allegedly paid off the maid and sent her home.

Thousands of Indians sell their land and pawn their family's property to pay the job agents to find them a job here. However, their dreams are often shattered when they realise that they have been duped by the agents and the promised job and salary do not materialise

The Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is waiting for the decision of the family of migrant worker R. Ganesh on whether to conduct funeral arrangements for him here or to send the body back to his village.

Deputy Indian High Commissioner Nagendra Kumar Saxsena said yesterday that the commission had already informed the family in India and was waiting for their permission to take the body from the hospital.

"Ganesh’s family members are in a state of shock after being told of his death here," he said. "They want to know how he died. They want justice."


28 April, 2007

Anwar Loses State Assembly Seat to Ruling Party

The Malaysian opposition party of Anwar Ibrahim lost a state assembly by-election to the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in the first test of Anwar's standing since his release from prison in 2004.

Parthiban Karuppiah from Barisan Nasional received 5,884 votes for the seat in Ijok, a rural district 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of Kuala Lumpur. Khalid Ibrahim of Anwar's Keadilan party got 4,034 votes. Election officer Haris Kasim announced the results after today's balloting.

The election, which captured national attention, was regarded as a test of whether Anwar's call for changes to the economic policies of the ruling party -- which he was once slated to lead -- has resonance ahead of general elections likely to be held within 12 months. It was the first campaign Anwar had actively participated in since being freed.

``I am sad for Malaysia,'' Anwar said in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur after the results. ``I've been talking about the fraudulent process all this while, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad.''

Anwar, 60, said the outcome in Ijok, in Selangor state, was influenced by police intimidation, bribery and phantom voters.

He had said in an interview April 24 that Khalid could only lose if Prime Minister Abdullah's Barisan cheated by doctoring the voter registration roll or bussing in voters from outside the constituency.

Khalid is the former chief of Malaysia's biggest state asset manager, Permodalan Nasional Bhd.

`Victory for Harmony'

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters in Ijok after the result that the outcome ``is a victory for harmony. It's our desire to fulfill the aspirations of the people of this place. God willing, we will fulfill all our election promises.''

Anwar was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's chosen successor before he was sacked as deputy premier in 1998 and jailed for sodomy and corruption.

Anwar said the charges were made up, and tens of thousands took to the streets to protest his arrest and subsequent convictions. In 2004, the sodomy conviction was overturned by the country's highest court, though the corruption verdict prevents him from running for office until April 2008.

Malaysia's top politicians made a beeline for the dirt-poor constituency during the campaign period, with the government speeding up infrastructure development in a bid to swing voter sentiment.

Barisan Nasional has held the Ijok seat since 1964.

-By En-Lai Yeoh, Bloomberg

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Ijok latest. BN Won !

A total of 9,995 voters or 81.4 per cent of the registered voters in Ijok had cast their ballots when polling ended at 5pm.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidates, both non-voters in Ijok, were seen making their rounds of the polling stations in a last-ditch effort to woo support in the fiercely-fought by-election.

Several BN leaders were also seen at polling stations. They include MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, Gerakan president-designate Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis.

Scenes of heated exchanges of words between supporters of Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) outside polling centres marked the voting process in the Ijok state by-election in Selangor Saturday.

Both camps could also be seen canvassing for votes at the entrances to the nine polling centres in Sungai Darah, Batang Berjuntai, Jaya Setia, Bukit Badong, Kampung Ijok, Pekan Ijok, Simpang Ijok, Tuan Mee, and Pekan Berjuntai Bestari Utara.

The tense situation in Ijok over the past week spilled over to polling day today with the situation turning chaotic at the Jaya Setia polling station, Bernama reports.

The day started quite well with an early morning shower bringing temperatures down but it failed to cool down the emotions of the supporters.

Supporters of both camps shouted slogans and traded insults from the time the stations were opened at 8am.

Opposition supporters at the Jaya Setia went a step further and made an attempt to block Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s motorcade near the polling station, marring the otherwise well-controlled situation.

Speaking at a press conference here later, Najib said the incident occurred as he was heading to the Jaya Setia polling station at about 11am as part of his visit to all the polling stations.

As the Barisan Nasional booth was located beside the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) booth, the motorcade had to pass the latter to get through.

A group of about 50 opposition supporters moved in front of the vehicle Najib was travelling in and blocked his way.

“We then turned to move around them through a lane nearby but they blocked that path too,” he said.

After about five minutes the police arrived at the scene and they too were aggressively shoved aside as they tried to get near the deputy prime minister’s car.

The police however managed to bring the situation under control and cleared the way for the motorcade to pass through.

A few punches were also traded between opposition and Barisan Nasional supporters as the latter group arrived to protect the DPM's motorcade.

No one was hurt in the incident although a police motorcycle was damaged.

After the visit, the deputy prime minister’s vehicle managed to leave the booth without problems but opposition supporters placed flower pots in the path of the rest of the motorcade and one of the supporters even sat on the hood of the first car.

The rowdy situation continued for about 10 minutes before the police once again intervened to allow the cars to leave.

The tension started growing as soon as the nine polling stations were opened at 8am and it was especially bad at the Bukit Badong, Tuan Mee and Jaya Setia polling stations.

“I visited all the polling stations and the situation was under control everywhere except the Jaya Setia station.

“It is a public road and it should be open for everyone including Barisan Nasional and PKR members to use without obstruction,” he said, adding that supporters should show respect for the democratic process and not cause any interference.

Najib said he was happy with the high spirits of the Barisan Nasional supporters and called on more voters to come and cast their votes in the afternoon.

He said the sentiment among the voters was pro-Barisan Nasional and he hoped it would translate into a win for the party.

Meanwhile, according to Malaysiakini, police have raided the office of Putra Post, a pro-Dr Mahathir Mohamad tabloid, in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The raid followed a report lodged against the tabloid, which has been widely circulated in Ijok in the run-up to today’s by-election.

According to Mohamed Nawi,utra Post editor-in-chief, the police told him that the report alleged that Putra Post was operating without a permit from the Internal Security Ministry.

The police report also touched on an article concerning Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and other reports regarding Umno and the Ijok by-election.

Mohamed Nawi said among the writers of the articles were Raja Petra Kamarudin and former parliamentarian Ruhanie Ahmad.

The tabloid is published by Pancawarna Enterprise and printed by Kam Heng Printers in Sri Kembangan.

The article on Najib in Putra Post’s latest addition was penned by Ruhanie.

According to the article, the deputy premier is the target of a concerted and coordinated political conspiracy aimed at getting him out of Umno.

Among others, it stated: “As of today, it is an open secret that a group of individuals are working, openly or covertly to marginalise Najib through a cabinet reshuffle or the general election.”

The tabloid also carried reports that were critical of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his son-in-law Khairy Jamaludin.

Yesterday (Friday), Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he was not worried by the return to politics of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, who is campaigning in a critical by-election.

He also stood by his deputy Najib Razak, who is leading the campaign for the ruling coalition in the poll, and has faced allegations of links to the gruesome murder of a Mongolian model.

"I'm not worried," Abdullah told reporters, when asked about Anwar's return to the political stage.

"If people want him, he becomes popular, if people don't want him, he will not be popular. In politics that's what it is. I've been in politics a long time. I've faced him before," he said.

Najib has been at the centre of the fight, with opposition parties alleging links with the sensational murder of the Mongolian model last year.

The model's lover, prominent political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, has ties with Najib and is charged with abetting in the crime. Two police officers in an elite squad protecting Abdullah and Najib are accused of the murder.

However, Najib has vehemently denied knowing the woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, or any involvement in the case.

"Najib does not have any links to the allegations they have made. I am confident with Najib as a deputy prime minister," Abdullah said.

"Those are attacks that should not be made by the opposition parties. They are personal attacks to win votes," he said.

Latest Update (9:00 PM)

The Barisan Nasional (BN) retaining the semi-urban Ijok state seat with an increased majority of 1,850 votes in today's keenly-fought by-election.

BN's K. Parthiban polled 5,884 votes while Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) received 4,034 votes in the straight fight.

There were 134 spoilt votes.

Returning Officer Haris Kassim announced the results at 8.42pm.

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27 April, 2007

Anwar Failed To Fulfil Aspirations Of The Chinese ?

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak believes Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will not get the support of the Chinese community as its advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim failed to fulfil its aspirations when the latter was an education minister.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that as such, Chinese voters would not be taken in by empty promises made by Anwar and the PKR that the party would fight for the Chinese interests, describing them as political gimmicks to fish for Chinese votes in the Ijok by-election, polling of which is on Saturday.

Najib said that when Anwar was education minister, he (Anwar) refused to abolish Section 21 (1B) of the Education Act 1991, which empowered the minister to shut down Chinese and Tamil schools, despite repeated calls to do so by the Chinese community.

In exposing the matter, Najib said that it was him when appointed the education minister in 1995 who took the courageous decision to have the section withdrawn when he tabled a new education act in 1996.

"But when Anwar was the minister, he did not want to do it because he wanted to be popular among Malay intellectuals. He is only interested in himself," said Najib.

According to him, this assured that national type Chinese and Tamil schools could continue to exist in the country.

"This was my contribution to the Chinese and Indian communities when I was the education minister... we want to ask Anwar when he was the minister (education), what he did (to fulfil the aspirations of the Chinese). When you had the power, what did you do?," he said to thunderous claps from the 1,000 odd people present.

Najib also refuted allegations by the opposition that MCA leaders were not brave enough to champion Chinese interests in the Cabinet and were mere "yes men".

"I have been in the Cabinet since 1986 to this day and I can give the assurance that the MCA leaders in it always speak out for the Chinese and the nation's overall interests.

"Maybe they are not like DAP leaders, always going around shouting this and that. But MCA leaders always discuss matters with the other leaders in the Cabinet, the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno," he said.

Meanwhile, Anwar Ibrahim, former education minister, has answered critics over his contentious move in 1987 to appoint assistant principals to Chinese-medium schools when they did not speak Mandarin.

Anwar has admitted that he was wrong in 1987 in the dispatch of staff unversed in Mandarin to become principals and senior assistants of Chinese primary schools which resulted in the subsequent Ops Lalang mass arrests.

The sensitive issues were brought on by what appeared innocuously enough as Education Ministry appointments of some 100 senior assistants and principals to vernacular Chinese schools.

This provoked a storm of protest when it was learnt that those appointed were not Chinese (Mandarin)-educated.

Politicians from the MCA, the DAP and GERAKAN, the major Chinese-based parties joined the protests and on 11 October 1987, the Dong Jiao Zong (Chinese educationists) held a 2,000-strong gathering at the Hainanese Association Building, beside the Thian Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, which evoked racially provocative speeches from the Chinese politicians present. The meeting resolved to call a three-day boycott in Chinese schools if the government did not settle the appointments issue but the boycott was called off later.

Ops Lalang was carried out on 27 October 1987 by the Malaysian police to crack down on opposition leaders and social activists. The operation saw the infamous arrest of 106 persons under the ISA and the revoking of the publishing licenses of two dailies, The Star and the Sin Chew Jit Poh and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan.

Among the more prominent detainees were the opposition leader and DAP Secretary-General Lim Kit Siang, ALIRAN President Chandra Muzaffar, DAP Deputy Chairman Karpal Singh, MCA Vice President and Perak Chief Chan Kit Chee, Dong Jiao Zhong (Chinese Education Associations) Chairman Lim Fong Seng, Publicity Chief of the Civil Rights Committee, Kua Kia Soong. PAS Youth Chief Halim Arshat, UMNO MP for Pasir Mas Ibrahim Ali and UMNO Youth Education Chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim. Although most of the detainees were released either conditionally or unconditionally, 40 were issued detention order of two years. Included were Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh plus five other party colleagues, a number of PAS members and many social activists. A categorization of the initially named detainees, numbering 97, gives the following breakdown: political parties: 37; social movements: 23; individuals: 37.

In retrospect, some of the culprits like Lee Kim Sai (MCA) escaped arrest while many opposition members and activists with nothing to do with racial incitement were put in. Most of the government party people also saw early release while the dissidents generally served detention terms up to two years.

Najib. according to Lim Kit Siang,
was in 1987 the Umno Youth leader and what he did in 1987 was even more infamous than the keris-wielding incidents involving the current Umno Youth leader, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in the context of extremist and communal demands in utter disregard of the rights and sensitivities of all races in a plural nation.

What did Najib do in 1987?

A Government White Paper entitled “Towards Preserving National Security” tabled in Parliament on 23rd March 1988 recorded that in an Umno Youth rally led by Najib on 17th October 1987, banners bearing strong words were displayed, including one which said: “SOAK IT (KRIS) WITH CHINESE BLOOD”.

Tun Dr M had also defended his human rights record, claiming that he never had anyone arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for political reasons.

"As for Ops Lallang (in 1987 when more than 100 people were detained) I can tell you I told Lim Kit Siang he will not be arrested, but then the police arrested him so I cannot just tell the police don't as they have their reason to do so.

"At that time they were playing up Chinese racial sentiments, and that's why they were detained. Not political, I don't detain political opposition and personalities under the ISA, I release them."

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Doing the Impossible: Quitting Islam in Malaysia

A Malay woman’s long battle to legally convert to Christianity highlights Malaysia’s religious and ethic divide.

Twelve years ago, when she was 26 years old, a Kuala Lumpur woman named Azlina Jailani came to a momentous decision. She converted to Christianity and changed her name to Lina Joy.

Joy, now 42, today is at the epicenter of one of the most difficult issues in Malaysian society, one that authorities are approaching with something akin to alarm. What she would like do is marry her non-Muslim boyfriend, a cook, and get on with her life. That appears to be impossible because, under Malaysian law, Joy is still a Muslim, regardless of her beliefs.

Joy has been carrying her long fight to change her religion up through Malaysia’s judicial system, starting with the High Court in Kuala Lumpur in 1999. The case is before the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest tribunal and a decision is expected soon. She is hardly the only Malay who would like to bail out of the traditional religious straitjacket, but in the face of the country’s convoluted religious mores, she is one of the very few with the moxie to fight for what she views as her religious rights.

Every Malaysian citizen over the age of 12 must carry an identification card, called a MyKad, which must state the bearer’s religion. In 1999, Joy, a sales assistant, succeeded in getting officials to change her name on the card. Although she said she had been baptized in 1998, she was not able to have the word Islam removed from the card. Her fight to do that is what got her to Federal Court.

It is not possible to be an ethnic Malay in Malaysia without being a Muslim. Apostasy or conversion is a punishable offence in most states in Malaysia, either with a fine, a jail sentence or both. Muslims, most of them ethnic Malays, make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, and dominate public institutions in an uneasy balance that has remained touchy since anti-Chinese race riots in 1969 that are presumed to have killed hundreds on either side of the ethnic divide. Some 25 percent of Malaysians are ethnic Chinese, followed by Indians with about 11 percent. Indigenous peoples and non-citizens make up the rest.

Despite the fact that one clause of the country’s original federal constitution guarantees freedom of religion, another, added later, states that “State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law, may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”. Generally, the government has sought to stay out of the issue and has referred questions over apostasy or conversion to the country’s shariah, or Islamic courts. Not surprisingly, the shariah courts have ruled unanimously that ethnic Malays must remain Muslims.

As much as anywhere in the world, unique religious strains are playing themselves out in Malaysia. While the country has been on a breakneck path to modernization for the past 25 years, its urban citizens of all ethnic groups have become more secular, with young Malays adopting miniskirts, jeans and all the accoutrements that go with modern lifestyles. Religious and government leaders have watched that with concern

Accordingly – and especially with the departure of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, an authoritarian figure who largely kept ethnic concerns isolated ‑ official Islam is stiffening its resistance. The shariah courts have refused to budge on any issues involving a change of religion. One woman, Kamariah Ali, who joined a sect and publicly renounced Islam in 1999, was ordered jailed in 2005 on charges of “insulting Islam.”

Then, last year, a mountaineering hero and Army corporal named Manyan Moorthy died of cancer and was buried in a Muslim cemetery with Muslim rites despite the fact that his wife insisted he had never converted. The civil High Court ruled that it could not overrule the shariah court that had declared him a Muslim.

“The apparent conflict of laws has arisen due to the dual court system in the country. Some have termed the shariah and civil courts parallel systems, each dealing with mutually exclusive matters of the law,” said Tricia Yeoh, Senior Research Analyst of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) a prominent local think tank. “Article 11 of the Federal Constitution clearly states that every person has the right to profess and practice his religion. However, any matter pertaining to Islam comes under the jurisdiction of the shariah court. The point of contention comes when it is unclear which court has jurisdiction. In a series of recent cases, we have seen this ambiguity come into play”.

Religious tensions have occasionally flared. Last November, Muslims gathered outside a Catholic church in Ipoh after text messages circulated claiming that the church was preparing to baptize a group of Malays, including a celebrated yachtsman, Azhar Mansor, who had sailed around the world single-handedly in 1999 without an engine. Azhar, who no longer lives in Malaysia, is widely believed to be a quietly practicing Christian although he has publicly denied it. Although the messages proved to be false, authorities were forced to move in to forestall violence. Unverified accusations of mass conversions into Christianity by Malays have been swirling in the press and on-line, further stoking the fire.

In an attempt to defuse the tension, the Chief Justice of Malaya, Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, has promised that the nation’s highest court will soon deliver its judgment Joy’s case.

“It is the next change. It will be sooner than you think," Ahmad Fairuz said. Observers believe the case, which has been under appeal for more than two years, has been stalled over worries of social unrest.

Given the delicate racial balance, the Malaysian government is taking no chances with what they regard as a potential time bomb. The 40-year-old ethnic riots remain fresh in Malaysian minds, along with a 1950 custody case in Singapore that sparked the worst ethnic unrest in that city. In that case, the High Court in December 1950 awarded custody of Maria Hertogh, then 13, to her biological Dutch-Catholic parents after she had been raised as a Muslim following the family’s separation during World War II. Ensuing riots claimed 18 lives, and injured as many as 173 people with huge losses in property.

The attorney general’s chambers announced recently that it was considering establishing a commission to study sensitive cases like Joy’s, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz. The commission, if it comes to into existence, is expected to include religious leaders of all faiths. The government wants a system in which disputes such as conversion, especially when it involves children, can be addressed in an extra legal manner. Nazri was quoted in Parliament defending the delay in Joy’s case because “it is very sensitive and we have to consider the consequences. Even if it is made in the right decree, the acceptance may be difficult,”

An unofficial coalition of activists, lawyers, non-governmental organizations and scholars, who call themselves Article 11 after the freedom-of-religion clause in the federal constitution, has been campaigning for religious freedom for all Malaysians, but stopped after experiencing a backlash from Muslim-Malay protesters, compelling the government to step in. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told Article 11 to cease discussions on faith. “If the discussions are not kept in check or contained,” he said, “they are bound to raise tension in our multi-religious society. Religious issues are even more sensitive than ethnic issues.”

The most recent incident was the alleged forced separation of a Muslim woman, Siti Fatimah, from her husband, Suresh Veerapan, who contends that Siti is no longer a Muslim and is a practicing Hindu born to Muslim parents, whose name is actually Revathi Masoosai. Islamic officials charged Siti Fatimah with committing apostasy and ordered for her sent to a “rehabilitation” center for almost 100 days. Her detention was extended another 80 days last week. In an interview with the television network Al Jazeera, Siti Fatimah’s mother said she would raise the couple’s 15-month-old grand daughter as a Muslim.

Tricia Yeoh believes that the only way forward is to tackle the issues head on. “Any positive change will depend very much on the political position taken by the government,” she says. “Because every decision is closely tied to its effect on the government's electorate, any relief to the current state of growing religious intolerance is centered upon our leaders' political will. Without any serious intention towards tackling the problems, it is difficult to imagine that any solutions will be provided in the near future.”

Certainly that is true. As far as is known, only one person has ever been allowed to leave Islam in Malaysia. An 89-year old woman named Nyonya Tahir who converted to Buddhism in 1936 had her decision accepted – 69 years later ‑ in 2006, after she had died.

- Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob, Asia Sentinel.


Exclusive Interview with Michael Backman

Fellow blogger, from Bolehnation, alerted me the posting of an exclusive interview with Michael Backman, the famous writer-commentator from Australia. Thanks!

"It depresses me that Malaysia hasn’t been more successful than it has and that it is still fighting the old fights of the 1960s." - Michael Backman

1. What was the initial thought that prompted you to write about your "Boleh or Bodoh column"? What was and has been your intention in writing the article?

Malaysia has good people, good resources and a legal system that ought to function. It depresses me that Malaysia hasn’t been more successful than it has and that it is still fighting the old fights of the 1960s.

Malaysia’s Chinese have accepted the NEP and its successor policies. They define themselves as Malaysians first and foremost and are among the proudest Malaysians. They have learned Malay. Essentially, they have done everything that has been required of them and yet still there is this endless preoccupation with race in Malaysia.

Meanwhile the rest of the world is just so unbelievably dynamic now. Malaysia is looking more and more like a sleepy backwater relative to what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

Many Malaysians don’t seem to understand this. Many like to travel overseas – but when they do, too many look but they don’t see. They don’t see how things in Malaysia could be improved. They don’t want to learn from anywhere else. They think Malaysia is a special case. They should be bringing back new ideas to Malaysia. Instead they just want to bring back duty free.

2. Have you ever considered the impact the column might have upon your relationship with Malaysian government and its people? We understand Rafidah Aziz, Malaysia's Minister for Trade and Industry, criticised your column by saying you probably know nothing about Malaysia. Has there been any (positive or negative) impact/response from publishing the column?

I write to be read and I write to have an impact, otherwise there is no point in writing. I criticised the space program for Malaysia’s first astronaut – the making of teh tarik and so on – and the Malaysian Government changed its mind on that and announced that the astronaut would be doing sensible scientific experiments after all. Perhaps I had an impact there.

In any event, more than a thousand Malaysians e-mailed me to say that they agreed with my views. If I am giving a voice to those Malaysians who share the same views but feel that they can’t express them then I’m happy to have been of some help.

But then why should I as a non-Malaysian comment about Malaysia? As far as I am concerned, strict notions of nationality are breaking down. We are all involved in each other’s countries now. Malaysians have a lot of investments in Australia. Australians invest in Asia and so on. We all have stakes in other countries and so all should be able to comment on how they are run. The free flow of ideas and openness are good things. The only people who do not like this are politicians in Malaysia and Singapore. You will never hear Australian or UK politicians complaining about those things. So you should ask yourself, why do Malaysian and Singaporean politicians dislike public debate and openness?

As for Rafidah, I know quite a lot about Malaysia. And I know quite a lot about Rafidah, which is why I wrote about the corruption allegations against her in my second column. Rafidah understands her trade brief very well, but she is dictatorial. Look at how she rules UMNO Wanita.

Sadly, I suspect I know more about Malaysia than many Malaysians. One reason for this is because Malaysia’s media is so poor and many things cannot be discussed openly. Ministers like Rafidah would prefer that Malaysians are not told things. Perhaps they have something to hide.

There is an idea among Malaysians that their country is particularly special and unique and that non-Malaysians simply cannot know much about Malaysia. That simply isn’t true. All countries are complex and have their nuances. You can be expert in a country without being from that country. Indeed, sometimes it helps not to be from that country. If more Malaysians sent more time away from Malaysia, they would gain a far clearer picture of what Malaysia is and what it is not.

I have met many Malaysian politicians and business people, spent time in almost every Malaysian state, sat through sessions of the Malaysian parliament and even attended an UMNO general assembly, stayed in kampongs, visited rubber plantations, and so on - that’s more than most Malaysians. I have stayed with Malaysian friends in Damansara, in Ampang and in Pandan Jaya. But Rafidah only stays in Damansara.

3. We understand you're an expert on Asia's political and economical affairs. But you seem to have taken an extra interest in Malaysia (like having a special column for Malaysia's articles on your webpage

(http://www.michaelbackman.com). Why Malaysia?

I studied at an Australian university. Many of my classmates were Malaysian students – Chinese, Malay and Indians. I became very interested in Malaysia from that time on.

4. After reading the column, one can hardly not to think that Malaysia is a somewhat badly "managed" country. We know it might be a big question, but what do you think has contributed to the "mismanagement"of the country?

It is not all bad news. Malaysia has handled race relations well. The NEP with all its imperfections was good for Malaysia. But Malaysia is rich in resources and there is a lot of squandering of those resources.

Education is big part of the problem. Malaysian schools are not nearly good enough. There are Malaysians who are now very regretful and resentful that they attended school in Malaysia. Some have told me that they have spent a lot of their adult lives trying to undo the damage of rote learning and ‘follow the leader’-type training that they were given in Malaysia.....(more)

5. From the top of your head, what would you rank as the most wasteful projects/policies ever implemented by Malaysia Government in the past 10 years, and why?

Proton – Malaysia should NOT have a national car. You cannot get sufficient economies of scale with a population as small as Malaysia’s when it comes to car manufacturing

Putrajaya – removing civil servants from ordinary society does not make for good government

KLIA – all that infrastructure, very little air traffic and it still takes forever for your luggage to come though – it is ridiculous

Petronas Towers – the lower floors are mostly full of lift shafts – you can’t rent out a lift shaft

6. What is your view towards Malaysia's national car policy?

It is a mess. Australia started out wanting to have a car industry too. And this has been a disaster for Australia too – too many Australians building too many sub-standard cars that can only compete with world class cars if they are protected by tariffs.

I mentioned this to Dr Tun Mahathir on an occasion that I met with him. He said that Proton had been beneficial because many small companies were created which became suppliers to Proton and that as a consequence Malaysia now has more technical expertise. There is some truth to this. But is it right to force every Malaysian to pay much, much more for their cars so that some companies and their owners can develop new expertise?

Proton will only get a strategic partner/investor if the government hands over massive tax holidays and other incentives. It all means that ordinary Malaysians will have to pay even more for their second rate national cars.

7. How would you compare Dr. Tun Mahathir and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi?

Dr M was one of Asia’s greatest leaders in recent times. But that does not mean that I agree with everything that Dr M did. With Abdullah, Malaysia now has more of an administrator than a leader......(more)

8. It's not uncommon for Malaysian Government ministers to advice (or warn) Malaysian people against criticising the government by labelling such behavior as "culturally wrong" and "not patriotic". How do you, as a foreigner, think about that attitude?

Such an attitude on the part of ministers is self serving, arrogant nonsense. Ministers are not there to rule. They are there to serve. They are the servants of the people and if that doesn’t suit them then they should leave politics as they have no moral right to continue in their positions. Malaysia’s ministers need to spend some time in the UK observing how the UK government is answerable to the Parliament, to the media and ultimately to the people. That might then give them a clue as to why the UK is so rich and dynamic and why Malaysia isn’t. The government needs to be reminded that it and the Malaysian state are two different things.

9. You have written a number of books on doing business in Asia. Are you currently writing any new books?

Yes. I am writing a book about what Asia will be like in the next 20 or so years.

10. Any special words you want to say to Malaysians in general?

Speak up more and shop less. ...(more)

(Thanks Bolehnation)


26 April, 2007

Growing Number of Asian Blogs Offers Alternatives to Mainstream Media

Asia's blogging community is growing rapidly, as more people get access to the Internet. In countries with a controlled media environment, blogs promote free speech and offer alternative sources of news and information. But some governments in the region try to limit access to the new media. Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Millions of people in Asia have taken to blogging in recent years, creating personal Web sites that often take the form of an online diary. The word blog derives from Web log. China alone is estimated to have up to 30 million bloggers.

As elsewhere in the world, the region's collection of blogs on the Internet is diverse and amorphous. But in Asia, a survey by the U.S. software company Microsoft estimates that nearly half of those who are online have a blog, compared to just eight percent of U.S. Internet users.

Most people create blogs to share their lives and interests with friends, family and a few strangers. Many use text and photos, but also sound and video. Others blog to exchange information, create networks or express opinions about a wide range of issues.

In this music video, posted on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube, two young Malaysians say an ironic 'thank you' to Indonesia for being responsible for last year's haze, the pollution that spread from Indonesian forest fires. The bloggers' criticism is an opinion that their governments would not express.

For some people, blogging has become a powerful tool for freedom of expression. Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on online media at the University of Hong Kong, says a small percentage of people in the region create blogs to tell a wider audience what the mainstream media are not reporting.

"Some of these people who are creating media such as Jeff Ooi in Malaysia, a number of bloggers in China, basically there are people one could cite in any given country around the region, who are developing rather large audiences because they are saying something fresh or more direct than [what] people are getting from their traditional media sources," said MacKinnon.

News of the famous nail house in the Chinese city of Chongqing, where a couple tried to block the destruction of their home earlier this year, was first spread on blogs. When mainstream media were told to remain silent on the case, a Chinese blogger who calls himself Zola traveled to Chongqing and continued to report about it.

Isaac Mao, a well-known Shanghai-based blogger and software architect, says Zola's action was a milestone for Chinese bloggers.

"So it means once the traditional mainstream media, if they fail to work, grassroots media can take over the niche or they can take another role - to report some social events from different angles," said Mao.

In countries with a highly restricted and regulated media environment, such as China, Vietnam, Burma and Singapore, blogs can provide different, independent information and viewpoints. While the quality and trustworthiness of blogs varies greatly, they are becoming popular sources of information in places where the mainstream media lacks credibility.

"People may now welcome this diversity of news but that's precisely because I think one thing to remember is a lot of people are already very skeptical of mainstream media in their own countries, precisely because they are aware that most mainstream media in their countries are [one] either owned by the state or they are highly restricted and therefore are not really free to provide independent and diverse news," said Roby Alampay, the executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

Alampay says some blogs are created by professional journalists who post online what they are not allowed to publish in their day-jobs. Last year, for example, a Singaporean journalist whose column in a government-controlled newspaper was suspended after he criticized high living costs in the city-state was able to post the controversial story on his blog.

A number of Asian governments view bloggers as a threat. The Malaysian government has announced plans to set up a unit to monitor and counter what it calls lies and slander being spread on the Internet. Roby Alampay says governments across the region try to block, filter and monitor cyberspace.

"Censorship is becoming an issue all over Southeast Asia and I think it's safe to assume that most countries exercise some form of blocking and censorship or harassment of websites," Alampay added.

In Thailand, the military government recently blocked access to YouTube when an offending video clip of the Thai king appeared on the video-sharing Web site. It also suspended a popular political online chat room in April. In Malaysia, the government-linked New Straits Times newspaper recently filed defamation suits against two well-known bloggers.

Vietnam and China are particularly notorious for censoring the Internet. MacKinnon says that's why it would be impossible for anyone to create an opposition press through blogs there.

"You are not going to see a pro-democracy, anti-communist party-press emerging through the Chinese blogosphere. The Chinese government is able to prevent that from happening," said MacKinnon.

She said it would be over-simplistic to assume that the existence of blogs will suddenly bring about a democratic revolution in countries such as China.

Isaac Mao, for example, describes the cat-and-mouse game involved when bloggers want to outwit technical blocks imposed by government censors.

But MacKinnon says blogs offer the potential to open up the media in ways not possible before the spread of Internet access.

By Claudia Blume
Hong Kong

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Malaysia lodges protest with BBC ?

Malaysia has complained to the BBC for giving air time to failed opposition leaders, state news agency Bernama said on Wednesday, in an apparent reference to former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

"It would be appropriate if the air time was given to the opposition political parties that had a place in politics in Malaysia, but why focus on people who have been rejected?" Bernama quoted Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin as saying.

"What is the objective of the BBC in doing so?" Zainuddin, a former journalist, told reporters when asked about a recent working visit to London, where he had lodged a protest with BBC World Service editors.

Bernama added: "He (Zainuddin) said the BBC move did not help to enhance relations between Britain and Malaysia and did not accord respect to the democratic decision of the Malaysian people in their rejection of the opposition political parties."

Zainuddin did not name Anwar, but an aide to the opposition figure, who is attempting a political comeback after his release from jail in 2004, said the minister was clearly targeting him.

- The Peninsular

"Of course he's referring to Anwar. Anwar is much sought after by the BBC," the aide said, adding that Anwar had recorded an interview with the BBC in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Anwar, 59, seen as potentially the most potent opposition force in Malaysia, is trying to resurrect his political career as the nation heads toward a possible early general election.

Anwar's party, Keadilan, is currently fighting a by-election campaign that promises to be the first real test of grass-roots support for a man who rocked the political establishment in 1998.

Anwar, then deputy premier, had been on the threshold of gaining the leadership when he fell out with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and took to the streets at the head of a large anti-government street protest. He was quickly arrested and later charged and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy.

He was acquitted of the sodomy charge in 2004 and released, but his remaining criminal record for corruption bars him from standing for political office until April 2008. Instead, he has begun to campaign heavily for candidates of his party, Keadilan, amid expectation of a general election in the next 12 months.

Keadilan has just one seat in national parliament, held by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, but Anwar is seen even in government circles as a charismatic speaker who can strike a chord among the country's ethnic Malay majority.

He is also seen as the only politician with a chance of uniting Malaysia's divided opposition factions, which include an Islamist party backed by mainly rural Malays and the Democratic Action Party, which is backed by mostly urban ethnic Chinese.

Earlier on Wednesday, Anwar suffered a legal setback in a battle to prove that his 1998 sacking as deputy prime minister was unconstitutional, but he vowed to fight on undaunted.

Three appeals court judges unanimously held that Anwar's dismissal from his cabinet posts by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was lawful, since the latter had the power to appoint or dismiss ministers, Bernama reported. "In short, no minister can remain as a member of the cabinet if the prime minister decided that he should be dismissed," the agency quoted the judges as saying in their ruling.

Anwar told reporters he would go to Malaysia's highest court to prove his removal was unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Malaysian government is said to sets up an Internet spin team, to cast an eagle eye on whatever is being said about Malaysia online.

MALAYSIA'S INFORMATION ministry is so miffed that people are going on the web and telling porkies about its glorious government that it has hired a team of spinners just to deal with it.

If it sees something that the government will not like it will swoop. Deputy Information Minister Chia Kwang Chye said the team will be in and out with a press release in seconds in a bid to tackle what he said was "abuse" of the Internet and online technology.

Chia told the Bernama news agency the spinners will be purely working to disseminate information, explain correct information and counter the misinformation on government policies.

There is currently a bit of a barny going on online, between the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Malaysian bloggers and other Internet users. He says they are spreading slander and gossip, they say he is... not a very good PM. Miffing a Malaysian PM is apparently enough for the entire government to talk about punishment and tighter controls on Internet use in response.

Already two bloggers are also being sued for defamation by the government-linked New Straits Times Press group in an action identified as a government crack-down on freedom of expression.

Fortunately, the new unit will not have the power to arrest bloggers the PR people don't like. There is nothing more evil than a PR who has the power to lock up a reporter who fails to print their press release. Well, other than a reporter who never questions what a company says.

And today, Malaysia proclaimed a new king, its second-youngest ever, in a glittering ceremony.

Forty-five-year-old Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, of oil-rich Terengganu state, will rule for five years under Malaysia's unique system of rotating constitutional monarchy.

Malaysia has nine sultans and each takes turn to rule for five years as king, but this time marks the coming of age of a younger generation of royals who are devout Muslims and much less interesting than their often eccentric, more liberal forebears.

A symbolic role, the king embodies Malaysia's heritage as a collection of Muslim kingdoms and also serves as titular head of the armed forces and keeper of the official religion, Islam.

Malaysia, where Muslims make up just over half its 26 million people, is a modern, moderate Muslim country. But since the 1980s, Islamic conservatism has steadily gained influence.

Malaysia has changed from a country where Muslim women generally did not wear headscarves into a nation where religious officials make police-style raids on nightclubs and hotel rooms.

Mizan's wife wears a headscarf, unlike previous queens.

The new king has also been more outspoken than many of his predecessors, publicly urging the government to wipe out corruption, seen by many Muslims as an affront against Islam.

Other young rulers have also begun to speak out on issues of governance. The Sultan of Selangor state recently reprimanded an errant town councilor for building his house without permits.

A far less colorful figure than some of his predecessors as king or his fellow sultans, Mizan attended Britain's Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and served as a land administrator before succeeding to the throne of Terengganu.

The royal family of southern Johor state has captured the most headlines over the years. Mahmood Iskandar, now the sultan of Johor and a former king, was once convicted of manslaughter but was pardoned by his father who was then the sultan.

Mizan is Malaysia's 13th king, or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. He replaced Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail, ruler of Perlis state.

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25 April, 2007

Anwar accuses local ethnic minority leaders of kowtowing to ruling Malay party

Anwar Ibrahim has accused Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian leaders of being toadies of the ruling Malay party, and urged voters to support his wife's reformist party in a closely-watched by-election.

In a series of speeches late Tuesday, Anwar also railed against government corruption and renewed a call for scrapping the decades-old affirmative action program for the majority Malays.

"The ministers ... they steal from the poor. The ministers and their children are all rich but the villagers remain poor," he told a crowd of 400, mostly Chinese residents, in Ijok town where his wife's People's Justice Party candidate is pitted against the ruling National Front in Saturday's by-election.

The election would provide an indication not only of Anwar's popularity but also the support for National Front and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ahead of general elections likely to be held late this year or early 2008.

But the minorities have often complained that the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress do not stand up for their religious and social rights.

Anwar said MCA and MIC leaders cannot fight for minority rights because they kowtow to UMNO.

"Whatever UMNO says, the MCA will do," he said. "I know. I have been in the government before," said the former deputy prime minister, adding that the MIC's leaders were the same. The National Front candidate in the Ijok by-election is from the MIC party.

"We must change the government, change the policies, so that we can have a better country and justice for all," he said to loud cheers from the crowd.

Malaysia's ethnic minorities feel that they are discriminated against by the affirmative action program, known as the New Economic Policy, which gives privileges to Malays in jobs, education and business.

"The Chinese feel they are second-class and Indians are even worse off. We must reject the NEP, change the policy," said Anwar, a Malay and former UMNO member who was seen in the 1990s as the future prime minister under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's leadership.

But the two fell out in a power struggle, and Anwar was fired in 1998 by Mahathir who accused him of corruption and homosexuality. Anwar said the charges were fabricated.

He was tried and sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption and sodomy. The sodomy conviction was overturned by Malaysia's top court and he was freed in 2004.

After being fired, Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, set up the People's Justice Party, and she holds the party's sole Parliamentary seat. Anwar does not hold any official post in it because the corruption conviction bars him from holding any political office until March 2008.

That has not prevented him from campaigning for the Ijok by-election. Although Anwar's cerama has drawn crowds in Ijok, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Kuala Lumpur, it is far from certain his candidate will win on Saturday.

Anwar Ibrahim has been campaigning strenuously in the on-going Ijok by-election campaign. But what exactly is his vision for the Malaysian economy and why is he asking for an end to the NEP? Anwar himself has morphed from an ardent champion of the New Economic Policy to a vocal opponent.

Anwar Ibrahim:

Let me be frank. I emerged from a generation of Malay activists that were supportive of the NEP. At that time, we felt very insecure in terms of the level of professional expertise, educational achievement, in economy and trade. That was in the early seventies. I thought the wisdom was about public education and giving exposure, opportunities to the Malays. Objectively, in terms of social mobility, it has achieved a phenomenal (amount) in terms of a new breed of Malay professionals, intellectuals – I am not sure, intellectuals – graduates, okay.

But then, by the mid-eighties, you sense a semblance of cronyism - UMNOputras abusing the process. At the time I was Finance Minister, this was clearly the major bone of contention with Aliran of course - I subscribed to Aliran those days, sometimes at my expense, but I share the criticism - but I maintain that rapport ...like Jomo, Syed Hussein Ali... and they were very tough in their criticism. Of course, sometimes I start to rationalise; sometimes I am a bit defensive.

But clearly we realised, some of us within the party leadership, we had to depart a bit from the conventional approach towards the old NEP .... at the concept or policy. You see my budget speeches? Hardly any reference to the NEP. At one of the internal meetings, (it was raised) with Mahathir. I said, “Okay I will look at it.” I made some reference to Vision 2020 merely to survive, but hardly any reference to the NEP because by that time I thought it was ... (inaudible) ... rendering obsolete. I was getting quite involved in the discourse at international level - competitiveness, globalisation and, of course, it is seen to be discriminatory - not affirmative action per se but affirmative action based on race ....

So that was it, it was a gradual ... (inaudible) ... although there was a difference, I mean, in terms of style. People do differentiate between Daim’s style and mine... cronies within the large segment of new Malay middle-class. We had about 40 to 50 new young professionals coming out and setting up their companies and working sometimes under non-Malay or Chinese companies. But by the late nineties, the whole issue of rampant and endemic corruption and cronyism and ... Indonesia, reformasi, this also affected us very much here.

In prison, I had more time to reflect but soon after I was released, I started having this sort of discussion. In my first address to the party congress in Ipoh, 2005, although I did not say that I would dismantle the NEP, the entire message was there: we must be prepared to move on and introduce a new Malaysian economic agenda. Very concerned about the position of Malays, the marginalised, I highlighted the Indian problems, economic and social problems in the estate sector, and Chinese squatters ...but... mainly the issue of losing our international competitiveness in the globalisation era.

Then we had a series of discussions and many Malay professionals cautioned me about the dangers of opening up, and then the Malays would suffer...because they (would) have no protection. We talked through (it). I disagreed because I said if the policy is clear and transparent, and you have an open tender ... (if) the Chinese companies (are) more efficient.... it presents the case and gets the tender .... it is always possible to have a policy that ensures that all the big projects take into consideration the racial factor, meaning subcontract to the Malays, Chinese, Indians. That in my experience as Finance Minister was possible. I mentioned, in my experience, I have seen some banks ... some big Chinese companies (and said to them), “Look, make sure you subcontract and get the others to participate.”

I gave the example of public institutions, universities, declining standards of education, loss of competitiveness, and the ability of India to have the Indian Institute of Technology. And around the world, you have (New York Times columnist Thomas L.) Friedman’s The world is flat, highlighting the increase in the numbers of qualified competent engineers from China and... things like that we must debate here.

We have given a chance for Malays to lead these academic institutions for the last 40 to 50 years. Can’t we – I don’t know, 17 or 20 public academic institutions – ensure that or at least allow for three or four, for a start, Chinese - qualified competent Chinese - academics to lead these institutions. It is very clear....to train Malaysians - Chinese and to make sure there are enough Indians and Malays or Ibans and Kadazans. And if for example we find very poor Malays in terms of general competence or academic achievements, then we can question... and I am sure they will take it as a challenge. So I said, why don’t we start with three Chinese and one Indian (to lead some of these public academic institutions).

It is going to really affect adversely... When I was Finance Minister, there was a big debate among the civil service about the position of secretary-general. And I decided in favour of Clifford Herbert, not because of anything else – because he was very senior. In terms of macro-economics, he was about the best in the civil service and he has been known to be a man of very high integrity. This was the first, in recent times, non-Malay in the Treasury. And that did not cause much problem in terms of even a policy (that favoured the) Malays.

Read Aliran Monthly in-dept interview with Anwar Ibrahim, the reformasi icon here.


24 April, 2007

"I say, 'rubbish,'' Singapore's founding leader dismisses gripes over pay hike

"Arrogant and disrespectful," that was what Tun Mahathir Mohamad slammed Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for his insulting remarks about Malaysian and Indonesia’s treatment of the Chinese community last year.

Lee Kuan Yew said the attitude of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia towards Singapore was shaped by the way they treat their own ethnic Chinese minorities.

"Our neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful. They are hardworking and therefore they are systemically marginalised," he said.

Indonesia and Malaysia "want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese — compliant", Lee said.

In which, by responding to his statement, Mahathir told Kuan Yew not to feel smug about what he had said.

"You should just guard your own rice bowl. You are not that clever. In a small group, perhaps you seem clever.

"But when he goes to China, the Chinese there don’t want to listen to him. The Chinese in China don’t think much of him and it is a fact that he is marginalised by Chinese in the world," he said.

The debate over the million-dollar paychecks of Singapore's cabinet ministers is "rubbish" because the city-state needs to attract extraordinary people to run it, founding leader Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Monday.

"The biggest mistake any Singaporean can make is to believe that Singapore is an ordinary country and can behave like an ordinary country like Malaysia, like Indonesia, like Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark," he was quoted by the Straits Times as saying over the weekend.

So Singapore is an Extraordinary country ?

The blunt-talking former prime minister said the public furore over the decision to raise cabinet ministers' base salaries by more than 30 percent to 1.05 million US dollars per year was "completely unreal."

"I say, 'rubbish,'" he told 400 members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on Saturday.

Singapore, with its lack of natural resources and small population, needs attractive packages to draw talented people into public service or the country's future prosperity would be at risk, Lee warned.

"The problem we now face is how to attract more talent, how to headhunt and to persuade the best to come into parliament," said Lee, 83, who remains an influential figure in the government with the title of "minister mentor."

"I see this place going for another 50 years, no problem. But you need top-grade government," Lee said.

He had said: "If you are going to quarrel about S$46 million – up or down another S$10 to S$20 million – I say you don't have a sense of proportion."

And when it comes to benchmarking, Mr Lee said his own annual income, which is S$2.7 million, is a fraction of what the top manager in the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) earns.

Why the Singapore Government pegging salaries with public sector and not benchmark with other Governments? (like US, UK? Japan?)

He said: "The cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government... your asset values will disappear, your apartments will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other persons' countries - foreign workers."

When asked to comment on the perception that political leaders should not be in it for the money, and instead, be ready to make that extra sacrifice for the good of the people, the Minister Mentor said it is an admirable sentiment.

Has he taught them "not be in it for the money, and instead, be ready to make that extra sacrifice for the good of the people, of Singaporeans" ?

Related Topic:

How much to pay politicians? The Singapore Case - Opinion Asia.