Monday, 29 February 2016

Valuing Freedom And Civil Liberties

Malaysia is beginning to look bad.

Of course, some may refute my statement and say that it's always looked bad in the eyes of the world. But you've got to remember that human beings have short memories and in politics, things change in the blink of an eye.

As an example, Madey has been speaking out against the internet block on The Malaysian Insider, to the extent of comparing it to North Korea.

I totally support his views, but it has not escaped my attention that he was the one who began the decline of our civil liberties. It is notorious behaviour for someone who was alleged to have left the political stage over 12 years ago.

I find it particularly amusing because you and I both know that he still holds political sway and his views will not get him arrested or roughed up.

And yet, he's not the only one. Good ole Fahmi Reza has been making headlines again for his portrayal or Najib as a clown, not just in Malaysia or on Facebook, but on Slate, which is a somewhat progressive, left-wing American magazine.

I can understand why Slate is intrigued. America is not without its own issues.

For a country that waxes lyrical about freedom, authoritarianism is becoming vogue in America. A great deal of that explains why Donald Trump, who no normal person should take seriously (even if he, on a rare occasion, makes good points) as a person, is so popular.

Politico says:

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

I am surprised that the West; people who claim to be civilised and democratic, are turning away from the values that they once held dear.

They are adopting a barbaric way of life, which we assumed they had shed a century ago. Who would have thought the KKK are alive and strong today - and in modern California, of all places?

It is becoming starkly obvious that the American economy and civilisation is at the end of its cycle. Some new superpower will assume the mantle. People predict it will be China, but who knows for sure?

But it's startling for me to witness these changes and see how Malaysians are beginning to value their freedoms and rights, while Americans are beginning to exchange them for security and what they perceive to be a better quality of life.

It's startling, but as a Malaysian, it's also exciting.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Disgusting Land-Grabbers

One of the most depressing stories of Malaysia that still haven't been resolved, is the story of Taib Mahmud and his powers around the world.

Rewcastle-Brown has this piece about the empty promises of reform with regards to land appropriation. I confess that I am unable to believe that anyone in Sarawak has the power to stop this revoltingly profligate family.

It needs to be a collective effort by the whole of Malaysia (not just the activists), and we really need to start taking an interest.

Forget about the fact that our natural resources need to be protected, and logging does just the opposite by destroying our beautiful forests.

Forget about the fact that the most vulnerable people in our nation are being exploited because they do not have a voice.

These thugs should never be allowed to bully their way around like this.

In 2011, I wrote a piece in support of a petition to the FBI in Seattle. This is because the FBI rents office space in the Abraham Lincoln building in Seattle.

You probably have guessed where I am going with this: Yes, Taib Mahmud family owns the Abraham Lincoln building in Seattle through this inconspicuous company called Wallyson's Inc.

If I didn't hate them as much as I did, I would applaud them for their ingenuity.

Think about it: they constantly need to move the money obtained from the illegal land-grabs, so they buy an entire building. But they administer it from a distance, so they hire a small staff of 3 full time employees, purportedly generating an estimated $270,000 in annual revenue.

Knowing that there would be pesky Malaysians in Seattle who would protest outside its office, what do they do? They rent it out as cheap as possible to a government agency (where budgets are always minimal); in this case the FBI.

Now they've got the FBI protecting their property, while still paying them for office space.

After travelling as much as I have, it is clear to me that crooks will thrive all over the world, because people have their own priorities.

For the FBI, renting office space from a bunch of Malaysian thugs is not a matter of high consequence.

We Malaysians have to put right what is wrong, not expect someone else to do it for us.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Welcoming The New KL Police Chief, Amar Singh

Apparently, there is a new top cop on the block.

He's been raising attention not just because he's a third generation cop, but also because as KL police chief, he is the first Sikh person to be appointed to this position.

He is also the first Sikh to be ranked as Commissioner of Police.

This new role takes effect in the middle of March.

Congratulations may be in order, but I would prefer to bid my time in order to find out whether he is more likely to reduce the crime rate, protect KL from terrorist threats (as of today, there has been yet another warning, this time from the Australians), or spend his time chasing after university undergraduates for offending some politician's sensibilities.

The challenges of protecting Kuala Lumpur are no longer what they were 30 or 40 years ago. The population has increased, and Malaysia's role in the world has also gained eminence, believe it or not.

Despite the stupidity that Najib and co inflict on our senses, there are still respectable business people and scientists/researchers out there that put us on the map.

We also have a high immigration rate now, so a bit more policing is expected.

Perhaps cutting out corruption in the police force would also be a good idea.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Books You Might Find Interesting

If your new year resolution is to read more, then may I suggest these two books?

Both books touch on the topic of the South China Sea and the oil that is estimated to be around the Spratly Islands.

Asia's Cauldron (2014) by Robert D. Kaplan
Resource Wars (2002) by Michael T. Klare

Currently, Malaysia plays both the US and China against each other, but China is determined to seize control of the region.

The Chinese are hungry for power and success and perhaps Xi Jinping is just the leader that they need right now.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Dictatorship (aka NSC) Bill

Unless you're saddled with a hyper-active toddler and a newborn baby and have thus been too pre-occupied to take notice of political happenings, then you may have heard of the National Security Council Bill that the UMNO government has bulldozed through Parliament.

It's a ridiculous piece of legislation.

I am amazed by the amount of power given to the Prime Minister to declare an effective ‘state of emergency’ in what is known/defined as a ‘security area’.

Not to mention the almost limitless power given to security forces, coupled with provisions for the Prime Minister and his favoured minions to acts as dictators in Malaysia.

I think most people are aware that the only reason why this legislation is implemented is to provide its leaders with unsurpassed power to control the country and silence any form of dissent.

This goes hand-in-hand with the "Peaceful Assembly Act" of 2011, which was touted as being "in line with similar laws in the European countries which respect democracy".

What amuses me the most is that Europeans have been relieved of their rights; why we would allow ourselves to sink to those depths is beyond me.

Self-respecting Malaysians protested, of course, but it did nothing to withdraw or rescind that Bill.

That would probably explain why Malaysians have not vehemently protested this NSC Bill.

But it bears keeping in mind; at some point the government will use it against us to keep us subservient to their wishes.

Related: NSC bill will change country forever, says civil activist

Friday, 13 November 2015

Flogging A Dead Horse

Antares has an excellent piece over at MAGICK RIVER entitled Chief Rosy Lips, no use flogging a dead horse, catch a bus!

It was written over three years ago, but is still relevant today.

How, you ask.

Well. According to the news, Malaysia is keen to emulate the United Kingdom (UK) in the management of its National Security Council.

Now the UK has one of the highest number of public cameras in the world. Wherever you go on the streets, you're probably being watched. The UK was intending on buying water cannons to use on protestors in London. It's moving towards 1984, if you know what I mean.

The irony is that the UK is where Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, came from.

And Malaysia wants to "toughen up" on security. Now, if you are aware of Orwellian speak, you would know how backward a step like that could be.

Remarkably, the Brits haven't been as vocal as I would have expected.

I think most of us are aware of how nefarious our government has been. We need to bring this government to account, but more importantly, we need to guard against it worsening.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Cracking Down On Dissent, The BN Way.

The disappearance of the MH370 showed how petty and shallow foreign mainstream media could be.

From America's CNN to the UK's Daily Mail, the portrayal of Malaysia was that it consisted mainly of bumbling incompetents. Perhaps MAS and the DCA could have been more forthcoming but this was an unprecedented situation and no one was prepared.

So I find nothing to be ashamed of Malaysia for that.

But what does embarrass me about Malaysia, is the way the BN government cracks down on dissent.

“The Malaysian government has revealed itself as petty, vindictive, and brittle when thrust into the limelight on the eve of important state visits. Going after activists, journalists, and opposition leaders are not the actions of a confident government committed to promoting respect for human rights, and visiting leaders need to say so.”

- John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch

The visiting leaders in question are United States President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among others.

Now I confess I don't know much about Japan. But the USA is not in a position to preach because its human rights record when it comes to African Americans leaves much to be desired.

So visiting leaders might have reason to keep their mouths firmly shut.

However, we Malaysians don't need to be silent. And thousands did not remain cowed. My respect to those of you who went out and protested during BERSIH 4.

My respect to Zunar who has fearlessly drawn cartoons that so uncannily depict the situation in Malaysia.

My respect to Adam Adli who faithfully pushes on for political reform.

My respect to Haris Ibrahim who is being tried for words he purportedly uttered at the KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in May 2013.

My respect to law professor Azmi Sharom who moved to challenge the constitutionality of the Sedition Act 1948, which was enacted even before independence. The Federal Court dismissed it on the 6th of October.

And I never thought I would say it, but despite my reservations over Mahathir, I am pleased that he is speaking out. Read what Zaid Ibrahim has to say about the harassment of Tun M.

But more importantly, support the political activists who risk their well-being to fight for your freedom.

P.S. Who is Khalid Ismath and why was he under solitary confinement?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Authorities Underestimate Protests. It Happens Everywhere.

I meant to blog about the BERSIH 4 protest. But I am not in KL at the moment, and I don't have any news on the ground.

My life has taken lots of unexpected turns though I constantly learn more about myself and my fellow Malaysians from observing non-Malaysians. It's strange.

For instance, I always thought that underestimating the numbers in a protest/demonstration was a Malaysian/BN government thing.

Evidently not. Some of you Malaysians (yes, I have discovered that many of you are politically savvy and know what goes on around the world) may know of the student protests in London because the Tory government, in its austerity drive has actually decided to slash student grants.

Those of you who had to pay off your PTPTN loans will find it hard to sympathise, because you had to fork out a monthly sum or risk that massive administrative fee. Others may have finally given it the boot.

You see, the thing is, equal opportunities for students of all social classes to get a tertiary education based on merit, was what made Britain great once upon a time.

At the height of their prosperity, they even invited foreign students, gave them scholarships, grants and opportunities to live and work in the UK. That was what made Britain and Malaysia different.

But those days are over.

The Conservative government ruling Britain today (known as the Tories) have decided to generously endow their cronies and by extension themselves, by pardoning the bankers while at the same time slashing benefits for those deserving of it.

I concede that there are some benefit claimants in the UK that would be better off just getting off their lazy arses and working for a living. But they're not the ones I am talking about.

In this case, the students are protesting the withdrawal of grants because what will happen now is that only the wealthy people will have access to a university degree.

The rich will get richer, and the poor poorer.

It's the same thing that Najib is doing, except Najib doesn't seem to feel the need to do it under wraps. He just blatantly exposes himself like a mentally-ill flasher.

Interestingly, Malaysia is in a good place. Tun Mahathir, who makes a habit of criticising those he appoints "to the throne" has been throwing brickbats at Najib. And Bank Negara has frozen Najib's accounts.

The next few months would be interesting to watch. Mahathir is now being investigated by the police for defamation. Is Malaysia a police state that blindly does the bidding of the top power?

Or at some point, will the nation realise that we don't have to be a tin-pot dictatorship?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Rethinking The Strategy

I have read some of Shaun Tan's previous jottings on LoyarBurok.

Some of them made me roll my eyes before swiftly moving on.

I suspect he is a young man with ideals about how things should be, and it appears that he takes a lot of his cues from Western nations. I am not going to criticise him for that - as I myself used to be exactly as I describe him to be (and they say people in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones).

But in a move that probably would surprise the people who know me best, I am going to say that this time, he does make some good points.

Referring to the scandals that have plagued Malaysia, and the liberal Malaysian's response to it, he says:

The most tangible response is Bersih 4.0, a rally planned for the end of the month. Although it aims to gather hundreds of thousands of Malaysians together to protest in three of the country’s cities, its organizers intend to disperse it after two days, even if its demands for Najib to step down and for the implementation of institutional safeguards against corruption are ignored, which they probably will be. It is not expected to change anything.

Though suggestions have been made to expand the two-day rally into a mass civil disobedience movement – one that provokes confrontation with the authorities and occupies key areas in the major cities until its demands are met (probably the only strategy under the circumstances with a chance of success) – Bersih’s organizers seem to have rejected them, asserting instead that the purpose of the rally is to “send the government a message.” That the ruling party has ignored the message of previous Bersih rallies with impunity has not prompted a strategy rethink.

I can see where Shaun is coming from.

We are talking about scandals, that in many other countries (and not necessarily just developed ones), could have heads rolling. The French, I believe, sent dear ole Louis and his missus, Marie Antoinette, to the guillotine for carelessness of that very magnitude.

As Shaun has articulated:

Over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB – a state investment fund) corruption scandal alone, for example, Prime Minister Najib Razak has sacked the attorney general who was meant to be investigating him, had the offices of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission raided to hide evidence of his crimes, suspended The Edge (a local paper) and blocked The Sarawak Report (a whistleblowing website) for reporting on it, and claimed that the $700 million transferred to his personal bank account was a donation. How, many ask, could someone who has so blatantly betrayed the public’s trust remain in power?

How indeed, does he have the gumption to remain as PM?

Now I am not suggesting that we emulate the French. It is not remotely in our culture to be as confrontational or as aggressive as the Europeans (or Americans, for that matter) are. We have been tear-gassed, but we barely retaliate by at best, returning a tear-gas cannister at the FRU. Often, we just grin and bear it (for lack of a better description).

To begin with, only today, I read someone on my Facebook feed stating that the organisers of Bersih 4 restrict their rally to a stadium - behind closed doors - to avoid inconveniencing the public and avoid skirmishes with the government and their band of entitled running dogs, aka the police.

It reminds me why I left Malaysia. I can't decide if it's apathy or well-meant concern for the well-being of fellow Malaysians.

But that sort of attitude is what empowers criminals to remain in power despite the evidence of their wrongdoings.

I support Bersih 4, because it is part of the process that helps us to decide what further we must do, but we also need to discover better ways of dealing with the corruption and misbehaviour of the people who hold the power.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Has Malaysia Become A Police State?

COMMENT: How ironic it is that many Malaysians are now being threatened for taking actions that are “detrimental to parliamentary democracy.” Actually, they are the very people who are struggling for democracy and political freedom.

As someone who follows developments in Malaysia closely, I believe that the greatest threat to parliamentary democracy in Malaysia today is Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the head of the national police force that he controls, Khalid Abu Bakar.

It is Najib and Khalid who actually should be investigated for violating Section 124B of the Penal Code.

Najib wants to stay in power, no matter what. For any politician, that is understandable.

For whatever reason, Khalid has chosen to be Najib’s lackey. He is ready to do Najib’s bidding and deploy his police force in wilful violation of the law and the fundamental guarantees of Malaysia’s constitution.

Najib as Macbeth

A good friend who also follows developments in Malaysia closely recently compared the situation in Malaysia to Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Macbeth.”

Macbeth, pushed by his evil wife’s ambition, would stop at nothing – even murder – to gain power. And to accomplish his ends, Macbeth would depict evil as good, and good as evil.

So it is in Malaysia today. Those who seek democracy are called the enemies of democracy.

Meanwhile, those who really are the enemies of democracy – the people who close newspapers, charge opposition politicians with sedition, round up the leaders of peaceful protests, and arrest government officials who are investigating corruption at the highest levels – call themselves the “patriots” of the nation and the defenders of parliamentary democracy.

How perverse it all has become under Najib.

Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that Malaysia has now become a police state.

One should not use words like “police state” carelessly. So I consulted the definitions that political scientists and academics use.

A police state is when police power is used to suppress any action that opposes the government, and to suppress any person who dares to criticise the government.

That sounds like Malaysia today. Najib is turning Malaysia into an authoritarian government and a police state. And Khalid is his willing accomplice, a law unto himself, a man who renders justice through Twitter.

Who will save Malaysia?

Because of Najib’s actions, Malaysia can no longer claim to be a democracy.

Democracy means freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly. It means that there are checks and balances – that the judiciary, the press, the parliament, and so on, can comment and criticise what the government is doing.

But today in Malaysia, none of that exists. There is no check on Najib’s power. There is no institution that can balance his power, especially when the police are so ready to arrest anyone who dares to criticise Najib, including government officials who are investigating the many allegations of corruption against him and his wife.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad already destroyed most of Malaysia’s checks and balances against the abuse of power, and Najib has now finished it off for good.

Will Najib get away with this? It seems that no one stands in Najib’s way.

Malaysia’s elder statesmen – Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Musa Hitam, and so on are curiously silent. They claim that they care about Malaysia and its people, yet they do nothing about Najib’s abuses.

Only Mahathir has spoken out. But Mahathir is the man who corrupted the entire system that Najib has used to his advantage.

And now even Mahathir has become silent.

Where are the sultans? They also are supposed to be the defenders of the nation. Yet we only know, indirectly, the views of the Sultan of Johor and his son. The others are silent as Najib destroys Malaysia’s future, the great country that the Sultans have pledged to defend.

We know what Najib wants

Najib has decided that his personal survival is more important than the fate of his country. He and his wife care only about themselves, not Malaysia.

So the stock market tumbles, and the ringgit falls to its lowest point in almost 20 years. Malaysia’s bank reserves have dropped by over US$40 billion in just one year. Foreign investors are shunning Malaysia, and Malaysians themselves are sending their money overseas. It is the worst situation for Malaysia’s economy in 20 years.

But Najib doesn’t care. His personal survival is more important than his country’s economic fate.

Najib is now a desperate man. He will continue his relentless quest to stay in power, utilising every means possible, both within and outside his party.

The leaders of Bersih 4.0 and others who think that street demonstrations will force him to resign are naive. He already has shown that he has no hesitation to turn tear gas and billy clubs on his own people. That is what they will face on Aug 29.

As things now stand, I cannot think of a good outcome. It is only going to get worse.

Cry, the beloved country. I can only weep when I think of Malaysia’s future, when one man is able to subvert the institutions of government and thwart the will of the people. And when the great majority of the Malaysian people, from former leaders to the man in the street, stand by silently, and let him do it.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States ambassador to Malaysia.