Thursday, 31 May 2012

Ambiga and the fate of women leaders in Malaysia — Dahlia Martin

By Dahlia Martin

MAY 30 — Gender equality is not a reality in Malaysia, despite recent government assurances. The treatment of Bersih organising committee co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan confirms this.

April was a terrible month for women in the country.

It saw Prime Minister Najib Razak announce that he would be taking over the portfolio of the minister for Women, Family and Community Development, following the resignation of its minister, under pressure from corruption allegations.

Local women's groups were aghast at the move, noting, in a joint statement, that women's affairs had "languished at the bottom of the pile" when it had previously been located in the Prime Minister's Office.

Later that month, Bersih organised a series of rallies, collectively known as Bersih 3.0, calling for clean and fair elections, and the government has used the violent turn of events that day as a platform from which to increase its attacks on Ambiga.

Already, Ambiga's name could scarcely be mentioned amongst government insiders without some measure of vitriol attached to it.

"Who doesn't know Ambiga. She's the one who threatened Islam," Najib reportedly told a crowd in the run-up to the Bersih 2.0 rally last year.

"Awas! Ambiga wanita Hindu yang berbahaya" ("Warning! Ambiga is a dangerous Hindu woman") read leaflets distributed by Malay rights group Perkasa.

Less than a fortnight after the Bersih 3.0 rally, Ambiga's critics began to drive home their points — quite literally. Traders apparently upset about alleged loss of income from Bersih 3.0 held a protest outside Ambiga's house, by setting up a burger stall and giving away free burgers.

A few days later, a group of army veterans turned up on Ambiga's doorstep to stage their own protest. The protest included having the ex-servicemen turn their backs on her home, and stretch and shake their buttocks as part of an "exercise". The group warned they would take further action if Ambiga continued to bring more trouble to Malaysia.

Since then, two more groups have attempted to hold protests outside or near her house, with one even handing over a memorandum detailing why Ambiga should leave the country if she did not apologise to all Malaysians.

Ambiga called the veterans' protest "crude", and has referred to the protests on her doorstep as an "invasion of privacy." Her fellow co-chairperson, former national laureate A. Samad Said, meanwhile, has raised the question of why he and none of the other members of the organising committee have been targeted in the way that Ambiga has.

Ambiga is unique amongst the committee members in her role as a member from two marginalised positions. "She is an Indian, a non-Muslim. If Ambiga was me, these threats targeting her would not have happened," Samad said, highlighting how her ethnicity set her apart in the doorstep protests.

But Ambiga is also a high-profile woman leader, having previously received a string of domestic and international honours and titles, including the International Women of Courage Award from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.

Women leaders across the world have spoken of heightened scrutiny and gendered criticisms as they attempt to do their job, as the assumption that men and women belong in the public and private spheres respectively continues to hold stead.

In Malaysia, prospects for women are not looking any brighter. Sexist stereotypes and innuendos thrive in the political realm. Male politicians from the ruling coalition have in the past been allowed to get away with comparing women with toilets, proposing women try to enjoy being raped, and even discussing the menstrual cycle of their female colleagues in parliament.

A flippant remark from Najib's predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — to listen to one's wife "only when it comes to dressing up — not on policy matters" — is illustrative of the attitude of many of the Malaysian political elite to women: that they are best in a support-role, to either her husband or children (or both).

Crucial here is the condition that women must not be outspoken. Rafidah Aziz was well-known for her direct talk, and for many years her position as the Minister of International Trade and Industry was hailed as an achievement for the status of women in Malaysia.

But a dispute in the media with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 2006 saw Rafidah break down in tears at one press conference. The editorial cartoon Senyum Kambing in local government-owned paper Utusan Malaysia mocked the tears of the woman it had a year before jokingly referred to as an "iron lady".

Rafidah, once a woman known for her strength, had been revealed to be very much a woman, prone to emotional episodes, after all. She'd been broken, and the patriarchal enforcers were delighted.

The veterans' exercises performed outside Ambiga's house were a not-so-subtle way of raising the gender politics at play here. A group of men using sexual imagery to attack a woman is not just bizarre. It is a threat, and a reminder of the dominant hold men have over women in a patriarchal environment.

"A dangerous Hindu woman," warned the Perkasa flyer, immediately warning everyone that the privileged position of those at the top of the gendered pyramid was being threatened by the outspoken woman Ambiga.

"The fate of women in this country is far better as they no longer have to fight for gender equality (like in certain countries)," Najib was quoted as saying earlier this month.

Meanwhile, young girls in Malaysia are watching what is happening to Ambiga, and trying to decide if being a leader is really something worth striving for. — New Mandala

* Dahlia Martin is currently doing her PhD on motherhood and Malay Muslim identity at Flinders University.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

What A Joke!

Each Bersih rally has successively attracted a bigger crowd.

It was in spite of the knowledge that participants would be tear gassed and sprayed with chemical water from a huge canon.

Couple that with spending long hours on their feet in the blazing hot sun.

And yet people came.

But there are factions that are unhappy with this rally of support. So they've hijacked the Bersih name and dirtied it with their intentions.

The “Bersih 4.0” group is planning a mammoth rally at Stadium Bukit Jalil this June 23, hoping to push its “message of peace” and rejection of Bersih 1, 2 and 3

The group is also offering valuable prizes, including a Lamborghini Gallardo supercar and five Modenas motorcycles, all worth millions in total, as lucky draw giveaways to those who support them.

That's proper mad. Not to mention pathetic.

When you don't have a cause to rally round, you have to resort to all sorts of attractions.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Very Interesting Poll

‘Half of Voters Do Not Trust KL Poll System’
*Carolyn Hong - Straits Times* | May 26, 2012
Kuala Lumpur. Almost half of Malaysian voters polled recently said they did not trust the country’s election system, and believed the electoral roll had dubious voters on it.

An overwhelming majority of respondents — 92 percent — support cleaning up the electoral register before elections, expected within months.

The survey was carried out last month by the independent Merdeka Center, which polled 1,019 registered voters in Peninsular Malaysia.

Just about half of them said they were not confident that the election process was free from irregularities, and about the same number believed that the 12.6 million-voter electoral roll had dubious voters including foreigners, voters with multiple identities or legitimate voters transferred to another constituency without their knowledge.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Basingwerk Abbey

An interesting ruin in North Wales. It was purportedly founded in 1131 by Ranulf, Earl of Chester.

It never ceases to amaze me how the British (or the Europeans for that matter) love to preserve their ruins.

They moan about how the country is being overpopulated and that there is scarcity of space, but all these structures taking up space remain unmolested.

Perhaps this sense of pride in their history is worthwhile.

We Malaysians had our Srivijaya (from back in the 7th century) and Majapahit (sometime in the 13th century) empires, but we never preserved much of it.

The stuff we have in Melaka is puerile (especially that water mill) and we happily demolish Bok House, turning it into a carpark - all because it belonged to a wealthy Chinese businessman.

Update:Bok House is not a carpark anymore. It got acquired by the Mariott Group and will be one more of the boring, characterless hotels that Kuala Lumpur does not need.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

FAQ On Occupy Dataran


Q: What is Occupy Dataran?
A: Occupy Dataran is an independent and autonomous grassroots initiative to reclaim Dataran Merdeka as an open and democratic space for people to gather, discuss and explore the true meaning of democracy beyond the representative system, to redefine democratic participation beyond the ballot box, and to imagine a new political culture beyond race, ideology and political affiliation.

Q: Who started it? And how did this idea come about?
A: Occupy Dataran was started by a group of people inspired by the 15-M movement in Spain, the grassroot movement that was calling for "Real Democracy Now" and adopting participatory democracy based on the popular assembly model. The idea to occupy Dataran Merdeka was developed during the first informal gathering of about 23 people, some friends and some strangers, at Dataran Merdeka on 30 July 2011.

Q: Is there a leader in Occupy Dataran?
A: In Occupy Dataran one does not look to one leader, but make space for all to be leaders. The group endeavours to organise itself in a democratic, horizontal and non-hierarchical manner. All roles such a moderators, minute-takers and coordinators, are rotated weekly.

Q: Who organizes the programs?
A: Anyone who joins Occupy Dataran can organize programs. There is no central organizing committee. Programs are organized on voluntary basis. Roles such as moderators, minute-takers and coordinators are rotated weekly.

Q: Who can join Occupy Dataran?
A: Occupy Dataran is open to all, regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, social class, political affiliation and ideology.

Q: What do you do in Occupy Dataran?
A: Past programmes have included the Universiti Rakyat (free, open-to-all informal workshops and lectures for people to share knowledge and skills), Pasar Percuma (a market of things and services offered for free), potluck picnics, music and theatre performances, poetry reading and more. The most consistent program is the KL People's Assembly.

Q: What is the KL People's Assembly?
A: The KL People's Assembly aims to be an open, egalitarian and democratic platform for people to share ideas, address problems, explore alternatives, propose solutions and make decisions on any issues. Decisions are made collectively through consensus decision-making and direct participatory democratic processes. Typically, the assembly runs from 8pm to 11pm, every Saturday.

Q: What does Occupy Dataran hope to achieve? What are your objectives?
A: Occupy Dataran and the KL People's Assembly can be seen as a laboratory where we experiment with a new kind of democracy that is more horizontal, that is more inclusive and participatory, where common people learn to deliberate and directly participate in decision-making, rather than arguing and delegating representatives to decide for us.

The group chooses to occupy Dataran Merdeka because of the lack of democratic space and free public spaces in KL where these things can happen. It is a reclaiming and re-appropriation of Dataran Merdeka as a playground of ideas and activities, as a forum for deliberation, as an agora for democratic assemblies, as a platform for collective decision-making.

Q: What has Occupy Dataran achieved so far?
A: Occupy Dataran has consistently been held at Dataran Merdeka every week since the 30th of July and through the KL People's Assembly, have created a new democratic space and platform for common people from diverse backgrounds to come together to meet as equals, a space to listen and to be heard, a space to connect and share ideas, a space to discuss issues openly and intelligently, transcending beyond the racial, cultural, religious and ideological differences that are constantly being used to divide us.

Q: What's your connection with Occupy Wall Street? A: While Occupy Dataran has no direct connection with Occupy Wall Street or any other Occupy movement in other cities throughout the world, there are some common threads. It is not in the demands and aims, but in the application of horizontal, anti-authoritarian and non-hierarchical structure, and also our commitment to consensus decision-making using direct participatory democratic processes through popular assemblies. Also in the occupation of public space as a means of reclaiming democratic space and building a new democratic people's movement from below.

Petition To Support Ambiga

It started when the UMNO goons singled her out for harassment.

She was co-chairperson of the BERSIH coalition, someone who has broken many glass ceilings, in the words of Bakri Musa:

Another significant milestone, again not widely acknowledged, is that the movement is led by a woman who is neither Malay nor a Muslim. Ambiga Sreenevasan broke not one but three Malaysian glass ceilings!

Rather befitting, someone created a 'petition' to support and thank her. "Be resolute," the petition says, "and know that all of us are behind you, Datuk Ambiga."

There was a modest goal of 1000 signatures for the cause.

But as of today, there are almost 10,000 signatures, about 10 times more!

Lend your name as well:

Friday, 18 May 2012

Pakatan Rakyat Achievements

A fellow blogger brought my attention to an entry which contained a rather enlightening video of what the Pakatan Rakyat government has done in the states that they have control of.

For those of you who would like to know what they've done in the last 5 years, here it is:

This is the Video that your BN government will not want you to watch

I like what the Pakatan Rakyat government have achieved and the attitude they possess in governance.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Muzzled Media Appeared Completely Ludicrous

I meant to get online and blog about recent events a lot earlier than this. However, I have been following up on the shenanigans of the ruling coalition UMNO, and its pathetically sorry machinery.

First up, I have to apologise for my incorrect assessment of the goons who call themselves the Malaysian government in assuming they would be less brutal in dealing with the public.

Seriously, I thought that they would have learned from past experience, but really, these guys are beyond teaching. Someone ought to send them out to green pastures and put a big sign out in the animal farm (or National Feedlot, if it hasn't been closed down yet) to warn against mad cow disease and foot & mouth.

Or in this case, foot IN mouth -- a phenomenon that they have single-handedly elevated into an artform.

You think I'm being unkind? Overly harsh? Mean?

Let's examine the evidence.

1. Nick Xenophon is an Australian senator. Against his better judgement, he decided to observe the BERSIH 3.0 rally in person. He had no idea what he was in for -- he got tear-gassed and witnessed rampant human rights abuses. Consequently, he spoke out against it. So the government-owned mainstream media was tasked to vilify him. Sorely lacking in ideas, they wrote blatant lies about him by switching words -- effectively putting his life in danger.

We hope he takes them to task (he has mentioned suing them). They offered a weak and insincere apology, but this is what puts him and consequently BERSIH 3.0 and the Malaysian protestors squarely on higher moral ground, in that they had to be falsely vilified to be seen as wrong.

2. BBC was outraged that its news reports were doctored and censored by Astro. The agreement between BBC and any broadcaster is that the full report should be aired in its entirety. Astro, the Malaysian satellite broadcaster, firmly breached this agreement when they removed certain sections. Instead of hanging their heads in shame, Astro claimed to be disappointed that BBC failed to understand their 'situation' as they were 'merely complying with local regulations'. Oh really?

3. BBC wasn't the only news channel to be offended. AlJazeera is appalled to discover news reports were also similarly doctored and censored by Astro, particularly because it showed excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators and damage of equipment belonging to sympathetic journalists.

And Malaysia calls itself a democracy? How could the government expect to be taken seriously when they resort to outright lies and manipulative attempts to spin the truth?

I do take exception to that, but not as much as to the Malaysians who are still bleating in weak protest against the mainstream media, saying that they have the right to speak out against tyranny.

I cannot understand why one would waste one's breath. The government-owned mainstream media deserve neither the time of the day nor any rebuttals. They are a waste of paper, airtime and energy. Heck, they are parasites; pimping oxygen.

So if you find yourself compelled to explain why you went out to protest on the 28th of April 2012, please do me a favour: DON'T.

Just do the right thing and ignore the mainstream media.

Related: Astro, give some respect to your customers please!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Denbigh Castle

At the entrance to the castle.

This castle in North Wales was built sometime in the 13th-century, after King Edward I conquered Wales.

Why The Ruckus During BERSIH 3.0

They call it a conspiracy -- the fact that for no apparent reason, the Malaysian police chose to attack a dispersing crowd.

I don't. It's too blatant and obvious what the UMNO government's intentions are.

You see for yourself.