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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How did our PM’s fared as leaders?

As we celebrate our nation’s 47th birthday I have a bad feeling that things could be worse moving forward. I mean socially, politically and economically we have stopped making great strides in making the great leap forward to become high income nation (I’m still not sure why we need to be a high income nation but that’s for another day). There is still much talk about Malay supremacy, pendatang, corruption, human rights abuses, a subservient judiciary and many many more.

It’s simple why this is so. It boils down to the kind of leadership we have in this country. I must say we’ve been blessed to a certain extent of having capable & dedicated leaders in the past from Tunku to Hussein Onn’s time.

But it has been a downward spiral ever since. Our leaders have failed to live up to their call. They have failed us to the most extreme. They have in turn become agitators of the worst kind and willing to bend down at whichever angle as long as they satisfy their huge deep pockets and ego with the rakyat’s hard earned money.

How do we make sense of these leaders? Is it their leadership styles or the reality they were in or the principles they use to dictate the outcomes?

Personally, it all boils down to the values they follow. What sort of values were we experiencing during their stint as PM of Malaysia? Let’s look at them below:-

Dr. Mahathir…sold the righteous for silver and the poor man for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6). This was Mahathir’s legacy. This was the man who did the unthinkable of dismantling the judiciary and selling it to the highest bidder. In 1988, Mahathir sacked Tun Salleh Abbas the then Lord President of Malaysia and 5 other Supreme Court judges. These were respectable and proven to be capable Supreme Court judges. For Mahathir, there can never be anything Supreme in this land except Maha-thir! This was a devastating and terrible blow to our justice system and we have never recovered to our former stature since then.

Few years later, there came a video clip about VK Lingam allegedly intervening into the judicial appointments process of Malaysian judges. Our judiciary who once used to command respect worldwide has become the laughing stock of the nations. Even Badawi remarked that our country has never recovered from this terrible tragedy hence the need to apologize and compensate the sacked judges in 2008.

But how do our nation recover from this mess when our justice system is so subservient to UMNO and the powers that be. Can the little man & women look up to our judiciary to seek justice for themselves? Or do they need to take justice in their own hands to have their own brand of justice?

And who could ever forget Operasi Lalang in 1987. It was a darkest night for all freedom loving Malaysians. It was a day where we were as good as having a military emergency in our country. It was also a day when the 2 culprits (Najib & Lee Kim Sai) ran to Australia like cowards but those who were not guilty of inciting this racial sentiments were detained for some up to 2 years. For nothing!

This was the largest single swoop (106 detained) in our Malaysian history and I pray there will never be such as this. This brought a climate of fear on all levels of Malaysians and tightened Mahathir’s grip on our country’s politics. From now onwards it was his way or the highway. Our freedom & rights were thrown & trample upon and many of the detainees were never the same again. Many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husband, wife were taken to Kamunting for an indefinite period of time and this left deep scars and nightmares on their loved ones.

This was Mahathir greatest legacy. These 2 incidents left a deadly mark on our nation’s political & social landscape. It is never to be forgotten and it should never be. How do we recover from all this is left to be seen as any damage control has been futile so far. The very essence of justice and human rights were forever lost in Malaysia and only with the change of the present government I believe we can fully restore our confidence in the judiciary system.

Abdullah Badawi…When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly (1 Sam 28:5).

This was the guy who got whacked left and right from Mahathir until he was ousted. But hey, to some extent it was Badawi who manage to open up democratic space in Malaysia for change to happen. And the rakyat thought they needed him as he was a far cry from the autocratic Mahathir. He became the first PM to have garnered the highest number of parliament seats and also created history by loosing two-thirds majority eventually. With the highest number of seats he was still unable to steer the country out of money politics and the nation became more divided.

During his tenure, the racial and religious divide became more visible and there was no solution at sight. Badawi was a man too afraid to call the shots even with such high support from the public. Many religious conversion issues were not solved and left to the local Islamic bodies to take control. It was during his time that Little Napolean or Little Mullah began to rear its ugly head. The UMNO warlords began to flex their muscles but Badawi just kept quiet throughout his term. It was during his term as PM Hishammudin or fondly called as Kerismudin started to raise and kiss the keris at the UMNO General Assembly for the first time. It was so offensive to all Malaysians that this became the battly cry for the opposition during the 2008 general election and the rest as they say is history.

The legacy of Badawi was total inaction and flip flops in everything he did. He was not in control of the ship but was led by fear itself. There was no intellectual capacity from this man and no way was he going to be another long term premier. And for this he was kicked out by his very own UMNO members.

Najib & Rosmah…and the cows of Bashan (Amos 4:1)! This couple came in with huge baggages from Altantuya case to Perkasa! Needless to say they were the targets of Raja Petra who has vowed to bring them down at whatever cost! The alleged injustices they have committed would have sent any leaders packing and running for their lives to a different country (like Zimbabwe or Myanmar or even Mongolia).

Najib may turn out like Pak Lah with the latest grapevine saying that Mahathir has decided that Najib must go! But I will not say much of this couple as they have a long way to go or maybe not. There has been a lot of plans especially about KPI’s, NEM and the Transformation Plans for us. But none has even started what more to produce results.

It really seems to be a downhill for us as long as UMNO/BN continues to lead our country. Change is possible if only we really want to work towards it!

Will you?

Another Malaysia is Possible!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Reflection on Merdeka & Thanksgiving Day

Some of us could be wondering how Thanksgiving holiday came about in America. Well, for a start it is quite similar to our Merdeka story. After all, America too was started by a group of immigrants from Europe, Africa and later Asians.

The first wave of immigrants came in 1621 and many died the same year due to famine. Only with the help of natives (Red Indians) they survived. The natives taught & help them to grow crops in their new land and in turn the immigrants help the natives to subdue their enemies with guns which they had.

Their partnership soon grew and became a win-win situation for all. To celebrate this partnership the immigrants & natives decided to share their food among themselves and thus born the tradition of Thanksgiving Day in America today.

I guess that was their Social Contract. That in coming together for survival they forge a partnership that was formidable in years to come. Today, America has grown to become the most powerful & prosperous country in the world. And the foundation to their success was their belief of coming together even though they were very different. They knew that a New World is Possible and they made it happen!

Now, coming back to Malaysia. Around 100-150 years ago the British brought in the biggest wave of immigrants from China & India. These people came to Malaya to survive as they believe at that time this was the land of opportunity like America too.

Similar to the Thanksgiving story, some years later the Malays forge a partnership with Chinese & Indians to drive out their enemies British. Don’t you think there is an irony here? The British who brought the Chinese & Indians to work here were at last driven out by the very same people together with the natives.

Somehow, one couldn’t do without the other. We needed to work hand in hand so that Malaya could be free. And yes we did achieve independence in 1957 without any bloodshed.

And with this new found Independence our Social Contract came into being. It was inked as the Federal Constitution of Malaya. This and only this I believe is our contract.

And for the first few decades Malaysia was doing remarkably well especially economically. There were some major upheavals like the Singapore expulsion, Indonesian Confrontation and May 13 1969 but looking back this was a young & fledging country. We needed to do some re-balancing and changes and moved on.

And now 53 years later after being called a tiger economy we are on the verge of being the sick men of Asia. Literally! Our FDI and economic figures don’t seem to generate any confidence and hope in near future and for our children.

Our neighbors whom we used to import maids from (Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thai etc) are running ahead of us and trailing new grounds.

Our political masters who has been in power since the day our Constitution was inked have amended it countless of times (650 times as of 2006). Groups are questioning about this document and any discussion on certain parts of it is God forbidden. Recently, someone did say that our NEP has been bastardized. Can the same be said of our Constitution?

But, what was the original intent of the Social Contract? Was it to turn our country into dictatorship or where racism is the order of the day? What happen along the way?

Our unity is fast becoming a novelty so much so we need slogan after slogan to remind us of how things were in “Once upon a time in Malaysia”.

Frankly, I believe our success as a nation lies in the very lines of our constitution. This was the basis of our togetherness. This document was not only meant to remind every generation what Malaysia means to us but that of everyone’s right & dignity is fully protected in this land of ours.

Somehow, we are still attracting immigrants today. Look at the Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Myanmar’s, Philippines etc are still flocking to Malaysia to earn a living and maybe hoping to settle down here in future if possible. If these people can see the value of Malaysia why can’t we?

Well, a little imagination may help us. Read the constitution and understand it.

Yes, Malaysia will face many walls, setbacks, crossroads and what not but our constitution is there to guide us. It is our Bible our Koran our Baghavad Gita of this country.

If we use it wisely we can come out of this mess which we have created after all these years. We have to, we need to and we must make Malaysia Possible!

Only then we can proudly proclaim Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka with gusto!!!


p/s we are still in Merdeka season as September 16 is just around the corner!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Relationship between Faith and Politics

19 July 2010 By Tricia Yeoh

I was invited last Friday to speak at an event jointly organised by Empower and SIRD (Strategic Information and Research Development Centre) entitled “I am what I believe”. A rather intriguing topic to begin with, the objective of the forum was to bring a diverse range of youth together to discuss the role of religion in politics and the fine workings between the two. The speakers represented the fields of law (Aston Pava from the Bar Council), feminist activism (Nazreen Nizam from Sisters in Islam), social and community work (Mrithula Shiva from the URI, United Religions Initiative), and public policy (myself).

Though I did not have a text, I was asked to prepare a summary of what I wrote for the purposes of their record-keeping and report. So here is a rough outline of what I said last Friday evening at MBPJ, with about 30-odd young people sacrificing their night out to have some solid discussion on the religious-political sphere in Malaysia.

The Relationship between Faith and Politics

Tonight I will speak on two over-arching topics in relation to faith and politics; the first will outline my personal background and the reasons for which I subscribe to the principles I believe in today, and thereafter I will try to address the problems that are currently being faced in Malaysia.

I’d like to firstly put a caveat that I am not speaking on behalf of the state government. However, because I do wear that particular hat, I do have a certain amount of experience and exposure in the realm of policy-making from a state government’s point of view. Hence, I speak as a policy analyst, one with experience in government, and one who happens to have been brought up in the tradition of the Christian faith.

My heritage is therefore one of Christian tradition. Having grown up in an environment of relative conservative spirituality, the ‘church’ had us believe that much of what constitutes Christianity is essentially to do with one’s spiritual health – the relationship between self and God, the divine. Most of our teachings were centred upon how to improve one’s spirituality, with a particular focus on the afterlife. However, as I started becoming exposed to public issues such as corruption, injustice, cost overruns (such as the Istana we are now faced with), abuse of power, discrimination of minorities and a host of other issues, I realised that the public-private divide was a myth, for someone whose faith so fundamentally describes the personhood of someone.

Again, I am only speaking based on my own experience. The division between the public and private spheres in this instance was difficult, especially since the ethos that drove me as a person – those very principles of justice, honesty, truth, accountability – were the same things that I would project onto the public sphere. Faith and politics were hence intimately intertwined insofar as social justice was concerned. For example, the efforts to fight slavery in the past stemmed precisely from faith principles (or the interpretation of what those religious principles were to that particular group of advocates).

My premise is therefore that for those whose faiths so intensely drive their being, it is not possible to extricate one from the other. The problem arises, however, when there are varying interpretations of opinions on public morality; or when policymakers begin to take it upon themselves to consciously legislate public morality. This, again, is entirely possible, if and only if, the leader concerned is able to rationally consider what is the greater good for all. This means that policy decisions must be made for ALL from different backgrounds, and these differences must be taken into consideration.

Living in Southeast Asia and Asia, for example, it is inevitable that any of us would have had some sort of exposure to religion growing up and even at present. To say strictly that there IS a separation of the two is utopian for some but impractical for most. Given this reality, how then do we approach decision-making for the public at large?

Let’s focus on Malaysia right now. The problem in our country is that there is a tight and interrelated nexus between the issues of race, religion and politics. Race and religion so fundamentally describe identity. The nexus is therefore between identity and faith, identity and power, which are extremely strong ties. Without delving too deeply into history, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 without a doubt spurred Muslims in Malaysia towards a religious wave. Again, this is too sweeping a generalisation and I am not doing justice to historical political discourse, but what resulted from these trends were the emergence of political parties in a race towards being more Islamic than the other: UMNO and PAS. I do not doubt the genuine intentions of many, but there have certainly been strategic steps taken for political expediency purposes, on both sides. Therefore this establishes that religion in Malaysia ties too closely with politics for us to have a rational discussion on the theoretical relationship between faith and politics – or rather, the prescriptive notion of what ought to be in place.

In addressing the issue of a secular vs. an Islamic state, I believe the definition of the term secular or secularisation is interpreted differently by different quarters, and therein lies the difficulty of discourse. A secular state does not necessarily mean one that is completely non-religious. This just means that the country is not legally defined or shaped or dictated by those religious principles, for example as mentioned above the legislating of public morality. In any case, even without those legal tags that we place upon Malaysia, can we not be satisfied to say that the country is in fact Muslim in ethos nevertheless?

The more interesting question to me, therefore, is then to what extent can personal beliefs inform our policy decisions? Should they at all? In the courts, through government administration? I believe that faith can inform and influence our decisions, but only to the extent that it benefits the greater good for all. The important consideration is that of people of multiple religions being affected as a result of any public policy decision.

And yet, more and more issues besiege us daily. There are the issues of the “Allah” controversy, temple relocation, church-burning, Kartika and caning as a result of alcohol consumption, apostasy and the list continues. My personal conviction is that we ought to ask ourselves where we are at the cross-roads, where we want to go and how is it we are to get there? We must be able to work on faith principles and common values that can be applied to the public sphere. I can think offhand of initiatives such as working on poverty, the right to water, refugee issues, humanitarian aid, and so on. There is a need to recognise common ground, that of respect, dignity, trust. The Common Word Document that was sent by leading Muslims around the world to the Church community was an epitome of such respect for a common belief in one God and that of loving thy neighbour.

This work has to begin with the young, as I believe some would be too encumbered with baggage of their own beliefs and that of their heritages (including that within the Christian faith) to progress further. More people of such thought projections should be empowered to speak up and express their opinions, without the religious agenda being hijacked by a select few. More avenues must be given, such that religious views are not exclusive to those who are legally or administratively given the right to speak or define one’s personal beliefs. We must be able to break free from the insecurities, fears of identity that have burdened our own communities for far too long.

What are the right avenues to work on this agenda? Through profession (the vocation that one chooses to take up i.e. law, policy), involvement in civil society (NGOs like Perkasa are powerful but to speak up means forming and joining other NGOs to have a critical mass and show voice and power), politics (being involved in actual decision-making or supporting those in politics who share your views), the media and Internet (Web 3.0 is powerful as a source of influencing opinions far and wide). Ultimately, it’s about education and opening of the mind. Remember this. Leaders make decisions based on what they believe the people want. Enough people believing and displaying publicly that they desire traditional, classical religion to be less defined within the law, will eventually lead the way to that end. This, after all, is democracy.

Tricia Yeoh maintains a blog at