Thursday, September 22, 2011

malaysiakini: Najib's gaping void between illusion and reality... by Terence Netto

Najib's gaping void between illusion and reality
Terence Netto
Sep 22, 2011
COMMENT It's odd - this propensity of the Najib Razak administration to shoot itself in the foot just when it is poised to play the winning cards it intimates it has long been harbouring.

In this instance, the timing of the self-inflicted wound - thedecision to charge Mohamad Sabu under the Penal Code with criminal defamation as a result of remarks the PAS No 2 made over the Bukit Kepong incident - is most inopportune.

The case comes to court just after the Attorney-General's Chambers dropped charges against a coterie of Parti Sosialis Malaysia activists who were initially indicted for offences under the hoary Emergency Ordinance and obsolete laws.

Also, the case against Sabu is being pressed when the prime minister's predecessorcautions him over the possibility of internal opposition to his liberalising laws curtailing civil liberties.

It is a measure of the silo-mentality of some Umno leaders that they are more concerned about internal reaction rather than public restlessness with a status quo that the Umno supremo is trying to change.

In other words, how Umno reactionaries feel matters more than what the public wants.

Najib's ballyhooed moves have attracted an array of ayes and nays from sceptics, with contention building over who should take the credit for the intended liberalisation, an exchange that mirrors the ongoing debate over which political forces were more responsible for gaining independence for the country in 1957.

With regard to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's caution about the likelihood of internal dissent, a Najib lieutenant has interjected to say that, perhaps, Abdullah lacked clarity about his own tilt towards liberalism, which was why, claimed Mohd Nazri Aziz, the former PM's attempt at 'perestroika' (restructuring of political discourse in Malaysia through relaxation of repressive laws) did not cut any ice with party reactionaries.

Talk about a lack of clarity about what liberalism ought to look like, what can be more addled than a decision shortly after liberalising measures were announced on prime-time television to prosecute ex-ISA detainee Mat Sabu for reason of his revisionist take on an incident that happened 61 years ago?

Form rather than substance

It has been argued in these columns that Najib knows the forms of liberalism, but not its substance, just as it has been suggested that he knows what 1Malaysia means - credit his 'We must embrace our differences' as having some worth - but does not know how to give effect to it.

The evidence of cognitive dissonance in the Najib administration is now too plentiful to deny.

From day one of his administration the PM appeared to want to smooth along nice and easy, with periodic announcements of changes to sclerotic policies and practices. But all the while his administration has been prey to jerks and twitches that throw it off-stride.

Out of this discontinuity between the reformist image he desperately wants to project and the reality that is considerably less amenable, the PM comes across as wanting the public to trust him.

Opinion surveys now tell him that the 'trust-the-PM' factor is slipping. Every new PM is given a wide berth by a watching public to strut his stuff, but once the people sense his act is tinsel, they can turn on the leader with a vengeance.

Look at predecessor Abdullah's slide from conductor of the 2004 BN landslide to casualty of the 2008 BN debacle, all within the span of a term.

The resounding lesson of that precipitous decline: Don't backslide once you have campaigned on a promise of reform.

Conjuring tricks

The problem reform-seeking Najib faces in his party and the administration is the undertow of stale thinking that hinders ameliorative policies.

In such circumstances, the task of leadership is to transform the public understanding of national issues and on the platform that affords the leader must break through the gauntlet of obstacles made up of reactionary forces, interest-group power, public passivity or cynicism, and conventional wisdom.

Najib is unable to transform his party's and his administration's assumption that democracy must be tutelary and citizens are essentially wards and not free agents.

This is the obsolete thinking he has not been able to change as the clock winds down rapidly to when he must seek his own electoral mandate.

Even if he gets it, it will be a victory without drum rolls, a majority without a meaningful mandate. That is because he has not defined clearly what he wants to do with it.

He is, in the end, more interested in form rather than substance, in management than in leadership, in tone than in content.

He is like the avuncular man who comes to do conjuring tricks at a children's party who is then startled to discover that the kids have grown up and want something more elevating.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

Friday, September 16, 2011

fmt: Peanuts, not sweeping reforms....... by Kee Thuan Chye

Peanuts, not sweeping reforms

September 16, 2011
Let’s not be fooled, people. The changes Najib announced are merely cosmetic, and will have to be passed in Parliament first before they become effective.
By Kee Thuan Chye
PEANUTS. That’s what Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s so-called “sweeping reforms” are. They hardly amount to a political transformation.
While it’s cheering to note that the Internal Security Act (ISA) will be repealed – finally, after our many years of waiting – and that the Emergency proclamations are to be lifted – a decision that is decades overdue – it’s disturbing to be told that they will be replaced by two new laws aimed at preventing subversion and safeguarding public order.
And even though the detention period under these new laws may be shorter, with further extensions to be made by court order, the Home Minister is still the one to decide who gets detained for suspicion of being a terrorist.
This means, theoretically speaking, that although Najib has given the commitment that “no individual will be detained purely based on political ideology”, there is no stopping the government from branding a political opponent a suspected terrorist, whether or not he is one. Just to lock him away.
Another so-called “reform” is scrapping the requirement for publications to renew their printing licences annually.
This, also, is nothing to crow about. It still means that publications have to obtain a licence that the Home Minister may or may not grant. It still means the Home Minister has the absolute power to suspend or revoke a licence at any time. And his decision cannot be challenged in court. He does not even have to give a reason.
It also means the Home Ministry can still call up newspaper editors and cow them into submission for publishing something the ministry finds objectionable. Like what happened recently to The Star when it ran the heading ‘Ramadhan delights’ for an eating-out supplement that was not totally devoted to halal food.
The ministry can still practise the double standards it has been practising – turn a blind eye to the race-baiting and rabble-rousing of Utusan Malaysia but come down hard on the minor transgressions of other publications. So where’s the change?
If the government were truly sincere and had the political will, it should repeal the Publications and Printing Presses Act (PPPA) and no longer require publications to obtain a printing licence. That would be in keeping with the spirit of what Najib talked about instituting in Malaysia when he announced the “reforms” on Sept 15 – a “democratic system based on the universal philosophy of ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’”.
Vague reforms
None of the newly announced “reforms” fully cohere with this spirit.
On Section 27 of the Police Act, Najib said there would be a review to take into consideration the provisions under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees Malaysians the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
But in the same breath, he said police permits would still be required for street demonstrations, subject to certain criteria.
If freedom of assembly, which should be a right of all citizens, is still curtailed in this fashion, what is that rubbish talk of Najib’s about forging a democratic system “of the people, by the people and for the people”?
He did say, however, that “permission to assemble will be given in accordance with procedures to be fixed later that will take into account international norms”. But this sounds vague. What international norms did he mean? And when is “later” going to be?
And speaking of Article 10, why doesn’t the government address the other impediments to freedom of speech, such as the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Sedition Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), the Multimedia and Communications Act, the Public Order (Preservation) Ordinance?
No wonder Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was smirking and applauding when Najib made his announcements. His absolute powers remain intact.
Let’s not be fooled, people. The changes Najib announced are merely cosmetic. And of course they will have to be passed in Parliament first before they become effective.
Meanwhile, Articles 149 and 150 are still there to provide Parliament with the power to pass laws that do not have to be consistent with the freedoms guaranteed in Articles 5, 9, 10 and 13, and to allow the Cabinet to declare an emergency. The Emergency proclamations may go, but Article 150 is still around. We the people are still vulnerable.
Some of us may say that we cannot expect the government to make such truly sweeping reforms in one go, and that we should be thankful for the small mercies we are now getting. Some may say this could be just the beginning, and more reforms could come.
That’s well and good. But at the same time, we should give credit where it’s due for this beginning. It’s not Najib we should thank. What we are getting is what has been due us for a long time, what any concerned government should have given us even without our having to pressure them to do so.
We should instead acknowledge that the March 8 effect lives on, and therefore the credit for these changes should go to us the rakyat for voting as we did on March 8, 2008. We voted in a stronger opposition, we denied the ruling party the two-thirds majority that it had abused to increasingly curb our democratic rights over the decades. We sent them the message that enough was enough.
These “reforms” have now come about because Barisan Nasional (BN) wants to stay in power, and it has realised that we have the power to decide whether that will happen. The “reforms” are meant to win back our votes. Ever since Najib took over as prime minister, he has been doing things merely to ensure that BN’s goal is fulfilled, not because he is altruistic or benevolent in spirit. We have seen his meanness in numerous other ways.
Watching him speak on Sept 15 when announcing these “reforms” as part of his Malaysia Day address, we could have contrasted it with his speech to 6,000 Umno members and Malay NGOs at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) a couple of days after the Bersih 2.0 rally, and call him “two-faced”.
Contemptuous chauvinist
At that PWTC gathering, he was far from being the prime minister who cared about reform and the good of the entire country.
He was a truculent thug who roused the crowd with the boast of Umno’s ability to round up a million members to “conquer Kuala Lumpur”. He was a contemptuous chauvinist who exhorted the Malays to unite in order to teach the Bersih 2.0 protesters a lesson and “show them whose country this is”.
No doubt, he has since realised his mistakes in his handling of the Bersih 2.0 rally and is now making amends. His ratings have dropped and he’s trying to make them go up again. Hence these “reforms”. But let’s be wary of his sincerity and be clear about his real purpose.
Let us keep sight as well of the many more ills that the government has not comprehensively addressed, such as corruption, rent-seeking, wasteful spending, Umnoputraism, our pathetic education system.
Let us demand more reforms, especially those pertaining to our institutions, such as the judiciary, the police, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
There is still a long road ahead. Unless and until the reforms are truly sweeping and the restrictive laws abolished, we should not put our trust in Najib and BN.
Make them sweat, make them work, and don’t let them take us for granted. Never again.
Dramatist and journalist Kee Thuan Chye is the author of ‘March 8: Time for Real Change‘. He is a contributor to FMT.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wikileaks: Najib's Islamic moderation lip service

Wikileaks: Najib's Islamic moderation lip service
Sep 3, 11 6:05pm
10 friends can read this story for free
Prime Minister Najib Razak, while attempting to portray Malaysia as a moderate voice in the Muslim, is doing just the opposite in his attempts to woo Malay support, according to a leaked US embassy cable.

Commenting on Najib's administration's handling of the 'Allah' and other religious issues, the embassy conveyed scepticism as to how far the PM would go to show that Malaysia was indeed tolerant of religious freedom.

“There has long been conflict between the ruling party's commitment in principle to freedom of religion and toleration of diverse views in practice,” read a US embassy cable sent to the US State Department on Jan 12 last year.

“Najib's public relations efforts to downplay differences among the races and religions and promote the concepts of toleration and moderation notwithstanding, he appears to have hardened popular views since the advent of his administration given the steps hardliners in the ruling party have forced on their fellow Umno members.”

Posted on Wikileaks last week, the cable cited the 'Allah' and Kartika issues and the cow's head incident and other issues related to the practice of religious freedom that had cast doubt on the PM's sincerity on the issue.

“Despite its extensive efforts to reassure expatriate and foreign audiences, the Malaysian government has focused only on protection of property and persons, foregoing an opportunity to make a clear statement on the maintenance of freedom of religion in the country,” it said.

According to the cable, it was believed that Najib was primarily interested in gaining the support of the Malay electorate at the expense of creating a true environment of religious freedom.

This, it said, was evident in how the government had used the judiciary to intervene on the 'Allah' issue and how it manipulated public statements including those of the Agong and the Selangor sultan, to send a message that the BN would not back down on the 'Allah' ban.

This contrasts with the PM's statements abroad, such as his lecture at Oxford in May titled 'Coalition of Moderates and Inter- Civilisational Understanding' where he sold the idea of Malaysia as a moderate nation that celebrated its diversity.

“Malaysians accept their diversity. We do not merely tolerate each other but we also embrace and celebrate,” Najib had said during his visit to the United Kingdom, at the invitation of the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies (Oxcis).

Mere 'rhetoric'

The US cable said that the PM has not shown any effort towards achieving moderation aside from “rhetoric”.

“(Najib's) failure thus far to record much in the way of tangible results, beyond more forward-looking and liberal rhetoric, leads to popular suspicion. 

“The conventional wisdom among most non-ruling coalition Chinese and Indians, for example, seems to be that the ruling party has orchestrated the 'Allah' issue so as to increase support among Malay voters by fomenting division between Muslims on one side and Christians or secularists on the other in the opposition coalition,” it said.

It added that Najib's earnest in implementing significant political reform was “debatable” and questions if it is mere “lip service” to win back conservative Malay support after serious setbacks in 2008.

It noted widespread cynicism and “distrust” amongst the non-Muslims at the PM's sincerity on religious tolerance.
“The popular view is widely and deeply held among non-Malay, non-Muslims that the government is antagonistic toward other religions and is engaged in a long-term effort to expand Islam's primacy in Malaysian society,” it said.

Religious controversy continues to blight Malaysian politics as the 13th general election looms, from the 'Christian PM conspiracy' tacked on the DAP to the recent Jais raid on a church in Damansara Utama, Selangor over alleged conversion of Muslims, that has spun off an apostasy sideshow.

Even Penang's Islamic authorities attempts at exercising tolerance recently, through their ban on loudspeakers at dawn, has become fair game for BN politicians.