Sunday, December 28, 2008

Issues versus personalities

Issues versus personalities
28 Dec, 2008

Umno has already announced their candidate, so it is too late to backtrack on that. So it is now left to PAS to choose their candidate. If PAS chooses the right man then Wan Farid is dead meat. But Wan Farid’s chances can improve if PAS makes the mistake of fielding the wrong candidate.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Is the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17 January 2009 going to be about issues or about personalities? It’s actually going to be a bit of both, with internal bickering and sabotage thrown in, on both sides of the political divide.

To understand Kuala Terengganu one must first understand the history of this town. Over 200 years, Kuala Terengganu used to be the meeting point for foreigners and traders. Most of the settlers of the town came from afar to make Kuala Terengganu their home. Even some so-called Malays are actually Chinese from the Yunan province of China. But they are not regarded as Chinese at all. Malays accept them as fellow Malays and treat them as such. And the Yunanis are no longer ‘practicing’ Chinese, being more Malay than Malays themselves; even surpassing the Babas and Nyonyas of Melaka -- who may be ‘Malay’ by customs and language but are not Muslims like the Yunanis of Terengganu.

In the 1970s, when oil was first discovered off the coast of Terengganu, Kuala Terengganu, again, saw an influx of foreigners, mostly oil industry workers and employees of Bristow Helicopters, the British helicopter company contracted by Exxon to ferry the oil rig workers to and from the oil rigs.

At that time, Kertih was still being built so Kuala Terengganu was used as the temporary centre for the oil activities. There was even one CIA man who masqueraded as an oil company man but was actually there to spy for America. Everyone knew he was CIA but no one shied away from clicking his beer glass with the overweight man with the oversized beer belly who did not at all look like the charismatic James Bond.

These ‘foreigners’, Malaysians as well as Caucasians, would frequent the Pertama Coffee House for their ‘happy hours’ and Muslim plus non-Muslim alike would get drunk and engage in the occasional bar room brawl in the Pertama, which was run by a police officer and his wife.

But the locals were not perturbed. These were, after all, ‘foreigners’. Even the Muslim-Malays were considered ‘foreigners’ since they were not local born. And as long as the ‘Anak Terengganu’ of the Muslim faith did not also get drunk in the Pertama, the locals were quite prepared to leave these outsiders to their own devices and to enjoy their ‘decadent’ lifestyles.

Such was the attitude of the Kuala Terengganu population who were prepared to live and let live, even back in the 1970s, just as long as you did not encroach into their territory and ‘import’ your ‘evil ways’ into the homes of the locals. You can do your thing very much unhindered and with not so much as raised eyebrows from the ‘Anak Terengganu’. And this can be considered unique in a state that takes Islam with much seriousness and even calls the state Terengganu Darul Iman (Terengganu the Land of the Faith).

Things have not really changed that much over 30 years. Outsiders are very much welcome in the town, although in the rest of the state the people can be very regionalistic in their ways. A Besut man (Besut is at the Kelantan-Terengganu border in the North) would find it very difficult to gain acceptance in Kemaman (at the Pahang-Terengganu border in the South), and vice versa -- in particular if it is to contest a seat in an election. But a Johor man would face no problems contesting a seat in Kuala Terengganu, and winning that seat as well.

Onn Jaafar proved this when he resigned from Umno out of protest -- when the party refused to open its doors to the non-Malays -- and he formed his own party called Parti Negara. Onn Jaafar contested the Ladang state seat in Kuala Terengganu and won. Bakar Daud too, an ex-police officer, was another outsider who held the Ladang state seat for many terms until the state fell to the opposition in 1999. If there were one seat an outsider would have no problems of winning that would be Kuala Terengganu.

There are four state seats under the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency -- Bandar, Batu Burok, Ladang and Wakaf Mempelam. The Kuala Terengganu parliament seat used to be under Umno until its Member of Parliament, Razali Ismail, died on 29 November 2008. Razali was the Deputy Education Minister. But the funny thing is, while the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat was under Umno, three of the four state seats -- Batu Burok, Ladang and Wakaf Mempelam -- are under PAS. Only the Bandar state seat belongs to Barisan Nasional and even then it is under MCA and not Umno. How could Razali win the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat when three of its four state seats are under PAS?

This can be attributed to Azmi Lope, the PAS state assemblyman for Bandar who won that seat in the 1999 general election. Azmi’s and the late Razali’s wives are sisters. So many PAS supporters, in particular those aligned to Azmi, voted for Razali -- although he was Umno -- while they did not vote for Umno for the state seat. This shows that family ties and personalities still play a role in how the voters choose their candidate and sometimes the party comes second, especially in a town like Kuala Terengganu, which is considered more ‘liberal’ than the rest of the state.

Umno has already announced its candidate, Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh, the one-time political secretary to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and now a Senator and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs. Wan Farid is also the Umno Kuala Terengganu division chief. But Wan Farid is not the choice of either Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak or Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Said. Ahmad Said wanted either Roslan Awang Chik or Zubir Embong to contest the seat but was overruled by Abdullah Badawi.

Wan Farid carries a lot of baggage. Wan Hisham, his brother, contested against Razali for the Umno Kuala Terengganu vice-head post, and won. Of course, with his brother as the division head it was easy for Wan Hisham to defeat Razali. Many blame the two brothers and say that they drove Razali to his death. Razali’s supporters will certainly want to make the 17 January 2009 by-election ‘payback time’. So expect an element of internal sabotage.

Roslan and Zubir are no pushovers. These two, Umno warlords from the Bakar Daud days, still have a lot of support and they will certainly want to make sure that Wan Farid does not sail through with an impressive victory. Ahmad Said, too, will want to prove that Abdullah should have listened to him and that Wan Farid is the wrong choice of candidate. We must remember that Ahmad Said is not Abdullah’s choice of Menteri Besar. Idris Jusoh was. Ahmad Said is the Agong’s choice. So we can expect Idris Jusoh to play a role in ensuring that the Menteri Besar loses the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

The opposition will have to ensure that they field the right candidate -- which will be announced on 1 January 2009. Mat Sabu is currently the hot favourite. But then he is an outsider. Umno will therefore go all out to discredit him if he is fielded in Kuala Terengganu. But will the issue of calun luar pose a serious problem to PAS? At the moment it does not appear so but it all depends on how the issue is played up, and it will certainly be played up for sure.

The second alternative will be Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi. But Syed Azman is already the state assemblyman for Batu Burok and this can be used as an issue. Umno can appeal to the voters that since Syed Azman is already a wakil rakyat, while Wan Farid is not, then it is better that the seat be given to Wan Farid instead of Syed Azman. Would the Terengganu voters be prepared to make Syed Azman both a parliamentarian as well as a state assemblyman? There is no way of telling just yet.

Ahmad Said is himself not above controversy. Petronas has just built a shopping complex in Kertih that cost more than RM100 million and one of the tenants is Giant. Giant has already stocked up their hypermarket full of goods plus has hired more than 200 workers. But Ahmad Said will not allow them to open their doors for business.

Petronas tried to meet Ahmad Said to discuss the matter but the Menteri Besar wants to meet Giant and not Petronas. Giant, in turn, refuses to meet Ahmad Said and instead wants Petronas to sue the state government. According to the talk in town, Ahmad Said wants Giant to ‘donate’ a few million ringgit to Umno Terengganu’s 'war chest' before he gives them permission to start business. But none of the other Malay-owned establishments have to do the same thing so why is Giant, which is Chinese owned, subjected to this ‘donation’ rule?

PAS can play up this issue to win over the 8,000 or so Chinese voters in Kuala Terengganu. If Umno Terengganu, or Ahmad Said, is seen as racist or anti-Chinese, then this may swing the Chinese votes. And with the other racist from Penang, Ahmad Ismail, still very much in the minds of the Chinese, this stunt by Ahmad Said may yet anger the Chinese enough to vote PAS.

Bandar, which as I said is the only Barisan Nasional seat out of four state seats under the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency, is under MCA because that happens to be the only seat given to the Chinese. The rest of the 31 state seats and 8 parliament seats in the state are all Umno. Therefore, if the Chinese do not give at least that one seat to MCA, then the Chinese will have absolutely no seats in Terengganu.

But that is the Bandar state seat, the solitary seat that MCA contested. The Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat is not MCA but Umno. So there is no reason for the Chinese to be emotional about the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat, which will be Malay versus Malay and not Malay versus Chinese. Sure, the Chinese voted along racial lines when it came to the Bandar seat. That is why the Bandar seat is the only state seat that Barisan Nasional won in Kuala Terengganu. But there is no reason for the Chinese to vote Barisan Nasional when it comes to the parliament seat because whoever wins it will still not be a Chinese anyway.

And what is one more parliament seat for PAS? This will give PAS only 24 seats in total against DAP’s 28 and PKR’s 31. PAS will still be the minority and can’t form the government or even implement Hudud laws with just 24 seats. Plus, if the candidate is Mat Sabu, then one more ‘loose cannon’ can be sent to parliament to give Barisan Nasional a massive headache. So the Chinese will not see any problems with voting for PAS if the candidate is a ‘friend of the Chinese’ like Mat Sabu is known to be.

In 1999, Harun Jusoh of PAS won the Bandar seat and it was because of the Chinese votes. In 1990, the Chinese, again, voted PAS and the MCA candidate was defeated. So, many times in the past the Chinese in Kampong Cina voted PAS rather than for the Chinese candidate from MCA. The Chinese have done this before, many times, and they can do it again. They can vote PAS, especially when voting PAS does not entail ‘sacrificing’ their ‘own’ candidate from MCA.

Bandar is not just Kampong Cina, which is predominantly Chinese. It is also Losong, which is predominantly Malay, and Pulau Kambing, which is a mix of Malay and Chinese. So we need to look at Bandar beyond just the Chinese. The Malays too have a significant vote in the Bandar state seat. But, in the past, when the Malays from Losong and Pulau Kambing were split 50:50, it was the Chinese from Kampong Cina who played the role of ‘kingmaker’.

The bottom line is, the candidate matters. Field the right candidate in Kuala Terengganu and you will win. Field the wrong candidate and not only the voters will reject him or her but your own party will play a role in ensuing that he or she loses. The internal sabotage is going to be brutal, for both Umno and PAS, although more so for Umno than PAS.

PKR has a strong following in Kuala Terengganu and should not be ignored. Even DAP has a presence in Kuala Terengganu and can sway the Chinese voters. PKR and DAP are very comfortable with Mat Sabu and if he is going to be the candidate then expect very strong solidarity from Pakatan Rakyat. But if Mustafa Ali is instead going to be the candidate, then some of the PKR and DAP workers might stage a ‘go slow’ and not be too serious in their campaign.

The problem is not just PKR and DAP though. Even the ‘Young Turks’ in PAS would rather the candidate not be Mustafa Ali. They feel that Mustafa is a hindrance to Pakatan Rakyat solidarity and is from the older generation that should be reduced to an advisory role and not be too prominent on the front line.

Mustafa was also the ‘wet blanket’ who spoke out against Anwar Ibrahim’s plan to form the federal government on 16 September 2008. Many blame Mustafa for throwing a spanner in the works by announcing that the 16 September plan is Anwar’s plan and not Pakatan Rakyat’s plan. Instead of supporting the plan, Mustafa said that he did not think it can happen and has in fact not agreed to it. This sent Pakatan Rakyat into panic mode and there was even talk that PAS might team up with Umno to help prop up the Barisan Nasional government if 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament cross over to Pakatan Rakyat.

Some even went so far as to accuse Mustafa of being an Umno mole whose job is to ensure that Pakatan Rakyat does not succeed in its effort to form a federal government. A lot of damage control needs to be done if Mustafa is chosen to contest the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

The matter of the missing RM7 billion oil royalty or ‘Wang Ehsan’ will also be an election issue, as will the RM300 million a year Terengganu Monsoon Cup. Wan Farid and his brother, Wan Hisham, together with Patrick Lim, have their hands dirty in this and I will be very surprised if this issue is not played up to the hilt. The Agong rejected Idris Jusoh and instead asked that Ahmad Said replace the former as Menteri Besar because of this missing RM7 billion. Even the Agong is upset. So would the Terengganu folks vote for Wan Farid, one of the four men who robbed Terengganu to the tune of RM7 billion?

Then there is the shooting of two people during the Bersih rally along the Batu Burok beach in Kuala Terengganu. It is said that Wan Farid was the man who instructed the police to clamp down on the rally and which resulted in the shooting. Wan Farid, of course, has denied this allegation but witnesses have spotted him in conference with the police just hours before the shooting. Wan Farid will be hard-pressed in washing his hands of this bloody episode along Batu Burok beach.

Kuala Terengganu is a 'must visit' come 6 January 2009 once the nominations close. Whether it is going to be a straight fight between PAS and Umno is yet to be seen. But it will be no surprise to everyone if it is a three- or four-corner fight with an ‘independent’ candidate or two entering the fray.

The Kuala Terengganu parliament seat is nobody’s seat. Neither PAS nor Umno can claim it is their seat. And Kuala Terengganu is not one seat. It is a make-up of Kampong Cina, Losong, Pulau Kambing, Ladang, Tanjong, Batu Burok, Kuala Ibai, Cabang Tiga, Wakaf Mempelam, and so on. It is actually many seats in one and a most unpredictable seat to forecast at that. I, for one, would not want to take any bets just yet. There are too many permutations with the candidate being one of the greatest factors to consider.

Umno has already announced their candidate, so it is too late to backtrack on that. So it is now left to PAS to choose their candidate. If PAS chooses the right man then Wan Farid is dead meat. But Wan Farid’s chances can improve if PAS makes the mistake of fielding the wrong candidate.

The more worrying point is, after knowing all these issues, will PAS make the right decision? If they still ignore all these factors and choose the wrong man, then many are going to come away thinking that this was done on purpose. As it is, many are suspicious of the top PAS Terengganu leadership. Talk amongst some people is that PAS many ‘throw’ this election to help Ahmad Said consolidate his position, which is under serious attack from the other factions in Umno Terengganu. In politics this is not unusual -- in that we help the weaker enemy against the stronger enemy with a view that, in the end, both enemies will be neutralised when they are equally strong.

PAS is, after all, a political party and in politics an enemy of an enemy can be your friend when it best suits you. And friends can revert to being enemies later once the situation changes. So will the Kuala Terengganu by-election be that platform for PAS to pit one Umno faction against the other? This, the people are speculating, and one wrong move from PAS will set tongues wagging and the “I told you so” will reverberate across the Kuala Terengganu river to the other side of the lavish RM60 million Crystal Mosque built by Patrick Lim, Wan Hisham, Wan Farid and Idris Jusoh at great cost to the taxpayers.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The hypocrisy in man

The hypocrisy in man
25 Dec, 2008

So, while I might support Hudud in principle, I do not support it as the law of the land. And I do not support it because I can’t support what two-thirds of Parliament does not support.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Christmas is upon us, yet again. Another Christmas, another year gone, another year nearer to our graves. Tomorrow is Boxing Day, also remembered as Tsunami Day, the day when people were drowned in their sleep and swept out to sea into their watery graves.

How quickly joy turns to sorrow. One day we are elated with festivity and drowning in food and wine. The next we are sedated with reality and drowning in the Indian Ocean. I am now in Penang. I arrived yesterday with an entourage of six families, about 25 souls or so in all. I am now in the land where it all happened almost a memory ago.

The Boxing Day Tsunami, some say, is God’s punishment. It is God punishing mankind for the wrongs it has done. If that was really what God intended then God did not do a good job. Those who deserve punishment certainly did not get punished. Those who were punished were not deserving of that fate. Are we talking about my God, one of compassion and justice, or are we talking about your God, one with a sick sense of humour and misguided sense of justice?

To you your God and to me mine, the religionists say. But then are we not all God’s children and the creation of that same, one God? How can you, therefore, have your God and me, mine? Your God and mine are one and the same. To believe we have separate Gods means we believe there is more than one God. And the doctrine of most religions says there is but one God, in particular that of the Abrahamic faiths.

And are we so different? Did not Muhammad learn from the Christians and much of Islam ‘adopted’ from Christianity? Does not the Ka’bah also appear in the same name and form in the land of the Zoroastrians in the far reaches of Persia? Did not Jesus disappear from the ages of 12 to 30 when he sought tuition from Buddhists, as many now believe? Did not John the Baptist practice what was practiced by the Hindus in India of his time? But what can we really believe? Do we really know what was fact and fiction thousands of years ago? What we do know is what we have been told to believe. And what we are told to believe is what they want us to believe. And what they want us to believe is what suits the political agenda of those who walk in the corridors of power.

John roamed the land with just the clothes on his back to preach the word of God. And he brought no rations save those he accepted as alms along the way. Was John a Jew, Christian or Buddhist? We believe what we want to believe as long as it suits those who walk in the corridors of power. And to believe otherwise will not incur the wrath of God but the wrath of those who need us to believe what we are told to believe for purposes of political expediency.

Such is religion. And such is politics. And religion is not about God. It is about politics. And Cain killed Abel not for God but for politics. The good died that day, thousands of years ago. And we are descendants of the bad that lived, not the good that died.

So, can mankind be good when we are children of bad? How can the fruit of a poisonous tree be nothing but poisonous? If Cain had survived and society had convicted Abel and sentenced him to death for attempted murder, then we would probably be good because then we would be children of Cain, not Abel.

But would children of good also be good? And would children of bad also be bad? Can those whose mothers and fathers who are both nuclear scientists be equally brilliant? Or is there no possibility the son could be born mentally retarded? How many children of Umno diehards join the opposition, to be cursed and disowned by their fathers? And can there not be two brothers on opposite sides of the political fence? Shahrir and Khalid, the two sons of Samad, are testimony that there can. But which of Samad’s sons is Cain and which is Abel? It all depends on whether you walk in the corridors of power. Cain can be Abel and Abel, Cain, if he you judge walks with you and not against you.

Hudud is the current controversy, the latest Tsunami sweeping this land. But what is the issue? Is it about religion or it is merely politics? The hand is quicker than the eye. And what we see is what our brain tells us to see. We see what the hand waves in front of us. Magic is not magic. Magic is sleight of hand.

And the politicians are playing silap mata. It is a cheap show to indulge our fantasies. Is it not fantasy that Hudud will be implemented in Malaysia? How can the minority move the majority? The Federal Constitution does not provide for it. Hudud is not about religion. It is about the law of the land. Religion may be a state matter. But Hudud is not about religion. It is about the law of the land. And the states do not have authority over the laws of the land. Hudud can only become law when Parliament says so. And you need 66.666% of Parliament to say so. PAS owns only 23 seats. And 23 seats in Parliament is not 66.666% of 222. So Hudud can never be the law of the land.

The non-Muslim coalition partners of Barisan Nasional oppose Hudud. This, they have said so. Umno from Kelantan supports Hudud. This, they have said so. The non-Muslim partners of the opposition coalition oppose Hudud. This, they have said so. PAS, the propagator of Hudud, is split on the issue. This may have a bearing on the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17 January 2009.

In the meantime the people are confused. Who supports what and who opposes? It is no longer that easy to tell. But it is meant that way. This is what politics is all about. And Hudud is about politics, not about religion. Politics is about exploitation and deception. Politics, not prostitution, is the oldest profession in the world. But, while prostitutes are not politicians, politicians are certainly prostitutes. And they will prostitute themselves if need be. And most times it needs be that they prostitute themselves.

PAS wants to secure the Malay votes in Kuala Terengganu. Umno wants to swing the Chinese votes. So, with the by-election looming over the horizon, Hudud is played to the hilt. Islam is the issue of the day. Hudud is the bad boy of Islam. And there are no sacred cows in politics. All is fair in love and war. So let us play up the Hudud issue for the benefit of winning votes.

A critical analysis of Hudud could lay the matter to rest. Those opposed could become converted if the real issue is explained. But then this will end the confusion. And the objective is not to end the confusion. The game plan is exploitation and deception. That is how ‘good’ politics is played. And there is only one type of politics, the type that wins.

I do not want to explain Hudud. I am not even a Hudud apologist. I can do that if you want me to. It is so crystal clear and extremely simple that it makes me laugh. How can Hudud be an issue? Hudud can be good and can be bad depending on application. So can the Internal Security Act if you really want to get analytical. Hudud is not about punishment. It is about looking into circumstances. Hudud explores what went wrong and how to put it right. It is not about imposing on society and causing tears to be shed.

Thieves must not be automatically punished under Hudud. The circumstances need to first be explored. Under common law thieves must not escape punishment. The circumstances do not matter. If a thief is a thief because of circumstances then the thief is not a thief and society must instead be punished, as far as Hudud is concerned. Society will be ordered to adopt the thief. The thief will become the ward of the state. And the thief can now leave his life and crime and enter into a life of adoption.

Such is the beauty of Hudud. A thief is not a thief. A thief becomes our adopted child. And if, again, he needs to steal because we have failed him, then we receive punishment instead. The thief loses no limb. But do people understand this? They do not because they are meant to not understand. This is about politics. And politicians are prostitutes. They exploit us and deceive us. And that is a mark of a good politician.

Murder is murder. Death is punished by death. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But that is common law. That is not Hudud. In Hudud the question would be: why did you kill? Circumstantial evidence is not allowed under Hudud. Under common law you hang because of the smoking gun. Never mind they can’t prove that you killed. As long as the gun is yours you will die even if you did not pull the trigger. And did not Mokhtar Hashim get sentenced to death because of the smoking gun?

Even if you confess to murder you still do not die. The victim's family would first be asked whether they want you dead. Taking your life will not bring back the deceased. So do we want a life for a life? Two lives gone serves no purpose. The deceased's family’s welfare for the rest of its natural days takes precedence over punishment. Dead men do not put food on the table. Would another life lost, notwithstanding it is the life of a murderer, solve the economic problems of the deceased's family?

So you can ‘buy’ your life by supporting the family. It may be costly but that is the price of life. But what if you are destitute yourself? How to support your victim’s family when you can’t even support yourself? Many pay tithe or zakat. Zakat must be paid, come hell or high water. You can choose how to pay as long as it assists society. And if your millions can be spent for the benefit of mankind then you have fulfilled your duty to God and society. So a philanthropist can help 'buy back' your life for the good of the deceased's family.

So there are ways. Hudud can be humane if you want it to be. But has this been explained? Are the people aware that Hudud can improve society where common law has failed? But who cares? Who cares that Hudud can be better than what we have now? Hudud is not about religion. It is about politics. And politics is about exploitation and deception. And that is because politicians are prostitutes. And Hudud has been prostituted for the benefit of politics. That is what Hudud is all about, political prostitution.

But I too do not support the implementation of Hudud. I support Hudud in that it can be better than what we have if properly implemented. But what is properly implemented nowadays? Even the Internal Security Act has been abused. The Internal Security Act was good in 1960. One generation later and it has become a tool to stifle dissent and freedom.

So, while I might support Hudud in principle, I do not support it as the law of the land. And I do not support it because I can’t support what two-thirds of Parliament does not support. This is not about religion. It is about democracy. Even if two-thirds of Parliament supports it I still will not support it. How can 148 members of Parliament decide on behalf of 26 million Malaysians? Never mind some people gave them their two-thirds majority in Parliament. It was only four million people that did. 22 million other Malaysians did not.

Run a referendum. 10 million Malaysians are minors. 16 million Malaysians are of voting age. Get the 16 million Malaysians to decide. And let that referendum of 75% tell us what they want. And if 12 million Malaysians, representing 75% of eligible voters, vote in favour of Hudud, then let this be the law of the land. If not, forever hold your tongue and let the matter be given a decent burial.

I have just about had it with political prostitutes. It has come to a point I feel like campaigning for Umno in the Kuala Terengganu by-election just to send a message to PAS that they can’t keep playing this exploitation and deception game of political prostitution. Do they think I have my brains in my ass? Just because they do does not mean I do too.

Those who both support and oppose Hudud do not know one bit what Hudud is. Many years ago I wrote a ‘thesis’ on the matter, which was published in Harakah, the official party organ of PAS. No, I am no lawyer. I am not even a religious scholar. I just have a brain; a brain God gave me. And God gave us brains so that we can use it to think. But I wonder why others do not also use their brains that God gave them to think.

No, Hudud is not evil. Hudud is better than what we have now. But it can be worse if we want to make it so. And chances are the evil in man will make it worse. That is what makes the matter dicey.

Nevertheless, the issue is not whether Hudud is better or worse. It is about whether the majority of the people want it as the law of the land. That is what matters. And we do not care what 23 PAS Members of Parliament want. We do not even care what 148 Members of Parliament want, even if they represent two-thirds of Parliament. We care what 75% of 16 million Malaysians want. If 12 million Malaysians shout, “Let’s implement Hudud”, then let that happen. If not, buzz off and get out of my face before I really lose my temper, you political prostitutes.

Oh yes, and Merry Christmas everyone. Hope you are in the same mood as I am today. I want to kick ass. Don’t know what you want to do though.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CAP call to ban plastic tumblers (Polycarbonate, PC)

CAP call to ban plastic tumblers
By : Audrey Dermawan

CAP president Datuk S.M. Mohamed Idris
CAP president Datuk S.M. Mohamed Idris

GEORGE TOWN: The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is calling for an immediate ban on the use of plastic water bottles made from polycarbonate in schools.

CAP claims polycarbonate bottles could have detrimental effects on the health of children as it leaches out bisphenol A (BPA).

BPA has been linked with health problems such as impairment of reproductive organs and tumour formation.

BPA is also an "environmental hormone" which disrupts the endocrine system of humans and animals.

Its president, S.M. Mohamed Idris, said here yesterday: "With the coming of the new school year, parents will buy water bottles for their schoolgoing children.
"However, they should avoid getting water bottles made from polycarbonate. We will write to the Education Ministry and other authorities to alert them about this."

Idris said BPA could leach into the content of the bottles through normal wear and tear, as well as exposure to heat and cleaning agents.

He said a study conducted by the University of Missouri in the United States and published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that BPA could even leach into liquids at room temperature.

He added that another study, conducted by researchers in California and published in the journal Cancer Research, had found that many genes in non-cancerous breast cells exposed to trace amounts of BPA began acting in a way that resembled the gene activities in aggressive breast tumour cells.

The study results were designated as a "priority report", published by the American Association of Cancer Research, a leading organisation devoted to study cancer.

"The Canadian Health Ministry is calling BPA a dangerous substance, making it the first regulatory body to take the initial step towards implementing measures to control exposure to the chemical.

"In view of the dangers associated with BPA, CAP calls on the Education Ministry and other authorities to impose a ban on the use of polycarbonate bottles in schools."

Polycarbonate water bottles with the letters PC next to it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The constantly grumbling Chinese

The constantly grumbling Chinese
22 Dec, 2008

Some Chinese say they refuse to vote for PAS because they are worried that PAS may implement Islamic laws. But how can PAS implement Islamic laws when they will never have a two-thirds majority in Parliament?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Malays can sometimes be real assholes. But at least they are honest about it. Chinese can also sometimes be assholes as well. But they pretend to be something else whilst they are actually the opposite of what they pretend to be. In that sense the Chinese are hypocritical assholes. And this is where the Malays are better than the Chinese. The Malays are honest assholes while the Chinese are dishonest assholes.

Look at what MCA said yesterday. They want PKR and DAP to state their stand on the Hudud laws. But when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared that Malaysia is already an Islamic state and therefore the Malays do not need PAS any more, MCA clapped and whistled just like trained seals in a circus. MCA should have demanded that Umno states its stand on the Hudud laws the day Mahathir made his announcement. What about the government proposal on the Syariah laws? What has MCA go to say about the matter? Why no response? Why as silent as a church mouse?

Look at the petition to the King and the Sultans. The Malays keep a respectful silence when it comes to the Rulers. Except for a handful of Malays, the majority of the Malays do not drag the Rulers through the mud. And you do not need the Sedition Act for the Malays to show respect to the Rulers.

The Chinese, however, grumble that the Rulers are a waste of money. “Why do we need Rulers?” the Chinese argue. “It just costs us a lot of money to maintain a Monarchy. And the Rulers do not do anything to earn their salary.” But when we take the initiative to send petitions to the Rulers, these same Chinese will argue, “Why waste time with petitions? It is not like the Rulers will do anything.”

So what do the Chinese really want? When they perceive the Rulers as not taking any action, they grumble. But when we take the initiative to bring to the Rulers’ attention certain grievances of the rakyat, they also grumble. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Sometimes I get the impression that these Chinese get an orgasm by grumbling. Maybe it’s a fetish thing, sort of like kinky sex.

Look at the issue of free speech. When I whack the Malays, I am a great guy. I am open. I am fair. I am a person who allows and practices freedom of expression. But, when I whack the Chinese, I am a racist pig. Whacking Malays is good for the country and in the spirit of free speech. Whacking the Chinese is a negative thing and bad for the country’s future.

The Chinese do not believe in freedom of expression. They believe in the freedom to whack the Malays. And whacking the Chinese is not freedom of expression. It is racism.

Look at the issue of who to vote for in the elections. Barisan Nasional is evil. Barisan Nasional is Umno. The non-Malays have no say in Barisan Nasional. The non-Malays in Barisan Nasional are Umno’s running dogs. But we Chinese must vote for Barisan Nasional because it is a devil we know. Pakatan Rakyat may be an angel but it is an angel we don’t know. Better a devil we know than an angel we don’t know.

The Malays are split into four groups. There are the Malays who support Ketuanan Melayu and the New Economic Policy. These Malays will vote for Umno come hell or high water. And they will defend Ketuanan Melayu and the New Economic Policy with their six-inch keris to the death. Then there are the Malays who support PAS, basically because they believe it is the Islamic thing to do. Then there are Malays who want to see transparency, good governance, freedom of expression and assembly, independence of the judiciary, an end to abuse of power and corruption, an end to police brutality, and all those other ‘Western notions’. These Malays will vote for PKR. Then there are those Malays who don’t care a damn and think that all politicians are hypocrites and politics is sheer bullshit. They don’t bother to come out to vote or even to register as voters.

The Malays are clear in their leanings. They don’t hide their feelings. They say it as they see it and you can go to hell if you don’t like what they say for all they care. But you can’t say the same about the Chinese. They grumble and grumble till the cows come home. But they will do the exact opposite of how they feel. They equate Barisan Nasional as the reincarnation of the devil. But then they will vote for Barisan Nasional because it is the devil they know and the devil they know is better than an angel they don’t know.

Some Chinese say they refuse to vote for PAS because they are worried that PAS may implement Islamic laws. But how can PAS implement Islamic laws when they will never have a two-thirds majority in Parliament? PAS contested only 60 seats out of 222 Parliament seats. Then they went and won only 23 seats.

PAS needs about 150 seats in Parliament to change Malaysia from a Secular state into an Islamic state. But when they contest only 60 seats, even if they win all the 60 seats they contest it will still be only 60 seats. And they can’t win all the seats they contest. They can only win less than half the seats they contest. Where would PAS get the 150 parliament seats it requires?

The Chinese counter this argument by saying that PAS can always team up with Umno to form an Islamic state. So better we vote for Barisan Nasional than vote for PAS. This will prevent PAS from teaming up with Umno to change Malaysia into an Islamic state.

Again, this argument does not make sense. If you refuse to vote for PAS because you are scared that PAS will team up with Umno to change Malaysia into an Islamic state, would voting for Umno instead of PAS prevent this? I mean; you are scared of a PAS-Umno alliance. So you refuse to vote for PAS and instead vote for Umno. Does this mean the alliance will not happen if this is what you suspect is going to happen? You are just transferring from the right pocket to the left pocket. The sum total still remains the same.

You transfer your vote from PAS to Umno. One seat less for PAS means an additional seat for Umno. Or you transfer your vote from Umno to PAS. One seat less for Umno means an additional seat for PAS. You are merely ding-donging from PAS to Umno and vice versa. Therefore, if PAS and Umno form an alliance, would not the number of ‘Malay’ seats total the same? How does ‘robbing’ PAS of one seat and giving that seat to Umno have any impact if PAS and Umno form an alliance?

Now, if Umno and DAP are face-to-face in that constituency and you vote for DAP instead of Umno, then this would make a difference. And if PAS faces MCA or Gerakan in that constituency and you vote for MCA or Gerakan, this too would make a difference. Then you are not giving the seat to either PAS or Umno; you are giving it to DAP or MCA or Gerakan. But DAP will face MCA or Gerakan, not Umno, while it is PAS that is facing Umno. So you either vote for PAS or Umno. There is no DAP to vote for. DAP is fighting MCA or Gerakan.

Anyway, PAS has 23 seats in Parliament. Umno has 66. Even if you add Umno Sabah into the equation, Umno’s seats will come to only 79. 23 plus 66 equals 89. Add the 13 Umno Sabah seats and it still comes to only 102. 102 of 222 comes to less than 50% because 50% of 222 is 111.

So you are scared that PAS will betray us and team up with Umno. But if they do that they still do not have the two-thirds they need to change Malaysia into an Islamic state. In fact, they do not even have 50% of the seats. How do you, therefore, reconcile the ‘logic’ that you vote for Barisan Nasional instead of Pakatan Rakyat to prevent PAS from teaming up with Umno? But this is Chinese ‘logic’ for whatever it is worth.

Chinese demand mother-tongue education. They argue that vernacular schools offer better education than national schools. Many Chinese go to Chinese schools while Malays go to national schools, although some Malays do go to Chinese schools. But Malays can rationalise better than the Chinese can. Chinese may be better at mathematics. That I don’t deny. But those Malays who are supposed to be weak in mathematics can count better than the Chinese. The Malays know that 23 plus 79 equals 102. And the Malays know that 50% of 222 is 111. The Chinese don’t know this in spite of the fact they are better at mathematics than the Malays.

No, the Chinese are not poor in mathematics. They are not even stupid. They are in fact quite clever and, at times, cleverer than the Malays. It is just that the Chinese like to grumble. The Chinese are constantly grumbling. And they will raise all sorts of grievances -- the Malays this, the Malays that, the Chinese are second-class citizens, the Chinese are unfairly treated, the Malays are mean to the non-Malays, without the Chinese Malaysia would never have developed, Malaysia is what it is because of the Chinese, and so on and so forth. But ask them to act on their grievances and the Chinese will offer a million lame excuses why they will vote Barisan Nasional instead of Pakatan Rakyat.

You can’t get the job because you have no experience and the job specifications stipulate they require at least three years experience. But how to get experience when you can’t get a job? That is called ‘Catch 22’. The Chinese refuse to vote opposition because, according to the Chinese, the opposition does not have a track record in government whilst Barisan Nasional has 51 years experience. But how will the opposition build up its track record or prove what it can do if it never gets to form the government? That is also called ‘Catch 22’.

Maybe the Chinese can answer this question. But their answer will be the typical: better a devil you know than an angel you don’t know. And then, after voting for Barisan Nasional, the Chinese will go on grumbling about how unfairly they have been treated by Umno, and that the non-Malay parties in Barisan Nasional are Umno running dogs, etc., etc., etc. And the Chinese are supposed to have received a better mother-tongue education than the Malays.

You could have fooled me.

Atchoo! Sneeze and sex could be linked

Atchoo! Sneeze and sex could be linked
Dec 19, 2008

PARIS, Dec 19, 2008 (AFP) - Women who suspect a man of having sex on the brain should listen out for a sneeze, as a pair of British doctors say that sneezing may be a sign of arousal.

In an unusual paper published on Friday in the prestigious Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Mahmood Bhutta and Harold Maxwell cite the case of an unnamed middle-aged patient who suffered uncontrollable fits of sneezing whenever he thought of sex.

Intrigued, the pair unearthed further evidence -- although less robust -- among anonymous Internet chat rooms, where 17 people of both sexes reported sneezing immediately upon thinking of sex and three others who said they sneezed after orgasm.

Bhutta, a specialist in ear, nose and throat medicine at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said the phenomenon could be more widespread than thought and might even be inherited.

"It certainly seems odd, but I think this reflex demonstrates evolutionary relics in the wiring of a part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system," Bhutta said.

"This is the part beyond our control, and which controls things like our heart rate and the amount of light let in by our pupils. Sometimes the signals in this system get crossed, and I think this may be why some people sneeze when they think about sex."

Using his name in vain

Using his name in vain
21 Dec, 2008

Many a time the government and police use the name of the Sultan to perpetuate violence, like in Batu Burok, Terengganu, where two people were shot during a BERSIH rally, and to deny us our fundamental rights. It is time this stopped. But it will not stop unless we fight back.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

I remember, back in the 1980s, at the height of the second Constitutional Crisis, the late Sultan of Terengganu almost incurred the wrath of the people. The current Agong was then the Raja Muda of Terengganu. And how it happened was as follows.

The Terengganu state government had been awarding more than RM100 million worth of state government contracts to one particular company. This company was owned by Dato’ Yong, Dato’ Azhar and Dato’ Yusof. RM100 million, about 20 years ago, is probably worth RM500 million or more today considering a BMW 7 series or Mercedes S class cost only RM80,000 at that time.

I spoke to the Director of the Public Works Department (JKR) and he complained that the work was not only ‘negotiated without tender’, but they were awarded to this company at more than double the estimated price. And that was why a mere fencing job, which could be done for RM500,000, was being awarded at a price of RM1.6 million.

I checked with the architect and quantity surveyor and they ‘opened up the books’ to show me how the ‘negotiated without tender’ contracts were all awarded at double the price. Therefore, the contracts totalling RM116 million should have been awarded to the company at RM50 million or so -- and, even then, at RM50 million they would still be making money as the cost had been estimated at around RM40 million.

In short, the company was making about RM66 million on these jobs totalling RM116 million and at today’s purchasing power we can easily and conservatively estimate that as more than RM300 million in ‘clean’ profits.

I was perturbed. I decided to raise this matter in the Malay Chamber of Commerce meeting and it was agreed that we would make a representation to meet the Menteri Besar, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad. I went along with the delegation to meet the Menteri Besar in his office.

The Menteri Besar explained that there was nothing he could do about it. He had received, he said, a surat kuning (yellow letter) from the palace to award these contracts to the company owned by the three Datuks. What Wan Mokhtar failed to mention is that there is a fourth Datuk who is the ‘secret shareholder’ of this company. And this fourth Datuk was none other than Wan Mokhtar himself.

Now do you know why Wan Mokhtar, Dato’ Yong, Dato’ Azhar and Dato’ Yusof were known as ‘The Gang of Four’? And Wan Mokhtar played the role of ‘Madam Mao’ as in the infamous Gang of Four from China.

I went to meet Shahidan Kassim, then the Parliament Backbenchers Club Chairman, and told him the whole story. Shahidan, in turn, raised the matter with the Deputy Prime Minister, Ghafar Baba, who made a press statement that was carried on the front pages of the Malay newspapers.

Terengganu went into panic mode.

Wan Mokhtar called for an emergency public meeting and invited more than 1,000 Malay businessmen to attend the ‘conference’. In this meeting, he explained that the opposition was trying to bring down the government by triggering a conflict between the government and the palace. He accused this group of lying that they had met him and that he had revealed in this meeting he received a surat kuning from the palace. He profusely denied making such a statement and denied he had received a surat kuning from the palace.

I was identified as the dalang (puppet master) behind this ‘conspiracy to trigger a clash between the government and the palace’ and Umno Youth subsequently ousted me from the Malay Chamber of Commerce. The Umno Youth personalities were Wan Hisham (brother of Wan Farid, the candidate for the 17 January 2009 Kuala Terengganu by-election), Wan Bakri, Nasir Ibrahim Fikri, etc., and led, of course, by Wan Mokhtar, the Menteri Besar and head of the Wan clan of Terengganu.

We found out later that the palace had, indeed, not issued any ‘yellow letter’ and that Wan Mokhtar was, in fact, the partner of these three Datuks. The palace had been used to siphon out more than RM100 million worth of government money, which, at today’s prices, could easily be five times that amount.

Some years back, the Selangor State Government sacked about seven imams from various mosques all over Selangor on what they said was the instructions of the Selangor palace. My brother and I investigated this matter and found out that the Selangor religious department had complained to the Sultan that these imams were anti-royalty and had used the mosques to spread hate against the Sultan. The religious department asked for the Sultan’s consent to remove these imams, which the Sultan consented to.

The religious department then sacked the imams and said that this was done on the instructions of the Sultan of Selangor. My brother and I were of course extremely perturbed because we personally knew some of these imams and we knew for a fact (since we had gone to pray at these mosques a number of times) that this was not true. The truth was, these imams were PAS members and Umno wanted them removed and they were using the Sultan’s name to do this.

Now, the CPO of Selangor, said that the police took action against the JERIT cyclists because the Sultan of Selangor was not happy that the opposition was using children for political ends. Did the Sultan personally meet the ‘children’ and personally check their birth certificates to verify their ages and got confirmation from reliable sources that the ‘children’ were in fact ‘being used’ by the opposition? Or, is the CPO, just like in so many incidences before this over the last 30 years, using the Sultan’s name, as usual?

Yes, it seems the Sultan told the CPO just before His Highness left for an overseas trip that he is not happy the opposition is using children and that he told the police to take action. How convenient that the Sultan is overseas when action was taken.

The cycling expedition was endorsed and supported by the Penang, Perak and Selangor State governments. These are the governments of the respective states. They are not opposition. Umno is the opposition in these states. So how can the opposition be using children when Umno is the opposition and it is not Umno that is behind JERIT?

In the early 1990s, I organised a run from Kuala Terengganu to Kuala Lumpur. It took us 48 hours to cover the 500-kilometer distance. The Terengganu state government sponsored the run of 60 runners and the police gave us a police escort the entire duration of the run. 20 of us were from the Terengganu running club, 20 of them were Hashers, and 20 were children (all below 18).

The current Agong, the Terengganu Raja Muda then, flagged off the run and the Federal Territory Minister, Yusof Nor, received us at the Dataran Merdeka, sharp 8.00am on Federal Territory Day, and threw us a party after that. Now, why was the issue of ‘using children’ not raised then? In fact, we were fully backed by the government and police. No one got arrested and we did not even have a police permit for this ‘illegal’ run.

It has become the habit for the government and police to clamp down on those not aligned to Umno while using the palace as the excuse for doing so. “We are just doing what the Sultan ordered,” would be the normal argument. They even use the Sultan’s name to rob us of billions of the rakyat’s money. Podah, we no longer fall for that crap. And we are going to send a petition to the Sultan to protest what the police did. So, please sign the petition and let us get as many signatures as possible. We are going to fight back with a vengeance.

Licensed to thrill

Licensed to thrill

Dec 22, 2008

Thailand- The popularity of nude calendars by alcohol companies has been growing each year since the economic crisis that they have proven to be a hit. This year, however, they have become a controversy, pitting a manufacturer against the Public Health Ministry.

Boon Rawd Brewery's 2009 nude calendars for Leo beer is facing the wrath of the ministry, which says that it violates the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act of 2007.

"Nude calendars have become popular again since the economic recovery," says Witawat Jayapani, president of the Advertising Association of Thailand. "And alcohol sellers have bigger budgets to spend on making these calendars as part of their sales promotion."

Bt3 million to pose nude

In 1985, a famous actress received Bt100,000 to pose nude. But during the economic crisis and with strong social opposition, alcohol companies did not gain as the desire for nude calendars waned, Witawat says.

Then, as lately as 2001, another famous actress reportedly bagged as much as Bt3 million for posing nude.

Anyone disseminating pictures of nudes or so-called "farm sex" or even posting Internet messages considered to provoke dangerous behaviour - such as persuading people to commit suicide - will probably be found guilty, says Culture Surveillance Centre director Ladda Thangsu-pachai.

Bill to tackle crimes

She says the Judicial Council is considering if some part of a draft bill tackling such crimes should be changed or not before proposing it to the Cabinet and then the Senate for consideration.

"The act is expected to be launched within three months," she adds.

Dr Saman Futrakul, director of the ministry's Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption Control, says he is monitoring Boon Rawd Brewery to see whether it will continue distributing the calendar. He warned the company last week not to do so or he would inform the police.

Witawat believes that the distribution of nude calendars will face more resistance in the future.

Top model Methinee "Luk Ked" Kingpayom was in charge of the controversial nude-calendar project for Leo beer. She has been leading the project for the past five years. Cheers beer is another which has gone in for such calendars this year.

Treatment error: Doc loses licence

Treatment error: Doc loses licence

By Lee Hui Chieh

A DOCTOR has been stripped of her licence to practise medicine for botching the treatment of an elderly woman who later died of heart failure.

Dr Diana Santos, 38, drastically over-prescribed a heart medication and failed to follow up properly with the woman before her death in 2005, the Singapore Medical Council said yesterday.

Dr Santos, who was working at Clementi Polyclinic, was also fined $3,000 following a disciplinary hearing last month. She stopped practising in June 2006, and is now a hospital administrator.

The elderly woman, Madam Koh Ah Tow, had gone to the polyclinic in March 2005 for a regular checkup. She was suffering from a litany of health problems, including an irregular heartbeat.

Dr Santos mistakenly raised the 88-year-old woman's daily dose of digoxin - which makes the heart beat slower but with greater force - fourfold.

She also did not schedule a check-up within two weeks, standard practice when the dosage of the drug is increased. By the time Madam Koh showed up for her appointment six weeks later, she was drowsy, and was admitted to Alexandra Hospital. She died on June 3, 2005 of heart failure.

In a June 2006 inquest into Madam Koh's death, the State Coroner recorded an open verdict, saying the evidence was inconclusive.

Ms Doreen Tan, a pharmacist who specialises in cardiology, said toxic levels of digoxin could cause the heart to stop beating. The safe level of digoxin varies from person to person, but usually those aged above 75 are given no more than half of what Madam Koh received, said Ms Tan.

The National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, which runs Clementi Polyclinic, said it has taken steps to prevent a repeat incident, including having a senior doctor countersign on any change to dosages of critical drugs.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 18, 2008.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A serious case of mental block

A serious case of mental block
19 Dec, 2008

You can drag a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, they say. Well, we not only need to drag the Malays to water, we also need to force their heads into the water and make them drink.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

This is what the Sin Chew Daily reported yesterday:

Change Or Perish, Pak Lah Tells UMNO

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the Malays have changed their old thinking and value system, only that UMNO seems to have "forgotten" that the Malays have indeed changed.

He said the Malays have changed, but if UMNO remains unwilling to change, then the party will eventually head for destruction.

"UMNO has forgotten that the Malays have changed their own thinking and perspectives. It has forgotten that the Malays have changed their value system. The Malays are no longer what they used to be. They unreservedly express themselves. They even wave the DAP flags!"

Abdullah said during an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily at his private residence in Kuala Lumpur that during his five-year tenure as the prime minister, he has managed to change the mentality of the Malays.

He said young Malays believe they can stand on their own feet, and this is the major value that has changed the young Malays today.

"Young Malays feel that they need the opportunities, so they begin talking about DAP and PKR. They believe they have better opportunities there."

On the admission by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that he had failed to change the mentality and attitude of the Malays, Abdullah said decisively, "I can change the Malays!"

On UMNO's reluctance to change in order to check money politics and racism, he said although this is a mounting task, he knows UMNO members are in the midst of changing.

"UMNO is getting more and more powerful, with some three million members. The larger the membership, the more problems will arise. We have all kinds of people among these three million members. I'm very unhappy (with money politics in UMNO), and have told (UMNO disciplinary board chairman Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad) Rithauddeen to take actions as soon as possible."


99% Malays will not eat pork
98% Malays will not touch a dog
90% Malays will not drink liquor
80% Malays will not eat un-slaughtered meat
70% Malays will not eat in a non-Muslim restaurant
60% Malays will not indulge in homosexual activities
50% Malays will no indulge in extra-marital sex
40% Malays will not take bribes
30% Malays will not wish the non-Muslims on their religious festivals (such as Merry Christmas, Kong Hee Fatt Choy or Happy Deepavali)
25% Malays will not shake hands with a member of the opposite sex
20% Malays will not celebrate the ‘Christian’ Valentine’s Day on 14 February
10% Malays will not celebrate birthdays
5% Malays will not take loans -- to avoid paying interest

Okay, the above is not a real poll. I just made it up. I don’t think anyone has ever conducted a poll to analyse this issue. But the ‘list of priorities’ is not that far off the mark although the percentages are a figment of my imagination. I just wanted to get your attention and demonstrate the priorities of the Malays.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once cried during an Umno General Assembly because, he said, he had failed to change the Malays. When asked during an interview soon after he retired as Prime Minister on 1 November 2003 what he would consider as the greatest regret of his 22 years in office, he replied his greatest regret is that he could not change the Malays.

And that was Tun Dr Mahathir, the strongest-minded Prime Minister Malaysia ever had in 51 years of nationhood. Can Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a ‘softer’ man, achieve what someone regarded as a dictator had failed to do?

Now, before we take the word ‘dictator’ as something negative, let me stress that there are many types of dictators and sometimes we need a dictator to set things right. A benevolent dictator is not so bad for the country and is maybe just the thing the country needs to cure it of its ills. It is when we get a malevolent dictator is when things became very dicey. But then dictators can sometimes change from being benevolent to malevolent when power gets to their heads. That is the problem with having too much power in the hands of a dictator and not enough democracy.

For example, if a dictator heavy-handedly passes laws that make it a crime to perpetuate racism, even if the law is draconian and robs us of our fundamental rights, in the long term it would be good for the country. But then laws tend to get abused and ‘good’ laws eventually get used for what they were not originally intended.

Take the Internal Security Act as one example. It was a ‘good’ law when we needed to solve the problem of massacres, assassinations, bombings and terrorism in the 1960s. But once all the chaos and anarchy ends and the law is not abolished, and then it is used for other purposes, such as for stifling dissent and for curtailing criticism of those who walk in the corridors of power, what used to be ‘good’ gets transformed to bad.

So good can very rapidly become bad when wrongly applied. And good dictators can also become bad dictators when they no longer just want to end racism the ‘undemocratic’ way but start using their vast powers to do things like to put down criticism of their rule.

I suppose this is why the ends can never justify the means. If we accept undemocratic methods to achieve good, these undemocratic methods eventually come back to bite us in our sorry behinds.

Anyway, back to the issue of the day, whether Abdullah can do what Mahathir failed to do: to change the Malays.

When I was under ISA detention in September, I spent days arguing and debating with the six Special Branch officers who had been assigned to ‘take my statement’. These are basically marathon interrogation sessions where they point out to you the error of your ways and try to get you to repent so that you can again be released into society. I suppose they not only discovered they could not change me, but they were also perturbed that I passionately defended my position to the very end. I was ‘unreformable’ and there was no way they could reformat my brain and reinstall a new program.

They should have known that I am an ‘old model’, the first generation ‘hardware’, and new software can’t run on old hardware. Ever try installing Windows XP into an old 386? There is no way it would work. You would need a very old Windows program to run a 386.

So I am old hardware, a 386, and I need the Windows 3.0 to make me tick. Forget about Windows XP. That is what the Special Branch officers did not understand.

The debates we engaged in behind the barbed wire fence of the Police Remand Center (PRC), your first stop for 60 days before they either allow you to go home or you get sent to Kamunting for at least two years, was why I write what I write. I whack the Malays to kingdom come. I show no mercy. I ask for no quarter and offer none as well. Why am I so brutal with the Malays? And even the way the Malays practice Islam is not spared. I am heartless and merciless in my criticism.

My reasoning was simple. And I explained it to the Special Branch officers. The Malays will never change. Even Tun Dr Mahathir said so. (But Abdullah, though he agrees that the Malays need changing, does not share Mahathir’s view that they can’t be changed. Abdullah thinks he is able to change them).

The Malays, I explained, need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the new Millennium. You can drag a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, they say. Well, we not only need to drag the Malays to water, we also need to force their heads into the water and make them drink. So we may end up drowning a few. So what? The end result would be we get them to drink, though against their will.

When someone is a lunatic and no drug can cure him or her, we need to use shock treatment. Sometimes shock treatment is the best cure when reasoning and medication can’t do the job. We have been Merdeka for 51 years. How long more are we going to wait before we declare that drastic times require drastic measures? Another 51 years when it would by then have already been too late?

I am third-generation Malaysian, I told the Special Branch officers. My grandfather fought for Merdeka. I, too, am now a grandfather. I have four grandchildren of my own. So my grandchildren, who in 20 years from now will be inheriting this country, are fifth generation Malaysians. Five generations is long enough. If, by now, we have not changed, then we never will.

So we are in a crisis situation. In 1960, when Malaysia was facing a crisis, we introduced the ISA. The ISA is not only draconian but unconstitutional as well. It is, in short, a downright ‘illegal’ law. But even the opposition agreed that the ends justify the means and they supported the ISA.

I, too, believe that the Malays need to be changed. Tun Dr Mahathir believed the same thing. And so does Abdullah Badawi (though he feels he can rectify what Mahathir couldn’t).

Sure, I whack the Malays, I told the Special Branch officers. I insult them. I vilify them. I make fun of the way they practice Islam. I make some Malays ashamed that they are Malays and would rather be called something else. But no good medicine tastes nice. All medicine is bitter. And I do not want to sugar-coat the medicine to hide its real taste. What you see is what you get.

But the Special Branch officers did not agree with me. They felt I was beyond redemption. They did not need 60 days with me to try to ‘turn me over’. They knew I was beyond salvage. So, after just ten days, they packed me off to Kamunting where I was supposed to spend the rest of my days on earth. And as long as I defended my views and refused to change my position, I would remain in Kamunting, be in ten years if necessary.

But I am now out again, thanks to my lawyers who did a good job getting me released. And I am back at it, whacking the Malays. I can’t help it. If I hated the Malays I would just say, “To hell with them. Why bother to try to change them?” But the English say: spare the rod and spoil the child. And the Malays say: if you love the child, you beat him or her.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Abdullah's last-ditch reforms hit trouble

Abdullah's last-ditch reforms hit trouble
18 Dec, 2008

Political insiders said Abdullah tried but failed to persuade the political establishment to bite the bullet and approve the tough measures necessary to rehabilitate the judiciary, fight high level corruption, raise efficiency and keep police abuse in check.


By Baradan Kuppusamy, Asia Times Online

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has tabled two new reform bills, but not surprisingly given his impending exit, both have run into strong opposition within and outside parliament. Abdullah's hopes of forging a consensus through the two crucial bills, hoped to give him some kind of positive reform legacy before he stands down in 2009, have been rocked by the dissent.

One bill has been designed to clean up the judiciary, and provide for the independent selection of judges, while the other aims to give greater powers to the Anti-Corruption Agency. Opposition lawmakers, lawyers, retired judges and even government

backbenchers all say the bills have been so watered-down that they have little bite.

The bills are expected to be passed, but without the broad support originally expected. "We are deeply disappointed," said Ambiga Sreenevasan, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, a professional body for 13,000 lawyers. "Although there are some improvements, the executive still has an overbearing presence."

Critics say that under the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) Bill, which Abdullah tabled in parliament on December 12, the executive would continue to have undue influence in the selection process.

"Under the JAC the selection is done by a committee, some of whose members are appointed by the government," said Sreenevasan. "The bill gives power to the government to appoint or sack committee members without giving reasons."

Of the proposed nine commission members, five would be appointed directly by the government. "Politicians and others connected with the government could end up in the committee and compromise its independence," she said.

In addition, the prime minister would have unfettered power to amend provisions for the JAC two years after the bill's approval in parliament. "We are worried - this last provision is highly unusual," she added.

Currently, the chief justice draws up a list of candidates from which the prime minister can choose and submit for royal assent, which is rarely withheld. Last August a judicial inquiry concluded that the selection process was open to abuse and that politicians and businessmen had colluded with senior judges to promote individuals unfit for the bench.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) bill will give wide new powers to officials to investigate and seize records, including bank accounts. But critics say that under the bill the MACC still cannot prosecute independently, as it must seek permission from the attorney general.

"We want the MACC to be placed under parliamentary [control] and be armed with independent powers to prosecute," said veteran opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang.

Abdullah has defended the bills, saying they would restore judicial confidence, fight corruption, and were a major step forward for the country. "My promise to the people is to institute reforms and I am doing just that," he told parliament when tabling the bills.

"I am fulfilling my promise of reform before I leave," he said. "Let's all close ranks for the sake of the nation."

Abdullah, who first took over as prime minister in 2003, asked his ruling United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) earlier this month to be allowed to remain in office until March so that he could carry out the promised reforms.

Opposition lawmakers have requested a delay of at least three weeks for them to study the bills and recommend changes, but the government, which has a 32 seat majority in the 222-seat parliament, is adamant they will be passed without delay.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, while welcoming Abdullah's initiative to fight corruption and clean up the judiciary, said changes are needed to ensure that the bills are independent and free of political interference.

Anwar said anti-corruption officers must be given full discretion to charge in court anyone under investigation and found to be involved in corrupt practices, without reference to the attorney general's chambers for permission.

With the clock on his tenure ticking, Abdullah does not have the luxury of time to make changes and retable the bills. Already the focus of the political establishment, investors and the diplomatic community is on the incoming leader, Najib Tun Razak, who takes over in March, 2009 as the new prime minister.

Political insiders said Abdullah tried but failed to persuade the political establishment to bite the bullet and approve the tough measures necessary to rehabilitate the judiciary, fight high level corruption, raise efficiency and keep police abuse in check.

These are the areas Abdullah had promised to act on after winning the biggest political mandate in Malaysia's history at the 2004 general election. After failing to carry out these promised reforms, voters turned against UMNO at this year's March elections, giving the political opposition control over five of the countries 13 states.

The abrupt manner in which the two bills were introduced last week, when the current parliament session was nearing an end, sparked an uproar and fueled charges that Abdullah purposely delayed the legislation in order to catch the opposition off guard and bludgeon the bills through.

The bills' contents were not made public before they were introduced and the cloak of secrecy that enveloped their drafting has resurrected charges about the lack of transparency surrounding Abdullah's government.

To be sure, some of the clauses of the anti-corruption bill are progressive, such as its wider scope for investigation and the total anonymity promised for whistle blowers. Five "independent" committees are also to be formed to mitigate any excesses of executive authority over the commission.

Still many remain dissatisfied. "What we need is a simple, independent commission to select people of the highest integrity as judges, and for another commission to catch corrupt crooks and effectively prosecute them," said a senior lawyer.

"What we have now are convoluted systems because of numerous compromises made to satisfy political factions ... the key aims are lost in the urge to satisfy the entrenched political forces," the lawyer said. "It was a battle between the weak reformer and the strong entrenched forces. Convoluted, watered-down versions are the result."

The cat and mouse game

The cat and mouse game
18 Dec, 2008

It appears very much so like they are trying to prevent Gan from testifying. He was the one who made the police report against me and the prosecution has already examined him. So it is now our turn to cross-examine him but the prosecution seems to be preventing that from happening.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

I know I have been rather quiet the past week. Sorry about that. I was trying to finalise my new book so that it can meet my launch schedule, which should be some time after Chinese New Year around late January 2009 or so.

The focus of the book will be the decade of the fight for change, which started on 20 September 1998 and peaked on 8 March 2008. No, it is not about Anwar Ibrahim or the REFORMASI Movement, although they are mentioned in passing. It is about how the Malays and a small percentage of Chinese and Indians ‘woke up’ in 1998, and about how the balance of the Chinese and Indians finally woke up a decade later -- and about how, once the Chinese and Indians woke up, they created a Tsunami of historic dimensions. I suppose this gives new meaning to the saying: better late than never.

The book will be partly a ‘recycling’ of some of my old articles related to the issue with some parts newly written. It also features a section by Zaid Ibrahim, basically his open letter to the Prime Minister and two of his latest speeches on the Internal Security Act, human rights, rule of law, and so on. In a way, my section and the section by Zaid are not quite related -- mine is mainly on the elections and Zaid’s is on those issues I mentioned above -- but the two issues are certainly part and parcel of the pursuit for political reforms and cannot, therefore, be detached from each other.

Three others have thus far agreed to also write a chapter each but I shall keep their names as a surprise for now. I also welcome any others who would like to contribute a chapter, as long as it is within the theme of the book.

Anyway, enough about my new book! Since my court case this morning, plus tomorrow, has been postponed, I suddenly have two free days on my hand. So I thought before I get back to my book I shall write at least one article. Once I start looking at my book I shall be so engrossed I can’t even hear my wife screaming at me: ‘The police want to see you’.

And that was what happened on Monday. Or was it Tuesday?

See, I told you. Once I start writing, or reading, I totally lose track of time and place. And that is why I read a book a day (two or three days a book if the book is thicker) while under ISA detention from September to November. That is how I ‘transfer’ myself out of Kamunting into another world. I don’t even realise I am in Kamunting once I bury myself in my books.

Anyway, either on Monday or Tuesday, a policeman came to my house to serve me a subpoena to appear in court from the 22nd to the 24th December. I refused to accept the subpoena and spend three days squatting in court, not knowing when and if I will be called to testify. As it is, my own case has been postponed time and again and I am yet to know when we are going to see the end of it. Furthermore, I have not been informed as to which case this is. They think they can just send me a subpoena and order me to appear in court and I will jump like an obedient puppy. No way, Jose (pronounced Hoozay for the less well-read readers of Malaysia Today), I am no puppy.

So I chased the policeman away and told him to confirm the exact time and date they need me in court and I shall make a grand entrance, on the dot, and not a millisecond sooner. And if in five minutes of my grand entrance they do not summon me to the stand, then I am going to make a hasty exit and do something else more worthwhile with my time -- like sitting in Bangsar to watch the girls in their miniskirts walk by.

My sedition trial in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court 3 this morning was, again, a disaster. Again, it was postponed, this time to the 10th, 11th and 12th of February 2009. Commissioner Gan, the Investigating Officer in the Altantuya murder, was, yet again, MIA (missing in action). The last time he was said to be sick but did not produce a medical certificate. Only when the court insisted on a medical certificate did they quickly come up with one.

Even then, the medical certificate did not say what sickness was ailing him and whether it was serious enough to cause him to be bedridden -- and therefore not fit enough to come to court. He could have suffered only a splinter in his little finger, which would mean there should be no reason he could not attend court. The judge, however, gave Gan the benefit of the doubt and let him off the hook that time.

Today, the court was told that Gan had gone for training but they did not know where and what the training was all about. The prosecution said they wanted to amend the charges against me and the court then read out the new charges. I refused to reply to the charges and instead protested that the prosecution is delaying the trial and would be seeking a postponement, yet again. I demanded to know why Gan was not in court as he should have been.

The judge told me to just reply to the charges and I replied, “Not guilty,” and in the same breath lodged my protest to the court.

The judge then asked the prosecutor as to what happened to Gan but they could not reply. She also asked whether the subpoena had been served on Gan and the prosecutor replied that it may have but he does not know and does not have any confirmation.

The judge then called for a short recess and asked the prosecutor to find out. When court resumed, the prosecutor said that Gan had gone to Taiwan for a course. They did not, however, know when he had gone to Taiwan or what course he was taking. The prosecutor also confirmed that the subpoena had not, after all, been served on Gan because he had skipped the country before they could serve it on him.

One of my lawyers, Gobin Singh Deo, then stood up and took the prosecutor to task. Gan, being a very senior police officer (rank of Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner or something like that), knows the procedure. The court has priority over a course or training program and Gan knew that my trial would resume today. He, therefore, should have been in court and not in Taiwan (to learn how to plant vegetables or whatever).

Gobin then retorted that it appears like the prosecution is intentionally delaying my trial until after March 2009 (meaning, of course, after Najib takes over as Prime Minister) and the prosecutor quickly jumped to his feet and protested. Gobin then said if this is not true why is the prosecutor so fast on his feet?

Yes, I smell a rat. It appears very much so like they are trying to prevent Gan from testifying. He was the one who made the police report against me and the prosecution has already examined him. So it is now our turn to cross-examine him but the prosecution seems to be preventing that from happening.

We will now have to wait until February to get our hands on Gan. And we are going to do that. There is no way in hell the prosecution is going to keep Gan away from us. We want him on the stand where Gobin can tear him to pieces. He made a police report against me and he wants me sent to jail. He was the one who investigated the Altantuya murder. We want the world to know how the investigation was conducted and how much of what they discovered was hidden from the public, even if I have to lose my case in the process and get sent to jail for two years.

Before I sign off, I want to thank all those who sent in donations to Michal for his and his wife’s medical treatment. In about three days or so, slightly over RM75,000 went into his son’s, Kevin’s, bank account. This is most generous indeed and just goes to show how compassionate Malaysians can be if they want to.

I shall make sure that the bank statement plus the medical bills are published so that you can see how much came in and how the money was spent.

I also want to offer my condolences to the family of Syukree Hussain who died of a heart attack two days ago. This young man just started working for Malaysia Today as a freelance reporter and you may have read some of his pieces, all in Bahasa Malaysia. He was supposed to have joined us in Terengganu from the 5th to the 18th January so that we could update you with daily news reports on the by-election. He had promised to write four or five items a day. Alfatihah to comrade Syukree Hussain. As they say: only the good die young and you were certainly very young to have died so suddenly. But then that is God’s design and who are we to question God’s wisdom? Till we meet again, Syukree. It was a very short association that we had but it will be one that will forever be in my memory. May you rest in peace.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Malaysia's new politics

Malaysia's new politics
14 Dec, 2008

This was what was said in the aftermath of the 8 March 2008 general election. Some of it is now water under the bridge while some did not happen exactly the way predicted. Nevertheless, in the backdrop of the 17 January 2009 Kuala Terengganu by-election, it may be worthwhile recapping what was said then and assess how much is still relevant today, plus what bearing this would have on the coming by-election.


Raja Petra Kamarudin


The International Institute For Strategic Studies

By registering a resounding repudiation of the recent policies and record of Malaysia’s government, the results of elections to its federal and state parliaments on 8 March surprised observers of the country’s politics. The Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition, which has governed since independence in 1957, retained control of the federal government. But the opposition took an unprecedentedly large number of parliamentary seats and denied the BN a two-thirds parliamentary majority. In addition, the opposition ousted four BN state governments, bringing the number it controls to five out of 13. Though differences among the three opposition parties remain significant, it seems possible that under the charismatic leadership of once-disgraced former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim they might forge a powerful alliance capable of ousting the BN from power. The regional, as well as domestic, implications of such a regime change could be profound.

UMNO's dominant period

Since 1957, ethnic issues have dominated Malaysian politics. British colonial rule had encouraged large-scale Chinese and Indian immigration, which contributed to the social and economic deprivation of the Malays, the Muslim indigenous population. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the most important component of the BN coalition, has always emphasised Malay advancement as its priority. But because of the size and political weight of the minority populations, it has needed to govern in close collaboration with parties representing Chinese and Indian community interests. In 1969, major electoral gains by ‘non-communal’ parties appeared to threaten Malay interests once again, provoking violence (mainly perpetrated by Malays) which killed several hundred people, mainly Chinese-Malaysians. The government imposed a state of emergency and effectively suspended democracy. Though parliamentary rule was restored in 1971, a considerable degree of authoritarianism, justified as necessary to maintain inter-ethnic peace, has characterised the BN’s political style.

The most important long-term outcome of the 1969 riots was the New Economic Policy (NEP), which included an affirmative-action programme intended to increase the stake of so-called bumiputra (‘son of the soil’) Malaysians in the economy. Though the NEP expired in 1991, the successor National Development Policy maintained many of its goals. The state has also given social advantages to bumiputra citizens, particularly through much-enhanced educational opportunities. While the bumiputra designation includes non-Malay indigenous communities, notably groups like the Iban and Kadazan from the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah, these policies have mainly benefited Malays, creating a substantial urban Malay middle class. The attractiveness of its policies to Malays and this community’s increasing size relative to the minority groups (due to a higher birth-rate and to non-Malays’ emigration) combined to reinforce UMNO’s stature as the natural party of government. Nevertheless, despite the BN’s ability to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority (which allowed it to change the constitution if it wished) in every general election between 1974 and 2004, significant political opposition persisted.

In rural peninsular Malaysia, and particularly the relatively poor northeast, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS, Islamic Party of Malaysia) has constituted a major opposition force since 1977 when it split from the BN. Though ostensibly non-racial, its main support base lies among Malays who would like to see Islamic values implanted more firmly in the constitution and daily life. Though it failed to make significant impact at the federal level until the 2008 elections, PAS has controlled the Kelantan state government since 1990, and the wider challenge that it poses has contributed to UMNO adopting an increasingly Islamist posture itself. Among ethnic Chinese and Indians, the main opposition force has been the liberal and avowedly ‘non-communal’ Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Mahathir Mohamad, an outspoken and charismatic Malay nationalist, dominated Malaysia’s politics and oversaw the country’s economic transformation as prime minister between 1981 and 2003. However, his robust style made enemies abroad and at home. Temperamental relations with Singapore, as well as with the United States, Britain and Australia, characterised his leadership. At home, there were disputes with the judiciary and traditional rulers. In 1995, Mahathir announced that Anwar Ibrahim, a former Islamic youth leader and political detainee who had joined UMNO and risen to become deputy prime minister and finance minister, would shortly succeed him. However, personal and policy differences soon undermined relations between the two men. In 1998, Anwar was dismissed from his government posts, detained under the Internal Security Act, beaten up by the national police chief, and in 1999–2000 convicted on corruption and sexual charges, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. One result of Anwar’s detention was the formation of a new opposition grouping, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, National Justice Party), led by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail. Anwar was released in 2004 after a conviction for sodomy was overturned on appeal, but was disqualified from holding political office until April 2008.

Growing discontent

Malaysians broadly welcomed the accession of Abdullah Badawi as prime minister in succession to Mahathir in 2003. Along with faster economic growth, a ‘feel-good factor’ associated with the new prime minister – widely seen as an incorruptible and moderate leader combining religious piety with tolerance – helped the BN coalition to a resounding victory in the March 2004 elections, with the opposition taking the lowest number of seats since the 1970s. The BN regained control of Terengganu state, which it had lost to PAS in 1999. There was optimism that Abdullah’s administration would deal effectively with the corruption and crime that increasingly plagued Malaysia.

Compared with the Mahathir era, regional and international interlocutors found Malaysia much easier to deal with under Abdullah, who largely muted the government’s previous nationalist and anti-Western rhetoric. Malaysia has welcomed involvement from Singapore’s government and companies in the Iskandar Development Region in southern Johor state, planned as an important catalyst for economic growth. However, Malaysians have increasingly registered disappointment with Abdullah’s administration, which has made little progress towards reducing corruption and crime. While there had always been considerable opposition among the non-Malay communities and poor rural Malays to the BN’s rule, there was now also growing discontent among Malays more generally. There was particular unhappiness that the government apparently tolerated the further entrenchment of privilege among a small elite of affluent Malays connected to ruling circles, and discomfort with the prominent political role of Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin (deputy chief of UMNO’s youth wing). While ‘race’ remained a key issue, there was a growing sense that inequality within the Malay community was also important.

In November 2007, two anti-government demonstrations unnerved Abdullah’s administration. On 10 November, as many as 40,000 people joined a rally in Kuala Lumpur supported by opposition parties and organised by BERSIH, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, with the aim of submitting to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) a petition listing specific demands relating to electoral reform. The authorities’ reaction was heavy handed, as it was when police later broke up a demonstration by tens of thousands of ethnic Indian Malaysians led by the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations, galvanised by concern over the demolition of Hindu temples and the perceived imposition of sharia-based law. The police arrested HINDRAF leaders after the rally, and detained five under the Internal Security Act. The demonstration highlighted the inability of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) party to protect ethnic Indian interests through its role in the BN.

Elections change political landscape

These events provided a livelier-than-usual backdrop to the announcement in mid February that the next general election would be held on 8 March, a year earlier than necessary. The government evidently wished to seek a renewed popular mandate before Anwar Ibrahim was allowed to return to politics in April 2008. Another reason may have been an expectation that the looming US recession would impact negatively on Malaysia’s economy.

The opposition parties set their sights on removing the BN’s two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and retaking Terengganu state. In the event, the extent of the BN losses caused widespread surprise. The three opposition parties – DAP, PAS and PKR – agreed to avoid contesting the same seats and presented themselves as the Barisan Rakyat (People’s Front), with Anwar playing the role of leader although not allowed to stand for parliament. Alongside widespread disillusionment with the BN and the blossoming of online newspapers and blogs – a vibrant and critical alternative to stodgy pro-government newspapers and TV channels – the opposition’s strategy brought stunning success. It was clear that a desire to punish the BN was now more important than inter-communal distrust, with significant numbers of Malays voting for the ‘Chinese’ DAP, and Chinese similarly voting for the ‘Malay’ PAS.

In the federal parliament, the three main opposition parties took 47% of the vote, compared with the BN’s 50%: only in 1969 did the opposition take a greater proportion. No less than 82 seats, 37% of the total 222, were won by the opposition, by far the largest number since independence. Among those who lost their seats were several BN ministers, including Samy Vellu, leader of the discredited MIC, and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, deputy leader of UMNO’s women’s wing, who was defeated by Anwar’s daughter. At the state level, the BN was shocked to lose control of four states in the densely populated west of the peninsula: Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor. Though the opposition failed to win Terengganu, PAS strengthened its hold on Kelantan.

The election results set the scene for future political turmoil. There have been calls for Abdullah to step aside as leader of UMNO (and, therefore, the government), with a fierce contest to succeed him in prospect in party elections due in August. Unless he decides to step aside and support his anointed successor, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak, he may face a challenge from the veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who has indicated his readiness to enter the leadership contest.

Failure to respond to the message from the electorate could prove disastrous for UMNO and the BN. The opposition needs only 30 more seats to replace the BN. There is talk of potential defections to the opposition, particularly from the BN’s historically fickle component parties in Sabah and Sarawak. On the other hand, following the opposition victories at state level, there have been disagreements over the allocation of chief ministers’ posts, and it is unclear how successfully opposition parties will be able to reconcile their policy positions. There seems little doubt, though, that they will now seek to tighten their alliance, almost certainly under the leadership of Anwar, who expects to enter parliament following a by-election in his wife’s seat in April. The new DAP-led government in Penang has already spoken of dismantling pro-bumiputra policies. Political instability seems inevitable, though the trans-ethnic character of support for the Barisan Rakyat suggests that communal disturbances could be avoided.

The enlivening of Malaysia’s democracy will have important regional ramifications, notably by strengthening political pluralism within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. There may be particular implications for neighbouring Singapore: though the two countries’ political circumstances are different, they remain closely linked in social terms. The Malaysian electorate’s impulse to vote for the opposition could prove contagious, particularly if the Malaysian case demonstrates that vibrant politics does not spell economic disaster. If Malaysia ultimately thrives under a more meritocratic system, the way would be open for closer collaboration with Singapore. In the immediate future, however, Singapore will be wary of the potential for Malaysian political turbulence to affect bilateral relations negatively.