Will PH be a one season wonder?

Today Leslie Lau, the managing editor of Malay Mail wrote a piece entitled “Pakatan is finding out that winning GE14 was really the easy part”. It was, to me, a depressing read.

His key points are that Malaysians are disillusioned with the new government, Najib on the other hand is basking in new-found popularity, and the perception is that this is a U-turn government that has failed to deliver its promises.

The economy is still in the doldrums while PH’s efforts seem to be about plastics and smoking (not to mention black shoes).

But despite the issues he listed, which he admits will take time to be redressed but unfortunately voters are now past the mindset that led to GE14 and have returned to bread and butter concerns, he points to the need for PH leaders to be more vocal and to keep PH honest, the context being that PH must not become BN.

I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, except that I sincerely do not think that winning GE14 was the easy part. But I take his point, that PH leaders (specifically, I would think, PKR and DAP who have struggled over decades) might not be prepared for the hard work and hard thinking necessary in taking the reins of government. That much is true.

What got me was his tone and the question he posed at the end, whether PH is going to be a one-season wonder and he contrasted that with “staying power”.

And “staying power” is the point I wish to pick up.

Unless they shoot themselves in the head, PH has 5 years in government. Roughly 10 months into their term is no time to be disillusioned or panicked. It is certainly not the time to wonder if PH will be a one-season wonder. PH has not gone for quick fixes and I think that is the right strategy. Lay the right foundations and hopefully in the last 2 years of their term they will reap the benefits.

Najib may score brownie points now with some good media strategies. But honestly once you have nothing to lose it is easy to take potshots at those who have everything to lose. The reality is that Najib, if convicted, will be in jail for a long, long time. The important thing is to make sure that he is convicted.

The narrative (or the perception) is a little harder to handle, mostly because civil society and the media have the silly notion that the new government must be subjected to the most stringent criticism from the get go. They are all convinced that PH leaders, especially those who are, in Lau’s words, honest, are going to be compromised along the way and then PH will be BN.

Let me be clear here: for me “honest” means not corrupt and works in the interest of the country. I will not hold it against politicians if they play political games, unless these games damage the country.

I think not undermining the integrity of a fellow leader even though one disagrees is good politics. I don’t care about Azmin-Rafizi, Mahathir-Anwar, Sabah/Sarawak v Semenanjung, though of course I care about the outcome. Much less the issues that are dominating the media today: paper qualifications of PH leaders.

All this leads to my point that staying power is not about winning the battle as much as winning the war. And winning the war ultimately will be doing a good job, whatever job you are tasked to do. Ultimately substance will overcome perception unless the media and others who have a megaphone in this country, amplify lies and diminish truths.

I return to the point I made in my earlier article about the Malaysian narrative and the pivotal role the media plays:

It is a truth that good news do not sell newspapers. But perhaps those in the Fourth Estate should take a long hard look at what their role in society and nation building should be… are we shaped by and do we reinforce the prejudices of our readers, or do we inform, educate, transform and reinforce the good and condemn the bad?

Lau himself admits that much of the challenges PH faces are long term. He admits much of what voters want from PH smacks of hypocrisy. He agrees that the actions taken on plastics and smoking are good for the country. He calls the narrative that PH is a “U-turn government that has failed to deliver its promises” a false narrative. Fake news.

But what has the Malay Mail done to challenge these issues and help the government to succeed in its quest to do good and to gain credit for what they have done in a short time? Even the very article where he wrote these things conclude that this government is in danger of being rejected at the next election.

He calls on PH to be honest, and to have staying power, so that they will not be a one season wonder. Obviously he wants PH to succeed. Why else would he write such an article. What does he see his own role, as managing editor of Malay Mail, in this?

Abdar Rahman Koya, the editor in chief of Free Malaysia Today, wrote this article about the “fake degree” controversy and explained why the website had not given it much coverage:

It is because the media too are bound by the saying that great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people.

The trials of Liam Neeson

Recently Liam Neeson shared in an interview that 40 years ago he was so outraged at the rape of a friend that he went out to look an opportunity to kill anyone who was of the same race as that rapist.

The Taken star went on to say that it took him a week or two to get over his impulse. He appeared to realize during the interview how shocking his admission was. He said that it “was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that and I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”

“It’s awful,” Neeson went on. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know? … I come from a society—I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles—and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that.”

This created a storm of criticism, primarily because the rapist was identified as black, which meant that Neeson went hunting to kill a black guy. Neeson was branded racist and pilloried to the extent that some were calling for the end of his career.

So 40 years ago, Neeson was overcome with the impulse for revenge that he went looking for an excuse to satisfy that impulse but never did anything wrong ultimately. In fact he came to his senses, sought help, and has now shared the story to illustrate the horror that lurks within man.

This is a cautionary tale. A tale of redemption. But somehow it got twisted into a “black lives don’t matter” vortex.

Charles Blow, an African-American columnist for the New York Times, asked on Twitter: “Could Will Smith confess to stalking the streets of Los Angeles for a whole week searching for random white men to kill and get a pass? Exactly.”

Roland Martin, in an opinion piece in The Daily Beast wrote, “Okay, it was 40 years ago. But to black people, that hardly matters. We’ve seen way too much of this to think those days are over.”

”The reason why I can’t just easily brush off Liam’s racial revenge story is that our history is filled with similar stories: white woman cries rape, and black men pay the ultimate price at the hands of the Liam Neesons of the world.”

Only Liam Neeson did not kill anyone. No one paid any price except Neeson and that woman who was raped.

”Now someone may suggest that Neeson should get a break because what he described happened 40 years ago, and he never acted on those racial fears, and admitted he was wrong. But we are still dealing with this evil.”

Which is in ALL of us.

”Liam Neeson is no hero because he sought to avenge his friend’s rape. He was willing to take the life of a black man—any black man—to serve as his way of exacting revenge. What was deep inside of him is not rare. He is just like many white men who came before him.”

Nor did Neeson try to make himself a hero. But the last line is the point I want to highlight: the notion that this evil is the domain of white men, while the writer is black, and therein lies the self-righteousness that reeks throughout the article.

On a much more reduced scale is the recent issue locally of some landlords who refused to give tenancy because the applicants were “not chinese enough” or perhaps not chinese at all. Inevitably there were calls to legislate and enforce non-discrimination.

Alwyn Lau waded into the debate with the point that we should differentiate between discrimination and preference. While Praba Ganesan responded saying that 1) we should try not to describe our preferences in terms of race and 2) people should go beyond their comfort zone for the greater good of society, and their own personal growth.

Me? I think we are all “cists”, race or otherwise. Discrimination, as the systematic victimising of a person or a group of persons based on their unique difference from us is something we should positively act against. But “preference” which takes as its defence personal choice, can hold us back as persons, and as a nation, as Praba pointed out. While we should not legislate preference, we should want to educate, encourage, and persuade people to open themselves up, rather than defend and uphold the dogma of personal choice.

My own take on these two stories is that all of us are sinners, or to describe it in Liam Neeson’s terms, there is evil in all of us. And as such we should be more kind and gracious towards one another. But we recognise how damaging that evil is, and that there is something better, and we should encourage one another towards being better.

Shaping the Malaysian narrative

Here is a narrative about PH politics I came across today, written by a young twentysomething (or thereabouts) — When political idealism meets reality.

He sees that there are the idealists, PKR, DAP and Amanah. But they could not win without PPBM (Mahathir). And he says “Right now, Pakatan is in the Captain America sequel. More specifically, it’s at the scene where Capt realises that his enemy HYDRA has not only survived the first movie – it has infiltrated his allies.”

PPBM and Mahathir is of course HYDRA. UMNO is the sworn enemy; evil and corrupt. So he postulates about the good guys:

Because where they were able to make big political decisions as the opposition, they are (now) tied down by these facts: 1) They are now the government, and whatever bonds they break has lasting and damaging consequences and 2) They are very well aware that Tun M and Bersatu played a big role in their GE14 win, and warring with them could destroy everything they have built.

But at the same time, if they stand by and do nothing, and allow the face to compromise the overall coalition agreement, they risk losing the Captain America image they built for themselves, which may end up disenfranchising their support base.

And he ended with this observation about Nurul’s resignation:

I can’t pretend to know what are Nurul Izzah’s true reasons for leaving her party politics, but based on her statement, and in particular – her disappointment of the “derailment of the reformasi spirit” – there is some indication that Pakatan is at the crossroads of political idealism and the constraints of reality.

The Puteri Reformasi’s move to quit, at the height of her political career, to me, represents the idealism of the original coalition hunkering down without compromise, and choosing to believe that – like in the movies, good will triumph over the proverbial evil.

As romantic as that notion sounds, and as much as I hope things work out for the characters in this story – I have to remind myself: This isn’t a a movie. And good guys don’t always win.

And so, here we are at the end of a year of significant change. It seems so much time has gone by, yet GE14 was only this May, roughly half a year ago.

To listen to the narrative that has been told by civil society, politicians, commentators, analysts, this fledgling coalition would certainly fail to defeat the evil empire, and is certain to fail because Mahathir cannot change, and is certain to fail because Anwar is still impatient, and surely will fail because Mahathir hates Anwar and is working to put Azmin to be the next PM, and in fact has already failed because it has not fulfilled its promises in the Manifesto (someone estimated it to be more than 500 promises, and if you fulfil 1 promise a month it will take more than 40 years), no, PH has failed because it is now taking in UMNO defectors.

Is this what New Malaysia is all about, shouts everyone who disagrees with something or has a grievance. I did not vote for this — a common refrain.

It is a truth that good news does not sell newspapers. But perhaps those in the Fourth Estate should take a long hard look at what their role in society and nation building should be. To report as news what every idiot says, even a WhatsApp message from unnamed sources just to capture eyeballs is the height of irresponsible journalism.

And I’m sure the reading public must take some responsibility. But then are we shaped by and do we reinforce the prejudices of our readers, or do we inform, educate, transform and reinforce the good and condemn the bad?

But what is the point of writing stuff that no one reads?

Yes, that is also what I am asking myself.

The thing is, I know that no one is perfect, least of all politicians. But at least PH has demonstrated that it wants to uphold the good of the nation, not just the constituency that votes for them. It has demonstrated a disgust of corruption. It seeks to have a place for everyone, regardless of race and religion. It wants a fair deal for the man on the street.

These are things I care about deeply. And I want to hold them to it: to encourage them when they are doing right and criticise them when they are compromising. I don’t care about the bloody manifesto. I want PH to succeed, not because they are PH but because of what they seek to do.

I don’t care about the political games, whether in PH or elsewhere, unless they damage the ability of PH to do their job. Azmin may move, and Nurul can have breakfast with whomever, what they decide to do will happen whether I know about it beforehand or not. Nothing is true until it actually happens.

How PKR run their affairs is their business. If the president has authority to appoint, his exercise of it is not national news. If they do wrong it is the ROS’ business. I don’t care if they take in UMNO MPs unless it is illegal. But I care if the narrative assumes UMNO-> corrupt-> PH->corrupt- >End of New Malaysia. This is not cowboys and indians. Politics is reaching across the aisle and working with the other side because you cannot ignore other sides.

There’s just too much speculation about character and motive and too little about substance (which should then properly inform about character and motive). And yet these are the things that dominate the conversations to the point that our young people are getting disillusioned. But that is because they are not guided to see the picture clearly.

It is true. PH has not saved Malaysia in the 6 months. It is true New Malaysia has not arrived in the 6 months. It is true politicians are not perfect and they play political games. But it is foolish to expect otherwise in reality and it is also true that PH has made significant changes and improvements in these 6 months.

As the young writer wisely observed: we have no idea how the story will end. Which is why we should not be unduly influenced by that. We should focus on the journey, and the outcomes of each step. There will likely come a time when PH will become the enemy. But that is not the story at this time.

The young turks

Collins tells me that a young turk is “a progressive, revolutionary, or rebellious member of an organization, political party, etc, especially one agitating for radical reform”.

Mahathir is 93. He became an MP in 1964 at age 39. He was a fierce critic of the government of Tengku Abdul Rahman and was expelled from UMNO after the 69 riots. He returned when Tun Razak took over and was made Education Minister at age 49. He became prime minister at age 56.

Anwar is 71. Anwar was already politically active in his 20s and in 1974 at age 27 he was imprisoned under ISA over the Baling issue. In 1982 he was made Youth Minister, at age 35, moving on to education, finance and then Deputy Prime Minister at age 46.

Kit Siang is 77. He followed a different path and became involved in DAP in his 20s and won his first election in 1969 (that fateful year) at age 28.

Kit Siang has never been in government but over decades as opposition he has been largely principled. Even though he and his family have on occasion suffered, even imprisoned, he has remained steadfast. For that he earned the admiration of the community and laid the foundations for a sense of justice beyond race and religion, for a sense of politics as serving the country rather than self, for a sense of integrity and accountability as the standard for administration. This I believe has attracted many who are young and idealistic.

All 3 are controversial figures, with strongly held views. And to my mind, all 3 have been agents of change in the politics of Malaysia. In their day, they were the young turks.

In my last 2 articles I have tried to evaluate where Malaysian politics stand in the light of GE14. And my conclusion is straightforward: we are right at the beginning; perhaps square two instead of square one.

Political parties revolve around race, religion and personalities which means that these are the aspects of society that politicians pay the greatest attention to. And race, religion and personalities are still the issues that move people.

We need to move on to define our vision of the society we want to evolve to in terms of our values, our idea of justice, our economic strategies, how we are going to raise standards, education, our environment; and how we can work together although we are racially, culturally and religiously different, how we can make this our strength.

As I shared in my last article, I believe change can only come through key leaders who will take on the challenge as agents of change; leaders who are able to lead, whom the community are willing to trust and follow.

That leader, or leaders, will not come from the “above 50” category. These have had their day already, I think. Our generation must let go and allow the next generation to determine the path our country should take.

Who will be the young turks who will define our future?

The following are most of the members of the current cabinet, with some notables from outside. If you want to know what position they occupy in the cabinet, here is the link. But I think if you need the link then it is unlikely they will become a mover and shaker. Hopefully there are other notables in other political parties and NGOs. I just thought this is a good place to look for our young turks.

It is to DAP’s credit that most of their key people are below 50 and they form the majority in the below 40 category. But this is Malaysia and they will need good partners who are bumiputra.

Who has the passion? Who has the heart? Who will lead us forward? Who will drain us with their selfish agenda? Who have substance? Who are just flash? Who have staying power? Who will falter?

It is not too early to pray for them because for the three I have mentioned above, they started to matter when they were in their twenties.

Above 20

Syed Saddiq is 25.

Above 30

Yeo Bee Yin is 35.
Hannah Yeoh is 39.
Gobind Singh Deo is 40.
Teo Nie Ching is 37.
Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis is 36.
Steven Sim Chee Keong is 36.
Nurul Izzah Anwar is 38.

Above 40

Maszlee is 44.
Rafizi is 41.
Darell Leiking is 47.
Anthony Loke is 41.
Rina Mohd Harun is 45.
Liew Chin Tong is 41.
Ong Kian Ming is 43.
Tony Pua is 46.
Sim Tze Tzin is 42.
Chong Chieng Jen is 47.
Shamsul Iskandar Md. Akin is 43.
Eddin Syazlee Shith is 44.
Marzuki Yahya is about 48.
Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji is 46.
Mohd. Azis Jamman is 44.

Above 50

Guan Eng is 58.
Muhyiddin is 71.
Mujahid is 54.
Waytha is 52.
Kula is 61.
Mohamad Sabu is 64.
Mohamaddin Ketapi is 61.
Saifuddin Abdullah is 57
Saifuddin Nasution is 55.
Xavier Jayakumar is about 65.
Khalid is 61.
Salahuddin Ayub is 57.
Dzulkefly Ahmad is 62.
Mohammadin Ketapi is 61.
Zuraida Kamaruddin is 60.
Mohd. Redzuan Md. Yusof is 61.
Baru Bian is 60.
Teresa Kok Suh Sim is 54.
Mohd Hatta Md Ramli is 62.
Sivarasa Rasiah is 62.
Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahir is about 66.
Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad is 63.
Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik is 53.
Lee Boon Chye is 59.
Kamarudin Jaffar is 67.
Amiruddin Hamzah is 56.
Fuziah Salleh is 59.
Liew Vui Keong is 58.
Mohamed Azmin Ali is 54.

Seafield and the fissures in our society

The Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple stands on commercial land. A consent judgement was obtained to compel the temple to relocate. The landowner donated 2 pieces of land for the relocation and also RM1.5 million for the construction of the new temple. Still a faction within the temple opposed the move.

According to Muhyiddin, the Home Minister, Malay thugs were hired to deal with the standoff and they attacked the temple in the wee hours on November 26. The situation escalated the next day as some 10,000 supporters gathered and began to riot. They attacked fire and rescue personnel who arrived to put out fires and one fireman, Mohammad Adib, was severely beaten up. He succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later.

I tried to imagine what kind of emotion I must have that would compel me to want to hurt a total stranger who has done me no harm, to the degree that he would suffer fatal internal injuries. I could only come up with blind rage; the kind that short circuits the rational mind.

This is what race and religion can induce in a man.

In the weeks before and after this incident, race and religion were very much up in the air. The proposal to sign Malaysia onto ICERD was used to stir up emotions around race and religion. Mahathir defused the situation somewhat with a statement that ICERD will not be signed by Malaysia but UMNO and PAS, and other groups who feed off these issues, wanted a show of Malay strength through a rally like the Bersih rallies.

Several people told me not to go out on December 8, the day of the rally.

In 1987 similar tensions were stoked. MCA was up in arms trying to defend the Chinese vernacular schools and made a show of strength with a gathering of Chinese leaders to issue an ultimatum to the Government.

UMNO Youth, led by Najib Razak, responded with its own rally where Najib was alleged to have threatened to soak a keris in Chinese blood, evoking fear of 13 May repeating within the Chinese community. Many Chinese businesses around the city were closed for a few days for fear of any potential attacks from the Malay ultra-nationalists.

I remember the fear and the silence in the city, which was rudely broken by a Malay soldier who fired off an M16 rifle in Chow Kit Road. Thankfully the situation was contained.

Mahathir subsequently launched Operation Lalang and put many leaders in jail, defusing the tensions.

I don’t think that as a society, Malaysia will ever overcome the racial divides. I think the volcano will always be capable of eruption. It can and should be managed and perhaps one day it can be declared dormant. But the riots that modern Europe experienced are a grim reminder of its destructive power that cannot be disarmed.

Those who say it’s a new Malaysia because the anti-ICERD rally was incident free, I think, are deluded. UMNO is considerably weakened and no longer have the cover of being the government. Those who bayed for blood after the death of the fireman perhaps don’t realise how their words can drive individuals to worse actions than they are calling for. Those who criticised Mahathir for giving in to the anti-ICERD crowd did not see beyond their own agenda. Those who said cancelling the Human Rights Day event on December 8 was just giving in to bullies (an obvious reference to the anti-ICERD rally) don’t understand what was at stake.

I see in my mind’s eye a group of people attacking a young fireman to the point that nearly 4 weeks of intensive care could not save him. And I think, let’s avoid such madness.

Race and religion are easy issues to exploit and unfortunately politicians and political parties do exploit them, with success. These are the people who remind everyone of the racial and religious perspective of every issue and incident. I cannot see people rejecting racial and religious politics. I think this is an area where leaders must show the way.

Here is one:

Umno vice-president Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin urged Malaysians to stay united following the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

Khaled said the tragedy should lead towards a more harmonious and peaceful Malaysian society.

“Adib is a victim of a crime which aimed to damage the lives of the people and country. They caused interracial tension on issues which were not even a racial problem.

“Therefore, Adib’s loss must be an inspiration for us to unite as a nation and not distance one race from the other. If not, his death in the quest to find harmony will be vain,“ he said in a statement.

The Permas assemblyman added that Adib’s death should be a driving force to fight all forms of prejudice against any religion, race and beliefs.

“This country belongs to all and we should have a sense of belonging to one another. This must remind us that all Malaysians should live in harmony and peace, so that such tragic incidents will not occur again,“ he said.

Khaled also remind politicians in the country to take Adib’s sacrifice as an example and stop politicking.

Party-hopping

This of course is about a significant number of UMNO MPs seeking to join the coalition of the day, Pakatan Harapan. DAP and PKR have been firm about not accepting them, saying that this at the very least can be viewed as compromising the reform agenda.

PPBM, Mahathir’s party, and Amanah, the PAS break-off, (the 2 parties in Pakatan Harapan with the least number of MPs) have basically said that they will examine each application on a case by case basis and past political affiliation is not a disqualifying factor.

And so we have the odd situation where Rahim Thamby Chik, the guy Lim Guan Eng went to jail for exposing his misdeeds, seeking to join PPBM. On the other hand, we do have Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim working together now so that should not really be so odd. (Though seriously do they want such unsavory characters?)

The issue in most people’s mind is that changes the results of GE14. And what this means, despite their objections to Anwar’s by-election in Port Dickson, is that most people understand that we vote for the party, not the individual, because of course most party-hoppers will say that they can serve their constituency better by coming under the umbrella of the political coalition in power. Which is likely true, in the Malaysian political scene.

The real issue (I think) in most people’s mind is that the hopper and the receiving party does so for selfish reasons. The one hoping for some degree of power, and the other, enlarging their vote bank. But selfish motives is true for most decisions, I would think.

To my mind, the real issue is larger: Almost all political parties (probably with the exception of PAS) are defined by personalities or race or both. (Even their “manifesto” is not truly defining and in any case manifestos are put out by coalitions and only during elections.) At the same time, PPBM and Amanah have not been around long enough to be well-defined in terms of values and principles.

(Perhaps DAP can be a model for future political parties. Despite insistent labelling as “chinese” by UMNO, DAP seeks the participation of all races. And in ideology they are largely socialist, I think, but they still have ways to go to define themselves, mostly because they have not been in power for long. On the other hand, I think it is true of DAP also that they have been able to attract young idealists and they have been at the forefront in defining the party. That might change now that they are in power.)

All this means is that it makes very little difference which party an MP belongs to, where the constituency is concerned. It also makes little difference to the MP which party he belongs to. There are no clear principles that he compromises in crossing the aisle. (Just like a Man U player now playing for Liverpool.)

This is to say that in terms of political parties, Malaysia is at its infancy. After all in her entire existence this is the first time a different political alliance is in power. Perhaps over time (decades) the choices as to what kind of administration we will expect under each different coalition will become clear. But not now.

So, I think party-hopping for now has very little meaning, unless it changes the government, state or federal. From a practical point of view having the votes on your side is better than having the votes on the other side. And if you don’t care about differentiating your party (except of course in terms of corruption) as is the case for PPBM, there is little compelling reason otherwise.

On the larger picture, there is little reason to be seen as “rejecting” UMNO if UMNO in many people’s mind stands for Malay. You do want to project the picture that Malay representation continues to be strong in the Government of the day.

Will the influx of UMNO MPs into Pakatan Harapan change the agenda of the coalition? For now, it is unlikely that PPBM will have the numbers to go it alone, or even with Amanah. PKR-DAP is still the strongest group. But, this is Malaysian politics and one cannot overestimate the propensity of leaders to ruin the good they can do for the country in service of their own ego.

Sheep and goats

In case we are unclear about where certain political parties, politicians and civil society groups stand, I think the ICERD issue has made things crystal clear.

ICERD is about saying no to racial discrimination. And the PH Government wants make Malaysia a signatory, like most of the countries in the world. In truth it does not change much, and we certainly don’t have to be a signatory. But at the very least it is a statement that we agree with the concerns of ICERD.

Yesterday the PH Government put out a statement to say that it no longer intends to sign onto ICERD. To my mind this is the right move as the issue is being exploited to deepen the very thing it seeks to end.

PAS now says that the planned rally to protest ICERD on December 8 will continue but will now be a celebration of victory and gratitude.

Hadi, the PAS president had earlier said it was compulsory for Muslims to oppose ICERD as its ratification would place Islam on the “same level” as other religions in the country.

This despite the fact that muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

UMNO president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has questioned today the validity of the statement by the Prime Minister’s Office to not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

He claimed the statement could only be considered valid if it was signed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself, and later brought to Parliament so that it could be recorded in the official hansard.

He said the Opposition is nonetheless thankful over the decision, claiming it was affected by several anti-ICERD protests across the country in past few weeks.

Khairy Jamaluddin has called for the resignation of Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah over the blunder surrounding the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) but also urged the organisers of the proposed Dec 8 anti-ICERD rally to call off the programme following the PMO’s announcement after the organisers said it would go on, but on grounds of celebration.

“The government has shelved plans to ratify ICERD. This is the time to ‘lower the temperature’ of the country’s politics. It’s better not to carry on.

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) labelled the decision appalling and said that the Government and government leaders failed to show moral leadership when it was most needed.

HAKAM regrets the decision but understands that the issue has been twisted to spread fear and divisiveness. It also objected to calls for the foreign minister’s resignation.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng today called on the Chinese community to be wary of extremists trying to stoke tensions among the Malay community using the issue concerning the ratification of a UN rights treaty.

There are those who celebrate the notion that Malaysia will not stand for equality, those who are thankful that this is so and wants to go on with the political games, those who view leadership as doing the right thing regardless of the situation, those who choose to view the situation in its broader context, those who advise caution.

The season to be jholly?

When I saw the images in one whatsapp group I belong to, I thought they were funny in a Malaysian humour kind of way. Malaysians like lame puns and use them to poke fun at serious issues. Just look at the way we abuse Najib’s name.

And soon the media started to cover the story and I found that this was not an individual’s attempt at humour but a store selling “jholly” products with a Christmas theme.

Apom Store is a shop selling products that showcases the quirky side of Malaysian culture (Apom stands for “A Piece of Malaysia”) and has released a line of “Jholly” Christmas gifts featuring a mascot with a resemblance to fugitive businessman Jho Low, the central figure in the 1MDB case.

I was somewhat surprised to read that Hannah Yeoh took exception to this via Twitter and Facebook. This was also picked up by the media.

“Actually I don’t find this funny at all. Christmas is about celebration of the Greatest Gift for mankind, the One who is righteous and perfect in all His ways. Nothing like the 1MDB players at all,” she wrote.

Expanding on this, she expressed disagreement with the notion of associating Christmas with the 1MDB corruption scandal.

However, Yeoh stressed that she was not forcing her religious beliefs on any party and was simply expressing her views.

“Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

For a while I felt I was insensitive to my faith because I had not caught the issue she was raising.

But somehow the matter stayed on my mind and I have come to disagree with her action.

Notwithstanding the fact that this was a merchandising effort that is completely in line with the business model of the shop, I felt her point that Christmas is about Christ is wrong.

The fact that she was reacting to drawings of a fat man in a santa hat, saying “Jho, Jho, Jho” with phrases referencing shopping and drinking already tells me what she identifies as Christmas. And this Christmas is not about Christ.

And to enter this space to proclaim her beliefs and “denounce” what others were practising is rude and insensitive.

She mitigates her action somewhat with her statement, “Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

But even this felt high-handed. Who is she to give permission to others to do what they would for their Christmas? And, is this really her space to express her opinion about what others are doing, in their own space, without harm to anyone (except Jho Low to a very slight extent)? I think not. Not, if her point is that Christmas is about Christ.

At this point you might ask: is this really worth writing an article over?

The thing is, as I was mulling this over, Oktoberfest kept coming to my mind. People wanted to celebrate Oktoberfest. But some religious personalities (or others who claim to represent muslim interests) say to celebrate a drinking festival openly is an affront to them.

And so some state governments banned Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is not about Islam. It is not aimed at muslims. It has nothing to do with them. But they want to encroach on Oktoberfest and demand their sensitivities be respected.

And I felt Hannah was doing the same even though she put it nicely.

And I want to speak out against this. We are multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious and if we cannot respect other people’s space, even though it offends us, but are caught up on our own space and our rights and our sensitivities, then we contribute to the division.

ICERD revisited

I was dismayed by headlines of demonstrations against ICERD by the malay-muslim community, led by UMNO-PAS.

Then the next day the headlines read, “Malay-Muslims will ‘run amok’ if ICERD ratified, Zahid warns”.

Mahathir though had a good ripose: ICERD won’t cause riots unless Zahid stirs up trouble.

But the writing is on the wall. At a gathering to oppose ICERD on Saturday, Zahid openly called for a merger between UMNO and PAS, for race and religion.

“Let us set aside our differences in the name of Islam, Malays, Malaysia and bumiputra and merge.

“It was a mistake for us to fight each other,” the Umno president said, adding that he would be willing to lead the merger.

And today, UMNO and PAS MPs went after Waytha in Parliament calling him a racist and a liar for his remarks caught on video some 10 years ago when interviewed on Dutch TV.

Waytha Moorthy is the minister in the PM’s department, tasked with matters of national unity. He was the one who announced the Government’s intention to ratify ICERD.

At that Parliamentary session, Waytha said regarding ICERD,

“This matter has been brought to the attorney general’s attention and if there are any conditions where Malaysia must make any adjustments on Article 153, the government will not ratify ICERD. That is a guarantee.

“The government believes that with the dialogue, discussion and consultation sessions with the public, they will be able to accept the government ratifying this human rights instrument,” said Waytha.

He also gave his “personal” view that Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which allows for Bumiputera privileges, does not discriminate.

This article by Zurairi AR gives a good background to the Waytha video controversy. His conclusion is worth noting:

Perhaps Umno, PAS and the Islamist lobby should just come clean that the reason behind the demonisation of Waytha is simple and too transparent: To paint him as the figurehead for the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and thus, the perfect reason to block the move.

But even before this explosion of sentiment against ICERD, there were voices of caution. Boo Su-Lyn wrote an article titled “Why ratify ICERD now?” She makes a good point.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a great United Nations treaty.

But ratifying ICERD would require a total change of mindset and how things are done in Malaysia, not least the ruling political parties’ own race-based membership structures.

Malaysia must move, sooner rather than later, towards equality.

But to do that, I believe it is more effective to start by changing some things locally first and holding lots of town hall meetings with the public, not just select NGOs, before taking the significant step of ratifying a UN treaty.

Racial superiority, unfortunately, is still socially acceptable in Malaysian society.

Now in the face of growing sentiment, PH is beginning to backtrack on the matter.

Mahathir: Impossible to ratify ICERD

Azmin: Malays, Bumiputeras need not worry about ICERD

The PKR deputy president said Putrajaya is not in a rush to accede to the convention, and Pakatan Harapan (PH) has already started working towards an equal distribution of wealth based on needs, and not race.

“There is talk that we supposedly want to ratify the international convention to ensure the elimination of racial discrimination. I would like to tell you that we in PKR have done so much earlier by ensuring that all races received equality and justice in the distribution of economy.

“That is why the economic policies introduced by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are based on needs, and not race.

Lim Guan Eng: DAP to leave ICERD ratification to PM, won’t be drawn into racial debate.

Anwar: Postpone ICERD implementation, focus on economy.

PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the people should not be too focused on matters that could divide unity of Malaysians.

“We need to continue to support Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership. We need to generate reforms and changes. There are other pertinent issues such as the price of rubber, increase in price of goods… the economy.

“ICERD is not something urgent that needs to be addressed immediately. We can postpone its ratification,” Anwar said in his maiden speech as party president to adjourn PKR’s 13th congress today.

As I have said in a previous article, I see ratification of ICERD as a statement of where Malaysia stands vis-a-vis racial discrimination. It is a voluntary exercise and reservations are allowed against articles that are problematic.

But some people speak of ICERD as handing over the sovereignty of the country to some external group and this notion is extrapolated to a constitutional conflict.

And this has led to the exploitation of the issue to fan racial and religious emotions. Listen to this person who was protesting ICERD (concluding paragraph):

“As a Muslim and Malay, I oppose the ratification of ICERD. Everyone has been treated fairly before this and there is no need for Malaysia to ape the West,” he said.

Perhaps people like Boo Su-Lyn and Azmin are right: Let’s just do the right thing without putting a label on it. And perhaps the time will come when it will be obvious to everyone that ICERD ratification changes nothing.