Change and hope

In a letter published in The Malaysian Insight, Ding Jo-Ann, a lawyer who was part of the legal support team on the Institutional Reforms Committee, wrote of the many important accomplishments of the PH government but swiftly moved to focus on her disappointments: ICERD, death penalty, Rome Statute, NSC Act, child marriage, Sedition Act, Prevention of Crime Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act, Securities Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), Communications and Multimedia Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Added to that was the matter of Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and the enactment of Freedom of Information Act.

To be honest, I am not at all familiar with the issues surrounding many of the Acts she cited. But her confidence that these reforms can and should be done swiftly stems more from the educated, reform-minded people that she is surrounded by:

I know that some of these reforms may not seem popular with certain groups of people, but I believe that the electorate will respect a government that keeps to its word and conversely, will disrespect one that gives in to bullies.

I think with all the problems that were thrown up with ICERD and Rome Statute she should realize that these matters cannot be rushed into (and there is absolutely no need to rush as they pertain to long term principles). The government backtracked on ICERD and Rome Statute not because it is weak and beholden to threats but because it had not done the groundwork to prepare the people for these developments and allowed them to be exploited.

And looking at the long list of reforms that she has, it is naive to expect these matters dealt with in a year. ICERD and Rome Statute were attempted and failed. IPCMC is under discussion. Child marriage was never on the cards; just an issue raised out of a specific incident.

But what set the impetus for this article is what she said, under the heading “Change and Hope”.

I believe that this government stood for change and hope when it ran in May 2018 – a change from the corrupt ways of the past, and hope for the future by reforming our institutions and ensuring that the abuses of the past can never take place again.

I do not know whether we will ever have this opportunity again to reform our nation’s institutions. We must do so, and dismantle all the tools of authoritarianism and put our country on a solid democratic footing so that whoever is in power, there will be sufficient checks and balances to keep them accountable.

I know that some of these reforms may not seem popular with certain groups of people, but I believe that the electorate will respect a government that keeps to its word and conversely, will disrespect one that gives in to bullies.

I acknowledge that economic conditions must have a priority, but I would like to remind the government that institutional and human rights reforms must have prime importance as well, as it is our future that is at stake.

I know that PH is understandably concerned about losing power in the next general election. But wouldn’t it then be safer to put in place the necessary institutional and structural changes now to safeguard our democracy in case you do lose power, rather than not?

Despite this year’s disappointments, I still believe and hope that you will be able to effect the changes necessary to make Malaysia a truly democratic nation. I hope you do, too.

Basically she is saying, “Forget about popularity with ‘certain groups of people’, forget about re-election, the important thing is to ramp through these reforms to safeguard democracy because this may be the only chance to do so.” But surely popularity and re-election are the mechanisms for government to gauge whether they truly reflect the will of the people?

It is democracy that she wants to safeguard, yet she is willing to ignore the wishes and sensitivities of “certain groups of people” who happen to be the majority. In other words, she understands the need for institutional reform but she brushes aside the need to educate and reform the community. Brings to mind a statement from Lucy of Peanuts fame,

”I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”

But institutional reforms can be rolled back. Community reform is the safeguard to ensure that institutional reforms remain.

She did say “I believe that this government stood for change and hope” albeit it was framed in the past tense. But she ended her letter with “I still believe and hope that you will be able to effect the changes necessary”.

My point is this, we need to accept that change in the community must necessarily take time and will not happen in a straight line. It will be messy and it will likely not end up to be what we imagine it to be. Very unlike institutional reform where we are in full control. If we accept that both institutional reform and community reform are necessary, then we need a government that we believe in and we need community leaders, including civil society, to educate and empower the values they espouse, rather than merely push for reform and criticise. And we should work to keep that government in power. Civil society wants to claim the high ground of being apolitical criticising everything they can criticise. And in doing so impede the reforms they want. We should empower those who wish to do right, and uphold the values they stand for.

Right now, with BN showing the classic symptoms of denial, and with all that has been said and done by PH, I’m with PH.

Do you think PH is doing a good job managing race and religious relations?

So I was filling up this questionnaire that The Malaysian Insight sent as part of their assessment of the 1 year anniversary of the PH government. And this question, “Do you think PH is doing a good job managing race and religious relations?” was the hardest to answer and in the end I chose “I don’t know”.

The thing is that I think race and religious relations have been going downhill since a long time ago when BN became more and more Malay-Islam centric and allowed the rise of the notion of ketuanan melayu into the the Malaysian vocabulary. Wikipedia suggests that it was during Badawi’s time that the language came into common discourse although the notion existed long before. This not only legitimises the idea that one race is superior, but cements the presumption that this is a right. This statement in 2003 by Azimi Daim captures the mindset: “In Malaysia, everybody knows that Malays are the masters of this land. We rule this country as provided for in the federal constitution. Any one who touches upon Malay affairs or criticizes Malays is [offending] our sensitivities.”

The spirit and principles of Rukunegara that were established by Tun Razak after the 1969 riots are largely forgotten and ignored. These principles formed the Malaysian national philosophy instituted by royal proclamation on Merdeka Day, 1970 and reads as follows (translated in English):

WHEREAS OUR COUNTRY, MALAYSIA nurtures the ambitions of:

  • Achieving a more perfect unity amongst the whole of her society;
  • Preserving a democratic way of life;
  • Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner;
  • Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and
  • Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.

WE, HER PEOPLE, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends guided by these principles:

  • BELIEF IN GOD
  • LOYALTY TO KING AND COUNTRY
  • THE SUPREMACY OF THE CONSTITUTION
  • THE RULE OF LAW
  • COURTESY AND MORALITY

Race relations these days are a far cry from the ideals of Rukunegara. BUT it has certainly improved from the past few years when even a major Malay newspaper can run a headline “Apa lagi Cina mau?” which although translates simply as “What else do the Chinese want?” is framed in a rude and derogatory way.

Today the challenge is how to deal with UMNO and PAS who believe that their only recourse to power is to appeal to Malay-Muslim sensitivities and tries their level best to paint the government as one that does not defend the rights of the Malay-Muslim community. The situation gets worse when Muslim religious leaders and royalty enter the picture.

At the same time, in the more open atmosphere that the PH government has fostered, other communities, not least civil society advocates, also clamour for support of their issues, including Sabah and Sarawak over their rights as established during the formation of Malaysia.

As a fledgling government it is not easy to assert authority and as a government committed to respecting all communities neither is authoritarian rule its chosen approach. But at some point all parties need to rally round the government or we will be in danger of drifting further apart. All of us have a stake in this because the alternative, communal disintegration, or held together by force of law, will be detrimental to all, but especially the poor and defenceless.

The answer to the question is that race and religious relations, indeed unity, does not lie solely in the hands of the PH government but on all stakeholders and all of us as Malaysians. And we need to pray that God will instill good people to come to the forefront to forge a strong foundation for unity. And certainly resurrecting the Rukunegara would be a good starting point.

The controversy surrounding Israel Folau

Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have done the same. I don’t necessarily disagree with the message, but it has too narrow a focus. After all, the bible says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And so to say “Warning: Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators – Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.” in a public tweet is to invite controversy and misunderstanding; certainly not repentance.

That Instagram post carried the message, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” and quoted Galatians 5:19,

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV”.

Despite addressing a wide variety of sins, and a message that is essentially a call to repentance, Israel Folau’s tweet has been condemned as homophobic, and Folau characterised as a bully, a “f-ing” misinformed bigot who is spreading hate, by fellow rugby players.

Israel Folau is a key member of Australia’s Wallabies, the national rugby union team. But as a result of his tweet, Rugby Australia has decided to sack him from the team.

Billy Vunipola, a member of the England squad defended Folau, on Instagram, saying, “So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Saracens (the rugby club Vunipola plays for) have formally warned Billy Vunipola over his controversial social media posts which defended the Australia international Israel Folau’s “homophobia”.

Saracens made clear that they believe Vunipola made “a serious error of judgement in publicly sharing his opinion, which is inconsistent with the values of the club and contravenes his contractual obligations”.

Billy Vunipola has also been dropped as the face of Channel 4’s European rugby coverage.

A Channel 4 spokesman said on Friday: ”These views are incompatible with our values as an inclusive broadcaster. In light of this Billy Vunipola will not be used as a contributor in Channel 4’s coverage.”

And, the 26-year-old is set to meet with the Rugby Football Union, the body that governs English Rugby, over his support for Folau.

The only sane response I found was from Australian Liberal MP Tim Wilson, a gay MP, who proposed to his husband in parliament while speaking on the same-sex marriage bill in 2017:

“There is a need for people to be able to express their views on something like religion, and their religious beliefs, without censorship,” Mr Wilson told the ABC.

“I don’t know the details of the EBA or the contractual arrangements that sit between (Rugby Australia) and Israel Folau, but I would have thought that Rugby Australia should be very cautious in how they are conducting themselves.

“Rugby isn’t just a game for people who are agnostic or atheist. In a free, pluralistic democracy, that should have space for everybody to express their opinion.”

Mr Wilson said there were often provisions in employment contracts that prevent employees from making statements that do “unnecessary harm or damage”.

“Quoting the Bible or reciting a well established position around morality and private morality I don’t think crosses that line,” he said.

PH’s greatest achievement

The full headline said “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on.” Of course I was intrigued. It was an opinion piece by A Kathirasen, the executive editor of FMT.

He wrote of meeting two neighbours who felt PH had lost credibility because it had failed to keep many of its major election promises. Once again, no details. (Every this is mentioned, no details follow. My conclusion is that it is an impression that has sunk deep into people’s psyche so that it is now fact).

In the meantime one of them said that Najib is innocent until proven guilty. Once again, despite ECRL, FELDA, 1MDb, Tabung Haji, this is mentioned. Except we don’t make a distinction between proven and declared guilty in a court of law.

How quickly we forget how close we were to having Najib continue to be our PM. How quickly we forget what a miracle it was that PH is now the government of the day.

OK. What was “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on?”

For Kathirasen, it is that there is greater freedom today than in the past 35 years.

He did not elaborate, but as I thought about it, the presence of PKR and DAP must have had a real influence.

I felt that the commitment early on to institutional reform was the key. Perhaps there were other motivations but the appointment of Tommy Thomas as AG was crucial as all legal matters must flow through him. Art Harun as EC chair bolsters its independence and Richard Malanjum as CJ signals that the government is willing to allow justice free rein. He has just retired and who replaces him is a matter for urgent prayer.

The IGP remains unchanged but he will also retire soon and thus have no motivation to endanger his remaining time as IGP. Who replaces him will be another crucial matter for prayer.

What many fail to understand and appreciate is how much political capital among the Malays PH had expended to do all these. And when they gripe and scorn and belittle PH’s efforts, even more political capital is depleted wastefully. And in a state of depleting political capital it is much harder to achieve reforms that are necessary but unpopular.

It must have been tempting for Mahathir to come down hard on Najib and manipulate the establishment to crucify him early on. But he has shown remarkable restraint this time round. But the price is time and space for Najib and UMNO to regroup and spin their way into the minds of the masses. They can say anything and lie shamelessly (and they do) and the media, social or otherwise, amplify their messages uncritically, because, of course, Najib is innocent until proven guilty, and PH is using 1MDb to excuse their incompetence, and the trillion ringgit debt to justify their inaction while in truth they have lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises.

For me though, PH’s greatest achievement has to be defeating BN and successfully forming the government. That creates the possibility of a viable two-party political system for the country. I say “possibility” because PH has to win a second term, as the incumbent, to be truly legitimate, or be dismissed as an aberration.

That this achievement was the result of many different groups coming together and working together is the icing on the cake. It was not just a single race, or a single group of people with an agenda. It was not won solely on the back of urban Malaysia. It was not a victory wrought by civil society or society’s elite. It even took Mahathir and Anwar to set aside their differences and suspicion.

Truly this government is our government. It is my government. I voted for it, I prayed for it and I rejoiced when it came into being.

And this is why I believe we should not treat it as if it is our adversary. Or begin to abandon it. And yet we do. We are critical and demanding of PH and nice and understanding towards Najib, even when he is lying through his teeth. And now we too are repeating the mantra of the opposition, that PH has lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises (the two neighbours Kathirasen spoke of were clearly those who had voted for PH in the last election).

The UMNO-PAS axis to consolidate the Malay vote is a powerful possibility. And we should fear it. MIC and MCA’s continued association with UMNO in this context is puzzling. Do they seriously think they can influence them to abandon their propensity to do whatever they please?

This by the way is not an anti-umno-pas sentiment. If they stand on clear ideals and objectives for the betterment of the country and its people, sure. But they are standing on Malay-Muslim grounds. And that is destructive.

The more we suggest that the present government is no better than the last, the more we make it easier for the Malay voter to return to UMNO’s fold. And once the UMNO-PAS marriage succeeds in gaining power, we will have to seek God for another miracle.

Tok Mat says …

Dato’ Mohamad Hasan is currently a candidate for the Rantau state by-election. He is also the acting president of UMNO.

Too many penumpang

Umno acting president said Malays are being made to feel like visitors in their own country as there are too many ‘penumpang’ in Parliament.

“This government is not looking out for Malays and Muslim rights. Right now the ‘big house’ is full of ‘penumpang’,” said Mohamad alluding to the many non-Malays as ministers in office.

“We’ve been made to feel like visitors in our own country. This is a spineless government. One that we should reject.”

I was talking about weak ministers

Umno acting president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan today asserted that his “penumpang” (squatter) remark was not aimed at non-Malay ministers in the Cabinet.

He said in a Malaysiakini report that he was referring to ministers in the current Cabinet who were not living up to expectations, while blaming Pakatan Harapan (PH) for intentionally smearing his name by misinterpreting his words.

“The ‘penumpang’ I meant were the non-performers in Mahathir’s Cabinet, but it was deliberately misunderstood by Harapan, who claimed I used the word against non-Malay ministers,” said Mohamad said in the news portal’s report.

Dr M won’t let Anwar be PM

Umno’s Mohamad Hasan has questioned the likelihood of Dr Mahathir Mohamad handing over the reins to Anwar Ibrahim in two years’ time as promised, saying the PKR president will likely remain “the longest prime minister-in-waiting”.

“I know our ‘atok’ very well,” he said, referring to the 93-year-old statesman. “He will not give Anwar the post.

“Our ‘atok’ is hard-hearted. Those who dream of (Anwar) becoming prime minister will be disappointed,” he added.

Losing Rantau won’t hurt Anwar’s chance to be PM

Anwar Ibrahim’s chances to become prime minister would not be affected if PKR loses the Rantau by-election, said Umno acting president Mohamad Hasan.

“The issue of Anwar’s chances becoming slim (if PKR loses) doesn’t arise,” Mohamad said at a press conference in Rantau today.

He said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has stressed that Anwar would succeed him.

“It’s just that we don’t know when (Mahathir) will step down,” Mohamad (photo) added.

Don’t taint UMNO with 1MDb (Nov 2018)

“Umno as a party is not guilty and has no­­thing to do with the 1MDB operations and transactions. It is unfair to blame Umno for something it does not know about and that it has not done.

“Umno and I sympathise with Najib and we leave it to the authorities to manage and judge it according to the constitution,” added Mohamad.

Tok Mat says theft allegations all lies

Umno acting president Mohamad Hasan says the accusations of theft and embezzlement related to 1MDB against Najib Razak are baseless, and challenges the authorities to bring solid proof that could put the former leader behind bars.

But Mohamad added that 10 months after the change of government, Najib is still free despite repeated references to the 1MDB scandal by Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians.

“In Parliament, it is always about 1MDB,” Mohamad, better known as Tok Mat, told a late-night ceramah in Kampung Sendayan, Rantau, where he is trying to retain the state seat for Barisan Nasional after his default win was nullified by the election court last year.

He said Najib has yet to be found guilty in the 1MDB scandal, adding that the fact that Najib is still free shows that the allegations against him “are all lies and slander”.

It seems a politician can say anything with no reference to truth in Malaysia, and still remain the favorite candidate to win the Rantau by-election.

How much we need to pray for our nation.

Hannah, Khairy, Nurul

Yesterday I came across an FB post by Hannah Yeoh on Khairy. In an interview Khairy had given the PH government a “D”. Hannah’s response was “This is akin to asking someone who is booted out of school to grade the one who got in!”

From the comments on her post, I could see that the post backfired with many people criticising her for not listening to criticism. And many agreed with Khairy’s assessment.

Her post was wrong at many levels. Khairy was not booted out of school. He remains an MP. Pointedly saying “we won, you lost so shaddup” smacks of arrogance, which many commenters pointed out.

Such throwaway oneliners may seem clever at first glance, but they can cement a perception that can be costly.

Some commenters urged her to watch the interview, saying that he said a lot of good things. So I did.

And yes, it was a good interview, broadening his profile (he spoke about his autistic son), gave perceptive analyses on ICERD and Najib. But most of all he spoke strongly that Government must be for ALL Malaysians and so while he is sympathetic over the UMNO-PAS strategy, he feels that it projects a wrong image.

My take is that Khairy, freed from the constraints of his UMNO ties, is beginning to find his own voice, and that is good for the country.

There was another interview, Nurul Izzah by Singapore’s Straits Times, where she expressed her frustration at the slow pace of reform and policies. That interview is behind a paywall but Malay Mail reports that her plan is to make this her final term as MP. This, on top of her resignation from the PAC over the continued chairmanship of Ronald Kiandee, who has moved from BN to Independent to PPBM over the past few months.

Resigning, rather than engaging and working with the cards you are dealt with, is poor politics but it would seem that Nurul has no appetite for politics and her inability to work with Mahathir at the helm has boiled over. Bridges, it seems, are being burned.

So in the course of 1 day, 3 of the young turks (Khairy is 43) have come into the public’s eye but only Khairy has done well. Khairy’s growth is good for the country. But we do need our other young turks to step up and work in the context of the bigger picture.

Reality gate-crashing the party

In a recent conversation I had with a friend we both agreed that PH would lose Semenyih. For him, it is the poor performance of the PH government and he lamented that as a once critic of the BN government, he is now a critic of the PH government.

Pressed for details, the few matters he raised were to me a consequence of poor politics on the part of PH ministers.

It would take a colossal failure on the part of PH to match BN, I think. But PH ministers need to sit down and work out how they should respond to outside pressure as the government of the day. To me they have been wholly unprepared and have been manipulated to allowing themselves to be judged, accused by those who are massive failures themselves. They have been poor at managing expectations and have been cornered into defensive responses. And thus have conceded the narrative that they have a) not fulfilled their promises (nobody now elaborates what promises are are at issue), and b) the ministers are incompetent (again, no details but it sure does not help when a key PH leader like Kadir Jasin raises the issue).

For me though, the reality is that UMNO is formidable because they have a well-oiled election machinery and the benefit of being a part of the Malay experience of nation building. I believe it would take a massive national rejection of UMNO (such as GE14) for Malays to reject the party. It would be like rejecting a member of the family. It would be naive to think now that the Malays have voted against UMNO they have abandoned it totally.

I believe that once time has distanced the trauma of the betrayal by UMNO, and once that betrayal becomes an accepted part of the reality of Malaysian history, Malays are going to need pretty good reasons to once again reject UMNO, that friendly malay face that has been looking after their interests throughout the history of the nation.

It was my mother who clued me onto this: she told me, when the rejection of MCA was a very hot issue many years ago, that she separates the party from the individual leaders. The party had looked after the Chinese well since independence and she is not going to abandon MCA just because of some poor leaders now. That perspective never occurred to me.

And so it seems to me that for PH to win over the Malays, the appeal must not be to reject UMNO for their past sins — that is history. It must be that PH is worthy of being given a chance.

For what it is worth, coming from an armchair observer, I think that PH can never beat UMNO by trying to be UMNO to the Malays. And the “supposed” rivalry between Anwar and Mahathir, PKR and PPBM, negates any attempt to sell PH as a party Malays can trust with their future. The new Malay have problems with PPBM while the old Malay have problems with PKR. And PPBM is calling the shots now but PKR will call the shots in a year’s time. They have a perfect opportunity to show how new Malay can work together with old Malay for the sake of the nation but instead they have demonstrated that this does not work at all.

This Anwar-Mahathir-Rafizi-Azmin spat is destructive beyond personal interests. But, it seems, personal interests takes precedence as people grab for power they can easily lose in a few years time. PH lets this narrative run at its peril as the Malay vote is vital.

As for the other group of interested parties, those who are not politicians but are concerned about nation building, whom I term loosely as “civil society”, the Semenyih results hopefully would be a reality check.

The PH government is a fledgling government, having taken the reins of power for the first time, unexpectedly, now having to deal with a civil service that has an entrenched culture and (for some) entrenched self interest, and having to deal with a country that, economically, has been in the doldrums for some time, sapped by the internal bleeding of corruption, now facing the headwinds of the spat between US and China.

No government, and especially not a fledgling and inexperienced one like this, can deliver a “new Malaysia” in 1 year. Yet the incessant demands, criticism and judgement at every turn has been unrestrained. This is a government that has not been given space, let alone encouragement, to do well. The things they have done right — appointing a more representative cabinet, appointing respected and capable individuals to key positions in government, taking steps to introduce institutional reforms, and now taking steps to deal with the economy — have been either glossed over or criticised. Instead their missteps are not allowed to be forgiven.

The idea of shaping the current narrative has been mentioned in many places but mostly in terms that this is the responsibility of PH. The truth is that the way people perceive the developments in Malaysia is influenced by all parties but especially by “third parties”, those that are perceived as neutral and therefore able to deliver a more fair assessment. But to me, “third parties”, and here I include the media as well, have been irresponsibly amplifying not only the negatives, but also lies and innuendos, while ignoring the substance of what this government is attempting to do, and casting aside the fact that there are many different constituencies with different values and interests.

The point I wish to make is simple: give PH space to do their best. It would be in Malaysia’s best interests to have a viable alternative politically because that is how we can find middle ground. We need PH to succeed and we must understand how much the odds are stacked against them. Semenyih is case in point.

Recently I was reminded of Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. I’m sure the results of GE14 is the good work of God and I have hope that this government will survive in spite of all our attempts to undermine it, by the grace of God. But surely if we experience the return of UMNO via their chosen path of “defending race and religion”, it mustn’t be that we are getting the government we deserve because of what we have done (or not done) when we have a choice.

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.