Wednesday, August 31, 2011
12 August, 2011
Changing Penang in a Changing World: Transforming Penang
Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much for inviting me here to speak. I come here as the Chief Minister of Penang, one of four states led by Pakatan Rakyat or the People's Pact, the opposition coalition in Malaysia. I am from the Democratic Action Party, one of three coalition partners. I am extremely proud to be given the opportunity to govern the beautiful vibrant state of Penang and delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you. I hope by the end of my remarks you will consider coming to visit and invest in Penang, as it continues to be an attractive location for business and pleasure alike.
It is wonderful to be in Singapore. We have so much in common; shared history and people. Our bonds are deeply intertwined, culturally, politically and economically. I would like to highlight some of our common features. We are both small states that have punched above our weight economically through the hard work and creativity of our people. We have both been successes despite our size and obstacles we share. Today, more than 25%Malaysia's exports in terms of value and volume come from Penang -
more than half of the country's electronics are produced there - and we are among the top tourist destinations in Malaysia with a record numbers of visitors. Like Singapore, we appreciate the importance of planning, a favorable market environment for investors and fiscal responsibility. We both have worked hard to put ourselves on the map internationally, and done so successfully.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Why EC's arguments are seriously flawed
John R Malott
Aug 24, 11
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COMMENT There has been much informed discussion in Malaysia over the past two months about electoral reform, with thoughtful proposals from reformers and counter-statements by the government.
In this article, the first of two, I take a look at some of the proposals that have been made and compare Malaysia's situation to that of other countries.
Lowering voting age
From an international perspective, Malaysia's 21 year age requirement is out of step with the rest of the world.
Wikipedia lists the voting ages in almost 240 countries and territories around the world, and overwhelmingly the predominant voting age is 18. Malaysia is one of only 12 countries where a voter must be 21.
Let's look at Malaysia's Asian neighbours. You need be only 18 to vote in Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
In Indonesia and East Timor, it is 17; in South Korea, 19; and in Japan and Taiwan, 20. Together with Singapore, Malaysia is the only country in Asia to set the voting age at 21.
Let's also take a look at other nations in the Commonwealth, whose governmental structures and constitutions have all been influenced heavily by the British.
The voting age is 18 in Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Canada, Ghana, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. Once again, Malaysia is an outlier.
In Malaysia, when citizens turn 18, they have the legal right to get married, have consensual sex, sign contracts, and buy alcohol and tobacco. They can leave school and work when they are 16, and they can drive when they are 17.
They do not, however, have the right to vote until they are 21. Why does this age gap exist?
Malaysia's age limit clearly is out of step with the rest of the world and also is inconsistent with the legal rights it grants its citizens at an earlier age, from marriage through employment.
Extending the campaign period
Bersih 2.0 advocates extending the campaign period to 21 days, but the Elections Commission is opposed to it. EC deputy chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar says that a shorter period is sufficient for a nation of Malaysia's size and technological sophistication.
However, a number of Malaysian advocates of electoral reform have pointed out that in years past, Malaysia's election campaigns extended beyond 21 days.
Let's take a look at Wan Ahmad's justification for a short campaign and examine the campaign periods in other Commonwealth countries, with which Malaysia shares a political heritage.
The 2010 Australian elections were announced on July 17, and the polls were held five weeks later, on Aug 21.
Using Wan Ahmad's logic, Australia needs a longer campaign period because it is a big country. So let's look at some smaller-sized places, which also are technologically sophisticated.
The 2010 elections in the United Kingdom were announced on April 12 and held on May 6. That is a campaign period of 24 days.
This year's parliamentary elections in New Zealand were announced on Feb 2, but they will not be held until Nov 26, almost 10 months later!
What about Singapore, a nation that is only 582 sq km in area, just 0.2% of Malaysia's size? Their Parliament was dissolved on April 19 of this year, and the elections were held on May 7, which was 20 days later.
Wan Ahmad argues that the length of a campaign period is correlated to a country's size and sophistication, but as the examples of the UK, New Zealand, and Singapore show, the argument doesn't hold water.
Finally, while Malaysia's land area is smaller than other India or Australia, the physical separation of the nation into its eastern and western halves has an impact on national election campaigns. The flying distance between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu is 1,624 km.
That is just 42km short of the distance between Bombay and Calcutta, and 123km less than the distance between New Delhi and Chennai. So for political leaders who need to criss-cross the country, the length of the campaign is important.
Using indelible ink
Bersih 2.0 advocates the use of indelible ink, which has proven to be a low-tech but effective method to prevent electoral fraud. EC deputy chief Wan Ahmad has made a number of points in opposition.
First, Wan Ahmad claims that Malaysia's Constitution would need to be amended, because the government cannot deny a registered voter his or her right to vote. This is incredibly perverse logic.
The purpose of indelible ink is not to prevent someone from voting; it is to prevent someone from voting twice, fraudulently and illegally. It is a crime-prevention and not a vote-prevention measure. Furthermore, when the government imported indelible ink for the 2008 elections, no one claimed then that the Constitution needed to be amended.
Wan Ahmad's second argument is chauvinistic. He says that indelible ink is for poorer, less sophisticated countries like India and Indonesia. Sophisticated countries like Malaysia deserve a more high-tech system like biometrics.
But then, in the same breath, he says that voters in the countryside are not sophisticated, and that they could be duped by people who dip their fingers in ink before they vote. So which is it - are Malaysians sophisticated or not?
Indelible ink has been in use in Indian elections since 1952, and there have been no accusations of fraud. The peasantry have not been duped. True, there have been problems in the Philippines because they used a lower quality ink that can be removed easily.
But Indian ink - which is what the Malaysian government imported in 2008 - stays on the skin for 72 hours and cannot be removed.
The irony is that many Malaysians believe that the proposed high-tech biometric system will lead to more fraud and more problems, not less. The equipment and database will be under the control of the government. Some blog reports say that the Malaysian companies that provide this kind of equipment have close political and family connections to government leaders.
Furthermore, as we all know, any computer system and database is only as good as the information that we put into it. High-tech systems are also prone to crash.
Can Malaysia deploy biometric equipment to thousands of polling places across the country, train personnel, and ensure both electricity and Internet connectivity, especially in the rural areas? A low-tech solution - indelible ink - seems easier, cheaper, and more reliable.
Permitting foreign observers
When Wan Ahmad was asked last July whether Malaysia would invite foreign groups to observe the country's next elections, the EC deputy chief became emotional and nationalistic: “Why do we need foreigners... commenting on our election system? They don't know our election laws. They don't understand our values.”
It is a matter of pride, he said. Malaysians would be hurt by the negative comments of foreign observers. “They are foreigners. Who are they? Why do we need Germans commenting on our election system?”
The irony is that he made these comments just as his boss, Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, was in Thailand on a five-day trip with four other Malaysian election commissioners to observe the Thai elections. The Malaysian group had been invited by the Thai Election Commission, along with 11 other countries.
As in Malaysia, voters in Thailand are divided on the question whether their elections are free and fair. An Asia Foundation survey in 2009 found a split - 47% of those Thai surveyed said their elections are free and fair, while 48% disagreed.
But when asked whether the presence of election observers would give them more confidence that the results of the elections were fair, 62% said yes. Only 34% said that it would not.
From that point of view, it is in the government's interest to invite both domestic and foreign groups to observe the next elections. The heavy-handed government crackdown last July 9 against the Bersih rally certainly got the world's attention and raised international concern that all might not be as it seems in Malaysia.
The government says that elections are free and fair. The world needs to be assured about the strength and integrity of Malaysia's democracy. Inviting foreign observers is not an issue of national pride; it is a question of national interest.
JOHN R MALOTT was the US Ambassador to Malaysia, 1995-1998, and continues to follow developments in that country closely.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF MALAYSIA (SUHAKAM)
BERSIH 2.0, 9th july 2011
Summary of Eyewitness Reports on the “Attack”
on Tung Shin Hospital & Chinese Maternity Hospital by Enforcement Officers
An open call to the public was made via the Internet for members of the public who were at Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital on the 9thof July 2011, between 2.00 p,m. to 4.00 p.m. to give their statements on the Bersih 2.0 Rally. Eighteen eyewitnesses gave their statements, via email or through direct interviews (in person and over the phone). Below is a summary of the statements.
1. Evidence: 18 Eyewitness Statements
- 15 Eyewitnesses present at Tung Shin Hospital during the Bersih 2.0 rally
- 9 Eyewitnesses also present at Chinese Maternity Hospital during the Bersih 2.0 rally
2. Evidence: Photographic evidence of tear gas & water cannons fired into hospital compounds during the Bersih 2.0 Rally
- Photographs obtained from members of the public
- Videos obtained from members of the public
Summary of the Evidence:
“There was no provocation of the police forces by the crowd (no heckling, no chanting of offensive slogans, and no physical provocation) despite the fact that we had been corralled on either end of the road by police and were NOT allowed to disperse or to move on with the march.”
Consistent throughout the statements from the eyewitnesses near and in Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital was the expression of peacefulness and civility displayed by the participants at the Bersih 2.0 rally. This is contrary to statements published in the press of supposed unruly and provocative behavior displayed by the Bersih 2.0 participants. Additionally, none of the eyewitnesses stated that there was any destruction of property during the rally, with one stating that “no one (even) litter(ed)”.
The eyewitnesses who were asked for their reasons to participate were also clear that it was within their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble peacefully and to freely express their opinions, in this case to call for fair and clean elections. There were also clear statements of ‘unity’ witnessed among the participants of the rally, with one person describing it as a ‘carnival of solidarity’, as people sang the national anthem together, and chanted slogans such as “Hidup Rakyat” (“long live the people”).
"As we were somewhat close to the front, we sat down almost immediately. Suddenly, without warning (and without provocation from anyone), multiple shots of tear gas were fired at us. It was extremely strong. People started running for cover. As the hospital compound was the nearest and safest place for us to seek shelter in, we ran to it”
Out of the 18 statements, 15 individuals were in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital between 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. on the 9th of July 2011, while 9 participants were also in the compound of Chinese Maternity Hospital. One participant was on the road between both these hospitals, and gave testimony from her vantage point.
Several witnesses stated that before they were in the hospital compounds, they were on Jalan Pudu with thousands of other participants. The riot police and FRU trucks had ‘sealed’ off the area from both ends (on one end near Terminal Bas Puduraya, and on the other end near the Swiss Garden Hotel). As such, the participants were ‘trapped’ in a situation without anywhere to disperse to. When the FRU trucks and riot police moved closer to the crowds, some of the witnesses stated that they saw YB Sivarasa Rasiah move to the front of the crowd where he appeared to be negotiating with the enforcement officers. Some of the participants sat down at that point.
The firing of tear gas at the participants then happened “suddenly” and without warning. There was no mention, however, of provocation of the police by the participants, or any behavior that would reasonably justify an attack.
Running for shelter, the witnesses ended up in the compounds of either Tung Shin Hospital or Chinese Maternity Hospital, which both happened to be the nearest and safest places to seek refuge. It would not have been possible for participants to run further down the road on either direction as the area was cordoned off by FRU trucks and riot police.
The witnesses stated that they were in the compound of the hospitals to avoid tear gas and water cannons, recuperate from the effects of being hit previously with tear gas, and to wait until it was safe for them to either disperse peacefully or continue on with the march.
One witness stated that participants from the rally were initially not allowed to enter into the main building of Tung Shin hospital. A nurse, however, later opened the door to allow participants to enter. There were no statements of disturbances caused by the participants within the building, with one witness stating that the participants remained quiet in the waiting area of the hospital.
As the participants waited in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, the police and FRU trucks moved into a line in front of the main entrance and exit to the hospital. This effectively prevented any participants from leaving the hospital, even if they wanted to.
“We thought we were safe. We were resting in an area. Then we got teargase(d). I am 52. I had a major infection and asthma attack. A few days later, I actually went back to Tung Shin Hospital for medical aid”.
While the participants were in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, the police began to fire tear gas and water cannons into the hospital compound. One witness stated that she was standing near the Emergency entrance where the ambulances are parked when a tear gas canister dropped one foot away from her. Another witness stated that he saw smoke from tear gas canisters in the area of the open-air carpark of Tung Shin Hospital. Out of the 18 statements obtained, 16 witnesses explicitly stated seeing tear gas fired into hospital compounds, while 4 stated seeing water cannons fired into hospital compounds.
When the police and FRU trucks ‘retreated’ from the main entrance of the hospitals, the witnesses who were within Tung Shin Hospital began to leave the hospital and move back to the main road. The riot police, however, once more began to move towards the crowd, and more tear gas was fired at the participants. Some of the witnesses then ran into Chinese Maternity Hospital to seek refuge from the riot police.
“I witnessed about 10 participants being arrested at the Chinese Maternity Hospital. The police ran after the participants by grabbing their shirts and pants. Some were pushed down, beaten and handcuffed. When some of the participants started resisting the arrest, they were beaten up with baton. At Chinese Maternity Hospital, the police attack the participants as they were saying “Doa”.
One witness stated that there were approximately 100 participants who sought refuge in the compound of Chinese Maternity Hospital. The statements by some of the witnesses described how the police (approximately 20 personnel) charged into the hospital grounds with truncheons and plastic cable ties.
The statements reflect the police action of using excessive and wholly unjustified force to arrest some of the participants within the compound. There were descriptions by the witnesses of police beating other participants on the head, chest, back and torso. Some participants also witnessed persons being shoved, dragged and kicked by the police.
None of the 18 witnesses, however, were among those who had physical force inflicted directly on them by the police, nor were they arrested in the hospital compounds.
“I just felt really angry towards this unnecessary use of force and the lack of disrespect even at hospital grounds. Everyone who was there was really upset because we all thought hospital grounds to be neutral and safe. But to see for ourselves the extent of police abuse of power really angered us. We had the realization that if hospitals were not safe, nowhere is.”
All of the witnesses either in or near Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity hospitals opined that the police action of firing teargas and chemical-laced water cannons onto the participants of the Bersih 2.0 rally was completely unjustified as the crowd was peaceful and orderly.
The excessive and unnecessary force by the police while arresting participants of the rally was also strongly condemned by the witnesses. This was further emphasized as no participants were seen violently resisting arrest, or behaving in any manner that would warrant a heavy-handed approach by the police.
The ‘attack’ on Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity Hospitals with tear gas and water cannons was also unequivocally condemned by the witnesses. Hospitals are seen as ‘places of sanctuary’ that ought to be protected. Furthermore, witnesses expressed ‘disgust’ and ‘outrage’ that the health and well-being of patients within the hospital were endangered by the enforcement officers who shot harmful chemicals into the hospital. While one witness stated that she saw a man become ‘agitated’ within the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, she further stated that a group of participants immediately calmed him down successfully. Other than shouts of anger, frustration and shock by the participants at the firing of teargas and water cannons into the hospitals, all witnesses within Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity Hospitals firmly stated that there were no incidences of violence or untoward behavior by the participants within the compounds of the hospitals.
“Extreme discomfort; a burning sensation in eyes, mouth and skin; shortness of breath; nausea; breathing difficulties. Yes, the other protestors seeking refuge in the hospital compound complained of similar reactions.”
Witnesses who experienced the effects of tear gas and water cannons stated the adverse reactions to their immediate, and in one instance at least, extended, well being. Severe burning and tearing of the eyes, coughing, gagging, choking, nausea, vomiting, burning of the mouth and throat and itchiness of the skin were the effects of tear gas and water cannons described by the witnesses. One witness stated that she experienced a lung infection and an asthma attack which she had to seek treatment for. Another witness stated that the skin from her face had peeled off the morning after the rally, which she attributed to effects of the tear gas. Some witnesses expressed gratitude for the sharing of salt (which assisted in reducing the effects of teargas), kindness and support received by fellow participants.
“I believe my constitutional rights were violated. In particular, the right to express freely was violated. I believe I have a right to ask for a fair election”
The witnesses believed that their constitutionally guaranteed liberties, in particular their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were violated by the enforcement officers at the Bersih 2.0 rally. Furthermore, their right to be free from harm, a fundamental right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was also denied by the enforcement officers. By condoning and even defending these acts, the State is therefore also seen to be responsible for this violation of rights.
The testimonies of the 18 witnesses and the photographic evidence obtained demonstrate clearly that Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital were attacked by the enforcement officers with tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons, and that the police exercised brutal and excessive force against participants seeking refuge within the hospital compound. This violation of the principle of ‘hospitals as places of sanctuary’ and the police brutality witnessed must be taken by Human Rights Commission with utmost urgency.
As one witness said, ‘democratic voices must be heard, but (this) isn’t the case in Malaysia’. The State must be held accountable for the repression of the democratic rights of its citizens. The enforcement officers that abused their power and attacked the participants of the Bersih 2.0 rally must also be held accountable for their actions.
ENDS - Report by Tenaganita
Monday, August 1, 2011
Aug 1, 11
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When Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak promoted the MIC president, G Palanivel, to become a full minister, no one was shocked. It was typical of Najib's arrogance and lack of leadership to put politics over policies, material goods over meritocracy, enticement over engagement.
Whilst Palanivel's promotion served to highlight Najib's hubris, lack of focus and his deepening moral decline, it also showed his desperation to win the next general election. If policies won't work, then political manoeuvring will.
Isn't our Prime Minister's Department staffed with ministers who have come in through the back door or whom many consider bootlickers? Many will be familiar with the expression Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
More importantly, the promotion does not make sense at a time when the government tells us to adopt austerity measures and that it, too, might go bankrupt.
Perhaps, Samy Vellu (left) could be stripped of his pseudo ministerial status, which must cost the taxpayer several millions, and redirect this allocation to Palanivel.
What is so extraordinary about Samy Vellu, our 'special envoy' who is given a ministerial rank? What does he know? Why is he paid over RM27,000 monthly and given “conveniences and other allowances” as well as a staff of six and an office in Plaza Sentral, Kuala Lumpur?
Why will Najib not take stock of the situation? His lack of scruples meant he resorted to his “deal or no deal”, RM5 million election gimmick, as in Sibu - his “You help me, I help you” moment of infamy.
When will Najib understand that the public purse does not belong to him? When will this product of a respected English public school and a graduate of an equally prestigious university realise that blackmail and bribery would not be condoned by his alma maters?
At the 65th MIC general assembly, Palanivel had urged Najib to reward “hardworking” Indians from the estates, and road and railway workers whose toil had helped build Malaysia. He wanted Najib to increase the budget allocation and form a special unit to help the Indian community.
He said, “The Indian community is waiting for your good moves, sir, good announcements and good plans. If you can fulfill all the requirements that I have put forward... you can rest assured that the Indian votes will automatically return to Barisan Nasional.”
Najib's response was: “There must be an understanding. Can you all deliver for Barisan Nasional? You can deliver and we will deliver”.
There are more questions raised by both Palanivel's and Najib's statements.
The most important being: What has BN and MIC done for the Indian community in the 54 years since independence?
Come every election, the Indians will be told that BN/MIC are the only parties for them. Then we hear that the MIC representative is hardly seen until the next election.
Facing a multitude of problems
The Indians face a multitude of problems such as the following: Not being issued with birth certificates or identity cards. Terrible conditions in Tamil schools. Tamil schools which are not legally sited. A lack of proper burial sites or graveyards. Demolition of temples. Temples without land titles. High suicide rates. High dropout rates in school. High crime rates and gangsterism. High levels of domestic violence in families. High levels of poverty.
These are not new problems. They have been around since independence but what have the elected MIC politicians done about resolving them? How strong is their commitment?
In the 2010 census, Indians made up 7 percent of the 28 million population. The Ninth Malaysian Plan stated that Indians controlled 1.2 percent of the corporate wealth. Contrast this decline with TimeAsia's report of 1.5 percent in 2000 with corresponding figures for the Malays (19.4 percent) and Chinese (38.5 percent).
So is looking after 2 million Indians very difficult? Or are there more Indians than the official statistics claim? Moreover, are the allegations about elected MIC politicians lining their own coffers and ignoring the electorate to be believed?
So how does Palanivel (right in photo) attempt to woo the Indians? He is beginning to sound like Najib, who told an audience in Sepang after his return from a trip to the Vatican, ostensibly to improve ties between the Christians and Muslims in Malaysia, that he would only respect Christians if the Christians would respect him.
Both Palanivel and Najib have to realise that respect is earned, just as people's votes, have to be earned.
If the Indian vote is increasingly difficult for BN to command then perhaps it is the politicians who ought to realise that race can never be used to win votes.
Palanivel is wrong to say that the Indian votes “will automatically return to Barisan Nasional”. MIC does not represent all Indians.
For almost a month, Dr D Jeyakumar of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia has been detained without charge. Were there protests from MIC about this illegal detention? Palanivel may have demanded the release of the PSM 6, but he was only vocal in the days before they were freed.
If Palanivel thinks MIC is the champion of the Indians, he might want to do a lot of soul searching and footwork.
In Sungei Siput, some members of the community allege that during Samy Vellu's reign, the ex-MIC leader did very little to alleviate the suffering of the poor Indians in the community.
'Poverty did not exist in Sungei Siput'
When it came to election time, when freebies and food were in abundance at MIC functions, it was alleged that the ex-MIC leader would proudly boast that poverty did not exist in Sungei Siput.
He obviously did not do his homework or go on a walkabout. Families living on RM300 a month and living in dilapidated shacks were common. It was also alleged that anyone who dared contradict Samy Vellu with regard to poverty, would receive a visit from his thugs.
During the recent furore with the PSD scholarships, one poor Indian teenager in the area who scored 8 As was refused a scholarship to do medicine. She decided to ask an MIC politician for assistance to secure funds. He in turn, allegedly asked her, “What's in it for me?”
If Palanivel thinks the MIC can deliver the votes, he might want to reconsider his moves.
Actions always speak louder than words. But this advice should perhaps be heeded by Najib more than anyone else, for as we enter the fasting month of Ramadan, Najib might want to reflect on his deeds and his conduct.
How can he consider himself to be a true and pious Muslim when corruption is the order of the day in Umno/BN?
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In 'real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.