Tuesday, 20 November 2012

False neutrality

False Neutrality

by Josh Hong(09-07-12)@www.malaysiakini.com

I am growing tired of the so-called Malaysian elites who see themselves as rising above politics. They look askance at the Opposition parties for a variety of reasons, being skeptical of PAS' theocratic agenda or Anwar Ibrahim's chameleon character. I know many are also disdainful of the way Lim Guan Eng conducts himself.

It is fine and in fact natural when members of a society have different opinions and are allowed to express them peacefully. This is called democracy.

However, what I cannot tolerate is the holier-than-thou attitude of this particular group of elites who claim to be neutral, and it is this pretense that has driven some of them to feel so cynical about the ordinary men and women – already hard pressed in life thanks to the 55 years of mismanagement and corrupt rule of the Barisan Nasional – who now put their faith in the alternative front.

I earnestly wish there is such a thing as neutrality in politics. But some
 Malaysians are so gullible that they, after much propagation by BN mouthpieces, too begin to think social activism such as BERSIH and other environment-related movements should remain'neutral' and 'non-political'.

But how can BERSIH, Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA, the Anti-Lynas Campaign, Bukit Koman and the less publicised Pengerang residents remain apolitical when there are issues of justice, fairness, integrity as well as life and death at stake? To me, anyone who follows the BN's script and calls for these movements to be de-politicised is naïve, plain stupid, or shrouded in his or her own elitist bigotry.

Granted, our country is becoming partisan and political by the day and I am certainly not losing sight of this fact. But one must be cautious enough to not condemn blind loyalty to the Opposition to the extent that existing abuses, transgressions and excesses by the powers-that-be are overlooked or made to seem as secondary or unimportant.

One good example of this false neutrality was the flimsy argument put forward by some that they refused to join the series of BERSIH rallies because 'the movement has been politicised and is linked to the Opposition'. What these people have failed to understand is that it was the BN parties that had turned down the invitation to join in the effort for clean and fair elections in the first place!

Ideally, one would be happy to not interfere in Malaysian politics but live a serene life. Unfortunately, one's personal circumstances cannot be improved by seeing one's life being constantly disrupted and worsened by undesirable politicians and the best way to fight them is to become politically involved.

Divisively partisan

And it is rather rich of some to scorn at the mass following enjoyed by the opposition parties, for I know quite a number of them have worked closely with BN-associated bodies before, including the Perdana Global Peace Foundation with Mahathir Mohamad as the patron. Obviously people like these have conveniently forgotten that Mahathir has never ceased to be political as well as divisively partisan.

This trait is common to some Chinese Malaysian dailies, too. While Utusan MalaysiaThe Star and News Straits Times have no qualms admitting that they are serving the agenda of the ruling parties, the Chinese press in general is adverse to being perceived as partisan. So what they habitually do is to report stories from both sides of the political divide and pretend the job is done. Or is it?

When a college student was expelled from school and a 19-year-old girl handcuffed by the Police, both for 'showing disrespect to the Prime Minister', the mainstream media covered the news but did not bother to explain why questionable characters such as (Tun) Ling Liong Sik and (Tan Sri) Chan Kong Choy escaped the same fate even though they have been charged with much more serious offences.

In attempting to be seen as 'fair' and 'impartial' by giving both parties – both the Police and the 'offenders' – a chance to speak, the news only ends up getting distorted. Meanwhile, the real cause of these incidents – an expanding Malaysian population disgruntled with the failure of the government to restore public integrity – remains obscured.

As Arianna Huffington, founder of theHuffington Post, has said, 'one of the worst things the old media do is present two sides of a story as if the two sides had equal value, creating a false neutrality that often does not exist', and that they fall back on 'the illusion of neutrality instead of ferreting out the truth'.

It would, hence, be better for these self-righteous critics to get down from the wall of false neutrality and see for themselves what are the real issues that are plaguing our country, before they become devoured by the sheer force of the corrupt regime that they are happy to turn a blind eye to for now.

Forwarded from Mobilekini.
You may read this article at http://malaysiakini.com/columns/208273

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MCA in denial, PAS gets my vote

Forwarded from Mobilekini.

MCA in denial, PAS gets my vote

MCA in denial, PAS gets my vote

May Chee • Oct 22, 12 11:16AM

I think every kampong or neighbourhood has this one person whom you see at the warung or food-stall during mealtimes. He kind of holds court, speaks rather loud and in a condescending tone.

If you stay long enough, you will also notice that he never pays for his food. It's as if he needs to speak the way he does to earn his keep. I think you call that "freeloading"?

All these "hate" speeches lately by the MCA against PAS, "hudud", and about my favourite Mursyidul Am, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, instigating rape of non-Muslim women, borders on being just that - "freeloading".

Rehashing news from 2008 just goes to show how bankrupt MCA has become. To go back in time when you should move forward - to create, innovate, progress, anything but backslide and with such malice, too. It beggars belief!

Instead of suggesting something constructive, the MCA, in election gear, decides to embark on a fear-mongering campaign.

Goodness, a dearth of brains in the MCA-ah? Are the people in MCA even serious about wanting to represent our interests in Parliament? Aiyoh, how-lah?

How can we trust such bird-brains to fight for us? Sure lose, hands-down!

Despite what a fumbling imbecile of a minister may say, Karpal Singh, another towering Malaysian, has reminded us not too long ago that in 1988, former lord president of the Federal (later, Supreme) Court of Malaysia ruled that the country was governed by secular law which meant Malaysia was a secular state.

Is that not clear enough?

Come on MCA, we are not morons. We know you for what you are. Among the featherbrained schemes, initially the 1Care and now, the latest being the AES, you are in cahoots with the plunderers to rob us Malaysians blind!

How lofty can you people in the MCA get? Are you not touching base with the ordinary rakyat? How on earth can we afford to enrich you and your cronies any further? To feed your avaricious appetite for money and power?

Have you not seen how the poor are getting poorer and the ordinary Malaysian is finding it hard to get by? And you people still think that it is only a perception that the crime rate has skyrocketed?

Are you people in the MCA living in denial or what? By the time you wake up, the rest of us Malaysians have crossed over to the other shore while you stay behind, stranded! Worse still, you'll be drowned!

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang himself had reiterated last year that the Quran did not provide for an Islamic state but a welfare state.

That's not a bad thing. Shouldn't that be every leader's responsibility, to see to the welfare of the state?

What do we have in the MCA? Now and then, fighting for scraps that fall off the banquet table? Even Lazarus had better! Are you anyone's equal, MCA? 1Malaysia, what's that?

A miserable handful of scholarships for some students and that too, debatable about whom they go to. I've heard stories about how some people obtained their scholarships. You are a farce, MCA, you really are!

We have real problems here, in Malaysia. For instance, we need to do something real quick about our mounting debts. It's definitely not a perception that we live in fear.

My daughter was almost "mishandled" by someone in a car park in one of the shopping centres in KL recently. Thank God she had a friend with her and a gentleman who parked his car on the same level.

I cannot wait to pack her off to where she can be safer. Our education system is in shambles.

My nephew who has been placed first in class since he started Year One told my sister that he needed Physics tuition because his teacher has not taught since the beginning of this year.

All she does is to ask the students to refer to some bright sparks in class.

I don't want to foam at the mouth, as RPK would say. But honestly, MCA, are you aware of the problems we, the people whom you profess to represent, have?

Doubt fear-mongering, using PAS as your punching bag, is the quick-fix we need. Get real, MCA or ship out!

To me, the MCA has apparently isolated itself from the misfortunes of the ordinary rakyat, and day after day, wastes the opportunity to help them.

Yes, it's an opportunity to be of service to others, for the last shall be first and the first, last.

I don't see any effort coming from the people in MCA that promote human dignity nor do I see any of them participating actively in the building of the future of this nation.

But I do see how hastily these same people wanted to implement the AES. I see a loathing self-interest to enrich their own coffers and a lack of courage in standing up to their "sleeping partners".

Or is it a case of "you scratch my back, I scratch yours"; acting like opportunists whose deeds do not match the responsibilities that they are entrusted with.

Coming from the Malacca hometown of Tan Siew Sin, I shudder to think that the MCA of today has all but lost its original identity and mission.

I see a leadership whose intuition is bogged down by corruption, cronyism and cowardice. And for that, the MCA is already deemed irrelevant and will have no further impact on our Malaysian history.

I believe many past and present leaders of the MCA, realise that they are no longer respected by the majority of Malaysians, not even those they "sleep" with.

Yet, MCA, you are not purging yourselves to merit this respect. Sad, no?

Aren't you made of sterner stuff? Your forefathers crossed oceans, with nothing more than the shirts on their backs, to seek a fortune for themselves. Even the cousins they left behind in Thong San are doing really well.

As national leaders, those of you in the MCA should open your eyes to the evils that afflict the nation. You should know by now that injustices will be paid for dearly or are you still fooling yourselves that you can get away with it?

We need progressive leaders who can champion unity, not those who still engage in the stone-aged tactics of divide-and-rule. That's not Malaysian. We have to discover a new meaning in the Malaysian way of living.

For that, we have to leave behind an existence where we live alienated lives from one another. That's no more Malaysian. We need each other to mature as a true, progressive people.

Things will work out better for us if we share our responsibilities. That's Malaysian. Having a stranglehold on the economy and perhaps, leaving entire classes of people in poverty is no more acceptable. It shall not be Malaysian.

The devil is not out there, MCA. It's not PAS and it's not the DAP. It's within you.

Be afraid, MCA, be very afraid. I'm not alone here when I, a Catholic and a Chinese woman say, "PAS gets my vote, any day!"

God bless, especially Mursyidul Am Nik Aziz, and please forgive MCA's insolence. Thank you.

You may read this article at http://malaysiakini.com/letters/212405

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The politics of accommodation in PAS

Forwarded from Mobilekini.

The politics of accommodation in PAS

COMMENT Islamist parties throughout the world are grappling with new roles and responsibilities. PAS is no exception.

The discussions at the party's muktamar held in Kota Bharu last weekend highlight that PAS is adapting to new conditions globally and nationally, and in fact embracing reform. 

Perhaps more than any party in Malaysia, PAS is engaging in accommodation.

Despite news reports focusing on the comments of one or two individuals - a common feature, especially in the reporting of Malaysia's Islamic party - PAS is moving towards a more nationally-oriented position in which it can play a prominent role as a partner in an alternative government. 

In fact, judging by its actions and the meeting taken as a whole rather than the words reported, the muktamar highlights that PAS is continuing to embrace more progressive positions, especially among its leadership.

Its challenges, however, have more to do with winning over its more parochial and conservative membership that is reluctant to change and struggling to adapt and understand a more complex and demanding political environment. 

We are for Pakatan

One message that resounded at the muktamar was PAS' commitment to Pakatan Rakyat. Every component of the party - from the ulama and the spiritual leader to the women's wing - stated categorically that PAS was an integral part of the alternative coalition. 

In fact, those linked to the alternative position of 'unity' with Umno were conspicuously absent. The unity group has been marginalised in PAS, and even faced open criticism for taking positions in public that conflict with the consensus of the leadership. 

The surprising person leading the charge in this criticism was no other than one of the most conservative ulama, Harun Din. Definitively, PAS has taken a stand: we are for Pakatan. 

This message was apparent in other ways as well. Rather than present its own alternative vision of governance - as has happened in the past with the welfare state concept, for example - the thrust was on reaffirming connections to the common platform, notably the Buku Jingga. 

This sense of collaboration was repeatedly echoed in the inclusion of non-Malays (whose support is essential for the party to hold onto its current seats and make electoral gains in states like Negeri Sembilan and Johor) and in engagement with the artistic and cultural communities. 

Importantly, discussion on the decisive, dividing issue of hudud was muted as its leaders aimed to show that, in the spirit of consensus, they would seek common ground. Repeatedly, the call for political consensus, tahaluf siyasi, was made - a consensus that its Pakatan partners will find essential. 

The PAS at this muktamar was not wedded to the past, but engaged in outreach for the future. The image of PAS as a group of mullah defending narrow conceptualisations of tradition and religion, banning social activities and limiting freedoms is no longer fair. The identity of PAS as a political party is changing.

While some in the old guard and their protégées in the Youth wing are uncomfortable with PAS' more modern open approach, the leadership as a whole, presided by Abdul Hadi Awang and reinforced by an overwhelming majority of progressives in the central committee and as members of parliament, embraced collaboration and greater tolerance. 

The repeated attacks on Umno and Najib Abdul Razak's tenure further illustrated that their sights are focused in its partnership in Pakatan. Closing the meeting on the last day with a prayer for Umno's defeat in elections was a powerful signal. 

The affirmation of a Pakatan commitment has been overshadowed by questions arising from mainstream media reports on the muktamar, namely the issue of whether Hadi Awang wants to be premier and whether he supports Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim in that position.

Attention continues to centre on possible points of division, with the hope of driving a wedge among parties that have worked and governed together for four years. 

Hadi Awang repeated that he does not want the premiership. Many people, however, refuse to accept his response.

Tackling trust deficits

Globally, Islamist parties face trust deficits. PAS faces this on multiple fronts - from whether the party is truly loyal to the opposition to their goals in office. PAS is also hounded by its past, when it joined Umno in the 1970s, only to lose its credibility, and its soul. Memories of PAS' betrayal of the trust of voters run deep, especially among older voters. 

Even more suspicion exists among liberals and/or non-Muslims who believe that PAS is the driver of religious intolerance, curbs on religious freedom and limits on women's rights.

Years of media socialisation and PAS's own record in places like Terengganu underscore this anxiety and it only takes a few trigger words such as "hudud" or "ulama leadership" to open the floodgates of possible additional trauma. 

The fact is that trust once broken is very hard to rebuild. In this muktamar, PAS' challenge of building trust manifested itself clearly as focus continued to be on the triggers of division rather than on cohesion. A question that arises from this muktamar is whether PAS can overcome this trust deficit with those who are inclined toward suspicion. Are doubts so embedded that views cannot change? 

What is not always clearly understood is that PAS's current young leadership is also facing a trust deficit from the old guard in the party. The proponents of internal distrust come from the protégées of the old guard ulama in the Youth wing. 

harakah edisi julai 2009
While the rank-and-file are committed to Pakatan, some of the PAS' delegates at the muktamar are uncertain about the progressive path adopted by the current leaders. This was evident in the attack on party organ Harakah for its open coverage of news. It was also evident in personal attacks on progressive PAS leaders who espouse tolerance. 

The source of this distrust is multiple - many in the old guard are staunchly conservative and resist reform. PAS is not the only party with old fashioned outlooks, but disproportionally the party has many of them. The more cutting element of distrust comes from the fact that some of the progressives have openly called for an end to the ulama leadership of the party. 

Some of the ulama feel under attack and this reinforces their defensiveness and, in some cases, reactionary responses. The ulama are uncomfortable with displacement and accepting accommodation as they feel this leads to their marginalisation. They are uneasy with the dissolution of their influence and this feeds into the distrust from within.  

Political tests and risks

Bringing a party toward reform is never easy, especially when old mindsets persist. It is compounded when there are interests involved. It was thus clear that the progressive PAS leadership is facing its biggest test in the next election battle. They have to show with electoral victories that their approach is earning support. 

It is not enough for the progressives to point to coalitions between Islamists and other groups in countries like Tunisia and Turkey, for the PAS progressive leadership has to deliver at home. A failure to win seats will allow the traditional, conservative old guard to return to the leadership. 

This election is as much about Pakatan as it is about the future of Islamism in Malaysia. Voters will decide whether PAS is more tolerant, more democratic and inclusive, or whether it returns to the dark ages and pushes Malaysia away from a modern future.

Make no bones about it, the dark forces in PAS are waiting for the chance to come back to power at any sign of weakness of the current progressive leaders in the party. 

On some fronts, they have interests in the failure of the PAS progressives. The old guards and their protégées want a return of stronger conservative ulama leadership, and are uncomfortable with the spiritual role that the ulama currently hold. They know that if PAS does well electorally, it will minimise the possibility of ulama taking on more positions in the helm of the party. 

They also fear further displacement with greater electoral gains and winning government. Many ulama lack the skills to take on technocratic governing positions, and those with old guard mindsets are often too closed in outlook to win over the support needed for electoral victory. Insecurity among some inside the party fuels the internal distrust.

PAS delegates are also frustrated that they are on the firing line electorally. Many feel that PAS is competing in the most difficult seats, in Felda areas for example, and has uphill battles to win seats.

As the pouring of goodies continues in the Malay heartland in the rural constituencies dominated by state-owned media, PAS faces a serious struggle to win over voters.

Many delegates felt that the obstacles they face electorally in winning Malay votes was not appreciated within Pakatan and some even worried that the coming general election could lead to their marginalisation in the governing coalition. 

The new role in Pakatan is not just about commitment to the coalition, but confidence that the party will continue to have a place and prominent position. Many delegates expressed the desire to be better treated in Pakatan, as an asset and partner.

Three-pronged approach

While seats are competitive for all the parties, disproportionally PAS as a party does have serious obstacles in making electoral gains. The party is locked in a battle with Umno for Malay votes, and grappling with effective approaches to woo and reach non-Malay voters. What is telling is that advocating for hudud is not prominent among these approaches. 

Instead there are three prongs in PAS' contemporary engagement.

Foremost, PAS centres on the issue of corruption. This is the moral core of its campaign, the call for voters to reject abuses of power. The steps taken to declare assets within the party at the muktamar reveals that it is building safeguard procedures within the party.

Second, PAS has emphasised greater representativeness in its slate of candidates. It is bringing in more technocrats, former civil servants, entrepreneurs and security personal, and women. PAS is extending its umbrella to include more pluralism is its prospective candidates.

Finally, PAS has reaffirmed its adherence to democratic principles. When speaking to the delegates in his closing speech, Hadi Awang emphasised a premiership based on electoral performance, consensus and representativeness. Motions from the floor supported electoral reform movement Bersih and continued the commitment to electoral reform. 

What was perhaps more telling in democratic governance was the willingness to allow open views from delegates to be expressed. This muktamar was not a controlled event as delegates were allowed to raise concerns, and some of the points from the floor bordered on the bizarre. 

Unlike Umno, PAS has held party elections in the last few years and its leaders do have a party mandate. The leaders within the party faced criticism openly, a sign of strength not weakness.

One of the most striking elements in this muktamar within PAS was the appreciation of difference. The reality is that the delegates know there are different views, but these differences were acceptable. The tolerance of difference within PAS has grown in its evolution in Pakatan. 

To judge a party based on its party congress is ultimately a flawed exercise. At best, the muktamar is a venue to assess trends and directions. Pakatan loyalty, progressive leadership and strengthening democracy stood out. This said, there are differences within PAS over many issues, from hudud and ulama leadership to electoral strategies. 

But differences are normal. What is important is the way differences are addressed - through debate, engagement and adherence to principles. The 58th muktamar showed that the PAS is not shying away from these tough issues, an important evolution for any party hoping to win support to govern nationally.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University and she can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg. She was an observer at the 58th PAS Muktamar in Kota Baru.

You may read this article at http://malaysiakini.com/news/214629

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