Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

Does the Election Commission Really Want Us to Vote?

February 16, 2008

Election Fever is well and truly in the air in Malaysia.

Malaysiakini has kindly published my letter on a closely related topic – our voting rights. As a Malaysian currently residing overseas the letter reflects my personal frustrations with the voting system and doubts about the General Elections. For the record my letter states that I had made enquiries ‘yesterday’ – that was the day before Parliament was dissolved.  There is one point in particular that I neglected to include in the letter; a point that is seemingly minor though it obscures an issue of great significance.

In the body of my letter I make three points. There is a fourth that I should have added which is: “Why was there a need to determine whether I am a student or not?” Following on from that: “Why was I directed to go through the Malaysian Students Department (MSD) when other Malaysians presumably deal with postal voting through the High Commission?”

One may say this is a minor point for it could be said that as there are so many Malaysian students in the UK that it would be impractical for the High Commission to deal with the voting needs of Malaysian students. My response to this is, if the High Commission can deal with the voting needs of the other Malaysians resident in the UK, why not Malaysian students as well?

The reason that I say this leads on to an issue of great significance is that most Malaysian students that I know here in the UK are already fearful of taking a public stance on contentious Malaysian issues. Reasons cited for this fear range from the Internal Security Act to the continuance of a scholarship to imperilled job prospects upon a return to Malaysia. Naturally, this creates the suspicion that the biggest reason they are fearful is because if they do take a stance it will not be one which is in line with the incumbent Government.

You may say I am barking up the wrong tree here. Perhaps the reasons for asking students to go through MSD are purely administrative. Yet such suggestions do not dampen the effect of this procedure on many students, which is to make them even more nervous and more fearful. This culture of fear is symptomatic of a larger problem in Malaysia – one linked to (i) our nation’s collective dislike of confrontation, (ii) a Hang Tuah complex (i.e. an unquestioning deference to authority) and (iii) the divisive spectre of 13 May 1969, so effectively used by the BN during every subsequent election.

What say you, dear reader?

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Why the paranoia?

December 11, 2007

Once again, Malaysiakini has kindly posted my letter on recent events in Malaysia. If you can’t tell from the letter, I was (and still am) a bit peeved…just a bit.

While the whole HINDRAF issue exploded, I’ve remained silent, mostly just to see how it would all start to play out. Now we know. The government has showed its hand by coming out very heavyhandedly not just against HINDRAF but also BERSIH and even lawyers whose only crimes were to walk in unison and obstruct the removal of banners in celebration of human rights.

The point of my letter is that the Prime Minister has been given an ample mandate and ample time to clean up his own party. Yet he has failed miserably in this regard. Instead he lashes out at easy targets. Do you think he deserves a second chance?

Is this flexing of muscles intended to deter independent minded individuals? It won’t. Is it intended to impress the public? It won’t. Is it intended to shore up votes? It won’t.

Despite claims that the government of the day enjoys much support and has nothing to fear it is appearing to be increasingly paranoid. Just look at how they barricaded the roads leading to Parliament simply to prevent BERSIH from submitting a memorandum to Parliament. The memorandum objects to a Bill that proposed increasing the retirement age of the EC chief to 66.

Why the paranoia? Obviously we’re not seeing the whole picture. Let me know what you think might be fuelling all this.

While you’re at it please tell me if you think he deserves a second chance.

A Yellow Ray of Hope

November 13, 2007

Malaysiakini very kindly published my letter here.

In line with what I set out in my letter Lim Kit Siang (subscription required) in Parliament yesterday urged the government not to “politicise the gathering by saying that it’s a racial gathering. There was nothing racial about it. People from all parties and races were present so it is a national issue and not a political issue that can be played up by the ruling government.”

Kit Siang goes on to say that “We are serious in this matter, and we are not playing politics. The real question here is whether the electoral roll has many defects. We saw thousands of people in the gathering. Is the government ready to give a positive response instead of making baseless and wild accusations?”

As I asked in my last post – why is this being made into a partisan issue? If BN were smart they would have taken a different approach.

What did our esteemed Law Minster, Nazri Aziz, have to say about the rally? Ah yes, he of the imaginary Witness Protection Bill fame (erm it was supposedly all his press secretary’s fault). Also, let’s not forget that he’s also famous for screaming racist/perkauman in Parliament over 40 times in the span of a few minutes….here’s a video documenting part of that performance if you’re in the mood for some comic relief.

Well, according to Nazri it is pointless to try and understand the reason behind the rally as the “brains of opposition members do not function well.” According to him it’s all a “pondan matter”…yeah…I don’t get the analogy either.

But then…I’m a mere mortal and not a political master like he is. He’s got a great job though don’t you think? He gets to say as many slanderous things as he wants all day in Parliament without fear of impending lawsuits. It’s a perk he seems to take full advantage of.

Moving along…my apologies for the late update but attached below are a picture and a video from the small BERSIH rally (minus teargas, chemically laced water and unprovoked kicks to our necks) on Saturday. For many months now, since the Lina Joy decision really, I’ve been in a state of deepening despair over the situation in Malaysia. The events of Saturday were a ray of hope to me – a yellow ray of hope.

The people have spoken but will the-powers-that-be listen and act accordingly? Only time will tell.

Irrespective…Daulat Tuanku!

BERSIH Rally London 2

 

Who’s Scared of the Talk?

June 3, 2007

Like most kids I had an irrational fear of the dark. I was convinced that monsters lived under my bed and that if I wasn’t careful one would snatch me by the leg, drag me under the bed and make a meal of me. To calm myself I would pull the covers over my head as if the sheets formed a powerful barrier. Most of the time that worked pretty well. Hiding under the covers eventually made the monsters go away. Perhaps they got bored (or grew too hungry) and moved underneath a less savvy kid’s bed.

Britain’s The Times newspaper recently reported that an international conference intended to foster greater understanding between faith communities scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled at the last minute due to a request by the Malaysian government. Apparently religion is a tense subject in Malaysia and it would appear that there are those who believe that hiding under the covers will make the nation’s problems go away.

I hope I have let go of all my irrational fears by the time I reach 50!

I am also left wondering…if everyone’s heads are under the covers, who is steering our ship?

The folks at Malaysiakini were kind enough to publish my letter on the subject and I shall let the letter do the rest of the talking. [EDIT: But not without adding a few more thoughts!]

[NOTE 1: The letter below was published before the Lina Joy decision. If anything, there is a more urgent need for the government to act in a constructive manner, because the decision has garnered so much international attention, that our Information Minister has decided to get in on the action.]

[NOTE 2: Post-Lina Joy our PM and others have gone on record to ask Malaysians to not get too emotional about the issues raised. I posed this question in the letter but let me ask again – what positive steps is/has the government taken to defuse the situation?]

-UK-

__________

Interfaith Conference: Quit the Ostrich Act

Umran Kadir
May 14, 07 5:52pm

I refer to the malaysiakini report Confusion reigns over inter-faith conference.

Malaysia has long prided itself as a beacon of progress and moderation in the Muslim world. However, in the last few years the world has borne witness to the rising tide of religious intolerance and ignorance in our country. First we had the tussle for Shamala’s children, then we had Ayah Pin’s commune being destroyed, next it was a tug of war for Moorthy’s body.

More recently it was the embarrassing issue of the Barnhardts’ rude 2 am. awakening in Langkawi. Lina Joy’s saga to determine her own destiny continues still. Today, tales of families being torn apart by the religious authorities are surfacing with alarming regularity.

Despite all these incidents being widely reported in the international press we still find politicians, academics and theologians coming to Malaysia to learn how our government has been so successful at managing our diverse population. What a shock it was to learn of the inept decision to stop the ‘Building Bridges Global Interfaith Seminar’.

It was further disillusioning to read a comment in The Times by a would-be participant that ‘… there was contention at the highest level in Malaysia’ on whether the conference should proceed.

The effect of halting the Article 11 forums was to send the message that Malaysian citizens cannot discuss issues that our government deems to be ‘too sensitive’. It now appears that this same prohibition extends to the most learned of foreign theologians and academics. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem quite so bad if the government were shown to be actively trying to resolve these ‘sensitive’ religious issues. Yet the government’s approach to resolving these issues…well…just what is the government’s approach?

The government may choose to conduct itself with its proverbial head in the sand but the rest of the world doesn’t work that way. The perception of some appears to be that these problems can continue to be swept under the carpet because those most affected are either poor, insignificant or both. To those who hold such a view, I can only ask the following:

How much more will the international community be prepared to witness before Malaysia is branded as an oppressive and intolerant state?

Such a question should not be viewed as the sole concern of bleeding heart liberals, interracial couples or apostates. It should rightly concern our political leaders and captains of industry. For if it should come to pass that Malaysia is perceived by the outside world as oppressive and intolerant then not even the slickest of Tourism Malaysia advertisements will salvage our reputation.

The Catastrophe That Is The Lina Joy Decision

June 1, 2007

I promised an explanation and here it is. Malaysiakini was kind enough to publish my letter.

Still can’t shake that feeling, by the way.

AN ADDENDUM:

I notice my newborn blog is getting some traffic from Malaysiakini for which I am thankful.

If I can add anything, it is that our Parliament must play a bigger role in resolving this. I presume they have left it entirely to the courts to resolve because it is an election year but to me this is the height of irresponsibility. Surely an issue of this magnitude should be discussed openly in Parliament. Unless even our MPs are not ‘mature enough’ to have open discussions on ‘sensitive’ issues? [EDIT: See my next post for more on the maturity of Malaysians.]

We are already being told by our Prime Minister and others to not be emotional. I agree. We need to approach this in a reasoned manner but don’t be under any illusions that a lot is not at stake here.

I feel Malaysia is at a turning point in its history. We can go one way or we can go the other.

Is it just me?

-UK-

________________

Malaysiakini

Umran Kadir
Jun 1, 07 2:49pm
     

 

I refer to the letter Lina Joy: Let’s not leap to polemics (http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/67989) I beg to differ with Nathaniel Tan’s downplaying of the significance of the decision in the Lina Joy case. Without resorting to hysterics or polemics, the Federal Court’s decision is a tragedy when viewed from at least five perspectives.

First and foremost it is a personal tragedy for Lina Joy, who after going through what I can only imagine has been an immense struggle is still without a remedy.

Second, it is a tragedy for those who believe that there are certain rules to be followed when amending our Constitution. Nowhere in our Constitution does it currently state that Shariah courts are empowered to decide on the matter of a person’s faith, Muslim or otherwise. One cannot fault her but if Lina Joy decides to seek a remedy in a Shariah courts, then the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts will have effectively been expanded without the need for a Constitutional amendment!

Through its deference, the Federal Court has conferred jurisdiction to the Shariah Court. Implicit in this is a question involving the separation of powers doctrine. Specifically, is the Federal Court in a position to be conferring jurisdiction in this matter to the Shariah courts? Admittedly, Parliament has done little to resolve these issues.

However, the question remains as to what the jurisdiction of Shariah courts will allowed to extend to next? Moreover, who is in a position to confer this extension?

Third, it is a tragedy for all Malaysians because this decision fetters a fundamental right of all Malaysians. Article 11 of the Federal Constitution unequivocally guarantees a right to freedom of religion for all citizens of Malaysia. It is a right, not a privilege. Why is Lina Joy’s access to this right being fettered by the requirement of a certificate?

Certificates and similar documentation are meant to be evidentiary in nature but in this case who is in a better position to adduce the evidence but the woman herself? What more can a Shariah court add when she has been a self-confessed and practicing Christian for so many years?

Here a policy or ‘floodgates’ argument (ie, Muslims will leave Islam in droves) may be employed but my question for all Malaysians is this: which other fundamental freedoms can the floodgates argument arrest? Protection against retrospective criminal laws (Article 7)?

Perhaps to reduce our high crime rate Parliament should devise new criminal offences and then we can start charging the people that committed these new offences 10 years ago.

Fourth, it is a further tragedy for all Malaysians because this country that we and our forefathers have all worked so hard to build and promote is increasingly being labelled as intolerant and backwards in the eyes of the world. If we are not more conscious of how others perceive us, we will be left behind.

Fifth, it is a tragedy for Islam and Muslims in general who will be further regarded as petty, vindictive and illogical.

So you see, one needn’t be emotional to realise the multifaceted, catastrophic and utterly depressing implications of the Lina Joy decision.