Sri Lanka's ethnic-minority Tamil war refugees, detained in government camps, will be freed by December 1, according to a senior official.
Basil Rajapaksa, an adviser to his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, said on Saturday the detainees - numbering about 136,000 - will be free to return to their villages after December 1.
He said the camps would be completely closed by January 31.
Some 300,000 war-displaced were forced into squalid and overcrowded camps after fleeing the final months of the government's war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May.
More than half were released in recent months amid pressure from rights groups and foreign governments.
Rajiva Wijesinha, of the disaster management and human rights ministry, said that there were security concerns that had to be addressed before the refugees could be resettled.
"This [releasing of refugees] is entirely in accordance with government policy," Wajesinha told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
"We made it very clear in May that we would resettle people as quickly as possible but we did have very serious security concerns."
Wajesinha also said there was need to restore infrastructure before the refugees went back to their homes.
Saturday's announcement came two days after John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, pressed Sri Lanka to allow the war-displaced to leave.
Sri Lanka pledged in September to the UN that all civilians would be sent home by the end of January.
Rights groups say the detention is an illegal form of collective punishment for the ethnic group.
The government has maintained that Tamils must be screened for LTTE ties and detainees' villages demined before the camps were closed.
Rajapaksa said the military was given the green light to open camps as no security threats remained.
Government troops defeated the LTTE in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent homeland for the country's minority Tamils.
An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the violence.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
HRP: Kapitan Guan Eng’s Indian Mandore DCM2 Penang gives peanuts RM 1,000.00 to one poor Indian squatter family.
HRP: Kapitan Guan Eng’s Indian Mandore DCM2 Penang gives peanuts RM 1,000.00 to one poor Indian squatter family. (Makkal Osai 21/11/09 at page 4) Kapitan Lim Guan Eng demolished the last and only Indian traditional village in Penang. This kapitan despite the Indian anger ruthlessly proceeded to demolish even the cow sheds which is on the state government land on the eve of Deepavali.
Now this Kapitan literally instructs his Indian DCM2 mandore to dish out RM 2,000.00 to these two poor Indian families and get it publicized in the tamil newspapers and then washes his hands off as was typically done by his UMNO’S MIC mandore predecessors.
This way he thinks he gets to stay afloat and trying to remain relevant politically. There is no permanent solution no low cost house or flats for these poor Indian families in this Kampong Manis Seberang Perai and the thousands of other Indians in Penang.
How then is the DAP/PR any different from the previous Gerakan/ UMNO/ BN Penang State Government?
Hindraf legal adviser and ex- ISA detainee, P Uthayakumar (right) said that 18 Hindraf supporters would take part in the strike, which is scheduled to begin at 9pm on Nov 24 at their respective homes and scheduled to end at 3pm on Nov 25 at KLCC.
The time of the strike was selected to mark the time when police began harassing the mass rally participants two years ago.
They are expected to break their fast at 3pm in the compound of the Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya after Waythamoorthy’s daughter, W. Vaishnavi, submits an 18-point memorandum to the Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak.
The memorandum would be the first to be sent to the Najib administration. Hindraf has submitted memorandums to the previous administrations as well.
The anniversary celebration does not end there.
On Nov 29, the movement would hold prayers at the Agora Veerabathrar Sanggili Karuppar Temple in Rawang, Selangor in hopes that the 18-point demands are fulfilled by the current government.
Prayers are also expected to be held simultaneously in 100 temples nationwide.
Different way of commemorating event
Another Hindraf faction led by K Vasanthakumar and V Ganabatirau is also holding celebrations in Dewan Hamzah, Klang.
“We have nothing to do with that event,” said Uthayakumar when asked to comment on the other Hindraf anniversary.
He added that he only recognised the Hindraf faction that was led by his brother, Waythamoorthy.
Two years ago, Vasanthakumar, Ganabatirau, Uthayakumar, R Kenghadharan and M Manoharan led 30,000 Indians in a mass rally to protest marginalisation and discrimination of the Indian Malaysians.
It led the five to be detained under the Internal Security Act, resulting in Waythamoorthy (left) going into exile in London.
At the time, there was a public fallout between Uthayakumar and Vasanthakumar. The fallout led to split loyalties within the movement as members chose sides in the Uthayakumar-Vasanthakumar squabble.
I have learned that several Molotov cocktails were recently thrown into the home of prominent Malaysian lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon, a former Bar Council President. He said he regarded the attack on his home as a possible warning and threat to him and his family.
Many of you will be aware that Manjeet Singh Dhillon is counsel for (now former) prisoner of conscience Dr Munawar Anees and will know that Dr Anees made a Statutory Declaration during his incarceration a decade ago, in which he detailed the appalling treatment to which he had been subjected in prison. Manjeet has remained his counsel during the numerous court challenges to clear Dr Anees's name.
The Molotov cocktail attack is believed to be related to Manjeet Singh Dhillon's recent interview with private investigator P Balasubramaniam, who had alleged a year ago that Prime MInister Najib Abdul Razak had been sexually involved with murder victim Altantuya Shaariibuu of Mongolia and that police were ordered to remove evidence of any links. Balasubramiam later retracted the allegations and fled. Manjeet Singh Dhillon asserted that he conducted the interview (now on Youtube) as a professional duty in the absence of Balasubramaniam's actual counsel, Americk Sidhu.
Amnesty International has previously expressed concern about attempts to intimidate lawyers carrying out their professional duties. In the most controversial case in Malaysia's recent history, defence lawyers were harassed and their offices searched during the trial for sodomy a decade ago of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. At that time, prominent defence lawyer Karpal Singh was arrested under the Sedition Act in connection with remarks he made in court. Referring to high levels of arsenic in Anwar's blood, Karpal Singh expressed in court his concern that "someone out there wants to get rid of him...even to the extent of murder. I suspect that people in high places are responsible for the situation". Karpal Singh is himself a former prisoner of conscience. One of the more recent cases involves five lawyers who were arrested for illegal assembly when they gathered outside a police station where a group of candlelight demonstrators was held. The five lawyers wished to provide legal assistance to detainees.
A number of international standards guarantees protection for lawyers carrying out their professional duities. These include: UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the Latimer House guidelines. Such standards, however, do not always provide protection in Malaysia in cases in which there is a link to criticism of the government.
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada
Unreported World reveals shocking evidence that Burmese refugees fleeing the country's brutal military regime are being detained and then allegedly sold by Malaysian immigration officials to Thai human traffickers.
Reporter Aidan Hartley and Director George Waldrum travel to Kuala Lumpur to highlight how the refugees are forced to exchange one hellish existence for another. Living in complete fear of the state, the refugees claim they are being rounded up and subjected to bloody whippings and indefinite imprisonment in overcrowded detention camps. As Unreported World reveals, for some this is just the beginning of a horrific journey into the trafficking network, where men, women and children disappear into a world of slavery and prostitution.
Malaysia pays no regard to Burmese refugees' right of asylum, since the country refuses to sign up to international conventions. And it's not just the state that acts harshly. Hartley and Waldrum join a night-time city raid by volunteers of the RELA militia to chase down and arrest construction site workers without valid papers. Millions of illegal migrants, many of whom are refugees, fill the building sites and factories, providing cheap labour and doing the jobs Malaysians don't want to do. Despite this, RELA, which has 500,000 members, claims to be cleaning up what they see as an immigrant threat to law, order and health.
On the other side of the city, the team finds a Burmese refugee ghetto where the inhabitants are living in terror, crammed into squalid apartments with dozens of tenants to each floor. One family claims RELA had smashed their way into their home and arrested and beat them. A woman claims the police routinely prey on their vulnerable status, demanding bribes and their belongings, or they will be taken into detention.
A human rights lawyer helping illegal immigrants and refugees tells Hartley how there is little popular opposition to the government's harsh treatment of illegal foreigners. Reunka describes how 'illegals' who carry no papers on them might be sentenced to a maximum of six strokes of the rotan, a thick cane that can leave victims with scars for life.
So afraid are the refugees that some of them try to live beyond the reach of the authorities. In the jungle on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the team finds one shanty camp where refugee workers are hiding out. Too scared to live downtown, they are part of an estimated two million illegal workers. One of them claims that he was passed into the hands of Thai human traffickers. However, he was one of the lucky ones as he had friends who could pay a ransom. He claims those who can't pay disappear into slavery.
The finds some who've managed to escape a life of slavery. In a secret location, Rahima, together with her small children, tells the story of how they were sold by Malaysian immigration officials to gangsters on the Thailand frontier. Rahima breaks down when she recounts how the Thai gangsters suffocated one of her children to death after he wouldn't stop crying. She says both she and her children were sold into slavery and worked in a fish factory for six months before they were able to escape.
In another location, Abu Bashar and his teenage son Syedul describe how the mother of the family together with two toddler children were arrested by Malaysia's immigration, sold to gangsters in Thailand and then ransomed. Two months ago, Abu got a phone call from his wife in which she said that unless he paid the ransom it would be her last call; since then there has been silence and he doesn't know the whereabouts of his family.
The response of Malaysia's Immigration Director General is to dismiss the allegations of Burmese refugees, but he does admit that one immigration official has been charged in connection with trafficking claims. He says there are no plans for an inquiry into the immigration department's methods, or allegations of systematic corruption, trafficking and slavery.
(The Jakarta Post) - Customs officials in Riau Islands have foiled an attempt to smuggle 75 tons of pure ammonium nitrate, which could be used for improvised explosive devices, on a ship from Malaysia bound for Selayar Island in South Sulawesi.
Riau Islands Customs and Excise Office head Nasar Salim said Friday that the wooden ship was intercepted by a customs patrol team off the coast of Mapor Island near Bintan on Wednesday.
The crew had intentionally taken a route to avoid patrol boats belonging to Indonesian or Singaporean authorities, he said.
"They had deliberately used a shipping lane with high waves to avoid security patrol boats, but we managed to intercept them near Bintan Island," Nasar told a press conference in Tanjung Balai Karimun.
The chemical material was shipped on board the Indonesian-flagged KM Fungka Sejahtera without required importation documents, he said.
After leaving Pasir Gadang in Malaysia, the wooden boat sailed headed to the South China Sea, Nasar said.
When approaching Natuna Island, the vessel turned toward Java Island, before it was later captured.
The local customs office were questioning the 16 crew members of the wooden boat which was being tightly guarded at the Tanjdung Balai Karimun port.
The office also barred passing ships and people from approaching the boat, to prevent any possible explosions from the chemical material.
Nasar said ammonium nitrate, which can also be used as fertilizer, was classified as an explosive and any imports of the substance must be approved by the Defense Ministry and the National Police.
The explosives were packed in 3,000 25-kilogram sacks, each containing a 34.5 percent concentration of ammonium nitrate.
A further investigation by the customs office, however, found the chemical material contained pure concentrations of the explosive.
"This *concealing of explosives* has lead to suspicion that the chemicals were intended for violent or other dangerous purposes - but it will be up to the police to investigate this further," Nasar said.
"Around 95 percent of the ammonium nitrate imported into Indonesia is used for basic explosive devices," he said.
Explosives smuggling is a punishable crime and carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
According to the captain of KM Fungka Sejahtera, identified only initials as HN, the ammonium nitrate was intended for agricultural purposes on Selayar Island, Nasar said.
However, the crew refused to reveal the identity of the "explosive" importers.
Separately, Riau Islands Police deputy chief of detectives Adj. Comr. Wiyarso said his office would investigate whether the case was linked to any terrorist networks in Indonesia.
"We will look into the importer and recipient of the ammonium nitrate.
"However, I can not say whether there is any terrorist link in the case. We will leave this matter to the National Police antiterror unit for further investigation," Wiyarso said.
NOV 21 — “If I were Chinese, I, too, would not support the MCA.”
Those words will ring in the ear of every single MCA member for a long time as the crudest statement uttered by a component party member.
The fact that the statement came from the Deputy Prime Minister and Umno’s Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has made it even more compelling.
It signals a major shift in the sacred policy of non-interference among the Barisan Nasional component parties.
Gone are the days when each component party’s business was theirs and theirs alone.
Prior to this, the camaraderie between BN members have been tested time and again but it rarely caused any shockwave, not to the extent that the sanctity of this policy is challenged.
When Umno was declared illegal by the High Court in 1988, the Chairmanship of Barisan Nasional went to MCA, as the next biggest party in the coalition.
MCA’s the-president Tun Ling Liong Sik subsequently accepted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s newly formed Umno Baru into the coalition, which then returned Umno and Mahathir as the coalition’s head honcho.
When Umno was rejected overwhelmingly by the Malays due to the sacking and ill-treatment of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, MCA again stood by Umno unflinchingly.
Even though Umno lost many Malay-majority seats, which led to their loss of Terengganu in the 1999 General Election, MCA stoutly defended their partner-in-crime.
Former MCA presidents Ling and Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting have strengthened the notion that Umno is the backbone of BN and that Ketuanan Melayu à la Umno is here to stay.
It is the leaders of MCA that has ensured Umno’s longevity and placed an aura of invincibility in the minds of Umno leaders.
Umno can do no wrong and the false sense of supremacy lingers on in the minds of Umno’s party rank-and-file.
MCA, at its mightiest, was still unable to lift a finger against Umno. What more smaller parties like MIC, Gerakan, PPP and others?
The emergence of East Malaysian parties as a force within BN following the 2008 General Election has further decimated the significance of MCA and also pushed MIC, Gerakan and PPP deep into oblivion.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is running out of time to put everything into place before he calls for a general election, to seek a fresh mandate, in the next 12 to 18 months.
Najib would also want to maintain the pressure on Pakatan Rakyat with continuous attacks on the Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan state governments.
However, the leadership crisis in MCA is proving somewhat a distraction to BN’s upswing following the political tsunami of 2008.
In order to maintain the upswing, Najib needs an MCA that is able to regain its place as the biggest Chinese party apart from DAP.
With the way things are headed, it leaves Najib with no choice but to interfere and meddle in MCA’s affairs as he is running out of options to revive MCA from its deep coma.
The DAP-led Penang Pakatan government is doing well enough to ensure that the state will still remain under Pakatan in the next elections.
On the other hand, opposition leader Anwar has recently shown signs of urgency and taken concrete steps in putting his party, PKR, in order.
Anwar’s appointment as Selangor’s economic adviser is a statement of caution to Najib that he will not take the political bullying from Umno lying down.
If Anwar can effect change by ensuring decisive and prompt decision-making in the Selangor state government, and also bring in badly needed investments as well as increase the confidence of the hard-hit business community, the pendulum will surely swing his way instead of Najib’s.
The political temperature is likely to increase in the run up to the next general election.
However, the impotency of MCA is a drawback for Najib in his quest to maintain his premiership.
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim challenged Pakatan Rakyat (PR) states today to be role models of good governance and reforms in order for Malaysia to move towards a two-party system.
The Opposition Leader pointed out, however, that major constraints remained because of what he said were the corruption of government institutions under the Barisan Nasional (BN) which prevented a two-party system from being viable.
But he said that there was now space for PR states to carry forward this spirit of renewal and renovation.
“The states must show an example via its policies, which must emphasise good governance, diversity, compassion for the weak and safeguarding of natural resources and the environment.
Government institutions, he said, are also in desperate need of reform so that they serve the common good and not the parochial interests of political and corporate allies.
Anwar was speaking at PR’s national symposium on the making of a two-party system organised by the Institute for Policy Research (IKD) earlier today.
“The idea of a two-party system has been talked about ad infinitum since last year. The excitement many have expressed over the advent of this new dimension in Malaysian politics might suggest that the mere existence of a viable second party is itself the holy grail of a democratic state.
“Some might even draw the conclusion that once in power this alternative voice would swiftly rectify the monumental ills that have been heaped upon Malaysian society by the Barisan National,” said Anwar.
According to the PKR leader, the opposition has had a significant presence in Malaysia since the very first days of the Federation where they have held seats in Parliament.
Having a two-party system is not a new concept; rather the two-party system recognised today differs from the style of political participation that has already been there in the beginning, he said.
There is now “greater space” afforded to public deliberation, the exchange of ideas and the possibility of new choices and alternatives, said Anwar.
Anwar argued that the original Malaysian Constitution was no longer intact as institutions laced with corruption and failed policies have been the stumbling block for progress.
“While there has been a sea change in the political landscape, Malaysia has not changed overnight ... we still face a federal government mired in corruption. The media is shackled and unfree – incapable of fulfilling the sacred and solemn mandate bestowed upon the noble profession of journalism.”
Anwar went on to hit out at institutions such as the legislature and judiciary as only representing vested interests and not “acting impartially”.
“Where the legislature may exceed its bounds in passing into law edicts that transgress the bounds of the constitution, it is up to the judiciary to interpret redress mistakes that may have been made by legislators,” said Anwar, who is also Permatang Pauh MP.
MIRI, Nov 21 – The government has allocated RM600 million to rehabilitate nine military camps that are in a state of disrepair, said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
He said the rehabilitation work would start in March next year and involved building new housing quarters and upgrading office buildings besides providing other facilities.
Speaking to reporters after making a brief visit here today, he said most of these camps had plank buildings and were more than 30 years old.
Out of the total allocation, he said RM60 million would be set aside for military camps in northern Sarawak.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who arrived here after making a visit to Ba' Kelalan in the Lawas district, said his ministry would also spent some RM50 million on goodwill projects for the remote district, which would entail the building of a 75km road and four bridges. – Bernama
Thai pathologist, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, who was present at the exhumation, said Teoh’s body is still in good condition for the autopsy.
Teoh Beng Hock’s mysterious death at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters in Shah Alam on July 16 has become a national and international cause célèbre and touchstone of the independence, credibility and professionalism of MACC.
Teoh’s death and the ensuing crisis of confidence in the MACC is undoubtedly one major reason for Malaysia’s worst ranking and score in 15 years in the recently-announced Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2009, plunging 33 places from No. 23rd position in 1995 to No. 56th position in 2009 and a drop of .77 score from 5.28 in 1995 to 4.5 in 2009.
All were burdened with a heavy heart at the exhumation as it is a painful process which Teoh’s family, DAP leadership, friends and supporters had to go through so that there can be a second autopsy to get to the bottom of his death and to bring to book his killers, as no one believed that Teoh committed suicide by jumping off the 14th floor MACC headquarters.
Justice for Teoh Beng Hock
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — The exhumation of Teoh Beng Hock’s body for a second autopsy, ordered by the inquest into his recent death, has been completed. The exhumation comes following the testimony of Thai pathologist Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand that the death of the political aide was very likely a homicide.
A team of ten police forensic experts had earlier cordoned off the grave area with the aid of several cemetery workers, who are helping with the exhumation.
Teoh’s family members arrived earlier, and began offering rites to the departed’s spirit. A feng shui master explained that the time of the exhumation had been chosen specifically to coincide with swallows beginning the day, for good luck.
Dr Pornthip is also on the scene to observe the exhumation process.
Following the prayer rituals, the casket was successfully disinterred and displayed to the media present, before being covered in plastic sheets.
The family’s lawyer, Gobind Singh Deo, said that all parties involved were satisfied with the way the exhumation was performed and added that Teoh’s body was still in good condition for the second autopsy.
Dr Shahidan Md Noor, the chief pathologist at the Sungai Buloh Hospital, along with Dr Pornthip are expected to carry out an X-ray examination on the body later.
The casket containing the body has been transported to the hospital, which will be the site of the second autopsy scheduled to run from 9.30am to noon tomorrow.
Teoh’s former employer, Selangor state executive councillor Ean Yong Hian Wah, said at the cemetery: “I hope the second autopsy will reveal the truth.”
Yong also stated his desire to know how much the government spent hiring the UK pathologist Dr Peter Vanezis — one of two foreign pathologists, along with Dr Pornthip, who will be observing the second autopsy.
Dr Vanezis, who serves as a director at the Cameron Centre for Forensic Medical Sciences in London, has handled over 2,000 autopsy cases involving sudden death, of which 1,500 were found to be homicides.
“The fact that they hired a foreign expert shows they have no confidence in the local pathologists,” Yong added.
DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and Ronnie Lie were also in attendance. Both expressed hope that a fresh autopsy will reveal who or what “killed” Teoh.
Lim also added that Teoh’s death may have been a contributing factor towards Malaysia’s worst ever placing in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.
In slum areas, where more than half of Mumbai lives, an average 81 people share a single toilet. In some places it rises to an eye-watering 273. Even the lowest average is still 58, according to local municipal authority figures.
Unsurprisingly, it is still common to see people squatting by roads and railway tracks or along the coast, openly defecating in the city that drives India's economy and where some of the world's richest people live.
The UN estimates that 600 million people or 55 percent of Indians still defecate outside, more than 60 years after the scrupulously clean independence leader Mahatma Gandhi first talked of the responsible disposal of human waste.
Jack Sim takes a very keen interest in such matters. As the founder and president of the World Toilet Organization (WTO), he has made it his mission to improve sanitation across the globe.
For him, India has "a lot of work to do" to improve sanitation, not just because of its impact on health and the spread of diseases like diarrhoea, which UNICEF says kills 1,000 Indian children aged under five every day.
It also tarnishes the image of a country that likes to portray itself as an emerging world economic superpower, the Singapore businessman told AFP on a visit to Mumbai, where he was promoting World Toilet Day on November 19.
In particular, Sim questioned whether the authorities in New Delhi were doing enough to provide adequate public toilet facilities for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which will draw tens of thousands of foreign visitors.
"If you don't have good toilets to welcome tourists, they don't come and won't go to all your beautiful sites," he said.
Public toilet provision in Mumbai -- and other cities -- faces the same problem affecting housing, water and other basic services: supply cannot keep up with demand as India's population explodes.
In March, Mumbai's municipal authorities said there were 77,526 toilets in slum areas and 64,157 more were needed. Work is in progress on only 6,050.
Yet the UN's Mumbai Human Development Report 2009, published earlier this month, points out that even where public toilets exist, most have no running water, drainage or electricity, making them unhygienic and unusable.
Embarrassment means women and girls often wait all day until it is dark to go to the toilet, increasing their chances of infections and exposing them to violence or even snake bites as they seek out remote places.
Poor sanitation and the illnesses it causes cost the Indian economy 12 billion rupees (255 million dollars) a year, according to the health ministry.
Sim, who sees links between public lavatories and social development, wants the issue pushed up the political agenda, urging people to "talk more about toilets."
"People go to the toilet more often than they have sex," he said. "Everybody has to go.
"It needs to be a very nice experience. It needs to be safe, it needs to be hygienic, it must not cause problems to your health and we need to feel emotionally engaged with the toilet."
Private sector involvement could help cut the number of people in India and other developing countries who have no sanitation -- estimated at 2.6 billion -- while more schemes are needed to make open defecation socially unacceptable, he said.
In Haryana state, north India, a successful "No Toilet, No Wife" campaign has been running, urging women to turn down suitors if they cannot provide them a house with a lavatory.
"Every problem is a business," said Sim, adding there would be a benefit for the entire city and the country's economy if every slum-dweller had access to proper sanitation.
"People who are healthy are able to produce more, they get out of poverty, they get into the middle class, they move up and consume more," he said.
"Business is, I think, the fastest and the cheapest way... The private sector will come up with innovations. Let them compete to serve the poor."
keynote address by Anwar Ibrahim at IKD Symposium on 21 November 2009.
It is a great honour to stand before you to talk about what can be described as a revolution in the collective consciousness of this nation. Last March, by the stroke of the pen, the people of Malaysia shattered all of the preconceived notions that denied the possibility of political change. In place of these old assumptions a new memory of our nation’s heritage and the self-image of its people has emerged.
Until now many of our elected representatives have failed to uphold the mantle of public office. Their interest has been an exercise in greed and avarice and not what Vaclav Havel described as a heightened responsibility for the moral state of society, and to seek out the best in that society and to develop and strengthen it. For it is only with leaders of such caliber that we can expect a government that is fair and abides by the Rules of Law, outlined in a Constitution that grants legitimacy to the very existence of that government. Anything short of this would be an injustice that approaches tyranny.
We had been weaned for many years on the notion that submissiveness and frailty were a prerequisite for the stability of the nation. Our diverse ethnic makeup, rather than an asset, was treated as a powder keg that could be ignited by the slightest spark. Economic development was not compatible with the freedoms that have been established in other democratic nations. On the contrary Malaysian democracy would be circumscribed by profoundly un-democratic rules. There was a freedom of speech but only on certain subjects. The freedom to associate was granted, but only with approved license. Due process, a fair and an impartial judiciary were granted only insofar as they did not encroach upon the vested interests of the rich and powerful. These measures were taken unscrupulously in the name of security and peace.
of democracy, there is no monopoly on the principles of political freedom and liberty. The tradition of public discussion can be found across the world such that Tocqueville in his observations on American political culture said that democracy can be seen as part of “the most continuous, ancient and permanent tendency known to history.” What Locke said in the 18th century we can find explicit precursors in the Muslim tradition. Consider the Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon in which he asserts the importance of property rights and the sanctity of contracts, women’s rights and racial equality. Remember this was 1400 years ago! The narrative does not stop there. al-Shatibi, the Andalusian legal scholar, articulated more completely the maqasid al-Sharia, the Higher Objectives of the Islamic Law, which sanctify the preservation of religion, life, intellect, family, and wealth; objectives that bear striking resemblance to Enlightenment ideals that would be expounded centuries later.
This is of course all theoretical. Even the Malaysian Constitution talks about equal protection under the law and proposed a system of checks and balances on power. Yet 52 years later, and after nearly 700 amendments to the original text of that document, few would argue that the original spirit of the Constitution remains intact. The upshot is that Malaysia’s experience as a pseudo democracy has been a utter disaster.
A nation blessed with vast wealth and a people with the ability to learn and excel has been left in the lurch by decades of failed policies. Hope in a brighter future has been snuffed out by the blunt instrument of state power and the cancer of corruption. Certainly the thin veneer of success has been made our country appealing to the eye. As far as developing countries go we are far ahead of the pack. But when we look under the hood, as Malaysian citizens must do on a daily basis, we are confronted with myriad contradictions – a crumbling education system, second rate health care, massive shortcomings in public transportation and crime rates which are perpetually on the rise.
It is no surprise when we see recent figures citing nearly 800,000 Malaysians professionals now working abroad.
The idea of a two party system has been talked about ad infinitum since the Spring of last year. The excitement many have expressed over the advent of this new dimension in Malaysian politics might suggest that the mere existence of a viable second party is itself the holy grail of a democratic state. Some might even draw the conclusion that once in power this alternative voice would swiftly rectify the monumental ills that have been heaped upon Malaysian society by the Barisan Nasional.
A vibrant opposition is of course synonymous with democracy itself. Yale based political scientist Ian Shapiro has contended that “democracy is an ideology of opposition as much as it is one of government”. Yet we would be in a state of self-deception, however if we pinned the hopes for healthy democracies on just one of its attributes. The same mistake has already been made with elections. The mere happening of elections says little about the condition of democracy unless we know that they are conducted fairly and freely and there is a level playing field on which all political views can compete.
In Malaysia multiple parties have existed for many years and the opposition has held seats in Parliament since the very first days of the Federation. We cannot say that the two party system was borne on March 8th for its existence coincides with the birth of the nation itself. The two party system that we recognize today is something different from the style of political participation that is already in place. The difference, simply stated, is greater space that is afforded to public deliberation, the exchange of ideas and the possibility of new choices and alternatives.
In this light, our fundamental concern is not with political parties but rather with accountability. A society, according to ibn Khaldun, must be able to combat the corrosive effects of unmitigated power, corruption and moral decadence. Otherwise it may succumb to what Thomas Jefferson time and again warned, that the abuse of unlimited powers by elected despots would lead to a time “when corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin, will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price.”
To understand these concepts better it may be wise to map out the province of liberal democracy and reiterate the role of the opposition, lest we place the cart before the horse. The main pillars on which democratic societies are built are liberty, social pluralism and political constitutionalism. The intent of these values and the institutions that mediate the relationship between the citizen and government is to guard against the exercise of tyranny. Lord Acton was right when he spoke of the corrupting influence of power.
When bestowing upon a political entity the power to make laws and to coerce citizens to obey those laws, safeguards must be put in place. Herein we look at Constitutions to delineate the extent of the government’s power to impose laws, and also at the edifice built around the exercise of that power so that there is adequate protection from its abuse.
Constitutions define for us the Rule of Law and the parameters within which government can operate. Dicey stipulates that it is the Rule of Law which would ensure that “powers of officials, and official bodies of persons entrusted with government, are not exceeded and are not abused, and that the rights of citizens are determined in accordance with the law enacted and unenacted.” The Rule of Law is therefore a two way street – defining for us the limitations of government and the rights of the citizen.
With these fundamentals in place we would then look at the branches of government which are created not only to carry out the business of the state but also to act as further restraints on its power. In the case of the Executive, we are all well acquainted with the phenomenon of power run amok.
Countries that masquerade as democracies often pay lip service to freedom and justice, while power is consolidated in the hands of a few elites who plunder the country’s wealth at the expense of the masses. They are able to quash opposition by invoking draconian laws and have made frequent use of preventative detentions to muzzle dissident voices. Herein lies a pivotal role of the opposition in a liberal democracy which is to be the voice of public reason and ensure that the “exercise of public political power is fully proper” and it can only be so if and “when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution the principles and ideals of which are endorsed by common human reason”.
A strong legislature is a sword that can cut both ways as well. It was Tocqueville who said, “the concentration of power [in the legislature] is at once very prejudicial to a well conducted administration and favorable to the despotism of the majority.” Once again Malaysia offers sundry examples of a legislature which, despite allowing for some semblance of multi-party participation, acts as a rubber stamp on legislation presented by the majority. Despite the rules and traditions of the Westminster system, common sense and precedent dictate that even with a clear majority in the legislature there should be a meaningful debate on issues. The Parliament should be used effectively as a constant critique of policy, executive power and the institutions of governance.
Where the legislature may exceed its bounds in passing into law edicts that transgress the bounds of the constitution, it is the role of the judiciary to interpret redress mistakes that may have been made by legislators. For this to happen the judiciary must be independent of influence from the other branches and from vested interests in the society at large. In resolving disputes between the people and the government, judges must act impartially. They must administer justice according to law, not according to the dictates of political masters.
A strong opposition must demand these prerequisites from the executive and legislative branches until such time as they are implemented.
Another crucial criterion for constitutional government is that the discretion of law enforcement agencies must not be allowed to pervert the cause of justice. The office of the Public Prosecutor, the police and the anti-corruption agency, all these bodies, play essential roles in the preservation of the rule of law, failing which they are easily used to pervert the law. As absolute power corrupts absolutely, the arrogance of power left unchecked renders these agencies absolutely impermeable to public opinion and criticism.
While there has been a sea change in the political landscape, Malaysia has not changed overnight. Despite the euphoria of last March, and the clear progress that is being made in the Pakatan states, we still face a federal government mired in corruption. The media is shackled and unfree – incapable of fulfilling the sacred and solemn mandate bestowed upon the noble profession of journalism.
The work is clearly unfinished. For the two party system to survive, let alone thrive, certain constraints must be lifted such as the limited access granted to the information held tightly by government ministries. We know that under the guise of national security many a scandal and abuse has gone unreported and this is contrary to the spirit of public disclosure and accountability. The institutions are in desperate need of reform so that they serve the common good and not the parochial interests of political and corporate elites.
The renewal in consciousness that has given hope to generations both old and new must be made a reality through action. At a very fundamental level this would require fuller and more profound political participation. Voting, as it turns out, does matter. The millions of currently unregistered voters in this country, by most estimations, will play a key role in the next general election. But, they can only do so if they exercise that right.
There is space now for the governments in power in the Pakatan states to carry forward this spirit renewal and renovation. Our governments must adhere strictly to the Rule of Law. We should strive to exceed the daily routine of dispute resolution and the issuance of licenses but govern with enlightenment. Our policies must emphasise good governance, the sanctity of the family, tolerance towards diversity, compassion for the weak and the unfortunate and the safeguarding of our environment and natural resources.
In between elections the new consciousness that has emerged must be nurtured. Civil society has space to grow and new associations can form and take part in the process of educating and empowering the public. In these states we must demonstrate that the pursuit of excellence and the cultivation of innovation and creativity across all sectors will yield enormous benefit for the society. And for this to happen we must retrieve, revive and reinvigorate the spirit of liberty, individualism, humanism and tolerance.
KOTA BAHARU, Nov 21 (Bernama) -- The Kelantan PAS does not want to interfere in the issues that Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is embroiled in because they have nothing to do with politics.
Its secretary, Mohd Zaki Ibrahim, said the party was confident that Nik Aziz was capable of resolving the issue which involved his son-in-law Abdul Ariffahmi Abdul Rahman's appointment as chief executive officer of Kelantan Menteri Besar Incorporated (PMBK) and Nik Aziz's acceptance of a sponsored haj pilgrimage.
"The Kelantan PAS has never discussed these issues because they are not political issues but administrative problems that Tok Guru (Nik Aziz) can resolve as menteri besar,"he told reporters after the party's liaison meeting here.
Nik Aziz, who chaired the meeting refused to meet reporters, saying that he was not well.
Mohd Zaki also dismissed rumours about Abdul Ariffahmi resigning as PMBK CEO and about the resignation of a senior state executive councillor as reported in certaing, saying that if they were true, today's meeting would have discussed them.
Kelantan PAS deputy commissioner Datuk Husam Musa did not attend the meeting. He was reported to be undergoing treatment at a hospital.