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Friday, August 26, 2011

In Mexico City, Blessed John Paul's relics bring hope for peace

People crowd around a case containing a relic and wax effigy of Blessed John Paul II at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City Aug. 25. The relic, a vial of blood taken from the Polish pope before he died in 2005, will tour Mexico on what was being called a pilgrimage for peace. (CNS/Keith Dannemiller)

By David Agren
Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Julian Salvador and his wife, Paola Rivera, hold fond memories of Blessed John Paul II. The couple saw him during his inaugural visit to Mexico City in 1979.

"It was the most beautiful thing and incomparable to anything I've ever experienced," Rivera recalled.

Holding onto memories and candles, they prayed the rosary Aug. 24 outside the papal nuncio's office in Mexico City. Inside was blood drawn from Blessed John Paul shortly before his death. It was there to be venerated and taken to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe following day.

Later, it will be taken to all of the country's dioceses as part of a pilgrimage of peace.

Peace in Mexico was on the minds of Salvador and Rivera as they prayed with approximately 100 others on a cool evening.

"(We're) praying that it quiets down, that there's peace. It's important that it (peace) returns to this country," Salvador said.

"We're praying for a miracle," his wife added.

Salvador and Rivera came to pray for peace in a country where drug violence has claimed more than 40,000 lives since December 2006. The church has confronted the challenges of ministering to populations in violent pockets of Mexico and fending off allegations that cartel kingpins -- who are often described as religious -- have laundered money through collection plates.

Census data shows the number of Mexicans declaring themselves Catholic has declined, reaching 84 percent in 2010.

That the Mexican bishops' conference would request relics of Blessed John Paul's blood be sent to Mexico at such a troubled time failed to surprise some church observers, especially given the late pontiff's enormous popularity and feeling of kinship with the faithful in what had been a country -- like his own -- where Catholics were persecuted for their faith during the last century.

"John Paul II is a Mexican hero," said commentator and church observer Bernardo Barranco. "No other person in public, political or social life of the country has had the impact that John Paul had during his five visits to Mexico.

"He's a key person in the contemporary life of this country," he added.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City mentioned the same thing during Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where many celebrating the service waved paper flags with Blessed John Paul's image and chanted, "Viva!"

"He was our Mexican pope," the cardinal said. "We feel very privileged to have (these relics) here."

Cardinal Rivera focused his homily on promoting peace through strengthening families, saying it was an important topic for Blessed John Paul.

"The main base and the cradle of peace is the family," he said.

Blessed John Paul made Mexico a priority during his papacy, Cardinal Rivera said. The last of his five visits, in 2002, resulted in the canonization of St. Juan Diego, the first indigenous saint of the Americas.

The visits began under less favorable circumstances as Mexico and the Vatican were officially estranged and anti-clerical laws -- so strict that priests and nuns were forbidden to wear habits -- were still on the books.

Blessed John drew an estimated 20 million visitors during his first visit and paved the way for the restoration of church relations with the Mexican state in 1992.

Those outside the nunciature and at the Mass expressed their feelings about venerating the relics.

"This is a country deeply rooted in faith," said retiree Patricia Ayala.

"This is about faith, about hope," said banker Ernesto Rowe as he used his phone to take photos of a replica of Blessed John Paul and the glass container of blood. "Maybe we don't demonstrate (our faith,) but it's there."

Fitnah II: Sampel DNA tidak diuji dengan betul- Pakar

KUALA LUMPUR: Hari ini masuk hari ke-5 Ketua Umum KEADILAN, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim dipanggil membela diri dalam perbicaraan Fitnah II yang dihadapinya di Mahkamah Tinggi Kuala Lumpur.
Semalam Pakar DNA, Dr Brian Mc Donald memberi keterangan di mahkamah, selepas Pakar Patologi Forensik Dr David Wells selesai memberi keterangan kelmarin.
Dr Brian mempersoalkan prosedur yang dijalankan untuk menganalisa sampel DNA yang diambil dari tubuh pengadu, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Menurutnya, sampel yang sudah tercemar tidak boleh diterima sebagai bukti.
Beliau mempertikai kandungan DNA yang tinggi dalam sampel air mani yang dianalisa Jabatan Kimia Malaysia.
Ini kerana menurutnya, sampel air mani yang berada di dalam rektum seorang lelaki selama lebih 56 jam sebelum calitan air mani itu diambil dengan putik kapas sepatutnya mempunyai kandungan DNA yang sudah merosot.
Turut dibangkitkan adalah mengenai kelayakan makmal ujikaji DNA Jabatan Kimia yang tidak diakreditasi dengan pensijilan ISO17025. Sijil itu dikeluarkan oleh American Society of Crime Laboratories Directors (ASCLD).
Berikut lintas langsung perbicaraan pada hari  ini yang menyaksikan Dr Brian menyambung keterangan beliau.
9.15 pagi: Perbicaraan Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim di Mahkamah Tinggi Kuala Lumpur bermula dengan pakar DNA, Dr Brian Mc Donalds masuk ke kandang saksi untuk  menyambung memberi keterangan.
Ahli kimia Jabatan Kimia Malaysia, Dr Seah Lay Hong duduk di antara Peguam Cara Negara II, Datuk Yusof Zainal Abiden Noorn Badaruddin.
9.19 pagi: Dr McDonalds menerangkan kepada mahkamah cara untuk mengekstrak DNA daripada sel sperma.
9.29 pagi: Menurutnya, bahan kimia dikenali dengan nama DTT digunakan untuk mengekstrak DNA daripada sel sperma.
9.34 pagi: DTT akan ‘membuka’ kepala sperma membolehkan DNA diekstrak, kata Dr MacDonalds.
9.35 pagi: Karpal singh tiba di mahkamah.
9.44 pagi: “Jika analisa DNA tidak dilakukan dengan betul, bolehkah kita anggap sebahagian DNA tidak datang daripada sperma?” tanya Ram Karpal
“Ya, sebahagian DNA boleh datang daripada sel-sel epitelia (kulit),” balas Dr McDonalds.
9.53 pagi: Berdasarkan pemerhatiannya, ada kemungkinan Dr Seah tidak melakukan ujian DTT dengan baik,  kata Dr McDonalds.
Berdasarkan pemerhatiannya, ia tidak dilakukan oleh Dr Seah, kata Dr McDonalds.
“Berdasarkan bukti Dr Seah, beliau tidak menjalankannya.
“Sebab beliau tidak tahu samada terdapat DNA sel epitelia (kulit) dalam sampel sperma yang diambil,” kata Dr MacDonalds.
10.07 pagi: Dr Seah tidak boleh menganggap DNA Saiful yang dijumpai dalam putik kapas ditanda B8 dan B9 datang daripada kulit Saiful kerana beliau tiada bukti untuk membuktikannya, kata Dr MacDonalds.
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Not rising to the bait

AUG 25 — Every time religious issues come up in public discourse for a sustained period of time, I can’t help but feel it’s all just misdirection.

No, not in any conspiracy theory-sense; more of an escapist break from the hard truths that have to be dealt with in the here and now. Not in an afterlife.

Truths like our quite severe brain-drain situation. Truths like how our lower- and middle-income families are dealing with unprecedented inflation. Truths like the US and EU economies’ impact on ours.

Too bad for us Malaysians, race and religion still hold sway and continue to polarise the majority of us. More sinisterly, it makes us take our eyes off the ball.

We are mostly guilty, myself included. It’s all too easy to be dragged into emotional reactive states when those two hot issues come up. I’m willing myself not to, but boy, it can be hard.

I may be extrapolating, but the recent Bersih 2.0 show of racial solidarity probably means it would be a few more months before that favourite bogeyman is wheeled out again by the usual suspects.

Ironically, I’m hoping it returns soon because it seems less of a powder keg than the situation we appear to be in now.

This Ramadan has been extra filled with highly-charged, religious-tinged issues. One after another, like some badly-written script: Halal, Murtad, Christian proselytisation on Muslims, the “outing” of Muslim anti-theists, even the appropriateness of inter-religious charity (I have to say that last one was the absurdist clincher for me).

How I wish that instead of paying it undeserved attention, we all collectively not rise to the bait.
Call me a jaded observer but I think we can mostly agree there are much more pressing matters to attend to than whose God or even whose interpretation is right.

I say this with trepidation because I am painfully aware of people beyond reason where this could not be further from the truth, so mired in absolutes they are.

Yet in the end, sorting that out won’t be any of us, no matter how scholarly and theologically adept any self-styled “defender of faith” might be.

Theology, it’s been said, produces nothing of functional value and that is ringing very true right now. To be constructive, we actually have to go around it. And that, in a nutshell, is my pitch.

Lest we fall deeper into the quagmire of religious intolerance (by the way; that really is all we can realistically hope for — tolerance), our cyclical, and almost predictable Islam-Christian “clashes” appear oblivious to these core observations:

One, that everything that needs to be said or could be said has in fact already been said; and most of it documented as well.

Indeed, we’ve had over 1,400 years of friendly and not-so-friendly debates and discourse and it hasn’t blunted the extreme schools of thought from either side. Ask the scholars from both divides; there is literally nothing that can be introduced now that would be new or novel, much less profoundly game-changing … short of direct and major divine intervention. It’s time we all quit thinking that examples A or B of “getting along” is going to be the ooh-aah moment for the hard-headed.

Two, that arguments rarely change minds when it comes to positions of religion, faith or belief. Why? Because it’s the wrong mental instrument to employ — pointed, factual arguments that are meant to shift opinion can only work if all parties agree on the same basis of facts (shared truths, for one).

Clearly, this can never be the case here. Different sets of truths are being upheld; and only the overlaps semi-legitimise the arguments. This is the thing — Islam or Christianity set against Buddhism or Hinduism doesn’t quite have the same “ring” now, does it?

Three, is perhaps the most crucial and also the deal breaker. The religion meme as we know it is tightly bound and wound up with emotion. But as we all also know, in any disagreement, an amicable solution cannot be found when emotions run high.

To a disinterested observer, the solution in the case of the two Abrahamic religions, whatever form it may take, has to come from outside of Islam and Christianity. But since the default position has always been to disregard “non-expert” non-denominational opinion, we are pretty much at a dead end again.

Please don’t misconstrue my position. It really isn’t predicated on anything else other than pointing out that all inter-religious engagement can unfortunately lead to only one end. The arguments are circular and non-empirical. But thankfully, tolerance does not require engagement, only distance and opportunity. We should all realise that so we can move on to the real shaping discourse — you know, the elephant in the room.

Note: I’ve also touched on this before here.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Press Release: Ensure fair representation, broad inclusivity and wide consultation in inter-faith matters

ImageThe Malaysian Bar cautiously welcomes the announcement earlier this week of the formation of a “Jawatankuasa Pendengaran” (“the committee”) to resolve the controversy surrounding the raid undertaken by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (“JAIS”) on a multi-faith community thanksgiving event held at Damansara Utama Methodist Church (“DUMC”) in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, recently.  According to media reports, the committee will be headed by the Menteri Besar of Selangor, with the Mufti of Selangor and his deputy as members.

The formation of the committee is timely, given the unauthorised publication by certain print media of the personal details of the 12 Muslims who attended the multi-faith thanksgiving event, and who are now the subject of investigations by JAIS for having possibly committed offences against the religion of Islam.  Further, a draft preliminary report of the investigations, and a video showing officers of JAIS questioning organisers of the event and of them entering the function room, have also been leaked and shown on various blogs.  

While JAIS’s investigations are still ongoing, and thus not yet the subject of a report to the Sultan of Selangor and the Menteri Besar, nevertheless how such material came to be made publicly available must also be probed, as it represents an unacceptable breach of security and the confidentiality of an ongoing investigation.  It has also exposed the 12 individuals to unwarranted and unwelcomed scrutiny, in total breach of their right to privacy.  This would be a critical element of the work of the committee.  While it is perhaps too early to pinpoint the source of the leak, the fact that the information has been disclosed in such a manner suggests that the investigations have been critically compromised and the information used for partisan political purposes.  This is wholly unprofessional and unethical behaviour, and cannot for a moment be tolerated by right-thinking people.

We hope that the committee will also resolve the issue of the proper jurisdiction of JAIS, which, in show-cause letters issued to the 12 individuals and to DUMC, purportedly relied on provisions in non-Syariah-based enactments to justify its entry into DUMC’s premises.  This raises serious questions whether JAIS over-reached itself and exceeded the extent of its authority, and whether its act of incursion into DUMC lacked proper legal foundation.

Ideally, membership of the committee should also be extended to include representatives of non-Muslim religions in Selangor, since it attempts to resolve a matter that involves the interplay between two religions and the issues that can arise from it.  Such problems require broad inclusivity and wide consultation.  

Ultimately, this issue raises serious questions about administrative fairness, bureaucratic neutrality and proper procedures.  Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, in order to assuage the reasonable concerns of the public with respect to freedom of assembly and freedom of religion in Malaysia.
Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar

More Malaysians overseas can cast ballots with new EC plan

The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: More of the million-or-so Malaysians living abroad may get to vote in the next general election.

Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the body was in the midst of amending regulations to extend postal voting rights to Malaysians working overseas.

These would include workers such as journalists, nurses and flight attendants, he said, but added that travellers would not be eligible.

“We hope to be able to implement this before the general election,” he told a media briefing here yesterday.

A World Bank report stated that there were about one million Malaysians living and working overseas as of last year.

Abdul Aziz said existing laws only allowed full-time students, civil servants and their spouses residing overseas to cast postal ballots.

The EC head, however, said Malaysians living abroad must first register as voters.

“Those who haven't registered can do so at the Malaysian embassies in the countries they are in. After that, they can apply to the EC to be postal voters,” he said.

He said once they had registered as postal voters, the ballots would be given to them by the embassy concerned.

“After the ballots are returned to the embassy, they will be sent back to Malaysia,” he said, adding that the ballots must reach polling centres in Malaysia by 5pm on election day.

He said Malaysians overseas would vote according to the address in their identity cards.

Abdul Aziz also said the Attorney-General was studying the legality of using indelible ink or the biometric system, or both, in the general election.

“The EC's recommendation will be put forward this year. It will have to be passed in Parliament first before implementation,” he said, adding that trial runs for the biometric system had already been conducted.

On Bersih 2.0's demand that the EC provide a campaign period of not less than 21 days, Abdul Aziz said the body would have to study all aspects to ensure a reasonable and fair campaign period for all.

“Parliament will be automatically dissolved on April 28, 2013 if the Prime Minister does not do so before that,” Abdul Aziz said, adding that the general election must be held within 60 days after that.

Lesbian 'raped by rickshaw driver' as she made her way home after night in gay club

A lesbian doctor was raped by a rickshaw driver after a night out in London, a court has heard.

The woman, in her 20s, was attacked after she was left alone with Turkish-born Murat Durmus, 23, during the early hours on February 5.

She had kept her sexuality a secret but was forced to come out to her family because of her ordeal, the Old Bailey was told.

Rickshaws of the type used in Central London
Rickshaws of the type used in Central London. The doctor alleges she was raped in a similar vehicle by rickshaw driver Murat Durmus

The doctor and her gay friend had been drinking at bars in Soho and unsuccessfully tried to find a black cab home.

They walked around the road closures near Tottenham Court Road and decided to catch a pedal rickshaw, which ply for trade in the West End, to their homes near Tower Bridge.

Her friend got out of the rickshaw on the way to her house and the woman doesn't remember what happened next.

The woman said: 'Things got a bit hazy. I honestly don't remember how it all started.

'My next memory is simply buzzing the buzzer and going into my flatmate's bedroom. I was hysterical and crying. Because of my orientation, I was outraged. I was angry.'

A passer-by noticed Durmus arguing with the doctor, telling her to get back inside the rickshaw.
She was telling him to leave her alone, the court heard.

When the passer-by intervened, the doctor grabbed his arm and said she wanted to go with him. But Durmus insisted he was owed money.

The Good Samaritan accompanied the pair to a cashpoint. He left when the doctor walked away and Durmus rode off.

Lisa Matthews, prosecuting, said: 'The CCTV shows the defendant picking her up and putting her into the rickshaw and then driving around.'

The jury were shown CCTV footage of Durmus as he cycled through the deserted streets sometimes doubling back on himself.

Ms Matthews added: 'Her next memory was being raped by him. That happened she thought in the rickshaw. 

'Because she had been drinking she remembers something of standing up and then lying down.
'She said she was crying and saying 'no' and he put his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming.'

After raping her, Durmus then cycled off leaving the woman to make her way home, the court was told.
Ms Matthews said: 'She was very distressed by what had happened and told her flatmate that she had been raped.

'She then also told her brother who was staying with her. Her family at that stage did not know that she was gay and she found it very difficult to tell them what had happened.'

The doctor was able to give police a description of her alleged attacker and his rickshaw and 13 days later he was tracked down and arrested.

The court heard Durmus' DNA was found inside his alleged victim.

Durmus, of Walthamstow, denies two counts of rape and claimed the sex was consensual.
He said he had cycled away but saw her 'standing in a dark corner'.

She approached him, took his hand and went back into the corner and kissed him.  

'They returned to the rickshaw and went to a garage area. He said she initiated the approach.'
The trial, expected to last two weeks, continues.

Pakatan gives Najib one last chance

‘Male Y’ DNA profile tainted, Sodomy II trial told

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — A local scientist had flubbed a crucial DNA profiling test that the prosecution had used to link Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to a charge of sodomising his former aide, an Australian DNA expert told the High Court today.

The defence team’s fourth witness, Dr Brian McDonald, said government chemist Nor Aidora Saedon had made a major miscalculation in her test that had led to Anwar being wrongly marked as “Male Y” whose DNA profile was allegedly found in complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan’s anus.

“What you have is evidence of a mixture of profiles. She reported them as a single profile,” Dr McDonald told the court.

He said she had messed up a fundamental guideline on how to perform the DNA profiling test, which gave her the wrong reading.

The opposition leader’s sodomy trial was given an indepth review of DNA analysis, including a deeply detailed explanation of how to mark and read the results.

“If these were tests done in school, she’d have failed them,” he told an amused court.

Anwar’s defence team had back in February this year, argued there were multiple DNA profiles on a “Good Morning” towel — a key evidence exhibit in the Sodomy II trial — given to the 64-year-old grandfather during his overnight lock-up three years ago, when he was arrested for sodomising Saiful.

Defence lawyer Ramkarpal Singh Deo had then said that based on an electropharogram test done by Nor Aidora on the towel, graph results showed that there were two DNA profiles — that of “Male Y” and that of an unknown DNA profile.

She had already testified on February 23 that the DNA profiles found on the said items matched that of an unknown “Male Y”, whose sperm extracts had been found in Saiful’s anus.

Ramkarpal said the “mixture” would have pointed out to another person’s DNA which would have contaminated the profile.

She appeared visibly annoyed when Ramkarpal accused her and her work mates in the Chemistry Department of possibly contaminating the evidence samples.

“There is no contamination by my staff or anyone else. It’s a single profile as reported,” Nor Aidora had said then.

She also maintained that despite not following standard guidelines in conducting the tests, protocol had been observed based on methods adopted by her department.

The trial will resume tomorrow with the Australian back in the witness box.

Son sues insurance company over death benefits

The son was to receive RM200,000 in death benefits after his mother died but the insurance company claims that he is trying to cheat them.

SEREMBAN: A son is suing a major insurance company for not paying RM200,000 in death benefits from his late mother’s policy. He has lodged a police report alleging cheating by the insurance company.

S Isaikumar, who was accompanied by Seremban PSM secretary S Tinagaran, told a press conference after lodging the report at the Seremban district police headquarters that his mother, V Santha, had purchased a policy with the company on July 27, 2009, and paid a monthly premium of RM304.28.

“My mother passed away on March 21, 2010, following a heart attack. I submitted the death certificate to the headquarters of the insurance company in Kuala Lumpur and was told by a staff that there were no problems in my claim and I will receive my cheque in two months’ time.

“However on May 18, this year, which is a year after I submitted my claim, the insurance company sent me a letter informing that my claim was rejected, and instead sent me a cheque for RM2,434.24.
“On May 19, I went to the insurance company again and demanded an explanation.

“They told me they can’t do anything and this is my fault as my mother did not undergo a medical check-up before she bought the insurance policy. They accused me of cheating the insurance company,” said Isaikumar.

He added that the insurance company told him that it will re-assess his claim. Later the case was passed over to R Ganaraj from the investigation services unit.

He added that Ganaraj met him on June 10 this year and warned him not to pester the insurance company over the matter.

“He also told me that he is actually a policeman who works part-time with the insurance company,” he said.

Unreasonable excuses

Isaikumar said that he met Ganaraj again to return the RM2,434.24 cheque given to him, following which he was accused by the insurance company of hiding his mother’s real health status from the company.
“They said that my mother had suffered from anemia and that we had not conveyed this fact to the insurance company,” he said.

Tinagaran, meanwhile, said that Santha’s death had nothing to do with anemia.

“We consulted at least two doctors, one of whom is Sungai Siput Dr Michael D Jeyakumar, and they told us that anemia had nothing to do with heart attack.

“As an insurance company, they should have asked Santha to do medical check-up before they approved the policy. They received the high monthly premium from Santha and are now giving unreasonable excuses.”

Tinagaran also said that the police have recorded Isaikumar’s statement and had informed him that this case would be handled by the commercial crimes department.

Hindraf fail notis gugur pertuduhan 54 aktivis ‘Interlok’

S Jayathas dalam permohonannya pagi tadi berkata dakwaan yang dikenakan terhadap mereka itu tidak sah dan bersifat 'mala fide' (berniat jahat).

KUALA LUMPUR: Pertubuhan Hindraf Makkal Sakthi (Hindraf) hari ini memfailkan permohonan agar 54 aktivisnya yang didakwa mahkamah terlibat dengan perhimpunan protes novel Interlok digugurkan.

Permohonan itu difailkan wakilnya S Jayathas melalui Tetuan Kumar Hashimah & Co di Mahkamah Tinggi di sini pagi tadi.

Beliau menamakan Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak sebagai responden pertama dan Peguam Negara Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail sebagai responden kedua.

Kesemua 54 aktivis terbabit ditahan pada Februari lalu dan didakwa di Mahkamah Majistret Selayang, Ipoh, Seremban dan Jalan Duta melakukan kesalahan di bawah Seksyen 43 Akta Pertubuhan 1966 (Akta 335) iaitu menganggotai pertubuhan yang menyalahi undang- undang iaitu Hindraf.

Sehubungan itu, S Jayathas dalam permohonannya pagi tadi berkata dakwaan yang dikenakan terhadap mereka itu tidak sah dan bersifat ‘mala fide’ (berniat jahat).

Beliau juga menyatakan alasan Hindraf telah pun membuat permohonan Pendaftar Pertubuhan (ROS) menjadi satu pertubuhan yang sah sejak November 2009 namun tidak diluluskan sehingga sekarang.

“Saya percaya dalam dunia ini tidak pernah dapat pertuduhan jenayah oleh kerana seseorang itu menjadi anggota NGO hak asasi manusia dan hak minoriti kecuali dalam negeri pemerintahan raja berkuasa mutlak di Arab Saudi.

Beliau turut mempertikaikan mengenai beberapa tindakan pemimpin Umno dan Perkasa yang membuat demonstrasi jalanan namun tidak pernah ditangkap dan didakwa.

“Responden kedua di atas arahan reponden pertama telah bertindak secara ‘mala fide’, bermotifkan politik dan bertindak secara selektif dengan hanya melepaskan aktivis pro Umno-Barisan Nasional-Perkasa dan Bersih (yang disokong parti politik PKR, DAP, PAS) yang mempunyai kuasa ekonomi dan politik yang kuat dan berpengaruh.

“Tetapi oleh kerana pemohon daripada masyarakat India, pemohon telah dianaktiri dan didiskriminasi (melanggari Artikel 8 Perlembagaan Persekutuan),” katanya.

Interlok, novel sastera yang diperkenalkan Kementerian Pelajaran sebagai buku teks untuk pelajar Tingkatan Lima menyentuh tentang kisah masyarakat India daripada kasta ‘paria’ yang datang ke Tanah Melayu.

Akibatnya, ia menimbulkan ketegangan dan mendapat reaksi pelbagai pihak kerana menyentuh sensitiviti masyarakat India.

NEP under attack: Dr M to the rescue

The former premier takes the policy's critics, including Anwar Ibrahim, to task. He argues that NEP has done much for the bumiputera while the non-bumis also benefitted.

PETALING JAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad has defended the New Economic Policy (NEP), the controversial socio-economic restructuring affirmative action programme launched in 1971
Taking the critics, including Anwar Ibrahim, to task, the former premier said NEP had been denigrated by opposition politicians to the point that it appeared to be the worst policy ever conceived and implemented.

“While (prominent economist) Ramon Navaratnam blames NEP as being the cause of foreign investors not coming to Malaysia, Anwar condemned it for the abuses and corruption involved in its implementation,” he said in a blog posting.

“Anwar loudly proclaims that NEP benefits only the cronies of the government and that the contracts, Approval Permits (APs) and licences given out under NEP, involve corruption.

“He makes it sound as if NEP did not benefit the Malays and other Bumiputera at all,” he added.
However, Mahathir admitted that a few of the recipients of APs, contracts and licences might know the leaders of government or were members of Umno

“And there may be corruption involved in some cases but the charge is not warranted because in most cases, the benefits of NEP have been enjoyed by almost every Malay and Bumiputera. In fact, indirectly and, in some cases, directly it has benefited the non-Bumiputera as well,” he said.

Giving them education

For example, Mahathir said, every Malay child was helped in his or her education with free textbooks and often with free meals.“Schools are built in the remotest areas where before there were no schools.

Hostels are built mostly for Malay and other Bumiputera children so that they can live a better life and are able to study in better surroundings than in their homes in the villages,” he added.

For the qualified, the former premier noted, tertiary education was readily accessible, with huge numbers of scholarships.

As a result, he said, many of the children of poor families or of families unable to pay high fees, now held university degrees, were highly qualified and many were professionals.

“Before only 5% of the doctors in Malaysia were Malays and Bumiputera; now 40% of them are Malays,” the doctor-turned-politician said, adding that it was the same with other professions.

“Just count the number of students in public universities in the country and those abroad on scholarships and one will appreciate how NEP has benefited the Malays and other Bumiputera in education,” he said.

Mahathir also said when, under NEP, shares of companies were allocated to Malay applicants, they invariably sold the shares for capital gains almost immediately.

“This is because they did not have the money to purchase the shares and had to repay bank loans. To avoid this, the government decided to create unit trusts so that the shares could only be sold back to the managers. Thus, the National Equity Corporation was born.

“Today, more than 10.5 million Malays and other Bumiputera hold shares in these unit trusts with total holdings valued at RM135 billion. This is a direct benefit from NEP. The unit trust makes up a substantial percentage of corporate wealth held by the Bumiputera,” he said.

Many success stories

Under NEP, Mahathir said, the role of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) was also greatly augmented and settlers benefited from the spin-offs into the transport business, refining and marketing of the produce.

“Felda was nursed until it has become the biggest plantation company in the world.
“The settlers have much higher incomes while their children are much better educated. All these are due to NEP,” he said.

Mahathir said microcredit was extended to the smallest village enterprises and this helped tens of thousands of Bumiputera villagers, especially the women in business.

“There are now thousands of Bumiputera businessmen who benefited from the importation of used and new cars, from becoming agents and vendors to the national car projects and also in the oil and gas business as a result of NEP.

“The best of them have grown big, some very big, becoming car dealers and assemblers, housing developers, steel fabricators, boat and ship builders; IT, transport, ports and shipping; food and cosmetic manufacturers and many other businesses.”

The privatisation scheme, noted the former premier, had also benefited Bumiputera business greatly, including the supply of materials and employment of engineers.

“Are they all cronies, these successful ones?” he asked.

“There are far too many of them to be cronies. That some are known to government leaders is to be expected because government leaders in Malaysia are accessible to everyone as a matter of policy.

“They may be Umno members. But then there are more than three million Umno members. Is the government expected to exclude them from the benefits of NEP?” he asked.

The fact was, according to Mahathir, that almost all of those who succeeded had benefited from NEP.
“Those who show capability cannot be excluded from the support under NEP. In fact, it is safer to help those with good records than to give to untried people,” he said.

“Why is it that the government is doing all these under NEP? The answer is simple. The Malay businessmen do not get opportunities from the private sector.

“They never get contracts or sub-contracts for supplies in the private sector. Even after they have proved their capabilities when carrying out government contracts, they would not get contracts from the private sector.

“On the other hand, even when NEP was being implemented, many of the government contracts still go to non-Malays,” he added.

Corruption must be condemned

Mahathir said the accusation of cronyism was made without any real basis as there were far too many benefiting from the NEP at all levels and in all fields for the policy to be enriching only the cronies.

“There may be corruption but NEP would not have succeeded to the extent shown if corruption prevailed in every case. The focus on cronyism and corruption is political, not based on the real role and achievements of NEP.

“If there is no NEP, the economic position of the Bumiputera would be dismal. There would not be as many Bumiputera professionals as there are now. The disparities in all fields of economic activities would be very much greater as the national economy grows,” he added.

Mahathir also took a swipe at some of the Malay beneficiaries of NEP who were now calling for the policy to be scrapped.

“They dislike the benefits they obtained from it to be mentioned as this would amount to, what the Malays called, ‘ungkit’, that is, to remind one of a debt of gratitude.

“Yet in Malay culture one should never forget the ‘budi’ of another. As Muslims, they should know that thankfulness for any benefit is enjoined by Islam,” he added.

Mahathir said while corruption and cronyism should be condemned, most of the accusations with regard to the NEP were unjustified.

“They are motivated by personal and sectarian politics. The fair-minded must consider also the good achieved by NEP. It is sad that people who benefited from NEP should want to deny it to others who are still in need of it,” he said.

Non-Bumis benefited as well

Mahathir conceded that while the NEP did not achieve the target to remove the disparities between races in Malaysia completely, it however reduced the disparities enough to keep Malaysia stable even during the financial crisis.

“What is more, it did this without stifling the remarkable growth,” he said.

The former premier said that non-Bumiputera also benefited from the policy, which critics claimed reduced non-Malays to the status of second-class citizens by cementing “ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy).

“They have benefited simply because invariably what is given to the Bumiputera must spin off to the non-Bumis. In some cases, the Ali-Baba phenomenon is exhibited, with the Bumiputera merely getting a small portion for just lending his name.

“But even if a Bumiputera contractor decides to implement the contract, he still has to procure building materials, skilled labour etc from the non-Bumiputera companies.

“Specialised work must also be given to non-Bumiputera as there are hardly any Bumiputera sub-contractor capable of doing this. In fact, a substantial part of the projects during the NEP period went to non-Bumiputera. It cannot be that the non-Bumiputera earns no profits from these contracts, sub-contracts, supplies and skilled labour,” he said.

Mahathir, who remained in power for 22 years, said politicians must find issues to support their bids for power but condemning NEP could only be done by twisting or ignoring the contributions of that policy to political stability and the economic success of Malaysia.

Asri: Janda Muslim ditahan Jais tak murtad, rujuk gereja kerana ‘desakan hidup’

Asri berkata beliau menyaksikan wanita tersebut menunaikan solat tarawih. — Foto fail
KUALA LUMPUR, 25 Ogos — Salah seorang daripada 12 hadirin beragama Islam pada majlis makan malam di sebuah gereja yang diserbu Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (Jais) awal bulan ini menegaskan, dia tidak pernah murtad.

Sebaliknya, dia seorang janda mendapatkan bantuan dihulurkan dengan ikhlas oleh gereja ekoran “desakan hidup.”

Gereja Methodist Damansara Utara diserbu Jais pada malam 3 Ogos lalu ketika mengadakan majlis makan malam muhibah anjuran pertubuhan bukan kerajaan Harapan Komuniti.

Dalam pengakuan kepada bekas mufti Perlis Prof Madya Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, wanita tersebut dipetik berkata semasa pihak berkuasa agama membuat penyiasatan ke atas gereja berkenaan pada 3 Ogos lalu, dia berada bersama dengan sejumlah orang Islam yang lain yang senasib dengannya.

Katanya, walaupun, kali kedua media menyiarkan dia termasuk dalam senarai murtad dalam peristiwa itu, hakikatnya dia tidak murtad.

“Cuma ada di situ bersama dengan mereka yang senasib dengannya. Namun, menurutnya memang ada yang murtad,” katanya dipetik Asri dalam tulisannya dihantar kepada media hari ini.

Kata Asri lagi, “alhamdulillah dia masih kekal dengan keIslamannya. Semuanya itu kerana desakan hidup.”
Asri menambah, terus-terang dia sebut “semua untuk wang kerana saya ingin membesarkan anak-anak saya.”

Dia mempunyai tiga orang anak.

“Semasa saya menziarahinya — tanpa notis awal — dia baru sahaja selesai menunaikan solat tarawih.
“Menurut dia memang ramai lagi yang terpengaruh dengan usaha kristianisasi yang dilakukan. Mereka yang banyak terlibat terdiri dari kalangan ibu tunggal yang miskin, saudara baru Muslim yang tidak dipedulikan, wanita yang mengandung tanpa suami, pesakit Aids dan juga Muslim dari Sabah dan Sarawak yang dalam kesusahan,” kata beliau lagi.

Beliau mengadakan pertemuan dengan salah seorang daripada 12 hadirin itu, yang telah disoal siasat oleh Jais baru-baru ini dan diberikan kaunseling, minggu lalu. Tetapi nama wanita itu tidak diberikan.

Sambil berkata apa yang hendak dipelikkan, Asri menulis lagi, “begitulah tabiat agama yang merasakan mereka berkhidmat untuk Tuhan.”

“Apa yang hendak pelik jika gereja mengajar ajaran Kristian kerana itu memang kerja gereja. Tak mungkin gereja hendak berdakwah kepada Islam.

“Namun yang pelik apabila ada negeri yang puluhan individu yang mempunyai PhD dan masters dalam pengajian Islam yang disahkan oleh kerajaan tetapi tidak dibenarkan mengajar Islam di masjid dan menyampaikan Islam kepada orang Islam,” kata ahli akademik dari Universiti Sains Malaysia ini.

Malah dalam tulisannya, Asri berkata, menurut wanita tersebut lagi dia tidak menukar akidahnya, tetapi dia terus ke gereja membawa anak-anaknya.

“Anak-anaknya diterapkan ajaran Kristian oleh pihak gereja. Diajar nyanyian keagamaan dan nilai-nilai budi tertentu. Baginya, dilakukan semua itu untuk hidup.

“Rupanya ramai lagi yang senasib dengannya berada di bawah bantuan pihak gereja,” katanya.

Sebahagian mereka memang menukar agama kerana kecewa dengan sikap masyarakat Islam dan terpengaruh dengan budi pihak gereja, kata Asri lagi sambi berkata, menurutnya juga, tiada paksaan dari pihak gereja.

“Cumanya, pendekatan mereka amat mempengaruhi,” kata beliau lagi.

Akhirnya, apabila pihak berkuasa agama mengetahui dia ke gereja, kata Asri, dia ditangkap untuk kali pertama dan beritanya disiarkan dalam akhbar.

“Menurutnya, sebaik sahaja ditangkap dan beritanya tersiar di media barulah pejabat zakat tergesa-gesa datang ke rumahnya. Begitu juga pihak kebajikan masyarakat.

“Dia memberitahu kepada pihak zakat bahawa dia ingin membuka taska. Mereka menyuruh dia mendapatkan rumah yang sesuai dan mereka akan bantu.

“Dia pun mendapatkan sebuah rumah yang mereka setujui yang agak besar dan sudah pasti sewanya agak tinggi. Malangnya, selepas dia menyewa rumah tersebut, selama tujuh bulan pihak zakat tidak
menghulurkan bantuan kepadanya. Terkapai-kapai ketika itu,” katanya.

Akhirnya menurut Asri lagi, maklumat yang diperoleh daripadanya menunjukkan pihak gereja juga yang datang dan melangsaikan kesempitannya untuk menjelaskan sewa rumah tersebut.

“Sehinggalah apabila timbul isu, pegawai zakat menghubungi dan meminta agar dia memaklumkan kepada pihak yang bertanya bahawa pegawai zakat memang ada datang.

“Ya, selepas itu memanglah pihak zakat memberikan satu jumlah bantuan yang agak besar kepadanya dengan ‘tukaran’ yang tidak dapat saya maklumkan di sini,” katanya lagi.

Kata Asri lagi, wanita tersebut pernah mengunjungi pusat zakat dan Jabatan Kebajikan untuk mendapatkan bantuan sebaik ditinggalkan suaminya.

“Dia juga pergi ke bahagian kebajikan masyarakat, juga tidak dilayan. Dia bekerja untuk meneruskan hidupnya yang sempit.

“Di tempat kerja, melihatkan keadaannya yang susah dan miskin maka ada rakan sekerja yang beragama Kristian mencadangkan untuk dia pergi ke suatu tempat yang mudah dan mesra dalam memberikan bantuan.

“Di situlah bermula hubungan dia dengan pihak gereja. Apa tidaknya, dia susah, kehidupan terhimpit dan anak-anak yang masih kecil memerlukan makanan dan perlindungan,” kata Asri sambil menambah, “pihak gereja membantu keperluan hidupnya.”

Katanya, diberikan wang dan menziarahi keluarganya, malah mereka tidak menjadikan dia peminta sedekah, tetapi mereka menggunakan pendekatan “mesra dan saying”.

“Hatinya terpaut dengan kehalusan budi. Walaupun saki baki akidahnya membantah untuk dia menukar agama, tetapi dia tidak dapat menafikan perasaan sayang dan terhutang budi kepada pihak gereja yang berjasa menyelamatkannya,” tulis beliau lagi.

Malaysia's Slowing Performance

There are strong institutional reasons for the lagging performance against its regional neighbors
In the 70 years since World War II ended, East Asian economies, including Malaysia, appear to have largely got performance right. Malaysia was also one of 13 countries identified by the Commission on Growth and Development in its 2008 Growth Report to have recorded average growth of more than 7 percent per year for 25 years or more. Malaysia achieved this spectacular performance from 1967 to 1997.

However, since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and1998, Malaysia’s economic performance when compared to previous decades has been lackluster and most macroeconomic indicators are trending downwards. This was confirmed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak himself in the publication on March 30, 2010 of the New Economic Model – Part 1. This was a very brave move but a necessary one by the premier as he acknowledged publicly the failures of Malaysia’s current economic model in order to demonstrate urgency for reforms.

The New Economic Model identifies domestic factors such as weak investor confidence, capability constraints (weak human capital, entrepreneurial base and innovative capacity) , productivity ceilings and institutional degradation and external factors such as a sluggish global economy caused by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the rise of neighbors in the region in contributing to the declining growth trajectory.

If we were to revisit the determinants of growth and agree that proper institutions form the overall structure that determines long-term sustainable growth, then the logical response is to reform Malaysia’s institutional set-up, as it must be the deepest determinant of what is hindering economic growth.

This view is further strengthened as Malaysia’s other deep determinants, geography and trade, are favorable. The country has abundant natural resources, is shielded from natural hazards and is well-located strategically both geopolitically and economically. Malaysia has also benefitted tremendously from being an open economy, especially in the merchandise sector.

The New Economic Model also reports that regional challenges from China, India and Vietnam, etc. are a cause for Malaysia’s declining economic performance. What has changed about these countries? They have all undertaken institutional reforms: China since 1978, India since 1992 and Vietnam since 1986. They are reaping the benefits while Malaysia has stalled in its institutional reforms since the 1990s, regressed in some ways and is suffering from the consequences.

The above points stress the importance of institutional reforms in Malaysia, something that Najib has ironically neglected in his signature policies – 1Malaysia, Government Transformation Programme and Economic Transformation Programme.

According to the Growth Commission report, “…fast sustained growth is not a miracle; it is attainable for developing countries with the ‘right mix of ingredients.’ Countries need leaders who are committed to achieving growth and who can take advantage of opportunities from the global economy. They also need to know about the levels of incentives and public investments that are necessary for private investment to take off and ensure the long-term diversification of the economy and its integration in the global economy…”

Michael Spence, the Chairman of the Growth Commission, elaborated on his extensive experience working with developing countries on growth issues in his latest book by emphasizing two important characteristics for developing countries to ensure long term sustainable growth – the role of political leadership and democratic norms. He suggests four characteristics for governments that are necessary requirements to underpin long term growth:
  1. The government takes economic performance and growth seriously.
  2. The governing group has values that cause it to try to act in the interest of the vast majority of the people (as opposed to themselves or some subgroup, however defined)
  3. The government is competent and effective and selects a viable sustained-growth strategy that includes openness to the global economy, high levels of investment, and a strong future orientation.
  4. Economic freedom is present and is supported by the legal system and regulatory policy
Manifestations of Malay/Muslim Supremacy

Malaysia is classified as a non-democratic state by all international indexes measuring quality of democracy. This is also affirmed in academic circles. During the boom years, Malaysians accepted this tradeoff – restricted freedom for economic growth. Since 1997/98, this has changed as expected. The government has not delivered on growth, therefore the natural demand for reforms and by extension freedom.

There is consensus that Malaysia needs extensive economic, political and social reforms. This is all the more evident IF we agree that institutions are key to long term growth. Also, IF we agree with Spence, these reforms must come from a government with the four characteristics identified above.

Astute observers of Malaysia know the reasons why the present administration and the ones before were unable to make fundamental reforms. This has much to do with the ideology of Malay/Muslim Supremacy as defined by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and accepted by large swaths of Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

From the literature we can infer that the ideology of Malay/Muslim supremacy has provided the perverse incentives that have manifested themselves in many ways. The more critical ones are:
  • Institutional degradation: The deterioration in the quality of Malaysia’s institutions, particularly during former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s years, such as the lack of independence between the branches of government; the politicization of the civil service, producing a culture of risk aversion and a lack of creativity; and the expansion of the non-transparent Government Linked Corporations (GLCs):
  • Crony capitalism: Affirmative action in the name of Malays has become a smokescreen for crony capitalism. Affirmative action is the instrument for rampant elite-based (from all races, not only Malays) corruption. High levels of income inequality in Malaysia in general but more so within the Malay community prove this.
  • Race based affirmative action: Race-based affirmative action in itself is recognized as one of the important reasons for Malaysia’s declining economic performance. Malaysia’s focus on the ex-post equalization of outcomes across ethnicities rather than ensuring effective ex-ante equalization of access to opportunities has had important direct efficiency implications, affecting growth by distorting incentives and thereby the competitive process.
  • Excessive centralization: An interesting institutional feature is the lack of decentralization in the country, which is nominally a Federation and the top-down approach in public policymaking. This is a key disconnect in the reform rhetoric in the ETP and GTP. To strengthen public service delivery, local communities need to be empowered. Fiscal relationships between federal-state-local also demonstrates institutional failure.
  • Feedback mechanisms: Related to Malaysia’s top-down approaches is an almost complete disregard for monitoring and evaluation. As a result there is little feedback from outcomes into policy design. The obsession with centralizing policy-making is also evident in lack of information sharing both within government and with the public.
The need to remove UMNO to create a new “people based ideology”

In relation to competency, the quality of the human capital base in Malaysia is suspect. This is due to the quality of education from preschool through tertiary and on-the-job training. It is linked with ethnicity issues and is exacerbated by the outflow of high-skill individuals and affected by the inflow of low-skill labor.

There are not only problems on the supply side of the market for skills, but also on the demand side, where firms may not be competitive enough to offer higher wages. The market for skills itself is also problematic in that the price mechanism does not work adequately and this is where wage-setting issues play a role.

A bigger and more important challenge than competency is the question of internal competition. This is quite distinct from external competitiveness, on which front Malaysia has scored relatively well in the merchandise sector given its stage of development and the nature of its manufacturing processes which are still dominated by competitiveness identified by low cost rather than high value.

Internal competition refers to the allocation of certain factors including labor, capital, land and product markets. Internal competition works well when there is good governance, openness and transparency. It relates to the need for deregulation, liberalization and competition policies especially in key areas such as government procurement and the activities of GLCs in the domestic economy.

All of these are also needed to produce effective competition for good ideas and good policies as well as competition in the political arena. This of course challenges the basic idea of meritocracy and affirmative action in Malaysia.

To reform these will ostensibly mean changing Malaysia’s embedded incentives and institutions. This definitely means undoing the manifestations of Malay/Muslim supremacy.

Can UMNO implement these reforms?

My hypothesis is that the present leadership in Malaysia within the Barisan Nasional framework is incapable of institutionalizing reforms as the present leadership does not meet the criteria set out by Spence for a simple reason – its ideology. This ideology that overrides and at the same time influences all other norms, rules, conventions, habits and values is the ideology of Malay/Muslim Supremacy.

As the Prime Minister of Malaysia always comes from UMNO it will be impossible for him or her to undo the cornerstone ideology of his/her political party and its adherents in the Barisan Nasional, which includes Malays and non-Malays.

The logic above is discussed extensively in the political science literature. To summarize, the Malay/Muslim ideology provides psychological and material benefits to its adherents. This makes it a potent force for groups that rely on this ideology. However, since it is deeply embedded, it is also extremely difficult to counter when needed. Malaysia’s present institutional equilibrium is a reflection of the strength of the adherents of Malay/Muslim supremacy, known by its Malay-language slogan Ketuanan Melayu.

There are many examples to illustrate Malay/Muslim supremacy but the one that is cited most often as holding back Malaysia’s economic reforms is affirmative action, the most comprehensive in the world. It has by inference been touted as the one of the key reasons for Malaysia’s declining economic performance although causality has not been explicitly demonstrated.

Supporters of affirmative action argue that Article 153 of the Federal Constitution provides the Bumiputeras the right to this extensive affirmative action. However this is factually incorrect.

Article 153 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution states that:

153. (1) It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.

(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, but subject to the provisions of Article 40 and of this Article, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall exercise his functions under this Constitutions and federal law in such manner as may be necessary to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and to ensure the reservation for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service (other than the public service of a State) and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and, when any permit or license for the operation of any trade or business is required by federal law, then, subject to the provisions of that law and this Article, of such permits and licenses.

In more simple words, the Federal Constitution limits affirmative action to placement in the civil service at the Federal level, scholarships and permits and licences for Bumiputras and only if necessary and in a reasonable manner by the Prime Minister who advises the Yang diPertuan Agung.

Does the Prime Minister have the power to revoke or reform affirmative action policies?

Yes, he does. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy where the monarch reigns but do not rule. Article 153 is subject to Article 40 and Article 40 states that the Yang diPertuan Agung must act on the advice of the Cabinet.

40. (1) In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or federal law the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, except as otherwise provided by this Constitution; but shall be entitled, at his request, to any information concerning the government of the Federation which is available to the Cabinet.

The decision to continue or reform affirmative action policies and the attendant institutions in Malaysia lies solely at the prerogative of the Prime Minister along with his colleagues in Cabinet as stated in Article 40.

With power centralized in the Executive (Cabinet), and with the Prime Minister already having six Ministers of 31 from the Prime Minister’s Department in the Cabinet, and with the Prime Minister himself holding two portfolios (Prime Minister and Finance Minister I), and legitimised by the Constitution (Article 40), the Prime Minister should on all counts, be able to implement these reforms without much difficulty.

Yet he has been unable to do so for the simple reason that the Federal Constitution may be the law of the land but it is clearly not the supreme power/ideology in Malaysia. The supreme power/ideology is the primacy of Malays/Muslims as defined by UMNO. Hence the Prime Minister may have de jure power to reform, but he does not have de facto power. This power resides among the Malays and non-Malays who support Malay/Muslim supremacy and the current institutional set-up.

Until and unless this supreme ideology of Malay/Muslim supremacy is removed, Malaysian politicians will be constrained in making the necessary institutional reforms to move Malaysia towards long term sustainable growth.

(Greg Lopez is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University. A longer scholarly version of this appeared on The New Mandala.)

EC Still Studying Best System To Improve Electoral Process

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 (Bernama) -- The Election Commission (EC) is still studying the best system to be used to improve the running of future general elections in the country.

Its chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the EC, for instance, was studying the legal aspects of using the biometric system and indelible ink, especially if the two methods were to be made compulsory for voters.

"If it is so, the existing law needs to be amended in parliament, and I expect the proposal to be tabled at this October-November parliamentary sitting," he said at a briefing and question-and-answer session with the media organised by Bernama's Centre of Excellence at Wisma Bernama, here, today.

The session titled "Latest Trend in Malaysia's Electoral System and Bersih 2.0 Demands", was to respond to the eight demands of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), which held an illegal rally on July 9.

The demands are the use of indelible ink, cleaning up of the electoral roll, reforming postal voting, minimum campaign period of 21 days, free and fair access to the media, strengthening public institutions, and eradicating corruption and dirty politics.

Abdul Aziz said the EC did not dismiss the possibility that the two methods would be used in the 13th general election as the EC had consultants and a panel of advisers to ensure transparency of the voting process if the amendments to the election law were passed by parliament on time.

However, he said, the best system to be used would be determined at least six months before the general election after going through an efficiency test.

Abdul Aziz said the EC would also be forwarding its proposals to the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform that was to be established.

In this context, he said, if the indelible ink were to be used, it was feared that denying the right of a voter to vote could happen if his thumb had been voluntarily stained with the ink.

On the biometric system, he said although is was the best system to clean up the electoral roll, technical weaknesses like possible machine breakdowns and thumb-prints that could not be detected needed to be taken into consideration.

"The EC will look at all aspects (of using both systems), including the use of halal ink to satisfy everyone and to avoid making mistakes on polling day," he said, adding that to date, there were 12.4 million registered voters including 200,000 postal voters.

Meanwhile, the EC is considering postal voting for media practitioners covering the elections and other registered voters staying abroad.

On the minimum 21-day campaign period as demanded by Bersih, he said a fair and reasonable duration should be considered from the health aspect and it should not exceed two weeks.

On the proposed early voting to replace postal voting, Abdul Aziz said the best method was being sought, and one that could be considered was gathering these voters at certain locations to cast their ballots two or three days before the public voting day.

He also said that the EC would not do a preliminary study on delineation of electoral constituencies as it was not a must in the eight-year period ending March 21 this year.

Sodomy II: “A sackable offence,” says witness

More revealing testimony from the Sodomy II trial today.
Excerpt from a Malaysian Insider report:
Both containers (containing DNA) bore labels that were dated June 26, 2008.
Anwar is charged with sodomising former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in a Damansara Heights condominium on the same date.
The court has been told the complainant was swabbed for test samples of his DNA only after seeing doctors two days later, on June 28, 2008.
Dr McDonald, who was briefed of the history of the case, said such a labelling meant one of two things, either the samples were indeed taken on June 28, 2008; or the samples were labelled wrongly.
“This is a sackable offence,” he testified.
“You could kill someone. If you change something on a medical result, you could kill someone,” he said.
Dr McDonald explained that the proper thing to do would be to verify with the source if there has been a mistake and move quickly to correct it and have those steps recorded.