Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak belabours under a misconception that the makkal sakthi – people power – wave unleashed by Hindraf Makkal Sakthi in the political tsunami of March 2008 has petered out.
As a result, he has erroneously concluded that Indian voters are abandoning the opposition alliance in droves and flocking back to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) led by Umno.
Hence, his public pledge in recent days at a Deepavali function in Kuala Lumpur that BN will not ignore the Indian community and indeed cannot afford to do so.
He furthered contended that the BN, unlike the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, will not take Indians for granted.
He did not say that “the BN will no longer continue to take Indians for granted”.
There’s a world of difference between the two statements.
The former would mean that the BN has never taken the Indians for granted. The latter would concede that BN has indeed been taking Indians for granted, but more like taking them for a ride. Is there even a hint of an apology from Najib here somewhere?
This – taking for granted – is rich with meaning coming from Najib who presides over an apartheid-like state and a caste system rolled into one.
He forgets that it’s the very same BN, and its predecessor the Alliance in another incarnation, which has ridden rough-shed over the Indian community for the better part of half a century and more.
Why would the Indian community now suddenly accept that BN is a leopard that can indeed change its spots?
If Indians have a quarrel with Pakatan, they have even more to beef about with BN, Umno in particular.
Mother of all issues
With regard to Pakatan, the Indians have clearly decided to withdraw their support but not to direct the same support towards BN because there’s no reason on earth to do so.
It’s unfortunate that Pakatan, unlike Umno and the BN, doesn’t want the term “Indian” even mentioned. The excuse is that Pakatan is not about race and religion that drive people apart “but about bringing people together”. At the same time, in a contradiction in terms, Pakatan has no qualms about talking openly about the Chinese and Malays.
One has only to listen to Human Rights Party Malaysia (HRP) pro-tem secretary-general, P Uthayakumar, to arrive at the truth of the matter vis-à-vis BN and Pakatan.
HRP has been existing as a pro tem party for the last 10 years or more and shows no sign of being registered anytime soon by the Registrar of Societies (ROS). The ROS has the sole power to register political parties but is being dictated to on the matter by Umno through the Home Minister. Even the courts seem unable to uphold the Federal Constitution and help HRP out of its dilemma.
Uthayakumar has drawn up a long list of 101 Indian issues created by the neglect, benign or otherwise, of the Umno government. Of the 101 issues, he deems that 18 Points – echoes of Sabah’s 20 points and Sarawak’s 18 Points – as crucial.
The mother of all issues is that Umno has splintered, via the Election Commission (EC), 15 parliamentary seats and 38 state seats in Peninsular Malaysia, which would otherwise be Indian. As a result, there’s not even one parliamentary or state seat in Peninsular Malaysia which has even a simple Indian majority.
Having Indian representatives in Parliament and state assemblies – in particular Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor – representing the Indian community and taking up their issues would mean making some progress in resolving their myriad grievances.
At present, the Indian representatives in Parliament and the state assemblies – whether from the BN or Pakatan – cannot represent the Indian community since they are largely elected by non-Indians.
Hence, they can’t even open their mouths – especially in Pakatan – on Indian issues.
Indian representatives in BN are political mandores, as Hindraf Makkal Sakthi and the HRP put it. If so, Indian representatives in Pakatan are “double mandores”. The difference is that the former can mention “Indian” in public while the latter are barred from doing so.
Meanwhile, none of the 101 Indian issues is being attended to by the Umno government over which Najib presides. So, what does he mean by saying that “BN will not ignore the Indian community and indeed cannot afford to do so”.
It’s so much hot air!
For starters, Najib must apologise for the wrongs that Umno has perpetrated against the Indian community over the last 50 years and more.
Such an apology will not be complete unless it persuades its poodle, the MIC, to apologise as well. They must go to every nook and cranny of the land and apologise to neutralise their bad karma.
Umno must apologise first, followed by MIC.
The apology is unlikely to happen, as Umno will claim that the Malays will not hear of it. So, that will be the end of the matter.
An apology from MIC alone would be like adding insult to injury.
In any case, even an apology from Umno and/or MIC will not save the ruling party from the hatred the Indian community harbours towards it.
At best, an apology will only persuade the Indian community not to do further harm to Umno and MIC at the ballot box.
There’s no need for Umno, BN and MIC to persuade Indians not to vote Pakatan. Indians will not do so.
Instead, come the 13th general election, the Indian community will abstain from voting as Hindraf Makkal Sakthi and HRP are urging them to do so. This strategy, not a polls boycott, will make both winners and losers realise why they won or why they lost.
The winners will know that they won because the Indians didn’t vote against them. The losers will know that they lost because Indians didn’t vote for them.
That will set the stage for 14th general election with full Indian participation.
Najib should stop the hype and consider the Indian question as the new Umno dilemma in facing the 13th general election.
Najib’s pledge on the Indians comes too little, too late.
Ambiga Sreenevasan, former Bar Council president and recipient of the US Secretary of State’s 2009 International Women of Courage Award and France’s topmost honour, the Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur(Knight of the Legion of Honour) award, has become Umno’s most troubled nightmare.
The Malay party has post-July 9 left no stone unturned in making life difficult for this former Convent Bukit Nanas student, who has been honoured with the two awards for her dedication to human rights and rule of law.
When Ambiga, who is also election watchdog Bersih 2.0 chairperson, spearheaded the “Walk for Democracy” rally on July 9 and did so successfully, it was the beginning of a nightmare that has since refused to end for Umno. Some 50,000 people turned up in support of the rally, a bitter reality which Umno refuses to digest.
The July 9 rally’s aim was noble – to fight for electoral reforms and put an end to the corruption and dirty tactics employed by the Barisan Nasional at the polls. And the people backed Bersih 2.0 all the way, a move which shell-shocked both the BN and Umno.
While all ways and means are being employed by BN president and prime minister Najib Tun Razak to win the people’s trust, Umno has however turned vindictive against Ambiga, whom it regards as its biggest threat post-July 9.
Ambiga, however, remains unflappable, objective and wise. With all sense of decorum, she had prior to the July 9 rally approached the police and asked that they chart out the rally routes to avoid any untoward incident. But the police, obviously under great pressure from the “powers that be”, refused to cooperate.
Not only that, extremist politicians in a cowardly fashion joined in and demanded that Ambiga be dealt with severely. The likes of Ibrahim Ali, the Pasir Mas MP, and other Umno honchos, went after Ambiga’s blood, so to speak. She was character-assassinated all because this gutsy lawyer dare speak out against injustice.
So threatened had Umno become that Ibrahim and even Malacca Chief Minister Ali Rustam screamed for Ambiga’s citizenship to be revoked.
Ali Rustam had remarked that it was “better to just lose one person than to lose a lot of lives”.
Now, it is the Malay Education Movement (Gagasan) which is demanding Ambiga’s citizenship be revoked, alleging her “wild” actions could cause chaos in the country, referring to her support for the Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 festival.
Gagasan secretary-general Syed Anuar Syed Mohamad in an Utusan Malaysia report on Nov 6 said Ambiga should no longer be called a human as she had gone against “human norms” by raising issues deemed sensitive in a Muslim-majority country.
“She should be punished accordingly, like banishment or any other severe sentence, to make her realise her mistake,” he told Mingguan Malaysia, the paper’s Sunday edition.
He added that the Conference of Rulers could punish Ambiga as she had touched on Islam when she “spread morality issues” banned by the religion.
“Although Malaysia is a democratic country, it does not mean Ambiga is given the freedom to do whatever she likes with her perverse ideology,” he said.
The Ambiga factor
Eventhough Ambiga agreed to, in her personal capacity, to inaugurate the Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 “Queer Without Fear” festival, an event which provides the much needed space and forum to discuss issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community (LGBTIQ), Umno shamelessly twisted the truth in a desperate bid to portray Ambiga as an enemy of the nation.
The festival which, since its inception three years ago, faced no harassment from the police, Umno and PAS, has now been banned, with the police citing public safety as the reason for it being outlawed.
To make matters worse, the police, Umno politicians and mainstream media kept babbling that Ambiga was the organiser of the event which they claim promotes free sex.
Seksualiti Merdeka organiser Pang Khee Teik, however, concluded that the festival is merely collateral damage; it is Ambiga the authorities are after.
“I think it is because of Ambiga. It is being politicised. The government agencies are using every opportunity to rouse sentiments against Ambiga and (Opposition Leader) Anwar Ibrahim,” Pang had reportedly said.
On Nov 7, she was questioned by the police over her “involvement” in the 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka festival.
Ambiga, meanwhile, had this to say about the banning of any activity organised by Seksualiti Merdeka.
“Have we no shame in this country (to persecute the LGBT community)? Please show some caring for them,” Ambiga told a flock of reporters who had gathered at Tenaganita’s office in Petaling Jaya where her statement was recorded by four police officers.
Mainstream media ticked off
Ambiga, fed up with the discrimination and prejudice adopted by the mainstream media against the LGBTIQ community, chided the government-controlled Press organisations which refused to report factually and truthfully.
She lambasted the mainstream media for repeatedly lying to the public, labelling the festival as a free-sex event.
Ambiga also made it clear she would not hesitate to sue a television station, TV3, if it continued misconstruing the objectives of the Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 festival in its reports.
Without flinching, Ambiga condemned TV3′s prime news which claimed Seksualiti Merdeka was a “free sex festival”. The report, she said, was irresponsible and accused the station of misleading the public.
“Is it because you want to get me or bully a marginalised group which is already being shamed and facing abuse everyday?” Ambiga had asked.
She challenged the Media Prima station to carry her statement or risk facing legal action.
(Media Prima Bhd, which is closely linked to Umno, currently owns 100 percent equity interest in TV3, 8TV, NTV7 and TV9. In addition, Media Prima now owns more than 90 percent equity interest in The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) (NSTP) Bhd, one of Malaysia’s largest publishers which publishes three national newspapers – the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and Harian Metro.)
(Media Prima also owns three radio networks – Fly FM, Hot FM and One FM.)
With her relentless pursuit of truth, Ambiga can bet that the tide will always be against her. Despite that, blessed with a perspicacity which Umno sorely lacks, she can rest assure the Umno goons and rogue politicians are no match for her.
that we have economic prosperity and political stability, is Malaysia
ready for a freedom of assembly where everyone can voice their opinions
and thoughts freely? Sunday Star explores the issue in a two-part
came in droves some had even taken buses and trains from as far as
Kedah and Perlis - to join the public rally in Batu Pahat, Johor.
was 1946, and around 15,000 Malays had gathered in the southern
political hotbed to protest the establishment of the Malayan Union. Led
by Umno founder Datuk Onn Jaafar, they held placards and banners while
chanting “Daulat Tuanku” and “No to Malayan Union”.
our forefathers across all races and class, and from the Right to the
Left spectrum fought for independence, public rallies and marches had
been one popular avenue to voice their concerns and raise their demands
to the British colonial powers.
it has been in the history of rest of the world, former Bar Council
president Yeo Yang Poh once wrote: people march “because Gandhi marched,
Mandela marched, Martin Luther King marched, and Tunku Abdul Rahman
is no wonder then that when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak
recently declared his intention to amend the Police Act to allow greater
freedom of assembly, many democratic-minded Malaysians cheered.
public rallies, protests and marches are in our DNA cannot be denied,
and as Lew Pik Svonn, one of the shakers of the Occupy Dataran movement
(the Malaysian edition of Occupy Wall Street), puts it, “It has always
been time (for freedom of assembly). Is it time only because the general
election is coming? If that is what it takes, then it is still good
because it is long overdue.”
Lew, like many, is waiting apprehensively to see if the PM will make
good on his word, especially with the conflicting messages from some
factions of the Government that say “Yes to freedom of assembly, but No
to street demonstrations.”
clear sign that perhaps this time Lew can really get her “strolling”
gear out is the political will that is accompanying the PM's strong
Will for change
in support are the more forward-looking “young” politicians, like
Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (pic).
“Freedom of assembly is part and parcel of democracy and I get upset when people don't understand that.
have changed, society has changed. We are now living in new kinds of
realities with the advent of new media. It has changed the way people
think and live,” says Saifuddin, drawing an analogy to illustrate his
time, we used to live in one circle where things are conventional and
traditional people thought the same way, but now there is a second
circle that is imposing new values on the first circle.”
example, he adds, many in the old circle see new media as a tool but
those living in the second circle see it as a lifestyle.
The other new reality, he highlights, is that there is a new social consciousness among people.
is a new definition of values, for instance, a new definition of
patriotism. People now have a different outlook and perception on life,
and they are giving new meaning to the old values and beliefs.”
crucially, democracy has evolved, he notes. “We are now living in
post-parliamentary and post-election democracy. They no longer think
that democracy is only connected to the ballot box.
is more participation by the people and they want more consultation.
People want their voices to be heard and their roles in society to be
recognised. They want their concerns to be addressed according to their
lifestyles, not to the government and people in power.”
is why the Government can't say “No” to peaceful assembly anymore, he
says. “Not because it is fashionable but because people want a platform
to voice their grievances and opinions.”
Another young gun who supports freedom of assembly is Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Senator Gan Ping Siew.
Government's stand has always been political and social stability for
economic development but now that we have reached the point where these
are guaranteed, Malaysia is ready for a freedom of assembly where
everyone can voice their opinions and thoughts freely,” he says.
Malaysians are also now better educated, so we are more politically and socially matured, adds Gan.
in the age of IT and cyber-revolution, if the government can cope with
the opinions and criticisms in the virtual world, they should be ready
for it in the real world.
feel that there is no real difference for people to do it (voice their
opinions) in the real world. As long as views and expressions do not
create social disorder and incite violence, and if we can do it with
order and without disrupting the normal life of the majority of the
people, I say why not,” he opines.
A stronger sign of the political will for freedom of assembly is support from the “old guard”.
is MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, who is urging the rest of
the Government to listen more to concerned Malaysians, who he says are
now “more vocal, active and politically conscious than before.”
leaders, we must always be ready to listen. Politicians should never
pretend to know everything,” he had said in his speech at the party's
recent general assembly.
In fact, in the MCA's New Deal manifesto, the party has included freedom of assembly as one area of concern.
for more channels for peaceful dissent, Dr Chua believes that
designated places and designated routes can be allowed for protest.
(pic) points to three pertinent factors for striking a balance between
control and freedom: the cause (or objective of the rally), the scale
and the type of activity.
He believes that certain assemblies need to be conducted in a closed environment.
have to accept that certain issues will still cause worry in the
different communities of Malaysia for example, if a group holds a rally
to ask for more Malay rights or more quotas, that will cause worry among
the non-Malay community.
if you have groups of people marching in the city centre, albeit
peacefully, asking for the Malay privileges be removed, it will offend
the Malays. Can we guarantee that it will not degenerate into a riot?”
It is not that “sensitive issues” should not be raised in public, he explains, but maybe not on the platform of “ public rally”.
you need is a forum where people can analyse things rationally in a
calm environment, not rallies where people are fired up and slogans are
As he reiterates, freedom is relative and not absolute the question is how do we balance it out?
government of the day has to be accountable to the people and they need
to take that into account when making decisions. They need to be
sensitive to the developments in society but at the same time, they need
to decide if this is a healthy social movement. Do we need this in
Unfortunately, he opines, like anywhere in the world, there are always agent provocateurs.
Hence, Gan prescribes to permits for public rallies.
believe that someone needs to take responsibility the organiser needs
to be held accountable. Permits are the easiest way to ensure that.”
is no country that allows absolute freedom of assembly anyway, he
rationalises, and we cannot take for granted that things will not get
out of control especially if the cause or issue being championed is
racially and religiously sensitive.
However, the processing of the police permits must be transparent, he says.
a groups applies for a permit to hold a public rally, we need to see
what they are trying to promote and whether they can control the
security issue they need to demonstrate that they can regulate the crowd
and ensure that it will be peaceful.”
One issue is who should be tasked to negotiate with the protest “applicants”.
This is something the Government needs to think about, Gan who is also MCA vice-president says.
the moment the police is the one responsible, and this is how it is
done in the world but our police, like many police forces, is
conservative because, understandably, they need to ensure public order.”
Ultimately, he stresses, our police needs to be independent and not to side with any party.
that many young people today do not like to be affiliated to any NGOs,
Gan feels allowances also need to be made for certain activities.
“For example, flash mobs will not need to be regulated if they are held without disrupting public order.
if certain groups are not trying to provoke people like marching,
carrying cow heads, it is okay. There is no need to ask for a permit.
“We have to move on with the times, certain activities do not need a permit.”
Saifuddin agrees that the authorities cannot be too rigid in defining the meaning of “peaceful assembly”.
are many close-knit groupings on social media. We need to recognise
that there are all kinds of groupings, so we have to acknowledge that
not all are registered with the ROS (Registrar of Societies).
“Anyway, most young people today do not like to be tied to any group.”
in contrast with many of his peers, Saifuddin feels that public
assemblies should not be confined to closed venues like stadiums.
“We cannot be too rigid. There are peaceful street demos and not all assemblies held in stadiums are peaceful.”
Saifuddin strongly believes that the Government should refer to the Suhakam report on freedom of assembly.
has come up with proposals on how to deal with public assembly and if
we were to follow their proposal, there will be no difficulty in making
this freedom available to people.”
proposal, he points out, is that if a group of people want to organise a
demonstration they need to impress to the authority that they can take
all the necessary measures to ensure that the participants will adhere
to the law and keep the demo peaceful.
Relook Police Act
he agrees that a permit is still needed, if the organisers can
demonstrate that they can fulfil the conditions, they should be allowed
to hold the rally.
believes that the permit in itself is not the issue but rather it is
the fact that authorities are making it difficult for people to get a
have no problems with permit, I don't think it is an issue we do need
some law and order because they are going to a public space.”
He highlights that Suhakam has also proposed that the organisers appoint their own marshals to keep peace and order.
“This is where we need to relook the Police Act,” says Saifuddin as he makes a disclaimer that he is no expert.
can be there but they only need to monitor the situation, to ensure
that there is order and security. And when they negotiate with the rally
organisers, they need to be non-judgmental, objective and practise
discretion they should not just disallow everything.”
area that needs to be reviewed is the conduct of police during the
public rallies, he adds, to reduce the alleged violation of people's
rights by the police.
What is more important, he stresses, is that the people are given their right to freedom to assemble peacefully.
is why although I do not agree with Bersih 2.0, I will protect their
rights to peacefully assemble and have their voices heard.
have to accept that everyone has a right to their voice, even if we
totally disagree with their stand. The issue is not legality but it is
about the rights of the individual.”
* Next week: The civil society take their stand on freedom of assembly.