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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Syria: seven–year–old girl shot as she called messages of support from bedroom window

Seven – year – old Julnar is dead, shot by a government sniper as she called out messages of solidarity for civilians in Homs from her bedroom window, according to her mother.

Seven – year – old Julnar is dead, shot by a government sniper as she called out messages of solidarity for civilians in Homs from her bedroom window, according to her mother.
Seven-year-old Julnar al Nakeshbandi was killed by a sniper bullet through her bedroom window 
As Syrian troops unleashed the first wave of the week – long barrage against Homs last week, mosques across restive districts of Damascus called citizens to prayers of protest. At 2.30 in the morning, calls of "God is Great" washed across the districts from the minarets and residents took to the streets in angry protest.
"Julnar heard the mosque's call, so she started to wake me up. She wanted to join in," said her mother. "I put a chair at her bedroom window for her to stand on and I started chanting 'Allah Akhbar' with my daughter."
Suddenly the little girl fell to the ground. Blood was oozing from two bullet wounds in her stomach.
Panicked, her mother rushed her to a neighbour's ground – floor apartment. Outside came the constant rattle of gunfire as government troops sought to silence the protest.
"I knelt quietly next to my dying daughter on the floor. I held her hand, I whispered with her verses that Muslims must say before they die," said her mother. "Around me everyone was weeping and screaming. Somebody massaged her chest".
They rushed the little girl to hospital where doctors tried to save her during three hours of surgery.
She died just before dawn prayers as she came out of the operating theatre. Frightened of the incendiary reaction that might come from the child's death, the funeral was a rushed and controlled affair.

Security forces prevented the attendance of men. Only her father and two brothers were allowed to go.
At a court, Julnar's father was made to sign a paper confirming that his daughter was killed by a stray bullet.

But her defiant mother is certain it was a targeted killing, but that the bullet was intended for her.
A prominent activist who organised demonstrations and shouted slogans in the face of regime officials, the mother is known for her hatred of the President Bashar al – Assad.

Living in a community that is a mixture of Sunni and the ruling minority Alawite sect, hers is a position that is much disliked by some. An Alawite next – door neighbour had twice threatened her at gunpoint to stop her activities, she said.

"I am not sure who shot my daughter, but I am sure it was an Alawite," she spat, her sadness suddenly flaring into rage. "The Alawites in our neighbourhood are being armed. All my Alawite colleagues at work have been given guns," she added. "I wish the Sunnis could arm themselves. I would be the first to go to the presidential palace to shoot him.

"Julnar was the happiness of my life. Now I am living only for taking revenge."

Julnar's full name has not been disclosed at the request of her family.

Zaid: I regret challenging Azmin for PKR deputy

In Malaysia, a growing homeless generation

Property prices in urban areas such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur rose by up to 40 per cent in 2010. — pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — The sight of newly-built condominium units right down the street from where he lives irks 24-year old Keoh, who says they are a symbol of something which he cannot afford.
The young man, who only wanted to be known as Keoh, carves a living as a fish trader and scoffed at the development within his neighbourhood in the fishing community of Jalan Bagan, Sekinchan. Costing RM500,000 a unit, he says the condominiums are an eyesore to him and those in his community.
“I stay with my parents. I work everyday, going to Perak in the morning to get my supplies of fish and drive a truck back here. But what have I got to show for it? I cannot afford to even buy a home in Sekinchan,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
“Even prices here are rising, and we are still earning the same. I do not think that any of my neighbours can afford a condominium like the one at the end of the road,” he said, adding that earning a monthly income of less than RM2,000 a month did not leave him much choice other than staying with his family.
Young adults, who are putting off buying a house, citing property prices as the underlying cause, are reflecting a growing trend.
Keoh says he cannot afford a home even in rural Sekinchan — Picture by Jack Ooi
Property prices have not been used as an election issue in the past but both coalitions have begun to realise its potential impact on young adults, who represent a sizable chunk of the country’s electorate. The National House Buyers Association (HBA) last year warned that an entire generation of young adults risks being locked out of the property market due to runaway house prices.
Keoh previously lived in Subang, Selangor and worked as a mechanic for two years before financial constraints and family obligations brought him back to his Sekinchan hometown.
“I came back to help out the family business. Staying here, you’d think that the cost of living would be cheaper, but it is quite the opposite,” he said.
Twenty-seven-year-old Phillip Tay shares Keoh’s frustration. A biotechnology graduate-turned-marketing executive, he cuts a decent picture of the average middle-class graduate with a stable job and his own car.
“But the reality is, I cannot afford to purchase my own home. I live with my parents. After paying for monthly essentials, all I am left with is a little bit of savings.
“I think this is a frustration shared by many of my peers. We have jobs, some even professionals, but prices keep getting higher. We pay bills and more bills, and once we’re done with that there’s not much money left,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Tay is staying with his parents like many of his peers due to the cost of property. — Picture by Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
Tay believes the root problem lies in stagnant wages versus an increasingly high cost of living, which is in turn reflected in the price of homes. “What the government can do is to come up with policies that can help address the issue of stagnant wages. Prices are going up but wages aren’t. I’d vote for a government which can look into that,” he said.
Accounts executive Rachel Tan says that young adults today are so debt-laden that it becomes impossible for them to even think about owning property.
“Young working adults are stuck right now, there’s poverty of a different kind. There’s a lot more debt at this age ... someone my age already has so many loans to repay even before they can own a home, once they get out of university,” said the 23-year old living in Subang Jaya.
For pharmacist, Balqis Mohamad Zin, working with the government provides a better sense of financial security compared to working in the private sector.
But she too, like many others, is concerned about her future amid ever-rising living costs.
“The cost of property is very high, especially in urban areas. The cost of living worries me. Currently, I still get family support, but what if I get married in the future? What I am earning right now will not be enough.
“I am thankful to be employed, I know some people who are still unemployed after graduation. But where is my future from here? Financially I am concerned,” said the 25-year old.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in an attempt to address the issue of unaffordable property, introduced the 1 Malaysia Housing Programme (PR1MA), an affordable home ownership scheme late last year.
Najib initiated the first phase of PR1MA in July, which involves the construction of 42,000 houses on 20 strategic sites. Each unit will be sold for between RM150,000 and RM300,000 depending on location and size, and targets first-time homeowners with a household income of between RM2,500 and RM6,000.
Yanti told The Malaysian Insider, “The realistic choice is to live with my family.” — Picture by Jack Ooi 
The scheme is a continuation of the prime minister’s attempt to tackle soaring property prices in urban centres following the My First Home programme launched in March last year which caters to lower-income households with a budget of RM220,000 and below. Not to be outdone, the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government launched a Selangor affordable housing scheme last year offering apartments priced below RM100,000 to those who earn a monthly income of between RM2,500 and RM5,000.
But despite the vast array of affordable housing schemes available, the root problem of the high cost of homes still remains an issue, and looks set to prevail in the future.
There is also concern that low-cost housing schemes will have stigmas attached to them and therefore will be less attractive to homebuyers.
Property prices in urban areas such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur rose by up to 40 per cent in 2010 fuelled by low interest rates and a surge in speculative buying, although prices grew slower last year due to dampened sentiment from tightening measures such as a hike in the real property gains tax for early disposals.
Some reports have also estimated that property prices jumped from 5.9 times income in
1989 to 10.9 times in 2010.
The Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey rates markets, whose property prices are 5.1 times median income or more, as “severely unaffordable”.
The House Price Index (HPI), as prepared by the Valuation and Property Services Department, rose 7.5 per cent in the second quarter of last year as compared with the same period in 2010.
For urban centres like KL, to which young working adults are gravitating, the HPI has seen a rapid increase since 2004, growing relatively slowly from 100 in 2000 to 108 in 2003, before rising sharply from 115 in 2004 to 167 in the second quarter of last year.
“The prices are exorbitant and beyond the reach of young adults,” HBA secretary-general Chang Kim Loong told The Malaysian Insider last year. “The price increases are not commensurate with salary increases. How are young adults going to catch up (with house prices)?”
“It’s simple math. The combined income between me and my husband does not even amount to RM3,000 ... the realistic choice is to live with my family. Cheaper costs.
“For me, I will vote for a government that will continue to provide aid, to help us. It’s difficult living when everything has a price,” Yanti, a cook from Sekinchan concludes.

Palanivel unveils his vision for Brickfields

The MIC president promises a “breath of fresh air” and an “economic transformation”.

KUALA LUMPUR: A minister on a walkabout usually flits from one place to another, pausing only for a speedy round of handshakes and a couple of claps on the back. But the newest Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, G Palanivel, opted to break tradition.

During his second official visit to Brickfields yesterday he gathered his MIC posse and Brickfield’s small traders at a street corner where he spent a good chunk of time keenly listening to the latter’s woes and debating solutions with the former.

The soft-spoken man has a fondness for Brickfields. It is an area that he visited regularly during his University Malaya days and which he still frequents weekly for provisions and religious items.

“I am one of you,” he told the small group of traders surrounding him. Having said that however he still needed to be brought up to speed on the issues that Brickfields has been forced to grapple with since the birth of Little India last year.

Among the traders’ main grouses were the exorbitant rentals, the crime rate and the threat of two malls planned by Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB) in the area.

The ensuing recommendations bubbled up swiftly from Palanivel, Deputy Minister of Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing and MIC vice president M Saravanan, and Brickfields Business Community chairman and MIC senator Barath Maniam.

The traders claimed that since Little India’s launch, their rentals had sky-rocketed from RM20,000 to RM70,000. Barath Maniam suggested that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) bring back the Rent Control Act to ease the traders’ financial burden.

He also proposed that the traders be given preference in purchasing shop lots in the upcoming malls to avoid a nasty and direct hit to their businesses.

Economic transformation

As for petty crime, Palanivel pointed out that police personnel needed to be stationed at the currently unmanned and abandoned police booths.

And then he proceeded to lay out his vision and ambition for Brickfields and Little India.

“This place needs to come alive beyond Deepavali,” Palanivel told the traders. “The businesses of Indians should always be booming like it is on Serangoon Road (Little India) in Singapore.”

Palanivel, who has recently been elected the Transformation Chief for the Indian Community, pledged to bring about a “fresh breath of air” and an “economic transformation” to Brickfields and its inhabitants.

“We need to bring in more international tourists, not just from India, but also from Japan, Korea and Singapore,” he stated. “After all these tourists arrive at KLIA and take the train into KL Sentral. Brickfields is just a stone’s throw away.”

Palanivel has already won the support of Tourism Minister, Ng Yen Yen, to turn Brickfields and Little India into a tourist attraction.

The first step would entail Ng meeting the people of Brickfields after which a masterplan would be drawn up incorporating input from the people as well as various government ministries and departments.

“There are two ways to promote Brickfields,” Palanivel said. “The first is to advertise Little India in tourism brochures and the second is to organise weekend festivals so that the area is always alive.”

His ideas included a sound system to broadcast music and a public TV to screen programs like cricket matches for the many tourists from India.

Up to MIC

In emphasising the need for Brickfields to undergo “continuous facelifts”, Palanivel urged the traders to seek assistance from him and promised to convey their needs to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

But he also reminded them that such projects, as large scale as they are, would require both time and adequate financing both of which he declined to provide an estimation.

“We should start the process immediately with the masterplan which involves more talks with the people,” Palanivel asserted. “Then the transformation can gradually be rolled out in stages.”

When the discussion finally broke up, the traders left with murmurs of satisfaction. Now the ball is in MIC’s court and it’s next serve will determine how the game is played in the upcoming general election.

Whither the Indian community?

Their votes may be pivotal in the 13th GE but they are a species under threat and the future looks dim unless concerted efforts are made to safeguard their future.

KUALA LUMPUR: Najib Tun Razak was a beleaguered politician at the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves on Feb 7, 2012. Many listened intently as he appealed to the Indian community of largely Tamil descent to place and put their ‘Nambikei’ (trust) in him.

This was not a whimsical appeal. In the run up to the last general election, towards the end of 2007, the Hindraf episode was the wake up call to Umno-BN that their long held sway and hold on Malaysians was now to be put to a stern test.

A much maligned BN tottered virtually on the edge of defeat and only just managed to stave off the effects of a political tsunami. The lessons of that episode still rankles in the minds of BN leaders and they are aware that the Indian votes in the 13th GE could prove decisive to both sides of the political divide.

The Indians are savouring their moments of glory and greatly relishing the overtures of Najib’s “Nambikei” and have even cheekily requested for a two-day Deepavali holiday. The BN views them as prime voters whose votes they want to build upon to maintain their grip on power, and later, as envisaged, to firm up and tighten this grip once more as before.

While the Chinese community appear to have all but deserted the MCA and Gerakan to opt for DAP, and the Malays are skewered three-ways between PAS, PKR and Umno, the Indians are being wooed by BN as Pakatan appear to have offered them not much so far.

Can and should Indians put their trust in the call of the prime minister? Perhaps it is up to each individual Indian voter to do some soul searching before casting their precious vote, as much is at stake and they should certainly not play their cards wrongly.

The Indian community is under much stress and things are not looking up for them right. Their future is in limbo and this is due to a number of factors. But the community should learn to sit up and pay heed to where they are heading in the quagmire of the currently changing Malaysian political landscape.

Dwindling population

Long considered the third largest ethnic group in Malaysia, the community’s dwindling population needs to be addressed or they will see themselves being eclipsed by persons of Indonesian origin as the third largest race in the country.

In the past, if the community had any difficulty, it was the exceedingly high birth rate. The birth of large numbers of infants in an Indian family caused much hardship and deprivation to them.

This was especially true among the families working and residing in the rubber plantations in the rural areas. While in the past this population explosion was viewed with concern, now it is the declining birth rate among Indians that is of concern.

Falling birth rates among Indians have reached alarming proportions. Indians constitute only 9% of the population of the nation as opposed to much higher percentages in the last few decades.

Wither the Indian community in Malaysia? This certainly means that Indians as a race have in all probability been displaced as the third major component or racial group with the influx of Indonesian immigrants.

There are a number of factors that have led to the Malaysian Indian population dwindling. The most important is that the strength of their economic status has been downgraded, causing them to either not marry or have few children in the event they are married couples.

Another important factor is the emigration of highly qualified and educated individuals, who have left Malaysia for greener pastures. Their departure along with their families in tow has resulted in the Indian population to dwindle further.

What is now becoming a bigger worry is the number of Indian youth who are opting to stay single or tying the knot at much older ages, usually well past their prime and causing the number of childless marriages among Indians to go on the rise.

While the Chinese community has addressed this problem by forming Cupid Clubs to play matchmaker and get single Chinese men and women to court and marry, the same measure may have to be adopted by Indian groups representing the community.

The formation of Cupid Clubs have resulted in a greater number of marriages taking place within the Chinese community. The Indian groups can also play a similar matchmaker role among single Indian men and women.

Wake up call for Indians

While the Indian community needs to repopulate itself, there is also a dire need for them to reinvent themselves in the sphere of economic activity so as to gain a larger share of the economic pie.

While on this front, several groups representing the interests of the Indian community have taken upon themselves the role to empower Indians by creating business and educational opportunities, the momentum needs to be sustained and to grow much further.

The admission of Indian students to public and private institutions of higher learning in this country has also witnessed a drastic drop in numbers. The reluctance of a growing number of Indian youths to secure a sound education and a brighter future is now glaringly evident.

Instead, what is happening is that Indian youth are more likely to be associated or linked with criminal and underworld activities, with Malaysian jails housing large numbers of Indian prisoners in ratio to the numbers of their population.

This has caused the socio-economic status of the Indian to downgrade rapidly. There is a need by Indian groups representing and leading the Indian community to be more watchful and vigilant and to steer Indians, especially Indian youth, in the right direction.

While all is not lost, the Indian community needs to wake up to the challenges of a globalised world or they will only have themselves to blame for becoming failures in their own country.

The need is urgent and pressing that Indians in Malaysia not go into a time warp but be aware that they are a species under threat and in all likelihood may not count or favour anymore as voters or as an important ethnic group in the years to come.

It is therefore imperative that Indians rise up and answer this wake up call to pull the community out of the doldrums and to strive to contribute in a greater and more meaningful and impactful way towards building a better Malaysian society.

The writer has been teaching and writing throughout Asia since 1984.

Questioning the faith

In times of great personal loss, emotional upheavals and uncertainty, we, including the most pious amongst us, sometimes tread on the blasphemous path.

Four years ago, I had lost my mother to cancer. During the months from her diagnosis to her demise, I saw her withering like a flower. Not a day had passed then that I did not turn to God, pleading with him to spare her life. But as time passed, she slipped further and further into the jaws of death.

And when she had breathed her last, I became enraged with God and cursed Him for turning a deaf ear to my prayers. Overwhelmed with resentment, I shut the door of the altar at home and extinguished Him from my heart. Both the door and my heart had remained closed for more than a year.

But time, as it always does, healed the wound.

When the anger had subsided, I opened the door of the altar once again and sought forgiveness for all the harsh words uttered to Him. As I reflected on those who were unfortunate to have lost their loved ones at a tender age, I thanked Him for blessing me with my mother’s presence for three decades.

But just like Hamza Kashgari, till this day, there are certain things about Him that I love, certain things about Him that I despise and certain things about Him that I do not understand.

In times of great personal loss, emotional upheavals and uncertainty, we, including the most pious amongst us, sometimes tread on the blasphemous path, questioning our beliefs and the existence of a compassionate and omnipresent divinity. Faith, after all, is a personal bond beween an individual and his maker.

How many times had we gone to a place of worship and threw our hands up in exasperation and contempt demanding answers whenever fate struck us with a cruel blow?

Religious scriptures reveal that great masters and prophets had also been assailed by the arrows of doubt during their spiritual endeavours. Even Jesus had looked up to the heavens during the crucifixion and questioned his Father why he had been abandoned. What more mere mortals like us?

Death for a poet?

Now, there is a possibility that the 23-year-old poet and newspaper columnist from Saudi Arabia could be put to death for questioning his faith or to be more precise, the infallibility of Prophet Muhammad.

Fearing for his life, he chose to flee his country, hoping to seek refuge in New Zealand. But a transit at Kuala Lumpur proved to be disastrous. Under pressure from the oil-rich kingdom, Malaysia acted swiftly to deport him despite objections from human rights organisations and before a court here could rule on an application filed against the move, with Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein brushing aside concerns for his life as ridiculous.

Commenting on this, a Muslim opposition leader had criticised the deportation, noting that Malaysia did not possess a commendable record with regard to human rights and this would taint it further.

PKR’s Badrul Hisham Saharin also questioned Malaysia’s seriousness regarding such issues and claimed that Dr Mahathir Mohamad, during his tenure as prime minister, had also insulted the prophet but never apologised for it.

On the same note, even Mahathir appeared to disagree with the repatriation, saying that a proper study of the case should have been conducted first as it might involve the loss of a life.

However, there is little doubt that Kashgari should have known better.

He should have realised that his remarks would stoke up tempers in a nation that is deeply religious and sensitive about its faith. And now the issue had taken a political twist, becoming a battle between the liberal and conservative forces within and outside the kingdom.

Kashgari himself had said that he was being made into a scapegoat of a larger conflict.

The controversy also ignited a worldwide debate over the the right to the freedom of expression, with numerous quarters calling on the Saudi government to respect critical viewpoints regardless of how bitter a pill it might be to swallow.

But perhaps Kashgiri was just a young man embroiled in some form of personal turmoil, and who like most of us, became angered and confused by the trials and tribulations of life. His actions were perhaps unwarranted of such an uproar.

Perhaps, his free-spirited nature grew frustrated with a regime that stifled freedom and chose to voice out against it, which most of us do in silence or in safe confines. Perhaps his only fault was to air his thoughts on a public forum in a country high on religious fervour and low on tolerance.

According to one news report, Kashgari, who had drawn the ire of Muslims for stating that there were certain aspects about Prophet Muhammad which he loved and others which he loathed, was described by a former colleague as being a loner and a dreamer.

“He had a broken look in his eyes and I think that was a sign of sadness or depression. He’s a poet and had a lot of philosophical ideas,” the newspaper editor had remarked.

The mind of a poet is a dangerous thing, for it refuses to conform and is often enticed by the romanticism surrounding the spirit of rebellion. But it is this, a mind that cannot be shackled by the chains of authority albeit even divine sanctioned ones, which is the creative catalyst behind all great poetic works, including that of Muslim poets.

To err is human

Kashgari later confessed that his offensive tweets were posted during a difficult psychological state and he had since repented and apologised.

“I declare my repentance and I distance myself fully from all the misleading ideas that affected me and made me write expressions that I do not support. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I shall live and die firmly believing in it… I strongly adhere to the testimonies that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,” he had wrote.

Only God knows if Kashgari had truly seen the light or if his repentance was a desperate attempt to escape the executioner’s blade.

Nevertheless an apology had been tendered and the “sinner” had expressed remorse. And for those who choose to continue baying for his blood, do remember that to err is human and to forgive is divine.

As one learned Muslim friend remarked, “God is compassion, and the prophet is the personification of that compassion. I am certain that the prophet would have forgiven him.”

Don’t be too attached to your post, Dr M tells Shahrizat

She should take action in the interest of the party, says the former prime minister.

SERDANG: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today advised Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, beleaguered by the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) issue, not to be too attached to her post.

He said Shahrizat, who is also Wanita Umno chief, should take appropriate action in the interest of the party.

“I am not asking her to resign but we should always think of the problems we are creating for the party.

“That is why, I myself after being too long (in the party) and people were getting fed up of me, had stepped down from my post.

“So, don’t love your position too much that you dont’ want to let go. One day, we still have to do so,” he told a news conference, here.

Mahathir said the party’s interest should be the priority in making a decision.

“If we think this will be best for the party, we should take action accordingly, but it is up to her (Shahrizat) to make the decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mahathir urged the public to decide for themselves whether the out-of-court settlement between former Malaysia Airlines (MAS) executive chairman Tajudin Ramli and Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Bhd was a cover-up.

Asked whether the settlement was a case swept under the carpet, he said: “I don’t know. I am not in the government. This is for the government to answer.

“This is a democratic country. If you think the government is sweeping things under the carpet, you can always decide not to support the government.”

Yesterday, Tajudin and national asset management firm, Pengurusan Danaharta, reached an out-of-court settlement concerning a civil suit filed six years ago over RM589 million in debts incurred by the corporate figure for the purchase of MAS shares.

Asked whether the terms of the settlement should be made public, Mahathir said, “You should conduct a campaign to ask them to open up and tell people how much of public money they have spent”.

- Bernama

ABU in Bandar Tun Razak on 17/2/2012

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See you all there.
Yes, I’ve been asked to speak and I will be there.

Use Of Indelible Ink For Voting Comes Into Force

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 (Bernama) -- The use of indelible ink for voting in general elections comes into force today following it being gazetted on Feb 13, said Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof.

He said the EC has made plans to use indelible ink during the 13th general election.

However, he said the ink had yet to be purchased as it can only be used within three months.

"We cannot order the ink early because after three months, the ink will no longer be indelible," he said during an interview by Suhaimi Mohammad on the "Dialog" programme titled "Daftar dan Undi" (Register and Vote) aired live on RTM1 here Wednesday night.

Abdul Aziz added: "It will take only two weeks to receive the ink. Our preparation in terms of the boxes, bottles and bottle lids is already underway."

He said the EC would put an order for the ink as soon as dissolution of Parliament is announced.

Abdul Aziz said, however, the colour of the ink had yet to be determined and that it would not be used for postal voting.

He advised voters not to allow other parties to ink their fingers before arriving at voting centres to ensure their eligibility to vote is not compromised.

He said voters would have their left forefinger inked at their respective voting centres, adding that use of the ink had been approved by the Chemistry Department, Health Ministry and National Fatwa Committee.

On Dec 19, 2011, Abdul Aziz announced that the EC would use silver nitrate indelible ink for the 13th general election, which is different from the indelible ink proposed during the 2008 general election, but was not implemented after the method's effectiveness was questioned by various quarters.