Liberty Politics & government

[1990] Of unclenched fist and open hand

As a person who spent parts of his formative years in the United States and, more importantly, shared the ideals which the US is founded on, I cannot deny that I have a certain inclination towards the Land of the Free. And so I cannot help having a sense of joy after seeing the Foreign Minister Anifah Aman having a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Department of State. Finally, here is a chance for Malaysia to have good relations with the US.

I believe it does not take much convincing to say that our relations with the US have been dysfunctional for the longest time. The Mahathir administration was intent in demonizing the US, and the US in return kept criticizing Malaysia’s admittedly unenviable records on human rights. Under the Abdullah administration, Malaysia apparently relegated ties with the US down its priority list. The US meanwhile increasingly looked at Malaysia with a lackadaisical attitude at best or at worst ignored the country altogether with an occasional customary criticism just to keep its educated local audience who can spot where Malaysia actually is on the globe happy.

This happened despite the US being one of Malaysia’s major trading partners and the world’s only superpower. The US has its military all over the world and its political pressure can be felt everywhere. And until recently, its economic influence was unrivalled. The signs insist that Malaysia cannot abuse the US too much and yet we had two consecutive administrations which went against the signs: one was unabashedly anti-US to become a hero of Third World countries like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the other appeared not to care.

The source of rocky relations between Malaysia and the US is none other than the former Deputy Prime Minister Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The US came out to criticize the Mahathir administration against the unjust treatment Anwar received beginning in the late 1990s. Former Vice-President Al Gore later openly declared support for the Reformasi movement, in Kuala Lumpur no less. That was the final straw for former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

And then, of course, there was George W. Bush. The Bush administration’s foreign policy after the Sept 11 attacks made the world environment not conducive for any significant improvement to Malaysia-US ties.

As a person who wishes to see more fulfilling relationship between the two countries, I find this unfortunate because our country was initially close to western countries and by extension the US. At one time, former US President Lyndon Johnson visited Malaysia. That visit in the 1960s remains the one and only time a sitting US President has ever set foot in this rich but problematic country. It was that long ago.

Oh my, how far we have gone in the wrong direction: from pro-western to neutrality and from neutrality to anti-western. In the process, due to prevailing liberal ideas in the West, liberals were victimized as Western countries were demonized. Liberals and the West were equated. It was an unfair equation but far too easy to make because the same ideals were shared by both.

Whereas in the beginning the idea of liberty was imbedded in the constitution of this country, we gradually saw illiberal ideas finding their way into the fabric of our society to usurp liberal ideas. What was supposed to be ingrained in our constitution later was considered as foreign and almost treasonous at times. The equation between liberals and the West was used to cast local liberals as traitors. It was a hurtful experience for liberals, and it still is.

But to borrow John Kerry’s lines used during the US presidential election in 2004, hope is on the way.

Regardless of misgivings I may have towards the Najib administration as well as the Obama administration, signs suggest that ties are changing for the better. The Najib administration so far appears to be less provocative and more engaging in dealing with the US. The invitation the Foreign Minister received from the US Department of State is perhaps a reciprocal sign.

The quick submission of a new name for ambassadorship to the US is another. Notwithstanding the reputation of the person, this may show how the Najib administration is out to repair relations with the US. The submission of a new name is no little matter given that the US has refused to confirm Malaysia’s previous choice to head its embassy in Washington DC due to the candidate’s connection to the disgraced Jack Abramoff.

Despite an implicit request by the US for a new name, the Abdullah administration did not offer a new one. The result? Malaysia has not had an ambassador to the US for more than half a year now. A quick confirmation by the US may lay the path to more cordial bilateral relations between the two countries whose flags likely trace their common origin back to the flag of the British East India Company.

Furthermore, US President Barack Obama appears very sincere in undoing the damage the Bush administration had brought to the reputation of the US in the international arena. To add to that, while Southeast Asia and Malaysia were ignored by the Bush administration as it focused on China, the Obama administration seems intent on bringing Southeast Asia up in its priority list. Malaysia has always been central to Southeast Asian politics and I find it impossible for the US to ignore Malaysia if it plans to again take Southeast Asia seriously.

Improved relations however do present Malaysian liberals with a conundrum.

On one hand, better relations with the US present an opportunity to push for liberal reforms like protection of individual rights, creation of a right egalitarian society and a real democratic society in Malaysia. On top of that, better ties could see less vilification of liberals by the Malaysian government by virtue that liberals more or less share the same ideals as espoused by the US constitution; vilification of liberals may lead to vilification of the US and inevitably hurting ties with the US at a time when good relations are sought. Not too long ago, Barisan Nasional went as far as to accuse liberal ideas as dangerous foreign ideas and collectively an antithesis to Malaysian society and the so-called social contract. A genuine interest to forge closer ties with the US could prevent that from happening again, rhetorically and in terms of policies.

On the other hand, in the interest of improving ties with multiple important countries which lack enough reverence for human rights, the Obama administration may decide to tone down its criticism. There is a precedent for this: in her first visit to China in her capacity as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was quiet on issues of human rights in China.

My fear is that the Obama administration may adopt the same stance with Malaysia. The danger is that it may embolden the Najib administration to test the boundary of individual liberty in this country knowing full well that the US may be unwilling to criticize the Malaysian government too harshly. A US that is less willing to criticize means one less big international pressure off the back of the Najib administration.

During the joint press conference at Foggy Bottom, Clinton was asked about the charge of sodomy — believed by the US as being politically motivated — made against Anwar. Her answer was most diplomatic, content to say that she raised the issues of rule of law and that ”that speaks for itself.”

The trade-off between good relations and criticism is real on government-to-government basis but for me as a liberal, I want good relations as well as that criticism too to help prod Malaysia farther towards the goal of liberal democracy. I would not be able to fully appreciate good relations with the US where the US keeps mum on violations of individual liberty that may happen in Malaysia in the future.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on May 20 2009.

Politics & government

[1935] Mengenai ucapan terakhir

Beberapa perkara yang disebut tidak boleh dipersetujui oleh saya. Beberapa perkara lain, walaupun patut disokong, susah untuk dipercayainya kerana tindak-tanduk yang bertentangan dengan retorik.

Walau bagaimanapun, dua perenggan daripada ucapan mantan Presiden UMNO Abdullah Ahmad Badawi harus dipetik:

Sedarilah! di luar Dewan Merdeka ini, ramai yang berpandangan bahawa jika UMNO, dan jika Barisan Nasional tidak berubah, maka pilihan raya kedua belas pada 8 Mac 2008 merupakan kemenangan terakhir kepada Barisan Nasional menubuhkan kerajaan. Selepas ini, rakyat di luar Dewan ini, tidak akan mengundi kita lagi. Di peringkat negeri, Barisan Nasional turut menghadapi cabaran yang sama. Di kalangan kita juga, malah di kalangan yang duduk di atas pentas ini, turut menyuarakan bahawa ‘UMNO wajib melakukan perubahan’. Apa yang saya ingin dengar, adalah suara yang menyatakan ‘Aku akan berubah’ lalu disusuli dengan langkah berani melakukan perubahan itu dalam diri sendiri. Betapa malangnya UMNO jika ramai yang gagal memahami bahawa UMNO itu adalah kita, selagi kita tidak berubah, UMNO tidak mungkin dapat berubah.

UMNO kini berada di persimpangan jalan. Laluan yang kita pilih akan menentukan sama ada kita kekal relevan sepanjang masa atau akan hanya menjadi satu sejarah masa lalu. Ada juga yang masih berpendirian bahawa kita tidak perlu melakukan perubahan. Mereka mempercayai bahawa UMNO akan kembali mencapai kemenangan jika kita kembali kepada cara lama – kepada order lama, dengan menyekat kebebasan warga – dengan menghalang warga dari menyuarakan kritikan. Mereka berpandangan bahawa UMNO itu boleh terus berkuasa dan kekal kuat dengan kaedah menjaga kepentingan beberapa individu tertentu, dan memenuhi tuntutan-tuntutan kumpulan tertentu. Masih terdapat di kalangan kita yang lebih tertarik dengan cerita-cerita yang menyeronokkan hingga kita menjadi leka, lena dalam ulitan mimpi bahagia.

Jika laluan lama itu yang dipilih, saya berpandangan bahawa kita telah memilih laluan yang salah; laluan yang membawa kita ke belakang. Saya bimbang laluan tersebut akan lebih mempercepatkan berakhirnya talian hayat UMNO. Jika kita tidak melakukan perubahan berani, selaras dengan transformasi masyarakat yang begitu dinamik dan perkembangan global yang begitu radikal, kita akan menyaksikan hari-hari berakhirnya parti UMNO yang kita kasihi ini. Jika kita terus bertanding begitu hebat, bermati-matian untuk merebut jawatan, tetapi apakah ertinya jawatan tersebut kepada UMNO yang telah tinggal rangka yang terbujur di kuburan. Barang dijauhkan Allah dari UMNO menimpa nasib hiba yang sedemikian. Atas kesedaran tersebut, atas rasa cinta kepada UMNO, atas rasa tanggung jawab terhadap UMNO dan bangsa Melayu, saya memilih untuk menunjukkan teladan, dengan tidak mempertahankan jawatan Presiden parti, bertujuan memberi laluan kepada pemimpin yang lebih muda walaupun masih terdapat ramai dari ahli-ahli parti dan rakan-rakan baik di dalam ataupun di luar Kerajaan meminta saya untuk terus mempertahankan jawatan. Saya menghargai keputusan rakan-rakan yang turut memilih langkah yang sama, baik di peringkat bahagian mahupun cawangan, baik di peringkat pemuda, wanita dan puteri. Bahawa jawatan dan kedudukan bukannya milik peribadi; sedangkan harta milik peribadi juga tidak akan dapat dibawa sampai ke mati. [Ucapan Dasar Presiden UMNO. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Mac 26 2009]

Mungkin ini adalah satu kesedaran, walaupun ia tidak bermakna lagi.

Humor Politics & government

[1770] Of provide your caption!

There is something about the way the Deputy Prime Minister is looking at the Prime Minister.

Copyrights by The Star. Fair use.

The publisher of the original photo, The Star, captioned it as “Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at the Umno special meeting Wednesday afternoon to decide on Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s fate over his alleged racist remark about the Chinese”.

Obviously, it fails to capture the expression of both politicians.

So, please provide your caption!

And consider this as an open tread.

Events Liberty Politics & government

[1737] Of while PM Abdullah sealed his reputation, Hishammuddin made his

I was there at the MSLS yesterday, I was there when the Prime Minister gave his speech and I was there to witness how badly Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi performed on the stage. It was a dreadful experience and I do not think I would not want to listen to the PM’s speeches in person anymore.

What makes it even worse was that he was delivering a prepared speech. If it were impromptu, it might be okay because not everybody is an orator but his prepared speech took a 180° turn and then to somewhere uncharted and irrelevant. It was uninspiring and more importantly, the speech lacked critical content. There is no real content worth mentioning at all and so, I shall not even try to paraphrase anything from his speech.

While struggling to stay awake, a friend sitting several tables in front texted me, replying to my earlier text about how I was falling asleep. The reply: “done that.”

A student later walked up to the microphone and requested the PM to address his topic, which he failed. The floor came alive, disapprovingly of the PM’s performance.

The consolation is that the Education Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, performed marvelously. He got me when he said schools are free to do whatever they like as long as they deliver results. He answered questions and did not shy from it even once. Though the speech lacked fire, it contained ideas and policies. He knew his stuff. I truly hate a politician that palliates and my respect for a politician goes down to the drain each time a politician does not answer a question.

Hishammuddin Hussein earnestly engaged questions asked instead of palliating. And each time he directly answered a question, my respect for him grew little by little.

I thought he carefully explained the rationale for vernacular school. And I thought, he appealed to liberty when he said the government cannot force people to go “national schools and national schools only.” I have established this for myself and I found myself nodding at the speech.

The same friend in a conversation said to me in a three-party libertarian circle later after the speech, ” I wouldn’t mind having Hishammuddin Hussein as the Prime Minister”.

I think, I would not mind either.

The question who should be the next Prime Minister is a question that has never been answered ever since PM Mahathir Mohammed stepped down. PM Abdullah is ineffective though his style allows organic reforms somewhat reign over top-down approaches. I am somewhat suspicious of Anwar Ibrahim but previously, he remained the sole choice thanks to his charisma and intellect.

Now, after attending Hishammuddin Hussein’s speech, I now think there is a choice. I am still reserving some dose of skepticism however. Politicians, Anwar Ibrahim included, or especially, tend to play to the gallery. I am sure Hishammuddin Hussein does that too but how much, that I will have to find out.

In any case, the Education Minister, yesterday, did not play to the gallery and appeal to rationalism. That, alone, deserve an applause. Apart from the PM for which I stood up and clapped just for the sake of respecting the Office, the Education Minister got my applause because I approved of his speech and the policy explained in his speech.

Humor Liberty

[1691] Of re: thank you Mr. Prime Minister for small government

Dear Mr. Prime Minister Sir,

How are you these days?

I heard it has been cloudy over there in Putrajaya for the past several months. I reckon starting the day so gloomily almost every day does little to inspire the heart. I do not envy you but I wish you well regardless!

Fortunately for many others, it has not been all doom and gloom everywhere. The sun has been shining brilliantly for the past few months now here. With blue sky as a background, white cotton-like cloud slowly crawls across the space above. In other words, life is not too bad at all. You should get out of Putrajaya more often and enjoy the sun!

Initially, I had thought a storm was brewing. All those threats issued by various groups made me all jittery and I am only glad that those threats did not materialize. I am sure many others felt the same way. Those dark clouds inevitably broke up and gave way to the sun. Hey, we all could use some time under the sun!

Anyway, enough about the weather.

How long has it been since March 8?

About a hundred days? I cannot believe that it has been so long since March 8. How time flies, do you not think so?

Just after March 8, I have heard a number of individuals doubting the stability of Pakatan state governments in the west coast of the Peninsula. They alleged that DAP and PAS could not possibly work together. On the contrary, those state governments are still standing and they appear to have warmed their seats rather comfortably.

Well, good for them.

In fact, instead of worrying about the stability of these state governments, I am now concerned with the stability of the federal government!

I am worried for you because I like how the whole equation works out at the moment. The latest general election put a pause on those Sovietique developmental corridors which involved too much central planning for my taste. At the same time, some of the more outrageous wealth redistribution policies proposed by the Pakatan front could not be implemented because you have successfully manned your fort in Putrajaya.

The result?

A small government!

I wanted a small government and I got it. And you, sir, made all that possible! You sir, are one of the greatest things a lot of libertarians could ask for.

And you know what? I love you for that!

I know, I know. I am probably one of those weird individuals whom not too many find it easy, if at all possible, to accommodate. This law is tyranny; that speech is too populist; those rulings irrelevant; these papers rubbish; etc. It is as if nothing could please people like me, libertarians!

There are people out there that think libertarians are rebels without a cause. But they are wrong dear sir, they are utterly wrong. All we wanted is a small government.

We just want to manage our own money. We do not want to have our money redistributed by other people. We do not appreciate being forced to fund the EPF so that it could buy some local banks. Oh, we hate bailouts. We do not like paying excessive tax and we do not plan to fund any subsidy. We would like the government to concentrate on what it is supposed to do and that is governance, not doing businesses or redistributing wealth. We do not like to be told what to do. We want to speak freely. We want to shout nonsense in the middle of the Dataran Merdeka. We want the state to get out of our bedrooms. Take those CCTVs in public spaces down. Our religious beliefs are our own, not yours. We want local government. We want a liberal democracy!

We want freedom.

All in all, we, libertarians, the individualists, distrust the state. So distrustful we are that we would want to have a strong check and balance mechanism in the government. And the current political scenario allows just that!

You sir, have made the impossible possible! You have achieved what many have failed. Without you, we would not have got what we aimed for. Because of you, we libertarians, previously always grumbling, have now begun smiling. For that, you thoroughly deserve a raving applause. For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, that nobody can deny!

These days, too many people say too many bad things about you. Understandably, you may feel lonely sometimes but fret not however. Whenever you are feeling the blues, be rest assured that there are those whom appreciate you!

So, take heart dear sir. After a rainy day in the evening, just go outside of your office and look for a rainbow out there. If you are lucky, you may find a Leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Kind regards,
Your friendly libertarian

P.S. Do you have any plan to abolish the Inland Revenue Board? Filling up those forms is such a drag. Worse, those IRB songs are so bad that it made Britney Spears a superstar!

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

p/s — a version of this article was first published by The Malaysian Insider.