Liberty Politics & government

[2878] The anti-ICERD protest is a chance to show this government is different from the past administration

This is the first significant protest the current government faces. And this is yet another opportunity for this government to demonstrate that it is different from the previous corrupt racist, fascist regime.

That can be shown by accommodating the protest as much as possible with a view of not being explicitly hostile to it either through speech or action, but by guaranteeing the safety of the protest participants and others while they exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and speech.

I participated in all of the Bersih protests and each time, there was always a dread feeling inside of me expecting the worst to happen. Such feeling was warranted.

Previously, government-controlled media always delivered threatening messages to the masses ahead of any large protest. May 13 without fail was the boogeyman.

My first taste of tear gas happened while I was standing amid a large crowd near the Maybank tower.

I have been chased by the police before. At one time, an officer pulled a gun near Jalan Raja Laut after chaos erupted. There was a time when I walked by a security personnel during a protest, and he verbally abused me.

And the laying out of barbwire and other actions like the conspicuous rolling out of anti-riot assets with security personnel all equipped with armor always threatened the atmosphere of the protest.

Furthermore, it was common knowledge that the party in power then sent provocateurs to create chaos, and create a reason for the security personnel to come in and break the protest.

All this should be avoided by this government. The police should hold back and not purposefully threaten the crowd. No provocateur should be sent by anybody associated with the ruling parties and the government.

It is by backing off from these provocative tactics that we can show to the world that the government is self-assured and strong.

The function of a government within the context of its citizens exercising their rights is to protect those rights and the people who are practicing it peacefully.

We can disagree with the agenda of the protest participants, however racists they are, but we should also respect their right to assemble peacefully.

We can be different and we must be different. We can show to them that there is another way. We do not need to beat our chest to show our confidence and strength.

That is the best way to blunt their message: that we are different and better.

Politics & government

[2781] Pakatan without PAS will be weaker

I lament the end of Pakatan Rakyat. I truly believe the next most significant thing Malaysia needs to get to the next level is better institutions instead of more fluffy investment into malls, hotels and expensive condominiums on some reclaimed waterfront. At the top of the institution list is a sustainable two-party system to keep everybody as honest as possible. The logical end to that is a power change every so often to shake things up, especially since Malaysia has never experienced one at the federal level. At the very least, we need to test our institutions and make them robust.

Pakatan Rakyat was that key. The three-party coalition had functioned more or less perfectly in that regard. At one time or other, it was truly the government in waiting and if things had held, we would probably have a new government within five or 10 years’ time.

But that is not to be. The dream ended too early. The greed, hubris and stubbornness we saw during the so-called Kajang Move, along with soaring egos and the resulting ugly mudslinging between DAP and PAS broke up the coalition. PAS is still in denial about the existence of Pakatan but this is not Hotel California. PAS needs to wake up to reality.

Now there is talk about building a new pact comprising DAP and PKR, along with a splinter group from PAS made up of the progressives who fell out with the conservatives in the Islamist party.

A number of people think the new coalition without PAS will be stronger. I am unsure what they mean by stronger but if the word stronger refers to the ability to win the next general election, then I think they are sadly mistaken.

The reason Pakatan Rakyat was such a force at the ballot box was its ability to attract both urban and rural voters to sit under one roof. The now PKR youth leader Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad once responded to my criticism of the confusing ideological mix within PKR back in 2007 that the multiracial Malaysia needed ”big tent politics” to bring us together. Today, I believe so too and Pakatan was the embodiment of that thought.

PAS provided the rural voters ”• at least in the Peninsula ”• while DAP and PKR delivered the urban ones. Rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak are still hard to win over, making peninsular rural seats all the more important to keep.

These voters and the parties had their differences but the commonalities between both sides were strong enough that the pact held. Under the big tent was the desire to clean up the corrupt government by changing Putrajaya. The diapers were getting smelly and we needed to change it.

And so, I am disappointed to see Pakatan get undone before we got the chance to change the diapers.

The proposed new coalition would mostly be made up of urbanites and more importantly, urban seats. I stress urban seats because I have trouble imagining PAS giving way to a new party made up of its splinter in the Malay heartland. This means the anti-BN votes would be split and in our imperfect first past the post system, that would likely mean a win for BN.

And there is always a question of PAS not joining the coalition after the overly emotional spat it is having with DAP and with progressive Islamists. All that means there are lower chances for the new coalition to win Putrajaya.

As such, I have trouble seeing the new coalition winning rural seats. No rural seats, no Putrajaya.

The new coalition would be stable with consensus easier to build maybe, but a Pakatan without PAS will be weaker.

In a fairer world, winning the urbanites would likely be enough because of the rapid urbanization Malaysia is experiencing. But the map has been drawn too skewed by putting more weight on rural voters. The playing field tilts in favor the incumbent Barisan Nasional in Putrajaya.

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 Malay Mail on June 30 2015.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
nb — some people take this as a defense of PAS, implying the party is coming out stronger from the episode. But that is neither my intention nor what I wrote. I wanted to add into this article the idea at that PAS being alone would also be weaker and worse, risks becoming provincial. Without the progressives on its side, the party will be doomed to debate petty cultural-religious issues that the world outside would laugh at, and incapable of handling big issues which can only be addressed with skills from its professional members. But I always like simple, clear-message piece. I know my one message here and I stuck with it. In any case, please do not take this article as me saying PAS is coming out stronger instead of Pakatan. The only winner from the break-up of Pakatan, ceteris paribus, is Barisan Nasional.


[2770] Two hudud assumptions to break

Before UMNO shares its voting intention on hudud with the public tomorrow, I would like to point out what I think are the two assumptions behind hudud politics, as pushed by PAS.

One, all non-Muslim MPs would/must refrain from voting in the Parliament.

Two, all Muslim MPs would/must vote yes.

These assumptions are the very reasons why PAS think they have the numbers in the Parliament. There are 135 Muslim MPs out of total 222 Malaysian MPs. Assuming no abstained vote and full attendance, they will need at least 113 yes votes only to pass the bill with certainty.

But these assumptions are merely assumptions and they are far from being right.

The first assumption is based on the idea that hudud would not affect non-Muslims and so, non-Muslims have no business to interfere. I have registered my hostility to that notion for a long time now and I am restating it here: hudud is not a Muslim issue exclusively. It is a national one and so it affects all of us regardless of beliefs one way or another. Why? Anything that affects the majority population will inevitably affect the character of the whole society. And already, even with the current dual systems that we have, there are conflicts between Muslim authorities and the non-Muslim population, which proves that no community works in isolation.

The second assumption is based on the idea that the Muslims — really the Malay community — are monolithic. Further embedded in the assumption is that no Muslim-Malay would go against the words of god, which in turn is dependent on yet another assumption that takes the bill for the words of god. But the Malay world is diverse and not all would believe what a preacher-politician have to say. On top of that, several counterarguments have been thrown back to PAS and among them that the bill PAS plans to introduce to the Parliament is not god’s law but rather, it is written by PAS, i.e. human-made.

There are signs that the two hudud assumptions are disintegrating. DAP and PRS will vote no, primarily breaking the first assumption. PKR and PBB will vote no as well, breaking primarily the second assumption, as well as the first one since they have a number of non-Muslim MPs.

The pro-hudud camp is angry at this. As their assumptions fall apart and unable to appeal to the mind, they are now left with only physical threats to cow others into submission. 

Politics & government

[2746] Pakatan Rakyat comes first, Selangor second

I am angry at pro-Kajang people. I firmly identify the maneurve as the source of the current political crisis in Selangor. But with everything moving at lighting speed, I find myself being angry at everybody.

I am angry at Khalid Ibrahim for going against democratic ideal, ruling without the majority support in the state assembly. I had supported him, but after all that happened, that support becomes untenable. I am angry at PKR for forcing him into a corner, leading him to do what he has done. I am angry at PAS for delaying their decision when there is an urgent need to decide whether it wants to be part of Pakatan or not. I am angry at DAP and PKR for declaring that they have the majority support in the state assembly before PAS came to a decision, risking breaking up PAS and Pakatan Rakyat even.

It was hard to focus with all that anger around. So, I took a step back, breathed in and out, and thought about what I ultimately wanted out of this mess.

I remember what I care the most is the sustainability of Malaysia’s two-party system. I want Pakatan to stick together and everything else is secondary, including the control over Selangor. I feel if keeping Selangor means the breaking up of Pakatan, I rather Pakatan lose the state.

Without PAS, Pakatan is not a viable challenger to  Barisan Nasional at the federal level. Let us gets real. Both DAP and PKR have no real presence in the rural areas. In Peninsular Malaysia, they depend on PAS to bring in the rural votes. In Sabah and Sarawak, while PAS is an insignificant force, DAP and PKR need to do a lot of work cracking those so-called BN fixed deposits. I see DAP making small progress. I do not see PKR doing anything other than making outrageous promises that appeal to naive Sabah nationalists. PKR is the master of outrageous promises. Yea, sue me.

I do not know whether PAS decision on Sunday will lead to it leaving Pakatan, but until it decides, I think both DAP and PKR leaders should not condemn PAS too much to the point poisonous accusations and curses are thrown. I maybe am naive in politics, but I somehow think if you want to appeal for somebody to join you, you do appeal to them, not curse them. Not by treating them in a way that creates a gulf between you and them.

This is not simply about Pakatan. This is about Malaysia. The country sorely needs a check-and-balance mechanism to work properly and achieve our potential. I have long believed that for us to grow further, we need to address the chink in our armor and that is our weak institutions. There is only so much physical infrastructure can do. To begin and further improve our institutions, we need the two-party system. We need Pakatan to stick together.

Just earlier this week, the Federal Court said the Penang state government could not run its own local election. We need federal powers for that. This is an example of a weak democratic institution that we have and the only way to address it to have the federal government reintroduce those local elections. We need to put strong pressure on the federal government to reinstate local elections into our lives. I want an elected mayor for Kuala Lumpur. I do not want Putrajaya to appoint a mandarin to run the city. Without pressure, there will be no local election. That pressure comes, realistically in the years to come, in the form of Pakatan Rakyat.

Do you think a third force is there out there? That what those Sabah activists thought in the last general election. They turned out to be more wrong than wrong, more hubris than actual knowledge on the ground, with independent candidates turned out losing to Pakatan candidates, even as Pakatan lost to BN.

Without the two-party system, with Pakatan breaking up, BN can do whatever it wants. I remember the Abdullah years. The abuse was so blatant. I remember a BN 4-by-4 vehicle with siren on top blaring, telling people to move aside. I always curse whenever police escort shoves us commuters aside for a VIP, be it ministers or some members of the royal house. To have a BN official with no position in the government at all to behave like they had the authority of the police, to behave like they were rajas?

I remember “Satu Lagi Projek Kerajaan Barisan Nasional.” Have you all forgotten? I have not. I remember the excesses very well.

I do not want to return to that time.

I want Pakatan to stick. I want the two-party system to stay.

Liberty Politics & government

[2397] Reminded of my misgiving of PAS

I do not believe in specific individuals or organizations. I believe in institutions to make everybody honest, so-to-speak. I truly believe for governance in Malaysia to improve, political competition must flourish at the federal level. The first step is to have Barisan Nasional served some time in the opposition.

While the blood reference is excessive, the spirit of Jefferson’s “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” underlines the need for BN to lose its political power. It is about bloodletting. Power corrupts whoever whom holds it for too long. Hopefully, the bloodletting will flush out the worst within the ranks of BN. They will need to improve and be better than its rivals in order to survive. This applies to everybody as well. The competitive force will keep everybody on their toes.

A near loss is not enough. The so-called Pekan lesson is not good enough. Nobody truly remembers it because it was merely a near miss. BN has to lose.

Despite my harsh criticism of BN, I am not against BN per se. At least, not in the last year or so. I think I have grown out of that pure anti-BN sentiment. Now, it is simply an institutional requirement for me.

Pakatan Rakyat is the obvious candidate to replace BN. Within democratic institutional dynamics, I am supportive of PR.

Since PAS is an essential member of PR, I have discovered that somehow I am subconsciously trying to be more mild and measured in my criticism against PAS. This is all the more important because I increasingly see PKR as the most incapable of the lot in PR. PAS is the party that needs to pick up that slack. I do not believe DAP can do that in the short run. DAP needs to widen its base before it can cover for PKR.

And really, PAS has been moving to the center now, much to my delight. Obviously, my positions are very far from PAS in many ways but the distance is somewhat narrowing. So, it is not just that I am giving PAS a blind eye, there is also less for me to criticize on.

Until this week.

What happened in Kedah with respect to Ramadan dan entertainment outlets reminds me why I am distrustful of PAS in the first place. The PAS-led Kedah government has decreed that several types of entertainment outlets need to close during Ramadan, which is the Muslim holy month.

This is an effort at moral policing.

I reject moral policing through and through and I do not want to be voting for PAS to only to have them biting me. I do not mean to rear a boa that will swallow me whole later.

Voting for PAS has always been problematic for me. I voted for them in the last election. I am not so sure for the next election.

A friend has suggested that I change my address to solve my problem. That is really a creative way addressing it but it does not solve it. It only circumvents it. If PAS becomes part of the federal government, no amount of address changing will solve my problem, unless I move abroad again.

I thought the institutional requirement argument would be good enough for me to vote for PAS. But then I do not want to change from one bad scenario to another. I want a better scenario. I do not want to shortchange myself by eliminating choice. I do not want to guarantee PAS my vote.

I am a nobody. I realize that. So, I should make the following demand with humility. Nevertheless, for me to vote for PAS in the next round, I will need a guarantee from PAS that such moral policing will not happen.

Or maybe, a guarantee from PR is enough. Or least, from either PKR or DAP. Maybe I cannot rely on PKR due to how they have argued that non-Muslims need not worried if hudud is implemented. I am not impressed with that. Besides, their words are becoming less and less of value to me. Only BN has worse reputation.

So, under a system of consensus, I am looking at DAP. I am looking at that one golden vote to prevent the moral police from roaming the streets. If DAP can guarantee the existence such consensus system requiring unanimous agreement (which exists, I think), and that they can guarantee that they will always oppose moral policing on anybody, Muslims or non-Muslims alike, then I will vote for PAS in the next general election.

Until then, I will not, unless someone moderate contests in my area.

(Dr. Lo’ Lo’, the current Parliamentarian for Titiwangsa, will not do. I have seen her debated in the Parliament while I was working with a Member of Parliament in the last few months. I can say that I am not her greatest fan. But I guess, Dr. Lo’ Lo’ will not be contesting the next time around due to her health, hence the point on a moderate contesting. As far as her health is concerned, I wish her well.)