Malaysia is a nation of cowards because even when we know something is wrong with the system, we just sit and moan

Is Malaysia a nation of cowards, who only sit and moan at what is going on around them?

It’s only January and I foresee an exciting year ahead, for me personally and for the bigger world at large. In light of everything going on now, I am transported back to the 1979 revolution in Iran that overthrew the dictatorship of a monarch but which unfortunately instated a new form of quasi democratic theocratic dictatorship.

While I am not claiming that theocracy has to be undemocratic, the complexity of syariah’s history and other forms of religion codified-laws makes it difficult to negotiate the hermeneutics of these laws within the parameters of Enlightenment democracy.

Of course, many countries have undergone many revolutions, some beginning as a fight for sovereignty before transforming into resistance against cruel rulers.

What would Tunisia’s fate be? There are talks in the media about how suppressed Islamist groups are becoming a force to be reckoned with. They overthrew a dictator, but I hope a vacuum is not left behind to cause a worse form of dictatorship to take over. But as long as the people are adamant about freedom and democracy, and as long as they can keep all forms of military-led coup at bay, they have a fresh new start ahead of them.

Social media is said to be one of the main media that fuelling the revolt in Tunisia. If I get a chance, I would love to visit the country in the aftermath of the revolution, to see what it has sparked off.

Now, Egypt is on fire, and the people are revolting regardless of what Mubarak does to them. Incidentally, I met a Lebanese graduate student at my room-mate’s birthday party and we commiserated over the state of politics in our respective countries.

If we look closely at what is going on there, we know that much of the revolt is fuelled by the educated class. The last time Malaysia had a revolt, it was fuelled by the incumbent government’s sponsored thugs. But not so in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt.

Ironically, Malaysia sent tonnes of its “religion-studies” students to Egypt to Al-Azhar but none of them have ever imbibed or learnt anything from that cradle of civilisation with thousands of years of history because they spent much of their years there immersed in their own little ghetto, trying to simulate the life of the different little villages they came from in Malaysia.

These countries saw a revolution led by the intelligentsia, and the intellectuals. One of the main fuel is Tunisia’s horrific economic and unemployment problem at this time, while Egypt is strangled by its iron-fisted dictator who did not even bother to be nuanced about the way in which he is trying to control his people (he probably thought he could do it ala North Korea, whose people had spent generations under a gulag-like dictatorship). Or Iran.

Iran has clamped down on access to much social media. A friend of mine studying there is completely incognito now, as the last email I received from him informed me that he has very little access to the cyberworld.

It is also interesting that in most news reports on Tunisia, they always prefaced the story of the revolt with the remark of how successful Tunisia’s education system has been (with the revolt as one of the domino effects of it) yet how underemployed the young people are (it would be interesting to study more closely how and what is the cause of that underemployment, beyond to-your-face economics).

There are a number of Tunisian Fulbrighters in the US, and from what I have heard from some of the Middle-Eastern Fulbrighters, many were concerned about returning home to no jobs. I heard first heard of all these in 2008. But I also suspect that they didn’t want to return to the politics of their country.

I distinctly remember a guy from Tunisia who voiced the concern of economics, as did also a Lebanese woman, as being the cause of their desire to be able to remain in the US (even though US financial crisis was beginning to escalate at that time). Both these countries have remarkable European influences to this day, and this shows by the dual cultures straddled effortlessly by the more educated citizens.

Where does Malaysia stands in on this?

Well, we probably should think of Malaysia and Malaysians as people living in the Matrix. They believe they have the freedom, that the economy will improve with all these economic transformation plans, that they can still enjoy material excess and progress, that they will continue to live in comfort. I think I have written about this more than a decade ago and the situation still has not changed, not one mite.

People are still lulled by a false sense of security, not understanding that the carpet will be pulled out from under their feet anytime, at any moment. They are not unlike North Koreans in general, minus the physical deprivation and visceral torture, because they believe in much of what is fed to them.

The government is smart in creating a quasi welfare state, and in creating a false sense of us going somewhere, when in reality, we are just going in circles, as what I have seen from the time I was a freshman in college, more than a decade ago.

We think that since Google is coming to Malaysia, we are being acknowledged. Well, Microsoft is in Malaysia. So is Intel. I once worked for the production house of a large publishing company with offices worldwide that relocated to Cyberjaya, the Malaysian government’s failed project at creating a “Multimedia Supercorridor” (it hasn’t really taken off more than when it first started out, has it?).

Did they bring about epistemic shifts and change? Did the people suddenly become more creative and smarter? Not really. I knew people who work in these offices in Malaysia. Most are glorified support staff. The heart of these companies, the exciting work being done by these companies are NOT in Malaysia. For that, I think they would rather go to India and China before Malaysia.

We like to think we have a good system of education. We sure do, to a certain level, in creating people with good technical abilities (at some level too) without any ability to reflect on the work they do (and I am talking about high level work here, professionals, even many in academia). Our cream of the crop kids probably exemplify a parody of what Amy Chua, the “misunderstood” Tiger Mother, tried to instil in her daughters.

I grew up with high achievers around me (I was the underachiever) so I do know what I am talking about. This is not the case of sour grapes either, since I am exactly where I have always wanted to be for the longest time and am no longer an underachiever.

I would like to bring up Syed Hussein Alatas, a former VC of University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and a scholar both conveniently forgotten or uncritically worshipped (depending on who you speak to), even though he had said this in 1970s, at a time when I wasn’t even born.

He had stated that most of the people holding leading roles in society were unfortunately “bebal”(moronic). You can be paper smart, you could have been the top kid in your school, you could even have gotten a government scholarship to study abroad, but that did not preclude you from “bebalism”. I think this could not have sat well with the regime or the public at the time (and it certainly still stings today).

But truth of the matter, when you do not quite gaze beyond your navel, when you parrot what everyone around you is saying because that sounds smart and may even earn your brownie points with them, when you revel in momentary distractions in a false sense of freedom and self-adulation, this is what you are.

You may refuse to acknowledge how all these will soon pass away, as what has been going on in so many other countries are a case in point. But probably while other countries are moving on, Malaysia will always be the spineless, static, entity it is, and I feel sad for the country.

We have intelligentsia in our countries but we have no real (or extremely few) intellectuals (I will be writing more about this in another article). Do we have any legacy for the world? Zilch. We blame the government for everything but all we do is just sit on our fat asses and moan, doing nothing.

At the same time, I am heartened by the fact that there are some university students in Malaysia who are fighting to have their voices heard and rights recognised. I hope that this small group would one day be the herald for change, since I have lost faith in much of my generation (those in their late 20s and 30s).

Why do I say that?

Because we are a nation of cowards.

Even when we know something is wrong with the system, we just sit and moan. We have been since 1957 and until we understand even a minutiae of what is happening in the world today and take a hard look at where we are, we will always be one.

I, too, am tired of being a coward. —


An analysis of the Tenang by –elections from the Indian perspective.

Here is an initial analysis of the Indian votes in Tenang:
Total Indians voted1104694
Indian votes for BN550555
Indians voted for PR554144
This analysis is very telling.
1) What BN got in 2008, it was able to defend in 2011.
2) PR lost support of almost 400 Indian voters 2008- 2011.
3) But that did not mean BN got those lost votes. These Indian voters very smartly just abstained from voting either PR or BN– they just stayed home on a rainy day. The rains make more difference to them than either BN or PR.

Now, playing HRP and HINDRAF into this Tenang election could produce a picture like this –
1) 90%,of the Indians would have come out to vote if HRP/Hindraf were a factor in this election- in spite of the rain.
2) That will be 1500 voters who would have voted.
3) All those who abstained would very likely have voted HRP/HINDRAF.
4) That is already about 950 voters.
5) Then add about half those who voted BN vote for HRP, that will be another 275.
6) That makes for a total of 1,200 votes.
7) A swing of over 1000 votes would have occurred.

If PR takes HRP as its equal partner then all these votes would have gone to PR.
9) The margin here would not have been 3707, it would have been 1707.

All fthe above does not even consider the “oomph” factor that HINDRAF/HRP would have introduced into this election, hed they been a factor.

Does PR have the vision to see where HRP/HINDRAF stands or will they foolishly keep repeating that the HINDRAF factor is all but lost.

Clearly there is a serious leadership vacuum for the Indians that only HRP and HINDRAF can fill . No amount of screwing around this idea by PR or anyone else is going to help PR in the least. Getting to Putrajaya seems to be an increasingly receding vision for PR, the more they screw around. Latest, is their attempt to get Surendran on their side. Did that help? They still lost Indian support, big time,in Tenang.

What we see increasingly in these by elections is a sample from which to conclude about what could happen in a General Election. If PR wants to get to Putrajaya there is no alternative for them but to sit down and hammer out a deal with HRP/HINDRAF, before the window shuts

Malays still the kingmakers

The Tenang by-election result and the results of those by-elections before this have proven this point. Umno can’t depend on the non-Malays. Umno needs the Malays and they need Malays who are nationalistic to the point of being racists to remain in power.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Chinese votes alone not enough for Pakatan

Pakatan takes another hard knock in Tenang, making its goal of capturing Putrajaya looks all the more harder.

Syed Jaymal Zahiid, Free Malaysia Today

Yes, the Chinese votes for Pakatan Rakyat have increased significantly at the Tenang by-election but the fixation on this often masks one crucial fact – its inability to capture the Malay votes.

Too often the swing in Chinese support towards the opposition hogs the limelight, but the fact remains clear that without the Malay votes, Pakatan’s Putrajaya quest is impossible.

Barisan Nasional (BN) saw its candidate Azahar Ibrahim garner 6,999 votes against the 2,992 gained by PAS’ Normala Sudirman, with a majority votes of 3,707.

This is about 1,200 more than the victory margin attained by the late Sulaiman Taha of Umno in the 2008 general election, whose death triggered this 14th by-election since the last general election.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the discourse turned on the Chinese votes as seen in the debate between BN and Pakatan politicians on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The discussion on the return of Malay votes to BN was given little, if no attention at all, despite the clear fact that it signals Pakatan’s inability to capture the support from the country’s majority electorate.

The rise in BN’s majority could only mean one thing: if the Chinese votes had strayed away from the ruling coalition, the votes of other races must have made up for the increase in BN’s majority.

The turnout for the Indian voters, who make up about 12% of the 14,753 eligible voters here, was said to be a meagre 25%. Their votes had little impact on the outcome.

This means that Malay support made up most of the majority gained by BN.

Malay power

Pakatan chief and PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim had admitted in the past that the bloc must widen its Malay power base if it ever hopes to capture Putrajaya.

The continuous decline in Malay support in almost all of the 14 by-elections, including Tenang, clearly indicates that Pakatan has failed miserably in its campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Malays.

And BN’s Malay lynchpin, Umno, is well aware that it is not heavily dependent on Chinese support to maintain power. Without the help of its non-Malay component allies, Umno parliamentarians alone hold enough seats to form and maintain the government of the day.

Of course, the continuous swing in Chinese votes towards Pakatan is a wake-up call for MCA, especially its president Dr Chua Soi Lek.

Tenang falls under the Labis parliamentary constituency, a supposed stronghold of the MCA supremo. It is now helmed by his son Chua Tee Yong.

Soi Lek, in his first term as MCA chief, is under great pressure to regain Chinese support. The failure to do so in his own fortress reflects badly on his presidency, but this is a separate discourse altogether.

So for now, Pakatan’s credibility as a potent opposition force is questionable as the Malays continue to abandon the pact. And capturing Putrajaya is nothing less than mere wishful thinking.


That was Syed Jaymal Zahiid’s analysis of the Tenang by-election, which was published in Free Malaysia Today. And one thing you must note is the reference to Malay votes being the deciding factor in any election. In short, Malays are undeniably the kingmakers in Malaysian politics.

Whether it is Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat, or any man and his dog, when they talk about Malaysian politics or Malaysian elections it must be on the basis of Malay votes, Chinese votes, Indian votes, Dayak votes, Iban votes, Kadazan votes, and so on.

In Thailand it is simpler. It is either red shirts or yellow shirts. In Indonesia it is either pro-Reformasi or pro-Golkar. In the US it is Democrats and Republicans while in the UK it is Labour or Conservative (now made a bit more complicated with the LibDems as the new kingmakers).

But in Malaysia the division is very complicated indeed because we have to further compartmentalise the voters according to race. And if that is not complicated enough, the Malays need to be further compartmentalised into pro-Islam Malays and pro-Nationalist Malays.

More than two years ago I attended a MCKK Old Boys dinner and was seated next to Nazri Aziz. We had a most interesting discussion and he told me that in the March 2008 general election 51% of the Malays voted for Barisan Nasional, meaning Umno. This also means 49% of the Malays voted for the opposition.

Nazri admitted that Barisan Nasional did not do too well with the Chinese and Indian voters where 70% and 90% respectively voted for the opposition.

Now, in spite of three-quarters of the non-Malays voting for the opposition and only half the Malays voting for the government, Barisan Nasional still managed to form the government, although with not enough seats to control two-thirds of Parliament.

So, how many percent of the Malay votes would the opposition need to win to kick out Barisan Nasional and to form the next federal government, assuming it can still garner 70% of the Chinese and Indian votes (it looks like getting 90% of the Indian votes like in 2008 is now impossible)?

It appears the opposition would need to win at least 65%-70% of the Malay votes, which is impossible to achieve.

This is because of the gerrymandering where Barisan Nasional has very cleverly drawn up the constituencies so that they need win only 40%-45% of the popular votes to continue holding on to power, although it may just be with a simple majority. And we must not forget Barisan Nasional’s ‘fixed deposit’, the 57 seats from East Malaysia, which almost all went to Barisan Nasional in 2008.

I sometimes wonder whether it is an uphill battle and that the opposition will never get to march into Putrajaya. Instead of talking about forming the next federal government or marching into Putrajaya maybe we should instead be talking about trying to ensure that we have a strong opposition, thereby acknowledging that Pakatan Rakyat will always remain the opposition, albeit a strong opposition?

The fact that the opposition appears to be at each other’s throats more than focused on attacking Barisan Nasional and that the pro-Pakatan Rakyat Bloggers and activists are more concerned with trying to outdo each other and to bring down one another does not build confidence at all. It is not enough we have this very powerful Barisan Nasional to deal with, but we also have internal feuds and civil wars to contend with.

Malaysian politics and Malaysian elections are still very much about race and religion. Only a minority of Malaysians are concerned about ideology, performance, delivery, good governance, transparency, fundamental liberties, and so on. The majority are still focused on making sure that those of their own race and religion get to become the leaders and get to form the government.

How does Pakatan Rakyat get around this? It is not easy. As long as Malaysians are compartmentalised according to race and religion and they make decisions, such as voting, based on this criteria, then it is going to take a long time before Pakatan Rakyat can gain acceptance from the majority of Malaysians.

Officially we have such a thing called 1Malaysia. But if 1Malaysia really succeeds and Malaysians start thinking along the lines that we are all Malaysians and it does not matter what race and religion you are, then Barisan Nasional, in particular Umno is in deep shit.

No, it is not in the interest of Umno that all Malaysians think along the lines of 1Malaysia. Umno needs PERKASA and PEKIDA and all those ultra-Malay groups and paramilitary movements. Like it or not, Barisan Nasional’s and Umno’s future is in the hands of ultra-nationalist Malays. The day the Malays stop thinking as Malays and start thinking as Malaysians would be the day Umno is given a funeral.

The Tenang by-election result and the results of those by-elections before this have proven this point. Umno can’t depend on the non-Malays. Umno needs the Malays and they need Malays who are nationalistic to the point of being racists to remain in power. And they need to retain almost 100% of their East Malaysian ‘fixed deposit’ to make sure that Pakatan Rakyat will never march into Putrajaya or even become a strong opposition in Parliament.



IN my presentation of my paper, ‘Lest We Forget’ at the seminar on ‘Marginalised and Minority Communities’ in Kuala Lumpur on the 23rd of this month, I elaborated quite a bit on the many problems that Sabah has been suffering from, in part due to the deliberate policies by the Federal Government to disenfranchise (take away the rights of) bona fide Sabahans, with particular emphasis on the problem of the illegal immigrants.

The participants found my elaboration shocking enough for them to raise the question: “If the situation is so bad for the people of Sabah, why are they still supporting the BN?”

So why indeed? Why is almost everyone talking about how bad the BN rule is and yet at the end of the day they still voted for the BN, enough for the BN to call Sabah and Sarawak as its fixed deposit?

This question is seldom answered fully because the explanation for this behavior of the voters is rooted in many causes, including cultural, socio-economic, political and psychological causes.

The cultural reason is that the people are traditionally forgiving and accommodating, being kind a generous in their nature even to outsiders. They entertain and support those who are close to them and are open to ideas and co-operation especially with those in power and who can afford to give them assistances and favours.

The socio-economic reasons are of course, obvious. They have little reason to reject socio-economic development, handouts in the form of welfare assistances in kind or in cash. And it is not easy for them to resent the BN, and up to a point, would not vote against the BN when they had been given handouts. In many instances it is a question of getting something solid and not a matter of getting delayed gratification or a longer-term benefits for the people or the state.

The political influences are strong when the people see politics as a system of support and reward. Ours is after all a system of patronage politics where the people patronise the ruling party in order to benefit through project awards.

Only those disappointed and disillusioned because they are excluded in this patronage system and those who have genuinely realised the need for change have been willing to join the opposition, and go against the BN.

The psychological ties of many BN supporters to the BN government, until before the 2008 general elections, were still strong due to the strong campaign to make the people believe their future is supposed to be guaranteed in the hands of the BN. In the case of the KDMs, they had looked up to the PBS, UPKO and in the interior, the PBRS, as their parties.

But this scenario has changed tremendously. As I see it, the winds of change that blew the shocking political tsunami in 2008 has not abated, but has increased in strength. The BN, of course, would never admit it openly, but the fact is the BN is suffering from so many problems at the national, state and local levels that the basis of its strength is no longer ideological but financial, added with intimidations and threats.

The BN has to depend on money to survive because on many fronts it can no longer defend itself with the truth. In fact it is the truth that is hurting and damaging the BN beyond repair. If today the BN comes and stand by the truth, that will be the end of it! So it resorts to lies and half truths, telling the people of developments and hiding the fact that it is through development allocations the leaders are fattening their pockets and foreign bank accounts. It is now common knowledge that project costs are tripled or even quadrupled in amounts to accommodate the kickbacks.

The people may not be too concerned about corruption in high places but they get agitated when their lives are eventually affected by economic problems. The value of the ringgit may have gone up against the US dollar but it had become more worthless in Sabah with the ever increasing prices of commodities.

While the government is reducing the subsidies for sugar and petrol, it causes the drastic increases in prices of goods and services such as food items and transportation.

And in order to minimize the impact of this frightening inflation, the government is trying hard to make the people happy by giving away hampers and other poverty assistances to the village folks and making big news about it all the time. They claim they are eradicating poverty because they are giving hampers that are worth only a few hundred ringgits each per family! How long can a package of 30 kg of rice for a family of ten?

There are many happy news about food and subsidy distribution but still many people in the villages are still not eating enough. This korek lubang tutup lubang, tutup mata sebelah method of economic planning cannot go on forever, because somewhere along the line the holes can no longer be covered. Sometime soon, the game will collapse. So what the government is trying to do is to have the general elections before economic game is exposed.

So what we in the opposition do is offer the people alternatives. They now know they have choices. A new spoiler for the BN is the new brilliant choice, called the United Borneo Front (UBF), which is raising a lot of attention because it offers an exciting alternative to the past KL-based political system.

UBF is already killing BN’s dream of keeping Sabah and Sarawak as its fixed deposits because clearly the two states want to be in Malaysia on their own terms, to get hold of their rights and autonomy and decide on their own governance and economic future. For the people of Sabah and Sarawak, this prospect is exciting beyond measure and we know it is worrying the BN to no end. - Sabahkini

Police report against MIC Saravanan and ‘his boys’

Deputy Minister M Saravanan has been accused of allegedly sending 'his boys' to counter resistance against him.

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Federal Territories and Urban Development Minister M Saravanan has been accused of allegedly sending ‘his boys’ to settle a score with a DAP branch chairman who had participated in a hunger strike in Brickfields protesting the government decision on the Interlok issue.

A Saminathan, who is Bukit Beruntang DAP branch chairman, lodged a police report yesterday against Saravanan and three others alleging that he was beaten-up by the latter’s ‘boys’ and slashed with a razor.

Recounting the incident to FMT after lodging the report, Saminathan said the attack occured as he was getting out of a toilet in an Indian restaurant in Brickfields.

“I was in the toilet, when someone knocked on the door. As I came out, three Indian men confronted me, one of them held my neck and hit me. He slashed my head and hands with a razor.

“They warned me not to intervene in any issues involving Saravanan,” Saminathan said.

Saminathan’s friend, MS Arjunan had also previously lodged police reports over several ‘Saravanan-linked’ activities.

Saminathan claimed Saravanan, who is the Tapah MP, was somewhere in Brickfields when the incident happened.

“When we confronted Saravanan, he denied knowledge of incident… but the three men who beat me up were there standing behind Saravanan.

“I hope the police will take the report seriously and act against those who beat me up.

“If it is true that Saravanan engaged them to attack me, then he should resign from all his positions,” Saminathan said.

Meanwhile earlier in the day, about 100 Indian youths took part in a hunger strike in Brickfields to protest the government’s move to go ahead with the use of controversial novel, Interlok, in schools.

Saravanan had attended the hunger strike and received, on behalf of the government, a memorandom urging the authorties to ban the book. - FMT

Estate workers want probe on NUPW

Disgruntled plantation workers want the government to investigate the affairs of their union for alleged mismanagement.

KUALA LUMPUR: Unhappy estate workers want the government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to step in and investigate the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) for alleged misappropriations dating back to the 1980s and poor management of workers’ contributions.

They said the government must step in to address issues affecting the members, especially shares in financial institutions and the Great Alonioners Corporation Trading Ltd (Gatco).

Speaking to FMT recently, K Selvam, who has been a union member since 2000, said that he was preparing documentation for submission to the Human Resources Ministry and the MACC.

He said the documentation involved RM2 million worth of shares which the union had invested in (the former) Bank Buruh on behalf of its members.

“I have just received confirmation from the Department of Trade Union Affairs in the ministry that the shares were sold in 1991.

“NUPW disclosed the sale in its 1991 financial statement but the question is, where did the money go?

“This is the union for plantation workers… it is not a rich union… this money belongs to poor Indians,” he said.

Last week, FMT reported that NUPW had sold 2,012,400 units of shares in the then Bank Buruh. Each unit was priced at RM1. NUPW had at the time invested just over RM2 million in the shares.

The union had also invested RM9,866.67 in the (former) United Asian Bank Bhd and RM450,000 in United Oriental Assurance Sdn Bhd.

He said that there was no information on where the revenue from the sales of these shares went or how much they were sold for.

First Indian cooperative

Meanwhile, a check by FMT showed a string of other “investments” and “sales” that the members were not notified about.

One member, who declined to be named, said they were curious to know what happend to Gatco.

“Today, we are only talking about Maika Holdings but what about Gatco? There were millions of ringgit involved.

“Gatco was one of the first Indian-based cooperatives in the country. NUPW set it up as an cooperative built on the hard-earned money of estate workers.

“We want to know what happened to it. We want the union to come forward and explain about Gatco and its account as well,” he said, adding that there were other issues including the PPN hostel, which members want the NUPW to clarify.

Gatco, which was worth millions, was formed by its first secretary-general PP Narayanan in 1967, with the money collected from the plantation workers.

It is believed that Gatco, a public-limited liability company, had an authorised capital of RM30 million.

Owned by Indian plantation workers, Gatco acquired two rubber estates – Lapan Hutan Estate in Selangor and Caning Estate, Kelantan – in addition to Dovenby Estate in Sungai Siput, Perak.

But NUPW, which was set up to look after the interest of estate workers, however, failed to live up to its role.

Wasted millions

As a result of poor management, all the estates were taken over by the National Land and Finance Coperative Society (NLFCS).

Gatco also invested millions of ringgit in multi-level bussiness such as textiles, essential oil, and invesment companies like Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles, Parry’s Confectionery, Asian Holding Sdn Bhd, JG Container Sdn Bhd, Tatab Industries, Sri Sai Oils and Oleoresins, Pan Century Edible Oil and Ambadi Engneering Bhd.

Among the companies, Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles was the most expensive and favoured invesment of Gatco.

NUPW invested RM3.26 million in Chempaka Negeri Lakshmi Textiles through Gatco.

In 1988, NUPW decided to sell Gatco shares. It lost RM 3.45 million.

Similar investments in other companies also did not bring benefits to the workers. On the whole. Gatco suffered losses close to RM5.5 million.

Gatco was the biggest failure in plantation history and the workers have pinned the blame on NUPW’s poor and corrupt management.

Despite the dismal failure, the union leadership has profited, the workers claimed.

For instance, Narayanan, the NUPW secretary-general at the time, was also Gatco managing director with a paid salary and perks. Several other “select union leaders” also sat on Gatco-linked companies and enjoyed perks that went with the position.

PPN Students’ Hostel

Meanwhile, the PPN Students’ Hostel, which was set up to assist the children of plantation workers pursuing their education in the city, became mired in debt when its owners, NUPW, could not service a RM1.5 million mortage it secretly took from a bank.

Unable to meet the payments, the bank moved in and decided to demolish the hostel and re-develop it as a luxury condominium .

“The union agreed to give the land away to the bank on condition that the developer gave NUPW 40 units as compensation.”

“There are rumours that the union had sold eight of the 40 units. The rest of the units are being rented out for RM1,200 per unit per month.

“That means NUPW is earning RM38,400 from this property alone,” said another union member from Negri Sembilan.

He also said that the workers were angry that a unit had recently been sold for below the market price.

“We heard the union sold a unit for RM300,000 but the market price is more than RM400,000,” he said.

He added that NUPW had told the workers that the money would be used to conduct leadership courses for the state union chairmen.

“All this is a waste of our money. We want the government to step in… we want a special team to probe into the misappropriation in NUPW,” he said. - FMT

‘Charge author for sedition, use Hindraf novel’


Hindraf’s P Uthayakumar also wants DPM Muhyiddin Yassin and education officers to be charged for introducing Interlok in schools.

BUTTERWORTH: National laureate Abdullah Hussain and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin should be among those charged for sedition with regard to the Interlok novel, said Hindraf Makkal Sakti.

Speaking to FMT yesterday, the movement’s legal adviser P Uthayakumar suggested that his book on the Nov 25, 2007 Hindraf rally be introduced in schools instead.

The lawyer, who was detained under the Internal Security Act in the aftermath of the rally, claimed that his book was more current, effective, realistic and relevant than Interlok.

“The (students) will realise the mistakes of their forefathers and can then explore all ways and means to address and resolve the pressing Indian issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, Uthayakumar also demanded that Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar explain why action was not taken against those responsible for introducing Interlok in schools.

Apart from author, he said, Muhyiddin, who is also education minister, should be charged for approving the book.

He said the police should also charge education officials, especially those sitting in the education syllabus panel, for recommending it.

“But none of them were probed or charged despite the novel’s extreme seditious nature,” he said, adding that the book’s contents had hurt the feelings of Indians here and abroad.

Street protest held

Uthayakumar also slammed the 91-year-old author, who penned the book in 1971, for deliberately humiliating Indians by misrepresenting the facts.

He said Abdullah’s usage of the term “pariah” (outcaste) to generalise all Malaysian Indians was a mortification of the community’s dignity and integrity.

“By now the writer and the rest should have been charged for sedition. The IGP must explain why the police did not prepare charge sheets for the attorney-general to prosecute them,” he said.

Earlier, Uthayakumar led an anti-Interlok street protest outside the Butterworth police station after Hindraf’s state convention.

Some 70 Hindraf leaders and supporters, with anti-Interlok banners and posters, participated in the hour-long protest.

They also lodged several police reports, urging for action to be taken against those responsible for the book being absorbed into the school curriculum.

Following strong objections, Muhyiddin last week announced that offending paragraphs would be deleted before the book is used in classrooms. However, this fell short of the call from Indian groups to withdraw the book.

Commenting on this, Uthayakumar took Muhyiddin to task for not banning Interlok.

He noted that the Education Ministry removed some 400,000 syllabus books from school shelves last week for containing spelling and grammar mistakes.

“But the seditious and racist Interlok was not,” he said, urging Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to walk the talk on his 1Malaysia concept by banning the book.

UMNO's hypocrisy in introducing "Interlok" to divide and rule the races in Malaysia

The real issue here is “ketuanan Melayu, ketuanan Islam”: that Malays and Islam are superior to others, so you all keep your mouths shut. Only their sensitivities are allowed to be expressed. Others just keep quiet and accept your plight. That is what it is all about. Unfortunately, what is so ketuanan about Muslims and Islam? The moment Malays mention this, then the Malays must be prepared to be challenged. They cannot practise ketuanan and expect other races/religions to keep quiet, especially when the Malays/Islam have nothing superior. Dr M has raised the question as to why Chinese/Indians don’t embrace Islam out of love. The reason is obvious. There is nothing that attracts me. The way it is practised makes me wonder whether they are allowed to think. Malays must do something to themselves so that they can be “ketuanan”. At the moment they are “kosongan”.

I have read the book. It is full of geographical, cultural errors which do not reflect a National Literature Laureate. I am sure there are works of better quality, even from this same writer. This book does not meet the standards of a literary text.

The Indians have felt hurt by the word ‘keling’. Now the word ‘pariah’ might be freely used by students on Indian [Malaysian] students in school. Why is it that the Malays are telling the Indians it’s not sensitive? It is sensitive indeed to the Indians. The caste system that existed in India is something the majority of Indians want to forget. Many young Indians, including students, may not have known that such a word existed.

Indians are saying it is offensive. Please remove it from the schools. Don’t argue that it is history. It is literature, and that is subject to interpretation.

Will the ministry allow the f-word in school books? The word ‘pariah’ is [possibly] even worse for Indians.

A good government would listen.

Literature must be judged on its own merit devoid of any other possible interferences, be it politically or racially driven ones. Read it, analyse it, and judge it on its own merit. No need for fatwas to be issued a la Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Many books and other media have made fun of and insulted my race (fortunately not my religion as I am, *gasp* an atheist), but you don’t see me kicking up a ruckus over it.

Well, one must understand that Interlok was written 40 years ago, and we do not know of the author’s reference materials. Please think rationally. We are talking about 1Malaysia. Aren’t we happy to see our children mingle with other races peacefully? What happens when the Malay and Chinese [Malaysian] students read this book?

[...] Choose a literature book that will help to unite all students and respect each other. Please do not poison the young hearts of students at the tender age of 17. The book [...] is setting a bad example and precedent.

“It might only be dispiriting confirmation that the national discourse favours the sensitivities and sensibilities of one particular group or race over another.”

But of course, the same is apparent in the case of lawyer Ng Kian Nam, who wrote a letter asking a mosque in Kampung Kerinchi to lower the volume of its azan call. Was there anything wrong with what he did? I don’t think so.

Why are the sensitivities of Chinese, Indians and Lain-lain not taken into consideration, where these races are awakened by a prayer call not directed towards them?

On the other hand, I think the controversy surrounding Interlok is uncalled for. The Indian [Malaysian] committee has a lot of issues it could better put its time and resources to instead of making an issue out of literature. For starters, education for children of estate workers, so that they can break out of the vicious cycle they are trapped in. Domestic issues (alcoholism, domestic abuse, etc). And the economic problems plaguing the community.

Anyone will tell you there are more important issues to focus on. Issues that are bigger than you and that will bring about a change long after you are six feet underground.

The hypocrisy surrounding Interlok

THE debate about the novel Interlok by Malaysian national laureate Abdullah Hussein continues to rage, but among a select few. The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) wants the book to be withdrawn from the Form Five syllabus for Malay literature on the grounds that the novel contains “offensive” words and depictions of Indian Malaysians. The MIC claims that the book will offend the entire Indian Hindu community, who, according to them, no longer practise the caste system.

Coming from the MIC, this smacks a little too much of hypocrisy, because I know of Indian Malaysians who still have to battle with issues of caste within their communities and families. The issue of caste has also come under scrutiny for its implications on the internal politics of the MIC. And it’s hypocritical because the MIC itself is part of a power structure that continues to practise and propagate race-based discrimination.

Interlok may or may not be right in its depiction of the Indian Malaysian community, which is taken for granted to be monolithic when it is not. But the MIC’s claim that the book highlights issues that are no longer relevant for the Indian Malaysian community is a blatant lie. It’s also a blatant form of politicking in order to win back the Indian Malaysian vote. By fighting for the rights of Indian Malaysians through this issue, the MIC is no doubt hoping that the community will forget its complicity in promoting race politics.

Selective arguments

There’s also hypocrisy from those who want the book to remain in the syllabus. These are people I follow on Twitter, traditional media columnists, as well as other writers and scholars quoted in media coverage of the issue. They claim that to censor or remove words from a published work of literature is to insult the author’s integrity. On one hand, I agree with this, because as a writer myself, I believe that the craft of writing must be respected.

More importantly, however, books, including works of creative expression, should be judged on their merits. Speculations as to the author’s intentions should not tilt the scale either way. Further to this point is the argument for free speech: something should not be censored, banned, or restricted simply because it offends some people’s sensitivities.

What would these same people who argue for the author’s integrity say about the tendency of the ruling coalition to ban any book that challenges its authority? 1FunnyMalaysia, perhaps?

Cover of Zunar's 1Funny Malaysia

Education system the problem

My greater concern is how a national education system that is fundamentally structured to be racist can attempt to teach a text as problematic as Interlok.

This book, because of its content, is the kind of book that should help further, deepen, and intensify national discourse on race relations. It is a book that should be handled with maturity and critical yet intelligent interrogation. Precisely because it offends some people, it should be deconstructed and taught with sensitivity.

But how are we going to do this through a nationally constructed pedagogy that promotes half-truths and prejudiced views, which alters history, neglects critical thinking, and undervalues the role of the teacher and student? How can we fill our schools with racist, defeated teachers, hand them a racially problematic text, and expect these very same people to teach it with any degree of responsibility, compassion, or intelligence?

Scholastic hypocrisy

Some scholars argue that Interlok depicts the “social reality” of the time in which it was set, and thus should be studied as a realistic portrayal of Malaysian society during that period of time. The Malaysian Institute of Historical and Patriotism Studies says that Interlok is a “suitable novel for use of as a textbook for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject in Form Five because it is based on historical facts”. The National Writers Association (Pena) has come out strongly against the removal of the book. A memorandum has also been signed by several groups, including the Malay Consultation Council and Ikatan Persuratan Melayu.

Will these scholars say the same about Anthony Burgess’s The Malayan Trilogy, which is arguably one of the best novels about colonial-era Malaya? Burgess is equally scathing of all races, including the British. Will any Malay Malaysian politician champion for Trilogy to be taught in schools the way some of them are for Interlok?

In fact, as Sharon Bakar has pointed out, The Malayan Trilogy is not only not taught in our schools, it has also at one time or another been banned or restricted, presumably because it takes the mickey out of not just the Indians or the Chinese, but the Malays as well. I would like to hear scholars, politicians and writers come out in defence of this book for English Literature classes in Malaysia. I think all we would hear are crickets.

We uphold free speech only when it’s convenient, and argue for the integrity of artists and the free circulation of art only when it suits us. But let us not be gullible enough to assume that if Interlok is allowed to be taught in schools nationwide, we’ve won a small part of the battle. It might only be dispiriting confirmation that the national discourse favours the sensitivities and sensibilities of one particular group or race over another.

The Nut Graph

A non-Malay PM: How possible?

The need for a Malay-Muslim Malaysian prime minister has become the default position, even among the opposition. Yet there is nothing in the Federal Constitution to state that Malaysia’s prime minister must be of Malay origin. So if convention isn’t cast in stone, is Malaysia ready for this change?

Not numbers alone

Lim Guan Eng


Going by numbers, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng should now be the parliamentary opposition leader. It’s the DAP, and not PKR, which has the higher number of parliamentary seats in the opposition alliance. The DAP has 29 seats and PKR 24. PAS has 23. But the DAP is happy to let Anwar remain as opposition leader. Evidently, politics isn’t always about the numbers.

In India, Sonia Gandhi was on track to becoming prime minster after her Congress Party won in the 2004 general election. But she nominated Manmohan Singh instead, who became the first Sikh to hold the post. Lebanon, meanwhile, is the only confessional democracy in the world where positions are filled based on religious belief. Thus, the president must be a Catholic Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the House a Shia Muslim.

Similar to India, Malaysia inherited a parliamentary democracy from the British where the constitution stipulates that whoever has the majority support of the House is qualified to be prime minister. Article 43(2)(a) states that the Agong shall appoint as PM a Member of Parliament who has the House’s majority support.

Beyond that, however, Malaysia under the Barisan Nasional (BN) has its own formula. Yes, the BN fulfils the constitutional requirements of the prime minister being an elected member of the Dewan Rakyat, and who commands the majority support in the House. But the BN has also created its own conventions as to race and religious “requirements” for a prime minister. These are political norms, rather than rules, which have become instituted by practice. Over time, Islam and being Malay Malaysian have been conflated into the requisite identity of a prime minister until it’s taken by some as a given.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as ultra a Malay as he may be, was not wrong when he said in 2000 that a non-Malay Malaysian could become prime minister. Indeed, he was constitutionally correct.

“Confluence of factors”

So what’s stopping opposition parties from thinking differently? For all the multi-ethnicity they champion in policies, why do their politics end up mirroring the BN’s?


With regards to Anwar’s candidacy for prime minister, the DAP’s Liew Chin Tong says this was “never a matter for debate” among the PR parties because there was “no other choice”. Anwar, he said, was the most qualified person from among the three parties given his past federal experience, wide networks and public persona.

“For the DAP, it wasn’t that he is Malay [Malaysian], but because he is the most acceptable to all. Politics is not mathematics but a confluence of factors, and Anwar fits these factors,” Liew, the Bukit Bendera Member of Parliament, says in a phone interview.

Political analyst and The Nut Graph columnist Wong Chin Huat concurs on Anwar’s acceptability to most people, albeit from the position of PKR being the most centrist of the three parties.

Wong believes that while the DAP and PAS would each prefer their own party leaders as first choice to lead the PR, “they know their leaders will unlikely be accepted by other parties and the public because of their ‘flank’ positions”.

“It’s about the relative positioning of each of the three parties. PKR is the most multiracial, so as far as such values are concerned, Anwar is in the end the common denominator,” Wong says in a phone interview.

The electorate’s vote

However, it’s hard to ascertain just how much support Anwar has based on Wong’s reasoning, and how much support is still based on the default thinking that the prime minister must be Malay-Muslim.

Obama (Public domain | Wiki commons)


A sizeable number of young Malay Malaysians are not ready to accept a non-Malay Malaysian head of government. This was reflected in a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research survey, which was conducted in late 2008 during Barack Obama’s historic election as US president.

How many Malaysian voters actually think that race counts less than a candidate’s principles and abilities in administering just policies for the country’s good? If the Merdeka Center poll is anything to go by, the numbers are not encouraging. The same sentiment was at work in Penang when Lim became chief minister. Strategically, he was compelled to appoint one Malay and one Indian Malaysian deputy to assure voters that his government would represent all races.

What needs to happen, then, before the current default thinking on who qualifies to be prime minister can be successfully challenged by the majority? At least two things would have to happen first:

the BN must lose federal power so that the current practice of filling up cabinet positions based on racial quotas can potentially be replaced by a system that is constitutional, yet merit-based; and

race-based political parties and racial politics must be disbanded.

Between the BN and PR, which of the coalitions are able, or even interested, in facilitating such change? If it is the PR, how well is it leading the way in this?

Unfortunately, Malaysia still needs a Malay Malaysian leader to convince the majority of Malay voters about a mindset change. That is likely the hope that the PR has in Anwar and the challenge that Datuk Seri Najib Razak faces as BN chief.

No matter, what is clear is that until and unless Malaysians can put leadership qualities above race and religious criteria, and demand for such leadership, Malaysia will be stuck with the same formula of racial politics, whether from the BN or PR.

The Nut Graph

Utusan Malaysia, Interlok and the azan

IT’S commonly accepted that the media play a role in shaping public perception. But how exactly does that happen? Here’s an analysis of Utusan Malaysia‘s coverage on two issues: the controversy over Interlok, and the request for the dawn azan’s volume to be lowered at a Kampung Kerinchi mosque.


Let’s first look at the press coverage on Interlok. The book’s introduction into the Form Five literature syllabus at the end of 2010 was criticised because it referred to an Indian immigrant from the “pariah” caste. The word “pariah” has a derogatory connotation, and some groups, including Barisan Nasional component party MIC, said its usage in a textbook was offensive to Indian Malaysians. Others demanded the book’s removal, saying it wrongly depicted the Malaysian Indian community.

Here’s how Utusan Malaysia tackled the issue. The newspaper interviewed Interlok‘s author, Datuk Abdullah Hussain, for his side of the story. The interview, entitled Air mata sasterawan, was published on the front page with a photograph of the 91-year-old national laureate in tears. The interview asked Abdullah to clarify Interlok’s “true meaning”, and for his response to ethnic Indians who had rejected it. Abdullah explained the context for his use of the offending word – that it was in reference to the caste system practised in India at the time, and that he had no intention whatsoever of offending Indian Malaysians.

In response to a protest where copies of the novel and the author’s picture were burnt, a 12 Jan 2011 Utusan Malaysia editorial urged protesters not to go overboard and to be rational. It accused protesters of not appreciating Interlok’s contents, and of not reading the book. The editorial also quoted associate professor Sivamurugan Pandian from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). “As an Indian Malaysian, Sivamurugan is very rational,” the editorial said. “He said the term pariah in Interlok was seen as relevant at that time and that needs to be appreciated by Indian [Malaysians] today.”

Another 12 Jan 2011 editorial titled Elok fahami Interlok, bukannya bakar also criticised the book burning. It said the protests against Abdullah demonstrated the attitude of “uncivilised people motivated only by emotions”.

A news report quoted different non-governmental organisations also condemning the protest. Protesters actions were labelled “childish”, “immature”, and insulting the Yang diPertuan Agong, who had bestowed Abdullah with the national laureate title.

On 17 Jan 2011, Utusan Malaysia published a news report quoting Professor Dr Ambigapathy Pandian, dean of USM’‘s School of Languages, Literacy and Translation. The report quoted Ambigapathy as saying the issue had been manipulated and that Interlok was well written and didn’t pose any problems.

Azan dispute

Let’s now examine Utusan‘s coverage of the azan issue. The azan issue began when a lawyer residing at Pantai Hill Park, Kuala Lumpur, wrote to the Prime Minister’s Department requesting for the dawn azan’s volume at a nearby mosque to be lowered. He also reportedly suggested that guidelines be issued on azan volumes nationwide. Mahadi Abdullah, the mosque’s head imam, told reporters that Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) officials instructed him to lower the volume following the complaint.

A reportedly raucous protest was held in front of the mosque, Masjid Al-Ikhlasiah, on 14 Jan, with about 100 people present. Protesters chanted Allahuakhbar and carried banners displaying the complainant’s name, address and phone number. They also burnt an effigy of the complainant.

Here’s how Utusan Malaysia chose to report on the protest. “About 100 people gathered around Masjid Al-Ikhlasiah … They carried banners saying ‘Azan is sacred’, ‘Don’t play with fire’ and ‘Islam is our religion’.”

“The gathering ended at about 2:30pm when some parties burnt three replicas of a corpse outside the mosque, but police successfully managed to stop them.

“Having said that, no undesirable incidents occurred at the assembly,” Utusan reported. No mention was made of the protesters being “childish” or “immature”.

On 18 Jan 2011, Utusan‘s front page proclaimed Isu azan selesai, saying the lawyer had apologised for his memorandum. The report carried a photograph of the complainant and the mosque chairperson shaking hands. Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin was pictured with them, all standing in front of an Umno flag. An editorial said the apology should soothe Muslims who had been hurt by the incident and should be a lesson to all not to play with religious issues. It also encouraged non-Muslims to be more aware of important Islamic practices such as prayers and festivals.

Interlok vs azan

Here’s a summarised comparison of Utusan‘s reporting on both issues.

Interlok issue Azan issue
The person being accused of “racism”, i.e. the author of the book, was given ample opportunity to explain his side of the story. The person accused of “playing with religious issues” was quoted only to demonstrate that he had apologised and was “sorry” for his actions.
The context of the offending word was explained not just by the author but also other knowledgeable parties. The context of the lawyer’s complaint or why it arose after he had lived in the area for several years was never discussed.
Views in support of the author, by members of the ethnic community reportedly offended, were obtained. No opinions that could possibly justify the complainant’s viewpoint, such as this New Straits Times article on guidelines on the azan, were published by Utusan.
Editorials were published advising rationality, calm, and discussion in response to the angry burning of items in protest of the issue. No editorials were published condemning the angry effigy burning outside the mosque. Instead a news report said that “no undesirable incidents” had occurred at the protest.

Issues are seldom straightforward, especially those involving race and religion. Utusan‘s coverage on Interlok helped to explain that the issue was not about a Malay Malaysian author deliberately setting out to disparage the Indian Malaysian community. The reports and editorials provided context, perspective, history and sound advice to be rational and calm in discussing the issue. It provided a platform for dialogue and discussion, and for a sound decision to be made on whether or not the book should be removed from the school syllabus.

Which of course begs the question: Where was this rationality and ability to ask good questions when it came to reporting on the azan issue? What criteria is used to determine which stories are given such comprehensive coverage, and which ones are reported from a one-dimensional perspective? Was the fact that one issue involved a government decision, which the paper felt compelled to defend, part of the equation? Or were there other more insidious considerations?

Whatever the reasons, these two examples demonstrate that objectivity in news reporting is a myth. What is more crucial is whether an issue is reported fairly, accurately and responsibly.

Hence, it is important for Malaysians to be critical when reading the news. Journalists and editors construct reality in the way that they treat an issue. If news consumers were not critical, they would only subscribe to the reality that the media constructs for them. And that, as the two examples above demonstrate, may be an ill-informed and lopsided reality.

Azan issue: A missed opportunity for BN

Azan issue: A missed opportunity for BN

THE recent azan controversy was a missed opportunity for the Barisan Nasional (BN) to show how it can be a government for all Malaysians. It could have been a chance for the BN to lead instead of react, by fostering dialogue, understanding and respect among different ethnic groups and religions. But the government and some [...]