Friday, April 18, 2008

So where's Tun Hamid Omar?

“No nation can call itself fair and just without an efficient and trusted judiciary. By 'trusted', I mean a judiciary that delivers justice and is seen to deliver justice. In Malaysia's case, debates and arguments on the state of our judiciary have been heated and protracted.

"Some of the Malay Rulers have openly voiced their disquiet on what they see as a decline, requiring nothing short of a judicial renaissance. Some retired judges have related troubling tales of impropriety. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for reform of this most august institution. Even the Bar Council, true to form, has marched en masse outside my office…."

“But the fact is, we can no longer leave such an important institution to hope and chance. The system must have built-in safeguards to prevent potential abuse and it must have a process that will convincingly identify the best legal minds in the country to join the judiciary. This is a necessary part of ensuring that our nation's judiciary is robust and trusted by the people."

So says PM Abdullah. I appreciate that our PM has his back against the wall. But I shall not let my cynicism rubbish what could possibly be an historic ‘Dinner for Justice’ as some lawyers have dubbed this evening’s conciliatory gathering.

That the man found a conscience belatedly is not the point. The fact is, it certainly would not have happened without a fortuitous convergence of events leading to March 8. The least optimistic rakyat (among whom I count myself) must take heart that yes, even in a less than perfect system, our votes can make things happen when we purpose to vote collectively for change.

I do wonder about Tun Hamid Omar. He was Acting Lord President, Chief Justice and Judge of the Supreme Court of Malaysia, and the then PM Dr M's contemptible axeman in the 1988 judicial scandal. [More]

On an evening such as this where amends for wrong were offered and perpetrators were conspicuously left unnamed, he must cut a pitiful figure, unlamented and uninvited. Relegated to the dustbin of history (where another ex-CJ Tun Ahmad Fairuz seems destined), Hamid Omar will remain a tragic footnote in the annals of our nation’s tumultuous struggle for her soul.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is PAS rethinking the Islamic State?

MCA secretary-general Datuk Ong Ka Chuan thinks we’ve all been lulled by the promises of the Pakatan we’re ignoring PAS’ Islamist goal to our detriment: “…who can guarantee that PAS will not go ahead to make Malaysia an Islamic state in time to come when it becomes powerful enough to do so?" he asked. "If PAS' PR partners cannot convince it to give up the Islamic state goal, (what) they are (doing is) "Yang hu wei hua" (inviting troubles).

Coming from a BN man whose party did not and could not stop UMNO from declaring Malaysia a “negara Islam” this is laughable. What did the other BN component parties do when UMNO zealots hijacked the Constitution and threatened everyone who wouldn’t get it to get out? Other than token disapprovals, nada. Damage control was left to fed-up voters to take a collective stand to cut UMNO down to size and give its whiny partners the boot.

To Ka Chuan’s credit, he did make a stand by invoking historical documents such as the Reid Report (1957) and the Cobbold Commission (1963) to prove Malaysia’s secularity. But did his objection move UMNO to give up its own Islamist ambitions? Nope. So, he should be wagging his finger at us.

Having said all this, I welcome PAS’ vice-president Husam Musa’s recent statement that an Islamic state is not on the Pakatan agenda. “We accept the federal constitution as the main frame (in governing) and it is the basis where we move,” assuring partners, especially DAP, not to worry about PAS’ intention.

That’s good news. Happily it’s another step forward towards a more cohesive opposition coalition.

Farish Noor also wonders if PAS is not evolving and adapting to our multicultural realities, alluding to the party’s seminal left-leaning past. In broad strokes he argues that religious parties worldwide tends towards compromise to consolidate their political survival. “Likewise many Islamist parties and movements in the Arab world have also made the same sort of important and symbolic concessions to non-Muslims in their bid for power,” he writes.

If that is true, this is even better news.

But I’m not so sure. Concessions are nice, but it’s not enough. Although all this seems like so much progress and while I applaud a ‘moderate’ PAS (and indeed am somewhat relieved), I want a stronger and clearer commitment.

In May 1957 at the London Constitutional talks, the following was recorded by the then Colonial Office regarding Article 2A (providing for Islam as official religion):

One deviation from the recommendations of the Reid Commission is that Islam becomes the State Religion of Malaya. Since, however, the provisions safeguarding the rights of religious minorities remain, this alteration has more political significance than practical effect. The members of the [Alliance] delegation stressed that they had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular State.

Constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi also agrees that while Islam is the religion of the Federation, the primary intent was symbolic and ceremonial.

I would feel a lot happier if by saying PAS “accepts” the Federal Constitution, they mean its secularity, or its non-religious basis. I would like to hear Pakatan cohorts agreeing that the future they are forging is secular statehood not the diddling ambiguity of “Islam is the official religion but we respect all religions...”

Such a stand has been used to justify Islam as state ideology and the incipient Islamisation of state machinery and institutions. Enough with UMNO's mantra that “Malaysia is an Islamic State; it’s not a theocracy.” It’s disingenuous but I’m not biting, because Malaysia is neither, since the intent of the Constitution was obviously secular.

I cast my vote for Pakatan; I said good riddance to BN. I’d like to believe that the tectonic shifts of the 12th GE will also be groundbreaking in its handling of the Islamic question. Perhaps I hope too much?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Turning DAP into MIC?

Again I am stumped by this new round of demands.

First, it was DAP’s Perak assemblyman Sivasubramaniam’s resignation flip-flop over the Perak leadership's apparent lack of respect for the “voice of Makkal Sakhti.”

Now it’s Indian DAP members in Penang demanding a “a high powered state-level council” or State Indian Development and Advisory Council to manage Indian affairs. According to a Malaysiakini report, many DAP Indians in Penang claim they have been forgotten after helping the party capture Penang.

“Since the DAP came to power, our existence, importance and sacrifices seemed ignored,” summed up a disgruntled Indian member, who has been a party man for over 20 years.

Is this for real?

Here we are trying to promote a new paradigm towards a non-racial polity, and these people want to turn DAP into MIC.

I am just lost for words.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The gentle giant killer

It was a simple ‘meet the MP’ sort of thing; an after dinner soiree among friends, in affluent Taman Tun Dr Ismail, and a rather unlikely place for a socialist whose life’s work has been among the poor. But Dr M Jeyakumar (“No YB, just call me Kumar”) graciously made time to meet mates who knew him from way back in Penang and from his days at Yale. Soft-spoken Kumar who was accompanied by his wife and campaign manager Rani had come to KL to be present for a briefing at Parliament on Thursday.

Kumar (pix: malaysiavotes) took us through a simple powerpoint presentation illustrating his no-frills campaign, pointing out party faithfuls and supporters who stood with him right up to that historic March 8 victory. He praised the kawan-karib activists and the efficient jentera PAS who organised nightly ceramahs, and told of dirty tactics by UMNO.

One especially disgusting flier announced that “every vote for Kumar was a vote for another Hindu temple.” One wonders if this was one reason why the number of Malay voters eroded by 0.1%; if not for the huge increase in Chinese, Indian, and orang asli voters, the MIC supremo could well remain in power today.

He spoke of the plight of the Temiar orang aslis, how the community had been exploited and left too demoralized to stand up to government agencies. Another point that got us all talking was postal votes. So what’s it all about? How do postal votes work? No one could say for sure. Not the soon-to-be installed MP, and neither the two journos who were present that night. If the EC isn’t telling, and if journalists do not know, all these new MPs had better raise it up in Parliament, so everyone agreed.

The man who snatched Sungei Siput from Samy Velu did not look anything like the giant killer that he was, which again proves how one should never judge a book by its cover. All the more timely because it's easy to see politicians as that peculiar species better known for posturing and bluster, whose face is thicker than the callous on their hands. It’s men like Kumar who restores my faith in people. His tireless work among squatters, plantation and factory workers since 1999, speaks volumes for integrity, persistence, and selflessness.

But it’s a whole new ball game now. There’s a noticeable weight on Kumar’s shoulders; Rani’s mobile phone keeps ringing. It’s that post-election whirlwind, and I pray it won’t knock a good man off his feet.