Malaysia's Fear Factor
by Charles Hector
Aliran Monthly 2004:1
Fear still is a major phenomenon in Malaysia; it keeps individual Malaysians (and even some groups of persons) silent and quiet despite the obvious and real human rights violations and the obvious lack of rights. Fear is a major problem in Malaysia and, yes, it also applies to lawyers.
I remember many years ago, when I first stood up at the AGM of the Malaysian Bar and spoke my mind about some things that were not right. I was later approched by several senior members of the Bar, who were well-meaning and sincere.
Do not rock the boat
They took time to caution a young lawyer about the way things were. They advised me that I should not �rock the boat� and should not be so critical. They told me that if I was vocal, I would lose out as many of the senior people in the Bar Council may one day be elevated as judges - and they would then look at me negatively and this would affect the outcome of my cases. They told me that there are �government spies� all around, and if I was seen as a �trouble-maker� or an �anti-government element�, I would be blacklisted.
As a young lawyer recently called to the Bar, I should have paid heed to their words of wisdom and the common sense of my caring fellow lawyers. But then I have always been one who could not hold his tongue when he sees something that is not right, something that is wrong or unjust happening around him. To keep silent goes against my very being - and if I did keep silent, my conscience would have tortured me, and I would not be true to my God.
Do not talk so loud
At the teh tarek stalls, a group of persons is yakking away loudly, talking about the movies, friends, the recent football games they had watched... Suddenly someone started talking about the human rights situation in Malaysia, and the volume is lowered. The crowd huddled together in hushed tones; some turn to look around, perhaps to ensure that there was no one too close to eavesdrop on the conversation.
Do not vote for the opposition?
At the ballot box, the voter considers whom to vote for. Shall I vote for the DAP candidate - for after all he is a good guy, clean and concerned about the people and the nation? Then other thoughts creep in:
�Ahhh...but then they will know and I will be �blacklisted�...I may not get the low-cost house that was promised to me which I have been waiting for in the �rumah panjang� I am now living in for the past 15 years � since I first came here when my �squatter community� was evicted.�
�Will my promotion be affected?�
�Will my business permits be taken away?�
�Will they know? Will they know?�
�Will I be arrested under the ISA if I do not vote for the Barisan Nasional?� ah, never mind... better play safe, I will just vote for the Barisan Nasional.�
At the orientation session at the KL legal Aid Centre, the facilitator has just asked me to list out the negative things in Malaysia. What should I do? There are spies all over�now who is the police spy?... Should I be open and speak out about all the violation of human rights? Yes...no...yes...well, I�ll play safe and�OK..well, one of the negative things is that the �public toilets are dirty and smelly�, and another is that there are always �traffic jams�, and the third is that there is �flooding whenever it rains�...
Well, those would be the safe answers to give. Phew, that was a close call; lucky I played smart and found three things negative and did not have to say anything about the other injustices and human rights violations around me. Being a lawyer is tough�and now the facilitator is telling me that one thing that a lawyer must do is to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour.
Do not fear
Yes, Fear is still a prevalent feature in our Malaysian society - and one of the things that we have to overcome is Fear. Let us fight and campaign for Freedom from Fear.
Fear keeps Malaysians silent and quiet and accepting all that is wrong in our society. They become too afraid of speaking out and/or fighting for a change.
The Barisan Nasional has succeeded in silencing Malaysians and thus, people continue to be oppressed and deprived of their rights today, tomorrow and forever - a victory for the Barisan Nasional..
Peace is our promise, say the Barisan Nasional leaders, and that is what we have achieved and all Malaysians now live in Peace...
Peace, however is not true peace if there is no justice and human rights.
Peace is not achieved by the suppression of dissent or by the inculcation of fear.
Hello, we are human beings - not sheep or cattle. We have brains and we can think. We have opinions, ideas and thoughts - and the suppresssion of these makes us inhuman.
Let us all confront our fears. Let us all be human beings. Let us all live full, holistic lives. Let us all be vocal and expressive and active participants in the building of a society where justice and human rights are the foundation, thus leading to a community living in true peace - not an artificial �peace� just because we are too fearful to speak out for change.
Freedom from fear
Feedom to be able to express,
to assemble and to voice our opinions.
Freedom to choose our leaders,
Freedom to participate in the governing and development of Malaysia.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
�Witch-Hunting�: Un-democratic Behaviour
The BN govt must not discriminate against non-sympathisers
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Once elected, the victors and the losing candidates must put aside their differences and work together for the good and benefit of all the people in the country/state � yes, for the good and benefit of all the people and not just for the good of those who supported and or voted for them. The losing candidates are also part of these people whom the victors must now represent in Parliament and/or the State Legislative Assembly. The victors must remember that their duty and responsibility is towards all the people - not just their party members, their financiers and donors during the elections, or their supporters. If the victors forget this and discriminate against their opponents and their opponents� supporters, then the victors have forgotten the true meaning of democracy.
Witch-hunt in Terengganu
Idris Jusoh, who won by a majority of 2,047 votes only, whereby his opponent from PAS had obtained 4,466 votes, immediately after the swearing in as the Menteri Besar of Terengganu hastily abolished the People�s Consultative Committee(JSR) introduced by PAS during its four-year reign. About 400 members of the JSR were affected by this move. (Malaysiakini, 25 Mar 2004).
In Malaysiakini, 30 Mar 2004, it was reported that there also occurred the �sacking en masse of some 400 staff of the Unit Pembangunan Insan and its director Ismail Osman.�. Also fired were Syariah court chief judge Dr Abdullah Abu Bakar, deputy state mufti Zainal Abidin Ahmad, Sultan Zainal Abidin Islamic College director Assoc Prof. Anuar Zainal Abidin and the Yayasan Terengganu director Yusof Tahir. The new Menteri Besar�s explanation was that �their contracts had to be terminated because they had clearly sided with the PAS government and would ruin Barisan Nasional�s (BN) agenda and planning if not stopped.� In my opinion, this is odd and foolish reasoning.
Keep the good to benefit the people
All these termination and verbal notices have been done relatively hastily, and it affects people who are not political appointees but mere public servants. The speed by which these actions were taken (and/or decisions made) could reasonably be said to be an emotional reaction, rather that a well thought out and critically analyzed action. This is wrong for people who are public servants will lose their jobs, and their children�s education could be affected. There should have been serious study done to determine whether these PAS-created structures, these PAS-government initiated schools are good for the people of Terengganu. It is wrong for this BN Menteri Besar to just reject anything and everything just because it was done during the PAS�s term of government.
Political appointees or public servants?
It has been stated that these officers �clearly sided with the PAS government and would ruin Barisan Nasional�s (BN) agenda and planning if not stopped�� How does the Menteri Besar know this? Have they done anything to date that �ruined� the BN agenda and planning for the Terengganu people? Mere speculation of possible future actions is not a good enough justification for the termination of employment and the dismantling of schools and community-based structures created by the previous government.
It is sad, and rather embarrassing, that this new MB is saying and doing such things as these actions and words go against the very essence of democracy. The role and responsibilities of an elected government towards its people - not just the BN supporters, but all the people of Terengganu - have been forgotten.
Imagine if another party took over the Federal Government, then within five days, the most senior public servants are removed and teachers lose their jobs. This is absurd.
Politicians and political parties must realize this and must be able to distinguish between what are political appointees and mere public servants. If certain positions, after serious study, are to be dismantled, then the State has the obligation to provide alternative jobs to those �retrenched�.
I hope that this Menteri Besar now does not go out there and start discriminating against the 4,466 voters who voted for his opponent, and the remaining tens of thousands who did not vote for the BN by depriving them of government aid, scholarships, subsidies and other assistance. For if he does so, this man does not understand the essence of our democracy and he should be removed from his post as Menteri Besar.
Serve without discrimination
Once elected, the BN government of the day must not discriminate against those that did not support the BN. For if it does do so, then it might as well abolish all political parties and the general elections and erase democracy from Malaysia. How can you tell people to chose � and then discriminate against them because they did exercise �correctly� this right of choice.
Elections came, the majority have spoken through their votes, so now you who have been chosen as the peoples� representatives and/or as the government, must go forth and be the representatives of the people, and must govern the people with justice and fairness.
BN has no respect for human rights - All this talk about change and the concern for human rights is an eye-wash
Malaysian General Election 2004 Special
BN has no respect for human rights
All this talk about change and the concern for human rights is an eye-wash
by Charles Hector
Suhakam submitted three annual reports, which also contained recommendations, but, alas, to date none of these reports has been discussed or debated in Parliament.
Besides that various other inquiries were made and reports containing recommendations were made, and again the government has not taken up these recommendations. Suhakam is in fact a toothless tiger in the fight for human rights.
Even Musa Hitam (a former deputy premier), whom many considered lukewarm as far as human rights was concerned, was not re-appointed as a Suhakam head. He was replaced by former Attorney General Abu Talib Othman.
Abu Talib's involvement in the 1988 Judicial Crisis and the 1987 Operation Lalang (during which about 106 persons were detained under the Internal Security Act) makes him unsuitable to be a human rights commissioner - let alone Suhakam chairman.
Come April 2004, the present 2-year terms come to an end. I predict that this time Prof Hamdan Adnan, who has been a pain in the government's neck for his surprise inspections of lock-ups and places of detention will be dropped.
The formation of Suhakam was a white-wash. The the slow purging of those commissioners with human rights credentials and the appointment of 'yes-men' who seem to be too scared to stand up and defend human rights has shown that the BN government and the BN-dominated Parliament seem to have never had any intention of improving human rights in Malaysia.
Suhakam is supposed to be made up of non-partisan individuals whose only interest must be human rights. But take a look at the Commissioners now. Even the appointment of the latest Royal Commission to look into police practices, abuses and corruption has a token few persons of credibility. Recent reports about the workings of this commission behind 'closed doors' and not in an open and transparent manner seem to indicate that this again is yet another farce. Even if they come up with a good report and set of recommendations at the end of the day, in all likelihood the BN-led government would most probably let it gather dust, in the same way as they have done with SUHAKAM reports.
Our "new-broom" PM, Abdullah Badawi, started his premiership with promises of change. The arrest of an ageing prominent businessman and a senator-minister for corruption gave the impression that there was going to be a cleaner and better Malaysia.
But then the nomination date and the election date was announced, and it turns out that this would be period of campaigning in Malaysian election history. This contradicted all the assurances made by Abdullah about 'change' and the respect for human rights. We all know that the main print media and electronic media do not give adequate space to the opposition parties to articulate their views and positions; it is primarily during the campaign period that they can let the people know their views and positions. So this short campaign period is indeed a serious contradiction to the words and promises of the new head of the Barisan Nasional coalition.
Abdullah also had time to approve the merger of Parti Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat Malaysia to form Parti Keadilan Rakyat but this was not done. Parti Socialis Malaysia's registration could have also been approved but this too was not done. And let us not forget that it was during Abdullah's term as premier that the police turned the water-cannons on those who went to Bukit Aman to hand over a memorandum of protest. About 17 of the NGO representatives were also arrested that day (though they were later released the same day).
We must also not forget that Abdullah has not made any mention about the infamous Kampung Medan incident that left about six dead and about 100 injured. Many, including the Malaysian Bar, have called for an inquiry.
So, all this talk about change and the concern for human rights is an eye-wash or, as some say, just part and parcel of empty election promises.
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Malaysian General Election 2004 Special
Freedom rules if fear is dead
Do not let fear overrule your freedom of choice
Fear has been a factor that has kept the Barisan Nasional, a coalition of 13 political parties, in power all these years with a greater than two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament. And what is even sadder is that this fear has been consciously or unconsciously propagated by those in power, who have become over-confident and have forgotten that the rakyat are the bosses. They have forgotten that all that is done must be done for the benefit of all the rakyat, not just the few in power and their friends.
Based on experience, this fear comes in many different forms and it is different for different groups of persons. The main one is the fear of future repression and/or oppression by the State, the fear of being �targeted� or �black-listed�. We will now look at some of the common fears that have kept the Barisan Nasional government in power for all these years since independence.
Generally, for the non-Malay voters, the fear of a repeat of the racial riots of 1969 if the Barisan Nasional loses in the General Elections is still there. Two elections ago in an area like Kampung Medan, a lawyer friend left his home and went away because he believed that racial riots would follow if the Barisan Nasional candidate lost. This fear apparently is still very real in the minds of people irrespective of economic class and educational background, and seems to be strongest in those who lived through the 1969 episode. But what is sad is that many really do not even have an understanding or analysis of what really happened, why it happened and/or how serious it really was.
�Government servants�, a term used consciously by the state through the media as opposed to the more correct term �public servants�, believe that their jobs and future promotions will be jeopardised if they vote for a candidate not from the Barisan Nasional parties. They believe that they will be transferred to some �ulu place� if the authorities found out.
Residents from the poorer income group who live as tenants in the Bandaraya and/or Majlis Bandaran(or municipal) flats believe that their tenancy will be terminated or not re-newed if they were to vote for a candidate not from the Barisan Nasional parties. In Kuala Lumpur, the tenancy period, several years ago, was reduced from five years to three years and this has had the effect of magnifying this fear. Note that in these tenancy agreements, the authorities have the sole discretion as to whether to renew or not to renew the tenancy agreement.
This fear can also be found among urban settlers (sometimes derogatively referred to as �squatters�) and for those who live in the Rumah Panjang (temporary housing for persons displaced from the land they previously resided on while they wait to be given the opportunity to purchase low-cost accommodations). The fear is that they will not get the opportunity to buy and own their own low cost homes if they are found out to be voting for non-Barisan Nasional candidates. This explains possibly why the current Malaysian government, although able to expend mega bucks on mega projects, has till today chosen not to completely alleviate the housing problems of the poor.
The fathers and mothers of children are afraid that their children�s chances - to get into the good residential schools, to get chosen for matriculation prorammes and/or overseas study opportunities, to get student loans and/or scholarships - will be jeopardised if they vote for non-Barisan Nasional candidates.
And lastly some people are just afraid that they will be blacklisted - or even arrested under the ISA if they support and choose the wrong candidates.
Dispel your fears
Wake up, oh people of Malaysia..we have been independent for over 45 years now, and how long will we let fear dictate our life? How long will we allow our God-given freedom to think and act to be suppressed by all these fears..and worries? How long will we allow the Barisan Nasional government to con us, to suppress us, to shackle us � by instilling fear in the hearts and minds of the Malaysian people. Anger � that is what we must have � anger at ourselves for our weakness...anger at the people who have kept this fear alive in us all these years. �Fear, be gone � be gone and I will no longer be afraid ... and will no longer allow people to make me afraid � and I will hereafter exercise my freedom to choose my representatives as I will � no longer be dictated by fear�
In the print and electronic media, which is controlled via the government by anti-freedom laws and through ownership by persons/companies associated with the Barisan Nasional component parties or their leaders, it is not uncommon for us to be exposed to all the �bad things� that is happening in other countries - like riots, wars, killing and sufferings. Why aren�t the good things highlighted? Well, I believe that it is a well thought-up subtle strategy to enhance the fear in Malaysians of what will happen if the Barisan Nasional was not in power.
Islamic State ... yet another slogan used to scare the non-Muslim voters...but then one wonders why the non-Muslim DAP members in Terengganu refused to abandon their positions in the Terengganu PAS-led state government? Why indeed do the non-Muslims from the PAS-held states of Kelantan and Terengganu not seem to be complaining? Let us not forget that Islamic revivalism, and the insistence on the �tudung� all started in the institutions of higher learning in places like Kuala Lumpur and Selangor - not Kelantan, not Terengganu.
The myth that only the Barisan Nasional can rule was dispelled when Kelantan fell to PAS, and continued to be governed by the PAS government for three terms now. The people of Kelantan (and now Terengganu) are not ignorant, stupid or foolish but are just as aware, intelligent, rationale and bright as other Malaysians - and I believe, that if their non-Barisan Nasional government could not perform, the people would have voted out the PAS government. Now do not forget that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is Kelantanese too. And remember also that British television programme �Yes Minister�, which reminds us that the government and the running of the country is really done by the civil service or the public servants. Ministers and Governments can come and go but Malaysia will still be OK and developing as usual.
What we see in TV and read in the newspapers cannot really be blindly accepted as true - for after all how the media can be manipulated to convey a biased and false picture was shown when the Malaysian government itself highlighted this point about the western media�s coverage of the wrongful US invasion of Iraq. So now, we have the Al-Jazeera channel in ASTRO. Guess what friends - similar things happen also with our very own print and electronic media, where it is obviously biased in favour of the Barisan Nasional and that is more than evident during this period.
Barisan Nasional is also fearful
Yes, they are indeed afraid of the rakyat. They are afraid that the people once blinded with fear can now see - and that �mere slogans� and �dramatic gestures� will no longer work. Soon the government will be forced to ensure that the wealth of the nation will have to be better used for the benefit of ALL the rakyat, and not just for the chosen few in power and their cronies.
Free education, free roads, free health services, cheaper water, cheaper electricity, cheaper sewage treatment and cheaper utilities, and a more efficient and clean government will have to become a priority and a reality in Malaysia. We once had all these but these slowly disappeared because of the wrong emphasis placed by the Barisan Nasional government when it came to spending our money and our resources - yes our money. Corruption, which is there at the very highest levels of government, will have to really end. The arrest and charging of just two persons, one a Minister(who is a Senator) and another an ageing businessman will not deceive Malaysians into thinking that the Barisan government has changed.
The people of Kelantan and Terenganu had never before enjoyed as much attention from the Barisan Nasional government as they do now. Likewise, Kedah and even Perlis where the Barisan Nasional just scraped through has become the focus of the BN government�s spending and development projects. Here is a lesson that all Malaysians must learn - for if the BN thinks they can no longer win easily, then the people benefit more from their government. Hence, if we all vote wisely to reduce the Barisan majority, and even possibly to deprive the BN of its two-thirds majority, then all ordinary Malaysians will receive greater attention from the government for the next five years or so. And this attention will take the form of greater development, cheaper public amenities and who knows ... maybe even toll-free roads.
After the fall of Kelantan and then Terengganu, the BN government is indeed fearful that the Malaysian people are no longer filled with fear, and are becoming FREER and WISER and will at last force their representatives in Parliament and the State Assemblies to perform their duties as the peoples� representatives - and most importantly for the benefit of the people, not just for their or their cronies� benefit.
Let us turn the tables now, and transfer the fear from the people to the government sending a clear message that if it does not perform, and does not do things for the benefit of all Malaysians, then beware for we shall vote it out and give the chance to some other party.
The people of Kelantan and Terengganu have paved the way, now maybe the rest of us Malaysians can also dispel our fears and freely exercise our right to vote, and maybe vote in such a way so that the Barisan Nasional loses its two-thirds majority this time - for after all, all that is needed to form the government is a simple majority. A two-thirds majority is only needed if one wants to amend the Federal Constitution - and for everything else, like the passing of laws and the running of the government, all that is needed is a simple majority.
Freedom should reign, and let fear be buried for a better Malaysia.