malaysiana

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year! & Moving

Dear all, Happy New Year and May 2007 be a great year for you. This blog will be moved to liewchintong.com from now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

PM Abdullah: Holidaying as usual?

"How can you think about holidays at this critical time?," a senior Johore state exco commented.

We are now certain that MCA President and Minister for Housing and Local Government Ong Ka Ting is still overseas on holiday as the Star printed his statement today without mentioning his whereabouts. Our next question: Is Prime Minister Abdullah in town? Reuters picked up a minor detail not reported in Malaysian newspaper while reporting on the Prime Minister's visit to affected areas on 23 December 2006.
"Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, en route to Australia for his holiday after an official visit to Venezuela, made a surprise detour to Johor on Saturday to visit flood victims."

Floods round-up: Officials in 'holiday mood' told to help out

Jassmine Shadiqe

"This is not the time to go away for holidays. We have a crisis on our hands. You should be on the ground helping people," said Datuk Halimah Mohd Sadique, who heads the local government and health portfolio. She said this when asked to comment on reports that in several flood-hit districts, the councillors were nowhere to be found. This has led to speculation that many had taken off on their one-week "study tour" to Shanghai, China. Over the last few weeks, local authorities have been sending their appointed councillors from the various Barisan Nasional component parties on such overseas trips. Under state guidelines, these trips should not exceed 33 people per group, with the cost of the excursions budgeted at between RM50,000 and RM200,000 per local authority. The year-end school holidays, coupled with the festive period, have prompted many councillors to plan such trips for the end of the year. Halimah confirmed that the trip was approved by the government, but said that the councillors were back. Some were helping out at the relief centres. However, Halimah slammed those who were still thinking of going abroad at such a time. She said they should have a sense of responsibility to the ratepayers they served. "We have not frozen their leave, or banned anyone from travelling. But these people must know their responsibilities." She said that even Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, who was scheduled to go on two weeks’ leave from this week, had cancelled his plans. "I hope local authorities will take the cue from the menteri besar and do their bit to help the thousands of families in distress, because they have lost everything in the floods. "It is the moral and ethical thing to do. "How can you think about holidays at this critical time?" she said.

Heavy flooding uproots thousands in Asia

23/12/2006

Heavy rain in neighbouring Indonesia -- exacerbated by deforestation -- also drove thousands from their homes. At least one person was killed and 12 are missing. Malaysian weathermen warned the floods, which hit the southern states, could spread to the central and north-eastern parts of the country if the unusually heavy monsoon rains persist. The rains over the Malaysian states of Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang are expected to continue until Sunday, the weather bureau said in a latest report. Six people, all in the worst-hit state of Johor, have now died in the floods, which the government described as the worst since 1969. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, en route to Australia for his holiday after an official visit to Venezuela, made a surprise detour to Johor on Saturday to visit flood victims. "We want to ensure that everyone gets to return home safely," the national Bernama news agency quoted him as saying after visiting a shelter in Johor. The floods, which followed this week's heaviest rainfall in a century, submerged buildings and cut off roads in Kota Tinggi and several other towns in Johor, which borders Singapore. Newspapers reported looting in the towns of Kota Tinggi and Segamat. There were also cases of rescuers demanding money from flood victims before rescuing them, the Star newspaper said. Desperate victims "I was desperate and did not know what to do," the Star quoted Abdul Rashid Maidin, one of several people whom it said paid the money, as saying. The going rate was between 50 and 100 ringgit ($14 and $28), it said. Flood victims also complained of lack of food, clothing, blankets and running water at many of the relief shelters. Opposition leaders criticised the government's handling of the crisis, saying relief operations were in complete disarray. "A full and independent inquiry into the monster floods in southern peninsula Malaysia and the horror stories of inhumanity, greed and incompetence is clearly warranted," parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said. In Indonesia, officials said 12 people were missing, possibly dead, after heavy rains sent floodwaters up to 2m high racing through 12 districts in North Sumatra province. "One died and 12 people are missing, but we can not confirm yet whether the missing have died or not," Syam Sumarno, spokesperson of Langkat regency in North Sumatra, said by telephone. Sumarno blamed heavy rains that began on Friday, as well as the heavy deforestation of the region for the flood's destruction. "About 17 000 people are being evacuated," he said. In neighbouring Aceh, official said, the rains had swamped 11 of 12 districts in the Tamiang regency, forcing about half the local population of about 300 000 people to flee. There were no immediate reports of casualties, Syahbuddin Usman, head of Tamiang regency, told Reuters, but local rice paddies were damaged and cattle killed by the rising waters. -- Reuters

Monday, December 25, 2006

Malaysia to hold off elections till 2008

Click to listen to interview
Malaysia Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said that an election before 2008 would be unlikely. This is to give himself more time to battle corruption and win the support of the public. The deadline for the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament and hold elections is 17th of May, 2009. Mr. Abdullah admits that it’s “not easy” to stamp out corruption and that too few criminals end up in court. In a global study conducted by Transparency International, Malaysia fell five spots on the Corruption Perceptions Index, from 39th to the 44th position this year. For more on Prime Minister Abdullah’s decision to hold off elections till 2008, Jack Yong spoke to Liew Chin Tong, an independent political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur. LCT: We expected that the elections will not be called before the 50th Anniversary of Malaysia’s National Day on 31st August, so anytime before August seems impossible, and after August, it would be Ramadan, the fasting month, and then Hari Raya, so I expected that the elections would be called, the earliest, by late November, so it’s no surprise that the election would be deferred to 2008. The government term is until May 2009 in any case, so any time between now and 2009 is considered early. Prime Minister Abdullah says he wants more time to fight corruption. How are his efforts coming along so far, where fighting corruption is concerned? LCT: He mentioned that Khairy’s rice bowl was smashed by Dr. Mahathir. I think this indicated that he has lost his moral authority because when PM Abdullah Badawi came into power, he preached a common sense which was aligned with what most Malaysians think – no mega project, no corruption, more sensible use of public funds, upgrade of our general skills, improvements in education… But the remarks about Khairy and what happened in the past year has great implications on his ability to advance his agenda. So what do you think he should do to repair this damage caused by the public spat between Dr. Mahathir and the Prime Minister? LCT: I think he really has to start handling some of the corruption cases but I’m not sure whether that will be seen as political persecutions of his opponents as opposed to just prosecuting corrupt officials. Just how crucial is this issue of corruption for the Prime Minister in terms of how important is it for voters? Will it really make a difference in the eyes of voters? LCT: I think it’s one of the most important issues for PM Abdullah to win the swing vote. He won the swing vote in the last election, mainly because he preached a reformist agenda. But at the end of the day, how will Malaysians evaluate the Prime Minister’s effectiveness in stamping out corruption? LCT: I can’t say what will happen in a year’s time, if Abdullah takes drastic action in prosecuting corrupt officials. Corruption aside, what are some of the other key issues to be resolved on the Prime Minister’s agenda before he may safely and confidently seek to be re-elected? LCT: The Prime Minister has talked about the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the so-called National Mission as the most important points on his agenda. I think the Ninth Malaysia Plan is mainly a package of construction projects that he wants to deliver and he wants the money to trickle down in order to stimulate the economy. My question is whether the construction projects will trickle down to the ground such that it will be felt in the economy, whether that will stimulate the economy when the economy is facing a situation where it has to catch up with other countries. The problem that Malaysia faces is that we’re not competitive enough in terms of costs and skills. We’re caught in the middle, where labour costs are higher than in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, China and India, and the general skill levels are lower, compared to Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. Drastic reforms would be needed to bring the country up the skill ladder. That was Liew Chin Tong, an independent political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, speaking with Jack Yong.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kevin Rudd

Yes, it is true that I am obssessed with Malaysian politics. But politics anywhere interests me as much, especially Australian politics, which I spent almost four years following on a daily basis when I was a student there. I regret that the heavy load of work now, and the physicall and pyschological distance, prevents me from doing so. Anyway, this is such occassion that I shall not miss. The Australian Labor Party has just elected a new leader Kevin Rudd to take on fomidable Prime Minister John Howard in next year's polls. Rudd studied Chinese language and history at my alma matta, the Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU. Photo: Dec 4, 2006: Newly elected Labor leader Kevin Rudd sits in the Opposition Leader's chair in parliament for the first time as he talks to his frontbench.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Non-Malays and UMNO keris waving act

Asia - Malaysia
Non-Malays still troubled by Umno keris waving act
Leslie Lau, MALAYSIA CORRESPONDENT
28 November 2006
Straits Times
(c) 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Chinese leaders and commentators call explanations unconvincing

KUALA LUMPUR - MEMBERS of the Chinese community here continued to express unhappiness over the brandishing of the keris by Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein despite efforts by ruling party leaders to allay concerns.

MCA Youth chief Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he would meet his Umno counterpart to put forward his reservations, while others said the explanations offered so far were not convincing.

Datuk Liow said that although Datuk Seri Hishammuddin had explained the keris was merely a symbol to motivate Malays, people of other races were uneasy.

'Perhaps he needs to explain more. I still get calls from people of other races, especially Chinese, who say they are uneasy with the use of the keris.

'As leaders, we need to understand and consider the feelings of the people on the ground, especially the other races.

'If I hold a Chinese sword at a wushu function, it would be different than if I hold one at a political event. This was a political function, so it is seen in a different context. It can create uneasiness,' he said.

Datuk Liow's remarks appeared in papers yesterday, a day after Datuk Seri Hishammuddin sought to allay concerns by saying the keris was a symbol of Malay culture.

'What is it about the keris that makes people so uncomfortable?' he had said. 'The keris is on the Umno flag...It is a symbol of Malay culture. You give keris as gifts to non-Malays, and non-Malays give them to me at functions.'

But many remained unconvinced and repeated their assertion that the keris is an aggressive weapon, especially when brandished at a highly charged political meeting.

'A keris does not make people uncomfortable. It is the gesture and brandishing that makes people uncomfortable,' said the writer of a letter to The Star newspaper.

Mr Lin Youshun, the Malaysian correspondent for Chinese publication Yazhou Zhoukan, said in a commentary that appeared in Sin Chew Daily: 'Looking at the shiny keris on stage, I thought of China during the Cultural Revolution and countries like North Korea, Cuba and Iran.

'These countries are still steeped in deep ideology. They...rule the country through the use of slogans and...stir up nationalist emotions.'

Malaysian political analyst Liew Chin Tong told The Straits Times: 'I do not think the Chinese accept it. You say the keris is a cultural symbol, but it is a cultural symbol of violence.'

He added that the Umno general assembly held two weeks ago was one of the most racially charged in years, and it seemed like a return to the atmosphere of the 1980s, when there was a 'strong anti-Chinese sentiment'.

The Chinese would remain suspicious and unconvinced with Umno unless there was a major shift in government policy, said Mr Liew, who is a visiting fellow at the Singapore's Institute for Southeast Asian Studies.

Opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng told The Straits Times that there was no denying the sense of grievance among the Chinese and non-Malay communities following the heated rhetoric at the Umno gathering.

'The Chinese feel very hurt because it seems that despite all their contributions, they are still not treated as Malaysians,' he said.

Meanwhile, a report in the New Straits Times quoted Datuk Hishammuddin as saying that there was nothing seditious about the remarks made by Umno Youth delegates at the general assembly.

Police have started investigations following a report made by the DAP alleging that the comments had breached the Sedition Act.

Cyberspace talent search

The DAP’s search for new faces as candidates in the next general election has extended into cyberspace and these may range from an Oxford graduate to a well-known blogger, writes JOCELINE TAN.

LIM Kit Siang is reportedly the first politician to have his own website. Last year, on no less than Merdeka day, he started his own blog.

More than 100 comments flooded in within 24 hours, a number of them asking whether it was really him blogging.

He replied in his typically stylised way: “For folks who asked whether I am I, yes I am.”

YOUNG BLOOD: The Sarawak election was an eye-opener for the DAP on what fresh, new faces could do for the party. From right, Ting Tze Fui, Chong Chieng Jen and Violet Yong are new additions to the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.
Lim is what his party colleague and Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai calls “a political astronaut in cyberspace.” He spends much of his time glued to his computer.

Cyberspace has been a boon to tech-savvy politicians like Lim, allowing them unfettered freedom to air their views and reach a new category of people.

But over the last year, bloggers – especially those who are politically inclined – have also become a potential source of new talent or even general election candidates.

One of them, said DAP sources, is none other than Jeff Ooi, who is touted as “Malaysia’s most influential blogger” and whose “Screenshots” blog is now in its sixth year.

The effervescent Ooi was one of the speakers at a DAP forum dissecting the three-year-old administration of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

All the panellists – Ooi, Sharizal Shaarani, Tony Pua, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Lim Kit Siang – were bloggers. The only exception was Khoo Kay Peng, who is a political analyst.

Ooi: Will the famous blogger join the line-up?
The gathering was a statement of how bloggers have become the new voices for political discourse.

“The force is with the bloggers,” a member of the audience, presumably of the Star Wars generation, later commented.

And it says a lot about the opposition party’s creativity in taking their politics to the Internet and the community of political bloggers.

But Ooi is not the only blogger being courted by DAP leaders.

Pua, 34, whose blog carries intelligent opinions on education issues, is also on their radar screen. On top of that, he is an Oxford graduate and CEO of a public-listed company.

He is what one would call “a real catch” in the game of courtship. And he is said to be willing and ready.

Ooi, who is actually a Gerakan member, seems neither as willing nor as ready. He insisted “it’s too premature at this point.”

The party is also keen on lawyer Nik Nazmi but he is, to borrow another term of courtship, spoken for. He is said to be inclined towards Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

“These people improve the level of political debate. You can see it in the way they argue out things, the quality of their views,” said DAP central executive committee member Ronnie Liu.

Of course, the DAP would love to have Khoo on their list but he prefers the role of an independent observer.

In fact, Khoo is already seen as an emerging intellectual, someone who articulates public issues in an honest and impartial way.

POOL OF NEW BLOOD

But cyberspace talent-spotting is only one side of the DAP preparations for the polls.

Pua: The Oxford graduate is a real catch.
It has also been quietly grooming a discernible group of young people over the past few years. It is said that secretary-general Lim Guan Eng is entrusted with the task.

“The country will be 50 next year. It’s time the new generation takes up the challenge,” he said.

The next general election will also be his first since serving his prison term. It will be a test of his leadership as secretary-general and of his popularity on the ground.

Given that, he will want a credible line-up that will help boost the number of DAP wakil rakyat as well as move the quality of representation to a new level.

A number among their pool of young talent are already working part-time or full-time for the party.

One of them is Liew Chin Tong, 29, a graduate of the Australian National University.

“People around my age, in their late 20s and early 30s, are referred to as the cyber generation. We’re not satisfied with just sitting there and letting things pass by. We want to make a difference,” said Liew, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies, Singapore.

According to Anthony Loke, 29, a first-term assemblyman for Lobak in Negri Sembilan, the DAP has about 20% new faces every general election.

“It’s not just about age. The leadership looks for people who have a point of view and who are committed to political ideals,” he said.

Said Cheras MP Tan: “Many of them join us because they are fed-up with the way the country’s affairs are being handled. We tell them that if they want to change things, it is most effective done from the inside.”

The May state polls in Sarawak was an eye-opener for the DAP on what fresh, new faces could do for the party.

It was evident that given the right ground sentiments, voters were willing to give new blood a chance, and more so if they had respectable educational credentials. Two fresh-faced women lawyers won despite their inexperience.

Earlier on, in the 2004 parliamentary polls, lawyer Chong Chieng Jen had led the way when he took the prestigious Bandar Kuching seat.

Chong’s parents were staunch DAP supporters and he has a winning smile, but he also holds double degrees in economics and law from an Australian university.

There has been concern over the way the Government has handled social and political issues, and a great deal of dissatisfaction with cost-of-living issues. The racial rhetoric at the Umno general assembly has not helped.

The DAP will be the main beneficiary of the discontent in urban constituencies, hence the effort to headhunt new talent.

The push to impress with a highly qualified line-up is likely to manifest in Penang, which has re-emerged as the frontline state for the DAP after dismal results in the last two general elections.

Everyone is talking about the younger Lim moving from his Malacca base to Penang to lead the charge.

Or to borrow a line from the favourite Hokkien song of DAP supporters in Penang, it will be a case of “ai pia jia ay nyia” (you have to go all out to win).

The English-speaking political bloggers have their own rallying song, as evident from the clip that Sharizal posted on You Tube: it played with the catchy song “You can get it if you really want” by Jimmy Cliff.

Lim Jr has, naturally, denied any move to Penang. He claimed it was Gerakan propaganda to make their own party members work harder.

But can there be smoke without fire?

“The Gerakan people are doing the smoking, not us,” he quipped.

Despite the smoke, it is clear the next general election will see the DAP “pia” (go all out) with a line-up that includes well-qualified and interesting faces.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

UMNO GA 2006: a throwback to the 1980s

The UMNO GA 2006 represents one of the worst assemblies in history, as far as racist statement is concerned. I can’t think of a year that creates more fear and anxiety among non-Malays than this since 1991, when former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad mooted the idea of Bangsa Malaysia. Although racial politics of Barisan Nasional has always been pervasive, throughout the 1990s and early 21st century, with the notably exception of the Suqiu incident in 2000, racial tensions during the second half of Mahathir’s tenure were admittedly less heightened than it is now. The UMNO GA 2006 is a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s where racial tensions were fanned on a daily basis whereas in the 1990s at least there was semblance of attempts to promote unity. It was a shocking experience to see senior politicians like Education Minister and UMNO Youth chief Hishammudin Hussein waving the keris for the second time while others uttering racial slur tantamount to sedition. The ghost of May 13 was used for a second year consecutively. Some spoke about “bathe in blood.” Delegate from Perlis Hashim Suboh was quoted in New Straits Times asking “Datuk Hisham has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham when is he going to use it?” The blatant disregard of the feeling of non-Malays is seeding discord that may tear apart communities eventually. Any street polls would indicate disenchantment runs high among non-Malays while the international community watches with disbelief. What have the UMNO GA 2006 achieved? The answers: Malaysia as a nation risks further fragmentation. Malaysia’s place as a destination for international tourists and investments further diminished and “off the radar”. While DAP and DAPSY fully respect the right to free expression, but UMNO leaders have gone beyond a mere “letting out steam” as claimed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Going by the BN Government’s sedition laws, statements made by delegates at the UMNO GA 2006 were indeed seditious. We urged the police to conduct impartial investigation into the matters. (Media Statement at Dang Wangi Police District Headquarters, Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, 21 November 2006 when accompanying fellow DAPSY leader Sdr. Kuan Perk Siong to lodge a report requesting the police to initiate investigation into the provocative, seditious and racist remarks aired at the recently concluded UMNO General Assembly.)