Saturday, September 13, 2008

Malaysia teetering toward full dictatorship

Today, a journalist, a blogger and a prominent opposition politician were detained without trial under the notorious "Internal Security Act", a legacy of colonialism which is wielded by the government to silence critics when it cannot present evidence that an offense has been committed. They are:

Raja Petra bin Kamarudin - Blogger who is critical of the government, has been accused of allowing comments on his blog which are critical of Islam
Tan Hoon Cheng - Journalist who recently reported the comments of a low-level UMNO official who referred to Chinese Malaysians as "squatters"
Teresa Kok - Opposition politician who was rumored in the UMNO owned newspaper UTUSAN to have complained about the volume of the call to prayer in her local area

In addition, three newspapers ~ Suara Keadilan, Sin Chew Daily and The Sun ~ were also issued show cause letters by the Home Ministry today. These newspapers have covered recent stories about racial provocations by members of the ruling party.

This blogger believes that we will see more arrests over the next few days, and that these actions are designed to generate protests. Government instigators will ensure these become violent, giving the government the excuse to call in the armed forces and perhaps even declare a state of emergency. They have accused these figures of insulting Islam, an accusation designed to promote irrational nonsense and justify government oppression.

I am a regular reader of Raja Petra's blog and sometime contributor. I have read each of the articles the government has referred to in making this accusation, and there is simply no substance to the government's claims. This UMNO government has never cared about Islam, they only wish to manipulate the emotions of Muslims for their own ends. The fact that they can stir hatred between the races of Malaysia in the name of Islam - something Raja Petra has repeatedly criticised - and that they are doing so in the month of Ramadan, shows that it is they who are in rebellion against Allah. God is all-knowing, but it is my belief that among these UMNO politicians are munafiq who have no fear of Allah, so that they can use His religion to spread mischief and protect their own political positions.

I hope that there are backbenchers in UMNO who will realise, enough is enough, your leaders are dragging Malaysia into the toilet. This path leads to hell - international isolation and economic catastrophe. I beg you, in the interests of your nation, abandon the government and join with Pakatan Rakyat.

It is also time for the council of rulers to step in and refuse to allow the armed forces to be used against protestors. This will allow the people to rise up as MALAYSIANS and prevent this government from instigating violence and racial strife like their predecessors did in 1969. This is not the cold war, the world will not stand idly by and allow the government to kill their own people. It is up to you to show you deserve the people's trust and are not simply a meaningless institution that belongs in the past.

May Allah bring justice and democracy to Malaysia and put courage in the hearts of the people to stand up for justice and not allow themselves to be manipulated by those who love only power and fear nothing except losing it!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ramadhan Mubarik 2008

Wishing all the readers of my blog the blessings of Ramadhan which the council of ulema have just announced will commence on the 1st September in Australia

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nurture or Nature?

As happens about this time in every Olympics, various pontificating journalists are raising the issue of why certain "races" appear to dominate certain Olympic events.

Such an argument always questionable because it does science in reverse - it starts of with an established pattern of success and then attributes it to various causes. I'm particularly skeptical that genetics explain why white people dominate events such as swimming or field events. All of these - compared with sprint running for instance - require specialist training in technique from quite a young age, something usually more available to middle-class youth from developed nations. We saw an Australian win the Pole-vault - how many working class black kids in the US, let alone those in Ethiopia have the chance to receive the training in technique he has got? Similarly, swimming is starting to see athletes from Japan and South Korea coming through - are we supposed to believe that it is a coincidence that these nations are among the wealthiest non-European based nations in the world? Or will we invent some new genetic theory that these "races" are better at swimming? The physical shape of champion swimmers is not very typical of most white people either - those huge shoulders (especially among women) are clearly a result of years of swimming up and down heated pools and targeted weight-training and body conditioning.

I personally found it pathetic the way certain journalists kept going on about how Nick Willis' (NZ) bronze medal in the 1500m was somehow remarkable because he was not an East African. He was even quoted as saying he was "representing the Western world against the Africans". I felt proud of his achievement given NZ's history in the event and my country of birth but I would feel a lot less ambivalent about it if he would just shut his mouth. Let's look at the facts:

The fastest 1500m time in 2007: Alan Webb (US) - a white guy
2004 Olympic champion over 800m: Yuriy Borzakovskiy (Russia) - a white guy
Winning time from Rashid Ramzi (not an East African - born in Morocco and with fairly white skin anyway) 3:32.94: At this pace, Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram and even our own John Walker would have been competitive - all ran faster at various stages of their career.

There may well be a case that in short-distance sprinting events, people descended from West Africans have a born advantage. But perhaps environmental factors - lack of swimming pools and specialist coaches, a generation of white, western kids spending too much time sitting on their butts playing computer games and being driven everywhere rather than running miles just to get to school - are far more plausible explanations for certain "races" domination of olympic events.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A high stakes game in Malaysian politics

I think enough has been written on the internet and elsewhere about the recent accusations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. But, now living in Australia, I have been embarrassed how many people are aware of what has happened to DSAI over here. Why am I embarrassed by this? Well as a Muslim and married to a Malay, I have always tried to hold Malaysia up as, well not perfect, but certainly on the way to being a first class society. The recent elections and the Prime Minister's initial acceptance of them with apparent good grace was a credit to the maturity of the Malaysian nation and a sign that its democratic functions had come along way since 1969, when a similar election result led to riots, recently claimed to have been seeded by elements of the UMNO leadership. It's harder to make that case when the primary news story about Malaysia is about a man who has a serious chance of bringing a change of government by peaceful means being charged with such a bizarre offense.

The charge is so strange for several reasons. Firstly, the charge amounts to anal rape - sodomy without consent. Does anyone actually believe that someone like Anwar, who has clearly shown himself to be tenacious and driven towards taking the highest office in the land, would be silly enough to forcibly sodomize someone in a condo in KL, just when he was on the brink of a political comeback? If he were indeed homosexual, don't you think as a good looking bloke with plenty of money he would be able to find consensual partners, perhaps in Singapore or Western countries which he can easily visit? Of course I don't want to say that rapists never act stupidly, or imply that many do not enjoy the power they feel through sexually imposing themselves on others, but it certainly makes the case less credible given the history of the thing. What about the size difference between alleged perpetrator (60 year old man of short stature and known health problems) and alleged victim (23 year old man, tall and healthy)?

Ordinarily I would say that any allegation of rape should be investigated and I don't believe that Islamic rules of needing 4 witnesses to verify the act should preclude this given the alleged sex was forcible and not consensual. But it stinks to high heaven that the alleged victim apparently visited DPM Najib, a man who many Malaysians believe to have ordered a murder(Altantuya Shaariibu, for which his former associate is now on trial) just a few days before making the allegations. The fact that senior politicians have been involved in publicly commenting about the case is also suspicious. The fact that the police report hasn't been made available to Anwar's lawyers is also hard to understand.

I have come to the conclusion that the government will eventually tell the police to drop the charges against Anwar before the issue comes to trial. They will say that they have insufficient evidence to prosecute him although (they will say) there was strong evidence suggesting his involvement. They will do so because any conviction would be perceived as implausible and tainted, and would make Anwar a matyr and convince many Malaysians that the only way to change things is by drastic means. So why are they doing this then?

The government knows that it has lost the votes of many of the educated people who live in the urban areas. It knows that most Chinese and Indians couldn't give a damn whether the future PM is gay, and that many urban, educated Malays don't believe the charges and would rather have a PM who is accussed of being gay than one who is alleged to have used the police to murder a former lover, in any case. I believe this is all about winning back the traditional Malay heartland - those who don't read blogs, or English newspapers, and who are dependent on Berita Harian, Utusan or Metro for their source of information. They want to throw enough mud so that Anwar will not be able to form a coalition with a Malay majority - something which he needs to do to remove them from office. Hence the emphasis on asking for DNA - although educated people might understand that DNA is far from a silver bullet and seldom leads to a conviction, especially when several days have elapsed between the alleged incident and the alleged victim being medically examined, many others don't understand this and will find Anwar's refusal to submit DNA as evidence pointing towards his guilt.

The fact is that many in the government and those associated with it have more to lose than mere political office if the government changes. Some - like Najib for instance - have a very good chance of being convicted of serious crimes. Tun Dr Mahathir is another who knows that his associates, his children and above all his own legacy would be in serious danger should Anwar ever become PM. For these people, this is a fight to the death. It is certainly a lot more plausible that they would be behind these allegations than it is that Anwar would be stupid enough to derail his own political career in such a way at the very time he is making a comeback.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Freedom from tyrants, both foreign and domestic

On the 31st of August, 2007, Malaysia celebrated 50 years of independence from British rule. The British ruled Malaysia for their own benefit, exploiting local inhabitants - Malays, Chinese and Indians - to make Britain wealthy. When they left, the hero of independence Tunku Abdul Rahman became Prime Minister under a constitution which promised Westminster style democracy. It promised that while the Malays, the Monarchies and Islam would be protected, all citizens would be citizens of a new, democratic nation.

Westminster democracy has at its core that the people are entitled to choose those who govern them in free and fair elections. This means not only that elections be held, but that the parliament elected should be broadly representative of the votes taken in the election. People must also be free to vote for who they wish without risking penalties to do so. Another assumption is that all parties will have access to and be treated equally by the media.

Malaysia's democracy has become plainly deficient in each of these respects, despite the fact that elections are held every 4-5 years.

1) The composition of parliament should be representative of the votes cast at the election. This is demonstrably not the case in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's lower house of parliament), which consists of 219 seats. 198 of these (90.4%) are controlled by the government, effectively rendering Malaysia a one-party state until the next election is held. This is despite the government only winning 63.9% of the vote. When one considers the individual parties that make up the government, the unrepresentativeness becomes even more obvious. UMNO (the party of the Prime Minister) won just 35.9% of the vote - yet controls half of the seats in parliament (49.8%). PAS, the opposition party that won the largest number of votes (15.2%), has just 7 seats in parliament (3.2%). Both these parties have mainly Malay Muslim supporters. Looking at the two parties mainly voted for by Chinese, the government's coalition partner MCA won 15.5% of the vote (about the same as PAS) but won 31 seats (14.2% of the parliament, while the opposition DAP won 9.9% of the vote but has just 12 seats in the parliament. The multi-ethnic but mainly supported by Malays opposition PKR won 8.9% of the votes but just 1 seat in the parliament. By contrast the government coalition partner MIC won just 3.2% of the vote, but holds 9 seats in parliament, more than PAS who nearly 5x as many Malaysian's voted for.

This means for every seat in parliament the following number of Malaysians voted for them:
UMNO - 22,782 voters
MCA - 34,652 voters
MIC - 24,616 voters
DAP - 57,278 voters
PAS - 150,211 voters
PKR - 617,518 voters

(Any errors in calculations are typos - source

These figures speak for themselves. They show that UMNO and the MIC are greatly overrepresented in the parliament according to the support they actually received in the elections. The MCA, and the opposition parties who are in fact voted for by more than 1/3 of Malaysians - even in a landslide election like 2004 - are grossly underrepresented. Chinese who vote for the MCA, and even more so the DAP are treated unfairly by getting less representation that their votes deserve. However, clearly the people most cheated in Malaysia's parliament are the 1.7 million (mainly) Malays who voted for either PAS or PKR, who got just 8 seats for their votes compared with 109 for the 2.4 million (mainly) Malays who voted for UMNO. This is despite the claims that UMNO makes that is stands up for the interests of Malays - in fact, it cheats them of fair and honest representation more than anyone else.

Among the reasons for this state of affairs, the most important is the drawing up of electoral boundaries is done so that Malays in UMNO voting areas have electorates with much smaller numbers of voters that those in PAS voting areas. Urban areas which vote for the opposition generally have huge numbers of voters for each electorate. This is called gerrymandering, a term which means manipulating electoral boundaries to favour one group of voters at the expense of others.

2) People should be free to vote for who they choose without fear of recrimination. When Malaysians go to vote, a serial number is recorded on their ballot paper that potentially allows who they voted for to be traced back to their name. This has particular implications for government servants, many of whom believe that if they vote for the opposition this will prevent them from career advancement. I personally know many Malays who have told me they simply don't vote because they don't want to vote for UMNO but are afraid to vote for the opposition because they fear for their government careers. The traceability of votes back to people also encourages vote-buying, something which is impossible where votes are secret and anonymous.

3) Fairness in the media. The Malaysian mainstream media is dependent on the government to issue licenses to allow them to keep publishing. One former NST journalist (a friend) told me that although the papers uncover many scandals about the government - including corruption on a grand scale at the highest levels - they dare not publish for fear of using their license. In the political context this means that not only are the press highly restricted in criticizing the government, they are expected to not give air to the views of opposition leaders. This usually means that while the views of government ministers are presented mostly without comment, opposition leaders are seldom quoted in the newspapers and almost never seen on television. This press bias is evident to anyone who has ever seen the media operate in a genuine democratic environment - elections are not free and fair if the government controls the main means by which ordinary citizens gather their information.

All these reasons explain why more than 40,000 Malaysians braved road-blocks, chemical-laced water-cannon and tear-gas to peacefully present a petition to their Ruler (the Agong, the leader of the nation's Sultans and constitutionally the government's boss) asking for a chance to have their votes count. This blogger believes that ALL people regardless of ethnicity, religion or place of birth deserve to have their votes count. The Malaysian government has been in power for 50 years, and frankly, some of their members are taking the people of Malaysia for fools. I believe they are reading Malaysians wrong, and that the people are starting to realize that they deserve to have a real choice in who governs them, not have that choice made for them in the back-rooms of UMNO. Malaysia's independence heroes did not fight to be liberated from British tyrants to see their great-grandchildren made fools of by locally-born tyrants such as those who now appear to control UMNO.

To those 40,000+ who showed their love for Malaysia by standing up for true 'merdeka', I salute you.

To borrow from Shakespeare's Henry IV:

And gentlemen in Malaysia now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That struggled with us upon Malaysia's day

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kevin 07?

Ok, I'll admit my prediction about the Aus Federal election below is looking pretty shaky, given the good showing so far in the polls by Kevin Rudd and co. However, there are signs in the last 2 newspolls that things are tightening up - and 53% 2PP is nowhere near enough to feel comfortable.

For those wondering what 2PP means Australia's voting system allows voters to allocate preferences so that you give every candidate a number from 1,2,3 and so on depending on who is your preference. Candidates with low numbers of votes (usually minor parties and independents) are eliminated and people's preferences among the 2 highest candidates are considered, so the most important thing is which of the two major parties (Liberal or Labor) rank higher.

The reason 53% is not enough to feel comfortable is due to the fact that the overall election is not won by the party with the most votes, but by the party that wins the most seats. Generally, people already in parliament have an advantage because the voters know them. Since the seats that need to change hands for a change of government are obviously held by the government, this gives the incumbent government an advantage. It means for instance, that Labor might win 51% of the 2PP vote across the nation but because of a handful of really popular local MPs might still not get enough seats to form a majority in parliament. If the next newspoll shows things getting closer still, things will really start to get interesting.

Having said this, returning to my post below, Labors TV ad about interest rates IS very clever - it uses the same theme that Howard has used against Labor to point out that Howard's own record on interest rates is not that flash. You can watch it here. It's certainly better than simply reminding people interest rates are going up now without damaging Howard's counter that under Labor, interest rates would be even higher, which appeared to be the earlier approach taken. Of course, one might ask why this clever approach was not adopted three, six or even nine years ago to stop the Labor=higher interest rates mantra becoming such folk-wisdom.

I'm not prepared to withdraw my prediction yet though. I still feel Howard may hang on by one or two seats, even if he loses the popular vote. And if he does, it will be because the criteria on which voters decide returns to his perennial point of advantage, the economy. An interest rate rise might not hurt his chances at all. If Labor is to win, it must reverse the trend in newspoll and carry momentum into polling day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A world in (Rugby) Union?

The Rugby World Cup has just begun, and the usual, predictable bleating about whether Rugby is really a "world game" has also begun, especially in Australia from Rugby League* fans and Football/soccer fans.

Of course, if one compares the RWC to the football equivalent there is no comparison. Football is the number one sport in probably the majority of countries around the world, across all the continents other than Australia, North America and (obviously) Antarctica. Even in countries where their national team is abysmal (like where I currently live, Malaysia for example) interest in the game is immense. There's no disputing that if there is one "world game" - despite how annoying it is to admit to the tiresome missionaries at SBS (Australian TV network)- it has to be football. This doesn't make the game better of course, but that's a whole different issue.

Rugby union, on the other hand, or just plain Rugby as it is known in most of the world, is also a 'world game' albeit on a much smaller scale. While it is a majority sport almost nowhere (NZ, Wales, and some Pacific Islands) it is known almost everywhere. Take Malaysia as an example, if you mention rugby everyone knows what it is, as many hi schools and all (I think) universities have a team. The name "All Blacks" is also well-known. Compare with Rugby League for instance, only those who have studied in Australia (and some in the UK and NZ) have the faintest idea what it is. Or even with cricket, which is seen as a colonial relic and only played by schools with British pedigrees.

Another argument trotted out is that the minor nations that play rugby are not competitive. Well, you only have to consider how well the USA played against England or Georgia against Ireland to dispel that myth. True, there are fewer upset results than in the Soccer world cup but lets be realistic: many of those upsets are attributable to the low scoring nature of football which allows a single mistake by an established side to become a victory for a minor one. In the history of RWC (since 1987), four teams have won it. For all football's claims, only 7 nations have won the tournament (played since 1930), one of which (Uruguay) never looks like doing so again. While occasionally another teams (South Korea in 98) can fluke their way through a few rounds, you'd be a mug to bet on any teams outside the 6 winning it.

In rugby, you have 8 teams which on their day are capable of beating the others (not in every wc but over time and without taking flukes into account like Norway beating Brazil a few years back in football). These are NZ, South Africa, Australia, England, France, Wales, Ireland, Argentina). The first five or these were considered before the tournament realistic hopes of winning it. From time to time Scotland, Samoa, Italy and Fiji can also beat any of these other teams except the first 3. Twelve competitive teams is considerably more than cricket, hockey or (snort) rugby league can dream about, without match fixing being involved anyway.

The point is not to ridicule other sports but simply to point out that a Rugby World Cup deserves the name - apart from the issue of competitive teams, people around the world ARE interested in the game. In Malaysia, which is a weak rugby nation in terms of its national team's prospects even by Asian standards, there's enough interest to put ALL games live on pay TV and some on Free to Air. Cricket, by contrast, was only available on pay per view. Rugby League - well unless you live in two states in Australia, the northern part of England or some parts of NZ, you've probably never heard of it. Rugby may not be the number one sport virtually anywhere, but its world championship has fans in places you wouldn't expect.

*For those who haven't heard of it, Rugby League is an offshoot of Rugby played by 13 player a side which arose in the days when Rugby was amateur. It's the number one winter sport in two states of Australia and also played in Papua New Guinea (a former Australian colony), NZ and parts of the UK. The rugby league world cup has been won by 2 countries (Aus and the UK) and Aus has won the last 6 tournament (last UK victory 35 years ago).