The Bersih stories continue

The Bersih 3.0 rally/protest/sit-in/demonstration has come and gone. It’s been almost three weeks ago now since the day when tens of thousands of people filled the streets of KL with yellow. But even that being so, Bersih continues to hog the limelight.

For the first week after the rally, everywhere people were talking about the violence that occurred during what was supposed to have been a peaceful rally. Pro-Bersih people were sharing photos of police violence on Facebook, regardless of who actually took the photo itself. The police force, and pro-establishment people, were sharing photos of violence on the side of the protesters, talking about their “breaching Dataran” and going against the law.

Everywhere, we were bombarded with huge doses of photos showing bloody faces, multiple “My Bersih 3.0″ stories from all types of perspectives, and incriminating “evidence” showing how the police, or protesters, were going all out to “kill” the enemy.

All this was to be expected. It’s the sort of reflex we’ve all gotten used to when responding to accusations of violence and disregard for the law.

But when the police force came out with a list of people suspected of creating violence during the rally, complete with photos, I was surprised. They were more efficient than I gave them credit for!

Soon after, a six-member advisory panel was set up to aid in investigations of the violence at the Bersih rally. Incidentally, a panel that is supposed to carry out investigations on allegations of police brutality, is headed by our very own ex-IGP. Again, this didn’t earn the authorities any candy points. As the very popular and over-used saying goes, “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

Bersih supporters overseas were only too keen to show their support for the cause. When Najib was in London and on stage prepared to give a speech, just a couple of days ago, he was given a “Bersih” time. Some people in the crowd chanted “Bersih” continuously, even as Najib was talking on the mic. He had to temporarily halting his speech, and asked the audience to “please stop”.

Perhaps the pro-establishment, or rather, the anti-Bersih crowd were starting to get restless at how slowly the authorities were solving this issue. Just very recently, a group called Ikhlas decided that they had the right to “peaceful assembly”, to “freely express” their grouses against Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga.

How they came up with the decision that preparing 200 burgers in front of her house is a good way to show protest is beyond my imagination. The police even said that under the new Peaceful Assembly Act, these Ikhlas people were completely abiding by the law!

Already, the week was turning into a series of bizarre moments of post-Bersih trauma. They were like the aftershocks of the Bersih earthquake – now everyone wanted a piece of it.

And how else to end the week, than by having yet another even more bizarre “peaceful assembly” organised in front of Ambiga’s house again. This time, a group of army veterans decided to do “butt exercises”!

Already, a “protest” of any sort in front of someone’s home is hardly praise-worthy, if at all legal.

What makes this incident doubly embarrassing is the fact that these are the very people who used to be in our army. The very people who used to fight for our nation’s pride! They should be proud, dignified men. Instead, this “protest” made them look petty and crude and completely undignified.

They say that they are doing this, especially in front of Ambiga’s house, because she’s responsible for leading Bersih, and hence responsible for tarnishing the good name of our country.

I have only two questions: (1) Why, then, did no one go to Pak Samad’s house and conduct the same protests? Wasn’t he also co-chairperson of Bersih? And (2) When a group of army veterans think it suitable to tonggeng in front of a woman’s house, who, then, is tarnishing our country’s pride?

Meanwhile, Merap is still coming up with more “evidence”, while the EC is trying its best to counter the allegations. Bersih, it seems, doesn’t intend to allow itself to be swept under the rugs just yet.


When media is not free

It’s World Press Freedom Day today – 3rd May 2012.

Also, it has become a very sad day for me, as I read news about how one of our mainstream newspapers in Malaysia, the New Straits Times, has allegedly fabricated news, to benefit one side of the political divide.

I say fabricated news, because according to damning evidence, the report as published by NST is, blatantly, a lie.

It is one thing that we get lopsided news and coverage, from both the mainstream or the alternative (read=online) newspapers or newsportals. Print newspapers in Malaysia are generally known to print only news that are favourable to the political parties who own them.

NST is owned by UMNO. This is no secret. Most other print papers are owned by other political parties of the coalition in power. This alone shows that there is no way that the media in Malaysia forms the fourth pillar of democracy, which we so direly need, considering how the other three pillars of democracy in our country have been breached.

Today, I read on the internet that NST published an article claiming Nick Xenophon, Australian Senator, to be anti-Islam, picking a “statement” he made in Parliament in 2009. The article, as a whole, questions Xenophon’s credibility to have any opinions of our country because he is deemed “anti-Islam” by the “statement” he made.

The quoted “statement”, has Xenophon saying: “Islam is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.”

To be honest, us Malaysians have gotten so used to our local media using skewed news and statements taken out of context, that something like this doesn’t even make us raise our eyebrows anymore. To us, it is NST trying to put Xenophon under bad light, so that what he says about our electoral reforms and Bersih 3.0 would not hold water.

But this time, NST has really upped their game. Instead of giving us the usual “statement out of context”, they have went even further, replacing a word in the statement to make it something else completely.

The original statement made by Xenophon was: ” Scientology is not a religious organisation. It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.”

Is this how low our local media has gotten? Is this what they call “reporting”? Because if it is, I really mourn for the journalists and reporters of our country. Despite the largely biased reports we get, somehow I am more than willing to believe that reporters and journalists themselves abhor this kind of behaviour – it goes against everything that reporters and journalists should stand for.

It is World Press Freedom Day today.

By “press freedom”, it does not mean that the press should be free to print whatever they want, regardless of the truth. They should know that better than anyone else. World Press Freedom Day is about freedom for the press to publish the truth, regardless of who it might hurt, without fear or favour.

On this day, what our country has shown us, and to the whole world, is that our press is anything but free.

In the reports I read, it is stated that NST has since taken the offensive article down from its website, but there is no indication of whether the offensive article was also published in its print version. If there is, I can safely say that the damage has been done, regardless of what measures are taken after this.

I cannot help but say this again: the fact that NST’s editors found it fit to print/publish an article like this with such erroneous information that could not possibly be by mere accident, it signifies the death of this fourth pillar of democracy. Instead of being the voice that holds the powers-that-be under scrutiny, it has now completely become one more channel through which the authorities can play with our minds.

There is no World Press Freedom Day. Not in Malaysia. Not today.

**

Articles for reference:
Cached version of NST article: HERE
The Malaysian Insider article: HERE
Sydney Morning Herald article: HERE

 


The Bersih that was, the Bersih that is

By now, anyone who has access to this blog posting would also have had access to all kinds of news of the Bersih 3.0 rally that happened last weekend. You would have seen videos on Youtube showing violence from either side of the fence. You have read commentaries from various people, attendees or otherwise. You would also have heard of all the “statements” coming from officials within the government, and also the leaders of opposition political parties.

The fact of the matter is, from the first Bersih rally, the numbers have continued to grow. The call for clean and fair elections is probably one of the longest-lasting civil movements that I’ve seen in my time. And while other similar movements would have tapered off by now, Bersih is not only remaining strong, but growing more influential by the day.

I remember a joke a friend of my made just after the July Bersih 2.0 rally last year. He told me, “The police have lost their senses. They don’t react in any way to anything. But just say the word ‘Bersih’, and they all go berserk. It’s like a magic word!” And in all honesty, though he meant it as a joke, he also had a point.

All other rallies that have been held since Bersih 2.0 have been met with much restraint from the police. Even the Stop Lynas rally that was held in Kuantan, which saw over 10,000 protesters, did not get the authorities’ knickers in a knot. So really, what is it with Bersih that gets all their adrenaline started up?

I wasn’t there at Dataran Merdeka during Bersih 3.0. But I was in KL for most of the month after Bersih announced the “Duduk Bantah”. And I was also there for Bersih 2.0 in July last year. So I do know the significant difference between Bersih today, and Bersih last year.

Last year, it was a walk to tell the authorities that we want clean and fair elections. It was a show of strength – we wanted the BN government to know that they couldn’t just stronghand us into giving in. We wanted to show that a significant number of us wanted reforms.

This year, for Bersih 3.0, it wasn’t just to tell the authorities that we want clean and fair elections. It wasn’t just merely that anymore. This time, we had numbers to show just how unclean and unfair the elections would be, if they were to be held without reforms. We had proof that the EC (Elections Commission) is anything but transparent and accountable. We had sufficient reason to be pissed at how the parliament conducted the “debate” for the PSC’s findings.

Bersih 3.0 was not asking the government to give us free and fair elections. Bersih 3.0 is demanding that as a right. We aren’t asking for pittance. We are demanding that we have what is rightfully ours.

Sure, Bersih has been used by certain political parties for their own gain and mileage. Which political party has not hijacked a civil movement and claimed ownership of it and its successes? And while I myself do not approve of this political hijacking, we must look at issues according to their priorities.

Bersih is about clean and fair elections. There’s nothing else to it. I take ownership of Bersih, as Bersih is a civil movement, and I am a member of that civil society. So if and when the opposition takes over the Federal Government, Bersih, the civil movement, will not stop in demanding that we continue getting clean and fair elections, regardless of whether there is support from any political party.

Bersih 3.0 was marred with violence, they say. It was not as peaceful as it was supposed to be. People breached the barriers and forced their way into an area that was condoned off. But I say, so what?

Bersih is not just about the rally that happened first in 2007, second in July 2011, and third in the past weekend. Bersih is not just about coming out into the streets to challenge the authorities for clamping them down. Bersih is not just about braving the water cannons and chemical-laced water and tear gas canisters.

Yes, the Bersih rallies are about that. But the Bersih movement is not.

And while we’re not rallying today, or tomorrow, or the day after, Bersih’s demands are our demands, and they continue even while we go about our daily business. Bersih is about demanding that we have our rights as citizens of our beloved country. Bersih is about demanding that we get clean and fair elections.


Bersih Weekend

Since the announcement that Bersih 3.0 will be happening this weekend at Dataran Merdeka, I’ve been wondering how the government would react this time around.

Given that the way they handled themselves in Bersih 2.0, and the amount of backlash they received for the harsh clampdown of a city that really cannot be closed off entirely, one would assume that they might, this time, be a little wiser, and allow Bersih to happen without hiccups.

The way I see it, the initial reaction to Bersih 3.0 was not as “hot” as anticipated. When the Minister said, sure you can go ahead with Bersih 3.0, there was a calm in the online media – no one was sure how to react to such a statement, we’re all just so used to the government telling us no.

And to be quite honest, if matters were allowed to just flow, and if the government didn’t suddenly decide that they’re going to be against Bersih 3.0 after all, it might have garnered less participants than Bersih 2.0!

As it stands now, it’s very likely that because of all the protest of Bersih 3.0 using Dataran Merdeka (which I still do not understand why that piece of land is not public property that allows for peaceable assemblies by civil society), more and more people are now geared up and ready to go there this Saturday, guns ablaze.

Had it not been for the hoo-hah over the venue, there might not have been walks organised to start from various places in the city centre, all ending at Dataran Merdeka at 2pm.

The government should really start to learn how to take hints from history. Something as recent as July last year should still remain quite vivid in their memories. Which part of the way they handled Bersih 2.0, and the subsequent consequences, did they think they were satisfied with?

Declaring a movement like this, which already has so much history behind it, an illegal rally, is really just trying to shut the audio down on a silent movie – there’s really no point, because it won’t make a difference. The legality of Bersih 3.0 does not lie in a sheet of paper from the authorities – it lies with the people. If the general public deem it a legal movement, and one worthy of their participation, it’s going to take more than the authorities barking their disapproval to convince them otherwise.

It’s a general feeling these days that the elections will be called pretty soon. There’s nothing concrete to base this on, of course, but most analysts seem to agree that June is the time. So really, the authorities don’t have much time to “bersih” up their act, if they intend to at all, prior to the next elections.

And that’s what worries the people behind Bersih 3.0, and the people who will be attending the sit-in this Saturday.

So far, Najib hasn’t said anything about the Bersih weekend. Why has he chosen to remain mum about this? It’s anyone’s guess. But perhaps this is the right chance for him to try and prove to the people who are still willing to give him a chance, that he’s serious about reforms, and serious about getting them implemented. Ambiga has indicated as much, that if the Prime Minister is willing to promise reforms before elections, they might consider calling off the sit-in.

It’s Wednesday today. He’s basically got two more days to make a public statement about his stand on Bersih 3.0. If I were him, I’d allow Bersih 3.0 their sit-in at Dataran Merdeka. After all, what can a bunch of people in yellow, sitting around at a big open space, do to him and his government?

 


Najib on Chinese airwaves

The way the politics in our country is structured, a politician of a particular race would address an audience of the same race. Except for when elections are near, politicians hardly step outside of this comfort zone.

So when I saw an advertisement on TV today, showing that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak would be appearing on ntv7 for an interview session with two of the station’s top Mandarin newscasters/emcees, it immediately piqued my interest.

A few weeks ago, Najib had also went live on a Chinese language radio station, 988, addressing issues and questions that the deejays had collected from their listeners throughout the week. That session was a little awkward, given that the deejays themselves weren’t very well-versed in English, and the time spent on translating the questions and answers from English back into Cantonese.

However, that radio interview session was an eye-opener, because as far as I can remember, we’ve never had something like this on Chinese language radio stations before. 988 is known for addressing national politics, more than most other Chinese language radio stations, and so they have invited quite a few political figures on air before. But definitely not someone as high profile as the Prime Minister of the country.

Turning back to this live TV interview, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much they managed to squeeze out of the one and a half hour session. The interviewers were very experienced, and most of the interview was very well-conducted. They even managed to include video snippets of candid interviews with the people on the ground, which was quite all-rounded, and covered a lot of the main concerns of the general public.

Halfway through the interview, my friend mentioned in passing, “Ah, all this is a lie. I’m sure that the TV station would have sent him a list of the questions they would be asking. So right now, he’s basically just reading from a prepared answer sheet.” Which could, for all we know, be true. And honestly, what’s stopping them from doing so?

Of course, idealistic as we all are, we’d love to hear the Prime Minister answer questions as they come, and not be so prepared for them already that he sounds almost like a machine. We’d love to hear what he really thinks, what he really has to say, and not what his advisors and strategists think is the best thing to tell us. We’d love to have a candid session with him, the same way the candid interviews were carried out on the streets.

The interview wasn’t a perfect one. Though the hosts managed to get quite a good number of questions and issues in, most of the answers sounded like a pre-emptive attempt to pull in votes for the upcoming general elections, that most people are speculating will be held in June. It sounded like a rehearsed advertisement for Barisan Nasional.

Still, one can’t say that Najib failed completely at the end. Because say what we will, this was advertised as the first time our Prime Minister has appeared on Chinese airwaves. And at such a sensitive period, something like this can be very important. It can be used as an indication that perhaps this Prime Minister is truly more in touch with the Chinese community compared to his predecessors.

It could still be too little, too late. Too much damage has been done, too much Chinese trust has been lost. If the video snippets are any indication, many think Najib might be a good man in the wrong government. But is he a good enough man whom they are willing to trust and vote for, given the type of political party he leads?


Dancing around the issue

These couple of days, there has been an issue that’s been making some rather fine ripples around here. No, I’m not talking about the Bersih 3.0 announcement, to which I went. I’ll keep that for next week.

What I’m pointing at is the news that a Singaporean ballet company has been allegedly “banned” from performing this upcoming weekend at KLPac. While I hold no warm feelings towards our southern neighbour, I was, to understate it, very disturbed that a dance troupe could be banned from performing in our country. And I’m not even talking about pole-dancing. Ballet has got to be one of the oldest forms of dance, barring traditional dances from Asia.

Back tracking a little, though, our country doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to allowing foreign artists to perform in  Malaysia. Or rather, the authorities have made it quite clear that they are slowly, but surely, taking on a more conventional, if not medieval, stance when it comes to deciding what the general public can or can’t watch.

So here I thought it was yet another instance of the government making an over-protective decision by barring the ballet performance, said (then) to be due to the “indecent” attire, which happens to be the classical ballet tutu.

But then the Ministry decides to give us a surprise this time around. On the very next day, the minister himself comes out to make a statement saying he “loves ballet”, that the ministry made no such decision, and that the organisers should “go ahead with the performance”.

Before I even go on with more recent events surrounding this issue, I’d like to ask one question. The agency in charge (Puspal) of actually approving or rejecting the permit is, no doubt, under the purview of the ministry. But surely we are not to believe that the ministry should be involved in this decision at all, much less the minister himself! That’s all the reason there is for there to be agencies like Puspal set up in the first place – to make decisions on the part of the ministry, on matters that are not so big as to require the attention of the minister.

But there you have it, the Minister himself coming out to make a declaration that no such ban has been made, and that the organisers should “continue” with the performance, knowing full well that if there is no permit, the organisers cannot have this performance at all!

So now we go into KLPac’s reaction, claiming that they did, indeed, receive a rejection from Puspal. Otherwise, why would they have refunded the ticket holders? And really, why would they have done it, if not for the fact that the performance could not be held? There is just no sense in doing so.

Now, in this instance, Puspal says that they have never received any application about any Singaporean ballet troupe coming to KLPac for a performance. None at all. So what they are implying here, is that KLPac organised the performance, sold tickets, arranged for the dancers to come, and then decided that they were not going to go ahead with it, canceled the performance, refunded the people who paid to come watch the dance, told the Singaporean ballet company that they had been barred, and blamed everything on Puspal.

KLPac then showed them evidence that the application was made, and the rejection was received. If you thought this was the end of it, and that Puspal would quietly slunk into a dark corner, you are dead wrong. They surprise us yet again, saying that the documents KLPac produced as “proof”, might be forged after all!

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this has just gone on for too long. No matter what the outcome of this debacle (an extremely embarrassing one at that), it remains that the Singaporean dancers will not be able to make their performance at KLPac this time around.

What should really be addressed here is the fact that no matter how shockingly unbelievable it is that the Malaysian authorities would ban a classical dance troupe from performing in the country, it is at the same time, shockingly believable. There have been too many such incidences when our ministry showed us just how irrational they can be.

They’ve dictated the kinds of clothes performers should wear during their shows so as not to “offend” the sensibilities of our citizens, when we know full well that the only people who will be seeing them in their “indecent” costumes are the people who pay for their tickets, and already know what they’re in for.

They’ve banned entire performances, no matter that the artiste is already in the country, because they reckon that a tattoo will “offend” a particular creed of people.

They’ve banned books, children’s books, for being “offensive”, because they use the “actual names of the male and female sexual organs”, forgetting that it’s a book on sex education, and they are all drawn cartoons.

They’ve shown us time and time again that they can make the most idiotic decisions, and defend those decisions like as if they were made with our interest in mind. So really, is it so odd that almost no one believes them when they now say that they did not reject the application, or that they suspect the documents to be forged?

The ministry, and its agencies, should really ponder on this, and rethink their public relations strategies. They are starting to make us look like a nation of backward, uncultured people who have no interest in the world’s art, except for our own. And really, if they continue with what they are doing, we might just end up the way they envision it.


Education woes

The education system of our country has always been a pet concern of mine. And I’m sure that it’s also an issue that most concerns the many parents in Malaysia. So when our Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the other day that our education system was better than that of the United States, Britain and Germany, I thought to myself, what kind of report is he referring to? And how is it possible?

From the news report from a couple of days ago, it appeared that Muhyiddin was quoting from a World Economic Forum (WEF) report on global competitiveness in terms of quality of education. I must say that at the time of reading this article, I found it hard to believe that such a reputable institution could come up with such findings.

The very next day, Lim Guan Eng appeared in the online news portals, referring to Muhyiddin’s claim and called it “preposterous”. Further along in the article, Lim clarified the method in which Malaysia obtained its ranking of 14th among 142 countries. Lim also referred to the other statistics in the same report, and the comment that stated that Malaysia would “need to improve its performance in education and technological readiness”.

It is extremely disturbing, and at the same time, disappointing, that our Deputy Prime Minister found it fit to pick and choose the ‘good parts’ from the report and announce it, without any background information on how the rankings were obtained, or how we fared in other aspects of education quality. As someone of his stature and position, he should know better than that. Putting blinkers on the citizens, deciding what we see and do not see, is definitely not the way our authorities should be behaving. Not if we want to claim ourselves to be a democratic country.

Perhaps the fact that top business figures found our country’s education system as competitive is a good thing. But it does not mean that we do, in actual fact, have one of the best education systems in the world.

Reports after reports have been made about how our education system has managed to produce graduates who are ‘unmarketable’. We have reports showing that our education system does not encourage critical thinking. We have reports showing that while registration for tertiary education has increased, the quality of tertiary education has not. We have reports that show our local universities dropping in their international rankings.

Surely all these reports should also hold some water when it comes to deciding for ourselves, whether we are in a better position than our foreign counterparts. Surely all these reports with negative findings have to be considered.

While ‘positive thinking’ is a good thing, when one ignores all the negative criticisms and only focus on the good, that is not positive thinking – that is cherry-picking. That is feigning ignorance. That is taking a step backwards, not forwards. And this is not the kind of behaviour that should be coming from our country’s top leaders.

What is important for us, and should also be important for our leaders, is facing up with the facts of the day. Pay attention to what our teachers, who are the real educators on the ground, are telling us. Suck it up and admit that we have a real dilemma on our hands when we have straight A students who can’t string proper sentences together. Be real about wanting to improve our lot, and that of our future generations.

While reports and surveys like this do play an important role in determining the level and quality of our education system compared to other countries, they are not everything. The same way passing examinations should not be made the whole point of going to school.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.