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.

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.

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.

Bulan enam?

A few days ago, a couple of friends and I decided to follow Lembah Pantai parliamentarian Nurul Izzah into the heart of Felda land in Pahang to listen to and record her ceramah. Especially after what almost happened during her last visit there, it was no wonder that there were so many people who accompanied her on this trip.

While I was there, I overheard one old pakcik say to his friend, “Bulan enam ya? Dengar, bulan enam.”

There can hardly be any doubt about it – he was referring to the widely spread rumours that general elections will be held in June this year. It seems that this is the one thing that most politically-aware people are discussing these days. And the clues are spread out in the open. Just click into any news portal, or turn the pages of your newspapers. Most politicians have tailored their statements according to pre-election mode already.

The Bersih coalition must also be concerned with all this news. If it becomes increasingly clear that elections will be held mid-year this year, and not early next year, it also becomes less-likely that the changes that Bersih had wanted to get implemented for the 13th General Election will happen. And this is clearly not what they bargained for.

There has been some good news, though. In mid-February, the Elections Commission gazetted the use of indelible ink in the next general election, to prevent repeat voters. Recently, the EC also announced that they will be using two shades of indelible ink to prevent advanced voters from voting on the same day, and also to prevent people from “copying” the ink. While not particularly ingenious, it still shows that the people involved are really thinking this through.

Another serious issue that Bersih had wanted resolved was with overseas voters, who previously did not have channels to vote, unless they flew back into the country. The EC has also made a statement saying that it is “possible” but only through postal voting. They also said that the “lack of infrastructure” makes it difficult to implement, and that postal voting for overseas Malaysians might not be possible if the GE is held in the near future.

While not resolved as yet, let’s hope that that the persons involved will continue to iron things out as soon as possible.

Another aspect of voting that has also attracted much attention is the electoral roll. During the past week or so, allegations have been made about the EC and the manipulation of the electoral roll. There are  accusations of illegal border revisions, causing some 30,000 voters to be moved to other constituencies. Apparently Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, Menteri Besar of Selangor, is now no longer a voter in Selangor, but in Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur.

Then there are allegations that names have been added and deleted from the electoral roll without being gazetted. There have been reports of “sudden influxes” of voters into certain constituencies. There have been suspicions of phantom voters and “dubious voters”. There are also voters being newly registered as military and police personnel, which allows them to be postal/advance voters, despite their being too old to join the organisations now.

It feels like one step forward, two steps back. But if we look at it from another vantage point, it’s a good thing that these discrepancies are being aired and finally coming out into the open. It holds the authorities accountable that there are vigilant parties around.

So, will the elections really be held in June? During the short time I spent with Nurul Izzah and her aides during the Felda trip, they were asking me the same question. It’s on everyone’s mind. It seems likely, “June’s a good time.” So say it is, and say the troubling issues are not settled by then, I believe that Bersih 3.0 might just come to reality.

Happy International Women’s Day

It was International Women’s Day on 8 March. Coincidentally, it also marked the 4th anniversary (this year, anyway) of that great ‘political tsunami’ that hit Malaysian waters in 2008, when the opposition finally denied long-ruling coalition BN the two-thirds majority that it always had. But that’s talk for another day.

Today, we talk about International Women’s Day. We talk about celebrating the wonderful women in our lives that have inspired us, because this year’s theme happens to be “Women: Girls. Inspire now”. Women should be inspiring girls, be their mentors, share your experiences, inspire them to be good, to be better. And get inspired by them in return.

I was at the launching of International Women’s Day at Pavilion on that day. The organisers had invited Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir to be the guest of honour in launching this particular event. While she is definitely not the only woman in Malaysia who has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to many, she is most surely one of the more popular ones.

Of course, Marina is more known for her being Dr Mahathir’s daughter. Not that she had a choice in this, but being the daughter of the longest-serving prime minister of Malaysia does come with perks. And I, for one, am glad she used those perks to do the good that she is doing.

Marina is well-known, of course, for her work with helping people living with HIV. She is also much loved for supporting Sisters in Islam, and Sexualiti Merdeka, though I reckon there are those who oppose her support in these areas. But this is what is most inspiring about her. She throws her support behind what she believes in, and she will have no one tell her otherwise.

Nurul Izzah, daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, is also an inspiration. She’s young, she’s fiery and she’s passionate about the politics of this country. She’s been through good times when her father was still in government, and then she went through shame and all other bad things associated with shame when her father was thrown out of the same government and slapped with accusation after accusation.

She went through all that, and came out on top. She inspires people, young people, to be strong and to stay strong even when the odds are against you. She inspires people to be passionate about the things they believe in, and to be vocal about it. Say it out loud. Be brave to stand up for what you believe to be true.

There are plenty, plenty of other women, both locally and internationally, who have, and continue to inspire us today. There are plenty of men who inspire us too, but let’s leave them for some other time. Today, we talk about the women.

We see them in sports. Nicol David, star squash player, inspired us to strive for the best that we have in us, and to work hard to get what we want. Shalin Zulkifli, international bowling champion, inspired us that we could fight on par with the males, as equals, and still come up on top. Leong Mun Yee, national diver, inspired us that sometimes, being small is a gift in itself and that we can find strength in all of our attributes.

We see them in the arts. We have Siti Nurhaliza, so famous for her heart-wrenching songs. We also have Yuna, who’s known for her velvety voice that is so unique, coupled with her guitar playing. Then we have Angelica Lee Sin-Jie, who’s won awards for her superb acting.

We see them closer to home. We have our mothers, our grandmothers, our wives, our sisters and cousins and friends. We see inspiration where we want to, if we want to.

So we don’t have our first female Prime Minister. And we don’t have 50% representation in Parliament. And there will be advocates who will continue to fight for that for us. But in the meantime, we inspire each other. We inspire the next stranger we meet to register as a voter if he/she hasn’t yet. We inspire the people we love to go out and vote. We inspire those around us to stand up and be counted.

Inspire to be inspired.

Be sure about what you are protesting

It’s encouraging to see that our citizens these days are more willing to be vocal about what they support and what they don’t. Just think about the two Bersih rallies we’ve had, the anti-ISA protests and vigils, the gatherings to show discontent with the Peaceful Assembly Bill, and most recently the nationwide assemblies held to send one message to the government: “Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia”.

Just take a look at Facebook and the number of people who have turned their profile pictures green. Look again to see how many people have been sharing information about the Stop Lynas assemblies, and how many people have statuses that say they are against Lynas.

This would all be good, if all of them really knew what they were expressing their opposition against.

I’m not saying half the people don’t know what they were doing when sharing those statuses and posts – I have not done a survey, I wouldn’t have the exact numbers. But it’s a safe bet to say that many of them, especially those from the younger generation, only supported the Stop Lynas movement because it was (1) the cool thing to do, and (2) because it has the undertones “if you oppose the BN government, you should oppose this too”.

I should know, I was there at the Stop Lynas gathering at Maju Junction, KL, that weekend. And while I found it refreshing to see people finding new, creative ways to show protest (dance and song), and the good ol’ “honk if you support us”, I was at the same time disappointed to find that there was someone with a placard that said (in Mandarin), “MCA, where are you?”

This is by no means a big brush, but it did get me thinking: of the 1,000 (rough estimate) attendees, how many of them went there without a real understanding of what they were really against? And how many went there with the pure intention of showing their opposition against the BN government?

Like a recent Namewee song “Good Day to Die” (an anti-Lynas song), he admits in his own lyrics that he doesn’t know what rare earth is, nor does he know anything about Lynas. But he still opposes Lynas anyway. Now why is that? Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of Namewee’s, but this is a good example to show just how much of this is just “protest for the sake of protest”. And really, how many people are equally as ignorant about the facts, but still protested anyway?

My cousins and I had a short conversation on this just yesterday. They asked if I enjoyed the protest, and instead of answering, I asked if they knew what it was really all about. These are people who have changed their profile pictures green, and have posted anti-Lynas statuses on Facebook. No suprise, they didn’t actually know.

The good thing is, I got to tell them what I knew about the issue. I told them about the processes that rare-earth has to go through before becoming useful, sans the scientific stuff. I also told them about the article in New York Times regarding the shoddy practices behind construction, and the safety issues that would ensue. I then told them the story of Bukit Merah, and the fact that the cleaning-up process is still ongoing.

So really, it’s a good thing that we’ve got an active citizenry who’s willing to stand up and be counted. It’s encouraging to know that the people know that they have power, and that their voices do matter. But at the same time, people should learn to not get too excited and carried away by all the hype. Get to know what the issues really are, then decide if you really want to throw your weight behind it.

Sex in a children’s book

I don’t know about you, but the last time I heard that a book was getting banned in this country, I went online to check out what the particular book was, and went on to purchase it online. From what I read then, it seemed that I wasn’t the only one with that idea.

You see, it’s more or less a generic reaction. When you tell someone they can’t do/read/say/(insert action) something, they end up wanting to do/read/say/(insert action) it more than ever. It’s this rebellious nature that we have about us, we generally don’t like to be told what we can or cannot do.

So imagine the kind of reaction that would come out of the Home Ministry’s decision to ban a children’s book, “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle. The book was first published in 1984, and from what I’ve read, might have been published and distributed in Malaysia since 1997.

This is a children’s book, and from what images I’ve been able to see of its contents, it is illustrated pretty much like how a children’s book should be. But more importantly, it’s a book that describes, via words and drawn pictures, “where we come from”, or in other words, sex.

Let’s not dabble on how many copies of this book has already been sold since 1997 (let’s hope someone knows exactly why it took the Home Ministry this long to identify this book and hence determine it’s unsuitability), nor about how many children this book has educated, or how many parents have used this book to answer their children’s more awkward questions. Because let’s face it, we all know that children, especially those from this new generation, are prone to ask adults questions they would really prefer not to answer.

Let’s discuss, instead, about how we have been debating about having sex education in schools, and how our authorities had intended to teach this subject, without resorting to such “obscene” words and pictures. Drawn pictures at that.

Someone form Umno Youth was quoted as having said, “The degree of obscenity inside the book was too much.” The same person also added that while the book might have been suitable for children in Mayle’s home country (he’s from Britain), the book is not suitable for children in Malaysia.

The last time I checked, children all around the world have the same body parts. Malaysian boys have penises the same way boys from Britain do. And when Malaysian girls grow up, they will have breasts like their British peers. Maybe size would be slightly different, but the anatomy is all there.

If the people who suggested that we should have sex education in this country are serious about their proposal, they should also seriously consider the mixed messages their sending out. By banning this book and calling its contents “pornographic”, it essentially means that there is no way we are going to be able to teach our children anything about sex or their bodies without resorting to porn. Now, that’s not very comforting, now is it?

The authorities should get off their high horses and look at this carefully. There’s a very big difference between pornography, and proper, necessary, sex education. And it would serve them well to be able to tell the difference. If a children’s book like this gets the ban (which it already has), I worry for the future generation kids who won’t know what a penis or vagina is, or that boys shouldn’t put their penises into girls’ vaginas (at least, until they’re all grown up and responsible).

Scary thoughts, those.