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.

One debate, two ceramahs

Much has been said and written about the ‘great debate’ that happened on Saturday between Dr Chua Soi Lek from MCA and Lim Guan Eng from DAP. Even so, I’ll have my take on it, despite running the risk of driving people to tears with boredom from reading about the same issue everywhere they turn, from print newspapers to online news portals and Facebook.

Let’s start with the title of the debate itself – “Malaysian Chinese at the Political Crossroads – Is the Two-Party System Becoming a Two-Race System?” – which is, I believe, misguided. Or misguiding. Either way, it’s not a topic that allows much space for discussion.

Assuming the usual fabric of how a debate is structured, one side should argue for the topic, and the other against. But this assumes that both sides agree that there was a two-party system to start off with. And one other point of contention I have with the topic of debate – if it’s a debate about the Malaysian Chinese at political crossroads, why is race still made a subject for debate? What would have perhaps made a stronger and wider debate topic might be something that involves and influences strongly the Chinese and their  livelihood.

So going from there, I suppose it’s not easy to fault both participants for not sticking to the topic. That said, I find myself hard-pressed to find satisfactory arguments from either side during the entire debate. Except for a few sentences of Lim Guan Eng’s opening statement, “two-party system” was hardly even mentioned at all!

Many have pointed out, instead of it being a debate, it felt more like two separate ceramahs happening concurrently and in the same room. It seemed to me like Dr Chua was more eager to talk about what DAP has been doing wrong, and how a vote for DAP is a vote for PAS than anything else. As for Lim, he seemed more than happy to naysay everything that Dr Chua had to say about him and DAP.

Again, the fault may lie in the fact that the topic wasn’t one of the best debate topics in the world. But as leaders of opposite sides of  the local political scene, they could have paid more serious attention when doing their homework for this.

Even the audience weren’t very helpful. All the clapping and table banging and foot stamping and occasional shouting only went on to prove that this debate was very fast becoming one of those ceramahs we know so well. They are only blowing their own horns. And when it came question time, one only has to go onto Facebook to see how infamous one attendee has become. A certain Jessie Ooi has certainly made a name for herself for talking about towing cars at 10.30pm in Penang.

Taking all this into consideration, I’m almost convinced that Dr Mahathir is right when he says that Malaysians are generally not mature enough to handle public debates like the one that happened during the weekend. It’s true – when I was listening to the debate live, and also when I was watching the recordings on Youtube, I found myself thinking: “This is nothing like what a debate should be like.”

But as we’ve all been taught, whether through school, by our parents, or via life itself – we learn things by experiencing them. We learn things by making mistakes, and knowing not to repeat them. We learn, and we grow.

So yes, maybe Dr Mahathir is right in saying we’re not quite there yet in terms of maturity levels. But it’s definitely not a reason to stop. If anything else, all the more reason why we should ensure that public debates become more regular in local politics. Not only will it give our politicians some very much needed practice on improving their oratory skills, it’ll help us Malaysians mature.

It would make an excellent debate topic – “Should public debates be made more commonplace in local politics?”

Internet tales

It is becoming more and more difficult to deny the power of the internet. As Malaysians, we first experienced what the internet could do when the Pakatan Rakyat denied Barisan Nasional a 2/3 majority in parliament during the 12th General Election back in 2008. That was quite a while ago.

Ever since then, people have been turning to the internet more and more. Information has become easy. With just one click or two, the latest news is displayed on your screen.

With modern day gadgets like the smartphones that almost everyone in town carries, it’s not only about getting information from the internet anymore either. It’s also about the speed at which this information can be spread. And this speed can really surprise those who are not ready for it.

Take for example the case of one Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) employee beating one of his customers. This is the kind of thing that happens spontaneously – nobody really expects anyone to be ready with a camera (or a cellphone with video recording applications) to record the entire incident. But that’s what happened. And when this short little video was posted on Facebook, it spread like wildfire. Nothing could contain it. Within hours, hundreds of people shared this video on their own pages, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There are other such cases, but perhaps to a lesser impact. I read that an old lady was going around asking people to borrow RM5 because she lost her wallet and needed money to take the bus home. A young fellow recorded the entire process of the old lady approaching him and doing her thing, and then upon getting the money, went on to ask some other people. Again, this young man posted his video on Facebook, and comments like, “I’ve met other people like this too!” were only too many.

And what about those other videos where the police “ask” the drivers whether they want “help” after being stopped for speeding, or running a red light? Video after video is posted on the internet through Youtube and Facebook and other such platforms which allow users to share their content.

Gone are the days when information came only from approved sources. Gone also are the days when it would take at least one day before the news could get into public realm.

Now, you don’t even need to be at home and have your computer on in order to surf the net and get updated information. You only need to have a smartphone which has access to internet, and even the toilet could be your oyster.

Frankly speaking, this kind of fast-food information, and the speed of which it gets spread out, can freak some people out. After all, especially with the KFC incident, it almost feels like there’s nothing you can do in public that doesn’t stand the risk of being recorded down by some innocent bystander.

Remember when there was a proposal for CCTVs to be installed in public areas? Well, for now, it seems every other person is their own CCTV. And if you’re not careful, the whole world will know what you did last summer. Or in this modern era, they’ll know what you did just a moment ago.

Borrowing money to make money

SARA1Malaysia, or Skim Amanah Rakyat 1Malaysia, was launched and open for public on 30th January 2012. There wasn’t very much news about this previously (or maybe I just haven’t been reading the right papers), so I only found out about it through my friend’s sister who happens to be in the banking industry.

We were told that under SARA1Malaysia, RM5,000 would be put into investment under Amanah Saham for 5 years. Naturally, I thought it was an investment plan. Only after I checked the website of one of the banks involved did I find out that it is actually a loan scheme.

The sister later told us that, yes, it is a loan scheme, but one that is definitely worth it. She said she had called the hotline, and was told that the loan of RM5,000 would come from the bank. The government would absorb whatever interest the bank charges. Pretty sweet.

But how about the repayment? I asked. I read on the website that we have to repay RM84 every month for 59 months, and RM44 on the 60th month. The sister told me another version, one that she claims is what the person behind the hotline told her: the RM5,000 that is used to invest will bring about RM134 in profits every month, from which RM84 would be deducted automatically towards loan repayment, while RM50 would be deposited into our accounts.

If that story were to be true, that would mean that at the end of 5 years, successful applicants of SARA1Malaysia would be RM8,000 richer, without having had to produce a single sen.

You have to admit, while it sounds too good to be true, it’s enough to whip up your curiosity.

My friend, having heard this attractive story, decided to try and apply for this on behalf of her mother. So off to the bank we went.

The first indication that not all was as sweet-smelling as it seems was the fact that the bank was not full to the brim with people lining up to apply. If SARA1Malaysia was indeed what the sister had made it out to be, surely there would be plenty of people fighting each other to apply before the 100,000 quota was up.

Upon filling up the form and getting the necessary documents signed, we were told to enter the financial consultant’s room. It was in this room that we found out what SARA1Malaysia was all about.

Firstly, my friend’s mother, a homemaker, was not eligible to apply, simply because SARA1Malaysia is a loan scheme. The applicant has to have a monthly salary of between RM500-RM3,000 in order to qualify. This range applies for ‘gross household salary’, meaning that it’s husband and wife’s monthly salaries combined, or singles with “tanggungan”, meaning single parents. If you do not ‘earn’ anything (in my friend’s case, her mother is a homemaker, while her father is a retiree), you are automatically not eligible.

Secondly, the story we heard from the sister has been confirmed as false by the lady behind the desk. The monthly repayment of RM84 is borne by the applicant, and what’s more, we were told that the incentive of RM50 (to be debited into our Amanah Saham account) would only be given if we made the repayment on time. Meaning, if we missed the repayment in March, we would not get the RM50 incentive for the month of March.

We left the bank feeling a little ripped off. But then thinking about it now, this scheme really isn’t a very good one. It’s almost like the government is endorsing the concept of borrowing money to ‘make money’. How very unhealthy.