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.

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.