29 April 2013

Surely BN can change for the better?

As the election draws near, the mainstream media continues to work overtime as a Barisan propaganda machine, putting out articles which demean the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, while at the same time trying to portray the Barisan Nasional coalition positively. While credibly singing Barisan's praises for their good track record seems beyond even the capabilities of the chained and puppet-strung pens of our political analysts, one message they send is often repeated. It is often used and repeated mainly because it is a promise of the future, rather than a justification of the past, and as with all things in the future, we cannot discount the possibility entirely no matter how much the past seems to indicate that it is all wishful thinking. I'm speaking of the message of "transformation" (since "change" is probably a taboo word for Barisan these days), and how despite a pedigree of 55 years in power (of which the last 25 or so are the main cause of discontent) the ruling government believes that things will get better if given another 5 years in power. It's like the Ming Dynasty's Wanli Emperor, who presided over 28 years of growth followed by 20 years of complete debauchery and corruption - if Emperors sought mandate from the people the way public servants do, I wonder if the people of China would have believed him if he had asked for another 5 years on the throne.

I personally cannot claim to predict accurately as to whether Barisan Nasional will change for the better, or even if it did, whether it would perform better than a new Pakatan Rakyat government. I can, however, share why I take Barisan's promises with a pinch of salt, and why I really feel that this government must not be allowed to continue in power, at least for the next term.

I am not a man of many needs and wants. I do not expect my government to hand out goodies like cash handouts, smartphone subsidies or (let's be honest and look both sides here) free wi-fi for the public. They might be nice to have (at least for the moment - the long term implications of some of these goodies may yet come back to haunt us later) but they are not what define my perception of acceptable leadership in my country. It would be nice if the stock market kept going up when I held shares, or the traffic congestion was reduced, or if we had better roads, or if we had zero corruption, and so on, but these are all secondary to the main things I want as a Malaysian voter. I would like to share with you the three most important things to me right now, how I feel about the government's performance in these areas, and what hope I see that our government will make improvements in these areas.


I want to live in a country where my family can walk along the streets without constantly being in fear of snatch thieves, where my blood wouldn't run cold if I lost sight of my child for a couple of seconds when in a shopping centre, where our families and friends could live freely without needing to invest in all kinds of security devices, alarms etc. The security of our people has never been worse than in recent years - I think almost everyone I know knows someone who has been a victim of some form of street crime. My wife has had her handbag snatched, my cousin has been robbed at his workplace and another friend has been robbed by a mob of motorcyclists at a petrol station - thankfully all are physically unharmed, which is more than can be said for so many other Malaysians. People are living in fear every day, and hoping that the situation will be tackled by our government.

Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore that apparently only 8% of our police force budget allocation is spent on fighting crime. Let us ignore that 10 policemen were sent to arrest the peaceful ex-mufti of Perlis, and are frequently deployed in great numbers to arrest Opposition politicians. If our government had expressed outrage at the crimes, promised to clamp down hard on the criminals, pledged to increase policemen on the streets and asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Home Minister (under whose purview the police force falls) declared that Malaysia is the safest country in South-East Asia. He claims that it is perception of crime, rather than crime, which is upsetting everyone. Crime statistics are manipulated through classification of crimes into "index crimes" and "non-index crimes" in order to show us that crime is at an all-time low. Another Barisan MP declares that when citizens have to pay extra money to employ private security to protect their homes and families, that these gated communities are for "exclusivity" and to prevent salesmen and gasmen from getting in. If our leaders refuse to even see the problem (for now, we set aside the possibility that they may have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?


I want to live in a country where my children can go to school and get a good, well-rounded education. I want them to graduate as employable individuals who can join a productive workforce, settle into secure careers and provide for their families. I want my kids to learn about all things bright and beautiful (and those less so) in school, to be exposed to all the rich aspects of our lives, and to be able to think intelligently, respond rationally and, as Louis Armstrong beautifully put it, "learn much more than I'll ever know". Tragically, our education system has, over the past years, degraded further and further into, and well past, mediocrity. Today we have tens of thousands of graduates searching vainly for employment - this might not sound curious were it not for the fact that we also have countless under-staffed employers desperately searching for suitable employees as well. Our current graduates are just not employable, primarily due to an abysmal command of English taught at school. Most graduates are unable to communicate, having spent their formative years in institutions which train them to study, memorise and regurgitate. Having lost English-medium schools in 1970, our country also runs three separate education systems in Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil, narrowing even further the potential of our children in seeking employment outside the ethnic boundaries in which they have lived in all their formative years. Parents can only watch helplessly, and attempt to ameliorate the situation by sending our children for additional classes whenever we can afford it, hoping that the situation will be tackled by our government.

Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore that the government has resisted tooth and nail the reimplementation of English-medium schools, or has yet to even make English a compulsory-pass subject. Let us ignore that our Ministers send their children to private schools, international schools, and even overseas, to secure an education that they will not give to the children of the common man. Let us ignore the possibility that they might do so purely to keep the general population less educated than their own children. Let us also ignore that it is infinitely easier to divide and conquer a nation of three distinctly separate major ethnic communities to whom they can selectively communicate news which is not for the ears of other groups, and let us ignore that a nation of English-fluent people will force them to deal with all of us as a single people, forcing them to abandon racial and religious politics upon which they might have depended on all these years. If the government expressed outrage at our education system, increased the budget for training of teachers, made efforts to bring back English as a medium of instruction, came up with plans to revamp the entire teaching profession and ensure that all teachers were properly equipped to teach their subjects, increased their pay so that they wouldn't need to resort to teaching tuition to make ends meet, and then asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Education Minister boasts that our education system is better than that of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. Academic results are manipulated through ludicrous marking systems in order to show that the number of As scored every year are on the increase, while passing marks have apparently been lowered to as low as 14% in order to artificially boost pass rates. Science and Mathematics, both of which were in the midst of migrating (albeit in a very ill-planned manner) back to English medium of instruction, have reverted to Bahasa Malaysia despite public outcry, and the soft landing which was supposed to be in place (and even that came through pressure from parents groups) hasn't been practised by the teachers in the schools, as if teaching in English for a minute longer was totally unacceptable to this government. If our leaders refuse to even see the problem (for now, we set aside the possibility that they may have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?

Ethnic Relations

I want to live in a country where all races can come together without prejudice of each other, where Malays, Indians and Chinese can be best friends, and even become family. I want us all to get along like we did during my father's time - his best friend is a Malay, and even now he would visit us with his family during Christmas and have dinner together. A country where the stereotyping of races with negative traits will be a thing of the past, where my son can grow up with Malay friends and Indian friends, learning their culture and sharing his culture with them. When Malays can order food and swear in Cantonese, Chinese can count in Tamil, and we can all go for Malay weddings and enjoy the wonderful food, all sharing the best that we have with each other. Sadly, in recently years, racial polarization has been on the rise. Go to any college campus and you see the Malays, Chinese and Indians all in their own little groups (a by-product of our education system). Malay-rights group Perkasa makes ill-advised comments on other ethnic groups publicly without fear of reprisal, we still have racial quotas in academic institutions as well as in the public sector, Chinese employers insist on only hiring Chinese employees for work which anyone can do, the story of May 13's racial riots is constantly brought up to remind us not to speak up on injustices, and so on. Some are constantly reminded that they are descendants of immigrants, while others choose to use race and religion to justify hypocrisy and discrimination. Even when the people themselves have started to look beyond racial boundaries, the mainstream media continues to attempt to stoke racial tensions by playing races against each other.

Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore the fact that when the country's three racial groups are divided, it continues to keep the Barisan Nasional model and its three race-based parties relevant. Let us ignore that some Barisan Nasional members cannot stop referring to non-Malays as pendatang. If the government expressed outrage at racism, took affirmative action against Perkasa, ensured that Malaysians of all ethnic groups were accorded the same respect as each other, made efforts to eliminate the perception that we were all different, and were all Malaysian, and then asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Deputy Prime Minister claims that his Malay heritage is more important than his Malaysian identity. Our Prime Minister waxes lyrical about what a wonderful multi-racial country we are and what an example we are to other countries. Our government actively gives private screenings of Tanda Putera, a racial tension-stoking movie about the May 13 racial riots in an effort to remind the Malays of the grudges they should have against the Chinese, and our Minister in the Prime Minister's Department supposedly in charge of ethnic unity defends the private screenings to selected ethnic groups. Our government continues to play race against race, religion against religion. To the Malays they say that by voting Opposition, Malays will lose power, all the Malay rights will be abolished and Malaysia will be a Christian nation, while to the Chinese the story turns 180° and becomes about how the Opposition will bring in Islamic law, and that the Chinese will lose all their freedom. The racial and religious cards are played with impunity by a government desperate to create unrest, and if our leaders do not see it as a problem (and in this case, it is difficult to set aside the possibility that they have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?

There's a trend there, isn't there? These are not isolated cases of negligence (or malicious sabotage, depending on what you choose to believe), but the inherent way Barisan Nasional approaches issues which should be given priority. If they had genuinely offered to do better, wanted to change, or at the very least taken full responsibility for the mess that has piled up under their watch, I would most likely have been inclined to take a less radical option, for who really enjoys the thought of major change outside our normal comfort zones?

There was a time when I, like many other Malaysians, believed that with the retirement of Tun Dr Mahathir, we would see improvement, and hopefully an end to corruption and money politics. That the corrupt administration inherited by Tun Abdullah Badawi frustrated him so much that, in my opinion, he gave up trying to push reforms halfway into his term, only reminded us that the stench of corruption has permeated far deeper into Barisan Nasional than we had initially expected, and that not even a reform-minded Prime Minister (and I believe Pak Lah was sincere in the initial stages) could save Barisan Nasional. In the same way that the corrupt Ming Dynasty government inherited by the Chongzhen Emperor could not be saved despite his best efforts, we have to accept that even if Najib was totally sincere in his push for reform (and his actions have so far not suggested anything of the sort) Barisan Nasional has, in my opinion, lost its mandate to serve the people. Only through change of government, followed by change within Barisan Nasional as they start to face reality, can bring about the changes we want to see in this country - a government which recognises that it is elected to serve the people, and needs to be accountable (both to the rakyat and to the strong Opposition) for everything it says and does. A government which does everything for the good of all the people regardless of race, colour or creed, and not for their own personal gain. A government which can unite the people of all ethnic backgrounds and push this country forward as one united people, one nation, for our future and the future of our children. That cross may yet one day be borne again by Barisan Nasional leaders, but for now, it must lie with other people.

27 April 2013

Why would I vote for PAS?

Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am not voting in a constituency in which PAS is contesting a seat, and hence the blog post is purely hypothetical. However, should I ever find myself needing to choose to vote between PAS and Barisan Nasional, I am confident that my convictions as set out below will hold.

I am a born-again Christian, and believe in a risen Christ as my personal Saviour. I believe that He died for my sins on the cross, and by His death He has paid the punishment for my sin. I am now acceptable in Heaven in God's eyes because of His sacrifice, and, like Christ who conquered death on the third day, so will I be free from death on the last day.

Why would a Christian who believes in the above ever cast a vote in favour of PAS, which is a party bent on implementing Islamic law in Malaysia? As BN supporters are always ready to say - PAS will implement Hudud law in our country, non-Muslims will slowly lose their rights and identity, be eventually pressured to convert, and Malaysia will become an Islamic country in the same vein as the Middle-East countries. We need to protect our rights by voting against PAS ever coming to power in our country. A friend of mine once asked that if had to choose between PAS and MCA, who would I vote for? She was shocked that I chose PAS, as if I should vote for MCA purely because we have the same skin colour, or that I should reject an Islamic party simply because I was a Christian. Or should I?

Let me first state some common facts which most of us should already know, but may have forgotten:-

It wasn't PAS which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in their respective faiths.

It wasn't PAS which seized Bahasa Indonesia Bibles and desecrated them by stamping "for Christians only".

It wasn't PAS which created laws that made proselytization and apostasy crimes prosecutable by law in a secular country.

While it was a PAS official (Hasan Ali) which raided an official function held by Damansara Utama Methodist Church, it is interesting to note that Hasan Ali received more support for his actions from outside PAS than within, so much that eventually he had to leave PAS.

It wasn't PAS which made comments about burning Bibles.

It wasn't PAS which presided over the Arabification of Kuala Lumpur, putting up road signs in Arabic, among other things.

.. and so on.

Now, I am not for a moment insinuating that PAS would be against all these things - in fact, I am under no illusion that PAS would allow prozelytization and apostasy, or be comfortable with Malay-speaking Christians using "Allah" in their Bibles. I merely want to highlight that the ruling government has no moral high ground when it comes to enforcing their choice of faith and religion, and are in no position to criticize PAS on religious matters. In any case, religion has no place in the politics of a secular country, but BN has hardly been the secular government they would like to portray themselves as. Scaremongering the non-Muslims into rejecting PAS on the basis of their religious preferences should not carry any weight at all. In fact, it is interesting to note that according to news reports, when the PAS state government proposed to implement Hudud law in the state of Terengganu, apart from one solitary non-Muslim ADUN (Ahli Dewan Undang Negeri) who abstained, all the other ADUNs voted for it - including those from BN.

Putting aside the religious aspect of things (since there's nothing to choose between the two parties), we now take a look at the approach of PAS. It is a given fact that PAS desire the implementation of Hudud - it is one of their dreams, and there's no denying that. However, there is nothing wrong in having a certain dream of the ideal country you want to live in. I have a dream - that one day Malaysia will be free from religious politics, and that my Malay brothers and sisters will be free to choose their own faith, be it Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Darwinism, Bahaii, Sikhism etc.. openly without fear of persecution from the authorities. That one day my children will be free to marry Malays without being forced to convert to Islam, and that one day our races will no longer be distinguishable because we've all married into one big family. It's not a dream likely to be realised within my lifetime, if ever, nor is it one which will be deemed acceptable by many Malaysians in UMNO and PAS, but in my own small, private way, I have my dream. In the same way, PAS have their dream - it might never be realised, but they hold on to it. Desiring the implementation of Hudud cannot therefore be held against them, because nobody can force others to want exactly the same thing as we do. If anything, that would be the greater crime - demanding that someone gives up their dream just to conform to what you want them to believe in.

How far can they push it? It is interesting to note that while PAS's spiritual advisors keep trying to market their dream, the political leadership of PAS has been very reasonable about the whole thing. We hear people like Mat Sabu and Khalid Samad speak about how they understand that things cannot be forced and it is obvious they have respect for the wants and needs of the other people who do not subscribe to their point of view. One thing which stands out for me is that neither of them has actually denied that they want Hudud law. It is remarkable because it is one issue which BN has been using against PAS ad infinitum, and PAS knows that by standing by their convictions they risk losing support from the non-Muslims (and even some Muslims who may not share their same convictions). It must have been tempting to just deny it, or to play down the issue, wait for the elections to pass and then show their true colours, but to their credit they have never done that. They will not betray their ideals, nor put on a false front, just to curry favour with voters. That, to me, is a sign of integrity, something to be greatly admired if we look beyond their ideals.

To amend the constitution, the pro-Hudud members of Parliament will require a 2/3rds majority, and this does not look possible. There have been countless articles on the web regarding the impracticality of the pro-Hudud MPs actually getting enough votes - there are simply not enough Malay seats, and that's not even counting the fact that not all Malays may vote for Hudud. Without going too deep into the analysis, it is safe to say that unless PAS manages to capture far more seats than it is currently contesting in, including seats in non-Malay areas, Hudud law will remain a dream for them. That PAS supporters are still trying to convince non-Muslims of the merits of Hudud means that they realise this. PAS might be able to push bills through various state governments in which they have a majority (like they did with Terengganu) but a competent Federal government would rise up and defend the country's Federal Constitution should this happen. As long as PAS is going to remain part of a coalition with PKR and DAP, they will never have the numbers to push this through - if PAS were someday to be in a position to seek a mandate to run the country by itself then it would be a different story, of course, but that is not the scenario we are faced with.

Since Hudud is, in my opinion, a non-issue, what are we left with? A person should never be defined by a single characteristic such as political allegiance, religion, race etc, and similarly, a PAS candidate should never be defined by his desire for Hudud law. PAS stands for many other things, and Hudud is not the solitary purpose of their existence. Not implementing Hudud does not stop them from pursuing other items on their agenda. The current PAS candidate for Titiwangsa (where I currently reside, although my voting address is still at my old address in Bukit Bintang), En Ahmad Zamri, is standing up for various issues such as reduction of inflated petrol prices, concerns regarding shortage of teachers, abolishment of toll concessions, stopping the outsourcing of speeding tickets under AES.. and so on. Do we have to look at him and see only his desire for Hudud? His predecessor, the late Dr Ghazali Lolo, served the people of Titiwangsa faithfully until her passing due to cancer, without once campaigning for Hudud. Do we judge her as undesirable as well simply because she carried the PAS flag?

As the election draws near, barely a week away, we need to take a step back and look at the full picture. Hudud will always be a front-page article in the mainstream media, while responses made to alleviate fears may not quite find their way to the government-controlled newspapers. We know that Hudud is a PAS agenda - but to be reasonable we cannot hold it against them. If they did eventually get round to trying to implement it and force it upon us then our response will definitely be different, but for now we need to respect their dreams in the same way they respect ours. We know that BN has no moral high ground when it comes to Islamic issues - in fact they've shown less respect to the sensitivities and needs of non-Muslims over the past years. When Hasan Ali raided DUMC, PAS leadership refused to stand by him because what he did was out of line and upset Christians, but BN was happy to support him. Even when faced with losing Hasan as a PAS member, and let us not forget - Pakatan Rakyat held Selangor by a very slim margin, they stood by the non-Muslims and Hasan was eventually dismissed, putting them in a weaker political position. They stood by their convictions, and it was a welcome moderate stand they took, so much that Hasan accused them of abandoning their Islamic principles. They lost a seat, but gained respect as a leadership which did not just think in terms of their own agenda. BN, on the other hand, refused to even speak out against Malay-rights group Perkasa when their leader Ibrahim Ali suggested that Bibles be burnt. The authorities refused to take action because "no Bibles were burnt", never mind how they interrogated a student for posting jokingly in Facebook about blowing up the Prime Minister's helicopter. Does the leadership of PAS really fall short of even the low standards set by the BN leadership?

Where does this leave me as a voter? If I look past the Hudud issue, I see men and women of integrity in PAS who care for the people under them. Disregarding the Hudud issue, these are good men and women who will serve their constituencies to the best of their ability. If we MUST look at Hudud even though it's not a realistic thing, then we also have to look at who we will vote for if we do not vote for PAS. UMNO? East Malaysian Christians are still waiting for the courts to remove the stay on execution on the judgement which gave them their right to use "Allah" in Malay Bibles - the courts had given them the green light but UMNO claimed they wanted to file an appeal, and the stay on execution pending an appeal has gone on for over 3 years now. Yes, PAS might have done the same, but is UMNO seriously any better than PAS when it comes to religious politics? At least one party comes clean about their position, does not lie about what they believe in, and will not make any decision unless the majority approves of it - what more do we want of our leaders?

The Crusades have already shown us the folly of mixing religion with politics, and countries like Japan have shown us that it's perfectly possible to have a safe country without needing to invoke religion. It's not the nature of the law gazetted, but the enforcement of the law. We have high crime-rates because we don't have enough policemen on the streets, not because our laws are inadequate. While PAS are welcome to continue trying to convince us, I am sure that if the time ever comes, when needed, we will make our stand known and reject Hudud law in our country.

Nevertheless, Hudud alone does not define PAS's existence, despite what the newspapers would have us believe. I will never support Hudud, but I pray for the success of PAS during GE13. If I had to choose between PAS and UMNO in my constituency, I would vote PAS without hesitation, and it will not conflict with my Christian beliefs in the slightest. May God bless the leaders of PAS, grant them the wisdom to work with the other leaders within Pakatan Rakyat, and together lead our country into a better future for our children. Amen.