Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Debate, Anwar and Criteria To Be Malaysian PM


Yes, I was at the debate and many of you saw me on TV.

It is amazing how many people called, emailed and text asking if I am on Anwar’s side as I sat at the so called Pakatan’s half of the hall. Are you Anwar’s supporter Anas? You in Pakatan ka? What do you think of Anwar as the PM?

Well, let me explain.

We were early, my cousin Lola, my close friend Susan and I. (Susan is also for a long time Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd’s lead consultant for presentation skills. I will tell you her one liner comment about the debate later). As we were the earliest we could choose where to sit. My cousin Lola chose the right side third row, Susan and I just followed. Then the Pakatan people came and sat around us. My cousin said ‘alamak ‘, we wished there was a middle section for those who are neither BN nor Pakatan!!! A real Barisan Rakyat who is getting a little tired of Malaysian politics today.

Okay, let’s deal with this.
My position on Anwar …

I am not an Anwar hater but I was never a fan. Well before he fell from Tun Mahathir’s favor and the first sodomy case against him I found him lacked in depth. I found his speeches and writings mostly as grand lectures with little meaning. Lots of air and entertainment value, but not much to take home or profound enough, that is why we always remember how a great speaker he is but not the contents. That’s the Anwar branding in my head; as the Malay saying goes “Indah kata dari rupa’. My apology to Anwarites if my position hurts you. . In my books, message must be bigger than the speaker. We can agree to disagree on this, but before you jump and send me nasty emails go analyze carefully. Read for example his writings as compared it to Dr M or the late Tun Razak or Tun Dr Ismail. See if you can find something really original in what he proposed.

Need not go too far, go listen to the speeches he made during the PR12 campaign period. I do not deny the hype, he is good at that. Go listen not as a fan, not as an Anwar hater too, not as an UMNO, Barisan, DAP, PAS, PKR or any partisan person or worst still someone who wants to be entertained. Listen with a balanced mind, as a thinking human being, as someone who wants to unearth the truth, as an economist, a manager, a mother, a father, a student, etc. Be someone who listens without any emotional attachments to any particular likes and dislikes and then generate both the positive and negative aspects of his speeches and you will see what I mean. Do the same with the recent debate too (I will comment on the debate before this article ends).

Please don’t get me wrong, I respect and really like many things he did when he was in the government. He has done many good things and worked to eradicate poverty and provide cheaper homes for the poor. Furthermore during his tenure as DPM there were more cultural dialogues and sharing of values within the spiritual traditions. And, I love that!!!!

Let’s say that I am not warped about Anwar or anyone for that matter (Dr. M, Pak Lah … not even the Prophet Mohamad) as I do not believe in idolizing anyone but God. What is due is due, what is not, is not. You will find my approach to be consistent here not just when dealing with Anwar. Read the articles below about Dr M’s episode of swearing with the Quran twenty years ago in 1988 which was carried by DAP’s Rocket and the misunderstanding about Dr Chandra and the ghost of Mahathir (written 14 years ago) carried by Aliran Monthly. No one is 100% perfect or 100% flawed. Would you follow a similar balanced approach too or at least allow others to?

(note : i also wrote on the mahathir-anwar crisis of 98. If interested click here

Let me put it straight.

Anwar’s supporter will hate me for saying this, but for the longest time I have maintained that Anwar is not Prime Minister Material. At least not yet, even now when he is already 60 years old. This has no connection with him being a sodomite or not. I cannot prove if he is or is not. Let’s deal with things we can deal with. Let me say this loudly, I HATED AND DO NOT AGREE WITH THE MANNER HE WAS TREATED IN THE FIRST SODOMY CASE AND YET AT THE SAME TIME I AM VERY UNHAPPY WITH HOW ANWAR IS TREATING THE CURRENT CASE ESPECIALLY CASTING DOUBTS WAY BEYOND REALITY ON SUCH AN IMPORTANT INSTITUTION AS THE PDRM.

PM Material?

Anwar is not PM material yet because he still lacks the conceptual ability and ‘group to group’ skills plus the attitude to be a PM. Furthermore unlike BN leaders, he lacks an organization that can back him up in both the conceptual framework needed and ‘group to group’ actions. Why do you think till today he has not announce a shadow cabinet? He needs BN - especially UMNO structure and manpower to lead the country. In other words, even if Anwar becomes the PM, UMNO and BN component parties will still run the show albeit in another form. Have you not seen how PR has been courting GERAKAN and MCA managers and at the ground level UMNO penghulus?

(Those who have attended my workshops may recall that I suggested that even if the opposition takes over the government (even back in 99), the alliance will collapsed within six months or at most one year. Watch Pakatan Rakyat these next few months).

To be Top Management and especially the number one person in any organization be they political, business or social a leader and his team must have the conceptual ability to understand and deal the complexities of the total organization/country and see how his/her operations and actions fits into the whole. This allows the leader to seek for the total success of the organization rather than fight just for the needs of his/her own immediate group or any specific group of people – the problem of the day. You cannot please every group each time you want to win them. That will in the long run create an overrun. That is exactly what Anwar has been doing. To a certain extend in reacting to Anwar’s pressure, PM Abdullah is doing a little of the same thing but he is far more checked. He and his team know that there are limits in pleasing the various demanding parties or the balance will slowly crumble and the country tumbles. That is the brilliance of the UMNO lead government. In fact, it was the slow but sure dilution of this balance over the last 20 – 30 years that cause BN’s poor showing in PRU12.

As most of you who reads my blog are working in a business organization let me give you a business organizational example. Let me quote from an advert my organization featured in the Star for Hari Raya last year.

Why you must listen to and support the CEO

Do you know the number one task of your CEO? He or she makes sure that everyone in the company move together at the same pace and in the right direction, at a speed faster than competition.

The act of balancing the strengths and weaknesses of each department and making sure the various divisions operate at the same speed yet faster than competition is challenging and there is no one right answer, no one right way. The playing field changes constantly, everyday is a work in progress. Your CEO chases different people and teams at different times to make sure every unit works in tandem. It is no good if sales do well but the factory cannot produce the orders or when marketing creates award winning advertisements while the delivery system fails.

Productivity counts only when the company’s product and services reach the customers as the market demands it. This will need the entire organization to work as one as and faster than the competition.

When staffs are not able to see the business in its entirety or when they question the CEO or work against him, the organization is doomed. Sometimes people unknowingly work against corporate direction when they view only from
their own individual unit or section in the organization without an understanding of the whole.

The CEO is the conductor of an orchestra, the audience, the market place. The CEO sees and hears the presentation in its entirety. Just as the maestro leads the various musical sections, a CEO leads departments, separately and together.

Then, a beautiful work emerges and is a success in the market place.

In a country like ours, instead of the various departments or divisions we can cluster the groupings and individuals into the following depending which methodology we want to choose and work with.

RACE - The usual approach – the various races or ethnic groupings. It is very important that each group is moving and achieving at the same pace and no one and no group is left behind.
STATE – each state from Perlis to Sabah must not be left behind.
LOCATION – urban versus non- urban. The divide and quality of life must not be too far off.
SOCIAL CLASS – the haves and have-nots. The rich cannot be too rich and the poor too poor.

The NEP as a ‘Group to group’ action plan

No group must be left behind and none should get more (perceived or real). Failing which we will lose balance and brew trouble. That is why we must support affirmative actions. Affirmative action is like the CEO chasing and making sure the slower departments catch up with the rest. BN’s answer was the NEP and that was the job of the NEP; to reorganize society equitably. It is unfortunate that it was seen more from a politically raced tainted angle by most Malaysians instead of an organizational need. At the implementation level too, it was wrongly carried out as a racial policy by many officers.

However, the NEP was probably one of the most successful affirmative action taken by a government in modern times. We need to just tweak it here and there to make it a super success. Going against the NEP wholesale as Anwar is suggesting is counter productive. The Malays and Bumiputra rightly or wrongly may perceive that they may loose in the future. That may create unrest.

I am not saying the NEP is without any flaws.

Let me give you an example; let us use the RACE and LOCATION methodology. I would like to focus on the Indian poor (RACE) who resides in the urban (LOCATION) area. The mistake happens on both sides, poor understanding of the Indian ethnic groupings and failure to detail urban poverty in greater degree. My organization’s Deepavali advert in 2006 discussed this concern.

“Imagine … Affirmative action for the urban poor.

The flight to urban areas in search of employment present humanity with a new challenge — urban poverty. Across the globe, particularly in emerging nations, cities become centres where the poor seek a better life only to find crime, drugs, broken families, juvenile delinquency, and despair. The dilemma of the urban poor is that, even when they work hard and long, they are unable to make a decent living.

In Malaysia urban poverty affects all ethnic groups but the massive movement from kampongs and rubber estates poses a bigger challenge amongst Malays and Indians, with the latter experiencing the highest rate of urbanization.

When plantations close down or crops change, many workers are forced to seek employment in cities. Some displaced plantation workers are so totally uprooted, they do not have a hometown to go back to.

Most have little education and lack skills. They get poor paying dead-end jobs that are dangerous and difficult, with no legal protection. Often there is little or no community support system and suicide rates are high.

This socio-economic background often means shoddy homes and inadequate educational support. Which translates to children underperforming in schools and high drop-out rates, which in turn affects future employment prospects. Unless things change, the vicious cycle continues.

The challenge for us as Malaysians is to ensure that no segment amongst us is neglected. We are all brothers and sisters. We need to look at problems affecting a community not as that particular community’s problems, because we all share the burden as a nation.

We succeeded in dealing with rural poverty through affirmative action. We can do the same for our urban poor. We have the resources, technology, know-how, experience, creativity and talent. We need to open our hearts and focus our will and take action. We can do it!

Imagine you and I... changing the world for the better!

Here the NEP is flawed in two ways.

Firstly, we grouped Indians as one ethnic grouping as we did the Chinese, Malays and the other Bumiputras. Many non Indians do not understand Indians. That is why the Perak MB can make a simple mistake thinking a Punjabi is a Benggali. The Indians are not one, not in India and definitely not here, not in history nor the present. Malaysian Indians are more ONE as a Malaysian as compared as Indians. I know this because I have many Indian friends and thank God for growing up in Penang! For instance you will find there are more inter race marriage between an Indian and non Indian as compared to intra-Indian ones. Basically, if you are a Gujerati and you bring back a Tamilian partner to show your parents or vice versa, your mother may just go into conniption or drama (sorry my Indian brothers and sisters, you know what I am talking about, though now many parents are loosening their grip a little… especially if you are already 30+ and still single… ha!ha!).

By grouping all Indians into one group, we mistakenly aggregated mostly poor Tamilians and mostly richer non-Tamilians into one economic grouping thus creating a wrong picture in terms of per capita income for poorer Indians. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there are no rich Tamilians and no poor non Tamilian Indians). The net effect is that the real poor Indians failed to be detected in the poverty radar.

This lead to the second flaw; by location. The NEP place more attention to the rural poor. Thus, they face a double whammy. Furthermore, unlike our Bumi brothers and sisters who have easier access to government jobs and zakat- baitulmal, our Indian brethren does not. Here is where the Government must play the role of protector of the group and administer direct assistance and thus balanced off the ‘group to group’ imbalance. During a talk presented at Gerakan last year I suggested that if the BN fail to quickly deal with the Indian poor, they will take drastic actions, a few months later the infamous HINDRAF march took place.

But Anwar, in trying to get the Indian support, have gone overboard as perceived by the Malays. If we do not correct this perception, we will go off balanced again.
And while I like the idea of a more equitable allocation to poorer states, over promising Sabah just to buy over MPs is counter to the balancing act again. All these will have a longer term effect and role over.

Wither Anwar?

Well, Anwar however has improved tremendously since 1998, thanks perhaps to all the reading he did in jail. His semi success in forming the Pakatan bringing together two groups so different in outlook PAS and DAP is payment for his mental and conceptual growth while in jail. You see God acts in mysterious way. Will he be able to harness his conceptual ability and built on his ‘group to group’ skills before he is out maneuvered? What do you think?

What are the Criteria to be a Malaysian PM?

Tied to the earlier ideas of being conceptually sound, ‘group to group’ ability, leadership and management skills etc, let us agree on what we want from a PM. At least we must set a minimum criterion.

There are four contenders today. The incumbent PM Abdullah, DPM Najib, Anwar and Ku Li. Notice that they are all UMNO trained. Anwar included. This is because amongst all our political parties, UMNO is the premier school ever since before Merdeka that breeds and trains conceptually sound and skillful ‘Group to Group’ leaders that know how to balanced the delicate groupings within our nation. It is not an easy job. To be a Malaysian PM you must remove the doubts of not only your own ethnic group but also of the others. For example, When Tun Mahathir spoke when he was the PM not only the Malays listen to him, but also the Indians, Chinese, Eurasians and do not forget we also have our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak. A formula PAS and DAP have yet to grasp. This ‘Group to group’ skills!!!

But, we need to set some basics. We should not accept anyone who have said or did the following unless they openly on national TV ask for pardon to the nation for their past ’mistake’.

1) Wave a keris and wanting it to taste blood of a fellow Malaysian
2) Say words like, “Bangsat! Bangsa pendatang, keluar dari negara ini!” when a young undergrad asked why is it that though he is from a poor family he is not entitled for a scholarship.
3)That he wants to stop temple bells from ringing in this country.
4)Has gone against Bahasa Malaysia as the Bahasa Kebangsaan
5)Does not recognize Malay Special Rights and at the same time the Equality of all Malaysian
6)Does not respect our Constitutional Monarchy System.

While all of them passed criteria 4 – 6, guess who out of the 4 contenders have done at least one or more of the first 3?

How about the debate?

Now for the debate…Who won the debate? It depends what you use as the objective of each side.

For BN

1)If BN’s plan is to demystify Anwar, they did a good job. This is the most important achievement for BN. Placing a rookie and younger Minister to face him off. Basically, Anwar became just another speaker and leader overnite. One must realize that we expect more from Anwar and much less from Shabery and yet Shabery held up. Anwar looked tired and a little beaten. Man to man I feel sad seeing him that way although I disagree with his idea to subsidized fuel (read my earlier blog on my position). The last time I saw him in person, he was really bergaya. Now he looks old and tired. The last many years must have taken a toll on him. I wish we can call a truce and let him rest. Shabery looked calm and cool. I must say he looked poised, far more then who he was as my lecturer. By the way, he was one of my better lecturers at UM. A bad student I was but I tried very hard not to miss a single of his class. But I wish Shabery did not overdo the personal attacks and stick to economics. But, it may be his tactic as Anwar has not much to counter personally as Shabery is known to be a simple person with no airs.

2)If BN’s plan is to show Anwar’s inconsistency to non- PKR and non – BN supporters ie the silent majority. It did. It also strengthens the stand of those who are already BN supporters .

3)Anwar conceded defeat that he would have had to increase the price of fuel albeit at a lesser quantum after the elections. BN people will have a gala time using that the next few months on the ground!!!

For Pakatan

1)If the plan is to talk to a totally new market of voters, they scored A! I bet amongst UMNO and BN veterans and ground leaders, they feel by this alone the debate is counter productive.

2)If Anwar’s plan is to get people to soon go out in the street and bring down the government. It will not work. Malaysia prefers to watch Astro. But, Anwar reads the market well. The average Malaysian first and foremost care about their spending power and not lofty economic management. Many Malaysians liked what they heard. He must have added a few more supporters.

3)Anwar showed numbers, rightly or wrongly. It made people think…. Why not?

For Malaysians

1)Cool start of a new era of politics – open debates on TV

2) Political maturity – the debate was more matured than what we hear from the parliament.

3)But still not clear of economic implications

As for me, well I would have been happier if both speakers dealt with real economics rather than politics, but I guess it was a political debate. Maybe we can have another one with the BN economic expert versus Pakatans. As for Susan who is apolitical and spend minimal time reading and keeping abreast on Malaysian politics, she lamented immediately after the debate that she did not gain much, that it was kind of waste of time.


Anas Zubedy

Balancing Views - Dr Chandra & the Ghost of Mahathir

Working within the “Sphere of Influence”

The recent conference on “Rethinking Human Rights” organised by JUST provided another dimension to the whole issue of human rights, which in the past had been interpreted mainly by Western NGOs and governments. But, controversy erupted when a few local human rights activists expressed displeasure over the choice of speaker for the conference’s key-note address :
Dr Mahathir. ANAS ZUBEDY shares with us his views. (Aliran Monthly 1995:14)

Two years ago while reading Dr Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” I stumbled upon an age old wisdom practised by many effective and pragmatic leaders of the past who focused on things they could do first within their set of ideals rather than spending precious time hitting hard on areas that they have no control over. Dr Covey, calling it “pro-activity” stresses that proactive people focus their energy and time within their Circle of Influence no matter how small the circle is. Reactive people (the opposite of pro-activity) on the other hand waste their time in their Circle of Concern, an area which they do not have real control.

A proactive person, while concentrating on areas they can do something about create an energy that is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase. A reactive person while believing that they are doing something because they are “concerned” focuses effort on the weakness of other people, the problem of the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. The negative energy generated, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.

It was perhaps with pro-activity in mind that Just World Trust (JUST) and its Director Dr Chandra Muzaffar organised an International Conference on Rethinking Human Rights on 6 -–7 December 1994 at the Legend Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. Focussing primarily on Western global dominance and its impact on human rights, the conference managed to attract the support of the Malaysian government and press.

However, certain individuals and organisations have expressed concern and some, outright opposition to the choice of Dr Mahathir as the person to deliver the keynote address and to officiate at the conference. This was mostly due to Dr Mahathir’s past record as national leader in Malaysia and legislation like the ISA, OSA, etc.

I have yet to hear or read of any other major opposition either to the topics and direction of the conference, the choice of paper-writers, moderators (Note that Musa Hitam, a former DPM of Malaysia was also a moderator), etc. My brief inquiry with Sivarasa Rasiah, a committee member of Suaram (seem as foremost amongst the NGOs opposed to the conference) seems to support this.

In short, while other matters were brought forth, like insufficient emphasis on women’s issues, the human rights situation in the South, the choice of the venue, etc., it is the “ghost” of Dr Mahathir that haunts the dissenters. I will deal with this problem towards the later part of this article. First let us evaluate the conference as it should, ie., in totality.

I propose to use a method known as the PMI. The PMI is a powerful thinking tool proposed by creative guru Dr De Bono. According to De Bono, one of the biggest faults of thinking is the use of it to back up an opinion that has already been formed by first impression, slight thinking, prejudice or tradition. By using the PMI method, “P” being the plus/good points, “M”. the minus/bad ones and “I” for areas which are interesting to note, a switch could take place. Instead of using intelligence to support a particular prejudice, now it is used to explore the subject further.


1. Did the conference manage to reach the organiser’s objectives?
I believe any projects undertaken by an individual or organisation must first live up to their own objectives. JUST was set up amongst other reasons to develop public awareness about the inequities and injustices in the existing global system and to create a better understanding at the popular level, as to how control and domination of the global system by a priviledged minority challenges human dignity and social justice in both the First World and the Third World, in both the North and the South.

Judging from the level of public interest generated by the conference’s messages, the high level of media coverage, and the number and quality of participants, paper-writers, etc the conference was par-excellence in reaching JUST’s objective. Furthermore one must note that JUST is a very new organisation and the conference was their first major event.

In short, the conference managed to identify JUST at the popular level with its major objective. (One may want to note that Suaram, in dissenting may be living up to their organisation’s objective. Hence, they are working within their scope of interest. Could somebody please do a PMI on Suaram’s reaction?)

2) Creating Awareness : Rethinking Human Rights

In brand marketing or brand building, creating awareness is most important in a product launch. Thus, creating awareness for the need to Rethink Human Rights is most important at this point of time. One does not expect the masses to know the subject deeply. Should people have in mind the idea of re-looking, rethinking or just the words “human rights” at this juncture, there would be enough reason to celebrate.

Prior to this conference, the term “human rights” was virtually non-existent in the vocabulary of the majority of Malaysians. What more the concept of human rights been prominently featured in our mass media. One does not need to elaborate why.

The conference was just a “product launch”. It was just the tip of the tip of the iceberg of what is needed for human rights and the rethinking of it. The awareness and interest generated is a good platform for further campaigns. (Could we have achieved this if JUST had used the traditional approach of the NGOs?)

3) Quality of Papers presented and the wide areas covered

While 15 to 20 minutes per speaker was too short a time for presentation, most of the speakers managed to forward a very good overall picture of their ideas. Reading their papers in total, one will find most of them of high quality, informative and a good start in our long journey in the quest to rethink and reformulate human rights.

The areas covered from one plenary session to another were holistic and covered most major areas in dealing with the job of rethinking human rights. Furthermore, once edited and compiled into a book, the papers presented will reach a larger group of people.

4) A first of its kind and a catalyst for a common front.

The conference was the first concerted effort at looking at the pattern of global dominance and its effect on human rights. It is a great leap forward. It has also acted as a catalyst to string together organisations, intellectuals and activists both from the North and the South. Forming a common front between these groups is crucial for further action. In short, the conference has provided a platform for networking.

5) A critical look at Western dominance and the last 500 years of human history

Is it not time yet for inhabitants of this world to reflect on the last 500 years as this century sees the dissolution of direct colonisation? The conference through some of the paper writers (and the PM’s speech) provided a good start to analyse where we (the human race) were, where we are now and where we should be heading.

6) People of different backgrounds, organisations and orientation working together

The organising of the conference witnessed the coming together of individuals from different organisations working towards a common cause. Members from JUST, ABIM, the IKD, the Protocol and Security Division and the International Conference Unit with the Prime Minister’s Department, etc were pooled together. This will serve as an eye opener for the groups to understand one another and serve as a good start for future cooperation. Each seeking to understand rather than acting counter productively in relation to other groups’ objectives. By such a close relationship and by such groups working together, we can urgently address issues of universal concern and not adopt a ‘holier than thou’ attitude which will not only separate and keep people apart, but also prevent each other from progressing.


1) Did the conference manage to reach the organiser’s objective?

While locally and probably in the Third World, the conference did manage to receive wide coverage, the lack of interest from the western media towards the conference meant that the people of the North will not be touched by the message. As they form a very important group in JUST’s endeavour to Rethink Human Rights, not reaching them is a setback. (Here JUST may want to look within its own circle of influence and maximise what they can do to expand it).

2) Creating Awareness : Rethinking Human Rights.

The local population may be confused with the issue as their basic level of knowledge with regards to human rights is still lacking. A call to Rethink Human Rights assumes that one has already the knowledge of the current concept i.e. the current viewpoints, approach and practice. Hence, the average person will need to take a big jump forward. Some, or perhaps many, may become confused.

As for the people of the North, the lack of coverage meant no awareness was created.

3) NGOs at loggerheads

The friction arising between the NGOs as a result of a differing approach and emphasis towards the issue may serve to divide their voices. While personally I take this as a temporary disequilibrium, arising from JUST embarking on a new strategy, this friction, if not handled properly, may increase.
4) Exploitation by Opportunistic Leaders from the South

Opportunistic leaders from the South may exploit the endeavour to Rethink Human Rights to propose a version of human rights that will perpetuate their interests. Coupled with the lack of understanding among the masses in the South, they may be able to manipulate the situation to legitimise their own hidden agendas.

5) West Bashing

Some felt that the conference was per-occupied with ‘West-bashing’. While a complete reading of the actual papers presented will prove otherwise, certain presenters did express anger and portray hatred towards the West openly. Perhaps it was the emotional display of anger that allowed some to see this conference as a “West-bashing” party.

If it is true that the anger and hatred approach was espoused, then it will prove negative to the objective of the conference.

(Note : Should one find an article per se as being critical of the West, this should not be equated with West-bashing as this is the topic at hand. While there were certain speakers who expressed anger, there were those like Prof Mahmoud Ayoub who was really compassionate and cautioned against such acts.)


1) Awareness will actually turn into understanding

It will be interesting to see if the high level of coverage will also make more people seek to understand, discuss and later take action on issues pertaining to human rights locally and at the international scene. Will the average Malaysian manage to grasp the underlying concept of human rights and use the knowledge regardless of where the violation originates North or South?

2) Actual Follow Up

Will there be an actual follow up i.e. an expanding mechanism to the concept of Rethinking Human Rights or will this whole endeavour turn into an end in itself? Will NGOs make full use of the plus points or tear each other apart with the minus points? Will the NGOs be preoccupied with the ghost of Mahathir, or will they concentrate on the crux of western dominance, the dominant paradigm causing the worst violation of human rights?

Will the books, articles and papers presented fill the hearts and minds of people or will they decorate their shelves?
Will the conference spark off more discussions, public forums, articles, books about the subject? For example, will there be a sequel to the conference?

In short, what form will the follow-up take?

3) The Realisation of the leadership in the South

Will the leadership in the South realise that they themselves are practising the same concept as the Western powers albeit on a lesser scale? Will Mahathir, for instance, see that to be more effective and believeable at the international scene, he must first practise what he preaches within his own Circle of Influence?

4) To what extent did opportunistic leaders manage to exploit the conference for negative ends?

Will the conference serve them more than the sublime quest to rethink and reformulate human rights? How far will the NGOs work together to ensure this is minimised? Or will they be helping those leaders by way of arguing amongst themselves instead?

5) Awareness of the people from the North and elites of the South

Will people of the North become aware of their current practice and its effects on the people of the South? That their current life-style helps perpetuate the misery of a large portion of the human race? That the last 500 years of exploitation has supported their current state?

Will the elites of the South become aware that they are no better than their western counterparts?

How will these two groups react to the awareness?

6) What will the next 500 years hold?

What will the immediate future be like? Will the current concern continue with added vigour or will it assume a more positive trend? Will the next 500 years see a more balanced world? Will the situation in the South improve? Will the South some day in the future replace the North as the dominant exploiter? (With the current economic growth rates and the twists and turns of history, one never knows)

7) The breaking up of NGOs into two groupings

Will there be a breaking up of NGOs into two groups? One inclined to agree with JUST’s approach and the other towards Suaram’s? Or will the NGOs see both groups as similar in their quest but just different in strategy and emphasis? Thus, there is no need to be inclined towards either – instead we need to realise the need to respect each other’s style and approach.

(Note : I am positive that more PMIs can be generated. However, I will stop here)


To profit from the conference and to ensure the quest for human rights proceeds towards a better end, one must maximise the plus points gathered so far, minimise the minuses and monitor, control and guide the ‘interesting points to note’ towards the creation of more plus points. Here is where we must handle the misgivings about the conference pointed out by certain individuals and groups.

For instance, Indai Lourdes Sajor from the Asian Women’s Human rights Council may want to organise another conference that could be entitled “Global Domination and its impact on Women” as a follow up to this conference. (Indai was concerned that the women’s issue was not discussed at the conference. While the conference was already packed with so many aspects of western dominance, and more so since it is already over, it would be more beneficial if we concentrate on the future and use this platform to proceed with this important related issue. Any takers for this idea?)

Suaram, on the other hand, concerned with the possible manipulation of the conference by leaders of the South, may want to organise a similar conference entitled “Western Domination and Third World Leaders”. Another group may want to organise one that focusses purely on the economy while someone else may want to focus on arts and culture. The list could go on.

It is however, important for us to deal with the ‘ghost’ of Mahathir as it seems to be that this particular thorn is clouding many from focussing on the crux of the problem.

The Ghost of Mahathir

It amazes me how one normal human being like Mahathir has assumed such a powerful influence over intelligent thinking humans to such an extent that they make their decisions based on his presence or absence in officiating and delivering a keynote address at a function. A man like him, who is a drop in the ocean compared to the vastness of the problem, will come and go. He, you or I were not present in 1492 when Colombus landed on the soils of the New World. He too is as helpless as you and I when confronted with the dying children in Africa or the thousands of women raped in Bosnia- Herzegovina.

One must also note that as a human being he too is not an absolute Satan only bent on doing wrong, or an absolute angel with one hundred per cent goodness. He is just a normal human being. He has done wrong, he has done right. Just like you and I. He has spent a considerable amount of energy and time fighting for the South. JUST and Chandra see this as good enough for him to officiate at the conference. He has also detained a good number of people using the ISA. Suaram and Sivarasa see this as not good enough for him to officiate at a human rights conference. Are we all not acting within our own “logic bubble”? Let it be at that. Proceed with the more important issues.

It is sad to see many hours wasted on unimportant things. It is sadder to see that many are more preoccupied with whether Chandra has been bought over by the government or Dr Mahathir. When the local dailies featured both man “bersalaman” or shaking hands, many perceived that as Chandra having lost his fire. He had succumbed to the powers that be. (Note : this is not the first such incident. A similar situation took place earlier this year between these two men at an IKIM function.)


Let me provide an alternative evaluation. The man Chandra extended his ‘Salam’ to the man – Mahathir – who had once separated him from his family and friends – without a trace of hatred or vengeance. Not only did he not succumb to the powers that be, he did not succumb to the power of hatred….which is more natural to do. He has not lost his fire; he, on the contrary, showered Mahathir with compassion as he willingly extended his hands regardless of what Mahathir had done.

You see, people like Chandra are non-reactive persons. They are guided by strong principles which they keep close at heart. Before any of us labels a man like him as “Mahathir’s man” or accuses him of this or that, we must remember that he has clocked in more hours in fighting for human rights, truth and justice than many of us put together. So give the man more credit.

Has he forgotten about the ISA? Put it this way. While you and I were watching television as Operation Lallang took place in 1987, he was one of those rounded up. His family had to face the traumatic experience of not knowing when Chandra would return. Do you really think he has forgotten the ISA? Or, has he found something more significant to look into?

I am not saying that he has no faults. For example, personally I do find Chandra is sometimes carried by emotions while delivering his talks. But, I have known this man personally since 1986. I have read most of his works and followed Aliran’s viewpoints since then. If you think that Chandra has been bought over, I wish to provide an alternative viewpoint. Have you read how similar Wawasan 2020 is to Aliran’s ideals and writings since 1977? Who influenced who here? Anyway, why don’t you also compare the arguments on international issues put forth by the government in the last few years to Chandra’s and Aliran’s writing of 10 years ago?

Chandra’s goals have not changed. The change that took place is actually in our perception of him. Many, guided by hatred of the man Mahathir or the government, have forgotten the Chandra that we knew. I would like to quote an example. Earlier this year, Chandra’s article on Islam, the Malay Race and Tolerance was carried in the NST. Someone then exclaimed, “Look, Chandra has changed direction. He is saying good things about the Malays now!”. In fact, the article was written by Chandra some 15 to 20 years ago. (I guess the change of perception towards him also took place at the NST. You win some, you lose some). So please check, who has changed.

While his goals remain, his platform and emphasis have changed. Thus, he will carry this emphasis in his future activities through a new platform, i.e. JUST. Let us not allow our hatred towards others, make us judge him or others like him in the wrong light.

Now let us get back to Suaram, Sivarasa and Mahathir. I propose we try to practise a Gandhian philosophy. Hate the Sin and not the Sinner. Thus, if the sinner officiates at a particular function, we are not overly lost. We, of course must remind ourselves of the sins and most of all not practice them ourselves within our own Circle of Influence.

In fact, I propose another alternative. It is perhaps a better and more productive challenge for Suaram to try to sell the idea of abolishing the ISA as a positive point to Mahathir. Sell him the idea that he will be far more convincing and respected by both peoples of the North and South as he will be seen as a leader who practices what he preaches. Do this with compassion and not in a confrontational approach. If you choose a confrontational approach, he will just shut you up, and you become “Bagai anjing nyalak bukit”. Convince him that by not doing so he is just one more supporter of the West that he condemns. As Ibn Khaldun, the great medieval historian wrote, “The conquered people, adopt the forms, ideas and manners of the conquering people.”

Most of all, let us all be focused. Let us work together for the common good. Let us all respect each others’ ideas even if we do agree with them.


Balancing Views - Was Dr. M a dictator? written in 1998

(Writer invites Dr M & Musa to his house next Hari Raya)

As a concerned Malaysian, I wish to express my views on the speech delivered by our Prime Minister, YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad, aired over TV3 and RTM on Aug 23, 1988 before the by-election of Johor Bahru recently. This speech gave vent to our PM’s personal problems with his former deputy, YB Dato’ Musa Hitam.

Before I proceed, I wish to mention that :
· I am not a member of any political party in Malaysia, nor am I inclined towards those who are striving to revive UMNO (It is sufficient to say that none of them reflect my aspirations. However, I support matters of principle, no matter the political party, which I consider right or justified);

· I am indifferent towards our PM’s problem with his former deputy (and vice versa), for I am more concerned with the larger issues surrounding his speech; and

· I hope that all concerned Malaysians, including the PM and YB Dato’ Musa Hitam, would read this letter with concern, giving it due consideration and attention.


It puzzles me that the whole nation has been dragged into a situation, to be asked to sympathize with our PM’s personal problems with an old friend of his. It seems that the personal problem of our PM has assumed greater attention than the problems faced by the nation. One may wish to ask: “Why should this insignificant problem between two people deserve such importance as to be given extensive media coverage when challenges to the Judiciary, fundamental human rights, media freedom, etc. faced by the nation are simply ignored. The PM himself viewed the issue of the suspension of the Lord president and five other judges merely as a passing event. One gets the impression that he cares more for himself than the nation. Must these judges, as well as the ISA detainees, or the whole nation for that matter, be the PM’s old-time friends before his sensitivity is provoked.

I wish to call upon our PM to get his priorities right. The nation and the country must come first in any matter if the PM wants to deny any of the allegations, he should allow the nation to witness these allegations in full before rebutting them because one should not accept anything unless one can first verify it. (Quran 17:36)


The PM has gone to the extent of expressing his willingness to swear in the name of God on the Quran (in the mosque) to justify his sincerity in denying the allegation that he had not allowed YB Dato’ Musa Hitam and certain of his friends to visit him during Raya day. I strongly believe that such childish problems need not be resolved by such measures. The immediate need now is for both parties concerned to grow up. Nevertheless, I would not deny our PM his right to act according to his own judgement in this matter. But I would suggest that, since he is already prepared to swear the Quran, he could add a few more matters which I believe needs God’s immediate attention. Is he prepared to swear in the name of God on the Quran that :-
· On his part, he did not amend article 121(1) of the Constitution to curb the powers of the Judiciary and lessen the independence of the judges;
· The suspension of the Lord President and five other judges have no connection with the squabbles between UMNO Baru and those who are striving to revive UMNO Lama (with reference to the UMNO” appeal);
· He did not influence, directly or indirectly, the choice of the members of the tribunal who seemed to be more inclined towards his side;
· The amendments to the ISA recently have nothing to do with the on-going cases of habeas corpus appeals by opposition leaders such as Mr Lim Kit Siang and Mr Karpal Singh;
· As Home Minister, he did not fabricate the reasons behind the launching of Operation Lallang; and
· He had acted impartially in exercising his duties as the Home Minister in the above said operation.

I believe the PM would agree with me that the abovementioned matters are more worthy to be sweared on in the Name of God than his own personal problems. Yet, if the problem between YB Dato’ Musa Hitam and him reaches a deadlock, I would humbly invite both of them to my home to “bermaaf-maafan zahir dan batin” on the next coming Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.


If it is true that YB Dato’ Musa Hitam had accused the PM of being a dictator, I would disagree with him. It certainly takes more than what the PM had done to be classified as a dictator. Furthermore, if the conclusion was based primarily on how the PM conducts his meetings, I would term YB Dato’ Musa Hitam as plain foolish. However, to refute allegations of dictatorship using the same yardstick as the PM is equally foolish.

According to the Oxford dictionary, a dictator is a ruler with (often usurped) unrestricted authority, or a “person with supreme authority in any sphere”. Dictatorship, according to the Longman’s dictionary, is “total or absolute control; leadership, rule” or a “state or form of government where absolute power is concentrated in one person or a small clique”. Judging from the above descriptions regarding a dictator and dictatorship, we can conclude that our PM is not a dictator.

Be that as it may, we should not stop here. Life exists in a dynamic form and so does a political system. If we were to conduct a serious study of our political history, right from the time of Merdeka to the present day, it would reveal to us that our country has, slowly but surely, moved towards a more dictatorial state. For example, a careful analysis of the changes wrought to the electoral system, media freedom and fundamental rights would certainly prove this fact. In addition to this, ever since that October clampdown last year, this trend has gained significant momentum. In other words, it is more appropriate to term the current trend as one which is developing towards the creation of a dictator and a dictatorial system. Nevertheless, it is wrong for us to attribute the cause of this trend in total to our present PM. This trend had long existed and had been set into motion before YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir. Our PM has simply added more vigour to this development.

Furthermore, one should discard the idea of putting the blame for all of our country’s pains on the PM. Some have proposed the idea that if the present PM is no longer in power, most of the problems of our country would surely fade away. For certain quarters, this is the result of their self interest. For others, it is the result of their inability, ignorance or unwillingness to probe, scrutinise and analyse the matter deeper. The PM’s leadership (rightly or wrongly) is not to be solely blamed. His comrades, adversaries, the general public and individuals like myself should share the blame too. The past, present and even future generations should share the blame if they do not cultivate the interest and take the initiative to act to correct wrong-doings. One would also expect Dato’ Dr Mahathir to bear the heaviest responsibility and to accept more blame than any other single person in the country.

One also cannot accept the arguments of the PM when he denied allegations that he wants to be a dictator. Firstly, nobody knows how long Dr Mahathir will continue as PM. Whether one wants to become a dictator or not is not as important as the fact that a trend towards a dictatorship is allowed to exist and grow. The PM may pass away, resign or even be outsted, but what about our future leaders? Does our PM not care if this present trend towards dictatorship that has been set may eventually bring about a worse trend and finally result in a line of dictators in the future? Does the PM only care about his present problems, failing to see the problems of the future? Leaders may come and go but a system that develops into a stronghold for some may last for decades or even centuries. There is no guarantee that if another person takes over the premiership, be he from UMNO Baru or from those who are striving to revive UMNO, he/she would reverse the oppressive laws passed by the present and past Governments, such as the ISA, OSA, etc.


According to the Prime Minister, YB Dato’ Musa Hitam is not happy with his policies regarding the assimilation of Islamic values. Putting YB Dato’ Musa Hitam’s opinion aside, what are these Islamic values the PM was referring to? Notwithstanding some form of Islamic’ bodies or institutions (like the Islamic university, Islamic bank, etc), I have strong reasons to believe that eversince YAB Dato’ Dr Mahathir became PM more assimilation of unIslamic values have taken place. Here, I wish to make some points to support my statement.


Accountability is a very important value in Islam.
The very theological basis of our existence in this life is to be accounted for in the next life (hereafter) (Quran 40:39 – 40, 67:2, 3:185, 101:6 – 9, etc). Thus, the government too is accountable for her deeds. Indeed, we must make sure that there are adequate ways to measure her accountability. For instance, the present Government had recently amended the standing orders in such a way that it will make it even harder for the opposition MPs to check on the Government’s conduct. Other forms of “checking” instruments too have suffered similar or worse constraints such as the media (Printing Press and Publication (Amendment) Acts, 1988, etc). Do these cases not indicate the inclination towards the assimilation of unIslamic values? They definitely do!


Independence of the Judiciary is the cornerstone in ensuring justice, equality and fairness in any court or law. Legal experts believe that the recent amendments to the Constitution in relation to the powers of the courts is a step towards a less independent Judiciary. This also means that the people will face greater deprivation of justice, equality and firness. As these values are part and parcel of Islam (Quran 5:8, 5:42, 55:9, 4:135, etc), we can conclude that the assimilation of unIslamic values has taken place.


How about the assimilation of self confidence and iman towards God, a much stressed value in Islam (Quran 47 : 35, 35 : 2 – 5), Our Constitution, through Article 11(4), allows the state government to control or restrict the propagation of any other religious doctrines or beliefs among Muslims. During the PM’s tenure, state governments have passed more restrictive laws to stop the propagation of non-Islamic religions among Muslims (for example, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions (on Muslims) Enactment (1988)). Were we not placed in this world for a test? What and which greater test can a Muslim face if it is not towards his belief in the one true God (Quran 29:2, 3:186, 57:25, etc.)? Would not the restrictions on the propagation of other religions among Muslims make the present ‘Muslims’ half a Muslim? By allowing such laws to exist, the present Government is helping the assimilation of unIslamic values to grow. Besides, practising double standards is cursed by Islam. On the one hand the Constitution allows Mulims to propagate among non-Muslims in full, but on the other hand non-Muslims are not allowed by law to preach to muslims. But the Quran says “Woe unto those who give short measure : Those who, when they are to receive their due from (other) people, demand that it be given in full. But, when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe others, give less than what is due!” (Quran 83:1 – 3) Why is no initiative taken to correct this? On the contrary, more laws are passed to strengthen this practice of double standards. Is this not opposite to the assimilation of Islamic values?

Besides these points, there are other examples that can be quoted. For instance, the PM has urged the South African government to released Mr Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners in South Africa. He even reiterated principles of freedom, justice and equal rights, and yet falls short of practising them in his own government (I am not equating the South African government with the Malaysian one, but merely stressing the principles concerned). This is definitely the practice of an unIslamic value, for the Quran says “O You who have attain to faith, why do you say one thing and do the other? Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do!” (Quran 61:2 – 3). To sum it all, though there may be a lot of talk about the assimilation of Islamic values, in actual facts the opposite is being practised.


A good leader, the Prime Minister said, “must be firm, able to stand by his words and does not get influenced easily “. I fully agree, but yet only to the point where he believes he is still right. If proven otherwise, a leader must be ready to acknowledge the fact that he is wrong and work for change. One should not be arrogant in insisting that he is right and not wish to change his attitude or conduct, no matter what happens. As the Quran states : “Walk not on earth with haughty self conceit: for, verily, thou canst never rend the earth asunder, nor canst thou ever grow as tall as the mountains!”

The Rocket
(Oct/Nov 1988)