Archive for July, 2008

UMNO-Pas Peace Pipes: Unity and cracks?

At first, it was denied by certain quarters in Pas. It was later established that certain leaders in Pas and UMNO have had several talks in the name of ‘Islam and Malay unity’.

Then we were told that there was indeed talk of forming a coalition Selangor state government between UMNO and Pas soon after the political tsunami.

And in the last two days, it appears that UMNO has upped the ante by pushing for a coalition government in Perak with Pas, as one step further to realizing what was suggested by Pas spiritual leader Nik Aziz, i.e. the formation of a new political party incorporating members from both the Malay-based UMNO and Pas.

This ‘political flirtation’ between UMNO and Pas obviously has taken many Malaysians by surprise, especially those who voted for what they believed would contribute to a meaningful political change towards multiethnic politics and a two-party system in the country at the recent general election.


And there are those Malaysians who are confused as well by these recent developments as they must have thought, and hoped, that the parties that comprise the Pakatan Rakyat are by now slowly but surely learning to work together towards the larger objective of intellectual, material and spiritual progress in the country for all Malaysians irrespective of their ethnic background. And these people want clarification on actions and public expressions of the parties involved.


To be sure, these developments not only attract the attention of concerned Malaysians. Political changes of this nature also serve as fodder for the mainstream media for a variety of reasons. For one, there are certain sections of the mainstream media that see their role and responsibility in informing the general public of these important political developments. There are, of course, those media that have been eagerly waiting to see a chasm in the seemingly fragile unity of the Pakatan Rakyat.


Predictably yesterday’s NST, Utusan Malaysia (UM) and Berita Harian carried similar story of Perak UMNO offering Pas to form a coalition government in Perak, with Pas keeping its Menteri Besar position.


The other day’s Utusan Malaysia (UM) ran a screaming headline on its front page: ‘DAP selar Pas – Kerana berunding dengan UMNO atas nama perpaduan Melayu’ (DAP slams Pas – For meeting with UMNO in the name of Malay unity) The fact that UM found merit in placing on its front page a public statement on this issue from a DAP leader says a lot. Doesn’t it project a picture of political parties clawing each other?


The New Sunday Times the other day carried a Bernama report, headlined ‘DAP wants Pakatan Rakyat to review PAS membership’. Again, this piece of news depicts a coalition that is facing serious internal problems.


The Star carried a story the other day, headlined: ‘Perak MB Nizar lauds idea’. The ‘idea’ here refers to a suggestion made a few days ago by PAS spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat that Umno and PAS be dissolved and that a new party be formed to unite all Malays and Muslims. 


As if not to be outdone, Berita Harian carried a story, headlined: ‘Umno Perak tawar bergabung dengan Pas’ (Perak Umno invites Pas to join forces). There’s an excitement in Perak too.


And this idea of coming together between both UMNO and Pas is also reported by Bernama (headlined ‘Dissolution Idea Will Be Brought Up PAS’ Muktamar’), which stated that Pas spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat will bring up his suggestion of forming a new party based on Islam at the general assembly next month.


Then came a news item from Bernama about two Pas Youth branches filing a police report, complaining that UMNO Perak’s Tajol Rosli’s suggestion was tantamount to political bribery.


These turn of events, and the reportage of all this, leave a number of nagging questions.


For example, is the Pakatan Rakyat really in disarray as it is made out to be by the mainstream media?


If, as it has been argued by certain quarters, Malay-Muslim unity can also contribute to the overall harmonious relations between various ethnic groups in the country, would — to follow this argument to its logical conclusion — ‘a friendly chat’ for the sake of, say, ‘Chinese unity’ initiated by a Chinese-based party like DAP with the MCA and Gerakan help foster national integration?


And can this exercise be replicated by Indian-based political parties for the sake of ‘Indian unity’ and the subsequent harmony of the entire nation?


Some journalists may want to ask these and other related questions.



Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?

A friend from the US has kindly alerted me to a song sung by the late Janis Joplin, which reminds us of the ‘motorised frenzy’ that descended upon a certain state in the northeastern part of Peninsular Malaysia the whole of this week, and possibly beyond. I thank him for this musical alert, for which he may qualify for a stately ride.

Baby, you can drive my car

A long, arduous week of politics in Malaysia it’s been. It’s times like this make you wanna drive down memory lane with The Beatles.

Is Terengganu setting a Benz-mark?

According to a Malaysiakini report today, the Terengganu government has got the ‘blessings’ of the Prime Minister for its purchase of the sleek 14 Mercedes E200 Kompressors.


Perhaps this goes to show that when you’re goal-driven, you’re likely to get the coveted rewards.


But this premier’s aye begs a question: does this mean that the Terengganu state government has set a kind of a benchmark for other state governments to consider? There’s already some noise in Selangor that its state government may think of getting Toyota Camry.


Would this be the end of the road for the Perdanas as far as official car purchase is concerned?


It’s all a Merc-understanding!

The controversial purchase of the 14 Mercedes Benz E200 Kompressor cars by the Terengganu state government was due to some misunderstanding of the Treasury’s circular on the buying of locally assembled cars, insisted Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shahrir Abdul Samad.


According to a Bernama report, Shahrir said that ‘the locally assembled vehicles referred to in the circular were vehicles such as jeeps and four-wheel-drive vehicles.’


“I understand that they have misunderstood (the treasury circular) because some government departments have the need for four-wheel-drive vehicles. If they have to buy a jeep, it should not be an imported vehicle but a locally assembled one,” he told reporters after chairing a post-Cabinet meeting at his ministry, here.


Ahh, the cause of the ‘human error’ has finally been identified in this entire saga. Perhaps in the minds of the State Exco members a Merc could fit the bill of ‘a four-wheel drive vehicle’.


Sleek cars named desire: A cost for concern for Terengganu govt?

Once again, the Terengganu state government has come out in defence of its controversial purchase of 14 Mercedes E200 Kompressor cars at a cost of RM3.43 million of rakyat’s money.


A Bernama report quoted the office of the Terengganu Menteri Besar (MB) as saying that the cost of maintaining the existing Proton Perdana V6 Executive cars was so high as to justify the new purchase.


One of the key points that the MB (not to be confused with Mercedes Benz) seemed to have missed is that the purchase was made at a time when prudence and austerity especially on the part of government leaders are of utmost importance. So it doesn’t matter if those cars were bought with money other than the state’s oil royalty.


And even if, as the state government insisted, the Perdanas they were driving had become ‘so unbearable’ in terms of maintenance cost, surely there are other options, as pointed out by a commentator of this blog: relatively less expensive Toyota or Honda. Another option perhaps is to buy second-hand imported cars.


But then, as deputy premier Najib cautioned, buying any foreign make goes against the federal government’s ‘buy Perdana only’ policy.


It would also be interesting to know what those Proton guys who make Perdanas and other models have to say about their products. Is the quality of their products really questionable? Why are repair costs of the Perdanas too high?


Maybe another key point that the MB and colleagues appeared to have missed is that, the state government should be driven to perform effectively for the welfare of the rakyat, and not to be too consumed by the passion for sleek cars (that they bought using taxpayers’ money).


‘Asean value system’ for Asean Charter?

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dr Rais Yatim today called for the incorporation of ‘Asean value system’ in the human rights provisions in the Asean Charter.


According to a Bernama report, Rais raised this point so as to ensure that the Asean Charter would not be ‘a mere importation of the universal values of human rights’.


While it is understandable that we ought to evaluate carefully certain values from elsewhere, be it West or East, so that we do not copy blindly, the above exhortation is cause for concern.


This is because somehow this so-called ‘Asean value system’ reminds one of the controversial notion of ‘Asian values’ that was a rage in the 1990s particularly in Singapore and Malaysia when both Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad were prime ministers in their respective countries.


What ought to attract the attention of concerned Malaysians is that these ‘Asian values’ could function as a kind of a code for the justification of authoritarian rule or illiberal governance in particular countries.


Thus, one wonders whether there was, and still is, an attempt to resurrect these controversial ‘Asian values’, or at least certain portions of these values, in the discussion of the Asean Charter.


It is worth looking at a Wikipedia take on ‘Asian values’ which shows, among other things, the following:


Because the proponents of the concept came from different cultural backgrounds, no single definition of the term exists, but typically “Asian values” encompasses some influences of Confucianism, in particular loyalty towards the family, corporation, and nation; the forgoing of personal freedom for the sake of society’s stability and prosperity; the pursuit of academic and technological excellence; and work ethic and thrift. Proponents of “Asian values”, who tend to support Asian-style authoritarian governments, claim they are more appropriate for the region than the democratic values and institutions of the West. A frequent criticism is that the idea of “Asian values” is most promoted by the elites who benefit from authoritarian rule, rather than the wider populace of their nation.


A summary list of ‘Asian Values’ would include a distinctively ‘Asian’:


predisposition towards strong and stable leadership rather than political pluralism;


respect for social harmony and an inclination towards consensus as opposed to a tendency towards dissent or confrontation;


acceptance of broad and penetrating state and bureaucratic intervention in social and economic affairs;


concern with socio-economic well-being instead of civil liberties and human rights; and


preference for the welfare and collective well-being of the community over individual rights.


The truth about Malaysia’s mainstream media

For those who are still not aware of this, the government ‘has never meddled’ in the management of news in the mainstream media including Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM).


Well, at least that’s what Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek tried to assure us. According to a Bernama report:


Govt Never Meddle In News Selection – Shabery

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the government has never meddled in the selection of news items by the media including those by Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM).


He said the media was free to decide on the priority and never directed for certain news to be carried or which should be dropped.


“We want the media to think what is news value. I have never directed on what news to be given priority or not and leave it to RTM and the other media to find decide on the priority,” he said after presenting prizes at the international Mandarin debating competition here tonight.


Ahmad Shabery was commenting on the statement by PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik that the media had given excessive coverage to the sodomy case of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim causing disgrace although he has yet to be proven guilty.


The Kelantan Menteri Besar was disappointed that Anwar’s arrest was given wide coverage while his release was only given brief mention.


This ministerial statement, however, raises a few questions. For instance, does this ‘non-intervention assurance’ also imply that the Home Ministry has never intervened in the affairs of the press although it has the power, under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), to do so?


And so, to follow through this ‘non-intervention’ contention, all this while RTM and the other media have been free to decide on their own what to write and report? Perhaps the lack of investigative reporting in the past was due to some quarters in the journalistic fraternity who were not too excited about it (i.e. investigative reporting)?


Terengganu State Exco members drive new Merc

At a time when the ordinary rakyat have been advised by the powers-that-be to change their lifestyle and tighten their belts to suit to the inflationary situation in the country, Terengganu State Exco opted to buy – and started driving – 14 Mercedes-Benz E200 Kompressor cars worth a whopping RM3.43 million of taxpayers’ money.


According to a Sunday Star report,


The new cars are for the exco members, the state assembly speaker, the state secretary, the state legal adviser and the state finance officer.


The new cars with tinted windows carry the state emblem with the wording “Exco Kerajaan Negeri” embossed on the number plate.


State Secretary Datuk Mokthar Nong said the decision to use Mercedes-Benz cars was made several months ago.


The state took delivery of the cars earlier this month.


He said the German cars were bought for the safety of the state officials who had to travel extensively and to reduce the cost of maintenance.


“After much evaluation, the state felt the Mercedes-Benz cars are more reliable for long term use. It was also time to replace the Proton Perdanas,” he added.


A number of questions can be raised here as a result of this State government’s action, which, incidentally, cannot be perceived as part of an austerity drive.


For instance, doesn’t this luxury car purchase indicate that there is a gap between what the leaders say and what they actually do? In short, credibility deficit?


Wouldn’t this kind of action on the part of the State Exco help aggravate the social cleavage that exists in our society?


And, by the way, is the State government also saying that Proton cars, particularly the Perdanas, aren’t reliable to the point of indirectly questioning the assurance of the Proton people that their products are of good quality?


Latest: Bernama reported today that, when pressed by reporters about the recent purchase of Mercedes cars, the Terengganu Menteri Besar insisted that ‘No oil royalty was used to purchase’ the luxury cars. Would it change matters if it involved state coffers — and not oil royalty?  


‘Street protests = shaky investor confidence’

Well, that seems to be the contention of the Federation of Malay Economic Bodies (Gabem).


According to The Star report, the organisation ‘wants the Government to act against “irresponsible parties” who have eroded investor confidence in the country through their actions such as holding street demonstrations.’


Its chairman Rahim Tamby Chik, also former Malacca Chief Minister, said that ‘by challenging the law they had tarnished the country’s image and caused international rating agencies to give Malaysia a lower rating’.


So it looks like this equation simply discounts other possible factors such as the issue of rule of law, judicial independence, the rate of corruption in the country, crime rate, the state of freedom of the press, and the appalling antics of certain government politicians, among other things.


Perhaps Gabem also has enough evidence to convince itself that investors have simple minds?


July 2008

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