Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Malaysia boleh

Politics is getting a bit exciting up north. Singaporeans must welcome recent steps by UMNO's senior leaders such as Najib Tun Razak to welcome Singapore investments in Malaysia (and I trust that includes the SJER, if and when it materializes) and UMNO's rebuke of some of its members for making racially inflamatory remarks during its recently concluded UMNO annual pow-wow. From what I heard, not everyone is in agreement on this. There remains a strong underlying current of disquiet and it will take all the skills of politicking and leadership from PM AB and DPM NTR to rein in the disenchanted in order to move Malaysia's national agenda forward.

Actual results count for everything.

A peaceful Malaysia is good for Singapore. A properous Malaysia is also good for Singapore. A Malaysia that wants to play football, and I mean real football, with Singapore is a plus plus. This will be taking two steps forward.

I truly wish Malaysia well. As I have mentioned before, I love to visit Malaysia. It just has to rein in the snatch thieves and robbers and most importantly, keep the police clean. Visitors expect the police to provide protection and help in times of need. It is no good if visitors to the country suspect that senior police officers can blow people up. If the head honchos do it, what more the subordinates?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wayang show up north

It appears that Malaysia's Malay leaders are ready to unsheath their kris, and if necessary, to kill (the minority races that are accused for formenting trouble) to defend their rights as Malays in their own lands, where they form the majority of the population and where there is an affirmative action for the Malays already in place for more than 30 years. With so much going for them, this must be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.

Are these leaders then admitting that their affirmative action has been a total failure? It must be when you are at it for more than 30 years and you have yet to achieve its objectives. Either those objectives were set too high or are impossible to meet? In any organisation, if objectives are not met within the stipulated time (and this rarely exceeds 3 years much less 30 years) the leaders are held to account, plans are changed or the project scrapped entirely.

But in Malaysia's affirmative action programme, we see a most remarkable thing. The leaders are actually proud of the fact that it has still not succeeded in meeting its objectives. In fact, they strongly and adamantly refuted, without much justification except pure political posturing, a considered study that suggested that the affirmative action has more than achieved its objectives. At least the person responsible for that report has done the honourable thing and resigned his post rather than compromise his academic integrity.

The wayang that is going on in UMNO these days is incredible, and I am not referring to DR M & PM AB. If the gathering of the big-wigs of Malaysian national leaders that produced these sentiments and posturing was not a very serious thing, I would laugh till my tummy ached, or my teeth fell out.

Image source: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scandalous diversions

Alamak, another interesting thing is developing in Malaysia and the IGP is coming into the picture again. The last time the IGP had such publicity was when he hantam Anwar Ibrahim in jail. But of course this IGP is a different person. He has been pulled in because a high-ranking government official, a political analyst close to a Malaysian Cabinet Minister stands accused of murdering a Mongolian women, with whom he allegedly had a sexual relationship. Now, some police officers have also been arrested, allegedly for complicity in the whole affair.

This juicy story might just be the thing that AB needs to deflect attention from Dr. M's barbs. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ghosts from the past

With all due respect to his excellency, the Sultan of Johore is spouting nonsense when he said that the Singapore-Johore Causeway should be demolished because, apparently, it was a conspiracy by its former colonial masters, the British, to block the waterways in the Straits so that it will benefit Singapore's southern coastline's port development at the expense of the Port of Tanjung Pelapas. In the first place, his excellency probably thought of the Tanjung Pelapas port as nothing more than for docking sampans by fishermen, until Singapore showed how to profit from having a deep-water coast. Secondly, with or without the Causeway, AP-Moeller-Maersk and Evergreen did move over to PTP, didn't they? Will his excellency be happy only if Keppel becomes a shell?

I don't know which quack advised him on his history, but it is bad advice and bad history. I have not come across any academic who has studied and published on Singapore-Johore / Singapore-Malaysia history and politics with this radical interpretation of history. That the Sultan said that the British hoodwinked his ancestors is a telling admission that they now think that somebody else could be hoodwinking their children today. It is a sad. I personally do not think that the Malays are without common sense . The Sultan should stop portraying them as such.

In this respect, I wonder if the Sultan is not being more like Mahathir, whom he criticised not too long ago, counselling him to stop making noise. Besides, how can Singaporeans contribute to the success of SJER without a bridge? or are Singaporeans not welcome even before the first foundation stone to SJER is laid? If so, it does not augur well for the success of the SJER. I believe Singapore values every opportunity to work together with others for mutual benefit, including Johore. But if the other side doesn't want to play ball, it can do nothing but to turn to others who want, like Batam. Let it not be said later that Singapore is not a friendly neighbour.

The Sultan should be careful with his words and history. It may return to haunt him.

Image source: http://home.ca.inter.net/~dmonet/

Sunday, October 29, 2006

When elephants fight...

When elephants fight - http://www.elephantvoices.org/albums/As if Malaysia hasn't got enough problems on its hands with two of its big shots going at each other in public (actually, its one going at the other, who has been rather, though characteristically, quiet, perhaps till now), Malaysia has to contend with its auxiliary religious police who are running amok while the elephants battle each other. Like the saying goes, when two elephants fight, the mouse gets up to mischief.

The first mischief is the religious police conducting witch-hunts for Muslim couples committing 'khalwat' or close-proximity. There now seems to be two laws in the land, the civil law and the religious laws. What is frightening is that the religious law is an authority to itself, seemingly untouchable by the more established civil law. In a boo-boo of embarrassing proportions, it was reported that one such religious police squad barged into the home of an elderly American couple intending to charge them for khalwat. It seems that catching the couple at their age for committing the close-proximity sin is decades too late. But this is lost on the fervent religious police, who can think of nothing but to enforce the Prophet's teachings. This poor couple had intended to get a permanent house in Langkawi, where the incident took place. Now those plans are dead. 'Malaysia - truly Asia' now has a sinister ring to it.

As if this were not enough, we hear that Malaysia has also set up an authority, primed by some government minister/department, to suss out people who mix Bahasa-Melayu with English in their speech (and most likely, written too). Call Bahasa Rojak, Malay language purists are now on a crusade to cleanse the language of Malaysia to its purest form.

Now, any linguist worth his salt will tell you that there is no such thing as a 'pure' language - only purely stupid purists. I used to hear Malaysia Ministers, Dr Mahathir included, mixing Bahasa Melayu and English in their speeches and recorded conversations, and appearing proud of it. Of course, they are not the only ones. actors and actresses in made-in-Malaysia Malay movies also do the same, so much so that I was beginning to get used to this lingua innovation as an accepted part of the way Malaysians are going to speak.

Apparently somebody thinks otherwise, and so we now have, besides the religious police, also the language police running around to prey on Rojak speakers, providing some intermittent amusement while the two elephants plan their next moves.

Well, that's not all, really. There is also the case of those lies, damned lies and statistics. I wonder what Malaysian leaders will pull out of the rabbit's hat next? Look at it another way, even if the leaders are not doing their jobs (and I an not implying that they aren't), at least they are providing a seemingly endless stream of comic relief.

See also: http://undurlah.blogspot.com/2006/04/beware-vice-squad.html

Image source: http://www.elephantvoices.org/albums/

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The show continues

Angst - http://www.anssi.org/andrei/The Malaysia political scene is set to continue to be interesting, albeit painful for many, as its 'nosey-parker' former PM Mahathir refuses to keep his thoughts private and his mouth shut. It looks like there will be more mud-slinging, accusations, counter-accusations, conspiracy, mouth gagging, nosey-parkering, ad nauseam. Somewhere along this timeline, somebody will get really hurt. Mahathir should follow MacArthur's advice - old soldiers should slowly fade away...

Must the show continue, to the bemusement of its neighbour at the peninsula's southern tip? Seems like Anwar Ibrahim is getting his own back - without lifting a finger.

Image source: http://www.anssi.org/andrei/privacy.htm

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Boss' word not final

Touche - http://upload.wikimedia.org/The boss has spoken, but the lieutenants are now weighing in on the issue in spite of the boss saying that he has closed the case and he will move on.

What am I referring to? Non other than the consternation over remarks made by Singapore's SM Lee about the systematic marginalisation of non-Malay races in Malaysia. Who are adding their two cents worth (for that's really all that its worth after the boss has spoken). Maximus Ongkili, who is Minister in the PM's department. I wonder if his ofice has such thick walls that he doesn't know what his boss just said. The other is Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, the Foreign Minister. He just cannot not say something. But he is a man of high ambitions, stretching from the Mahathir days.

Even Mahathir Mohammad is giving his satu sen worth, but on a different issue. He is taking issue with SM Lee's characterisation of him as a difficult person to work with. Dr M counters that SM Lee is arrogant. Touche. It takes two to tango and men of strong characters to create sparks. If you ask me (I know you didn't), I prefer the Lee sparks any day although Dr M's sparks can sometimes raze a country as he is threatening to do to his own nowadays. Mahathir is not satisfied with life. He just cannot rest in peace, err, I mean leave well alone.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Irony of cross-strait politics

Cross-talk - http://www.hhmi.org/Khairy Jamaluddin, erstwhile son-in-law of PM AA Badawi, has been shooting off his mouth about many things of late. Now he is alleged to have said that non-Malays will take advantage of a weak UMNO. If that isn't race politics, I don't know what is. MCA has duly made it known that the non-Malays' feelings are hurt. Khairy cannot say things like this (which reminds me that PM AA Badawi also said something like this about some hurtful comments made by someone down south recently), especially when he represents UMNO's Youth wing as deputy chief and is the incumbent PM's son-in-law to booth. Does UMNO Youth subscribe to this view? Is it an official position of UMNO Youth? What has Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, as UMNO Youth Chief, have to say about it?

It is doubly ironic as his father-in-law (and all of Malay Malaysia, I would suppose) expressed great displeasure over remarks made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew about how the non-Malays have been systematically marginalised over the years in Malaysia. It would seem that Mr Jamaluddin and Mr Lee Kuan Yew share something in common - the ability to say things that may be hidden in the sub-consciousness of a nation and its peoples.

Well, AA Badawi has graciously acknowledged SM Lee's apology and closed the matter. I doubt it would be forgotten though. But it would seem that Malaysia still has to contend with its own pretender in the years to come, unless somebody stops him, or his mouth or both.

Image source: http://www.hhmi.org/

Friday, September 29, 2006

Calling a spade a shovel

Johor TodayAs always happens, Singapore is having yet another spat with Malaysia over remarks made by MM Lee Kuan Yew that the Chinese in Malaysia have been systematically marginalised all these years. Not only that, Indonesia got mentioned too in the same breadth and now Singapore has been asked to explain those remarks to both countries.

I don't know what Singapore's diplomats are going to say, but perhaps MM should have been less candid with his remarks in the first place. But what's done is done, and MM managed to offend the people whose country it is sandwiched between. This is certainly not a very comfortable position to be in. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that nobody in Singapore disagrees openly with MM's opinions and some in Malaysia have written to the local press to support his views.

Of course, Malaysia has reacted in many other threatening ways, one of which is that UMNO grassroots politicians have reportedly called on PM AA Badawi to ensure that Singapore does not benefit from the South Johor Economic Region (SJER) plan - that grand plan to transform Johor into an economic powerhouse that matches that in the Klang Valley in KL. This really shows that these grassroots politicians have no idea what they are talking about and that they don't under the SJER plan at all. Let me quote Malaysia's MIDA on this plan:

Presently most of the services activities are concentrated in the Klang valley. To take advantage of the inherent strength and business activities in the southern region, the South Johor Economic Region will be developed as a REGIONAL HUB for services. The services sector will be supported with specific funding such as the Export Services Fund and the SMEs Export Services Fund.
Source: 9th Malaysia Plan

First, it will be very strange for a hub to be off-centre with Singapore's exclusion, and second, where and who do they think the 'strength and business activities in the southern region' is currently fueled mainly by? Singapore may sometimes appear arrogant, but it cannot be denied that the main engine running in the south of the Peninsula is Singapore. It is a fact that many enterprises in Johor are owned, though not always operated, by Singapore businessman. The Port of Tanjong Pelapas itself will not an economic miracle make, so who are these politicians deceiving anyway?

In today's globalised world, SJER will succeed spectacularly if it collaborates with that little red dot at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Otherwise, it is not certain that this planned regional hub for services will amount to much more than rhetoric. Our Malaysia grassroots political friends are speaking as if SJER will be a reality next month. All I can say is, don't count your chicks before the eggs hatch.

Image source: The Star

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cash in them crops

Palm Oil - http://assets.panda.org/Many years ago, my mother invested money in some palm oil plantations in Malaysia. That investment has since been disposed and the money put into other higher-yielding investments. I wished she had held on to it because palm oil is turning out to be the type of cash crop that will make you rich beyond imagination.

With the price of crude oil reaching near stratospheric heights in the last couple of months, research and development into alternative fuels has gathered momemtum. One of these alternatives is biofuels, which comes from renewable sources such as palm oil. Malaysia is the largest producer of palm oil in the world today. It could have been an even larger volume producer had not Dr Mahathir cleared thousands of hectares of land that once produced palm oil to build his Putrajaya and Cyberjaya. Both places are now huge consumers of oil - to power the lights, the air-conditions, and all sorts of electrical and gas-guzzling gadgets and devices.

I remember visiting Putra and Cyber Jaya some 5 years ago. I was really shocked but at the same time, marvelled at how grand and how huge these places were. At the same time, I asked myself where they got the land from. Of course, Malaysia is a big country. What I mean is, what was the land that Putrajaya and Cyberjaya is now sitting on used for previously? Rubber plantations? Palm Oil plantations? I am sure of one thing. It was previously not a nature reserve, nor residential area, nor rainforest, nor mountain nor river. It was just too close to the Malaysian Capital, Kuala Lumpur, to be any of these. Probably it's previous occupants where the rubber trees but more likely, the palm oil plantatations. If the latter, the Malaysia will have to kick itself in the royal behind to have gotten rid of crops that will generate cash at a rate unimaginable previously.

My point is, before anyone goes about destroying any of its natural and man-made resources, it should think very very carefully. Otherwise, they may just wake up one day to regret the amount of money they have burnt away.

See All Things Biodiesel

Image source - http://assets.panda.org/

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tussle among the giants

Giant Slaying - http://www.du.edu/~ttyler/ploughboy/
Just what does Mahathir Mohammad aim to achieve by bad-mouthing the country's Prime Minister and his whole Cabinet? Is his aim to:

1. Bring down the government and offer himself as the alternative?
2. Get the incumbent to apologise to him and follow his lead?
3. Make sure that everyone knows he is still alive and very much kicking at that
4. Ensure that his legacy is perpetuated in stones and steel (albeit crooked ones)
5. Irritate and continue to persecute Singapore even after he finally 'leaves' the scene
6. All of the above

Like I wrote in an earlier post - this man is turning out to be quite a megalomaniac. By so vehemently criticizing the Federal government - a government that he had a hand in forming - he has done what the opposition parties have failed to do. The opposition should be happy about it. But they have remained largely silent, probably because they know that what Dr M is doing will cause Malaysia, the country, to be ridiculed by the rest of the world, if not their own people. He can pretend to wallow in self-pity, and blame the day that he made certain wrong decisions. Yes, it will pull a few heartstrings and probably gain him some sympathizers. But he of all people should know that his time in power has passed. He should just let go.

Clearly, Dr M's tirades will not resolve anything. Instead it will force the powers that be to alienate him, and ultimately, banish his memory from the collective body of UMNO. Far better for Dr M to have taken the silent, consultative approach than to let loose in public over the issues he is now gripping about. After all, he remains an UMNO party elder and should have some measure of influence by reason of seniority, if nothing else.

But such is a person that whatever strength his forthrightness and bluntness used to be when he was in power is now turning into a liability and embarrassment for the rest of the country, government and family. If nothing, will he not save his family from further embarrassment?

Image source: http://www.du.edu/~ttyler/ploughboy/

Friday, June 02, 2006

Mickey Mouse in Johor

The Magic Kingdom - http://www.mvcs.org/Will Mickey Mouse make a permanent appearance in Johor, Malaysia? According to UEM World and some Malaysian government officials, that is a 'Yes'. According to them, negotiations with Oriental Land Company (OLC), the company that operates Tokyo Disneyland, are progressing well, with a huge piece of land in Johor earmarked for the giant amusement park. Strangly, though, Walt Disney Company is denying all this and says that it has no intention of setting up Disneyland in Johor, much less Malaysia. Are the Malaysians getting ahead of themselves on this without first verifying if indeed the Mouse is looking for a permanent home on Malaysian soil? If so, then this will be a huge embarrassment for them. Coincidentally, Singapore, its neighbour to the South, just announced the appointment of LA Sands to build its multi-billion dollar Integrated Resort, which should be ready come 2009. Are the Malaysians trying to counter this with its own mega-amusement-park project? One can only speculate.

Whichever it is, one thing works against a permanent home for an all-American institution in a largely Muslim country. It doesn't take an analyst with PhD credentials to tell you that a Disneyland Theme Park in a Muslim-dominant country (such as Malaysia) will be a ready and fantastic target for fanantical Muslim extremist to practice their bombing and suicide skills. Their hatred for all things American is a well known fact. So even if, for some inexplicable reason, Disneyland becomes a reality in Johor, the terrorism insurance expenses alone will be humongous. On balance, I think Johor has popped its champagne a bit too early. It should get rid of terrorists first so that Mickey Mouse can feel much safer planting its feet on Malaysia soil. On the other hand, Johor's loss may be Singapore's gain, going by speculation that Mickey may be looking for a home in the Lion City and eventually building its Magic Kingdom here.

Image source: http://www.mvcs.org/

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A few good women

Marina Mahathir - http://www.amfar.org/Thank heavens for Marina Mahathir. In an opinion piece in the Malaysian The Sun newspaper (carried in Today's 25 May 2006 issue), Ms Marina, daughter of Malaysia's former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammad, gave a balanced and forward looking critique of Islamic practices in recent times. She compared the Muslim's often violent response to the Mohammad Cartoons (and reaches as far back as Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses) with Christians' measured and calm response to the Da Vinci Code book and movie, which was recently released worldwide. While I expect Ms Marina to receive flak from her countryman and Muslim 'brothers' for expressing those opinions, I cannot but admire this fiesty lady's courage in being fairminded at certain cost to herself.

Islam needs more of the calibre and mind of this lady, which obviously is inherited from her famous but more controversial father, Dr Mahathir. She is a shining beacon in a sea of storm that Islamic extremists (and even some moderates) have created time and again to push their agenda and practice their brand of hate and vengeful religion. But I fear that Ms Marina is an exception, for who would dare risk life and limb to hold such contrary views within the prevailing mood in Islamic-sphere? I do not think that what she wrote, sensible as it is, will make a difference in moving the prevailing Islamic feeling towards the middle path - not in the Madrasahs or schools run with Islamic clerics who espouse discrimination against Muslim women and hatred towards anything 'western', including Christianity and the Jews, not in the political sphere as that will put into jeopardy the position of the incumbent and not in society in general, for that will go against centuries of Islamic teachings handed down from generation to generation.

However, to the rest of us, it was a breadth of fresh air.

See also: Alike yet so unlike

Image source: http://www.amfar.org/

Friday, April 07, 2006

Beware the vice squad

Kissing Seals - http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/Singaporeans, especially those who LOOK no different from a Malaysian, should be careful when they travel up north from now on. For that matter, which Singaporean Chinese, Indian or Malay doesn't look like a Malaysian? Many Singaporeans have friends and relatives in Malaysia. For all intents and purposes, we look and speak like Malaysians.

Why the need to be careful? Not because you'd get car-jacked while enjoying your meals in Johor Bahru, though that is likely to happen, but that you'd get arrested for behaving indecently. What indecent behaviour, you ask. Well, for one you'd need to keep a mile away from

(for men): any woman, whether that woman is your grandmother, mother, sister, girlfriend, maid or wife, and
(for women): any man, whether that man is your grandfather, father, brother, boyfriend or husband.

According to a report in Today (7 April 2006), Malaysia's Chief Justice, Justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim has given the city councils permission to enact and enforce morality by-laws. No act of Parliament is necessary here, so long as that person who enacts those by-laws follow Muslim laws and are eager to curb indecent behaviour. What is indecent behaviour in this context? Well, for one, kissing in public is. Don't even try a peck on the cheek and it doesn't matter if you are kissing your mother. You can still be arrested until you can established that that women is in fact your mother. What else is considered indecent? Well, it's hard to say, really. It depends on these people's sense of morality, so its better you pretend not to know the person beside you, even if that person is your grandmother, your wife, your sister, or your...

When fanatics and extremists do these things, you don't worry too much, because that's how they behave and they form the minority. But when no less than the Chief Justice of the land is saying yes to these morality squads who tend to come from mainstream society, you begin to wonder what will become of your planned holidays to Malaysia later this year, not to mention the reputation of the country.

Image source: http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Alike yet so unlike

Sisters In Islam - http://www.sistersinislam.org.my/Marina Mahathir is so like her illustrious father, Mahathir Mohamad, the former PM of Malaysia - candid and outspoken. If she put on glasses, she will be the spitting image of her father, looks wise. Yet, I think she is unlike her father in the sense that she does not evoke a sense of dread in Singapore whenever she speaks. She is a social activist and of late, has spoken out strongly against Sharia (Islamic) law that generally leaves Muslim women short-changed. A case in point is Malaysia's Family Law Act (Dec 2005) that makes it easier for Muslim men to enter into polygamous marriages and appropriate their first wives' property in the event of a divorce.

Marina and her collaborators say that's wrong but her opponents say she is too much influenced by Western values, whatever these values are. I applaud her courage in speaking up for Muslim women, who have been reportedly bullied of late not only in Malaysia, but elsewhere too. There is the case of an Islamic wife who needs to marry another man as a condition for her to divorce the same man so that she can re-marry her first husband, who uttered the words for divorce three times in his sleep that led to the separation of the original couple in the first place. Not only are we witnessing extreme forms of Islam, we are also witnessing a convoluted and confused form of Islam.

I think somebody must rescue Islam from every Tom, Dick and Mullah before it becomes a laughing stock. Oops, better not laugh or I will become a victim of my written and mental indiscretion (remember Rushdie?).

Image source: http://www.sistersinislam.org.my/