Archive for July, 2005

Special Privileges for Indians – Readers’ Responses

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Dr Bakri, Salam Sejahtera:

Below is a response to your article. I thought you might be interested to read it. While your observations are perspicuous, I think you are wrong to say that Indian-Malaysians in general are looking for special treatment. The MIC fellows do, but as you rightly pointed out, they are decrepit anyway and are increasingly being dismissed as utterly ineffective in the putting forth the community’s cause. What we want is access to decent education, scholarship, jobs, etc. This we do not quite get. Even the best among us are denied opportunities!

Case in point: Karthikeyan, who scored 13A1s in SPM recently and was recognized as one the best students in the country. His father is a security guard, and illiterate; his mother, an occasional factory worker. Alas he was denied scholarship by the PSD. Instead, he was offered a place in the UTM to study IT. Only after some backdoor maneuvering did he get the coveted PSD scholarship.

As I see it, many in the community are tired of the BN government’s willful neglect of Indian-Malaysian’s welfare. Government officials are never going to lift a finger on their own volition to help us. If anything comes our way, it is mostly by accident or given grudgingly. I sincerely believe that Indian-Malaysians should build their own parallel system of help. That would perpetuate if not aggravate racial divisions.

Finally, your views on Tamil schools are plain wrong. Enough research has been done on the effectiveness of mother language education, particularly at the primary level. Please read UNESCO’s position paper:

I am aware of your take on the use of mother language as a medium of instruction. (I remember reading many years ago how your father chose to send you to an English school instead of the nearby Malay medium pondok school.) The situation in Malaysia today however does not warrant simple conclusions. Although many Tamil schools continue to exist in a derelict state, they manage to give a decent education to the poorest of the community. (The student mentioned above, Karthikeyan, is a former Tamil school student, and so am I.) These students, if they were to attend “national” schools, are less likely to get anywhere – too many impediments, despite the superior facilities. The fact that Indian leaders had not sent they kids to Tamil schools only speaks loudly of their hypocrisy.

I did not quite expect to write this much … but, well ..:)!


Equality, Not Special Privileges, is What Indians Need
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

[Reprinted from July 7, 2005]

I think the good Doctor Bakri Musa has given Malaysian Indians the wrong diagnosis, and thus the wrong prescription!

While I agree with his thesis that some Malays have fallen into a “Trap of a Dependency” syndrome, I do not believe that Malaysian Indians want to “fall into the same trap,” as he puts it!

All we Indians want is fair and equal access to the basic needs provided by the government. Why for instance cannot Tamil Schools be given more assistance or Tamil made a compulsory subject for Tamil students in national schools? This way the quality and standard of education will rise significantly especially for the bottom 30 percent of the depressed and under-privileged Malaysian Indian population!

The Indians have not asked for “Special Privileges” as suggested by Doctor Bakri. The Crimea State Medical School episode throws open to question the quality of our medical graduates from all questionable medical schools, some of which are in Iraq, Iran, and many other places around the world, some even closer to us!

Surely we should be more concerned and review the quality of all those dubious medical colleges where many Malaysians are currently studying!

In the case of the Crimea Medical School, what was wrong was not the need to review the quality of the teaching but to be fair in the assessment of standards. The process and procedure of de-recognition from 2006 and the announcement of the new accreditation policy also leave much to be desired!

Poverty eradication regardless of race is stipulated in the NEP, but has it been implemented as such?

All that we ask is to promote equality to wipe out poverty as promised in the NEP, regardless of race!

“Modern development economics” as Dr Bakri mentioned, prescribes empowerment to enable the poor and the underprivileged of all races to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to move forward. But is this being done equitably today?

With due respect, Dr Bakri has to come back to Malaysia to see for himself the reality on the ground and help us all create a more just and equitable society or Bangsa Malaysia that will truly promote greater national unity in our country. We who are here are trying our best to achieve!

We have to be more balanced and fair in making judgments especially on other Malaysian ethnic groups, please!

Thanks and regards,
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

Look Who’s Riding the Indian Malaysian?

[Reprinted from Jul 11, 2005]

I refer to M Bakri Musa’s “Indian Malaysians should avoid trap of special privileges.”

As an Indian, I can assure Bakri that the community in general has never depended on privileges. Rather, the trap of the “Barisan Nasional perspective” of national issues should be avoided.

There are indeed Indian Malaysians in danger of being dependent on special privileges, but they invariably comprise the office bearers of the MIC and other sundry political parties hanging on to the BN’s sarong while claiming to represent Indians. They form a tiny minority.

The vast majority of Indians, in case Bakri is unaware, have fended for themselves against increasingly unequal odds over the past 48 years. They include the former rubber tappers and their children.

They also include government servants who spent their life savings for their children’s tertiary education overseas since social engineering requires other lesser qualified students to be given preference at local universities.

In fact Bakri might be interested to know that the basic relationship between the politicians and the average Indian has not been one of the former handing out benefits to the latter, rather the other way around.

The average Indian has put a great deal more money into such black holes as the National Land Finance Society, Maika Holdings, etc. than he has received from or via Indian politicians. The politicians and political appointees managing these organizations have on the other hand become pretty comfortable financially.

In other words, Barisan Nasional Indian politicians have been having a good ride on the broad backs of several million Indian Malaysians.


The New Malay

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

The Malay Today
Din Merican
[Reprinted from Malaysia Today Thursday, July 28, 2005.]

The problem is that most Malays today do not read. Dr. Bakri Musa made this observation in one of his books, Seeing Malaysia My Way. To most Malays, as related by Bakri, anything beyond a simple essay is “too difficult and too long, lah.”

Others note that there are not enough books published in Malay. Or that maybe we Malays want to be spoon-fed.

Poor Excuse

If indeed there is a shortage of reading materials in Malay, then learn English, or any other language of one’s choice. Spend your ownmoney and attend night classes if need be. More truthfully, it is a question of attitude and motivation. The Vietnamese for example, are highly motivated; they work during the day and learn English at night. For ten years (1965-1975), the Americans tried to bomb their country into the Stone Age but failed. Unlike the Vietnamese, we Malays have our NEP and NDP now for over 35 years (1970-2005).

We have our share of exemplary Malays as worthy role models. Sadly most were in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Paradoxically those were difficult times, and those Malays are a vanishing group. They will disappear soon.

What we have today to be the role model for our young are self-serving Malay leaders and the so-called Malay “lingo” nationalists. During the early years of independence, these “lingo” nationalists were in league with ambitious Malay politicians who wanted the Malay Language to be the world’s lingua franca. Malay nationalism was the road to fame and fortune, the consequences be damned.

These “leaders” successfully won the day, with Malay replacig English as the medium of instruction in our schools and universities. Did we have the books, articles and other publications in mathematics and the sciences and other subjects then? No, that would come later, we were assured. We probably thought those things would magically drop off from the sky.

Thus was the national language policy implemented, in earnest without regards to developing the necessary infrastructures and softwares needed to ensure its successful execution. “Dasar dulu dan yang lain semua belakang kira.” (Policy first, all other things can come later)”.

Today we see and bear the consequences of this myopia. We have Malay university graduates who are unemployable, and government officers who are scared to speak at international conferences because they lack the prerequisite English language skills.

Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka was created 40 years ago to accommodate the “lingo” nationalists. Since then it has been on a steady decline. Perversely, while these nationalists were publicly championing our national language, their children are all fluent in English and other languages because they have been educated abroad!

The burden of the national language follies is borne by the poor Malay kids in the kampongs and small towns. Yet these language nationalists are still around today, punching their kerises in the air, and strenously opposing any policy change.

Dewan Bahasa is still active, but preoccupied with doing the same old and outdated things. Vested interests, a feature of all bureaucracies, prevent any meaningful reform or strategic change. I do not deny that we need to develop our language but the vast sums of money invested in this institution were a colossal waste.

A cynic might say that Dewan Bahasa was very successful in fulfilling its mandate, which is to promote the use of Malay in administration and business. That served our domestic needs. But times have changed and in the era of globalisation, it would be a great advantage if Malaysians were fluent in English, Japanese, German, Mandarin, French, and other foreign languages.

Glokal Malays

How can we be “Melayu Glokal” if we lack foregin language skills? If we cannot handle own language, then something must be wrong with us. Of course we can, but what about English, for example?

Our home-grown intellectuals, with few exceptions like Kassim Ahmad, Syed Hussin Ali, Rustam Sani, K.S. Jomo and Terrence Gomez, tend to go along with their political masters. If you watch the television coverage of the recent Umno General Assembly, the guest commentator was an UMNO apologist. He had nothing original or incisive to say. Many others are like him. They shape Malay opinion, advocating a culture of conformism. Hang Jebat goodbye!

Those who dare speak and offer alternative views are marginalized. They are rarely invited to sit on government committees to help shape national policies. Worse, their writings do not appear in the mainstream media which are consumed with self censorship. Or when they are published, the are heavily “edited” beyond recognition. In some cases their books are banned. Fancy banning books and publications in the 21st Century! Even sadder, a few have been imprisoned and suffered police brutality.

Fortunately thanks to the Internet, today we have independent websites like,, and, to name a few, as well as the many bloggers. They allow us to express our views and discuss our concerns in an open and responsible way.

We will soldier on and get our share of readers. Raja Petra Kamarudin’s Malaysia Today receives some 250,000-300,000 hits daily. Unfortunately, Raja Petra’s house was recently raided by the police because he publsihed articles critical of the Negri Sembilan Royal Family. What is the message here?

I must admit that I do not have time for Malay novelists and writers except for Keris Mas, Tongkat Warrant, Samad Said, Kassim Ahmad and Baha Zain. I have a preference for the classics, biographies and autobiographies of great men of history, philosophical treatises, international relations, and economics. My doing so does not make me less of a Malay. In fact my readings make me very conscious of my “Malayness.”

It is not correct, as one reader put it, we just “simply nag and make noise in our own circles.” You as well others of your generation must write and act, but do so responsibily. To be able to do that, you must first read and and be able to think critically and develop your writing skills.

At my age of 66, I have done more than my share through the years. My contemporaries and I have made it possible for you and your generation to move forward. The question is: Will you and your friends take up the challenge for a better Malaysia and a stronger and more dynamic Malay society?

It is time for action by your generation. By all means, correct our mistakes. Be aware however that even the most well intentioned policies carry their own seeds of destruction, the Law of Unintended Consequences being operative. Politicians and their sycophants choose to ignore this reality. Actually they could not care less of the the consequences, intended or otherwise, of their policies.

Nurture Our Hang Jebats

Sunday, July 24th, 2005

Nurture Our Hang Jebats
M. Bakri Musa

[An abridged version appeared in the Sun (Weekend Edition), July 23, 2005]

A culture cannot aspire for greatness if it treats its thinkers and intellectuals with callous disregard. In any other culture, a talent like Kassim Ahmad would be amply rewarded, his achievements widely acknowledged. Yet the best that Malaysia could offer her shining star was a high school teaching position. This was at a time when the number of Malays pursuing graduate work was miniscule. Kassim had taught at the School of Oritental and African Studies, London. Worse, he was once detained under the ISA for daring to espouse his political views.

I first came to know of Kassim Ahamd through his writings while in secondary school way back in the 1950s. His novel and radical interpretation of the Malay classic, Hikayat Hang Tuah, shook the way I – and Malays generally – looked at our traditions and culture.

The traditional thinking was that the hero was Hang Tuah, hence the title. He personified the ideals of a Malay hero, someone loyal to the sultan. Even his name portends great things. Tuah means exceptional, a worthy name for a hero. His protagonist, Hang Jebat, was the traitor who dared challenge the sultan. Even his name rhymes with jahat (rascal), an apt name for a purported villain.

Then came Kassim’s Perwatakan Hikayat Hang Tuah (The Characters in Hang Tuah). It would have remained an obscure academic exercise except for the fact that Dewan Bahasa was desperate to publish works in Malay. It had to resort to publishing student’s theses!

Kassim frontally challenged the orthodox Malay thinking on authority, and royalty in particular. According to Kassim, the real hero is not Hang Tuah, rather the hitherto presumed renegade, Hang Jebat. To Kassim, Tuah is the typical palace sycophant who willingly sells his body and soul to the sultan, a loyalty conveniently reinforced by whatever largesse the sultan could bestow.

Jebat is the rugged individualist, not awed by those who wield power. His loyalty is to institutions, not individuals. To Kassim, Jebat is the true hero, not the prodigal son Tuah.

It is a conflict of commitment to principles and institutions represented by Jebat, versus personal loyalty as presented by Tuah. It is this universal conflict, concretized in the setting of a traditional feudal society, that makes Hikayat Hang Tuah such a powerful and enduring piece of literature.

The impact of Kassim’s Perwatakan is such that a generation later, when the journalist Rehman Rashid was interrogated by the police for possible detention under the Internal Security Act, his tomentors demanded to know from him who the true hero was, Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat. Rehman shrewdly replied, “Hang Tuah,” which may have accounted for his being released!

Kassim’s Perwatakan is one of my most valued possessions, its frayed edges and yellowed pages notwithstanding. I wish somebody would reissue it using modern spelling and syntax, and then distribute it to schools and libraries. If enough Malays read it, it might very well revolutionize our society.

Recently in a social gathering attended by a number of bright young Malay students studying in Ameirca, I inquired whether they had heard of Kassim Ahmad. None had, but they had all read Hikayat Hang Tuah. When I discussed Kassim’s radical character analysis, they were all stunned. Over half a century later, Kassim is still prying open bright young Malay minds and sparking their intellect.

The account of his incarceration, Universiti Kedua (Second University), makes painful reading. A poignant passage describes the guards, under the guise of friendship, taking away for “safekeeping” Kassim’s painfully written manuscript for a new novel. They then proceeded to destroy it in front of his eyes. Such cruelty! The spite of the guards was exceeded only by their ignorance. At a time when published works in Malay literature were sparse, this was an unbelievable act of utter stupidity, if not a crime against our culture.

When reading Universiti Kedua, I could hardly contain my rage against the authorities for their cruelty to this man. I felt great sorrow for Kassim, but far greater sorrow for my own race. A culture that treats its intellectuals with such cruelty cannot aspire for greatness.

The Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer suffered through the same humiliation while in prison, but he was unfazed. He committed his novel to memory by retelling it repeatedly to his fellow inmates. When freed, he quickly published his Pulau Buru quartet, as well as his memoirs, Nyanyian Sunyi Seorang Bisu (The Mute’s Soliloquy) to international acclaim. Kassim however, never quite recovered, and the world of Malay literature lost forever Zaman Pencaroba (Era of Crisis).

Kassim’s ability to shake the collective Malay psyche remains undiminished. In 1986, he released his Hadis: Satu Penilian Semula (Hadith: A Reevaluation). I asked my parents to get me a copy right away. True to form, before he could get my copy, the authorities banned the book! Fortunately, an English translation soon became readily available.

My parents warned me about Kassim, and his supposed anti-hadith stand. Later on my vist home, I apprised my parents of what Kassim wrote. To my surprise, they agreed with Kassim! I wonder how many Malays (includinghte censors) who accused Kassimof being anti-hadith have actually read his book.

A few brave souls saw fit to honor Kassim. Universiti Kebangsaan conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Letters. A courageous editor praised Kassim as Intellektual Melayu Terakhir (The Last Malay Intellectual), a tribute to him but a sad commentary on Malay society.

Rustam Sani, then a Profesor of Sociology at the university, gave a very generous and heartfelt public oration for the occasion. As expected, Rustam did not last long with the university.

Kassim is still writing, the Hang Jebat in him still raging. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Kassim essays can now be widely distributed (, totally bypassing the Hang Tuahs in the editorial suites.

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Policy Shift?

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Policy Shift?
Co-written with Din Merican*

[Reprinted from, July 19, 2005]

Our “reformed” Royal Malaysian Police recently raided the home of Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of the website Malaysia Today (, and seized his computers. To Malaysiakini readers, it is déjà vu.

The police routinely resorted to the Internal Security Act to raid the private residence of citizens. That is nothing new, and sadly, no longer shocking to Malaysians. This time however it is the home of a respected editor. After the public debacle over the Malaysiakini raid two years ago, we would have thought the police would be more circumspect. They never learn!

A benign take on this episode would be to assume that it is a case of political grandstanding ahead of the UMNO General Assembly next Tuesday, July 19th UMNO must regularly demonstrate its prowess against those who may challenge its “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay Hegemony) obsession, and UMNO’s role as “protector” of the Malay sultans and their subjects.

Hollowness of the Government’s Assurance

A more sinister view would be that this action merely exposes the hollowness of the presumed liberal stance and attitude of the Abdullah Badawi Administration towards open discourse, especially in cyberspace, on matters of public interest. The raid on Malaysiakini made a mockery of the government’s oft-stated commitment to keep the Internet free of official censorship. Malaysia has yet to recover from that blow.

At that time Prime Minister Mahathir took the brunt of the heat for the actions of members of the xenophobic UMNO Youth even though the action was initiated by Abdullah Badawi’s Internal Security Ministry. We commented on the folly of UMNO Youth’s action and the immaturity of its leadership. Our hard-hitting commentary angered many in the movement including some who were our friends. Nonetheless, we did it because we believe that it is unhealthy to censor dissenting views and opinions. Such actions also damage Malaysia’s image.

Robust public debates are the essence of democracy. Further, such clumsy and bumbling attempts at censorship and control are futile in this age of the Internet. You could no more control the flow of information than you could atmospheric flow. The communist rulers of China and the mullahs in Iran have tried, and both failed. When the police closed the case against Malaysiakini, we thought that there would be no more raids of this nature. We were rudely mistaken.

Raja Petra Kamarudin’s brand of analytical and aggressive investigative journalism is alien to Malaysia, where the reprinting of ministerial speeches and press releases constitutes “newsgathering.” It is no surprise then that the uncensored and independent Internet news portals have been rapidly gaining readership at the expense of the mainstream media.

Two particularly hard-hitting series received wide readership and comments. The first was on corruption in the Negri Sembilan Royal Family, and the second, the meteoric career of Khairy Jamaluddin, trusted advisor and son-in-law to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. In both, Raja Petra cited names and specific instances.

Both series are practically road maps for the police to investigate. Such expose ahead of the UMNO General Assemby could have devastating political consequences. The police therefore, took the more sycophantic approach by raiding Raja Petra’s home in an effort to please and appease the Minister of Internal Security, who is Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi himself.

Kampong Kisssinger-Lite Wannabe

It is well known that the ambitious Khairy is not popular among certain factions of UMNO. He is feared not because of his talent rather for his being the Prime Minister’s son-in-law. In short, the old familiar Malaysian refrain of “who, not what you know.”

Khairy who did his thesis on Machiavelli at Oxford subscribes to the Florentine’s dictum that it is better for the Prince to “be feared than loved.” Interestingly that too was Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard. What we have here is a kampong version of a “Kissinger lite.”

The seizure of Raja Petra’s computers hardly interrupted Malaysia Today’s operations. News articles continued to be posted, and readers were as eager as ever to register their views.

Raja Petra, like all prudent and responsible editors, web operators, and bloggers, must have taken the necessary precautions, like backing up files and having mirror servers elsewhere.

In the battle of ideas, the removal of hardware is a primitive and ineffective strategy. More productive and constructive would be to counter with superior ideas and respond frontally to the criticisms. Indeed later on the same day of the police raid on Raja Petra, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi preached the same message in a speech to the Mass Media Conference organized by his own Ministry of Internal Security. In it, he chastised the mainstream media for their sensationalism and at the same time admonished government officials who could not tolerate public criticisms. He should have done the same thing for his cabinet colleagues and fellow Barisan Nasional politicians.

Alas that was vintage Abdullah Badawi at his best, good only at preaching. He has been dispensing homilies ad nauseam ever since he took over the country’s leadership. He is, as one of my readers put it colorfully, “lebai pantai ratit saja.” (A rabbi good only at chanting!”) If Abdullah had written that speech himself, then he should be the first to heed his own advice. If, as more likely, that it is the handiwork of Khairy Jamaluddin, then he (Khairy) should be the first to heed his own message.

If this raid was merely political grandstanding, then we feel sorry for Raja Petra and his family who had to bear the terrible burden. The only consolation is that this annual circus that is the UMNO General Assembly will be over by the end of next week. If this raid portends a sinister shift in public policy, then we feel sorry for the whole nation.

* Din Merican is Senior Research Fellow with the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. This is his personal commentary.

Democracy At Last At MCA Elections

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005


Exchanges with Din Merican

Dear Bakri:

At last I have something good to write about our country!

Last week, Dato Chua Jui Meng, known among his close friends and associates here as Jimmy, surprised local political pundits by announcing that he would challenge the incumbent President, Dato Seri Ong Kah Teng, Minister of Housing and Local Government, in the August 2005 MCA Party Elections. As you remember, Ong was appointed to lead the party by the outgoing president, Tun Ling Leong Sik. There was no party election at that time; this was all part of a deal brokered by former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir. The arrangement also included the appointment of Dato Seri Chan Kong Choy as the Deputy President, to satisfy the followers of the incumbent Deputy President Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek, another important faction within the party.

Chan was part of the then so-called Team B during the Presidency of Tun Ling. Chan is now part of Ong’s team. I understand that there was an attempt to ask Chua to stand for the No.2 post with assurances that he would win against Chan. It is indeed astute on Chua’s part not to take the bait. He chose instead to go for broke by challenging the top position in the interest of MCA and its members. I congratulate him for this very bold move, and wish both him and Ong well in a clean and decisive contest for the party’s top leadership.

Democracy has at last come to MCA! It is setting the example for other component parties within Barisan Nasional, in particular UMNO, to emulate. I hope that the forthcoming MCA elections will be transparent, without “phantom voters.” If the elections were fair, then I believe the outcome is too close to call at this time.

The reason? Chua issued his manifesto on July 7, 2005 titled, “New Politics – New Vision – New MCA.” This is interesting in the sense that it has never done before in MCA, if my memory is correct. Again, I praise him for sharing his vision for MCA with the party members and the Malaysian public. The world at large can now read and ponder over his views as the manifesto is posted on his website

Chua appeals to the party’s central delegates to use this opportunity to “determine the type of leadership and direction” MCA needs in the 21st Century. A party manifesto is essentially a road map. It enables a candidate to share his vision and future plans on such issues as politics, economics, education and culture. Without the manifesto, the membership cannot judge and hold its President accountable for his promises. The party would be like a boat floating on the wide ocean without any sense of direction or knowledge of where it is heading. Chua realizes the value of his manifesto as the pillar of MCA in the years to come.

Yet it is amazing to note that reaction of the incumbent President Ong to Chua’s innovation was to simply state that he (Ong) does not issue any manifesto. He is implying that members can understand his thoughts and program by reading his mind! He is asking them to put their blind trust in his leadership. That is feudalism incarnate! There is no way to measure a leader’s performance if he or she is not open and transparent. Already many in the grassroots, though not with the central delegates, are asking what Ong has achieved for the party since taking over from Tun Ling Leong Sik.

Chua’s manifesto seeks to “set new directions for our community within the wider aspirations and goals of Vision 2020, a vision for a developed Malaysian nation….” His political agenda is to build a strong MCA that can contribute in a more meaningful and positive way to the continued victory of Barisan Nasional in future elections. MCA must be strong with core values founded on love of and care for the Chinese community as well as fairness, justice, integrity, discipline, courage in their convictions, and tolerance for differences in opinions. We can assume that Chua means a more democratic party with leaders who are clean, committed and capable. MCA has to earn the respect of the Chinese community. The people’s welfare is intertwined with that of the party. MCA seeks to represent the Chinese community. As I see it, a strong and confident MCA is an asset to the Barisan Nasional coalition. It is after all a partnership of equals, led by UMNO. Part of Chua’s strategy is to build a strong party by involving and engaging the increasingly educated young as well as tapping the wisdom and experience of the party elders.

Chua’s economic agenda starts with a statement that “Economics is without a doubt one of the areas closest to the heart of the Malaysian Chinese.” It is rightly so, as it is the engine that drives every other sphere in society. I expect to see many concrete programs with Chua’s presidency of the MCA. He promised a Master Plan within his first year, to be formulated by the community, NGOs, and the best and brightest minds within the country and abroad.

Chua’s education and culture agendas are also interesting. He is committed to excellence in education. He wants it to produce minds that can explore, adapt and be creative as well as “to continually learn and grow in a dynamic global environment of continuous and rapid change.” Chua’s aspirations are consistent with Vision 2020 and existing national policies and programs. In this sense, he is not advocating something new. Instead, he brings his community’s hopes and aspirations into sharper focus. He based his cultural agenda on the need to strengthen the Chinese identity. A community that is proud of its history, heritage and tradition is vital for a strong and developed nation.

Chua’s manifesto reflects the concerns and wishes of the Chinese community. The nation should seek to accommodate them within our national programs. The time has come for the rest of the country to recognize and appreciate the contributions and sacrifices of the Chinese community in Malaysia’s development since independence.

The next President of MCA must be able to have the full support of his community so that he can represent their views and concerns in the national dialogue to build a united Malaysian community. This will require suaveness, patience, diplomacy and strategic compromise. We should leave the MCA body politic to make its choices between the incumbent president with no expressed strategy and his challenger who has presented a manifesto that is all embracing and comprehensive.

By ensuring that its forthcoming party election in August 2005 will be clean and transparent, and by offering its members clear viable choices for the leadership position, MCA will be leading our country into a new era of democratic party contestations where the best man can win. That could only be good for our country.


Din Merican

Get Real in the Fight Against Corruption

Sunday, July 17th, 2005

Get Real In the Fight Against Corruption
M. Bakri Musa

Reprinted from the Sun (Weekend Edition) July 8, 2005

There are two crucial components to eradicating corruption: combating and preventing.

The suspension of Isa Samad was certainly a dramatic demonstration of UMNO’s commitment to combating “money politics,” the politicians’ euphemism for corruption. Abdullah Badawi now needs to demonstrate that he is equally resolute in preventing it. He could do this by radically reforming the current political system that permits money politics to thrive. One way to pull off the equivalent of an “Isa Samad” in prevention would be for Abdullah to declare boldly that henceforth he would decouple government – especially cabinet – appointments from party positions. That is, a party leader could not hold a government post, except for the President and Deputy President.

Dramatic actions in fighting corruption, unaccompanied by equally aggressive preventive measures, would be futile.

If Isa proved to be the only “big fish” snared, then the seriousness of the “fight” against corruption would remain illusory. Already there are charges of selective prosecution.

For UMNO’s Disciplinary Board to declare that its job is done with Isa’s suspension goes beyond naivety. It smacks of a hatchet job. It would be a toss up then as to who is more corrupt: Isa Samad or the panelists.

If Isa were spared criminal prosecution by the Anti Corruption Agency (ACA), it would effectively reduce the Disciplinary Board to a kangaroo court. The Board must have had compelling evidence that rises to criminality for it to mete out such a harsh sentence. If the Board does not refer the case to the ACA, then those distinguished lawyers on the panel are derelict in their professional duties as officers of the court. In America, that would be grounds for disbarment.

Thus, the dramatic impact of Isa’s suspension may yet prove illusory. Abdullah could however, institute measures that could capitalize on the current momentum and impress the nation that he is dead serious about corruption.

He should immediately terminate Isa’s cabinet appointment. “Innocent till proven guilty” is fine in a criminal court, but not in a position that demands high public trust. Besides, Isa cannot be an effective minister while consumed fighting this charge. By merely asking Isa to resign his party position, Abdullah appears to be waffling. Worse, he does not demand high standards of his ministers. By leaving it to UMNO Supreme Council to suspend Isa, Abdullah missed a splendid opportunity to demonstrate his personal resolve and commitment in combating corruption.

After firing Isa, the Prime Minister should then give his other ministers and political appointees one month to decide between their government job and party position. They should not have both.

The immediate impact would be to dampen the usual mad rush to run for party posts, thus reducing money politics. The party too would benefit, as those who seek those positions would have the party’s interest at heart.

The intense campaigning for even lowly divisional posts is because of the associated monetary rewards in the form of lucrative government jobs and contracts. These party positions are a license to print money, thus contributing to the fetid climate for corruption to thrive.

Decoupling would also diffuse power and provide an effective checks and balances system, both effective antidotes against corruption. Party leaders would check on ministers and other appointees, keeping them honest and effective.

Today the typical cabinet minister is head of an UMNO wing as well as being a Supreme Council member, on the board of Government-linked companies, and a Member of Parliament. Any of those jobs would tax the competence of any individual. These ministers think they can do it all. The reality is of course far different, and obvious to all.

By decoupling, ministers could concentrate solely on their cabinet duties and be freed from the political chores that presently distract them. Besides, the skills and talent that would make one a successful party leader are not necessarily the qualities needed to be an effective executive. Indeed the needed qualities for the two are quite the opposite.

There is yet another benefit to decoupling. The Prime Minister would have a much wider choice of talent instead of being restricted only to party leaders.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated only half of his resolve in eradicating corruption. He needs to demonstrate that he is resolute in preventing it.

They Never Learn!

Friday, July 15th, 2005

They Never Learn!
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from July 15, 2005]

On July 14, 2005, the police raided the home of Malaysia Today’s ( editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin, and seized his computers. For those with a historical bent, July 14 is Bastille Day, a day to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution.

The Malaysian authorities never learn, not from history nor its own experiences. Two years ago when the police raided the office of and carted away its computers, there was an international scene. The raid made a mockery of the government’s oft-stated commitment to keep the Internet free of official censorship. Then Prime Minister Mahathir had to step in to calm the furor. Only a few days ago the authorities finally returned the last of the computers they had seized during that raid. There were no charges, criminal or civil.

Raja Petra Kamarudin has been doing some remarkable and aggressive investigative journalism. This pursuit is alien to mainstream journalists and media in Malaysia. To them, reprinting ministerial speeches and press releases constitute newsgathering, the staple of their brand of journalism.

Consequently, Malaysia Today has been recording an escalating number of “hits” (readers), consistently exceeding over a quarter million a day. Two particularly hard-hitting recent columns received wide readership and comments.

The first was a two-part series on corruption in the Negri Sembilan royal family. Posted right after the controversy over the suspension of its former Chief Minister Isa Samad, the expose received considerable attention. After the first installment was posted, Raja Petra was “visited” by the police, but interestingly, by its commercial crime division! Far from being intimidated, Raja Petra went on with even more damning reports.

The second was a three-part series on Khairy Jamaluddin, advisor and son-in-law to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Only the first two parts have been published, with the third due any day. Readers eagerly await the final installment.

In both series, Raja Petra named names and cited specific instances. In short, both articles were virtually a road map for the police to investigate the allegations.

If the intent of the computer seizure was to prevent the posting of the final installment, then the authorities have badly miscalculated. Nor have they learned from the humiliation they received locally and abroad over the Malaysiakini raid. That episode put Malaysiakini out of commission temporarily; it was back running within hours using mirror servers elsewhere.

The seizure of Raja Petra’s computer hardly interrupted Malaysia Today’s operation. Articles continued to be posted, and readers were as eager as ever to register their views. They were hardly restrained or intimidated.

We are certain that Raja Petra, like all prudent editors and web operators, has taken the necessary precautions like backing up his files and having mirror servers.

The police have also not learned from their earlier incarceration of Raja Petra under the Internal Security Act a few years back during the height of the Reformasi and Anwar Ibrahim furor. Raja Petra was defiant to the end; he never recanted and never apologized. Such resolve!

The Malaysian authorities are still in their Neanderthal mode. They have yet to learn that they cannot control cyberspace. Not even the powerful and oppressive Chinese government could do it, though not for lack of trying. The mullahs in Iran are trying very hard, yet the most vigorous anti-government websites are in Iran.

Soon after the Malaysiakini raid, Khairy Jamaludin bravely declared that UMNO Youth was not afraid to battle anyone in the marketplace of ideas. He said this while his minions in the organization were gloating over the seizure. Some claimed that Khairy and UMNO Youth instigated the affair. This prompted my comment that we can take bright young Malays from the kampongs and send them to the Oxfords and Cambridges of the world, but more difficult to take the kampong out of them.

I would have thought that had Khairy been offended by Raja Petra’s series, or if what was published were nothing more than trash, he would have made a strong rebuttal or threaten the writer with a mega libel suit. Khairy should have learned that at Oxford. Resorting to the police to do your dirty work is like crying to mamma.

This was not the first time that the Malaysian police had “visited” bloggers and Internet journalists. These visits have been remarkably effective; those bloggers and Internet journalists have disappeared from cyberspace, or if they returned, they were noticeably emasculated.

Far from being intimidated, Raja Petra seems invigorated. Readers of Malaysia Today did not notice anything amiss, except for a short statement to announce the fact of the raid. He even had a new submission of his regular column!

When court documents exposed a former chief minister incurring millions of dollars in gambling debt while in office, the Royal Malaysian Police saw fit to seize the computer of a journalist for daring to expose malfeasance in high places. What a perverted priority!

A while back, the Prime Minister with great fanfare set up the Royal Commission to investigate the police. Chaired by a former Chief Justice, it released its long awaited report only a few months ago. The revelations, long suspected by the public, were still nonetheless shocking. Obviously setting up of that commission was an exercise in futility, for the police have learned nothing.

The cyber revolution has been going on for years but the authorities have missed it. They still think they can control cyberspace, their mind trapped in their own fortress. Unlike the physical fortress of Bastille, this mental fortress of those in authority is much more difficult to storm.

No Longer “Anwar Who?” Readers’ Responses

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

No Longer “Anwar Who?” Readers’ Responses

Reprinted from

I respect Bakri’s arguments, but I am afraid it will be case of:

Kera di hutan disusukan/Anak dipangkaian mati kelaparan.
[Breastfeeding the moneky’s baby while letting your own starve!]

Aspiring to be the Prime Minister in order to correct the “wrongs” is natural. Every politician worth his salt should aspire for that. To say it would be a failure if that goal is not achieved is surely incorrect. Success can be measured in many ways. If in the process of “fighting” for the prime ministership, Anwar succeeded in garnering momentum for the creation of a truly formidable opposition (i.e. not necessarily rule the country), by Malaysia’s standards, that in itself would be a major major achievment.

Really, if Malaysians were honest, we will realize that there is so much more we need to do and achieve all around as a nation. One would be a more equitable distribution of seats in Parliament between the Government and opposition. After all, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


With Dr. Bakri’s thesis, to let someone else other than Annuar Ibrahim to be the Malaysian premier (as much as he accolades him), why in the world would we, the rakyat, settle with someone with less personal assets and rich global networking and goodwill? Malaysia is such a small country and needs others to help it survive and prosper. Someone with Annuar Ibrahim stature would fit the bill, don’t you agree?

There in front of our eyes we are witnessing a group of incompetent and inward-looking bunch of people roaming and staying in the corridors of power in Malaysia. Some are there simply because they were born into that. It was never about personal achievements, merits, let alone credibility. What do we have now? If this trend were to continue, I shudder to think of Malaysia in years to come!

For the majority of MT readers, I assume that we can relocate anywhere in the world for our credentials go beyond national boundaries; but what about those MakCiks and Pakciks? At least in my kampong, and the same goes for all others, the rakyats are now categorized according to their political affiliations and no longer as citizens of a nation. I know children of rich UMNO members who are being given scholarships whereas equally qualified children of PAS members are being denied not only scholarships but also entry to local varsities. Mind you, they are all bumiputras.

My point is we have to stop electing mediocre leaders especially those who champion racial superiority and so-called racial protection. Protection against whom? It is the Malays who deprived other Malays of equal justice and treatment, not non-Malays! It is the Malay ruling elite that plundered the country’s rich resources. It is a Malay who is at the helm of the country since independence, and it is the Malays who screw things up really bad!! Don’t forget this. Racial and religious politics will bring Malaysia closer to some of the African and Middle Eastern countries in terms of turmoil, chaos, rampant abuse, corruptions and all. We need some one with fresh outlook who can think not in terms of race and religion but in the interest of the nation.

UMNO always think of UMNO, and it is a priority even at the expense of the nation. UMNO exists to serve UMNO not Malaysia. So is PAS. And I say, to heck with them.

Anak Kelantan

Who else can repair and rescue Malaysia from the brink of collapse now? Just look at the bunch of leaders from our PM downward. Are they capable to lead and make us stand up as a nation? You and I certainly will agree the answer is a big NO! Our current so-called leaders are no better than the street fighters, they are good at shouting inflammatory slogans. Can we pin our hope on them to lead us out of difficulty and into the 21st century?

I am no Anwar admirer. He too had done wrongs when he was in the government, everyone would do that when one is in power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, one can get drunk with too much power. Hopefully Anwar can see the tao of wisdom after the path that he has gone through. With his kind of leadership quality, without doubt he is our man, our last hope to repair the sinking ship Malaysia. Hopefully he has the courage to cut across the barrier of race and religion and make ALL of us stand high together as Malaysians. We, the non-Bumis, have been yearning to be fully Malaysians for almost half a century; Anwar is our last hope.


Bakri writes about lofty stuff but sometimes the defensiveness of his unsettled intellect manifests itself.

My translation of his advice to Anwar reads as follows:

Anwar is a talented doctor. Why practice in an archaic society with real pain and suffering. Come and practise your wares in a more enlightened environment (like the great ol’ U.S. of A) where you can bridge misunderstanding Westerners have of us as just little brown ignorant Asians.

Malaria, malnutrition and TB are not the “in” things anymore. Let us go for the more challenging stuff like cosmetic surgery. You will get recognition from real people and not some pitiful scumbags who deserve their fate because of their own fault and lack of motivation. God may have given you talent and skills, Anwar, but its how you use them that defines your person.

In which case, Anwar can still patronize his homeland by advising and writing as an armchair political commentator. Better still, he does not have to get his hands dirty while still being seen to suffer the affinity of his origins and to care and cry for his people.

Sounds familiar, dude?

Kadok Naik Junjong

Indian Malaysians Should Avoid Trap of Special Privileges

Saturday, July 9th, 2005

Indian Malaysians Should Avoid Trap of Special Privileges
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from July 5, 2005]

Indian-Malaysians are falling into the same trap as Malays; they refuse or are unable to view their community’s problems beyond the parameters of race. Indian-Malaysian leaders and intellectuals are even clamoring for their own special privileges a la Bumiputras. That would be a regressive move.

The recent controversy over not recognizing Crimean State Medical School is instructive. Indian-Malaysian leaders vehemently protested, to the extent that one of them was suspended from his cabinet position. Their objection was because most of the Malaysians affected are of Indian origin. I would have thought that the debate would be on how to ensure that our future doctors get the best training.

As for special privileges, we should strive to restrict (with a view of eventually eliminating), not expand them. Having special privileges for Malaysian-Indians would create the same problems for them that Malays now face: increased inequities within the community, reduced competitiveness and productivity, and worse, perpetuation and aggravation of already rigid social classes. There is no indication that Indian-Malaysians (or any other group granted privileges) have any special qualities that would spare them these blights. Indeed the problems would be worse for them.

Disproportionate Flow

Unlike the relatively homogenous Malays, Indian-Malaysians are very diverse. The problems faced by Maniam on the rubber estate are very different from that of Maidin anak/lelaki Mahmood who runs the neighborhood mamak stall, which in turn are vastly different from the tribulations of Dr. Menon of Bangsar. Rest assured that with special privileges, the benefits would flow disproportionately more to the advantaged over the disadvantaged, just as they are with Malays. Meaning, the Menons would benefit far more and at the expense of the Maniams.

Special privileges quickly breed in their recipients an undue sense of entitlement that is difficult to eradicate. The more privileged the group, the greater is this sense of entitlement. Among Malays, members of the royalty, being the most privileged, are the most insistent in demanding their “rights.” For example, the sultans insist that state land is theirs for the taking, no questions asked, not even by the chief minister. A few have been known to take the law into their own hands. When these sultans incur gambling debts on their frequent trips abroad, they expect the ambassador and the state treasury to bail them out.

Next are members of the political elite, specifically the “UMNO Putras.” Multimillion dollars are exchanged in UMNO’s money politics; none asked where the bounty originates. Of course it comes from rent-seeking activities made possible through special privileges.

Those poor folks in the kampongs and squatter settlements remain underprivileged. They do not demand anything and are resigned to, “It’s just our fate!”

As in India, Indian-Malaysians are rigidly stratified socially despite the lack of an overt caste system. With special privileges, the fate of the Tamils on the rubber estates will remain unchanged and be no different from those of kampong Malays.

One of the smartest things Nehru did on India’s independence was to pension off the maharajas and nawabs, and deprive them of their special privileges. He knew that such privileges in a rigidly stratified society would only aggravate class differences and be socially destabilizing. The social turmoil and instability in Malay society today is in part attributable to the skewed distribution of special privileges.

Indian-Malaysians constitute less than seven percent of the population, a very small minority. Their problems are further compounded by the fact they are also divided ethnically, socially and politically.

Preoccupation of Leaders

As if those were not enough, their leaders are derelict in their duty to champion the causes of their followers. These leaders are more concerned with being accepted into the Malay establishment. Give them a datukship, and these Bumiputra wannabes become “more Malay than a Malay.”

While these leaders are consumed with integrating and ingratiating themselves to the Malay elite, the message they urge upon their followers is the very opposite. “Maintain your identity, language and culture!” “Send your children to Tamil schools!” Never mind that these schools are dilapidated, poorly funded, have declining enrolment, and are dead end as an institution. They themselves do not send their children to such schools; they know better. Besides, their children deserve more!

Indian-Malaysians should learn from successful minorities elsewhere. American Jews would not have been successful had their leaders insisted that their followers send their children to Hebrew schools. Even traditionally Jewish institutions like Brandies University use English. Visit its campus and you could not distinguish it from any other American university. Many Jews even anglicized their name in order to blend in with the mainstream.

In the past, some Indian-Malaysians, especially those who were Muslims, had successfully integrated. While they may not openly acknowledge it, today many ministers, including a former prime minister, are descendants of such Indians. Ironically, they are among the most strident champions of “Ketuanan Melayu!” (Malay supremacy).

Indian-Malaysian leaders would be doing their community a great service if they were to close these Tamil schools and encourage parents to send their children to national and other schools. At the very least, their children would then have a far superior education than they would have had at their vernacular schools.

Indian-Malaysian leaders are preoccupied with building a local university and medical college. This is nothing more than an exercise at stroking their massive egos. These leaders should instead focus on improving the schools. Those children need much more help than the students accepted into medical schools. It would also be considerably cheaper and produce far greater benefits.

Contrary to the chauvinistic chanting of their leaders, the Tamil language, culture and way of life would not disappear with the closing of Tamil schools.

The ways to improve the plight of Indian-Malaysians lay less with communalistic appeals and more with adopting the insights of modern development economics. Improve their education through good schools, equip them with marketable skills, give them their freedom to practice their trade, and most of all be less paternalistic towards them. On second thought, we could also usefully apply those lessons to Malays.

No Longer “Anwar Who?”

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

No Longer “Anwar, Who?”
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from:, July 3, 2005]

Contrary to my assertion a few years ago that he would soon be “Anwar, who?” Anwar Ibrahim is again in the limelight following his release from prison. Far from being a forgotten figure (except to those whose only source of news is the Malaysian dailies), Anwar is being lauded at such lofty perches as Hopkins and Oxford.

God may just grant Anwar his wish, and then some. He may yet become a household name, but for all the wrong reasons. Anwar successfully scaled the political heights in his previous career, just missing the top slot. If he were to enter politics again, anything less than being prime minister would be a failure. That is a very high bar. Nor would his path be smooth; the grilling he received at his recent BBC interview is a good preview.

If Anwar were to channel his considerable leadership talent to other than politics, there would be no limit to the good he could bring to himself, Malaysia, Islam, and indeed the world. A leader actively courted by the Washington, DC, “neo-cons” as well as by fundamentalist PAS ulamas has much to contribute to bridging the deepening chasm between Islam and the West. A man who quotes Churchill and Confucius at will is uniquely positioned to bring better understanding between East and West.

If Anwar were to opt for politics, he would be just another politician. Malaysia – and the Malay community in particular – has a glut of those. If he fails to get the top job, his legacy will be that of a failed politician. That would be merely a personal disappointment for him; for Malaysia and Malays however, the consequences could be devastating.

His reentry into party politics would open old ugly sores that have just begun to heal. Malaysians, not just UMNO members, would have to take sides. The Bush doctrine of “You are with us or against us” would resurface locally with vengeance; Anwar will be very polarizing. He has become part of the problem, not part of the solution in Malaysian politics.

His supporters and assorted hangers-on at home will try to convince Anwar otherwise. He should not ignore them, but he should try to fathom their motivations. For some, it would be payback time; for others, a chance to recoup their considerable investments – material and emotional – in him. Those are not valid reasons.

Instead, Anwar should ponder what he wishes to accomplish, and then consider whether politics or some other arena is the best route. Saying that he wants to be prime minister to achieve his goals would be the wrong answer to the wrong question. The proper question should first be what he wants to accomplish, not what he wants to be.

Anwar should rightly be flattered that PAS had offered him to lead the opposition. Beware however, of those who flatter you. PAS may be trying to use Anwar, and he may be tempted to use PAS to further his political goals. Of course, Anwar may rationalize that he would merely be trying to drag PAS into the 21st century. After all when he joined UMNO in 1981, Anwar assured his Islamist friends that he was trying to make the party more Islamic! We easily forget the perennial excuse of opportunists everywhere, “I want to change the system from within!”

If anything, Anwar’s experience with UMNO should remind him that exploitative relationships, personal or political, rarely endure.

Anwar still has a large reservoir of goodwill among UMNO leaders and members. That would rapidly evaporate should he align himself with PAS. It would also mean the end of the party led by his wife. I see nothing positive with Anwar’s reentry into politics.

By staying out of electoral politics, the goodwill he commands in UMNO would only expand. Anwar could skillfully parlay that, and end up playing the role of kingmaker in UMNO and be able to influence that organization in ways and on a scale even its president would be unable to do.

If Anwar remains politically neutral, he may be the only person who could reverse the increasingly dangerous polarization of Malays. At the very least, he could damper the coarsening discourse of Malay politics. Anwar is one of the few Malays comfortable reciting tahlil at the local surau as he is at a Western cocktail party (sipping orange juice of course!). Meaning, he is at ease with the ulama as well as liberal Muslims.

Anwar is highly regarded in Bangkok and Manila. He should use his good office to help the two countries resolve their Muslim (essentially ethnic Malay) minority problems. He should convince those myopic governments that suppressions and military actions are not the solution, but economic development and better human rights practices are. He should in turn counsel those insurgents that accommodation, not rebellion, is more fruitful. Peace in Mindanao and Patani would be good for the folks there as well as for regional relationships.

Similarly, Anwar could leverage his excellent reputation in Jakarta to nudge that nation to pursue enlightened economic and social policies. He should also use his good influence on the Sultan of Brunei to prod that feudal state into the modern age. As Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar would be constrained from doing all of these. I am suggesting that Anwar’s sphere should extend beyond Malaysia.

When he was released from prison, the Saudi government had an executive jet available to whisk him to Germany for his medical treatment. That gesture was not an affront to the Malaysian government or to Dr. Mahathir, rather a reflection of Anwar’s standing in the Islamic world.

Among his early visitors in Germany were senior Bush administration figures. Anwar is one of the few Asian leaders who understand the nuances of Western, specifically American, leadership and democracy. At a time when the Bush administration could use some help in the Muslim world, there are very few capable volunteers. This is where Anwar’s talent could be of great use. It would be good for America, good for Islam, and most of all, splendid for Anwar.

Anwar’s supporters look askance at his close relationship with the “neo cons;” Anwar in turn is defensive about it. One should always welcome and continually nurture good relationships. Now that the top “neo-con” Paul Wolfowitz is at the World Bank, Anwar should use his experience as a former Finance Minister of a robust economy to steer the bank towards more enlightened lending practices and away from “mega” projects.

Before Anwar could aspire to soar to these stratospheric heights, he must free himself from the gravitational tugs of his supporters. They in turn should realize that they were right in believing in a great leader, but this greatness could never be realized if he permits himself to be tethered to confining emotional ties.

If Anwar could treat his adoring supporters not as anchors that would weigh him down rather as boosters that would propel him into his next trajectory as a leader, then Anwar is destined for greater heights.