It has been a busy time for civil society groups, including Aliran, with a host of developments competing for attention. Francis Loh rounds up the events of the last few weeks.
The 1MDB issue has hit the headlines again, but only outside Malaysia.
The government and the government-controlled mainstream media continue not to highlight the mind-boggling revelations by the US Department of Justice of how US$4.5bn (RM19 bn) in stolen proceeds from 1MDB were used to buy jewels, a yacht and luxury apartments, finance movies, etc.
Aliran has called for the immediate setting up of a Commission of Inquiry. Read our full statement.
In the rest of this newsletter, we wish to share five other activities and events that took place in recent weeks. None of them had anything to do with RUU355, with which you must be so bored, but which captured the attention of our politicians and Malaysian politics for several months. Phew!
Farewell, dear Min!
First, with much sorrow, Aliran reports the sudden passing of a Towering Malaysian, Rozaimin Elias, affectionately known as Min. He was one of Penang’s favourite sons and much loved by people from all walks of life and of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Min was an activist but not the intellectual type. I don’t remember him ever giving a talk in a public forum. He always stood in the background in public gatherings. However, he was always listening and speaking to others one-to-one – though it must be said, he also spoke through his music too; for he was also a punk rocker! Whichever, Min always spoke from his heart.
Min had been active in the Penang version of Food Not Bombs, a group of youths who fed street people in George Town. He was also always around whenever there was a Bersih, Aliran, Suaram, Anak Muda and other reformasi-related activity occurring downtown. He would bring Malay youths to such gatherings and help expose them to these activities and groups.
In the run-up to GE13, when I was giving a talk in a church hall, Min also brought a group of young Malays to support me. Their presence in the church hall sent a clear message to the non-Malays and non-Muslims who filled the hall and who sometimes talked in terms of “those Malays” that all needed to bridge the ethno-religious divide.
Above all, Min was a very unassuming and sincere man with a large heart. Ironically, he died of a heart attack as he was a touch overweight. He had neglected to take care of himself while seeing to other’s needs.
About three months ago, when Min first suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the Penang General Hospital, the nurses, doctors, patients and visitors were all wondering which dignitary had been admitted into hospital because of the large crowd that turned up! Actually, it was our Min whose friends and well-wishers ranged from politicians – including a few Aduns and MPs, social activists, journalists, and not a few rockers!
An even larger number showed up at his funeral on 1 June morning. After his burial, two memorials were held: one in Penang, in a place called Narrow Marrow down Carnavon Street, and another in KL. They were occasions to celebrate his life and to share fond memories of Min among friends.
Check out this report to know more about this very special young man and his most unfortunate passing.
And check out this video of him teasing the BN government over its introduction of the GST.
Pushing for electoral reforms
A second activity these past weeks centered around the visit of Maria Chin Abdullah, chair of Bersih 2.0 to Penang. Ever the dedicated one, Maria participated in a public forum, together with Parit Buntar MP Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa and social activist Karen Lai, at the Caring Society Complex on 23 May. Maria was up in Penang the following week and held a meeting with Penang-based groups involved in Bersih 2.0.
On both occasions, Maria called upon all to work towards several necessary electoral reforms that could be implemented within 10 months, before the necessary dissolution of Parliament in June 2018.
- eliminating corruption by introducing a new law that imposes rules on campaign contributions, limits on expenditures for parties, and mandating disclosure and reporting of funding sources and spending in elections;
- cleaning the electoral rolls by among others establishing an independent electoral roll auditing committee;
- reforming and making transparent the entire practice of absentee voting;
- ensuring that constitutional provisions for the redrawing of electoral constituencies are followed to ensure that the constituencies are “approximately equal” in size;
- ensuring that the Electoral Commission is independent by having its members approved by Parliament and the Agong (rather than as now appointed by the Agong on the binding advice of the prime minister;
- automatic voter registration, etc.
Maria clarified that much attention had been given to item 4, and hundreds of objections had been raised – by Bersih supporters as well as the opposition parties and even the governments of Penang and Selangor – over the troubled re-drawing of the new electoral boundaries by Electoral Commission. Such a large number of objections is unprecedented. It makes a mockery of commission’s exercise clearly indicating that it had not carried out the redelineation exercise efficiently, let alone fairly.
On the grounds that commission’s proposed constituencies had not followed constitutional provisions, the Selangor state government and a group of seven voters in Malacca separately applied for a judicial review of the commission’s proposed constituencies in the two states.
Subsequently, the court ruled that the ongoing exercise and proposed constituencies in Selangor and Malacca were to be suspended, pending the outcome of the ongoing hearings.
Without even a hint of remorse, or acknowledgement that they might have conducted themselves very unprofessionally, the Electoral Commission has taken the matter to the Appeals Court.
To learn more about the proposed electoral reforms visit this section of the Bersih website.
Opposition challenges and the Pas factor
The third activity was about GE14 and arose from a discussion that was held in the Aliran office on 1 June. Prior to the discussion on ‘GE14: Will there be change?’, several articles were made available to participants.
One of these was ‘Expect more Black Swans to appear in Malaysian politics’ by Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, who is regarded as the electoral strategist for the DAP.
By “Black Swans”, we presume Liew means possible, though unexpected developments – like the results of the 8 March 2008 general election or the split that occurred in Umno following the revelation of the 1MDB scandal resulting in the formation of Bersatu by Mahathir, his son Mukhriz, Muhyiddin and others. Unexpected Black Swans indeed!
Liew reported that he had commissioned polls surveys of his own constituency in February 2013, a month before GE13, and again in Aug 2016. The results of the polls surveys indicated that the satisfaction of Malay voters in Kluang with the federal government had dropped from 72 per cent to 39 per cent, while their satisfaction with the performance of PM Najib had dropped from 78 per cent to 42 per cent.
His second polls survey was conducted prior to the formation of Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, officially launched in September 2016. He reckons that the satisfaction level must have fallen even more, and that Kluang must be representative of other Malay areas as well.
An issue that came up among those present at the Aliran discussion was the ongoing divisions and quarrels among the Opposition. Anil Netto has highlighted this matter in the last newsletter.
Drawing lessons from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s successful improvement of its fortunes in the UK elections, Anil called upon the Opposition to put their differences aside and focus instead on putting together an election manifesto that addresses the socio-economic needs of the rakyat.
Still on the problems of a divided Opposition, you might also want to read this statement by Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli, who is PKR’s vice-president and the man behind the formation of Invoke. In his statement, Rafizi stresses two major points.
First, the Opposition’s candidate for prime minister has been, and will continue to be Anwar Ibrahim. In view of his incarceration, the interim candidate will be Dr Wan Azizah. Her first role as interim prime minister would be to seek a royal pardon for Anwar Ibrahim on the grounds that his jailing has been politically motivated.
Rafizi’s second point is that Pakatan Harapan should “go it alone” without Pas. Based on comprehensive studies, including an Invoke survey of voters in Malay-majority constituencies recently, Rafizi maintains that in a one-on-one electoral contest, Pakatan would perform well overall; Umno-BN could be defeated in such a scenario.
But what if there were three-cornered fights? Would Pas, contesting on its own including against Pakatan Harapan, then play spoiler and divert votes away from the Opposition, allowing Umno-BN to sneak home?
According to Rafizi, Invoke’s study found that Pas would lose in all constituencies that had more than 20 per cent non-Malay voters. And since more than 75 per cent of seats throughout Malaysia have more than 20 per cent non-Malays, Pas’ chances of doing well are very limited indeed.
In other words, there would not be much difference between one-on-one contests and in three-cornered contests if that should come to pass in GE14. Put another way, he calls upon the Opposition not to bother about Pas playing spoiler, for the party would not be able to poll many votes in GE14, especially when the constituency has more than 20 per cent non-Malays.
Young Writers’ articles published
Fourth, you will recall that Aliran organised a Young Writers Workshop in early May. We are pleased to announce that the session was conducted successfully. Several articles have been prepared by these young writers and they have been uploaded onto our website.
Among the topics:
- residents of TTDI campaigning against the construction of a highrise in their neighbourhood;
- how to detect and help the young with dyslexia;
- two reviews of Behemoth, a film about the impact of mining on migrant workers in China;
- the Manchester bombing.
Check out these articles, which have now been published on the Aliran website.
Aliran’s Crackdown Watch updated
Fifth, and last, we invite you to check Aliran’s Crackdown Watch, which has been recently updated, thanks to the efforts of our two interns. If you notice mistakes or if we have omitted any case(s) that you are aware of, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
20 June 2017