Category Archives: The Malaysian Insider

Finding solace in our public institutions



Finding solace in our public institutions
By Zan Azlee

As a people living in a democratic system, we should be able to find solace in our institutions, of which its responsibility is to uphold the system and ensure that all is good.

These institutions need to uphold democracy and us, as a people, need to uphold these institutions. But the recent events that have happened are a little worrying to me personally.

First up the judiciary, which should be independent from the legislative and the executive. It has had several indecisions that put its consistency in doubt.

Certain cases that had landmark decisions have had these decisions overturned post-appeals and challenges. This would not be a problem since this system ensures protection.

But if you take a closer look at the cases, it would cause you to wonder why the overturning of these decisions happened and its motives.

First case: law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom challenged the Sedition Act 1948 claiming that it is an unconstitutional act. He, of course, has been charged under the act and will now face trial.

His argument of why it is unconstitutional is because the act was never enacted by Parliament since the Malaysian parliament had not been established yet at that time.

The court had decided that under Article 162, it was enforceable. So that means that freedom of speech can be put aside on matters deemed threatening to national security.

And now the argument here is what is deemed as a threat to national security. The terms are vague and subjective.

Second case: the Federal Court overturned the Court of Appeals decision against the Seremban High Court saying that an anti-crossdressing shariah law is unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeal had ruled that it was unconstitutional and void because it contravened rights such as personal liberty, equality and freedom of expression.

The precedence that this case would set is that the fundamental constitutional rights of all Malaysians cannot be applied when it comes to shariah law.

Third case: the Federal Court dismissed a challenge made by a publisher of a book (Irshad Manji’s translated “Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta”) deemed to be un-Islamic.

In this case, the court said Article 10 did not guarantee absolute freedom of speech since it had to be read together with other provisions, including that Islam is the federation’s religion.

Yes, the judiciary has in place a review and appeals system that allows for decisions to be relooked at. But all these cases have already gone through that process.

What happens if after it has exhausted the entire process and the rulings are still worrying? What happens then? What can be done?

Each case stated above actually went through the judiciary in the appropriate way and followed all the necessary procedures and process. Technically, no wrong has been done.

So the question now is, although the due legal process was followed to the letter, has justice really been served by the institution?

[This article appeared originally at The Malaysian Insider]

We can’t afford fast Internet, duh!



We can’t afford fast Internet, duh!
By Zan Azlee

Malaysia has never run dry of politicians who say the darndest things. And this is even more so in recent times when statements made by them are like funny one-liner comedy routines.

The most recent one was made by a new minister, who assumed his role roughly about two months ago, during a Cabinet reshuffle.

If you still remember, this Cabinet reshuffle saw the sacking of two senior members, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal. It was a controversial decision.

Now that you memory has been refreshed, back to the point of my column this week: Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak says the darndest things!
He was reported to have said Malaysians prefer to have slower Internet speeds. His conclusion was based on data showing 71% of Malaysians chose slower, cheaper Internet packages.

This is quite a ridiculous conclusion. One reason is that there can be no way that an average Malaysian would prefer an inferior service over a superior one.

If you had a choice of either driving a top-of-the-line Porsche and the most basic Proton, and where price is no issue, which would be your first pick?

But the thing here is that a luxury car is not a basic necessity while the Internet is considered in the developed world to be a basic human necessity.

It is more an issue of affordability rather than preference. Malaysia is well known for having one of the highest Internet prices in the region, if not the world.

Because of monopoly in the industry, prices have remained consistently high while quality has been inconsistent to say the least.

It’s not because they don’t want to, it just means that most Malaysians really have no choice but to choose a cheaper Internet package due to affordability and suffer through slow speeds.

Now, I’m not the only person saying this. Some prominent individuals have also criticised what Salleh has said, including former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

She said it was shameful for the world to think, from the statement made by Salleh, that Malaysians were so backward in wanting to have slower Internet.

I am currently in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, attending and conducting filmmaking workshops at The Borneo Eco Film Festival, and the feeling here in Sabah is of shock and surprise.

Salleh is a Sabahan. He was the chief minister of the state from 1994 to 1996 and is currently a Senator in the Dewan Negara. He is the same age as the American actor Kevin Bacon.

One Sabahan I spoke to said that “he used to be quite normal before he became a minister”, while another, after hearing his name, said that “isn’t he a famous novelist?”

Earlier in the year, I had a sit-down interview with the then Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek (who also is the same age as Kevin Bacon).

He was telling me of the Malaysia’s efforts in trying to build and develop the infrastructure in order to improve the speed and quality of the Internet.

Ahmad Shabery also stressed on how the ministry was trying its best to create an environment which would bring prices to a more competitive rate.

Hmm… now I’m wondering if Salleh was given a proper handover report from his predecessor.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Still waiting for a straight answer on 1MDB



Still waiting for a straight answer on 1MDB
By Zan Azlee

I was at the recent Economic Update organised by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) at Sasana Kijang. The panelists consisted of a slew of ministers and a central bank governor.

The first question off the bat by the moderator, Umapagan Ampikaipakan, was to get the elephant out of the room – 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

How does it affect the current state of Malaysia’s economy?

Good move in wanting to address the issue that everyone is talking about.
But, as expected, the ministers on the panel were slightly dismissive of it. They acknowledged it, of course. But still dismissive.

The message from them regarding 1MDB can be broadly categorised in to three answers:

1. The dismal state of the economy is not unique to Malaysia and is not solely because of the 1MDB scandal. Many other countries are affected too because it is a global situation.

2. Investigations are under way, so let it take its due course and we will all know the outcome soon enough.

3. Malaysia needs to move on ahead and not dwell on the 1MDB scandal. It is already being handled so don’t worry about it.

But what blew the roof was not what Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed or Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said. It was what Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz said that was echoed after the event.

She stressed that although there are many factors that have contributed to how bad Malaysia’s economy and depreciating Ringgit, we should not ignore the fact that the political scandal is also part of it.

Zeti continued to say that there are efforts being taken to strengthen the economy and for all this to be done optimally, the country definitely does not need more political scandals and controversies.

To be honest, the Bank Negara governor really didn’t say anything revealing or significant. She just acknowledged that the political scandals in the country have an impact on what is happening.

But because of how information is only slowly trickling out (or not at all!), even statements as mild and tame as what Zeti made makes headlines in the news and is the talk of the town.

But I guess it takes something like this to throw the issue back into the spotlight. As it is, no one in any authoritative position is willing to say it as it is. People are getting tired of it being dismissed all the time.

If the government is trying to make an effort in convincing the public that everything will be okay and to restore their confidence in the economy, then they really have to try harder and be more sincere.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

There is no such thing as Islamic racism



There is no such thing as Islamic racism
By Zan Azlee

What version of Islam is Tan Sri Annuar Musa referring to when he said that racism is based on Islam? I want to know because if Islam really calls for racism, then I’ve been a bad Muslim!

The Umno Supreme Council member said this in his speech when he attended the ‘red shirt’ rally (aka Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu) on Malaysia Day.

In his speech, he also said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were very touched by the show of support by the rally goers.

It is atrocious to see our leaders reacting positively towards a racist rally that was to show the supremacy of a particular race (they previously said that they were not endorsing the rally).
But back to this racism based on Islam issue. As far as I know, the Al-Quran says in Surah Al-Hujurat:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you people in tribes and nations so that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

And even Prophet Muhammad had said, in his last sermon:

“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white – except by piety.”

And even when it comes to people of different faiths, the Quran has already said in Surah Al-Kafirun:

“O disbeliever, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion and for me is my religion.”

Islam itself is a religion that has been stated to be for all of humankind regardless of race and can be adapted and practiced by anyone from anywhere.

So I wonder where Annuar is getting it when he says that he is racist according to Islam. Is there anywhere in between the lines that say the Malay race is superior over every other race?

Does it say anywhere in between the lines that Malays have more right to Malaysia than other races? Does it say anywhere in between the lines that Malays “granted” other races citizenship?

Here is a reminder to those who manipulate religion and politics for their own self interest. It may be easy to fool some people. But you definitely can’t fool all people.

If anything, this ‘red shirt’ rally that took place on Malaysia Day has done a disservice to the Malaysians and really ruined the image and reputation of the country.

It would seem that the country is continuing to move backwards. But I have faith that these people who have marched in Kuala Lumpur today lack something.

What they lack is the conviction and faith that we other Malaysians who really believe in unity and multiculturalism have. We won’t give up.

[This article was originally written for The Malaysian Insider]

Is Malaysian football facing desperate times?



Is Malaysian football facing desperate times?
By Zan Azlee

As superficial and simplistic as it may seem, sports really does play a big role in helping to unite the different people in Malaysia. You really have to agree.

It’s when Malaysian sports teams play in the international arena or our athletes competing against those from other countries that everyone puts aside their differences and cheer together.

I see it happening all the time. I noticed this in 1992 when Malaysia won the Thomas Cup in our own backyard. The spirit of Malaysian-ness was so strong then.

And amid all of the tension that the country is facing in the recent past (and currently), everyone still can gather together and support Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Nicol David.

Remember the last Olympic Games in 2012 in London? Every single Malaysian supported Chong Wei in trying to get the Gold, and they also came together to console him when he failed.

And then our darling Pandelela Rinong won a bronze medal in diving, the first ever female Malaysian to win a medal, made everyone cheer again.

To a lesser extent, all Malaysians seem to be able to come together to support the Malaysian football team as well, even though they have yet to prove they are of decent calibre.

What happened at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday night was something that many saw as an incident that has shamefully tarnished the image of the country.

The fan group Ultras Malaya who are known for their fierce devotion to the Malaysian national football team threw flares and fired firecrackers on to the field.

And it happened during a World Cup qualifying match between the Harimau Malaya and Saudi Arabia, with the Saudis leading 2-1 at the time.

This followed another match, played in Abu Dhabi last week, between Harimau Malaya and the UAE, where the Malaysian side suffered its biggest ever defeat in a competitive international match, losing by 10 goals to nil.

Of course, resorting to violence is never right. In this case, they put the players in danger and there were also reports in the media saying that they attacked the Saudi Arabian fans.

But, if you look at the context of it all, it would be obvious that their feelings towards the performance of the Malaysian football team is one of frustration and disappointment.

Football is one of the most favourite sports in Malaysia. And here is a team that has been the apple of the eye of the country. But over the decades, they have only gone from bad to worse.

How else can the supporters vent their frustrations? No, I’m not trying to vilify or justify the actions of the group of supporters who did what they did that night.

Let’s just take a look at the example of the street protests and demonstrations around the world (and maybe even in Malaysia). It happens when there is no other alternative for the people.

When there is no proper channel for the people to voice their concerns and be heard, they usually resort to the last option. Some would say, desperate times calls for desperate measures.

So in terms of the Ultras Malaya, they could be dissatisfied with the performance of the team or the way the country’s football administration is handled by the governing bodies.

And when they have feelings that are so strong, is there a proper channel for them to voice their concerns and be heard?

Could this be a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures?

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]