Friday, 27 March 2015

Malaysia Government backed exhibition of Hindu temples & gods touring Malaysia

In a remarkable interfaith gesture, an exhibition supported by Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism & Culture and displaying Hindu temples and gods is touring various cities of Malaysia.

Titled "Grandeur of Chola Temples of India" (Higher than earth, Bigger than the sky), it is currently showing at National Visual Arts Gallery of Kuala Lumpur, where it will continue till March 28. Then it will be displayed in Georgetown’s Penang Town Hall from April four to 12, at Ipoh’s Rayan Cultural Hall from April 17 to 26, and at Sungai Petani in May.

Said to be first of its kind in Malaysia, it is organized by India’s Ministry of Culture and created by American Institute of Indian Studies in cooperation with Malaysia’s National Visual Arts Gallery. This exhibition of photographs shows Hindu temples and statues of Hindu deities created from 9th to 11th century during Chola dynasty rule in India.

Applauding Malaysia government for supporting Hinduism focused exhibition, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that governments of other nations should also patronize Hinduism focused displays, thus sharing the rich Hindu heritage, concepts and traditions with their populace. It was a step in the right direction for Malaysia government, Zed added.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, also commended Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for joining in Hindu Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves Hindu shrine near Kuala Lumpur on February three, thus sending signals of inclusiveness and harmony in the Malaysian society.

Rajan Zed urged Najib to do more for the minority ethnic Indian community of Malaysia so that they did not feel left out in south-east Asia’s most vibrant economies and had their share in the fruits of its decades of industrial growth. Hindus had contributed significantly to the building and development of Malaysia, Zed noted.

Zed stressed the urgent need of empowering the Hindu community through various means; including creating helpful business environment for them, better equipping the entrepreneurs, providing more seats in higher-education institutions, etc.

Rajan Zed also welcomed Najib’s reported calls in the past of inter-religious dialogue. Dialogue would bring us mutual enrichment, Zed pointed out.

Zed stated that all religions should work together for a just and peaceful world. Religion was a powerful and complex component of human life so we must take it seriously. A more inclusive and broader understanding of religion was needed, Zed indicated.

Rajan Zed further urged Najib to organize and preside over an annual dialogue session in capital Kuala Lumpur with leaders of all the existing religions in Malaysia and formulate a strategy of strengthening cohesiveness and unity among various communities in a diverse Malaysia.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Enough of Anwar Ibrahim, move on!

Of late, the antics and demands of the left-wing party, in particular the Parti Keadilan Rakyat have grown a tad too dramatic and inappropriate, if I may say.

By now almost anyone familiar with the country's political landscape knows the Anwar's supporters tale: one that revolves around their demand for the jailed leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be granted permission to attend Parliament sessions and the rallies of #KitaLawan, organised in solidarity of the Permatang Pauh MP. At one glance, these strategies are seen merely to inform the world what an unjust and corrupted country Malaysia is.

They had also complained that Anwar's sleep is affected by mosquitoes, poor quality mattress and squat toilets at the Sungai Buloh prison, where Anwar is serving his five-year sentence for sodomising his former aide, Mohd Saiful Azlan Bukhari.

What did you expect, PKR?

The street demonstrations for Anwar, whom they claim was wrongfully judged is one thing but expecting special preferences to be given to him, is another matter altogether.

KitaLawan rally

The #KitaLawan rally held on March 7, 2015

Worse, they also want Anwar to be allowed to attend the Parliament sitting from March 9 to Apr 9 as he is still a lawmaker.

Section 31(1)(a) of the Prisons Act 1995 provides for the commissioner-general to order, in writing, a prisoner to be taken to any place in Malaysia, after being satisfied that there are reasonable grounds requiring the presence of the prisoner at that place.

Why don’t you guys ask for Anwar to be allowed to return home for special days like Hari Raya and his birthday while you are at it?

Before anyone accuse me of being a BN supporter or anti-Anwar, let me be clear here. This has nothing to do with political allegiance. Most Malaysians are to some extent, sympathetic towards what has transpired over the years to Anwar Ibrahim’s family, ever since he was removed as the deputy Prime Minister in 1998.

We do understand the pain and suffering of his wife and children, knowing that their father is not well and being behind bars when the 67-year-old should be with his family, enjoying his days with his grandchildren.

And also the shame that came with his conviction that he committed sodomy, a serious offence under the Islamic laws.

No doubt, Anwar’s conviction came under severe criticism from various organisations, both locally and from abroad and his supporters talk about political conspiracy to kill Anwar’s career.

Anwar was sent to prison on Feb 10, after a seven-year trial. Nightly vigil outside the Sungai Buloh prison were held and later the Opposition began its street demonstrations and demands for better facilities for him.

Instead of focusing solely on one man – Anwar Ibrahim and his needs, can the Opposition pact start acting and behaving like a proper coalition?

The sympathy towards one man is not enough to swing the votes.

Instead of harping on Anwar and his woes, perhaps the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition can start talking about economic reforms, improving livelihoods, exposing corruption and corrupt practices. It can also tell the people what it can do to bring the country to greater heights.

Anwar Ibrahim may be seen as a Nelson Mandela to many young and new voters but let’s not forget the older generation of voters who generally do not vote based on emotions alone.

To the Opposition pact, you have made your point. Now let’s move on.

Malaysians want veteran politicians to step down, survey shows

One out of two Malaysians wants veteran politicians from both sides of the divide to give up their positions of power and make way for younger leaders, a survey commissioned by The Malaysian Insider has found.

The survey on Malaysia's future leadership by independent pollster Merdeka Center found that 62.6% of the 1,008 respondents agreed that opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim should step down and give way for younger leaders to head the party.

Also, 58.3% of the Malaysians polled said DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang should resign, followed by Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak (49.7%), PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (46.6%) and Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (42.5%).

“The general sentiment is that all of them should go and make way for the younger leaders. It’s only the hardcore supporters who want these personalities to stay on,” Ibrahim Suffian, the director of Merdeka Center, told The Malaysian Insider.

“Most of the younger voters want younger leaders, because the older guys are associated with infighting and criticising, without offering solutions,” he said, citing the protracted debate on hudud between DAP and PAS as an example.

The survey revealed that Anwar, now in jail after being convicted for sodomy, was the most unpopular among the Malays, with 71.2% saying they wanted him to go, compared to 50.3% of Chinese and 48.1% of Indian respondents.

Lim was only slightly less popular than Anwar among the Malays, with 68.7% agreeing that he should step down, compared to 45.4% Chinese and 35.3% Indians.

Ibrahim said while Malaysians sympathised with Anwar, they still felt the 67-year-old should step down and give room for younger leaders to bring PKR to greater heights.

"Anwar is a polarising figure because over the years he has been criticised for his actions and been subjected to intense media treatment over a decade. Because of that, many people either love him or hate him," said Ibrahim.

"A lot of people who know and support him are those who participated in the reformasi demonstration years ago."

In contrast, many young voters today did not know Anwar very well, particularly his contributions while in the government, and may not have a sense of political awareness, said Ibrahim.

DAP's Lim, meanwhile, is one of the longest-serving politicians in Malaysia. He was elected as the party's national organising secretary in 1966, and became a lawmaker in 1969.

The survey found that while more Malaysians wanted Hadi to stay compared to Lim and Anwar, this was largely because he received slightly more support from Barisan Nasional (BN) supporters.

But among Pakatan Rakyat (PR) supporters, 52.5%, 51.3% and 47% wanted Anwar, Hadi and Lim to resign, respectively.

Meanwhile, more than half of Barisan Nasional supporters wanted Najib (56.8%) and Muhyiddin (59.2%) to stay in power, which helped boost their overall figures.

But among the non-Malays, the two were deeply unpopular, with just 10.3% Chinese and 9.8% Indians saying Muhyiddin should stay on, and only 11.9% Chinese and 15.6% Indians wanting Najib to remain in power.

‎Among the Malays, however, Najib and Muhyiddin were more popular: 41.7% and 49.1% disagreed with the Umno president and deputy president stepping down, respectively.

“Among BN, there is strong loyalty towards the top leaders because they get handouts. In contrast, Pakatan Rakyat leaders can’t really afford to give much to their supporters,” said Ibrahim.

“But overall, you can see that the electorate are moving beyond politics of personalities and looking at what politicians are delivering: better economic policies, better relations with the people, giving them hope and not fear.”

The survey involved 1,008 respondents of voting age, who were interviewed by telephone from January 21-30 and chosen through the random stratified sampling method along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and parliamentary constituencies.

All parliamentary constituencies were surveyed and the selection of the respondents is proportional with respect to the population. – March 12, 2015.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Will Obama assist democracy in Malaysia?

By Anwar Ibrahim 
April 25, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim leads Malaysia’s Justice Party, known as PKR. He served as deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998.

For 15 years, the people of Malaysia have been immersed in our own Arab Spring. After enduring a corrupt and authoritarian regime for more than five decades, an era has emerged in which we are standing up for our rights.

For the first time in our history, the voices of reform and democracy represent the majority. In last year’s general election, the popular vote in favor of the opposition would have swept from power the authoritarian regime of Najib Razak and the party that has ruled Malaysia since its independence in 1957. In its place would have been the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance), poised to push the nation on the path to greater freedom and democracy. Alas, widespread fraud and devious gerrymandering perpetrated by the ruling party, a situation the White House noted, affected the outcome. A study conducted by Harvard ranked Malaysia as having one of the worst records on electoral integrity in the world.

Despite this setback, the Malaysian people have remained steadfast. Despite anger and frustration over our government’s continued corruption and abuse of power, we have pursued a peaceful approach to educating and engaging with the masses. Thousands have come to hear our message and embrace our cause.

President Obama’s visit to Malaysia this weekend comes at a pivotal time. It would be an opportune moment to live up to the ideals Obama espoused in his campaign and the early days of his administration. Then, there was hope that U.S. engagement with Muslim countries would be based on mutual respect and mutual interest. Yet as the Arab Spring came and went, hope was eclipsed by disappointment. It is baffling that the United States can talk about a democratic transition in Egypt today as hundreds of innocent people are sentenced to death while thousands languish in prison.

In Malaysia, there is an opportunity to take a different path.

Our agenda for Malaysia is straightforward. We envision a nation that enforces the rule of law; a country where judges are independent of executive influence, the media are free and the election commission conducts its affairs unfettered by the dictates of the ruling party. We would fight corruption by guaranteeing the independence of the Anticorruption Commission and removing the laws that make government procurements opaque.

In our Malaysia, all media would be independent and free to shine sunlight on excesses of power, be they in government or the private sector. Most certainly we would repeal draconian laws, such as the Sedition Act, so they cannot be used to muzzle political opponents. In our pursuit of a robust and dynamic economy, social justice principles would prevail over unfettered accumulation of wealth by the rich and powerful. Rent-seeking projects would no longer be allowed to be masqueraded as infrastructure spending, nor would the misappropriation of state funds be permitted under the guise of subsidy cuts while higher and higher taxes are foisted on the middle and lower classes to pay the bills.

In tending to the needs of all races, the Pakatan Rakyat envisions a pluralistic society in which moderate Islam coexists harmoniously with other faiths whose espousal is a fundamental liberty under the federal constitution. It would be a far cry from the diabolical politics of the ruling party, which purveys to the Western world its facade of moderation in religious and race relations while pursuing a policy of race baiting and incitement to religious hatred — abuses widely documented by groups including Suaram and Human Rights Watch. With the print and electronic media under the regime’s full control, rumors are spread about an imminent government takeover by Christians, threats of violence are hurled against non-Muslims, Bibles are seized and bishops get hauled in by the police for interrogation. My address to a congregation in a Catholic church one Sunday was condemned as an act of apostasy.

No doubt Malaysia’s media will shower praises on the regime in the wake of Obama’s visit. Malaysia has descended to 145th place on the Reporters Without Borders index of media freedom, so it takes some effort for Malaysians to get the truth. And the truth is that the U.S. pivot to Asia should not merely be about trade and investment or the creation of alliances of the world’s great powers, important as these goals may be. The values of freedom and democracy must remain paramount, and even if Wilsonian idealism appears to be on the wane, Jeffersonian ideals still resonate with the people in this part of the world.

Malaysia’s political backslide

By Editorial Board 

SEVERAL YEARS ago it appeared that Malaysia, which has been ruled by the same party since it achieved independence in 1957, might be on the verge of a soft transition to democracy. Prime Minister Najib Razak promised to dismantle preferences favoring ethnic Malays, reduce police powers, repeal a repressive anti-sedition law and promote free and fair elections. He mostly stayed on course until 2013, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim led a multiethnic coalition to a popular-vote victory in national elections. The ruling United Malays National Organization clung to power only because of the gerrymandering of parliamentary seats.

Mr. Najib has since launched a campaign aimed at crippling the opposition — a crackdown that reached its peak Tuesday with the sentencing of Mr. Anwar to five years in prison. It was a major regression for a country that values its strategic partnership with the United States, and it was the continuation of a bad trend in Southeast Asia, following the military coup that toppled Thailand’s democratic government last year.

The criminal case used to imprison Mr. Anwar, who has been one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in the Muslim world, was as morally reprehensible as it was farcical. The opposition leader was charged with sodomy, which is still illegal in Malaysia but is rarely prosecuted. The 67-year-old married grandfather denied the charge, and the case against him was thin enough to be dismissed by a court in 2012. That Mr. Najib’s government managed to have that decision reversed by an appeals court and upheld by the Supreme Court demonstrated only that Malaysia still lacks an independent judiciary.

Mr. Najib has not limited his repression to Mr. Anwar. In recent months, dozens of activists have been charged under the same anti-sedition law that the prime minister promised to repeal. On Tuesday, police detained a famous cartoonist and announced that they were investigating two opposition members of Parliament because of tweets protesting Mr. Anwar’s conviction.

At the United Nations in September, President Obama decried such “relentless crackdowns” and promised “an even stronger campaign to defend democracy.” Sadly, the administration’s response to the Anwar conviction suggests the opposite. While saying that the United States was “deeply disappointed ” by the verdict and that it raised “serious concerns about rule of law,” a White House statement undercut those sentiments by affirming that “we remain committed to expanding our cooperation on shared economic and security challenges” with Malaysia.

Mr. Najib, who was invited to play golf with Mr. Obama in December, is unlikely to take the president’s “campaign to defend democracy” seriously unless it consists of more than such carefully balanced statements. One way to send a message would be to withhold the invitation to visit Washington that the prime minister is hoping for this year. A leader who has just jailed his main opponent should not be received at the White House.