When Malays are finally getting bolder and louder Najib start to shiver


“The next general election determines the survival of the Malays.”

What PM Najib said in his hometown Pekan did sound a little alarming, but a little prudent thinking should reveal the fact that things need not always work this way.

The Malays have flourished in this land for thousands of years, and have for at least the past 500 years consolidated their culture and political influences.

For example, Najib’s forefathers were Bugis nobles who sailed across the seas from Celebes to settle in Pekan to become local administrators.

From Pekan to Putrajaya, the family’s history over the past few centuries epitomises the continued expansion and penetration of the power of the Malay race

There is a marked increase in our abilities to express, rebuke and redress, even as opposing forces work harder to derail such efforts. And no, this is not peculiar to the urban and suburban denizens, or limited to social networking sites, these traits have stretched to the badlands and lustrous plains alike. Of course, these efforts can be termed rudimentary, but at least it is a start and with concentration and time, one hopes that such actions bear the necessary fruits. It is also premature to celebrate; we have miles to go before we sleep.

But, the events in the last few weeks have been testimony to the amplification of the weakest voices even as very limited media attention came its way.

Will that age-old forte be obliterated overnight just by an election? Unimaginable, I would say.

Democracy works around the head count, and power is determined through quantitative supremacy. This, coupled with a decisive constitutional shield, should give every Malay peace of mind and allow them to be completely reassured.

Najib’s statement could best be interpreted as an election discourse engineered to create a sense of insecurity among the Malays and divert their ballots in favour of the ruling coalition.

This is, anyway, a badly outdated trick.

In no way will America’s Republican candidate say, “The next presidential election shall determine the survival of White Americans. If you don’t support the Republican or Mitt Romney, the destiny of White Americans will be at stake!”

Such a trick won’t sell among overwhelming majority of White Americans who do not believe their common destiny is in the hands of a single political party, while non-Whites will feel sidelined and alienated.

Of course, this thing is not going to happen any time in the United States; neither is Romney willing to reduce himself or his party to a narrow-minded outfit serving only one particular community. There is no place for such nonsense in pluralistic America.

Similarly, as Malaysia is gearing towards greater openness and diversity, such senseless election discourse will not be allowed to take root.

The survival of a race will not depend on a single political party nor the survival of a political party on a single ethnic group.

This is a political reality. A political ideal.

The survival of a race lies with its own determination and competitiveness. A people who is diligent and strong-willed will thrive anywhere under the sun.

A political party can come and go; none is as indispensable as to entail the survival of the entire community.

Jewish Americans do not need an ethnic party to safeguard their existence. They prosper on their own wisdom and hard work.

The survival of a political party lies with its inclusivity, not exclusivity. A party thrives on its superior policies and administrative capabilities, not its ethnicity.

A normal and progressive country is one where all its peoples will enjoy the prosperity, progress and freedom of that country, something not reserved for any particular community.

As such, political leaders must be magnanimous enough to generously accommodate all peoples. Both the BN and Pakatan Rakyat must position themselves as parties that serve the nation in the interest of all.

Those in power have no choice but to listen to the loud Malay voice even as they wish for it to remain feeble and make endless attempts to drown our voices with their arrogance and blustering. Your voice and your opinion is yours alone and nobody can quell it and especially when it is synchronized collectively and peacefully with those other voices which have the best interests of this country at heart. When you notice something amiss, raise your voice and shun the BERSIH attitude, this bERSIh is the root cause for the common man’s life to be valued as ‘cheap’. We have but ourselves to blame. However, when protests turn violent and when damage to people and property are caused as was the case in AMBIGA and even more recently at suaram,

Amid swirling speculation of high-level political intrigue within Malaysia’s ruling Umno party, as well as accusations Prime Minister Najib Razak was taking ‘revenge’ against SUARAM for initiating the Scorpenes corruption trial in Paris, the Malaysian leader is likely to earn himself another black eye when his administration brings charges against the country’s largest NGO later this week.

“BN just put another nail to its coffin by charging SUARAM. Making international news for all the wrong reasons,” DAP lawmaker Hannah Yeoh, the assemblywoman for Subang Jaya, said on Twitter.

“The grapevine has it that this action against SUARAM is aimed to embarrass Najib and who would have control over the government agencies and ministries to get them to take action? Can only be some very powerful people in Umno itself, right?” an Umno watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

The announcement by Domestic Trade Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to prosecute SUARAM’s operating entity for “misleading accounts” comes just a day after 56 international NGOs signed a joint statement to protest the heavy-handed move.

But according to Ismail Sabri, there was no malice in the proposed action to be taken by the Companies Commission of Malaysia against Suara Inisiatif within the next 2 days.

“We will take legal action on Suara Inisiatif based on accounts that was reported to us… there are misleading elements in accounts,” Ismail told reporters on Tuesday.

“In one year, we investigate over 200 cases, Suara Inisiatif is one of them… not because we have personal problems with Suara Inisiatif.”

No longer about receiving ‘foreign funding’

Ismail also said the CCM was not bringing charges against Suara Inisiatif for receiving foreign funds. However, the minister declined to reveal the specific clause in the Companies Act 1965 that will be used to bring charges against Suara Inisiatif within the next two days, saying that the Attorney-General will decide on the charge.

Nonetheless, the sudden switch in charge to “misleading accounts” was in itself suspicious, said SUARAM supporters. SUARAM and its premises have been the target of several raids, mostly on the basis that it had allegedly received foreign funding including from billionaire George Soros.

“It is the usual runaround and hypocrisy from the Umno-BN government. The facts are SUARAM took initiative to voice out against purchase of Scorpene submarines. It pointed out the extreme overpricing and warned against kickbacks to Umno leaders including Najib himself,” PKR chief for Rembau division Badrul Hisham Shaharin told Malaysia Chronicle.

“When the Malaysian government refused to investigate, SUARAM went to Paris to complain about DCNS overcharging us for the Scorpenes to compensate for the possible bribes paid to the Umno guys. The French court has deemed there is sufficient evidence to begin an investigative trial and this is now ongoing. Malaysians should thank and honor SUARAM, not charge it for all sorts of ridiculous accusations. This is just like prosecuting Rafizi Ramli for blowing the whistle on the Shahrizat family for the NFC corruption debacle.”

Umno intrigue: Najib a liability?

In 2002, Najib who was then Defense Minister, had hammered through a controversial deal with French naval firm DCS to buy 2 Scorpene submarines for a staggering RM7.3billion despite the ships being unsuitable for the nation’s shallow coastal waters. Najib’s close aide Razak Baginda was accused to taking a 114 million euros or RM570mil kickback for securing the green light from the Malaysian government for the acquisition.

In 2010, a frustrated SUARAM lodged a complaint with the authorities in Paris. If DCNS is found guilty of having corruptly induced Malaysian officials to buy the Scorpenes, it may have to pay compensation to the Malaysian people. Such a verdict would also seal the Malaysian people’s suspicion that their leaders had misbehaved in the Scorpenes deal.

Najib’s political neck is now on the line and with general elections due to be called within the next few months, there is enormous pressure on him to deflect attention from himself and his Umno party.

Najib also faces strong political rivalry including from his own deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and former premier Mahathir Mohamad. There are many who believe that the latest move against SUARAM comes from within Umno, from rivals either wishful of squeezing concessions from him, embarrassing him and even hopeful of ousting him before calling for nationwide polls. There are numerous factions within Umno who see the scandal-tainted Najib as a liability rather than as an asset.

Intertwined with the Scorpenes purchase is the murder of a Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006. She was Baginda’s former mistress and although Najib has denied ever knowing her, she is widely believed to have been his lover as well. It is also believed that she was killed for her knowledge of the Scorpenes deal.

Coincidentally, two of Najib’s former bodyguards were found guilty of shooting her and bombing her body with C4 explosives to prevent identification. But although they are awaiting their hanging sentence, most Malaysians believe they acted on the orders of unidentified “higher-ups”.

Another international debacle

Meanwhile, Ismail insisted that apart from the CCM, five other government agencies are involved in the probe against SUARAM and have agreed to take action based on existing legal provisions. He said the CCM’s scope of investigation was based on five sections in the Companies Act — sections 364 (2), 166A (3), 169 (14), 167 (1), 167 (2), 132 (1).

Whether they realize it or not, Ismail and the Malaysian government might be running foul of United Nations guidelines. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya has underscored the importance to access to funding, including foreign funding, as an inherent element of the right to freedom of association.
Such a stance is reflected in Article 13 of the UN 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders according to which: Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means.

“Firstly, we stress that SUARAM’s registration as a company under the Registrar of Companies, as is the case for many other NGOs in Malaysia, precisely results from the barriers and obstacles in getting registration as a society under the Registrar of Societies. This has been pointed out by numerous human rights reports on Malaysia since the 1990s. The fact that many NGOs in Malaysia have failed to obtain registrations under the Societies Act, and thus had to register as companies, is an indication that the right to freedom of association in the country is severely restricted,” said the 56 NGOs in their joint statement to the Malaysian government.

“Secondly, we strongly condemn the Malaysian government’s attempts to discredit those who receive foreign funds for their human rights work, including insinuations made in the media[1] and in international fora[2] that foreign funded-organizations, including SUARAM, may have hidden political agendas. Such insinuations are in bad faith and irresponsible.”

then such voices need no sympathy or support. Non-violent resistance is civil resistance, everything else is most certainly not, and it remains the most effective weapon, the sooner this is understood, the better. The sooner the voices come together, the better. The sooner the Government hears our collective voices, the better.The voice of the people is the voice of God.

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Should the law on sedition be scrapped – that’s one of the key issues I shall explore today with the Chairman of the Press Council and former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju. Justice Katju, let’s start with Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code which lays down the law on sedition. After its abuse in the Aseem Trivedi case and several other instances, do you think it should be scrapped?

Justice Markandey Katju: I don’t think it should be scrapped. In 1962, in a judgement called Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar, the Supreme Court considerably narrowed down the scope of that provision and said that it will apply only to incitement to violence. So merely criticising the government or bringing the government into disrepute is not sedition.

Karan Thapar: But despite SC ruling, it continues to be misused.

Justice Markandey Katju: See every law can be misused. The law is very clear as in the Kedarnath case. It has stated down that law of sedition will only apply to cases of incitement to violence.

Karan Thapar: Surely the SC has laid down in crystal clear terms how the law should be used. But that’s still being ignored as seen in the Aseem Trivedi case. The law was used against a cartoonist who merely ridiculed the government. Therefore the law of sedition has become a means to silence critics. Surely these are pressing reasons for scrapping the law altogether.

Justice Markandey Katju: No, wrongful arrests is a crime under the Indian Penal Code, Section 342. The policemen should have been booked and put in prison. And politicians who ordered the arrest should have been put on trial too.

Karan Thapar: But the courts did not take that view at all. The lower court admitted the case. The higher court went on to consider the matter of bail. None took the line you are taking.

Justice Markandey Katju: I cannot comment on pending case. It won’t be proper. I am only expressing my personal opinion that it is a crime punishable by law under the IPC to arrest a person who has not committed a crime.

Karan Thapar: The reason why the lower and higher courts take a completely different line is perhaps because the language of Section 124 is so vague that it can be interpreted in a hundred million ways. Let me quote to you. It talks about “bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt”, and “exciting or attempting to excite disaffection”. See these terms can be interpreted in a thousand different ways leading to abuse.

Justice Markandey Katju: In Kedarnath Singh case, the SC was told that this provision should be declared unconstitutional, for being violative of fundamental rights granted by the Constitution.Karan Thapar: That was not done.

Justice Markandey Katju: The SC said that instead of striking it down, we will narrow it down and thereby make it constitutional.

Karan Thapar: But that is not being done. The SC’s narrowing down of the law is not being observed by the government. Aseem Trivedi’s arrest is proof. Arundhati Roy, Binayak Sen, the Kudankulam protests are all proof that the government is not observing the SC’s narrowing down of the law.

Justice Markandey Katju: It can be very well observed. I will tell you something. A police case can be started in two ways: either you file an FIR with the police or you file a criminal complaint before the judicial magistrate. FIR will not work because the police is under the government. But the magistrate is not under the government. He is under the High Court. So file a criminal complaint and make the police and the politicians accused in such cases. They will be put on trial.Karan Thapar: But is it not simpler to strike down a law that is being repetitively misused?

Justice Markandey Katju: I blame the lawyers for all this. Why can’t they advise their clients to file a criminal complaint?

Karan Thapar: Even the judges didn’t follow your line in the Aseem Trivedi case. That’s the sad part.

Justice Markandey Katju: Let me tell the whole nation this. If this thing is repeated and it comes to my knowledge, I am going to institute criminal proceedings and I am going to get the person or the politician or the DGP of police whoever ordered a wrongful arrest, locked up. By now, you must be knowing what kind of a person I am. I will get it done.

Karan Thapar: That is very reassuring. But let me point out one thing to you. The problem is the high-handed attitude of our authorities coupled with their intolerance of criticism, which makes this law on sedition a weapon in their hands which they misused to silence or punish their critics. So why not scrap this law altogether?

Justice Markandey Katju: I have no objection. You put this question to Parliament. I am not Parliament. I cannot remove the law. Parliament does all that.

Karan Thapar: That’s an interesting development in your thinking. You began by saying the law should not be scrapped. Now you say that it can be considered.

Justice Markandey Katju: No I have no problem in scrapping the law. All I said was if the law is not scrapped, there are safeguards.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. But given the way it is abused by our politicians, isn’t it better for the law to be scrapped? Would you accept it?

Justice Markandey Katju: It is better to scrap it, let us agree on that.

Karan Thapar: You have given a very clear answer which is reassuring. First, you have given a very clear commitment that in case such a thing happens in future that a wrongful arrest is made, you yourself will take action against the abusers of the law. Secondly and more importantly, you have agreed that it is better that the law of sedition be scrapped.

Justice Markandey Katju: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: Now, do you believe that Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons – depicting Parliament as a commode, depicting the national emblem with wolves instead of lions or converting ‘Satyamev Jayate’ to ‘Bhrashtamev Jayate’ – should be punished in this way?

Justice Markandey Katju: In criminal law, there is a principle called ‘mens rea’. It means guilty mind. That is an essential ingredient of criminal offence. Now Aseem had no intention of insulting the national emblem or Parliament. He said what most of the people agree with. His intention was to say that these politicians are corrupt, the system has become corrupt. There was no mens rea. He had no guilty mind. There was no intention to denigrate the symbol.

Karan Thapar: So, that second charge against him of denigrating the national emblem is a wrong charge and should be dropped.

Justice Markandey Katju: Absolutely. The intention was not to denigrate the symbol but to say that politicians are corrupt.

Karan Thapar: Now the police commissioner of Bombay has gone on record to say that cartoonists and artists should not cross limits. Is it fitting for the chief of police to speak in such threatening terms?

Justice Markandey Katju: He is talking nonsense. Don’t think that people in high posts are not capable of talking nonsense. There are many such people and he seems to be one of them.

Karan Thapar: So you criticise his statement?

Justice Markandey Katju: Not only criticise, it is utter rubbish. He is talking humbug. He is talking anti-democratic things. He does not deserve to be a police commissioner. In a democracy, people are the rulers. All authorities are the servants of the people, not their masters. The masters have the right to criticise their servants and take them to task. So people have the right to criticise all authorities.

Karan Thapar: So what you are saying is that the police chief should be admonished for making such a statement.

Justice Markandey Katju: He should be sacked. He does not deserve to be a police chief.

Karan Thapar: Let’s widen the discussion. The Indian Express reports that the National Security Council has proposed a new law protecting the privacy of people holding high public office. Do you believe this is necessary or do you believe this is an attempt, perhaps an unjustified attempt, to limit the scrutiny the press would otherwise pay to their lives and behaviour?

Justice Markandey Katju: Please get your fundamentals clear. In a democracy, people are supreme. In a monarchy, it is the king. But in a democracy, this is reversed. So, people have the right to scrutinise government officials.

Karan Thapar: So you mean to say this is a wrong proposal?

Justice Markandey Katju: It is.

Karan Thapar: Would you take a step further, and as the Chairman of the Press Council, say that the media is justified in scrutinizing the private lives of public officers if it affects the national interest?

Justice Markandey Katju: Yes of course. Because once you are in public life, your private life does not remain as private. You must act in accordance with national interest.

Karan Thapar: So this attempt to provide additional protection to the privacy of the high and mighty is actually a form of censorship through the backdoor?

Justice Markandey Katju: Prima facie, this proposal is not democratic. Although it would not be proper for me to comment on it, but it is undemocratic.

Karan Thapar: Justice Katju, the Supreme Court has this week ruled that to ensure justice and fair trial, a court, on a case by case basis, for a limited period, can restrain media coverage of court proceedings. Do you think that’s a correct ruling or a wrong ruling?

Justice Markandey Katju: I think it is correct. It has struck a balance between freedom of the media and also to give protection to the accused.

Karan Thapar: Some people say this law could be tantamount to partial or limited censorship on behalf of the accused and that is not just damaging the freedom of the press but also justice.

Justice Markandey Katju: Even if this ruling had not come, this law was already there. A judge always has the discretion to stop media coverage of a trial if he or she feels that it can affect the outcome of the case or the proceedings themselves.

Karan Thapar: Except that earlier, power was inherent. Now the Chief Justice has made it explicit. Let me tell you why this is a possible cause for concern. One of the great achievements of the media in the BMW hit-and-run case was that it exposed without doubt the collusion between the accused and the prosecution. Had this ruling been in existence at that point of time, it is quite possible that that exposure may never have happened. And therefore, the injustice that was being perpetrated might never have been revealed.

Justice Markandey Katju: See a law can be abused. That is true. The law can be abused in particular cases. But broadly, the judge has the right to control the proceedings in his court. This law was there already. This is necessary to ensure that justice is done.

Karan Thapar: Two very senior SC lawyers have publicly and strongly criticised this SC ruling. Dushyant Dhave called it possibly one of the worst rulings from the Supreme Court. Rajiv Dhawan said this could amount to a form of censorship of the press.

Justice Markandey Katju: I disagree with both of them. This is a very balanced judgement. They have said, only in exceptional circumstances when it is urgently required. Even without this formal ruling, this law was already there. A judge has the authority to control the proceedings in his court to ensure justice.Karan Thapar: Now aside from this ruling, the SC also refused to lay down across-the-board general guidelines for the reporting of the media.

Justice Markandey Katju: I think SC acted correctly. So far as the Press Council is concerned, we already have guidelines. However, they are restricted to print media. So the guidelines are already there…

Karan Thapar: Except that they are voluntary. They can be observed or not observed. Had the SC laid down the guidelines, they would have been much more stringent with provisions for punishment.

Justice Markandey Katju: SC must be battered from both sides. I mean you batter it for what it has done and you batter it for what it has not done, what do you want?
Karan Thapar: That is the power of critical comment. Isn’t it?

Justice Markandey Katju: And I think it is a very balanced judgement. I think Justice Kapadia has written a very balanced judgement.

Karan Thapar: Let me then move on to the very last question. You are a firm believer of a formal system of regulation of the media. Many have turned around and said self-regulation is enough. You say it is not. What would you say to critics who say that formal regulation would impinge upon the freedom of the press?

Justice Markandey Katju: Firstly, there is a distinction between regulation and control. In control, there is no freedom. In regulation, there is freedom but it is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. I am in favour of regulation.

Karan Thapar: Why not self-regulation?

Justice Markandey Katju: Self-regulation is no regulation, it has been proved. In fact, how many licences have till now been cancelled?

Karan Thapar: But is it essential to scrap licences to prove you are effective? Can something be done without going to that extent?

Justice Markandey Katju: How? They just imposed fine on one TV channel of Rajat Sharma.

Karan Thapar: That was sufficient for all others to fall in line thereafter.

Justice Markandey Katju: No no, they went there with folded hands to Rajat Sharma.

Karan Thapar: They specifically deny it.

Justice Markandey Katju: Alright, they may deny that but we know what happened. They withdrew that order. Rajat Sharma came back. Why don’t they televise the proceedings? I am prepared to televise anything.

Karan Thapar: Lots of proceedings aren’t televised but that does not mean they haven’t had effect.

Justice Markandey Katju: What effect have they had? In fact, I had effect. When I started raising my voice, on your show Devil’s Advocate, regarding the broadcasting of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s pregnancy, that is when they issued guidelines for the media. They would not have done it had I not raised the voice.

Karan Thapar: My last question to you – are you therefore saying to me that although the electronic media as a whole is saying that the News Broadcasting Standards Authority is sufficient and effective, you say it is not. And you believe that electronic media should be regulated and from outside.

Justice Markandey Katju: It should be regulated and by an independent statutory authority and not the government. Like the Press Council, see I am only the Chairman, there are 28 members.

Karan Thapar: But you are government-appointed.

Justice Markandey Katju: I am not government-appointed. I was selected by a three-member committee, consisting of the Vice President of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker and one representative of Press Council.

Karan Thapar: We have run out of time, but the bottomline is that despite the criticism you face, you stand by your position that there must be third party regulation of the media.

Justice Markandey Katju: That’s right.

Karan Thapar: Justice Katju, a pleasure talking to you.

Justice Markandey Katju: Thank you.
Is Kejriwal killing his golden goose?

Is Arvind Kejriwal biting off more than he can chew? Is he killing his well-groomed golden goose of anti-corruption movement by asking it to deliver once too often, and each time more spectacularly than the previous? The answer is, sadly, yes.

The anti-corruption campaign gained the edge of a mass movement through an interplay of reasons, primarily the disenchantment of the middle class with corruption.

Interestingly, the movement – more than 15 months after it took the present shape – hasn’t broadened its sweep. Its core remains the same – that of fighting corruption at all levels. But to exploit a single idea repeatedly and extrapolate it to launch a political party, as has been decided by members of the now-disbanded Team Anna, is something that will not stand the electoral-politics scrutiny.

It’s a no-brainer that political parties do not take birth overnight. Be it the Congress, the BJP, the many communist variants or even the fringe parties that seek to keep the remote-control with them in a federal set-up for power bargain – all these parties, and not to speak of obscurantist entities, do have a vision and an appeal beyond the narrow confines of their vote bank.

If you look at the trajectory of Kejriwal soon after Anna Hazare announced the unraveling of the team, he has gone on publicity-seeking overdrive to steal 15 minutes of television-driven activism. The Coalgate has been brewing for some time now; suddenly, Kejriwal announced besieging of the houses of the powers that be; then he was extending support to jailed cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (incidentally, a fellow traveller in his anti-corruption fight), and then flew down to Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam to lend support to those protesting against loading of fuel at the nuclear plant.

Instead of looking at the next big issue to milk it to his advantage, Kejriwal could well do his homework to prepare his team’s agenda on key aspects. Team Anna, even in its robust phase of life, didn’t say much or reveal its take on economy, religion, foreign policy or internal security.

We’re in full agreement that corruption is a cancer that has to be excised out. But any attempt to build a party – be it at the local or national level – has to have a vision that goes beyond a one-strand issue. One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

 

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