What’s more important than Anwar’s PD move?

Anwar Ibrahim’s PD move kicked up quite a storm of protest as critics felt a by-election was forced again to fast-track his path to the premiership. Many felt it was undemocratic to let an elected Member of Parliament step down to pave the way for him to get elected.

Anwar’s options were limited. He couldn’t possibly wait for an MP to die to take his place as that would be tasteless and he couldn’t really wait for the next general elections as that would be too long. Hence, it was politically expedient for him — as the elected MP for Port Dickson (PD) Danyal Balagopal Abdullah willingly stepped down — to stand for elections in PD.

But, I hope it would be the last time a by-election is forced because it really disrespects the will of the people. In this case, because the people voted for the coalition rather than the candidate, and considering Anwar’s special case, it can be accepted. But, Anwar’s candidature must be contested to prove he has the support of the people and it falls on the opposition to offer a viable challenge to test it. It is a duty of the opposition to ensure that a potential prime minister has the support of the people he or she may claim to have.

One factor that will be a detriment to Anwar is the fact that the PD move was hatched while many PKR leaders were kept in the dark. This belies a severe rift in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) which is Anwar’s responsibility as party president to resolve. That, however, doesn’t seem to be happening.

Meanwhile, other parties are taking advantage of the lack of unity in PKR to form pacts to push themselves back into government. The guilty party is Umno, shamelessly seeking to make deals with the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) partners as they openly declare their intention to be in government. Umno is said to have approached Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), and had sent out feelers to Anwar.

Some may say it’s Umno’s right to form pacts in order to get back into government. It needs to be noted here that this was the leading party in the former government which was rejected by the people. The people don’t want Umno to be in government. The people voted in the PH so that Umno would be kicked out of government. In other words, the ruling coalition partners would be disrespecting the wishes of the people if any of them form any deal or alliance with Umno.

At all cost, no deal or pact must be made with Umno because it would be opening the door to let in a viral corrupt contagion which would infect the current effort to maintain a clean, corruption-free government. It needs to be reminded that this was the party which stood by silently and pocketed all the money and benefits they could get and did nothing as the nation spiralled downwards in gross mindless mismanagement!

Umno as it is is toxic. Every effort must be made to keep it out of government — until it sheds its billionaire members and a new crop of leaders are raised up who will serve the people on government allocations alone. It has to start by being an effective opposition learning to serve the constituents rather than seeking power and resources for its own benefit. By standing against Anwar in PD, Umno will be sending a clear message to the electorate that it seeks the people’s support to build a base to form a legitimate government in the future rather than circumventing the people to enter government by the back door!

This leads me to the next crucial point. More significant than Anwar’s PD move is the PKR deputy president’s contest. The deputy president will be a potential prime minister after Anwar. Dr M is the incumbent transition PM; Anwar will be the interim PM. My feeling is that Anwar won’t be PM for long, maybe for just a term or two. It is the prime ministers who come after Anwar who need to be picked, groomed and primed for the post now because it is they who will determine if this nation will be propelled forward!

The deputy president’s position will not automatically thrust the candidate into the premiership. The candidate must win elections in a party which has a majority of Malay support. At present, PH has the least of Malay support, only at 25% to 30%. Umno has the most Malay votes at 35% to 40%, followed by PAS with 30% to 33%. (All figures are Merdeka Centre estimates based on GE14 results.)

As long as Malay votes are split three-ways, the wheeling and dealing will continue. Right now Umno is ahead but it doesn’t have East Malaysian bumiputra support or the non-Malay vote, both of which are safely with PH. That configuration may change unless PH succeeds in winning more Malay votes to its side.

For that to happen, PH coalition partners need to set in place leaders who are best able to appeal to the rural Malay voter. PKR members have to keep this factor in mind when electing either Datuk Seri Azmin Ali or Rafizi Ramli as the deputy president. In the current times, that is a priority. When Malay support is secure, candidates with other qualities may become relevant.

When the ruling coalition has a strong Malay base, it will be in a better bargaining position.

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Exercise, set goals, do good, hug and be happy!

A recently published Gallup poll suggests that world happiness levels are at their lowest ebb in over a decade. While the top 10 happiest nations remain more or less the same, the lower ranking countries are more unhappy now than a decade ago.

Finland is the happiest nation, followed by Norway and then Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia at No 10. 

All the top 10 nations scored high values for the six most important variables to support well-being:  income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

The United States, despite its great wealth, fell four spots from last year to No 18. Wealth alone clearly isn’t the criteria for happiness!

The disturbing trend in the Gallup survey was the fact that more people were stressed out and feeling pain, worry, anger and sadness. Gallup surveyed over 154,000 people in 146 countries and said the global mood was at its gloomiest since its first survey in 2006.

The saddest nations are in Africa with the Central African Nation the saddest, followed by Iraq. However, the survey also said that people in wealthier nations were unhappier now than before. It said that more than half the Americans they interviewed were more stressed now than before.

This is a gloomy forecast of the state of humanity! But, someone sent me an anonymous post in a whatsapp group that tells you how to be happy and I must share it here because I think it works!

The gist of the note is that our happiness depends on four hormones: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and how we can raise their levels in our bodies to be happier!

For more endorphins, exercise. For more dopamine, accomplish something like goals, big or small. For more serotonin, do good deeds — give back to your community or nature. For more oxytocin, hug someone or give a warm handshake.

In all of the above, we feel good doing these things because the hormone levels go up. 

It’s a simple solution to being happy! Let’s practise it!

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No point harking back; explore and venture into the new

New Malaysia is hopeful that we won’t go back to the same old same old but past trends are re-emerging which we should be very concerned about and take steps to check.

Firstly, there was the Melayu Bangkit rally held last Saturday to protect “Malay rights, the Malay rulers, and Islam”, which was organised by Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman. These are the same issues that Umno has always raised as rallying points to bring the Malays back to Umno whenever they felt that Malay support was threatened.

Understandably, Umno is worried. According to Merdeka Centre figures, the party got about 35% to 40% of the Malay votes with PAS getting about 30% to 33%. About 25% to 30% of the Malay votes went to Pakatan Harapan (PH). This 30% of Malay support — together with the bumiputra votes from East Malaysia and the non-Malay vote — was sufficient to give PH a simple majority to form the new government. In government, if PH succeeds in helping the rural and lower-income Malays, that 70% support may whittle down, hence the “Malay rights, the Malay rulers, and Islam” clarion calls aimed to resonate with the majority conservative Malays.

This is what Umno politicians have always done: to raise the racist and religious spectres of Malay rights and religion believing these would bring in Malay support at the risk of estranging non-Malays.

However, couldn’t the same thing be achieved by simply offering a better more inclusive alternative? Wouldn’t it have been better if Tajuddin and the Umno leaders who attended the rally had come up with a policy or a course of action to improve the lives of the Malays who support them? And presented it to the government to consider? Wouldn’t that have been more constructive political action?

Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s ongoing elections for the post of deputy president is another example of the same old same old. The two contenders, Economics Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Invoke Malaysia founder and CEO Rafizi Ramli, are engaged in a seemingly vicious battle to win the post. Rafizi has been going on the offensive with Azmin not responding until his one single outburst last week when he referred to Rafizi as the “toddler” when party president Anwar Ibrahim started the path to reforms.

The issue isn’t that they are competing to win; the issue is how they are fighting. Both are capable men with their own strengths. Azmin has strong grassroots support and works well with people while Rafizi is the thinker and the strategist. But their fight seems to be centred on who is more loyal to Anwar.

Anwar is the unopposed PKR president and the next prime minister. That is assured. The deputy president will be next in line to the premiership after Anwar and if PH remains in power. So, should the fight be about Anwar or what each can bring to the table to add to their predecessors’ work to lift the nation through higher stages of development until we reach developed status?

Making the fight over a personality even if he is Anwar is puerile politics. It is what the politicians of the past have always done — attack the opponent to gain political points.

Wouldn’t it have been better if the two candidates simply presented what they would do for the party and the nation if he became the deputy president?

Thirdly, prime ministers-in-waiting should discreetly stay in the background until called upon to take the place of honour — with the incumbent’s blessings. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is known to have a “difficult” relationship with the sultans for his firm stand on their role. A leader who said “No” to China, can easily say “no” to the sultans.

The relationship between Dr M and some sultans are, at best, testy. So, Anwar’s presence at the Sultan of Selangor Cup football game on Aug 25 naturally raised eyebrows. He was seated next to the Sultan which, of course, is the sultan’s prerogative.

The question is should Anwar have accepted the invitation to that place of honour? This is the kind of support-building that took place in the past and should it continue into the future? Perhaps, Anwar was just being nice to respond positively to the Sultan’s invitation and to allay whatever fears there might be about PKR’s support for the Sultan since PKR leads the state government under Dr M’s leadership.

But, should a prime minister-in-waiting have done that? A prime minister must show the people that he or she will uphold national sovereignty at all cost. The previous administration failed to do that, holding itself in debt to foreign nations and others in questionable deals. But, national sovereignty and the attendant qualities of national independence and neutrality are qualities that Dr M has in excess and qualities that subsequent PMs must have! These qualities are prerequisites for any prime minister for it shows that he or she will be beholden to no one — whether it is a foreign nation or institutions such as the royalty — and, therefore, can be trusted with upholding the people’s interests.

This is the one singular quality that a prime minister must prove he or she is committed to because it shows he or she cannot be bought over for whatever reason. This does not mean being antagonistic towards the rulers or foreign nations. It just means that they will be friendly with all but remain neutral and will not enter into any kind of arrangement which puts them in a position where others can call the shots.

In all of the above, the natural tendency was to fall back to the ways of the past. Current leaders and the leaders to come need to start exploring new ways of thinking to address the issues and realities of the day. The only way to stop harking back to the old ways is to think of fresh ways of dealing with current realities. That will be the new Malaysia.

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Selamat Hari Merdeka, Malaysia Baru!

The Malaysian flag is flying high! For the first time in my life, it fills me with great pride to see the Malaysian flag fluttering strongly in the wind on poles and cars and at shops, offices and homes! I, like millions in this country, can identify with it as the one symbol that unites us all. I smile to myself seeing the flag knowing that fellow Malaysians feel the same, simply happy being Malaysian!

May 9, 2018 changed our destiny. In the general elections on that day Malaysians threw out a 61-year-old regime that went corrupt, setting ourselves free to reach out to a better future. We are hopeful, and we pray that our leaders won’t let us down.

It has been a good start with the new government under Pakatan Harapan (PH) but we — the people — must remain vigilant. We must keep watching to ensure that the new leaders fulfill the mandate we gave them. We need to keep speaking to our representatives about our concerns and always at the ballot box.

We trust our leaders and give them a free hand to run the country but we cannot take things for granted and turn a blind eye to misrule. When something is amiss, we need to quickly call attention to it so that wrongs can be righted.

As we enjoy this happy day, may we continue to assume responsibility for this our nation so that we do not lose the gains we received when we gave PH the mandate to rule. May those gains double and treble and much more in the years to come.

So, folks, let’s have a ball being Malaysian!

Happy Merdeka!

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The hungry ghosts at bay …

It’s the time of the Hungry Ghost festival! Not that I am into this sort of thing. But, stories of their mischief make the rounds annually during this festival and I cannot help wondering if there is any truth in them. The stories can be anything from lizards falling on you, butterflies fluttering in and out and food disappearing.

In the mythology, however, these ghosts can’t eat or if they do it would have adverse effects on them. So, I don’t know how food disappears and if there’s any point in offering food to appease them. I suspect people do all these things out of fear of the possibility rather than the truth of their reality.

I’ve one story on the hungry ghosts to tell, anyway. One day last year I was on my weekly exercise walk when I noticed I was the only one in the park. No other human being in sight. I wondered what was going on and I noticed a couple of people waving joss sticks over some food at altars by the grass verge of the road.

I passed by one man who went into his compound after paying his respects. He saw me doing my brisk walking. He smiled and said, cautiously, “Hungry Ghost festival!” I knew what he meant: Be careful.

I don’t know what came over me. Unperturbed, I replied, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen to me!” And, I went on walking and finished my regular eight rounds.

Nothing happened!

Ghosts and spirits may be around but praying to put a hedge around us from them keeps them in their world, never crossing into ours.


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After 100 days, still a long way to go

After 100 days in office, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has received mixed ratings. Some say they did fairly well. Some said they still haven’t fully delivered on their promises. And, some say they could do more.

Personally, I think the PH government did just fine. The biggest benefit they gave the people is the peace, stability and continuity of government. We no longer wake up to a shock at what the government or its leaders did! No more kidnappings and killings in mysterious circumstances or people being blown up in strange circumstances!

No, no! Life is blissfully stress-free where national government, leadership and politics are concerned. I hope I’m not speaking too soon! But, it is nice to wake up to a new day in Malaysia and not think about what the government and its leaders are up to!

The people have placed their trust in the new Cabinet to ensure a corruption-free government and one which will deliver for the good of the people.

Already there are a couple of positive developments such as: a line-up of clean and capable leaders; a resolve to expose 1MDB; abolition of GST and a three-month break before SST is introduced; EPF contributions for housewives; better broadband and Internet services; the abolition of BTN (Biro Tatanegara/The National Civics Bureau).

These are commendable short-term efforts, but, what I am waiting for are the long-term real benefits like a better standard of living for the bottom 40% of the population and — definitely — a better health service so that the majority of Malaysians have access to a high-quality of medical care and to good medicines, free or subsidized at government hospitals.

I am also waiting for reforms to be introduced through the amendments of laws. These will take a much longer time but, I hope, work has already started to realise these objectives.

The ministers may be hampered by a behemoth of a government entrenched by six decades of Umno culture and rule. It will take time to change that mindset but that is also the reason the new ministers were installed — to retrain civil servants to put the people first and get the work done. It will take time but it can be done.

What I would like to see more is the effort to introduce reforms, improve the B40 group and better delivery of health services. The ministers in charge should start work on these and waste no more time so that we see they are working at achieving their goals. That is not very apparent now. If work gets started, it is only a matter of time before we see the results.

Surely, we can expect much more good things to come!

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Don’t build public policy on women’s clothes

I find it extremely disturbing that there still are people in public office who insist on turning women’s clothing into a reason for public policy. I am referring to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof’s recent announcement to introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code for Muslim women in the private sector.

His statement follows the comments of two PAS Members of Parliament in the Dewan Rakyat that the uniforms of Malaysian air stewardesses were more revealing than their American counterparts who they claimed wore only pants (with tops, of course!).

Like Transport Minister Anthony Loke’s rebuttal, “If too sexy, then don’t look!” I add: You are not man enough to control your sexual urges? Why blame women when the men can’t control themselves? And, why must women change to adjust to what the men can’t do? This is not only gross sexism but it is also legitimised injustice!

The stance of such men depicts this underlying medieval perspective that men’s urges are natural and can’t be controlled. Really? What about all those other men for whom this is not an issue? This is just an excuse because some men can’t handle themselves.

Instead of controlling how women should dress, it might be better for these men to learn how to control themselves. Instead of coming up with a dress code for the private sector, Mujahid — since his portfolio is religion — should, perhaps, advise and encourage the spiritual leaders of his religion to teach men how to control their sexual desires.

That would be a better way to deal with this issue rather than introduce a “syariah-compliant” dress code as public policy. He later clarified it wasn’t “syariah-compliant” but just a non-binding dress code “that is cultural and ethically right”. If it’s non-binding, why introduce it?

Is it the government’s business to control the way women dress?

Mujahid latter explained that the dress code was aimed at protecting Muslim women who cover up, from discrimination. Maybe, the saintly Mujahid is unaware of how the world works. Discrimination in myriad ways happens every day. The woman, the coloured person, the poor, the oppressed, the powerless minority, persons of faith, refugees, the “too smart”, and even the rich and the beautiful are discriminated against in some way. That’s the reality of life.

I know of very brilliant and beautiful women who can’t get jobs that match their skills because of the way they look. The reason given why they didn’t get such jobs was: “The men won’t work!” What senseless stupidity is this? Men are driven to distraction by a woman’s looks and, to protect the men, she doesn’t get a job of her choice?

Well, that’s how the world works and what do such women do? They fend for themselves, finding alternatives so that they can be who they are. They don’t go scrambling to the men-led government to come up with a code of behaviour for men (which I, nevertheless, will strongly support!) in the workplace! Anti-sexual harassment laws, however, are the exception because it protects all women, not just a few!

Women who cover up should do likewise. They shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently! They should just do what the rest of us have always been doing: find a way to make the best choices we can live with.

Mujahid needs to understand that a dress code will limit the rights of others. He would be instituting a public policy that protects only a minority but at the expense of the majority. Government policies must protect and benefit everyone, not just a few.

Besides, why this obsession over women’s clothes when there are other more urgent issues to address, such as MPs using foul language in the Dewan Rakyat? When the MP for Kinabatangan Bung Moktar uttered the “f” word in the Dewan Rakyat, which he retracted at the request of the Speaker, why wasn’t Mujahid quick to come up with a “syariah-compliant” code on how MPs should speak in Parliament?

Using the “f” word may be a very masculine way to dismiss your opponent, but it is also the rudest way to do so. In Parliament, it was crass behaviour in plain sight. The whole country now knows what kind of person Bung Moktar is. That might backfire on him. It was unbecoming behaviour in any circumstance. So, why wasn’t there a call for a code on how men should talk?

This is gender discrimination. The men are not called out but the women are! Mujahid is now in government and he must be seen as being professional and neutral and serving all Malaysians not just the religious few.

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