Nice to be part of a big thing like GE14

It’s nice to be part of a good, big thing like the 14th general elections (GE14)! Malaysians from all walks of life are rallying together to get people to vote, sign up as polling and counting agents (paca), provide transport and sponsor transport to hometowns so that every Malaysian voter will exercise his and her right to vote.

WhatsApp groups are also very active. My WhatsApp groups are often hitting up with all sorts of messages and videos encouraging people to vote for change. Some analysts say that it’s the WhatsApp that is the main media that is swinging votes to the opposition since the mainstream media are totally serving their ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) masters.

What is new with WhatsApp messages this time around is that I am getting opinion pieces by Malays who are predicting a Malay tsunami in voting for the opposition’s Pakatan Harapan (PH).

At this juncture, all the analyses and opinion pieces are conjecture. Until the votes are counted, we won’t know for sure what the people want. Trends, however, seem to indicate that BN’s ruling Malay party, Umno, is losing support from its traditional rural base. A very hopeful PH is hoping to win at least 100 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia to form a government by inviting the East Malaysian parties to join them.

People are hopeful and giving their very best to ensure change.

I also received a few pictures on What’sApp on the dismal attendance at BN functions in Putrajaya and Teluk Intan. Though I don’t want BN to win, I was sad to see people abandoning the party that had led this nation to Merdeka. Sad it has come to this: People turning their backs on a once-great party. The only reason for this is this: corruption.

The new hope is to set this nation free from the clutches of corruption and on the road to an honest, hard-working recovery that will ensure equitable distribution of wealth while recognizing merit.

Should PH win, I hope there’ll be no witchhunt. Whether Umno or BN or PH supporters, we are all Malaysians and should be treated with utmost respect. If there’s evidence of wrongdoing, take the people involved to court and let the law take its course. But, Umno supporters should not be penalised. They should be helped like every other citizen of this country.

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Half of the miracle of a PH win is in East Malaysian hands

In a month’s time, we’ll know which government will lead us in the next five years. We are all familiar with the issues and the tug-of-war between the two coalitions, Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH). Both sides have the leadership and abilities to lead, but, in this 14 general elections (GE14) our choice of government must be based on the issues beyond what is publicly discussed.

The real issues are what are not openly talked about but which most of us know about. It goes beyond corruption, scandals, lack of integrity and transparency, poor management of resources, questionable alliances and such. The question we need to ask is which of the two coalitions can lead us out of the forces that have locked this government in the stranglehold we have been witnessing in the current administration.

The BN has vested interests which it needs to protect at all cost. The PH has none, except for the desire to establish a new government which will reform. So, to me, the choice is clear.

The urban voters, too, are clear about their choice. We know change is necessary to enable us to move forward as a democratic nation. The rural voters, however, tend to be loyal to the hand that feeds them. It may be easy for the BN to reach them to assure them that their rice bowl is guaranteed. On the other hand, it will be difficult for PH to convince the rural voter that his/her rice bowl is also guaranteed.

If the large turnout at Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) is anything to go by, it would seem that some of Umno’s (leading Malay party in BN) traditional rural support has swung over to PH. Only the elections will tell with certainty if this has happened. The elections too will tell if this support was sufficient to give PH a simple majority.

If it does, that means half the miracle has happened now and the other half is waiting to happen! The other half miracle is held in the hands of the East Malaysians. They are the safe deposit states that the BN has depended on. In the GE14, East Malaysians need to realise that they have to stand in solidarity with the majority of West Malaysians and vote for change.

That’s a tall order simply because it is difficult for the PH — due to its lack of resources and the fact that East Malaysian, particularly the Sarawak, constituencies are large with a scattered population — to reach to bring its message of change to them on the campaign trail.

That’s why the rest of us have to reach out to our East Malaysian contacts to help convince them of the need to vote for change this time around. I’m sure highly sensitized urban voters are doing everything we can to make a difference in the GE14. We need to keep on doing it and reaching out to East Malaysian voters to show that their votes will change the destiny of this nation.

Sabah has 25 and Sarawak 31 parliamentary seats. If even a third of these constituencies fall to PH, the miracle would happen. PH would win with a comfortable majority.

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Calling out to the more than 14m eligible to vote: Please vote!

Coming back from my Turkey holiday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that more and more people seem to be getting involved in the run-up to the 14th general election (GE14). I hope it is a sign that fence sitters are making a stand and, I hope, it is for change.

Messages from hitherto very quiet people have been flying about in cyberspace and urging others to get involved in counting votes or to vote. The usual media sources, of course, have always been active in giving much space to pre-election stories.

It’s nice to see that now others are getting involved in the public discussion. In GE13, about 2 million registered voters didn’t vote although the last general election showed the highest voter turnout of about 80% in any election so far.

According to today’s NST, there are 14,806,185 registered voters under the Election Commission who will be eligible to vote. This is more than the 13.3 million registered voters in the last general election.

I’m hoping that voter turnout will be even higher in GE14. The people must show that they are not going to sit around apathetically and let others decide the destiny of this country. Everyone who can vote must vote and state clearly they want change.

If you are a registered voter, I urge you NOT to pass up this only opportunity we have now for a change for a better government.  The opportunity we have in GE14 will not come again. Let’s vote and make it count for a better Malaysia.

Let’s get every voter to exercise his or her suffrage. Call, email or sms them and even take them to the voting centres! Talk to them. Let’s all vote for a better Malaysia!

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Early Christianity in modern Muslim Turkey

Drinking from the fountain at the Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus (Pic A)

The citadels where the early Christians built their churches (Pic B).

That’s me emerging from one of the narrow corridors in an underground shelter that the early Christians used to hide from marauding raiders.

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day when Christians all over the world remember the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. It was his final act of humanity while on planet Earth. It means that he lived the human existence to its natural end. When we remember his crucifixion we are reminded that he suffered mortality like all of us do and that we can now relate to him as a human being.

Easter, which we Christians celebrate on the Sunday following Good Friday is when we celebrate His entire existence because He rose from the dead. A man can’t do that but God can and He did.  His resurrection is the hope on which all of Christianity is built. It’s the hope that in the man and God, Jesus Christ, we can live out our mortality by faith in Him who can help us every day and raise us up to Him after death. That’s what Christians mean by “having eternal life”.

It’s a faith that has survived for more than 2000 years. Going on the Turkey tour two weeks ago we visited a couple of places where the early Christians lived. The country was then known as Asia Minor and covers most of present-day Turkey.

Two places particularly caught my attention. The first was in Selcuk, the Turkish name for Ephesus. It is a poor area of Turkish peasants who make a living selling souvenirs to tourists who come to see a well-preserved underground shelter that the early Christians took refuge in from marauding raiders.

It amazes me that faith could drive people to tolerate such extreme deprivations. The early Christians hid in these small underground caves linked by low narrow corridors. I would have died of claustrophobia! But they survived! And faith kept going!

The other place was in the Goreme National Park in Cappodacia. It’s a huge beautiful area of volcanic formations (no volcanic activity in Turkey now) known as citadels. They are mounds of volcanic rock in which the early Christians built their churches. There are many such mounds in the park. The citadels have holes for windows (see Pic B).

Many of the citadels are empty of relics except for one which preserved some of the relics that the early Christians used. I don’t have any pic of that because its entrance was a bit too high for me.

The early Christians also buried their dead in these churches for fear that their enemies and raiders would destroy the bodies which would mean that they won’t have their bodies when they rose again.

This was a fear they had. The Biblical truth is that our bodies when we rise after death will take on different forms.

Another stop on the tour that shows Turkey’s Christian past is the Virgin Mary’s house, also in Ephesus. It’s a small cottage surrounded by towering trees through which the wind blows rustling the leaves. It’s a beautiful place, quiet and serene. We can’t take pictures in the cottage but outside there’s a fountain with water that has been running since the time Mary lived there. That’s me drinking from the fountain (Pic A).

Turkey is full of history and there are many excavated sites where ancient structures have been unearthed and preserved. It’s a beautiful country with snow-capped mountains and resource-rich agricultural lowlands. It enjoys a Mediterranean climate and Turkish oranges are one of the best I’ve tasted! It’s sweet with just a slight tinge of tanginess.

Turkey’s modern history is also very interesting. It’s the only Muslim nation in the world which is secular. It was established as a republic after its founder Mustafar Kemal Ataturk fought against the sultanate of the Ottoman empire and won. He proceeded to introduce legislation to ensure separation of state from religion. As a result, he made it a law that Turkish women would not be forced to wear the hijab. The majority of modern-day Turkish women don’t wear the hijab.

He also made it law that Turks could only have one spouse. When it comes to fasting and other religious practices, no one is forced. Turks can marry anyone from any religion and that person is not forced to convert. Religion is regarded as a personal matter and left to the individual to choose.

The current government is backed by religious factions and they want to bring back some of the religious practices that Ataturk set aside to make the government secular. That tension between secular and religious Muslims continues.

But, when you walk the streets of Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople, the capital of the Roman/Byzantine empire and later the Ottoman empire) and the current capital, Ankara, you see modern cities and modern people in modern attire. Less than 10% wear Islamic-type clothes.

It tells you that Islam can be a modern-day religion, if its adherents choose it to be so.

Modest belly dancing at a Turkish restaurant

There’s Sufi Islam in Turkey. Here’s a dance as they pray.

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Hello, from Turkey!

Yes, I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey last Friday, for an eight-day vacation! I took a quick tour of this great city on the European continent before heading for the Asian side of Turkey across the Sea of Marwara.

Turkey straddles both the European and Asian continents. Istanbul is on the European side. So far I have visited Canakkale and Pamukkale on the Asian side. Really interesting!

Visiting Cappadocia and then on to Ankara and back to Istanbul and leave on Friday.

So much of history in Turkey! Will write more with pix when I get back!

Finally got WiFi! So can communicate!


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Let’s make women’s rights personal

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. After all these decades, we still have a special day to celebrate womanhood. Men don’t have a special day for themselves, so, why do women have a day designated for them?

It may be a sign that women are still not equals as a person. I don’t want to say we should be equal as men, then, I would be measuring our equality to the standard men have set for themselves. No, women should be equals as all human beings, whatever their race, religion, culture, social, economic or educational status, income category, particular background or lifestyle choices, are equals and should be treated as such.

We should all be equally treated as people deserving recognition of our human or citizenship rights. No one should be discriminated against for whatever reason.

This does not mean that we can justify immoral choices in the guise of human rights. For example, if a person chooses to enjoy sex with as many partners as he or she can get without having to settle down with any, it is still immoral to us. But, that doesn’t mean we should treat him or her any less.

We may not agree with his or her lifestyle choices but we should support every effort to ensure that that person is not deprived of his or her human rights. That person should be allowed to vote, to receive all the benefits due to him or her as a citizen, to be protected by law and allowed to live as he or she wants to. If it’s a moral issue, family members, relatives and friends can advise him on the best course of action to take. But, that’s a personal matter.

As a matter public interest that person has the right to choose the way to live as long as it is legal. If illegal, the law will take its course.

It is encouraging to note that governments, including Malaysia, are taking steps to ensure gender equality. They are introducing laws to prevent discrimination against women.

The recent revelations of sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein highlight the price women have to pay to get a break in filmdom. I believe such news have more impact in raising awareness of the obstacles women face in pursuing their interests than laws and women rights groups.

More such news will keep men alert on good behaviour and encourage women not to submit to the generally accepted practice of playing ball with men to get ahead.

Essentially, a woman’s liberation is in her hands — not in some non-government organisation fighting for women’s causes even if it’s legitimate, and, certainly, not with the government. The latter two can help in creating an environment for women to progress, but women ourselves must assume responsibilities for our actions and make the fight personal to realise our potential and break the barriers limiting us.

We need to find it within us to defy the odds. That would require some sacrifices and thick-skinned behaviour! It involves digging in our heels and facing the music! If we fail to get what we want, we have the dignity of losing with our head held high. There are other opportunities we can follow, another time.

We need to weigh our options and choose the course of action where we can best live with ourselves with self-respect.

So, women, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, hurrah for taking control of your lives, and making choices that will be an example for more women to follow!

Let’s all be comfortable in our skin!

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Move on to live and heal

As I grow older, I realise that there are even more things I don’t know anything about! When I was younger I was pretty clear about the issues I confronted. Growing older, however, and, perhaps, knowing more I seem to know even less!

There are so many things I don’t know: why things happened they way they did; why some suffer more than others; why there’s so much of pain and suffering; why some  of that pain and anguish is needless; why it couldn’t have been avoided; why the shame is so unbearable; why there’s no escape, etc, etc, etc…. .

I don’t know the answers. But, one thing I do know. No matter what the pain, suffering, struggle or shame and no matter how deep it is, we need to move on.

Moving on is the way out. We need to leave the negativity behind and every day take a step or more to move forwards. While watching an episode of the TV show Designated Survivor today, I heard a phrase which expresses my point clearly. The lead star — the US president — is in counselling to deal with the grief of the loss of his wife in an accident. The counsellor observes that staying with his grief is like treading water.

In a moment of realisation, the president says, “You know what happens when you tread water for long? (Heavy pause) You drown.” (I often get pearls of wisdom from TV scripts!)

Taking those first few steps to swim is moving forwards and on. After a while, we realise we have been swimming in the place where we used to get stuck in and the memory of it fades away. We heal.

That’s what moving on does: We live and life is a powerful medicine to heal.


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