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Unity: Moving Forward

Posted: 31 May 2013 12:05 PM PDT 

When political polarisation conceals deeper ethnic-cum-religious polarisation, it is important to create opportunities for citizens with divergent ethnic perspectives to meet and share their innermost feelings in an atmosphere that allows for honest, sober reflection. 

Chandra Muzaffar

One of the most positive developments in the wake of the 13th General Election is the willingness of a number of Ministers in the Federal Cabinet to invite Opposition politicians to join them in policy formulation and planning at the ministerial level.

Hopefully, cooperation of this sort --- if it works out --- will reduce the antagonism and animosity between the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat which has poisoned the political atmosphere in the last five years or so. Adversarial politics upon which our political system is built often undermines the etiquette and respect that should govern relations between actors with different perspectives on society.

If the Federal Government and the Federal Opposition demonstrate that they can work together on certain matters, the Centre and the Opposition states should also aim to achieve a higher level of understanding especially on issues that have divided them in the recent past. Since there is always the possibility of a State and the Centre being ruled by different political parties, it is imperative that the rulers at both levels transcend partisan loyalties and focus upon the well-being of the people. Opposition leaders at the State level should perhaps initiate moves in that direction, since some Federal Ministers have already reached out to the Opposition.  

In the spirit of reaching out to each other, the BN and the PR should also give serious attention to a proposal that has re-emerged in the post-election scenario.

I had first mooted the idea of a Consultative Council on National Unity in 1987 when I was heading a local NGO. Later, when I joined the Opposition, then known as Barisan Alternatif (BA), I revived the proposal and developed it further. The BA accepted it and the concept of a Majlis Perundingan Perpaduan Nasional (MPPN) was presented to the public at a media conference on the 2nd of April 2001.   

I had suggested then --- and I remain convinced --- that the MPPN should be established through an Act of Parliament. It would be independent of the Executive and would be answerable to Parliament to which it would submit half-yearly reports to be debated by both the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara. These reports would also contain recommendations which if adopted by Parliament would be implemented by the Executive.

Since the proposed MPPN would be answerable to Parliament, its members would also be appointed by the same body. What is envisaged is a membership of about 40 to 50 persons comprising representatives of citizens' groups and individuals who have researched and written on ethnic relations in Malaysia. The membership should reflect the wide spectrum of ethnic concerns that characterise our society and should be as inclusive as possible. Political parties and serving politicians will not be part of the MPPN. This is to ensure that the consultative council will not be subjected to the pulls and pressures of partisan politics. It will also help to elevate issues pertaining to national unity above politics which in some ways has been a bane to the quest for national unity.

The MPPN would meet behind closed doors. There would be no media coverage of its deliberations. The media and the public would have access to its work through its half-yearly reports presented to Parliament. It is through Parliament that the MPPN would be accountable to the people.

It is crucial that a platform like MPPN be established expeditiously, given the situation we are in. When political polarisation conceals deeper ethnic-cum-religious polarisation, it is important to create opportunities for citizens with divergent ethnic perspectives to meet and share their innermost feelings in an atmosphere that allows for honest, sober reflection. If anything, the 13th General Election and its outcome has revealed that a substantial segment of the Malay and Chinese populace subscribes to notions of the character and identity of the Malaysian nation which are diametrically different. It is partly because many Malays felt in the week leading to the polls that the idea of the nation that they were comfortable with was being challenged by a view of Malaysia that ignored its historical foundation that they rallied around UMNO. The election also showed how 'equality' and 'justice' are increasingly seen through a communal prism that has little or no empathy for the other and how it understands its own situation.   The impact of young voters who mirror some of these communal tendencies and yet are different in their political orientation from the older generation is yet another development that merits serious thought. Add to this the role of the new media in fostering and reinforcing both communal and non-communal attitudes. Among these attitudes are those related to religion and its role in the public sphere which in the election generated responses from a segment of both the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.

What this shows is that there are issues of great magnitude that should be addressed outside the arena of electoral politics through sincere and continuous engagement and interaction with the diverse citizens' groups that constitute our multi-ethnic nation. Hence the case for MPPN.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Yayasan 1Malaysia.



Why not a "4 heads roll in 1" rally

Posted: 31 May 2013 11:52 AM PDT 

Holding more rallies is a great way to empower the masses and encourage the growth of the people's movement in shaping a healthy democracy. As an overall strategy to win the hearts and minds of the other 48 percent who voted for the BN, it might not be a good idea.

Kuo Yong Kooi 

The opposition has wowed to continue with more Blackout 505 rallies that focus on making 'three key demands'. They are; the top heads of the Election Commission (EC) to resign from their posts; for fresh elections to be conducted in 30 parliamentary seats; and to postpone any amendment to the election law and the constituency re delineation exercise.

Holding more rallies is a great way to empower the masses and encourage the growth of the people's movement in shaping a healthy democracy. As an overall strategy to win the hearts and minds of the other 48 percent who voted for the BN, it might not be a good idea.

The pro-Umno media have been creating the perception that the opposition under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim are sore losers, "crying over spilt milk" and not willing to move on for the good of the nation. The arguments they put forward, like the opposition have accepted the results of the three states that they have won, but disputed the others that they have lost; and the Blackout 505 rallies have to end soon for the nation to move on. 

These are reasonable points of argument in the eyes of those who voted for BN.

Art Harun pointed out another valid argument that the 'gerrymandering' was never an issue at all and Pakatan never challenged the legality of the delineation prior to the 2008 elections in his article 'Is BN a validly elected government?
Within the opposition ranks there are also dissenters for more rallies. The salient point that the opposition must consider is that will this 'more rallies strategy to highlight the fraudulent GE13 adding the latest three point demands' be able to win the hearts and minds of the other 48 percent who voted for BN?

If it doesn't, it will only serve to divide our nation further and intensifies the current stalemate. Bear in mind we might also lose more Pakatan supporters along the way as people might be 'rally fatigued' and bored with the same points of argument in all the Blackout 505 rallies. The reality is we can never replicate the initial Blackout 505 rally at the Kelana Jaya stadium on May 8. Any further rallies will only draw smaller crowds and dampen more spirits or hopes for change.

Hishamuddin Rais and Anything But Umno (ABU) head Haris Ibrahim have always pointed out that 'Pilihan Jalan Raya' is the only way to change the government. If we are prepared to take the path of more rallies, we might as well go all the way. 

Asking the EC to resign is not all the way. Asking the inspector-general of police (IGP), attorney-general (AG) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) head to resign to me is a more 'wholistic' approach to this problem.

We are not asking for the toppling of the current 'so-called' legitimately elected government. We are only asking for the installation of neutral/independent or non-partisan heads of these four crucial government departments so that they can facilitate and mitigate our current 'stalemate' situation.

The point that can gain universal approval is that if the police are charging the opposition figures under the Sedition Act, they also need to charge the head of Utusan Malaysia, Ibrahim Ali, Zul Noordin, Mahathir Mohamad and others that have made seditious statements, too, as Haris Ibrahim had said after he was released and charged.

Cutting four carrots instead of one
If we are to hold more rallies and make great strife to cut one carrot (the EC chiefs' resignation), we might as well cut the other three carrots along the way (which is the IGP, AG and head of the MACC's resignations). Changing the EC head might give us hope of a free and fair election in five years time, but what about remedies for now till before GE14?

We were told that the courts might take up to six months to settle all the petitions that the opposition had filed on the 13th general election. The second of the three-point demand for fresh elections to be conducted in 30 parliamentary seats is a waste of 'chi' like shouting slogans in a rally when the courts have not even started to look at the petitions filed. 

We cannot file petitions and at the same time ask for fresh elections on the 30 parliamentary seats. The settlement of the petitions filed in court precedes the demand for a fresh election.

Let's say hypothetically we managed to pressure the Najib Abdul Razak administration to change the heads of the EC through the rallies in the near future. That does not weed out the same 'shifty clown politicians' that have been running wild on the floors of our parliament for the last three or four decades. 

On the other hand if we managed to push for an independent AG, IGP and head of MACC after holding a series of rallies, we might have a total new breed of politicians on the floors of our parliament after GE14. Those 'shifty' politicians who are corrupt would have either ended up in jail or migrated overseas with our nation's loot long before the next general election commences.

Cutting four carrots with one knife will most likely not dampen the spirits of the future rally-goers. It might also attract more supporters from the other 48 percent who voted for BN. More than 51 percent of the electorate believed that Pakatan can be a more accountable and transparent administration. Over 48 percent believed otherwise. The majority would like a more transparent, accountable and independent government departments.

If the rally themes focus only on electioneering and post GE13 matters, the onus seems to be on the Pakatan side to stop the rallies so that our country can move on. Furthermore, it looks like Pakatan is only concerned with winning elections. That is a psychological negative. However if the rallies focus on changing the heads of EC, IGP, MACC and AG, the onus is on the Umno side to change this so that our country can move on. After all 51% of the rakyat wanted something positive changed here. 
We must note that not all who voted against BN like Pakatan. It is because they hate Umno for stifling our democracy through installing pro-Umno IGPs, AGs, and heads of the EC and MACC that landed our nation in this current state. Some voted for PSM, Star and many other independent candidates because they were thumbing their noses at the arrogance of the Pakatan leaders that had by-passed their years of hard and arduous grassroots work.

Further rallies that demand the new appointments of independent or non-partisan 'heads' of these crucial four government departments is a 'unifying' theme. Don't you agree?

Malaysians have tried beverages like '3-in-1' instant coffee mix and Kopi Jantan (coffee + tongkat Ali). Why not try out a new rally theme like '4-heads-rolling-in-1 rally'?


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