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Of negotiations, words and symbols

Posted: 05 Jun 2013 02:52 PM PDT

If we reduced any democracy to its bare bone, indeed, it only consists of two parties, the majority and minority. The majority, due to its numerical superiority — and thus, presumed to be a better choice to administer the state — is supposed to govern the state. And govern the state they should do. Not rule over the minority.

Art Harun, TMI

In "Negotiating in a Multiethnic Society", Umberto Eco posits:

"The fundamental principle that governs — or ought to govern — human affairs, if we wish to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts or pointless utopias, is negotiation. The model of negotiation is an oriental bazaar: the seller asks for ten, you offer three, he says nine, you four, he goes down to eight, you go up to five, and finally you both agree on six. You feel you have won because you went up only three and he came down four, but the seller is equally satisfied because he knows the item is worth five. But, in the end, if you are interested in those goods and he is interested in selling them, you are both pleased."

Eco further said that in matters requiring interpretations, parties must be recognisant of facts in relation to the relevant matters. In his words:

"…..I have always said the opposite, that our interpretations continually beat their heads against the hard core of facts, and the facts (even though often difficult to interpret) are there, solid and aggressive, to challenge untenable interpretations.

"We negotiate because, if everyone stuck to his own interpretations of the facts, we would go on ad infinitum. We negotiate to bring our diverging interpretation to a point of convergence, if only a partial one, that enables us to deal with a Fact — a thing that is there and is difficult to get rid of." (emphasis is mine).

Malaysia is what it is now because of the complete lack of this very element, an element which, to Eco, is or ought to be "a fundamental principle that governs human affairs." And I must state that politicians, leaders, supporters, followers, minions and their cats from both side of the divide have unfortunately developed an inexplicable comatose reaction to this very concept. 

It is as if Malaysia — and by extension, our whole political and societal landscape as well as their penumbrous region — centres only around us and is all about us, us and nobody else but us. 

Either you are with us or you are with them. And if you are with us, you are right. Otherwise, you are wrong. 

In "Democracy in America", Tocqueville pondered:

"A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach?" 

If we reduced any democracy to its bare bone, indeed, it only consists of two parties, the majority and minority. The majority, due to its numerical superiority — and thus, presumed to be a better choice to administer the state — is supposed to govern the state. And govern the state they should do. Not rule over the minority.

It is then an incontrovertible FACT that in such state of political landscape, there are primarily TWO interests, namely, the majority and minority interests. These interests my at certain points be similar or even identical with each other, such as the need to enjoy universal human rights and such. But in matters where they do diverge, a democracy does not entail the majority riding rough shod over the minority. Rather, a successful and meaningful democracy is measured by the ability, willingness and capacity of the majority to make a fair and just administrative and governing decision in the best interest of the state as a whole.

This requires negotiation.

The lack of negotiation, when caused by the ruling party, would turn any so-called democracy into a state of "benevolent authoritarian." For this, we do not need to look far. Just remember the Mahathir era.

On the other hand, a refusal to negotiate, when caused by the opposition who chooses to be the opposite all the time, would turn a democracy into a donkey, the ever abused and misused poor creature with no possibility of progress or even redemption.

The lack of negotiation is compounded by the selective usages of certain words as symbols.



Tanda Putera, Truth and Reconciliation

Posted: 05 Jun 2013 12:53 PM PDT 

Of course it is a film maker's right to make a film. It is her right to freedom of expression. But this film happens to be financed by the official FINAS, ie. with tax payers' money! It is amazing the gall and presumptuousness of UMNO to use public resources to finance projects such as this and even institutions such as UiTM that are blatantly racially discriminatory. 

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

Tanda Putera, the film that was not considered fit for general release (in case there was a backlash from Chinese voters?) before the recent general election is soon to be shown in a cinema near you. Obviously, as the official reasoning probably goes, after the "Chinese tsunami" BN couldn't go any lower in terms of Chinese votes!

The government would be wise to ask: Is it a step forward for Malaysians to gain access to the truth about the May 13 bloodshed and take us on the road to reconciliation as the prime minister had vowed soon after the recent general election? I think not. Does the film call for forgiveness, for generosity of spirit or does it allow old wounds to fester?

Of course it is a film maker's right to make a film. It is her right to freedom of expression. But this film happens to be financed by the official FINAS, ie. with tax payers' money! It is amazing the gall and presumptuousness of UMNO to use public resources to finance projects such as this and even institutions such as UiTM that are blatantly racially discriminatory.

Not surprisingly, the director of TP has fallen in with the "official" version that the May 13 Incident was a "spontaneous outbreak" of violence between "the Malays" and "the Chinese" after "the Malays" were supposedly provoked by "the Chinese". This conclusion is based on interviews with the director of TP in the online media. In this official rendition, the victory parade by the Opposition parties in 1969 is often portrayed as having been conflated with an earlier demonstration by the Labour Party calling for a boycott of the 1969 general election because of the pre-election incarceration of practically all their leaders under the ISA.

The underlying justification for the pogrom is that the Chinese victims got what was coming to them through their "insensitivity" to "Malay feelings". And since then, this fascist threat has been raised every time the non-Malays demand civil rights or openly support the opposition coalition. The recent warning about a "Malay backlash" to the so-called "Chinese tsunami" by a former Appeal Court judge is symptomatic of this fascist mode of thinking.

TRUTH # 1: Were these parades so provocative that they were the trigger for the pogrom? 

From the declassified documents at the British Archives that I researched, they were not. The British were more likely to be pro-Alliance rather than pro-Opposition since after all, the Alliance leaders were the local custodians of British interests in the post-Independent Malaysia. But perhaps the director of TP or UMNO has other more credible evidence from our local sources to prove my evidence wrong. Let a Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) investigate.

TRUTH # 2: Was May 13 in fact orchestrated by those elements within UMNO to overthrow the Tunku and to serve their own agenda as the new ruling class of Malaysia?

This theory is by no means exclusive to me and recently more disaffected UMNO leaders have come out to support this account. Again, a TRC can subpoena many of the actors, such as Dr Mahathir, who are still alive today. Unfortunately, others such as the former Mentri Besar of Selangor, Dato Harun Idris and the former Home Minister, Ghazali Shafie are no longer around but their families and other contemporaries may know the true story.

TRUTH # 3: How many and who were the victims of the May 13 pogrom?

We owe it to those who perished during the pogrom to at least register their unfortunate demise and grant some reparation to their loved ones. Is there any truth to the stories about mass graves in Sungai Buluh? There are other stories about corpses being tarred to conceal their ethnic identities. If these stories are true, their bodies should be exhumed and identified and the cause of death determined. These are facts that a Truth & Reconciliation Commission can uncover about events at that time through listening to testimonies from victims' families and friends; doctors and nurses on duty in the hospitals; Red Cross staff who played an important role then; policemen and soldiers on duty; politicians and journalists who covered the event, and of course our ubiquitous Special Branch. Public institutions such as hospitals, the police and special branch should be made to open their files to the TRC.


May 13 Truth & Reconciliation Commission

If the prime minister is truly interested in reconciliation after the GE13 as he has pledged, releasing TP is unlikely to produce the desired effect. I will proffer an unreserved apology if I am proven wrong…

Compared to South Africa's acrimonious and long saga of apartheid rule, Malaysia's "May 13 Incident" will not incur the time and efforts that South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission went through.

South Africa's TRC was established by the new South African government in 1995 to help bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid. Its emphasis was on getting to the truth and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes. The commission was open to the public and allowed victims or their loved ones to tell their story. These documented accounts then became public record, which helps deter the possibility of any denial of the history.

The South African TRC was set up through the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995 and hearings started in 1996. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation. The TRC had a number of high profile members with moral authority; its chairperson was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The South African TRC heard cases of some twenty thousand people who had suffered gross human rights violations in the period between 1960 and their first democratic election.

Isn't it time for a "May 13 TRC" to finally put to rest the ghost of May 13, to record our real history and to bring about meaningful reconciliation of our peoples once and for all?

The spontaneous response from ex-special branch and other retired personnel as well as victims' family members at the launch of my book in 2007 demonstrates amply that there are many people from all angles, yearning to have their stories told and heard. Can we deny these now aging participants in the actual May 13th tragedy an opportunity to do so?

It is time Malaysians face up to our real history and to understand that:

"If we do not confront the past, we will not be able to move into the future…"

Should we bother trying to change our opponents’ hearts?

Posted: 05 Jun 2013 12:01 PM PDT

When activists' lives are on the line, attention to detail can make the difference between a beating and killing. Here's a sample of racist imagery: "Black men carry razors and knives" and "demonstrators are riff-raff with nothing better to do." Before confrontations the black students dressed in shirts and ties, carried their schoolbooks, and left their knives at home. 

George Lakey, Waging Non-Violence 

The track record of wins for campaigns that use nonviolent direct action continues to grow. More activists around the world at this very moment are planning and carrying out campaigns than anyone can count.

The Global Nonviolent Action Database includes accounts of over 800 campaigns; researchers rate each on a scale of 0 to 10 to estimate its degree of success in achieving its goals. Many of the campaigns score 10, some score 0 and most fall in between. Today's activists are bound to wonder: when campaigns win, how do they do it?

Mechanisms of change

When I tackled this question in graduate school in the 1960s, I noticed that movements' pathways to success are different. So I focused on these differences to identify mechanisms for achieving success.

Gandhi sometimes said that his aim was to convince the opponent that the campaigners were correct. I used Gandhi's word and called that mechanism conversion. One success happened when lower caste Hindus rebelled because they weren't allowed on a temple road used by upper caste Hindus. The dalits were said to make the road unclean simply by using it.

Gandhi encouraged them to take direct action, and they occupied the temple road even when the monsoon flooded the road and they had to stand in water up to their waists. After a year the police took down the barricade preventing the dalits from proceeding on the road. But the campaigners decided to go for conversion, and they continued their vigil for four more months until the upper caste Hindus were convinced that the dalits were right.

As I searched through other cases, however, conversion seemed very rare, and Gandhi himself eventually dropped the conversion pathway when facing the British Empire. "England will never make any real advance so as to satisfy India's aspirations till she is forced to it," he said. "British rule is no philanthropic job, it is a terribly earnest business proposition worked out from day to day with deadly precision. The coating of benevolence that is periodically given to it merely prolongs the agony."

England must be "forced," Gandhi said — the mechanism of coercion. When we coerce we force a change against the will of the opponent, who still disagrees with us about the issue but must give in anyway.

We find this mechanism in the dozens of cases in the database where dictatorships are overthrown nonviolently. The shah of Iran in 1979 remained as fascistic and bloody-minded as ever, but he got on the plane to the United States because his people had shown they would no longer be governed by him.

So far, so good — conversion and coercion, two mechanisms very different from each other. But additional campaigns I was running into didn't use either of these mechanisms. The people weren't willing to wait until the opponent finally converted to their point of view, nor could they always mount such massive noncooperation as to be able to coerce.

I then identified a third mechanism, persuasion. Gene Sharp, when he drew from my work for his foundational book The Politics of Nonviolent Action, expanded the description of that mechanism into accommodation: The opponent realizes that yielding to the demands of the campaigners is the best thing to do under the circumstances, even though not actually forced to do so. In his later work Gene addeddisintegration, to identify regimes or opponents that actually dissolve under the impact of the campaign. That brought us to four pathways to success: conversion, coercion, accommodation and disintegration.

The mechanism more available to most of us

I was especially curious about the aspect of accommodation that I called persuasion, because so many winning campaigns have achieved this, and yet it seemed to me fairly tricky. It's available to the labor movement, although labor is presently growing weaker in many countries, and to activists of many kinds. This is the pathway by which the opponent still has the means to maintain the oppressive policy and still believes in it — austerity or fossil fuels would be current examples of that situation — only to later shift once there is no longer the willingness to keep the machinery of punishment going that's needed to continue the injustice.

Read more at: 


Malaysia’s constant ‘blackouts’

Posted: 05 Jun 2013 11:55 AM PDT 

"I believe that the Najib government is rather weak and vulnerable. He cannot withstand both internal and external pressure for too long. Some sort of concession will have to be given." 

Kirsten Han, Waging Non-Violence 

Less than a year after Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that he wouldrepeal the country's Sedition Act — a law that curbs free speech — the state is using it to arrest and charge members and supporters of the opposition.

Still, this is doing little to deter activists, opposition supporters and citizens who continue to turn up in droves to protest against electoral fraud. Nine rallies — part of a series known as Blackout 505 — have already been organized, the last one having gone ahead on May 25 despite a government clampdown.

Malaysia's political activists have been out in full force since the general election in early May. Amidst accusations of gerrymandering, the incumbent coalition Barisan Nasional held on to power despite having lost the popular vote. The result disappointed many who had hoped that this election would finally bring a change in government after 58 years of Barisan Nasional rule. Demonstrations erupted across the country as Malaysians protested over reports of electoral fraud and irregularities.

"It is clear that to have a clean and fair election process in the near future would be an uphill task after witnessing the amount of irregularities happening in certain states," said first-time voter Adrian Phung. "[The election] made me realize that the general public is willing to go all out to ensure that the election process is clean and fair."

This was the focus of a forum on May 13. The slogan "Selamatkan Demokrasi," or "Save Democracy" in Bahasa Malaysia, called for people to stand up for democratic processes in Malaysia, and the event featured a long list of speeches from opposition members and pro-democracy activists.

It was one in a series of events criticizing the government, but this forum led to serious consequences. Two leaders from the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, Tian Chua and Thamrin Ghaffar, were arrested. Also arrested were activists Haris Ibrahim and Adam Adli.

"Adam Adli was charged under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act for allegedly uttering a seditious statement at a public forum where he called for Malaysians to go to the streets to protest against the election fraud," said his lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri. If found guilty, he could find himself in jail for at least three years, and/or fined up to RM5,000 (approx. $1,648).

The use of the Sedition Act against Adam angered Malaysians, some of whom began to gather nightly outside the Jinjang Remand Center to hold candlelight vigils calling for his release. The day before Adam was due to be charged in court, the police moved in and arrested 18 people.

"We were given 10 minutes to finish our speeches and leave. However, as I recall, the police didn't seem to keep their word and came after us before the 10 minutes," said Adrian Wong, who was at the vigil that night. "The police shouted and caught people who refused to leave or were leaving slowly."

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We must ask more questions

Posted: 05 Jun 2013 11:37 AM PDT 

The sad thing about Malaysia today is that attempts to ask serious questions often risk being censured. As a result, accountability in public services is very low. Attempts to question public servants are often met with distrust and disdain.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, 

WOOLWICH, a district in southeast London, is not a place well-known to most Malaysians. It is not exactly a tourist attraction. If I remember correctly, in the 18-years that I lived in the UK, I only went there twice. Once, because of work and the other time, I fell asleep on the train to London City Airport.
But Woolwich attracted international attention earlier last month when a soldier was brutally butchered with a knife and meat cleaver in broad daylight. The suspected killers were filmed saying they killed in the name of Islam. I followed the story closely and I am amazed at how British society reacted to this tragedy. Various questions were raised about how the authorities responded.
Questions were raised about the speed with which the police responded to the murder. It was reported that uniformed officers took nine minutes to arrive at the scene, despite the police station being quite close by. And the armed response team only arrived five minutes later.
To us, having the police arriving in less than 15 minutes may sound very quick. But to the British public, this is not good enough and they openly questioned the police's efficiency. More questions were soon raised, this time about the British security services. The media discovered that the MI5 – the security agency tasked with protecting Britain against terrorism – had been monitoring the two suspects for several years. Stories even emerged that the MI5 allegedly approached one of the suspects not long ago, inviting him to work for the agency.
Several parties accused the intelligence services of failing to protect Britain from terrorists. They suggested that if the security services had done their jobs properly, the brutal murder wouldn't have happened. The BBC, Britain's public-funded media, even questioned Eric Pickles, a cabinet minister, if he thought the security services had let people down.
The British prime minister was not let off the hook either. David Cameron visited MI5's headquarters the day after the tragedy, and he thanked staff there for their work in the investigation. He was immediately criticised for doing so, especially as the public was still querying the alleged failures of the MI5 to protect the country from this brutal murder. 
Nevertheless, Cameron did announce that the Intelligence and Security Committee was asked to independently investigate the allegation that the MI5 knew about the two suspects before the killing. This is a committee of nine parliamentarians that oversees the British security services, with members from both the government and opposition parties.
As I read the developments, I cannot help but to compare how the British reacted to this tragedy and how we in Malaysia reacted to problems on our own soil. Take the Lahad Datu invasion. Our brave armed forces did well to flush out the militant invaders, killing many of them over the course of Ops Daulat. The heroes deserve all the praises we can give. But the burning questions are: did our intelligence services fail in their duties and why were the invaders able to step on our soil in the first place? Unless these questions are answered, how can we be sure that our country is safe?
There are not enough questions being asked openly or debated on this matter. If this had happened in a country like the UK or Japan, I suspect several ministers would have resigned.
Perhaps some would argue that these questions cannot be asked due to national security. This is false. As the British example has shown, there are mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure every aspect of public service can be scrutinised. But more important than that is our unquestioning attitude is not limited to security matters alone. It is far more widespread than that.
Let's take the alleged irregularities during the last general election. The Election Commission (EC) has been accused of failing to perform its duty. The most obvious way to solve the problem is by appointing a bipartisan committee to investigate the allegations. But why hasn't such a body been formed? And, worse, why is it that every time someone questions the integrity of the EC, they are quickly labelled as "opposition"? It has always been the case to attempt to portray the opposition as the enemy.

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