Isnin, 16 September 2013

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Our right to a space in the ‘political arena’

Posted: 15 Sep 2013 03:03 PM PDT 

The way forward for the State and civil society is in empowering the citizenry, making them see that they own their voice. 

It is in realising that the 'political arena' does not just belong to the governing elite, but to each and every one of us.

Kirsten Han

If you want to get things done in Singapore, you need to know which side your bread is buttered and play the game accordingly. Don't push too hard, don't make too much trouble and maybe you will get what you want.

That's what The Straits Times' journalist Leonard Lim appears to be saying in his article 'The way forward for State and civil society' [paywall]. Exhorting the government's "greater willingness" to listen to its people, he happily regurgitates the establishment's stance on politics in Singapore: that individuals and groups need to be put in their place for "straying into the political arena" and that "political activism" should only be restricted to "party politics".

Lim's failure to cast a critical eye over these two claims achieves nothing more than highlighting his own ignorance of politics, activism and democracy.

The 'political arena'

Singaporeans have long been conditioned to think of politics as 'someone else's business'. We're told that it's something we don't need to worry about; we can just leave it up to people who are smarter, better and more qualified than us to take care of it.

And it's so easy to do, too; who has time to ponder politics when the stress of living in a fast-paced and expensive country like Singapore is piling higher and higher with every passing day?

Unfortunately for us Singaporeans, the truth is not so simple. Politics is not just a game for elites to play. It is something that affects us in every aspect of our lives. It affects what our children are taught in schools, the conditions in which we work and the way in which we live out our years of retirement. It also affects the way we deal with diversity in society, the way we treat marginalised groups and the way we protect our green spaces (or not).

All these things are affected by state policies, which is why the establishment's stance is wrong. The 'political arena' should not be the sacred stomping ground of political parties. The 'political arena' should, and must, be the domain of all citizens, all the time.

Party politics

Similarly, the claim that politics in Singapore should just be about party politics is misguided. While an important and integral part of politics and governance in any democratic country, party politics is only one aspect of the system. Restricting ourselves to just this one aspect limits our ability to build a vibrant society with a diversity of views.

The recent news of Vincent Wijeysingha leaving the Singapore Democratic Party can be seen as a prime example of this. In an interview with The Independent, he said, "If I remained in party politics, I would focus on mainstream issues, i.e. those at the political middle ground. This could result in sidelining of marginal concerns such as those faced by the gay community…"

While political parties should have the moral courage to take on "marginal concerns", the fact remains that they are constantly playing for the favour of the electorate. Parties play up issues they believe will get them the most votes, often at the expense of other less "mainstream" issues. We've seen how the 2011 General Election was dominated by talk of bread-and-butter issues, with nary a moment's consideration for other important topics like civil liberties and equality. If we were to really keep the 'political arena' strictly to party politics, issues like migrant workers' rights, LGBT rights and the death penalty may never see the light of day.

This is why NGOs and advocacy groups are crucial to every democratic society. Activists may operate outside of the party system, but play a vital role in making sure that every "national conversation" is robust and comprehensive. The fact that we may not agree with everything they say does not mean that their presence is unnecessary. 

Read more at : 

We cannot afford to go the wrong way

Posted: 15 Sep 2013 12:22 PM PDT 

To achieve the target of higher economic growth, it is essential that we free ourselves from the old growth-impeding distribution model, replacing the antiquated quota system with meritocracy.

Indeed the government should offer assistance to the economically weak, but that should not be drawn on racial lines.

Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew Daily

PM Najib has announced a whole series of measures on bumiputra economic empowerment, which could have been the biggest ever policy he has introduced since his re-election.

A long list of measures which I believe not many will have the patience to go through in details. After all, if you are not a bumi, why bother about them?

The biggest regret in major government policies is "irrelevance."

Which is sad. When can we actually become "1Malaysia"?

Indeed the bumis need to be "empowered" economically, but the same speaks for non-bumis as well. As a matter of fact, only if the country's overall economy is empowered will the bumis be economically empowered. Otherwise, even non-bumi economy will not be empowered.

This is basic economics. Classical economists advocate progressive economic policies to fully harness a country's capital and manpower, hence improve its overall competitiveness and enhance its wealth creation for the benefit of all.

I WAS REMINDED of the New Economic Model (NEM) launched by the newly appointed PM four years ago to replace the controversial NEP.

This NEM thing was drafted by the team led by banker cum former minister in the PM's dept Amirsham Abdul Aziz with the objective of promoting economic development to catapult Malaysia into the league of high-income countries.

To achieve the target of higher economic growth, it is essential that we free ourselves from the old growth-impeding distribution model, replacing the antiquated quota system with meritocracy.

Indeed the government should offer assistance to the economically weak, but that should not be drawn on racial lines.

Back then the new PM Najib imparted an impression that he set his eyes far above Umno, while Amirsham was seen as a pragmatic and open-minded economist who saw no ethnicity but the nation and her people.

The government found the right direction back then. And Malaysians started to see hope.

But powerful backlash emerged from within Umno. Amirsham was quickly branded the "traitor of the Malays" by Perkasa. Under the pressure, the NEM was modified, and lost some of ifs erstwhile spirit and connotation along the way.

I AM NOT sure whether this NEM is still in existence four years on. What I know is that "bumiputra economic empowerment" is stealing the limelight right now.

Najib has put it very candidly that the bumi empowerment policy is a form of appreciation for the Malay voters' undivided support of the BN government. Thanks to the strong support from the Malay and East Malaysian bumi voters, BN has managed to cling on to power, and they therefore deserve some rewards.

Of course, with the Umno general assembly just around the corner, Najib indeed needs to answer to millions of party members. Under the pressure from his party, he must come up with some kind of Malay agenda.

The same could also be some kind of retaliation for BN's election setback and diminishing support from Chinese Malaysians.

There is no way Najib and his BN government could be kept in the dark over the country's actual economic problems which no "bumi empowerment policies" could fix.

Our economic growth appears more sluggish than anticipated, and the original 5-6% official growth projection has been revised downward to 4.5-5%.

Meanwhile, our budgetary deficits have soared to levels where drastic measures to cut them down are essential. Public debts, too, are approaching the government-approved ceiling.

With dampened growth and escalating deficits and debts, coupled with poor global outlook, our economic future is anything but rosy.

Malaysia can no longer afford to keep bleeding this way, and political considerations must never be allowed to supersede economic ones.

I HAVE NOTICED the reaction of former minister in the PM's department Zaid Ibrahim to this bumi empowerment policy.

He said, "Helping the Malays? Please stop it!"

Sure enough Zaid Ibrahim is himself a bumiputra. The difference is: he is a progressive and open-minded Malay intellectual who sees the key to the country's problems.

He feels that the government's policies to help the Malays over the decades have not brought the desired results, but have instead made things worse.

Many of the policies have helped only the Malays in power or within Umno, not ordinary Malays. Moreover, getting comfortable with government's generous handouts, the Malays have long forgotten how to compete and move forward.



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