Ahad, 13 Oktober 2013

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Hwa Beng: ‘It’s time for the dictator to go’

Posted: 13 Oct 2013 08:34 AM PDT


The 59-year-old speaks to The Malay Mail on the rationale behind ABC, who he thinks should be MCA president, and his next course of action against the party. 

Pearl Lee. The Malay Mail

Recently sacked MCA member Datuk Lee Hwa Beng only has one mission in life right now. Armed with 36 years of political experience, the former three-term assemblyman's daily mantra is now "ABC".

He says his "Anybody But Chua Soi Lek" movement, which is aimed at overthrowing MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, is his personal contribution to ensure the Chinese community in the country will get a chance at redemption, at least in the next five years.

The 59-year-old speaks to The Malay Mail on the rationale behind ABC, who he thinks should be MCA president, and his next course of action against the party. 

The Malay Mail (TMM): What prompted you to start ABC?

Lee Hwa Beng (LHB): I did not plan this. In fact, I retired from politics after my defeat in the 2008 general election. Chua had said he would step down from the party before GE 13 but it appears he is going against his words. That is why I started ABC. The Chinese turned their backs against the party because of Chua. How can we continue to have a tainted leader in the party?

TMM: So ABC only came about after GE13?

LHB: Yes, I returned to politics just to remove Chua. I was voted as a national delegate before I was sacked, so I had the right to vote for the central committee on December 22. I was also able to stand for a post.

TMM: Some may call you a "lalang" as you had openly supported Pakatan Rakyat (PR) prior to GE13 only to return to politics just to topple Chua.

LHB: Yes, I was pro-Pakatan before the election but I did not join the coalition and neither did I attend any of their election rallies.

TMM: Do you have a personal vendetta against Chua?

LHB: I have nothing personal against him. We were very close. I am not his enemy. I even voted for him when he was standing against (Datuk Seri) Ong Ka Chuan for the deputy president's post, which I now regret. He even brought his son (Chua Tee Yong) to see me once for advice on his educational path. Chua is an embarrassment to the party and the Chinese community. He must go … he is a dictator.

TMM: Who do you think should lead the party then?

LHB: It can be anybody … (Datuk Seri) Liow Tiong Lai, (Datuk Seri) Ong Tee Keat or even Ka Chuan. At least with either one of them helming the party, I am confident we can get at least 30 per cent of Chinese support for the party.


Umno wings flying strong into GE14

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 07:10 PM PDT

The outcome in yesterday's party polls has been described as consolidating Umno's preparation to face the 14th General Election

Free Malaysia Today

The victory of Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, Khairy Jamaluddin and Mas Ermieyati Samsudin as the Wanita Umno, Umno Youth and Puteri Umno chiefs, respectively, has been described as consolidating Umno's preparation to face the 14th General Election.

This was stated by the party's information chief,Ahmad Maslan, who said the first test for the three wings would be the by-election for the state seat of Sungai Limau in Kedah on Nov 4.

Ahmad said the chiefs of the three wings received strong support from the divisions, with the results as at 3.30 am today showing Shahrizat having garnered 100 votes; Khairy, 97 and Mas Ermieyati, 96.

Shahrizat retained the post after brushing aside the challenge from Maznah Mazlan and Raihan Suleiman while Khairy was returned after staving off the challenge from Syed Rosli Syed Harman, Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi, Irwan Ambak Khalid Izhar and Abd Karim Ali.

Mas Ermieyati became the new Puteri Umno chief after beating Jamilah Hanim Othman.

In Terengganu, Shahrizat and Khairy, who is the Youth and Sports Minister, secured the support of all the eight divisions.

For the post of Wanita Umno vice-head, all the divisions elected Azizah Mohd Dun except Kuala Nerus which voted for the other candidate, Suraya Yaacob.

For the post of Umno Youth vice-head, the Besut division supported Jamawi Jaafar, Hulu Terengganu supported Khairul Azwan Harun and Setiu picked Lokman Nor Adam.

Mas Ermieyati Samsudin garnered five votes from Terengganu while the other candidate for Puteri Umno chief, Jamilah Hanim Othman, received one vote.

The divisions which supported Mas Ermieyati were Besut, Kuala Terengganu, Marang, Hulu Terengganu and Setiu while Kuala Nerus backed Jamilah Hanim.

For the post of Puteri Umno vice-head, Zahida Zarik Khan and Norsabrina Mohd Nor received three votes each. Zahida got her votes from Besut, Setiu and Kuala Nerus while Norsabrina received hers from Kuala Terengganu, Marang and Hulu Terengganu.

The results for the Dungun and Kemaman divisions were not known yet.



Stress on the Malay agenda

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 05:12 PM PDT

The Malays in Umno have not felt this vulnerable in decades and the mood in the party is that their political power is under threat. All this is simmering beneath the surface in the party's election campaign.

Shahidan is also not shy about projecting himself as the top political personality in Perlis. Some of his supporters were distributing pamphlets of him as Superman. A giant banner draped across the stage showed him alongside Umno's top two, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Joceline Tan, The Star

FEW expected much of the Kangar stop for the Umno campaign roadshow because Perlis is a tiny state with only about 2,000 delegates.

But the Friday event held in the hall opposite the Mentri Besar's house drew a huge and spirited crowd. It was taking place a day before the three wings were due to vote and there was a whole lot of pent-up feelings being released after weeks of campaigning.

The boisterous mood also had to do with the man playing host that morning, namely Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim who is synonymous with Perlis politics.

Shahidan has a big personality and he dominated the stage. Love or hate him, it is hard to ignore him.

He had everyone giggling when he welcomed them with a pantun: "Itik jantan pulang petang, itik betina ternanti-nanti. Dari jauh tuan datang, kami di Perlis sedia menanti". It was a cute rhyme likening the Perlis delegates to a hen waiting for the returning drake.

It is easy to forget that he is no longer the Perlis Mentri Besar (MB). However, he is the Perlis Umno chairman and although there have been two other MBs since he moved on, he still pulls the strings in the state's politics.

Shahidan is also not shy about projecting himself as the top political personality in Perlis. Some of his supporters were distributing pamphlets of him as Superman. A giant banner draped across the stage showed him alongside Umno's top two, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Shahidan kept the event lively. If the candidates tried to run up to the stage, he would tell them not to be so eager and to take their time. If they walked too slowly, he would tell them to hurry up because voting day was around the corner.

He also made a song and dance about his ballot number, 01. The number is easy to remember and that is important when it is time to vote.

Friday's roadshow covered Perlis, Kedah and Penang and it was the final leg for delegates to meet and evaluate candidates.

The roadshow, as a whole, has turned out to be somewhat of a farce. The method worked when there were only 2,000 delegates.

But there are now more than 145,000 voting delegates and it is estimated that barely 20% of the delegates have been able to attend the roadshows for various reasons – the events were held during weekdays and had an urban bias because they were held in the state capitals. The mainstay of Umno is still quite rural and they were left out.

There have been complaints about candidates having to rush through three states in a day. It was like running a crazy marathon especially on the east coast leg where people were expected to start in Kota Baru in the morning, rush to Kuala Terengganu by 3pm and be in Kuantan by 8pm.

And all this to be paraded onstage for a few minutes and to meet just a fraction of the delegates.

In Selangor, the venue was so cramped and unsuitable that some are clamouring for another session.

The southern leg was equally impossible for some to keep up with. Candidates were expected to hop from Seremban in the morning to Malacca in the afternoon and down to Johor Baru by nightfall. The next day, they had to be in Kota Kinabalu.

Some have described the whole exercise as a "pretend campaign" or what the Malays call melepaskan batuk di tangga (half-hearted effort).

"It had no impact at all. In Perak, about 1,000 delegates came but we have more than 10,000 delegates in the state," said a delegate from Batu Gajah.

It explained why most of the top guns did not bother to attend the official roadshows. For instance, most of the vice-president (VP) candidates did not join any of the events, leaving delegates disappointed because they want to see their heroes in the flesh.

This has been a sharp contrast to the last party polls where everyone, whether top gun or small fry, turned up for the roadshows.

Those who held government positions preferred to go through the state Umno machinery to hold "official gatherings" of their own where they could make speeches and address their audience in a more personal way.

It is time for a revamp.

But as incumbent VP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein pointed out, there has not been the usual flurry of poison pen letters and agenda-loaded political books this time and that is a good trend.

The maligned roadshow system has, however, inspired others at a more local level where it has worked much better.

In Kapar, Selangor, incumbent deputy Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah has been organising mini roadshows for the 50 or so candidates vying for posts in his division. All posts in Kapar are being contested. Faizal himself is vying to be the new division chief against Datuk Abdul Rashid Asari.

All aspirants have been introduced to branch level leaders at a series of group sessions. Candidates for division chief are allowed to speak for 10 minutes, the deputy and vice chief candidates for five minutes while those going for committee posts are introduced by name.

"It is amicable and aboveboard, no dirty tricks or name-calling. We are all in one family and we want to stay friends, win or lose," said Faizal.

Faizal's usual pitch goes like this: "My friends, if you think that my good friend Datuk Rashid is the better candidate, please give the vote to him. I will accept your decision with an open heart. But if you think that I am a little bit better, I accept the responsibilities that come with it. There is no menu or Team A, B or C. If I am elected, I am ready to work with anybody."

The VP race has become a more level playing field now that it is clear that the top leadership did not give any instruction about the contest. Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is taking a hands-off position, whether for the VP posts or the supreme council.

Most chief ministers and mentris besar, including Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, are also going with the flow on the VP race.

The forerunner Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is still in pole position despite an embarrassing incident in Malacca where he threatened to close down the newspapers if the reporters did not leave a closed-door event where he was speaking.

The Home Minister has acquired a reputation for his hardline stand on organised crime and he has probably been carried away by his tough-guy image. The incident will hurt his public image but it will not dent his campaign, given the way the crowd at the event was cheering him on in the background.

But the Zahid campaign team has advised him not to over-react and to keep his mouth shut. He is only a few metres from the finishing line, and they do not want any more trip-ups.

During an interview on a TV talk show, he said that he was willing to risk his political career in defence of the Malays and Islam. The quote has been resonating on the Malay ground.

After all, Umno is the abbreviation for United Malays National Organisation. Its members are essentially Malay nationalists, patriotic to king and country and bound together by the religion.

The Malays in Umno feel politically vulnerable as a result of events in the last few years. The last time they had felt this way was during the 1970s. They feel that their opponents are chipping away at all the symbols of Malay power – the royalty, the religion and their party.

There is a mood in Umno that the party has strayed from its origins and that it must once again assert its voice. Those articulating the Malay agenda will win support.

For instance, the Alor Setar event began with the singing of the Negara Ku followed by the Umno and Barisan Nasional songs. Then a new song came on. It had a nostalgic melody accompanied by images of the rough politics that took place in 2008, of street protestors challenging the law.

The message was crystal clear – Umno is under threat. There were watery eyes even among some of the men as the song drew to a close.

Those who thought that VP candidate Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir has been playing it rather cool changed their minds when they arrived at the Alor Setar stop of the campaign roadshow.

Two giant banners hung from the complex next to Mentaloon, the grand official residence of the Mentri Besar where no Mentri Besar wants to live because it looks rather haunted inside. Everywhere around the spacious grounds were colourful banners from various Umno divisions in Kedah declaring support for him.

Somewhere along the campaign trail, Mukhriz and fellow VP aspirant Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam have bonded and they have taken to wrapping their arms around each other when posing for the media.

The full results for the three wings will be known today but for aspirants for the VPs and supreme council posts, it will be a mad dash for the finish line.

Many delegates have already decided on the three VPs they want. The combination varies, depending on the state. Shahidan played the teasing game when asked about his VP selection.

"I will vote for Zahid and ... errr ... I cannot remember," he said with a laugh.

There are three VP posts to fill but with Zahid in such a dominant position, the VP race has boiled down to five people vying to fill the two remaining slots.

A frantic week lies ahead.


Leaders cement their positions

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 05:07 PM PDT

Akhramsyah's candidature was seen as a last-minute thing. He is a big name in the youth NGO network, but he lacked the track record in Umno Youth.

Joceline Tan, The Star

BY sunset, the word going around was that Khairy Jamaluddin was on his way to a tsunami-style victory as the Umno Youth leader.

Unofficial results from the divisions indicated that Khairy passed the midway point shortly after maghrib. At that point none of his three opponents had yet to secure a single endorsement from any division.

Akhramsyah Sanusi, seen as the strongest among the challengers, could not even secure a single divisional endorsement from Kedah where his father was once the mentri besar.

Even the Langkawi division, where his father used to be a strongman, gave its vote to Khairy.

Khairy has finally arrived in a big way. The sweet taste of success this time around was in sharp contrast to his acrimonious victory four years ago.

He arrived at the PWTC with a small entourage shortly before 10pm. An Umno official could be heard congratulating him but he remained tight-lipped as he made his way up the escalator.

Suddenly, the escalator came to a halt. One of those behind him called out: "Even the escalator stopped for you."

Unofficial results also placed incumbent Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil with 187 divisions giving her the vote. She had left her challengers Datuk Maznah Mazlan and Raihan Sulaiman far behind.

Sources said that Maznah had secured four endorsements – one from her own division Rompin and three more from Kuantan, Jerantut and Cheras.

Meanwhile, at the PWTC, the official results were being released at snail's pace because of the strict vetting process by the Umno election committee.

The media had turned up in droves for the event, but waiting for official updates of the result was like waiting for little drops of water to fill up a big pail.

This is the first time that the party's new election system is being put to the test and there were reportedly disputes in several divisions.

But the elections for the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings had taken place far more smoothly than the election committee had dared hope for.

Maznah's supporters had thought she would be able to secure support from at least 45 divisions but they were over-optimistic.

The experience of Maznah and Raihan shows that one cannot wake up one fine morning, decide to run for a top post in Umno and expect to do well. It does not work like that. Apart from having a track record, one needs to have the network, do the groundwork, set up a campaign team.

Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said made the same mistake. She had no Wanita network or experience and barely a month after jumping in, she realised she was out of her depths and got out before she could lose more face.

Basically the challengers to Shahrizat's leadership took the women's loyalty and expectations of leadership for granted.

Raihan's fate was not surprising. She had failed to get even one nomination in a previous attempt for the Puteri Umno leadership and no one expected her to make progress in the Wanita wing.

Raihan's story of living up to the legacy of her late father Sulaiman Palestine was touching during her Puteri days, but it is starting to stale.

If she is serious about being somebody in Wanita, she will need to put in some real contribution rather than ride on her father's name every time there is an election.

Otherwise, she will be known as a publicity seeker rather than a serious politician.

The same could be said of the contest for the Youth leadership.

Akhramsyah's candidature was seen as a last-minute thing. He is a big name in the youth NGO network, but he lacked the track record in Umno Youth.

He could have utilised the connection if he had been serious about the post.

But not long after he jumped in, it was evident that he was not as serious about winning as he should be. It is a good thing he has a famous father in Tan Sri Sanusi Junid or else no one would remember his name one year down the road.

Some claimed he was there just to kacau daun or stir up things so that Khairy does not win unopposed or has it too easy. If that was true, it was all in vain.

In the Puteri Umno wing, Mas Ermieyati Samsudin is on her way to becoming the new chief. She had a formidable campaign machinery that was hooked up to the popularity of her mentor Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.

Her campaign team had a real presence everywhere they went and they overwhelmed the contender Jamilah Hanim Othman.

An SMS that Shahrizat sent to all her ladies the day before the election demonstrates her political style and also helps explain her sweeping victory.

In it, she said she had just returned from a Quran reading programme in her Kepong division.

She had dropped by her mother's house to ask her to pray for God to shine His grace on the ladies and for a smooth election. She said she was planning to spend the hours after maghrib in the kitchen to do some cooking.

She signed off by sending them her love.


Q&A: What Court Decision on Use of ‘Allah’ Means for Malaysia

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 10:57 AM PDT


Celine Fernandez, WSJ

Malaysia's appellate court is scheduled to rule on Monday on whether the Roman Catholic Church can use 'Allah' in its weekly publication to represent the Christian God.

The battle in the court of appeal was the result of a lower court judgment in 2009 which ruled that the Catholic Church had the constitutional right to use the word Allah in its Bahasa Malaysia editions of the Herald, its newspaper. In early 2010 the same court ordered the Herald not to use the word while the government appealed the decision.

Last month, the Catholic Church argued before the appellate court that it should be allowed to use the word because it has been used for centuries by the Malay-speaking  Christian community.  The government, meanwhile, argued that the then-home minister didn't act in bad faith when he restricted the use of the word because he had done so from the aspect of security and public order.  The government also argued that the word is specific to Muslims.

Monday's ruling may be appealed to the next level, the highest court.

Muslims make up about 61% of Malaysia's 28 million people.  The Christian Federation of Malaysia said that about 60% of the approximately 2.6 million Christians in the country use the word Allah to refer to God.

Observers, including Dr. Patricia Anne Martinez, a Malaysian scholar of Islam who is Catholic, think the decision will go against the Herald, partly because of the current political climate. She pointed out that the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant partner in the ruling coalition, has been using Islam for political expedience.

"There has been very negative and widespread publicity about the use of the word 'Allah' and the Herald case," she said, noting that UMNO used the issue during the campaign before the 13th general elections in May to show it was "championing Islam."

The closely watched verdict raises high-stake issues for Malaysia, particularly freedom of religion.

"We are not oppressing the non-Muslims," said Azril Amin, one of the lawyers in the suit representing the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council, a body that looks after Islamic affairs.  "We are not stopping them from practicing their religion."

Mr. Azril, who is also the vice-president of the Muslim Lawyers Association, said the government's side is simply saying "the proper use of the word Allah" should be reserved for Muslims.

Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, says the long legal battle  has not worn him down.

"When justice is denied, you don't consider the tiredness, but the commitment that you have for the good of the people," he said. "We are just stating what is in Article 11 of the federal Constitution, which says we have the right to worship and to manage our religious affairs. So, therefore, we are basically fighting for religious freedom."

Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa, a member of Parliament from the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, has visited close to 30 churches nationwide promoting interfaith dialogue.

"The court has to stick to the freedom of faith by taking Islam as the religion of the state into account," said Mr. Majahid, who is Muslim.

Mr. Mujahid spoke with The Wall Street Journal's Celine Fernandez about what's ahead. Edited excerpts follow:


The Wall Street Journal: How do you think the court will rule and why?

Mr. Mujahid: The fact that the court has deferred the ruling, which was supposed to be in September, will signal to you the tension of the issue. The court has to stick to the freedom of faith by taking Islam as the religion of the state into account. The extreme right still represents the significant group of Malay Muslims who feel that the word "Allah" used by Christians will lead to religious unrest. The Malays may not agree on the extreme tone of the right. But their concern is that it will not be a good precedent as the Catholic Church will dare to intrude further in demanding their use of "Allah" in many other church symbols. The court also, in my opinion, has to look into these multi-racial dynamics. And of course the ruling party, UMNO, at some degree may influence the ruling.

What will the impact be on religion and culture in Malaysia?

The impact is that interfaith relations will be more tense as many people have an interest in this. Politicians will ride the issue between the extreme right and the liberals.An Islamic party like PAS will be tested in its call for freedom of faith. The liberals will find a good ground to exert with more radical approaches in its belief of freedom of faith. The Malays, who are majority Muslims, will be tested in their pursuit of defending Islam but complying with Article 11, where freedom of faith is protected in the federal constitution. The theory that Christians proselytize Muslims will increase. And the Catholics will be seen as the enemy of Islam among the general Muslim viewpoint. Whatever the outcome of the ruling, it definitely will have a great impact for Malaysia and the international community.

What will it say about freedom of the press?

That's the whole issue. Catholics were banned from using the word "Allah" in their publication the Herald, but the high court found the ban as contradicting the notion of freedom, although the circulation must be limited to the Christians only. The government went to the court of appeal. The Catholics defended, and now it is time for the court of appeal to give its ruling. I think the issue was given such a highlight for the purpose of political gain rather than looking into a brighter future in faith relations. 



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