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Merdeka Stories/Essays

What is Merdeka?

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MERDEKA ESSAY: What is Merdeka?

By Eugene Chua K.H.

August 31, 2008

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! This resounding proclamation of joy rang out over the Merdeka stadium fifty one years ago, representing freedom and hope to all the people of Malaya, and subsequently Malaysia. What does this word mean today, after so many years? I think that Merdeka means that we get to call ourselves, Malaysians, a people with a nation of our own. Those of my generation are said to be unmindful of history, unappreciative of the sacrifices made, the struggles faced and overcome, in order to enjoy the freedoms of a democratic country and the economic comforts that the first people during that first Merdeka did not enjoy, nor could they have imagined. Yes, Merdeka!

But what is Merdeka, when a young man and his friends, out for supper at a local stall, receive no service at all, and instead get hostile looks from the other patrons? What is Merdeka for a young boy who gets singled out and called all manner of terrible names by his teacher in front of his fellow young impressionable students, all because his skin colour is darker? What happens to Merdeka, when a student leader from one of our leading universities sends out a memo, vetted by the university’s student affairs department, telling one group of students that they should be prepared to stand against other students and fellow Malaysians?

I thought that Merdeka means freedom, freedom for individuals to have meals with fellow Malaysians without being distanced, freedom to learn and study in school under the care of his teacher. I thought Merdeka means freedom to fulfil our potentials as individuals for ourselves, our fellow Malaysians and our beloved country. So, what is Merdeka then?

I receive Merdeka when I receive kuih raya from family friends who are celebrating their religious festivity. I know Merdeka when my parents were invited to a wedding of someone of a different culture and religion, and where people mingled without thinking that they should avoid each other, and where the best photographer in town, a friend of the groom’s father, thought the couple look lovely together without thinking that they were different from him. I smell Merdeka when I smell all kinds of different styles of food prepared at various food stalls. I hear Merdeka when people who go to temples or churches stand alongside people who go to mosques during the Johor floods. I see Merdeka when two young innocent school children have no fears or worries of falling in love with each other, where two best friends think that the word ‘race’ is about fast cars and not the differences in their skin colour.

But, I had to pause to think again about Merdeka, where after extending a hand of kindness, I was asked incredulously whether I was of their race or another. It hurt slightly, but hurt it did. Because the answer to that question shouldn’t have mattered. Because they did not expect kindness from me, as I come from another race. I wondered about Merdeka when someone is called a traitor of his race by the university chancellor for thinking of inviting a meagrely small number of students of another race to study with fellow Malaysians of another race. I’m no longer sure that there is Merdeka when those painful racial incidents were reported in the papers over the past months. I do not know what has race anything to do with Merdeka, when people cheered together fifty one years ago without thinking of races.

But I do know this, that I will not allow those ugly incidents in the past and those that are likely to happen in the future, to make me retract my hand, because I will continue to extend my hand, in respect, in kindness and in love, to my fellow Malaysians.

Will you hold my hand then,my fellow Malaysian, and help keep Merdeka alive?


A Merdeka upside down?

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MERDEKA ESSAY: A Merdeka upside down?

By Dr Azly Rahman

August 31, 2008

Education is the solution. I believe we need a radical overhaul of everything, philosophically speaking. We have the structures in place but we would need to replace the human beings running the system.

"Our Nation, Malaysia is dedicated to: Achieving a greater unity for all her people; maintaining a democratic way of life; creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably distributed; ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition, and building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:

• Belief in God

• Loyalty to King and Country

• Upholding the Constitution

• Sovereignty of the Law, and

• Good Behaviour and Morality"

                     - From the Rukunegara, circa 1970

The words above constructed and proclaimed in 1970, after the bloody riots of May 13, 1969, contain internal contradictions if we are to analyse them today.

As we approach Aug 31, our independence or Merdeka Day, we read the following stories:

- an irate prime minister mulling action against a blogger for flying the Malaysian flag upside-down in cyberspace;

- a by-election campaign in Pematang Pauh in Penang, that shows up the ugliness of smear campaigns focusing on race, religion, and personal issues instead of presenting solutions to national crises;

- an aborted Bar Council forum on conversion to Islam, disrupted by groups claiming to represent the survival and dignity of Malaysian Muslims;

- an angry Vice-Chancellor of an all-bumiputera university threatening to sue the chief minister of Selangor for the latter's suggestion that Universiti Teknologi MARA be opened to non-bumiputera;

- a teacher in Selangor reprimanded and transferred for hurling racial slurs at her Malaysian school-children of Indian origin;

- the continuing and intensified work of the prime minster's propaganda outfit, Biro Tata Negara, in ensuring that the ideology of Ketuanan Melayu remains funneled into the minds of Malay students, educators, and civil servants;

- the continuing refusal of the Ministry of Higher Education to grant freedom to students to gain concepts and skills of political consciousness by its refusal to radically revise the University and University Colleges Act;

- an increasingly cacophonic and toxic relationship between the Executive, Judiciary, and Legislative as a consequence of the 22-year rule of the previous Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad;

- a hyper-modernised country trapped in the excesses of nationalism and globalisation at a time when the global food and energy crisis is taking a toll on the economic and political lives of nations.

After 51 years, what do we have?

These are among the snapshot items of Malaysia circa 51 years of Merdeka or independence. The composite image of divide and conquer left by the British colonials continue to be artistically refined into subdivisions of divide and conquer, aided by the propaganda machine of the ruling class.

What can now be seen in Malaysia are images of the little brown brothers becoming the new colonisers and transforming themselves into 'emperors in new clothes'.

If the words of the 1970 proclamation are to be our benchmarks of Merdeka, we must ask these questions:

- How have we fostered unity amongst the nation when our government promotes racism thorough racialised policies and by virtue that our politics survive on the institutionalisation of racism?

- How have we maintained a democratic way of life, when our educational, political, and economic institutions do not promote democracy in fear that democratic and multicultural voices of conscience are going to dismantle race-based ideologies?

- How are we to create a just society in which the wealth of the nation is equitably distributed, when the New Economic Policy itself is designed based on the premise that only one race needs to be helped and forever helped, whereas at the onset of Independence, poverty existed amongst Malaysians of all races?

- How are we to promote a liberal approach to diverse culture and tradition when our education system is run by politicians who are championing Ketuanan Melayu alone and ensuring that Malay hegemony rules at all levels and spheres of education, from pre-school to graduate levels?

- How are we to build a progressive society based on science and technology when our understanding of the role of science and society do not clearly reflect our fullest understanding of the issues of scientific knowledge, industrialisation, and dependency?

A failed Malaysia? Across the board, the country is in distress. Education in shambles, polarised, and politicised. The economy is in constant dangerous flux. The judiciary is in deep crisis of confidence. Public safety is of major concern due to declining public confidence in the police, and politics remain ever divided along racial and religious lines.

This is the Malaysian depiction of Dorian Gray, one that shows the image of a "vibrant nation of progress and harmony, racial tolerance and a robust economy" but behind that is actually a deformed Malaysia, a mere continuation of the past's feudal and colonial entity.

Broken promises

The colonised have become the colonisers. The state has become a totalitarian entity using the ideological state apparatuses to silence the voices of progressive change. The nationalists have nationalised the wealth of the nation for themselves and perhaps siphoning the nation's wealth internationally.

This is the picture of the broken promise made by those who fought for independence; the vices of the early radical and truly nationalistic Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazans, Sikhs, etc, of the early Merdeka movement.

How then must Malaysians celebrate their 51st Merdeka? By flying the Jalur Gemilang upside down? Or to do better than this – by putting justice in place, by engineering a multicultural jihad against all forms of excesses of abuse of power and to de-toxify the nation entirely, and then next - begin Year Zero of our cultural revolution by using a gentle enterprise called peaceful education?

Education is the solution. I believe we need a radical overhaul of everything, philosophically speaking. We have the structures in place but we would need to replace the human beings running the system.

We have deeply racialised human beings running neutral machines. We have ethnocentric leaders running humane systems. We have allowed imperfection and evolving fascism to run our system.

We have placed capitalists of culture behind our wheels of industrial progress; people who have the dinosaur brain of ketuanan this or that.

We have created these monsters and have unleashed them to run our educational, political, economic, and cultural systems. We have Frankenstein-ised our Merdeka.

We need to re-educate ourselves by reinventing the human beings we can entrust to run our machines. We must abolish the present system and create a new one; just as how we created our new cities – Putrajaya and Cyberjaya – the symbols of our oriental despotism and Asian capitalistic decadence.

We must be aware that class in the broadest and most comprehensive sense of the word is what we are dealing with and through class and cultural analyses, we can arrive at a different path to a new Merdeka.

This Merdeka, the rakyat, armed with wisdom of a new era, must now speak softly but carry a big stick. Our struggle for Merdeka has only just begun.


Are we a free nation? - A joint Merdeka day message

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Are we a free nation? - A joint Merdeka day message

By Haris Ibrahim, People's Parliament

August 30, 2008

Independence means that the nation is free from any imposed political domination, citizens are sovereign and are masters of their own destiny. For that to be true, they must at least be able to think freely, express and exchange opinion, and, obtain and disseminate information without fear or favour.

As we celebrate the 51st anniversary of our Merdeka tomorrow and the 45th anniversary of Malaysia’s establishment in two weeks’ time, we should be celebrating our political adulthood. We should be proud that as citizens, we are a truly sovereign people, ruled by nothing more than the collective free will of our citizenship. We invite all Malaysians to ponder before lighting fireworks and joining the parade: Are we truly free? Are we truly sovereign?

Are we free? Just on the eve of Merdeka Day, one of Malaysia’s most popular news portal, Malaysia Today, was blocked by internet service providers under the instruction of the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). This instruction denied millions of Malaysians, who have shunned the mainstream media, their primary information source. The MCMC has cited the Section 263 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, 1998 to force ISPs to use their best endeavour “to prevent his/her facilities from being used to violate any law in the country???. It is unfortunate that MCMC acted without Malaysia Today and its editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin being convicted or proven in court of any criminal offence. By invoking the block, the MCMC contravenes the government’s promise of no censorship and less regulation in the internet, when the multi-media super corridor was launched in 1998. It has also broken the law as Section 3 of the CMA states
 clearly that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet.??? So, What has produced MCMC to toe the political line rather than adhere to the law?

Are we free? Just two weeks before Merdeka Day, the Home Ministry decided that we cannot read two more books, on top of at least 1443 books that were banned since 1971. One of the two latest banned books is a volume titled “Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism??? authored by international experts and edited by renowned Malaysian sociologist, Prof Norani Othman. The book was published three years ago, so why the ban only now? Did the Home Ministry censorship board take three years to understand its content? In fact, are they capable of reading and understanding an academic book when they have not even produce a book review to pinpoint its flaws? Can we be a free nation when bureaucrats whose reading ability is questionable are deciding what we can and cannot read? Their power to curb freedom of expression stems from the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) which requires all periodicals to apply for annual renewable permits,
 which can be revoked and suspended by the Minister at anytime at his absolute discretion. In 1987, under Operasi Lalang eitght newpapers were suspended. Operasi Lalang also saw the arbitrary detention of 106 socio-political activists.

Are we free? When questioning of government policies or the judicial process by citizens can land one in prison under the Sedition Act, 1948, when truth cannot be a defence against charges, where “seditious tendency??? are broadly and vaguely defined, when newspapers can be suspended for allegedly containing seditious matter (Section 9), what’s left of our public space to discuss issues that matter most and are therefore often termed “sensitive????

Are we free? When there are 66 persons still detained arbitrarily and indefinitely without trial for opposing the government’s policies under the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960, when the Minister can subjectively ban any publications deemed to be “prejudicial to the national interest, public order, or security of Malaysia???, and his/her decisions cannot be reviewed by the judiciary. Are we free from the danger of arbitrary judgment of one politician? And, are we free when the very same repressive colonial laws that suppressed peoples’ struggles in the pre-Merdeka era are still continued and used randomly by the present government even after Merdeka?

Are we free? When citizens have no freedom of information to learn about public policies and decision-making process, when politicians and bureaucrats can easily deny public access to details of lucrative contracts and concessions, justified under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), is it any wonder that corruption and power abuse become rampant? When we pay taxes and yet do not have the right to know how the money is spent, are we really the boss of the government? Or have we, the rakyat, instead become slaves to the very people we have elected?

Unfortunately, we are not free given the flaws and shortcomings in the CMA, PPPA, Sedition Act, ISA, OSA and other media-related laws. We will continue to be enslaved until we become truly politically free and democratic. We had merely replaced foreign colonial masters with domestic ones who rule over us by insisting that we are incapable of thinking and making our own judgment.

A true national independence is, therefore, overdue. It is possible only if all the media-related laws are put under thorough reviews and after taking on board the concerns of all Malaysians, regardless of economic interest, social-cultural background and political affiliation. A parliamentary select committee on media law reform must, therefore, be made a priority in our quest for independence, democracy and good governance. Calls to celebrate or to substantiate our independence by any political coalitions, are hollow if without a concrete commitment and roadmap to media law reform.

We call upon all Malaysians to press for the demand of media law reform by endorsing the 2008 Memorandum on Media Freedom on The campaign for media law reform is extended to 27 October, 2008, the anniversary of 1987 Operasi Lalang. Until we can ensure the freedoms of citizens and the media, Merdeka is not achieved. Let us fight for our second independence, this time from domestic authoritarianism – Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

A Joint statement by

1. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)

2. Benar for Free and Fair Media (Benar)

3. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)

4. Civil Rights Committee, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (CRC-KLSCAH)

5. Civil Society Initiative for Parliamentary Reform (CSI@Parliament)

6. Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI)

7. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Youth Section (KLSCAH-YS)

8. Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement (DEMA)

9. National Alliance of Bloggers (All-Blogs)

10. People’s Parliament

11. Empower (Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti, Selangor)

12. Sister in Islam (SIS)

13. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

14. Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)

This statement was initiated by Benar and WAMI. For details, please contact Wong Chin Huat (019-3502823) or Maria Chin Abdullah (0133422931)


Blogging and Merdeka

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blogging and Merdeka

Yes, it's the eve of the 51st Merdeka Day, so soon after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's Merdeka Mission accomplished in Permatang Pauh on August 26.

At a personal level, Desiderata-YLChong has marked each Independence Day with the MERDEKA ESSAY series in his own blog, and I hope this tradition will be continued if my Esteemed Readers here care to participate. From now till September 16, 2008, YL will reprise a few of last year's essays, and with several updates feature current thoughts by our regular columnists and YouthSpeal contributors, will reflect on some key national issus such as The Social Contract and National Unity  governing and impacting on our nation we proudly call NEGARAKU.

Following is a combined effort from Desi and Y&A kyels and johnleemk's, and the latter, by the way, also helps Wan Fadzrul coordinate YouthSpeak at Please note that all three are Bloggers, and hence their writing may feature some Blogspeak which is evolving and features a special vocabulary of its own the Fifth Estaters are fond of resorting to to brighten up blog's journey, so do bear with us if you lose thy way a little. I seek your indulgence if tis Post may seem a "personal indulgence"; it's with some reluctance and trepidation (really!) that the Editor here allows you a peep behind the mask!

Meanwhile, ENJOY! -- YL Chong, Editor, CPI


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MERDEKA: Travelling Back In Time

Written by YL Chong


I was working at an online newspaper for a year not that long ago and so was well exposed to electronic sources of news and debate, mainly from foreign sources, and I felt most at home with the American and British scenes. Having worked some time with the Aussie diplomatic mission, I also had a soft sport for Down Under people and happenings.

Being of Chinoserie ancestry -- but first and foremost a Malaysian, I stress! -- and knowing a smattering of Mandarin so I can comfortably see annd enjoy a movie like The Banquet without the need to staray to the subtitles, emerging China as a political and economic juggernaut also naturally was my radar-scape.

But being born and bred in NegaraKu, I feel very at home whether in a kampong/ new village or town/ bandar or the city of Kuala Lumpur, Desi would never allow any blardy idiot to question my loyalty as a Malaysian.

I mostly enjoy Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines seven days a week, but make an exception to have a CON BF (continental breakfast) on a Sunday, my capitalist indulgence as I am an out-of-the-closet Socialist on weekdays.

As a freelance journalist taking up blogging chiefly influenced by JeffOoi exactly two years ago, I was happy to be able to connect with a core group of fellow/fella (Fella is defined as the female counterpart as fellow is always considered male) bloggers. I must also thank those readers who don't blog but visit often enough to engage in conversations.

Most of all, I must thank these various categories of EsteemedReaders ("ER") who take the time and trouble to comment on my "writes", more formal as in a serious Essay following all the rules of Intro, Body and Conclusion; 'rites as in recording Malaysiana titbits and snippets that are eye-catching and define our local culture and politics; and lastly, more lustily perhaps than the earlier two, my writHings. In this category I lend my pretty frank thoughts on Malaysian goings-in which concern or trouble or amuse me as a Malysian citizen.

Back to my stated Objectives as revealed in my first three Posts from March 15, 2005, to date they are, in gist:
I shall be touching on subjects broadly categorised as desiderata.english; desiderata.civilsociety; desiderata.truth -- generally with the ultimate objective of promoting the love and appreciation of outstanding writings in English; the cultivation and promotion of human traits and endeavours to build a civil Malaysian society, and finally, if possible, embark with fellow travellers in this journey called Life in the pursuit of Truth, that undefinable yet essential and desiderable, in my opinion, ingredient in the civilization process so that the human race continues to uplift itself beyond and above the banal, the demeaning and the destructive actvities that now pervade, and in some societies, even dominate human activities worldwide.

I believe I am by nature and nurture an organiser and team leader, so I progressed fromorganising G7 meetings to more formal Bloggers Universe Malaysia 2007 and 2008 gatherings, or BUM2007 and BUM2008, the later marking my first collabraton with the Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) under the leadership of Dr Lim Teck Ghee for which I consider an honour and fortunate turn of crossroads on the third anniversary of penning for blogosphere.

I spent some time the past few weeks of where I am, and the journey I had traveled thus far. Much waters has flowed under the cyber-bridge. I have gained much, didn't lose any, perhaps made a few enemies I term as Agents Provocateur (APs), so I count my journey positive, productive and most important in my mind, "enjoyable".

I have reviewed my Three Original Objectives, and today announce that I have retained the three objectives, viz: * Civil Society; ** Promotion of the English language, especially using Poetry as a Special Medium; *** Truth-seeking. But to be added a fourth, namely: Nation-building,
which I think is timely and must enjoy priority as Malaysia approaches its 50th anniversary of birth.

I would think Nation-building would encompass Politics, whether Partisan or Non-partisan. I have decided that a citizen has every right to involve himself/herself in partisan politics, and this would not detract from the role of any Blogger in contributing to the community.

I borrow the words of a media fraternity member: "One cannot remain neutral in a moving train." -- Jacqueline Ann Surin, whose writings have caused much and spirited debates in blogosphere, and mGf Howsy holds her in higher esteem than Desi; we try to practise democracy even in all our discusioins, especially when media is the open field. Blogsworld members aspire and want to be treated with respect as the Fifth Estate. So let's start by adhering to the same exacting and high standards demanded of the Fourth Estate.

Posted by desiderata

Friday, August 31, 2007

MERDEKA: Exclusive Interview with DR SYED HUSIN ALI

Desi had the honour of interviewing PKR Deputy President Dr Syed Husin Ali for a substantive article to mark Malaysia's 50th Merdeka anniversary. I decided to spend more time and efforts promoting what I believe in is the PARTY FOR THE FUTURE, with its motivating force: ITS TIME FOR CHANGE!

Only a mutlti-racial party striving for Social Justice and Economic Progress under its NEW ECONOMIC AGENDA as envisaged by the party leaders led by de facto chief DS ANWAR IBRAHIM can bring about the option of an alternative coalition to replace the present Barisan Nasional government. And it's now in the hands of the electorate to strive for that change with PKR playing the lead role as it makes concerted efforts to lead the various Opposition parties in a viable front to overthrow the BN, around too long, too jaded, too corrupt, and with a CEO too sleepy-eyed on the job.

Let's hear it from Dr Syed Husin, who's a politician with a difference -- base on principles and unwavering championing of the masses' cause and welfare, well known for his socialist political struggle, and some three years back, marking a turning point when he led Parti Rakyat Malaysia into a merger to form the present Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

______________________ INTERVIEW STARTS HERE _________________

The Government has reneged on many election promises,  especially its anti-corruption fight, says Syed Husin

KUALA LUMPUR: The present Government led by Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi has not fulfilled practically all that he promised during the last elections, said PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali in an interview with SK Digest.

He mentioned as examples two important issues. Firstly, Pak Lah has completely reneged on his promise to fight against corruption, which has deteriorated since he became PM.

"There is grave suspicion of political interference that led to the instructions by the AG to close investigations on
corruption charges against a serving Deputy Minister, the present police chief and an ex-Director of ACA," Syed Husin said. The acquittal of Eric Chia has also raised many question marks, he added.

Secondly, media control has never been as bad as it is now, said the former academic. "The media are often instructed what to publish and what not to. There is a standing directive to mainstream media, owned, controlled or influenced by government parties not to give any publicity to Anwar Ibrahim and keADILan," said Syed Husin, who had  turned to become fulltime politician when University of Malaya authorities terminated his lectureship on
alleged infringement of the Universities and University Colleges Act in 1990.

Bloggers who take independent and critical positions are hounded and detained by the police, as testified by recent police actions against Raja Petra Kamaruddin and wife, also against a PKR webmaster Nathaniel Tan, plus civil suits of defamation against Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Atan aka Rockybru by a government-linked mainstream newspaper and cronies.

"Although the PM had promised about eight months ago in Parliament to issue KDN permit to Suara Keadilan, the party newspaper, he has conveniently ignored it, despite constant reminders," he added.

SK Digest observed that in March 2004, there was general acknowledgement of a "feel good" factor given that it was Pak Lah's first GE he was leading as UMNO and BN chief, and asked Syed Husin about the current sentiments from the grassroots for the forthcoming General Elections.

Syed Husin stated that the popularity ratings of both Abdullah and UMNO have slipped since the last GE, although apparently more with the latter than the former.  "Generally, the public has become more disappointed with Abdulla's leadership, that is perceived to be weak, ineffective as well as without any clear policy direction, and also with the government, which is seen to be not sensitive to the plights of the ordinary people."

Furthermore, the cost of living has gone up, largely as the results of increasing prices of food and petroleum, higher charges for tolls, water and electricity, and other factors affecting the common folks most.

"In the run up to the next GE, the government is trying to buy votes, by introducing all kinds of financial incentives e.g. through pay rise of government servants and hurried introduction of so-called development projects," he added.

Despite all these, overall, from independent polls carried out especially by Merdeka Centre and results of the four previous by-elections, there appears to be voter shift to the opposition now, especially among the Chinese, although the situation remains almost constant among the Malays.

"The presence of Anwar Ibrahim provides an added advantage. Even if he is not allowed to stand as a candidate, he will be free to campaign actively during the elections.

Indications now show that keADILan and the other opposition parties will fare better in the forthcoming general elections, Syed Husin predicted. (The GE is expected to be held by year-end or latest by March 2008 as PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would still be barred from contesting till mid-April 2008.)

SK Digest also posed to the well-respected veteran the question that after 50 years of Merdeka, of the state of nationhood today as compared with the first decade on achieving Independence -- Sept 1957-1967, requesting him to summarise the main challenges facing Malaysians as we march towards the year 2020.

Syed Husin acknowledged that there is undoubtedly some economic development, but the progress made by Malaysia is way behind that achieved by Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, although they started almost on par in 1960.

"The per-capita income of these three countries is respectively 5 to 3 times bigger than that of Malaysia."

"Although incidence of poverty has been reduced, income and socio-economic inequities have widened, as a result of concentration of wealth in the hands of a few through cronyism, corruption and commission. Despite all the government talk about it, environmental pollution and destruction continue without control," he lamented.

The national unity agenda mooted as one of the objectives of the Merdeka struggle can be said to have failed; ethnic tensions and divisions have become more marked as a result of racial and divide and rule policies. Standards of education, from the lowest to the highest levels, have gone down; there is huge number of graduate unemployment.

"Corruption is undermining the whole fabric of society; social and ethical standards are sliding down; there is increase in criminal and immoral activities. The future of the country and the people has become more uncertain," Syed Husin said with deep concern.


Following are Dr Syed Husin's answers in Q and A format to other issues:


From your vast political experience and long university career -- an academic involved in partisan politics -- can you identify if our campuses and academic staff and the undergraduates have become constrained and cocooned from playing a meaningful or effective role in national affairs ...with respect to the Universities and University Colleges Act, Akujanji pledge, etc...


The standards of all public universities have deteriorated. Among factors causing it: (a) quality of student entering university has slipped owing to falling standards of primary and secondary education, despite more students scoring more s; (b) appointment of VCs, majority of whom are pro-government and of questionable academic merit, who are only too keen to serve their political masters as government servants or even as policemen at the expense of academic autonomy and excellence; c) promotion as professors/ associate professors and deans/ heads on the basis of their political positions and administrative loyalties, rather than recognized scholarship and good administrative skills; (d) constant interference if not control of the universities through a direct political master, in the name of Minister for Higher Education, to such an extent that there is no more semblance of university autonomy left; and (e) stranglehold on staff and students through UUCA and Akujanji, for example, which render them to be ?cademic eunuchs§ stripped of academic creativity and critical mind.

Small wonder that the universities as academic institutions -- owing to the quality of teaching, research and publications as well as the crippled minds of the students -- are slowly going down the drain.


"Socialism" as an ideology did not make headway for decades within Malaysia's parliamentary system, yet there are pockets of believers still travelling that path. Any messages to your (former) party mates like those still trying to get PSM registered? What were the chief reasons leading you to spearhead PRM's merger with Keadilan Nasional to form the PKR just three years back?


The PRM-PKN merger was a historical necessity, I felt. It provided a bigger platform to fight for justice, democracy, national unity, transparency and welfare of the people. It was supported by vast majority of PRM membership. The few people who are trying to continue PRM now are going against the majority decision of the Party Congress. Indeed a good number of them, as delegates, voted for merger during the Congress in 2002. In fact, the person who now claims to be their leader shed tears during his speech to persuade delegate to support the merger plan as tabled at the Congress. He later assumed position as Deputy Secretary-General of Keadilan Rakyat, after merger. But suddenly and surprisingly he changed direction. They are not making any progress. I would advise him and his handful of friends to carry out their struggle through the bigger political vehicle of keADILan.


In the lead up to Aug 31, 2007 celebrations planned by the BN government, year-in-year-out we hear minsiterial exhortations to the rakyat, corporations and SME businesses to fly the national flag? Are there some underlying causes that prevent a spontaneous demonstration of such perceived "patriotic" spirit? -- To the extent when the Information Minister has to resort with threats to capture on camera those business establishments NOT flying the Jalur Gemilang.


I think that they are demonstrating their opposition to and disappointment with the government policies and leadership. By the way, patriotism is not something that is nurtured or obtained through threats and force.


Some of your comrades eg Kassim Ahmad, were wooed over by UMNO. Were you ever in two minds about joining the establishment UMNO party/any of BN components? Will you offer yourself as a Candidate for the forthcomg General Elections? I will understand if for strategic reasons you may not want to detail such GE plans, but a general sharing will do.


A number of Umno leaders (including Musa Hitam) tried to persuade me in the sixties to join UMNO. Once I convinced them of my principled pro-people, pro-justice and pro-democracy stands, they never bothered me any more.


Following share the thoughts of Young&Articulates JohnLee and Koi Kye Lee:)

Guest Blogger: johnleemk

"I still believe in Malaysia!"

All the other Merdeka essays I have seen to date touch on pessimism for the future of this country, and either explicitly or implicitly refer to certain controversial policies of our government. While I have written more than my fair share of essays on those (indeed, for the second Merdeka running, I have lambasted a particular bastion of these policies on my blog), it is not my intention to contribute to the burgeoning crop of condemnatory and in some rare cases, insulting, pieces of prose in this field.

Rather, permit me to explain why, even at times when I feel there is no hope, I still believe in Malaysia. Why I still believe in being Malaysian. And why, after all we've gone through, some Chinese might say, I still fervently believe in calling myself Malaysian first, rather than Chinese.

I don't believe there's a need to explain the bout of pessimism about Malaysia and its future. It wouldn't be too hard to examine the root causes of this discontent and resentment. Rather, what one ought to be doing is attempting to explain why some who share this same feeling of discontent and resentment still love this country.

As much as I have joined the usually resounding clarion call of voices in the blogosphere denouncing the government's approach to certain fields of its administration, I nevertheless continually find myself in an odd spot amongst them. Even among those I know in real life, pigeon-holing me into one category with others is something that remains hard to do. Unlike many, I have never felt any hate or frustration with this country -- rather, the sole focus of my anger has been the government and those within it.


I hail from a rather mixed background. I was born in Japan, to a Chinese Malaysian father and a Filipino mother. I was raised in Singapore, but educated wholly in Malaysia. On my father's part, I have never really managed to empathise with his mixed feelings towards our country. Logically, I understand them, yes, but emotionally, I do not feel them. Nevertheless, we can be broadly painted as moderates - people who do not believe that this country is wholly doomed yet. We are certainly far from Chinese chauvinists, making it hard for us to relate with several stereotypical Chinese grievances such as those related to the (what I will continue to refer to as segregatory) vernacular education stream. And as for my mother, her being non-Malaysian naturally precludes her from holding any strong views about the future of our country.

Similarly, amongst my peers -- especially those who were denied scholarships! -- there is a simmering feeling of discontent and frustration at the system. In some cases, this has even translated to a dislike or hatred of the Malays and Muslims. However, having grown up amongst them, I have never shared such feelings -- and this is where my story begins.

Unlike 95% of all Chinese Malaysians, I was educated in a national -- and by national, I do mean national; it was far from a Malay school, thank God - school. I never knew anything of discrimination or that taboo phrase, "second-class citizen". As far as I was concerned, I was just another nine-year-old grumpily getting on the bus for school with his friends. Until I was about 12 or 13, I did not even know what the word "Bumiputra" meant. Perhaps it shows how insulated I was by my circumstances; I do not know.

Whatever the case, I grew up feeling no reason for anger towards my country or my peers. Even though Islam was often brought up by my Malay friends in ways that could have been construed by some (probably those over-sensitive non-Malays) as incitement, we were very much a united bunch. My memories of primary school consist not of discrimination or frustration. Maybe my school was particularly liberal; I am not sure. They certainly gave one little excuse to argue that meritocracy was not being practiced; I was a member of the entirely non-Bumiputra school team that sent us to the district level Mathematics quiz. (Although in retrospect, they did make sure that the Head Prefect was always a Malay...) Still, if one considers the attitude of national school students and compares it with those from, say, the Chinese education stream, it is clear that one group is more "Malaysian", shall we say, than the other.

In primary school, I still remember, there was no distinction between Malay and non-Malay or Bumiputra and non-Bumiputra. We were all the same, and all treated equally. We took pains to respect one another's background, and we never encountered difficulties accomodating one another. We attended each other's birthday parties, with my parents making sure catered fast food was available for those with particular sensitivities. After school, we'd play football with crushed tin cans, nobody caring what the skin colour of the other bugger was like. We even made fun of those with particularly dark skin -- to us, that was just a physical attribute; race never came into the picture. "What does race have to do with anything?" we'd probably have asked.

After leaving primary school, as one matures, one better understands the way things are. I am sure all of us acutely understand the picture currently -- or at least understand it better than we once did. Nevertheless, we still maintain our practices and habits. I still invite my Malay friends to my birthday celebrations, and they make it a point to attend if possible. I do the same with them. The way you are brought up in primary school is crucial, because in our case, it has made us think like Malaysians, not Malay, Chinese and Indian.

There was a huge brouhaha earlier this year about a survey indicating that a sizeable percentage (I forget the exact amount) of Malaysians have never shared a meal with one of another race. This, my friends, is the legacy of that segregatory school system. This is why I continually and habitually rail against the establishment of vernacular education.

Never had a meal with someone of another race? A mixed group eating, and laughing together -- National school students have been doing that by habit since we can first remember, and it is not a habit that dies easily. Even in college, we think nothing of lepaking or yes, having breakfast or lunch, with those of a different skin pigmentation. It doesn't even come into the picture.

There are very noticeable differences in the behaviour of Chinese-educated and national school-educated students which can last for a lifetime. In secondary school and college, it is not too hard to tell these kinds of people apart. The Chinese-educated generally keep to themselves, while the national school students invariably have their own clique. That is not to say the Chinese-educated do not mix with the non-Chinese-educated; that certainly does happen. However, by inclination, one group is partial to keeping itself racially pure (whether they intend this or not is debateable; it could very well be unconscious), while another has no issues with mixing things up. Even those national school students we regard as racist thumb their nose at the Chinese-educated -- to them, this is another class of racists altogether.

Perhaps I am being too blunt. But whatever the case, it is my feeling that being of a national school background has made a tangible difference in who I am and how I feel today. Maybe this effect on my character was accentuated by my being a tabula rasa - blank slate - seeing as I had no inkling whatsoever of anything being wrong with a "Malaysian Malaysia" (still a taboo phrase for many government leaders). Nevertheless, I notice how I think differently and react differently. Some of these differences are probably attributable to my being completely race-blind at a young age (though I hope I remain race-blind today). But still, many of them, I believe, are rooted in my upbringing as a Malaysian, and not as a Chinese.

Today, my Malay accent is a bit Malay - and I do blush with pride when Malays remark on what they consider the quality of Malay. (To be honest, folks, it's atrocious. I need a dictionary whenever I intend on writing a decent essay in Malay. I'm just good at bahasa pasar.) To me, there is nothing to be ashamed of in knowing Malay, or being proficient in it. It is not the language of one race to me -- it is the language of one nation, and that is the Malaysian nation. My Malay may be atrocious, but I can tell you of the difference between kaum (race) and bangsa (nation).

Bahasa Melayu bukanlah bahasa kaum Melayu; ia merupakan bahasa bangsa Malaysia. Some might take umbrage at me referring to this language as Bahasa Melayu. If so, I apologise. Again, it is my upbringing. But I feel nothing wrong with "calling a spade a spade"; we do not recoil at calling English what it is, do we? After all, it is no longer a white man's language. What something is depends not on what we call it, but what we perceive it as. A rose under any other name would smell as sweet (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare).

But enough of that digression. Some might think I have been assimilated as a Malay/Muslim (the two are generally synonymous, are they not?). But is this true? My faith in Christianity has never been stronger, I would say. And as for race, I have always been (perhaps rather idealistically) race-blind. I have never really come to think of myself as a Chinese, although if asked for a race, I will continue to habitually speak of myself as Chinese. As far as I'm concerned, I am Malaysian.

One common ground I hear for retaining Chinese education is that it is, well, Chinese education. That it teaches our young to be perceptive of their nature as Chinese. I will have to disagree on this, then. It is my view that what is far more important is to be brought up and educated as a Malaysian. If it means diluting one's Chinese-ness, so be it. I do not intend to pull any punches here. We are Malaysians, not Chinese. That is what must be foremost in our minds, and what must be inculcated in us from young. Our home is not a place where our classmates, colleagues, and friends are practically 100% Chinese. It is not a place where everyone can converse in Mandarin, or where everyone shares the same cultural understanding. The Chinese school is a poor mechanism for preparing our young to live in a heterogenous nation.

And as for diluting one's Chinese identity, I do not put as much stock in that argument as I once did. After all, my girlfriend's identity as Chinese remains strong despite spending her entire life in a convent school instead of a Chinese school, and being educated entirely in Malay. She habitually speaks in Chinese proverbs, and lectures me on the need to be more, well, Chinese. And yet the beauty of it is that our conversations are - what else could they be? - Malaysian. To use a bit of linguistic jargon here, we code-switch between English, Malay, and a variety of Chinese dialects. (Some day, perhaps I shall find an occasion for inserting the one or two words of Tamil I know into a discussion - although I doubt there is a way one could politely utilise my profanity-centred vocabulary.) To us, there is nothing wrong with speaking in bits of English and Malay, with the occasional Chinese idiom.

And this is what gives me hope for the future. That perhaps some day we will all be able to be as unrealistically idealistic as I am, and speak of ourselves as Malaysians. When that day has come, my friends, we shall no longer encounter the need to shelter ourselves in communal schools (be they MARA Junior Science Colleges, or SRJKs), or derogatorise those of another race as kaum pendatang. If Malaysians have decided that we are Malaysians, what can the politicians do? And that is what I hope for Malaysia, this 49th Merdeka of ours.

Bonus Guest: Koi Kye Lee aka Kyels, and she has a distinctive Blog named
Laments of a Broken Hearted Silhouette.

The Silhouette, like Mona Lisa, often maketh Desi pause and wonder and wait,in anticipation, about the mystique. Meanwhile, she sometimes sounds morose and lost, yet other times rise to ecstasy and poetic brilliance, not knowing Des's lapping it all up, shyly peeping through the semi-darkness under the silvery moonlight.

Sometimes I touch gold. ~~ YL

What’s Happening?
Quo Vadis,My Country?

The youths today are vastly different from those of yesteryears. I believe there is this Generation Gap, in Malaysia and other countries -- a common phenomenon. What we perceive today is almost different from what our forefathers had distinguished. During the olden days, moral values were of supreme importance in daily lives, especially when it comes to older people in the society and in familial ties. Benevolence, respect, empathy, sincerity, honour, sympathy, and more, were the vital traits, and featured prominently when it comes to teaching and raising a child.

But one question I’d like to ask: Do you see in the children today inbibed with those values?

It's not to say that I am very well endowed with such "wonderful" values, but I do have a clear conscience that I try hard to contribute to promoting a civil society. Let’s take the public transportation scene in Malaysia, for example. How often do you see youngsters getting up and offering their seats to the elderly?

I take the Light Rail Transit (LRT) every day and from what I have observed all this while, I realised that many youths are either ignorant, or they lack certain social values. There was the occasion when I stumbled upon this scenario. The LRT was packed and it so happened I witnessed this episode with my own eyes. One blind man stepped into the train and made his way towards the bar since he could not see any seats and no one took his arm and to guide him to an empty seat. Looking from afar, I saw that a young girl was seated on one of the seats, and I could see her gaze was set upon the blind man. What hit me was: why did she not get up and lead the man to her seat?

I observed for more than three minutes and she was still giving the blind man the same uncaring stare. She was not ready to give her seat up until a good Samaritan told the girl to stand up and let the blind man have the seat. The amazing part was that she was so unwilling to do so, discernible from her facial expression. But she had to -- because a whole load of strangers were looking right into her!

When we see more such scenarios happening, can we figure out that there is something wrong here? Charity begins from home after all. No, I am not judging the credibility of our parents and guardians today, but rather I believe the education system of our dear country has some role to play in bringing about such sad state of affirs.

What do you really see when we talk about the education system here? There might be differuing points of views because we all have our own perspectives. Yes, it is indeed a subjective issue, but certainly begs the question: Does the system serve to ionculcate the social values and graces in tandem with an aspiring developed nation status society?

From what I see, a certain percentage of people no longer care about morality. Many still do, but they do so at a much deteriorating scale as compared with the era of our forefathers. The people today care more about getting straight A’s in Government examinations. Yes, it’s not wrong to aim for good grades but what good does it make when you are a smart person yet you have a very bad personality? Stop and ponder...

What I am trying to point out here is that Malaysian society faces a trend that poses a dilemma: where have the moral values of the society gone to?

My opinion is that the percentage of selfish people is growing higher and higher with every passing day. Selfishness latently runs in our veins, perhaps, but there are times that we have to put that aside and look at things in a wider perspective and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. It would be good if Malaysians start caring about each other, be it the neighbours, or other members of the public, regardless of the differences in skin tones, race or creed. There would be fewer squabbles in the range of the public eye, and it can start with the political parties. We have seen many instances of "hurtful and sensitive remarks" coming off politicians' mouth willy-nilly. My wish is that such incidents would lessen in NegaraKu so that all the races would be able to live in peace and harmony.

Let not unfairness and selfishness rule us all. Differences could be made if all of us are willing to co-operate and walk along hand-in-hand to make Malaysia a better world to live in. After all, we are Malaysians.

I’m not perfect either but at least, my conscience and values are clear cut and I believe in striving towards noble values with enough to go by. I hope fellow Malaysians will strive to build a more considerate and caring society. With this hope I wish all of you, Happy Independence Day."

Merdeka! Merdeka! MERDEKA!



After 50 Years of Independence: What We All Can Do For A Better Malaysia

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This book contains Dr. Phua Kai-Lit's ideas (based on knowledge learned from ther social scientists as well as his current state of thinking) on how all of Malaysians can live their lives so that all citizens can help to bring about a better Malaysia for themselves, their children, grandchildren and their subsequent descendants. Dr. Phua hopes the book can help all citizens to think more critically about the state of contemporary Malaysian society and also give their new ideas on how everyone can all pitch in to help to make it a better place to live in. [Download]

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