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NB: This article was originally published in Roketkini.com.

Ketika Dato’ Sri Najib Razak awal-awal menjadi Perdana Menteri, beliau menjanjikan perpaduan nasional melalui kempen 1Malaysia dan Model Ekonomi Baru (MEB). Dasar ekonomi yang diuar-uarkan ini dikatakan akan mengambil pendekatan tindakan afirmatif berasaskan keperluan, yakni kepada golongan berpendapatan 40 peratus terendah tanpa mengira kaum.

Usaha ini menandakan pemisahan daripada Dasar Ekonomi Baru (DEB) sebelum ini yang berasaskan kaum. Dengan anjakan paradigma ini, Najib mengisyaratkan bahawa pembangunan ekonomi negara pada masa depan akan bertunjangkan prinsip keterangkuman sosial, di mana setiap rakyat Malaysia akan dihitungkan, khususnya mereka yang paling memerlukan bantuan.

Malangnya, janji-janji Najib semua sudah terbatal. Konsep 1Malaysia kini menjadi tidak lebih daripada jenama bagi kedai runcit subsidi, klinik bergerak, skim perumahan mampu milik, menu makanan bajet, serta peruncit tekstil dan lain-lain lagi.

Pada masa yang sama, MEB pula jelas dipinggirkan oleh NEB versi baru yang dinamakan agenda Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera (PEB).

Dasar PEB yang baru dilancarkan ini melibatkan pelbagai inisiatif berasaskan kaum, termasuk pembentukan Majlis Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera, penubuhan Unit Pembangunan Bumiputera di setiap kementerian, jaminan bahawa Syarikat Berkaitan Kerajaan (GLC) utama akan meningkatkan penyertaan vendor Bumiputera, serta pelancaran 10 bilion unit saham baru Skim Amanah Saham Bumiputera 2 (ASB2) oleh Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).

Sementara MEB menawarkan liberalisasi pasaran dan tindakan afirmatif berasaskan keperluan yang akan memberi tumpuan kepada usaha merapatkan jurang antara yang kaya dan miskin, PEB pula seolah-olah usaha untuk mengembalikan DEB yang telah terbukti gagal membela golongan Melayu miskin, tetapi sebaliknya lebih memanfaatkan golongan kapitalis Melayu yang mempunyai hubungan akrab dengan parti pemerintah.

Hakikat ini adalah jelas apabila kita pertimbangkan perangkaan yang menunjukkan bahawa setelah empat dekad bantuan yang kononnya disasarkan kepada Bumiputera, masih terdapat 40 peratus isi rumah Bumiputera yang hidup dengan pendapatan bulanan RM1,686 secara purata. Pada masa yang sama, si kaya yang mempunyai hubungan politik mampu untuk membeli rumah banglo RM7 juta dengan begitu sahaja.

Justeru, cadangan pelancaran 10 bilion unit ASB2 adalah sangat meragukan. Siapakah yang sebenarnya mendapat manfaat daripada saham ASB tambahan yang bakal disediakan? Adakah kumpulan 40 peratus isi rumah Bumiputera terendah dapat melabur dalam saham-saham yang berhasil tinggi ini sedangkan pendapatan mereka hanya cukup makan dan pakai?

Menurut laporan tahunan PNB, pelaburan purata pelabur Bumiputera adalah RM14,097 seorang pada akhir tahun 2012. Sekali pandang, angka ini tampak menunjukkan bahawa ramai orang Melayu sudah mencapai kadar simpanan yang agak selesa.

Walau bagaimanapun, apabila laporan ini diperhalusi, angka ini benar-benar mengelirukan. Setelah dicerakinkan, didapati bahawa 74 peratus atau hampir tiga perempat pelabur Amanah Saham Bumiputera sebenarnya mempunyai pelaburan purata hanya RM611 setiap seorang. Angka ini jauh berbeza dengan purata keseluruhan pelabur dan lebih mencerminkan realiti rakyat.

Dalam erti kata lain, hanya golongan pelabur elit Bumiputera yang mampu melabur dengan jumlah yang ketara, sementara majoriti pelabur Bumiputera yang lain ternyata tidak mampu menikmati tawaran saham ini. Oleh itu, bagaimanakah mungkin langkah Kerajaan untuk menyediakan lebih banyak unit ASB dapat memberi manfaat kepada Bumiputera kebanyakan?

Malah, satu kajian oleh pakar ekonomi Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid mendapati bahawa perbezaan kekayaan antara pelabur ASB adalah sangat mencolok, di mana 0.1 peratus teratas pelabur Bumiputera mempunyai portfolio terkumpul yang bernilai 1,526 kali lebih banyak berbanding gabungan 80 peratus pemegang saham terbawah. Oleh itu, tidak syak lagi bahawa kumpulan elit Bumiputera ini juga yang akhirnya akan mendapat manfaat daripada tambahan 10 bilion unit ASB2, dan bukannya Melayu biasa yang sekadar mampu untuk melabur sebanyak RM611.

Maka, persoalannya – untuk siapakah ASB2 ini sebenarnya? Pastinya bukan untuk Bumiputera kebanyakan.

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

“If this law is passed, it will be a black day in Malaysia.”

Standing two rows in front of me, N Surendran, the Member for Padang Serai, held the floor defiantly. I nodded my head solemnly. At that point, a feeling of frustration had overcome me. Not only because such a critical bill was being bulldozed through without proper consultation and engagement, despite its huge ramifications on civil liberties and human rights, but also because, seated on the opposition benches, there was very little we could do to either stop or delay it.

I glanced at the clock behind the speaker. By the end of the day, two previously repealed draconian laws would return to haunt Malaysia. How did we come to this?

From transformation to regression

Dato’ Sri Najib Razak’s reign as prime minister began with all the trappings of a grand reformer. In an attempt to unite a divided nation, he proffered the pseudo-national slogan of “1Malaysia,” defined by his official website as “a belief in the importance of national unity irrespective of race or religious belief.”

Najib also articulated a fresh economic agenda, dubbed the New Economic Model (NEM), in which he proposed a clear departure from the racially charged New Economic Policy (NEP) of the last four decades. In this paradigm shift, state monopolistic practices and race-based discrimination was set to be replaced by market liberalisation and needs-based affirmative action in favour of the poor.

Underpinning both the 1Malaysia concept as well as the NEM was an important keyword: “transformation”. This keyword has since manifested into a host of government initiatives such as the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), through which Najib’s transformative reforms were converted into actionable projects and policies.

Najib’s euphoria, unfortunately, was not to last. Barely three years on, transformation has descended into regression. Today, 1Malaysia remains nothing more than a brand for subsidised sundry shops, mobile clinics, affordable housing schemes, budget menus and even textile retailers, while the NEM has given way to a rehashed NEP in the form of the recently announced Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Agenda (BEEA).

What is most tragic, however, is the unabashed about-turn by the Najib Administration over laws allowing for detention without trial.

In 2011, Najib led a hyperbolic charge to dismantle two existing legislations that provided for detention without due judicial process, i.e. the Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance (EO) and the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA). This represented a giant leap forward towards greater civil liberties and respect for human rights in Malaysia, considering the fact that both laws have been much abused over the years as a tool of political intimidation, often against legitimate political opponents.

Announced via live telecast to a nationwide audience and proudly reiterated in the international fora, Najib was adamant in presenting himself as a champion of liberal reforms. In an interview with the BBC, he even promised that having “removed the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance… detention without trial is history in Malaysia.”

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s notion of history has proven to be rather myopic. In the last week, Malaysians have witnessed the official end of Najib’s reform agenda, as the Government ushered in the return of the EO and the ISA through amendments made to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA). This law may carry a different name, but every controversial provision has been retained – indefinite detention without trial, presumption of guilt, and prohibition of legal recourse, with the only significant difference being the replacement of the arbitrary powers of the Home Minister with an equally arbitrary three-man “Prevention of Crime Board.”

A campaign of justification

What is most galling about the entire exercise is that the law had been passed without much public resistance. Besides the usual opposition-led protests, some comments by political and social activists, as well as a strongly worded joint statement by the Bar Council, the Sabah Law Association and the Advocates Association of Sarawak, there was no sustained hue and cry following the tabling of the bill (though there now appears to be growing remonstration after the fact).

This was accomplished largely due to a cleverly planned campaign of justification. While, less than a year ago, the Government could not stop singing praises about its own successes in combatting crime through its GTP initiatives, the official tone took a divergent turn following unfavourable results in the 13th General Election, which hawks within the ruling party blamed on the Government’s increasingly liberal stand.

Shortly after the election, the media began to report a flurry of criminal activities, including a worrying spate of organised violence involving firearms. At one point, during the festive season mid-year, gun murders became a daily affair. Although most of the victims were themselves criminally linked, there was no doubt that the public had been persuaded that violent crime had spiralled out of control.

That was when the Home Minister seized upon the opportunity to suggest that the sudden surge in crime was due to the repeal of the EO and the ISA, as it effectively meant that thousands of ex-detainees had been set loose to roam around the country, presumably causing havoc.

This scenario, which soon became the police’s official line, appeared to be believable. In truth, however, there was no empirical evidence to suggest the correlation, a fact admitted to by the Attorney-General himself.

Instead, crime statistics from the Home Ministry revealed that incidences of armed gang robberies and armed robberies declined significantly (by 65 per cent compared to the year before) in 2012, which is the year immediately subsequent to the abolishment of the EO and ISA in December 2011.

Nevertheless, with public sentiment aroused, the Government launched a campaign dubbed “Operation Cantas Khas”, which saw nearly 12,000 criminals arrested and over 400 weapons confiscated over a one-month period.

Thus, having successfully constructed a climate of fear, the PCA amendments were introduced as the next logical step in the war against crime. Never mind that the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act already provided for limited detention without trial with judicial review in cases involving national security, or the fact that there was never any proof linking ex-EO or ISA detainees to the sudden spate of violent crime, or that structural inefficiencies had been singled out by many including the 2005 Royal Commission of Inquiry report for police failures in combatting crime. The PCA, it was suggested, was the tool that would solve the intractable crisis of crime in our country.

As a result, the draconian provisions of the EO and the ISA are now available once again in the guise of the PCA. While the Government has promised that it will not be used against political opponents, history has proven otherwise, as many members of the opposition benches would readily testify.

If 1Malaysia and the NEM provided the basis of Najib’s first term in power, then the BEEA and the PCA should give us a clear indication of what to expect in the years to come.

Thus, Surendran’s proclamation in Parliament was only half-right. The passing of the bill at 1.00am on 3 October 2013 did not merely signal a black day, but in fact the beginning of black times ahead for the nation.

NB: This press statement was released on 5 October 2013 in Alor Setar.

Setelah diberi penghormatan dan tanggungjawab oleh Jawatankuasa Tertinggi Pusat (CEC) ekoran keputusan pada 30 September yang lalu untuk melantik saya sebagai Pengerusi Interim DAP Kedah, saya telah membentuk semula Jawatankuasa Interim Negeri Kedah dengan keanggotaan seperti berikut:

Pengerusi Sdr Zairil Khir Johari
Timbalan Pengerusi Sdr Steven Sim Chee Keong
Naib Pengerusi Sdr Syed Araniri
Naib Pengerusi Sdri Lok Saw Mee
Naib Pengerusi Sdr Karuna
Setiausaha Sdr KB Teoh
Penolong Setiausaha Sdr Soon Peng Lim
Bendahari Sdr Por Lee Tee
Setiausaha Organisasi Sdr Teh Seng Teik
Penolong Set. Organisasi Sdr Yong Peng Sin
Setiausaha Publisiti Sdr Dr Lim Sin Keat
Penolong Set. Publisiti Sdr Vincent Chee
Pengarah Pendidikan Politik Sdr Tan Kok Yew
Ahli Jawatankausa Sdr Vincent Wu
Ahli Jawatankuasa Sdr Thomas Su
Ahli Jawatankuasa Sdri Ooi Sow Ching

Jawatankuasa interim ini terdiri daripada campuran pemimpin veteran dan anak muda, serta pemimpin-pemimpin dari luar negeri Kedah termasuk Ahli Parlimen Bukit Mertajam Steven Sim Chee Keong, Ahli Parlimen Ipoh Timur Thomas Su dan Ahli CEC Vincent Wu.

Dengan pemimpin-pemimpin yang berpengalaman serta dinamik, saya yakin pasukan ini akan lagi memperkukuhkan jentera DAP Kedah, khususnya dalam proses pengembangan parti di negeri ini.

Jawatankuasa Interim DAP Kedah dibentuk mengikut ketetapan perlembagaan parti

Terdapat sesetengah pihak yang mempersoalkan kesahihan lantikan Jawatankuasa Interim oleh CEC. Di sini saya ingin menegaskan bahawa fasal kecil (sub-clause) 11 dan 12 di bawah Fasal XIV perlembagaan parti memperuntukkan kuasa penuh kepada CEC untuk membubarkan mana-mana Jawatankuasa Negeri dan melantik Jawatankuasa Interim bagi tempoh enam bulan.

Justeru, peruntukan perlembagaan parti adalah jelas dan kedudukan saya sebagai Pengerusi Jawatankuasa Interim DAP Kedah adalah sah dan tidak boleh dipertikaikan.

Melangkah ke depan, saya berharap agar semua ahli DAP Kedah akan rapatkan barisan dan bersatu menggembleng tenaga untuk menghadapi cabaran yang terdekat, iaitu Pilihan Raya Kecil Sungai Limau pada 4 November nanti.

Zairil Khir Johari, Pengerusi Interim DAP Kedah merangkap Penolong Setiausaha Publisiti Kebangsaan DAP dan Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 27 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

The proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA) have caused a public outcry, not least because it appears to be a way of reintroducing the controversial provisions of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) and Emergency Ordinance (EO), both of which were repealed by the very same administration.

Many have pointed out the double standards of Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak, who began his term promising “transformation” and respect for human rights and civil liberties, but have now succumbed to business as usual by undoing his very own reforms, and his own credibility in the process.

Further to that, the amendments to the PCA are problematic due to a few other reasons, as stated below.

No to preventive detention

Firstly, the reintroduction of preventive detention is completely unnecessary. This is especially so in light of the fact that the Government has already passed the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, which allows for preventive detention in cases of national security. Moreover, even without the amendments, the PCA already allows for remand of up to 28 days and then a further 28 days upon the approval of a magistrate.

Therefore, the PCA amendments can be seen as an attempt to broaden the ambit for detention without trial. Instead of taking the easy way out by using detention without trial, the police should focus on solving crime via the criminal justice system.

Overturning of the principle of justice

Secondly, there is a strong element of presumption of guilt in the proposed changes to the PCA. For example, section 7C(a)(i) states that a detention order can be issued on a person who has “committed two or more serious offences, whether or not he is convicted thereof, if the inquiry report finds sufficient evidence to support such finding.” In other words, a person who has been accused of an offence can be detained without having been proven to have committed it. Does this not contradict the basis of criminal justice, whereby a person is innocent until proven guilty?

Arbitrary power of the Prevention of Crime Board

Thirdly, it would appear that the arbitrary powers of the Home Minister that existed in the ISA has now been replaced with the arbitrary powers of a “Prevention of Crime Board.” This Board will comprise three members, with a chairman who “shall be or have been, or be qualified to be, a judge of the Federal Court, the Court of Appeal or a High Court.” In addition to the chairman, there will be two other members. However, the bill provides no specification of any criteria whatsoever for the appointment of these two other members. This raises many questions – who will recommend them and on what basis would they be recommended?

Lack of independence and check and balance in decision-making

Finally, the proposed law also prohibits legal redress by not allowing judicial review of the Board’s decisions. This is stated by Section 15A(1): “There shall be no judicial review in any court of, and no court shall have or exercise any jurisdiction in respect of, any act done or finding or decision made by the Board in the exercise of its discretionary power….” A judicial review is only possible on matters concerning the Board’s compliance with procedural requirements.

Oddly, however, Section 19A(2) appears to contradict the earlier section by allowing a review of “the direction of the Board… by the High Court”. As such, it is at best a contradicting law and at worst, one that ignores the fundamental principles of justice.

Conclusion

Thus, it is obvious that the proposed amendments to the PCA are a clear violation of civil liberties, and a return to a haunted past Malaysians believed to have been buried. While we do not object to the strengthening of existing criminal laws to tackle escalating crime, the current amendments are akin to the government reviving the oppressive EO and ISA through the backdoor via the PCA.

Steven Sim Chee Keong, Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam

Zairil Khir Johari, Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 26 September 2013 in Alor Setar.

Bagi pihak DAP Kedah, saya ingin menyampaikan salam takziah kepada keluarga Tan Sri Dato’ Seri DiRaja Ustaz Haji Azizan bin Abdul Razak atas pemergian Allahyarham yang cukup selesa dan rendah diri dengan panggilan mesra, Ustaz Azizan. Demikianlah janji Tuhan, tiada yang dapat menundanya mahupun mempercepatkannya barang sesaat juga.

Allahyarham Ustaz Azizan bukan sahaja tokoh pemimpin politik yang dihormati, malahan juga seorang pemimpin agama serta bekas ahli akademik yang disegani. Sesungguhnya, negeri Kedah telah kehilangan seorang pemimpin yang memiliki keperibadian unggul dalam banyak bidang – siasah, akademik, dan agama – yang amat sukar dicari ganti.

DAP Kedah juga ingin menyatakan rasa berbesar hati kerana dapat berkhidmat bersama Allahyarham Ustaz Azizan yang senantiasa tegas dalam komitmennya untuk memastikan kebajikan rakyat dan pembangunan negeri Kedah.

Meskipun kepimpinan Allahyarham di Kedah hanya sepenggal, namun dalam tempoh itu Allahyarham telah menunjukkan tauladan pentadbiran yang telus dan amanah. Semoga usaha, jasa, pengorbanan dan kerja keras Allahyarham dirahmati Allah.

Zairil Khir Johari, Pengerusi Interim DAP Kedah merangkap Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This press statement was released on 23 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

Kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang telah mengumumkan bahawa semua Adun negeri tersebut, termasuk Adun pembangkang, akan diberikan peruntukan untuk projek pembangunan kecil. 10 orang Adun pembangkang daripada Umno akan diberi peruntukan sebanyak RM40,000 bagi tujuan tersebut mulai 2014.

Tindakan tersebut jelas merupakan satu langkah besar ke hadapan untuk mewujudkan sebuah demokrasi yang matang di negara kita. Ia sekaligus juga membuktikan bahawa kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang tidak bermain politik dan sebaliknya serius dalam usaha pendamaian nasional yang tidak pernah diamalkan oleh kerajaan Persekutuan.

Usaha ini patut dicontohi setiap kerajaan negeri di Malaysia dan sudah tentu sekali oleh kerajaan Persekutuan. Pada tahun ini, sejumlah RM185.5 juta telah diperuntukkan kepada semua 222 kawasan parlimen. Jumlah ini bersamaan dengan lebih kurang RM835,000 setiap kawasan. Malangnya, Ahli Parlimen pembangkang langsung tidak diberi kuasa untuk mengurus ataupun meluluskan sebarang projek menggunakan peruntukan tersebut.

Jelas, tindakan ini merupakan diskriminasi terhadap Ahli Parlimen pembangkang dan pencabulan terhadap prinsip demokrasi. Ia juga boleh dilihat sebagai menghina rakyat di kawasan-kawasan pembangkang.

Justeru, kami menggesa kerajaan Persekutuan terutamanya Perdana Menteri Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak untuk mengikut jejak langkah kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang dan memberikan peruntukan tahunan kepada Ahli Parlimen pembangkang agar kami dapat melaksanakan kewajiban kami sebagai wakil rakyat yang dipilih secara sah.

Kami juga berharap Perdana Menteri akan mengambil peluang ini untuk bertindak secara berhemah dan membelakangkan kepentingan politik sempit demi mencapai kematangan proses demokrasi di negara kita.

Steven Sim Chee Keong, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Mertajam 

Zairil Khir Johari, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

The most basic form of democratic decision-making is the exercise of majority rule, a binary concept whereby the option that gains more than half the votes is chosen. However, this simplistic model, in use in most legislatures throughout the world including ours, can easily lead to majoritarianism, or simply put, the “tyranny of the majority”.

In such a situation, particularly in the absence of legal safeguards, political minorities risk the danger of being oppressed, be they minorities of race, gender or class. This is especially relevant to a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society such as ours, comprising of various ethnic groups co-existing alongside the majority Bumiputeras (most of whom are Malay-Muslims), which make up over 50 per cent of the population.

Such a delicate ethno-religious situation thus requires a kind of democracy that is more intuitive and just, which not only serves the wants and needs of the majority, but which also protects the rights and needs of the minorities. This balance is critical and must be maintained in order to provide the necessary space and opportunities for every citizen to achieve their optimal potential and ambitions.

In other words, the state must ensure the provision of social mobility. This goes beyond merely providing the required space and infrastructure, and then allowing nature to take its course. Such a liberal concept is problematic because it is unfair insofar as the world is unfair.

I refer here to the issue of income inequality. It has been traditionally accepted that inequality is a natural by-product of economic growth because healthy competition and meritocracy would result in unequal outcomes. After all, it makes sense that those who work harder and smarter than the rest would reap more benefits compared to those who aren’t as competitive. In short, income inequality reflects a well-functioning market economy.

However, recent empirical evidence produced by mainstream research has pointed out that income inequality may not be sustainable as far as long-term economic stability and growth is concerned. This is because income inequality will invariably result in the gross concentration of wealth at the top, and consequently weakening effective demand at the bottom. As we have seen in recent times, this may translate into loose monetary policy and unsustainable debt as the masses at the bottom struggle to keep up.

At the same time, income inequality also creates a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement as quality education, healthcare, economic opportunities and ultimately social mobility begins to edge further and further away from the reach of the masses. In other words, not only do the rich get richer, the poor will get poorer, both materially and socially.

Hence, the role of the state is extremely important in rebalancing inequality through income redistribution, not only to ensure the welfare of the people, but also to facilitate growth. The macro concept is simple enough – the healthier the population, the more educated they are and the more they earn, the stronger consumer demand becomes and the more sustainable the economy will be. For proof of concept, one only has to look at the Scandinavian model which has produced strong, resilient economic growth through equitable income redistribution.

Now, coming back to the Malaysian situation. We currently suffer from one of the highest levels of income inequality in the region. With a GINI coefficient of 0.4621, our income gap is the widest Southeast Asia. The bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian income earners earn a total of 14.3 per cent of total income while the top 20 per cent commands nearly half or 50 per cent.

Thus, while it is not difficult to argue for the need for some kind of redistributive policy, it is not as simple as one would think given the complicated nature of Malaysia’s polity, ethnic diversity and colonial history.

Post-1969, the Malaysian government recognised the need to address vast socio-economic inequalities that were apparent along racial lines, whereby the Bumiputeras, despite being the majority, only owned an equity share of 2.4 per cent of the economy, compared to the dominant Chinese, which made up the bulk of the capitalist class. Faced with a situation that would unlikely correct itself owing to the general lack of qualifications and social capital amongst the Malay populace, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was devised to address this gap.

The NEP entailed a two-pronged approach, namely: (1) the eradication of poverty regardless of race; and (2) the restructuring of society to eliminate the identification of race with economic function. The former took the form of rural development and poverty eradication programmes while the latter manifested as positive discrimination in favour of the Bumiputeras via education and employment quotas, government procurement policies, as well as corporate equity requirements on publicly-listed firms.

After two decades of the NEP, poverty was successfully reduced from 49.3 per cent in 1970 to single digits today. Local ownership of corporate equity also increased at the expense of foreigners while the Bumiputera share grew tenfold to about 20 per cent according to official data.

However, critics point out that while the NEP managed to lift a significant portion of our population out of the poverty trap and create a sizable and urbane Malay middle class, it has over the years also been used and abused not only to enrich a small elite class of Malay capitalists, but also as a tool of patronage.

Under the guise of the NEP, privatisation, property ownership, corporate listing requirements, senior public positions, and even education opportunities were captured and monopolised by those in power – all made kosher by the standard line of “helping the Malays”.

As a result, a handful of Malay millionaires and billionaires were created while the average Bumiputera remains trapped with little prospect of social mobility. According to the Federal Government’s New Economic Model, the bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian households earn an average household income of RM1,500 a month, with the Bumiputeras making up close to three-quarters of this number.

While inter-ethnic inequality has indeed been reduced, the intra-ethnic gap has widened by leaps and bounds. State monopoly capitalism now pervades, while the private sector is increasingly crowded out. In short, the NEP’s intended purpose of addressing poverty and increasing Malay participation in the economy has given way to corruption, cronyism and abuse of power for the benefit of the ruling capitalist class. This has occurred principally because of the racialised nature of the affirmative action policy, which allows special entitlements based solely on one requirement: race.

Hence, what is needed is not the dismantling of affirmative action, but a reorientation of the policy from race-based to needs-based. This will ensure positive discrimination not in favour of a certain race, which has been easily abused, but instead in favour of those who truly require support and assistance.

In particular, attention must be focused on the marginalised, such as the Orang Asli, the Bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak, other ethnic and religious minorities, and those in the lower income groups, in order to help them compete and in turn contribute towards the development of our nation.

We also need an economic agenda that recognises the problem of income inequality, and seeks to alleviate it by empowering those at the bottom, providing them with health, education and economic opportunities, regardless of race.

Most importantly, any kind of affirmative action must be implemented in a transparent and accountable manner, so as to reduce the scope for corruption and cronyism.

In this pivotal moment of our country’s development, it is critical that we embark on a new, inclusive national policy that is able to target and support the most vulnerable in our society. The failure to address this successfully will render any economic development meaningless, as its benefits will be invariably reaped by a select few.

After all, as Nelson Mandela once wrote, “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones”.

NB: This press statement was released on 5 September 2013 in Kuala Lumpur.

According to the Malaysiakini articled titled “Zam: DAP irate as its logo stands out in Tanda Putera” dated 4 September 2013, former minister of information Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin is quoted as saying that the DAP is against the film because the party’s logo is prominently displayed in the film’s controversial May 13, 1969 racial riot scene.

I would like to state that I have seen the film, and having done so, I admit that I am sorely disappointed. However, my dissatisfaction against the film stems not so much from the fact that the DAP was constantly maligned (indeed, our logo appeared to be omnipresent in most of the racial riot scenes, although there was no direct reference linking the party to the riots). This is because I had expected nothing less than a perversion of reality, as how the DAP has been constantly victimised and misrepresented in recent times, most notably over the CEC election.

I was also not surprised by the grossly unfair and one-sided portrayal of the Chinese as the main instigators of the racial riots. That too was expected, considering the film was fully funded by a RM4.8 million grant from FINAS (National Film Development Corporation) and MDEC (Multimedia Development Corporation). After all, race-baiting and provocation is everyday fare for the BN-controlled mainstream media.

However, what most surprised me, and disappointed me at the same time, was the fact that despite the record sum of money invested, the film failed miserably in its main objective – to honour and glorify the true achievements of the late Tun Abdul Razak.

Tun Razak, our second prime minister, is also known as Bapa Pembangunan (Father of Development), a sobriquet that reflects his efforts in championing extensive land reforms undertaken in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Under his stewardship, the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) and Urban Development Authority (UDA) were birthed, which ultimately led to rapid rural development and mass urbanisation of the Malays. Through FELDA, rural Malays were resettled into newly developed areas and granted land with which they could engage in modern agriculture. UDA, on the other hand, was tasked to oversee the urban migration of Malays.

As a result of these initiatives, millions of Malays were lifted out of poverty, while education and economic opportunities became accessible to the rural Malays. Consequently a thriving Malay middle class now exists today. That, above all, was Tun Razak’s greatest contribution to the country.

Unfortunately, anyone who watches the movie will be unable to appreciate any of those efforts. Instead, the viewer will merely learn that were it not for Tun Razak, Malaysia Airlines would today be known as MAL instead of MAS.

The gross abuse of millions of public funds for self-aggrandising propaganda notwithstanding, I believe the greatest tragedy of this film is its failure to contribute anything positive about one of our nation’s great leaders.

Zairil Khir Johari, MP for Bukit Bendera

Saya kecewa Tanda Putera remehkan jasa Tun Razak

Menurut artikel Malaysiakini yang bertajuk “Zam: DAP irate as its logo stands out in Tanda Putera” yang bertarikh 4 September 2013, bekas Menteri Penerangan Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin dipetik sebagai berkata, DAP menentang filem Tanda Putera kerana logo parti itu jelas dipaparkan dalam filem kontroversi 13 Mei 1969 dalam babak rusuhan kaum.

Saya ingin menyatakan bahawa saya telah menonton filem Tanda Putera, dan saya mengaku bahawa saya sangat kecewa. Walau bagaimanapun, rasa tidak puas hati saya terhadap filem ini tidak begitu banyak berpunca daripada hakikat cemuhan terhadap DAP (sememangnya, logo kami kelihatan jelas dalam kebanyakan adegan rusuhan kaum, meskipun tidak ada rujukan langsung bagi menghubungkan DAP dengan rusuhan). Ini adalah kerana saya telah menjangkakan penyelewengan realiti ini, sebagaimana DAP sentiasa dimangsakan dengan pelbagai tohmahan sejak kebelakangan ini, khususnya berkenaan pemilihan CEC yang lalu.

Saya juga tidak terkejut dengan gambaran tidak adil dan berat sebelah terhadap masyarakat Cina sebagai pencetus utama rusuhan kaum. Itu juga telah dijangka, memandangkan filem ini dibiayai sepenuhnya oleh geran RM4.8 juta daripada FINAS (Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional) dan MDEC (Perbadanan Pembangunan Multimedia). Lagipun, perangkap perkauman dan provokasi adalah modal harian media arus perdana yang dikuasai BN.

Walau bagaimanapun, apa yang paling mengejutkan saya, dan mengecewakan pada masa yang sama, adalah hakikat bahawa disebalik jumlah wang yang dilaburkan, filem ini gagal dalam objektif utamanya – menghormati dan memuliakan pencapaian sebenar Allahyarham Tun Abdul Razak.

Tun Razak, Perdana Menteri kedua, juga dikenali sebagai Bapa Pembangunan, gelaran penghormatan yang mencerminkan usaha beliau dalam memperjuangkan reformasi tanah besar-besaran yang dilaksanakan pada 1960-an dan awal 1970-an.

Di bawah kepimpinan beliau, Lembaga Kemajuan Tanah Persekutuan (FELDA) dan Lembaga Pembangunan Bandar (UDA) telah dibentuk, yang akhirnya membawa kepada pembangunan luar bandar yang pesat dan pembandaran besar-besaran orang Melayu. Melalui FELDA, Melayu luar bandar telah ditempatkan semula ke kawasan pembangunan baru dan dikurniakan tanah bagi membolehkan mereka melibatkan diri dalam pertanian moden. UDA pula telah ditugaskan untuk memudahcarakan migrasi Melayu ke bandar.

Hasil daripada inisiatif ini, berjuta-juta orang Melayu berjaya keluar daripada kemiskinan, manakala peluang pendidikan dan ekonomi dapat dicapai oleh orang Melayu luar bandar yang kemudiannya membentuk kelas menengah Melayu berdaya maju yang ada kini. Ini semua adalah sumbangan terbesar Tun Razak kepada negara.

Malangnya, sesiapa yang menonton filem ini tidak akan dapat menghargai mana-mana usaha tersebut. Sebaliknya, penonton hanya akan mengetahui bahawa kalaulah tidak kerana Tun Razak, syarikat penerbangan Malaysia hari ini akan dikenali sebagai MAL, dan bukan MAS.

Selain daripada penyalahgunaan nyata berjuta ringgit dana awam untuk propaganda diri sendiri, saya percaya tragedi terbesar filem ini adalah kegagalan untuk menyumbang nilai positif berkenaan salah satu daripada pemimpin besar negara kita.

Zairil Khir Johari, Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

Selama 56 tahun, rakyat Malaysia tanpa gagal menyambut satu perayaan yang cukup besar maknanya. Perayaan yang mengingatkan kita betapa berharganya nikmat hidup dalam keadaan bebas daripada cengkaman penjajah.

Dalam pada itu, umum juga menyedari bahawa penghayatan sambutan kemerdekaan bukan sekadar menggantungkan bendera kecil di kenderaan masing-masing, berdiri tegak di dalam pawagam semasa lagu Negaraku dimainkan atau berhimpun menunggu percikan bunga api pada detik 12 tengah malam.

Sebaliknya, kemerdekaan adalah sesuatu usaha pembinaan negara bangsa yang berterusan. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap anggota masyarakat memiliki hak dan tanggungjawab bersama untuk menentukan corak dan masa depan negara ini. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa pilihan rakyat menjadi pilihan keramat. Kemerdekaan bererti bahawa setiap insan yang bergelar rakyat dimartabatkan dengan kehidupan yang bermaruah dan peluang untuk menikmati berkongsi kekayaan negara ini.

Namun, walaupun sudah lebih setengah abad kemerdekaan, rakyat makin hidup dalam ketakutan dengan kadar jenayah yang kian meningkat. Hak demokratik pula tercabul apabila pilihan rakyat yang lantang dalam pilihan raya umum tidak berjaya diterjemahkan kepada realiti.

Kesenjangan pendapatan pula makin melebar sehingga negara kita mencatat Pekali Gini (Gini Coefficient) yang tertinggi di Asia Tenggara dan antara yang tertinggi di Asia. Begitu gentingnya jurang antara yang kaya dan miskin, akibat kerangka ekonomi kapitalis kroni yang menguntungkan segelintir elit serta kerabat mereka, sementara 40 peratus rakyat terbawah terpaksa hidup dengan pendapatan purata RM1,500 sebulan seisi rumah.

Yang paling teruk, keharmonian dan kesepaduan antara kaum dan agama makin terancam. Saban hari media arus perdana menyajikan rakyat dengan sentimen-sentimen ekstremis perkauman dan agama, seolah-olah kebencian itu merupakan sifat fitrah masyarakat kita. Apakah yang sudah terjadi dengan matlamat Bangsa Malaysia? Harapan mulia yang pernah diimpikan kini lemas diselubungi dendam kesumat gara-gara politik sempit dan pemimpin dangkal.

Justeru, kita memerlukan pembaharuan yang ketara dalam kancah politik negara kita. Politik lama – politik perkauman dan agama, politik kebencian dan ketakutan – sudah jelas gagal dan perlu dibelakangi. Yang diperlukan adalah keazaman politik baru, iaitu politik bertunjangkan dasar, yang menggalakkan perdebatan serta berjiwa besar. Sekiranya pemimpin politik kita sanggup melakukan perubahan ini, nescaya matlamat Bangsa Malaysia boleh dicapai.

Kita juga memerlukan kerangka ekonomi baru yang mampu mengagihkan kekayaan dengan lebih saksama. Bantuan sosial, pendidikan dan juga ekonomi harus diberikan – tetapi kepada mereka yang perlu dan bukan kepada mereka yang bergelar kroni. Ini tidak akan tercapai selagi sistem ekonomi berdasarkan perkauman tidak dapat diganti dengan sistem yang menyasarkan golongan yang paling memerlukan bantuan tanpa mengira kaum dan agama.

Akhir sekali, kunci kepada pembinaan Bangsa Malaysia terletak dalam sistem pendidikan. Pada masa kini, sistem pendidikan yang seharusnya menyatukan rakyat tampaknya semakin jauh daripada sasarannya. Menurut laporan awal Pelan Pembangunan Pendidikan Malaysia 2013 – 2025,  enrolmen murid bukan Melayu di Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) hanya 6 peratus manakala enrolmen murid bukan Cina di Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) mencapai 12%. Statistik ini seolah-olah menyatakan SJKC lebih bersifat “kebangsaan” berbanding SK dari segi komposisi kaum. Sudah tentu, ia juga menonjolkan kegagalan kerajaan untuk menjadikan jurusan Sekolah Kebangsaan sebagai pilihan utama masyarakat.

Oleh itu, sudah tiba masanya kita memikirkan kembali bagaimana untuk mengembalikan fungsi pendidikan sebagai pemudahcara perpaduan nasional tanpa mengabaikan kepentingan mana-mana pihak.

Bagi saya, satu-satunya cara adalah melalui proses disentralisasi dalam sistem pendidikan. Saya percaya, kita harus mengagihkan tanggungjawab dan peranan utama dalam pendidikan kepada pihak-pihak berkepentingan (stakeholders), yakni ibu bapa, guru-guru, murid-murid serta masyarakat tempatan.

Sejauh mana yang mungkin, campurtangan politik harus dielakkan. Ini kerana secara lazimnya politik itu menjadi punca segala masalah, sepertimana yang sudah berulang kali kita alami sepanjang sejarah kita (memori yang paling segar kes PPSMI yang dilaksanakan semata-mata untuk memenuhi kehendak seorang pemimpin).

Sesudah 56 tahun bergelar Merdeka, besar harapan saya agar 56 tahun yang akan datang tidak akan menampakkan kegagalan impian dan harapan nenek moyang kita yang telah banyak berkorban demi mewariskan negara yang megah, maju dan saksama.

Maka, janganlah kita sia-siakan usaha mereka. Sebaliknya, marilah kita meneruskan agenda kemerdekaan dengan mengukuhkan lagi batu asas kenegaraan kita dan mendirikan rangka ekonomi, siasah dan pendidikan yang teguh bagi penjalinan Bangsa Malaysia pada suatu hari kelak.

NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

A climate of fear and tension appears to be gripping the Muslim world today – not only in the ever-conflicted Middle East, but even here in Malaysia. In recent months we have seen an increasing zeal on the part of the authorities, certain politicians and right-wing groups. The gross overreaction in the handling of issues such as the surau in Johor, the “dog lady” video incident, the use of the word “Allah”, and the growing persecution of minorities such as the Chinese, the Christians and the Shias, have revealed uncharacteristic fanaticism. Since when have we become such an intolerant society?

The worst part is that most of these sentiments do not assume any rationality. Take the virulent stance against the Shias for example. During one of the terawih prayers that I attended in the recent holy month of Ramadan, a popular cleric had been invited to deliver a tazkirah or sermon. In his sermon, the cleric nonchalantly informed us all that the Shias were not really Muslims, and that they worshipped a different religion altogether. I thought this extreme view was perhaps an isolated one, until I read that the Kedah state government is planning to gazette a fatwa that will effectively treat Shias as deviants.

Now, if Shias are deviants and regarded as non-Muslims, why do we invite them every year to participate in our annual Tilawah Al-Quran competition at the Putra World Trade Centre? In fact, since 1961, nine Iranians (read: Shias) have won the men’s recital competition. Furthermore, why is Iran accepted as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)? What about the thousands of Iranian students that we are willing to accept as students in our universities every year?

Obviously, there is more to it than meets the eye. I believe that this sudden surge of bigotry and hawkish posturing has more to do with local political manoeuvrings than cultural fault-lines. It is no coincidence that certain political leaders have adopted extremely hard-line stances just as their internal party elections loom around the corner. From now until October, I suspect we will see a proliferation of instant Malay-Muslim heroes. The only question is whether a keris will be brandished this time around.

In the same vein, a lot of what is interpreted as “sectarian tension” between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East could also very well be a manifestation of geo-politics and the competition for power and influence, in particular between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

After all, as Duke University professor and Iranian exile Mohsen Kadivar astutely commented during his recent visit to Malaysia, the Sunni-Shia divide is 14 centuries old. After 1,400 years, no amount of fighting can change what happened. What happened, happened. Whether it was right or wrong, it happened. That is no longer the issue. Therefore, the conflict manifesting in the Middle East today is not really a quarrel over a historical event, but rather a struggle over influence and power in the region. Seen in this light, the couching of the conflict in sectarian or religious terms is merely a convenient label to justify the actions of the power-hungry. After all, who can argue with God?

Secularism as a safeguard against abuse by the state?

It is relevant to be aware of how popular opinion and perspectives can be shaped by political agendas, not only in interpreting the dynamics of conflict but also in discussing social and political philosophies such as secularism. This term has become highly contentious in our country, mainly because different communities understand it differently. For the minority non-Muslims, secularism is what they believe to be the foundation of our state – a guarantee of their freedom to express themselves and practise their beliefs without undue interference by the state.

However, the majority Malay-Muslims have an altogether different view. They are inherently suspicious of the term and believe it to be antithetical to the Islamic deen, or way of life. This is mainly due to the fact that their understanding of secularism is largely shaped by the Turkish experience of Kemalism and the Iranian experience under the Pahlavi Dynasty. This influence is pervasive because most religious knowledge in Malaysia is derived from post-Islamic Revolution scholars and literature. As such, the thought of secularism brings to mind the trauma of statist governments that suppress religious expression.

Now, while the regimes of Atatürk and the Shah can be considered harsh forms of secularism, it must be noted that they were both authoritarian regimes. In contrast, democratic models of secularism are far more moderate, such as that exists in India, Europe and the United States. In effect, secularism is not a definite concept and can take on various manifestations, ranging from the extreme to the liberal, depending on the nature of its implementers.

Broadly speaking, secularism in the political context is meant to denote a separation of religion and state. It is not to be confused with the secularisation of society. In fact, far from suppressing or casting aside religion, secularism as a concept of state can arguably provide greater respect for religion.

For example, an ideal secular state would respect freedom of religion and ensure that all religions can be practised without state interference and control, and instead be accorded assistance and support from the government. In India, for example, the government has for decades been subsidising the airfare of Muslims going on the Haj pilgrimage.[1] And we are talking about a secular country with a majority Hindu population!

Implemented well, a democratic secular state would also protect and allow greater space for discourse on cultural matters. This will allow civil society to flourish and contribute to the enlightenment of the populace. At the same time, cultural decentralisation will also be allowed to take its natural course – something that is relevant to our country. As we know, Malaysia is a federation of states in which Islam, alongside land and local government, is designated as a state matter. As a result, states may and do differ in opinion on various matters in the religion, thus allowing localised context and idiosyncrasies to exist.

For example, different states have differing opinions on the legality of practising yoga, the poco-poco dance, smoking and even investing in Amanah Saham unit trusts. Now, whether right or wrong is a matter of opinion, and should ideally be debated by a mature civil society. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Malaysia. Not only do we have very little room for discourse, we are now seeing things start to go wrong when overzealous officials attempt to implement opinions as laws set in stone and then go on to persecute those who question them as criminals.

In short, state capture of sociological identities rarely results in positive outcomes. As we have seen in Malaysia and elsewhere in the world, race and religion are too easily hijacked and abused as tools for political gain and convenience.

To avoid this, we need to entrench certain “secular” safeguards in governance, provided they conform to democratic norms, in order to not only protect against state abuse of race and religion, but also to facilitate healthier discourse and development via civil society. The absence of such safeguards will allow room for those in power to impose their will in an arbitrary and self-serving manner.

After all, if history has proven anything, it is that whatever the ideological nature of the conflict, be it over race, religion or even class, the underlying pattern of power politics always remains the same.


[1] This practice is currently being phased out and will be replaced by a new model of imposing premiums on well-to-do pilgrims in order to cross-subsidise the poorer ones.

Zairil Khir Johari

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