Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jessie Ooi: Vindictive or Victim?

Much has been made over the Selangor MCA Beliawanis Chief Jessie Ooi in light of her outburst against the Penang Chief Minister during the televised Chua-Lim Debate on Saturday last week. Although the debate is now history, her one-minute of fame has now given more her more notoriety than all of her previous public appearances put together.

She was not the only culprit for that evening, especially when MCA members began throwing highly charged and loaded questions against YAB Lim Guan Eng, who remained calm despite receiving tirade after tirade from the floor. However, Jessie Ooi received the spotlight not just by the aggressive nature of the question, but the content of it. The question remains as to whether it was a legitimate question out of genuine concern for the rakyat or was it completely senseless and she should have done better by keeping quiet?

"I am half a penangnite"

When one introduces oneself as half a penangnite, would one reasonably imply from that statement that she wanted to bring up an issue concerning Penang state? I do not want to go into how she is "half a penangnite", but Jessie Ooi in her own defence said that her question was misinterpreted by the public and the press. She wanted to question Lim Guan Eng as to why the Selangor State government had not reduced assessment rates (cukai pintu) when they have promised to do so. This is indeed a legitimate question, albeit posed to the wrong person and off-topic, but if it were in fact the crux of the question, why do you want bring up an irrelevant issue?

Furthermore, she would know that there are many other people who would want to ask questions and her time would most certainly be limited. If she wanted to give a ceramah and bring up all these issues, that would be perfectly fine in her own time. But to basically spend her time to ask about the MPPP towing cars after 10:30pm in Lebuh Pantai in Penang, can we reasonably expect to believe she intended to talk about assessment rates?

It is fine to be passionate about issues and it is fantastic that as a member of the Selangor state opposition, she should ask about the lack of follow-through in the policies of the state government. However, to go on a "shiok-sendiri" rant about an unrelated issue hardly does her justice. In all fairness, does that mean that Pakatan Rakyat representatives do not rant when they ask questions? Of course they do, and they do so often. However, if you want to prove to the people that you are more capable of governing, do not use the "they can do it, so why can't I?" excuse to justify raging and ranting on national television.

So let me rephrase and pose the question she failed to ask, to the Pakatan Rakyat State Government:

"The Selangor State Government has made a manifesto promise to lower assessment rates in the state in order to reduce the Rakyat's burden. However, despite these promises, the MCA is concerned with the lack of implementation of this promise. How does the Selangor State Government intend to address this issue?" 

Is this alright, Jessie?

Lack of Parking

Now let us come back to the question she did ask. Here is the transcript of her question below:

"CM Lim Guan Eng, I am half a penangnite. You just said that you want to reduce the people's burdens. Secondly, you have earned a lot of money. I want to say that you have been misleading the people. Cukai Pintu is going up and the cost of living is going up. Also at 10:30pm, I witnessed it twice. Despite there being no cars on the road, you have asked your enforcement officers to tow cars away, causing bloody fights. How do you intend to solve these kind of problems? Is this what you call reducing the people's burden?"

Yes, she had mentioned assessment rates. But why did she make an issue out of cars being towed in Penang? Of course every government wants to reduce the burden on the people, but the rule of law must be upheld. So what if it is 10:30pm at night? It is not uncommon in KL to receive summons for illegal parking at night! If it is Barisan Nasional policy to issues summons and tow cars only during the day, why not put it in their manifesto? Or is this Jessie Ooi's personal opinion? 

The MPPP has reacted by issuing a statement that they were merely carrying out their duties. When the question regarding the lack of parking was raised, this was somewhat puzzling as there are more than 1000 parking spaces in the Lebuh Pantai Area. As Jessie Ooi had already said, there were no cars around. So would it be reasonable to assume that there was ample parking available as well? 

Secondly, the brawl in question has been clarified by the MPPP to have been started by the individual, who assaulted the officer on duty. A police report has been filed and an investigation is under way. How can we equate a hot-headed individual's attack on an enforcement officer to the state government being unable to handle social ills? Incidents like these do happen, but we have laws in this country which deals with these kind of things. The government's responsibility is to ensure that the law is enforced. 

I would like to ask Ms Jessie Ooi, can she tell me how it would reduce social ills and the rakyat's burden if we allow social responsibility to be diminished? In other words, it is alright to sin, just do it after hours? Despite her moral high ground, the complete lack of respect for the rule of law is concerning and she came crashing down as a result of this. 

Deeper Problems

It would be unfair to blame Jessie Ooi's outburst solely on her. The MCA has been languishing in the doldrums and unfamiliarity of being an opposition party for the first time in history in the state of Selangor. Wanita MCA Beliawanis Chief Tee Hooi Ling has also jumped to Ooi's defence saying that netizens and bloggers have been overly obsessed about the "tow-truck" issue and should instead focus on the debate itself. 

This is a good point from Tee, but only if the MCA that day would follow their own advice. Despite the persistent, off-topic, personal attacks toward the DAP and the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng did not level a single personal attack at his opponent or the floor. It is essential that Pakatan MPs do not get sucked into gutter politics which the Barisan Nasional government is so fond of. 

MCA Youth Secretary General Chai Kim Sen also attacked Lim Guan Eng by saying the latter side-stepped a lot of issues raised including the lack of a socio-economic plan to be implemented. He went on to say that Pakatan lacked ideas as to how to govern. I say to him, all evidence points to the contrary. 

The Pakatan run states of Penang and Selangor are the top two investment destinations in Malaysia despite having their federal allocations severely cut by the Federal Government. Local developers and businessmen can testify to the incredible changes under the Lim Guan Eng government in contrast to the Koh Tsu Koon government. Singaporeans are now flocking to Penang which is now cleaner and greener than before, and the international accolades continue to pour in. 

Naturally the Federal Government downplay the statistics by saying that Penang topped the foreign direct investment list due to the hard work of the Ministry in promoting the state. Well indeed, but in that case how about the increased allocations into Johor but still the under-par performance? Why then reduce the federal allocation to Pakatan states if you want to flourish? The Barisan Nasional government are good at giving excuses and taking credit for things they do not do, and are shamed when others can prove that they are incompetent. 

The Rule of Law 

A final point to ponder would be whether or not Malaysia has gotten to the point of moral bankruptcy that flouting the law is allowable as it is now ingrained in our culture? Coffee shop conversations can revolve around the amount of the bribe one has to prepare when stopped by a traffic cop: RM20 for a Kancil, RM30 for a Saga or Myvi, RM50 for a Vios and RM100 for a BMW. 

Tony Pua has already publicly declared that he is no longer interested in corruption scandals amounting to less than one billion ringgit as he is already so busy dealing with the billion ringgit scandals! No wonder people like Jessie Ooi believes that the law is there to be flouted, because it is not just that the Barisan Nasional government believes that it is alright to flout the law, but it has become an ingrained habit!

Take Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia as an example. The oyster sauce was proven to have no oyster extract in it, the ice cream did not have enough milk fat to qualify as ice cream and the milk was ridden by E. Coli bacteria. This was all proven by the Ministry of Health to be true. 

So what action was taking against Mydin? None whatsoever. No fine, no trial, no investigation. Why? Because the Ministry felt that since Mydin decided to recall the product, and no harm was done, it is all ok. How can we accept this or stand by this? What happens if there was an outbreak of E. Coli and people suffer and die from it? Or we have a repeat of the China Melamine scandal in Malaysia? The Health Ministry and Liow Tiong Lai would sweep it under the carpet simply because Mydin is an Umno crony? 

Because of the millions of ringgit in contribution which Ali Ameer Mydin gives to Umno-BN, he gets free publicity, a RM40 million subsidy and ensures that the Umno politicians are in his pocket to prevent free market competition in the hypermarket industry. In short, we get screwed while he lines his pockets. Who's interests do they have at heart? Their own! 

When Jessie Ooi's boss Liow Tiong Lai is as impotent as any other MCA minister to uphold the rule of law, how can we possibly give our trust back to them? They are not even consistent or constructive with their criticism! 

My message to the MCA is to pull yourselves together, uphold the rule of law, develop a work ethic and get back to work in restoring the people's trust. As for Jessie, please get comfortable being the opposition as I fear you and your colleagues would soon be sitting on the other side of the fence come the general elections.

Published in the Malaysia Chronicle (23rd February 2012) and Free Malaysia Today (24th February 2012)

Monday, February 20, 2012

I am not Anti-Government

It has been a while since I have written a piece. Yes, there have been plenty issues of issues cropping up over the political landscape since Chinese New Year. There was the Sharizat leave of absence, Dr Chua Soi Lek saying that the Chinese owe their prosperity to BN, Ibrahim Ali handing out 'pak kam' as ang pows to elderly folk, 1Care and the epic debate between Dr Chua and Lim Guan Eng. Despite all of these juicy topics, I did not feel the inclination to write, and I'm sure that my fellow colleagues in the online media world have done a brilliant job.

However, I want to tackle an issue which has been bugging me since I began writing as a columnist, and also campaigning actively for the Opposition, and in particular, the DAP. I have been frequently asked why many young people and myself are so anti-government, and so intent in causing trouble and instability. I believe that is a fair question which deserves a fair explanation.

"Evangelis DAP" 

I make no secrets of my political affiliation. I am proudly and unashamedly an active member of the DAP and I believe in what the party does and in their plans for our nation, where every citizen is treated fairly regardless of race, language or creed. Does this mean by any stretch of the imagination that I believe the DAP is perfect? Certainly not. No political party can claim to be free from corruption, cronyism or favouritism. However, the concern would be the severity of these political vices and whether it would severely impact the ability to govern a nation effectively.

When I wrote on the DAP National Convention, I was roundly criticized by Helen Ang who accused me of being an "Evangelis DAP" (Evangelist for the DAP) and also condemned me for my faith. She wrote that people like me spew out an extremely one-sided and unbalanced view and that our country would descend into Nazism and Communist dictatorship if left unchecked.

Despite finding her article to be generally offensive, I could not help but laugh at the irony of her comments. I did not respond initially as I did not believe that I should dignify her comments with a response. But I would like to make a point that the reason why I think and write this way is because I have intimately seen both sides of the coin and formed my own conclusion.

Justified bias?

Was I biased when I wrote my article on the DAP National Convention? Of course I was. Was it one-sided? Most definitely. Why did I do this? The reason is simple. Politics is perception. Journalists are supposed to frame up the truth in a manner which is supposed to be even-handed and impartial. The fact of the matter is that we are human. We would tend to favour one side over another. Is this correct? In an ideal world, perhaps not, but we do not live in an ideal world.

In the world of the free press, differing opinions of political events offer the reader a variety of view points and allows the individual to make up their own mind on the matter. In the United Kingdom, The Guardian is a well known conservative paper, The Times is more politically in the centre and The Daily Mail is unabashedly right-wing.

How does this compare to our situation here in Malaysia? The Star is the mouthpiece of the MCA, and the New Straits Times is so blatantly pro-UMNO it has to be given away to schools and hospitals for free! Then there is the blatantly divisive Utusan Malaysia and the Metro Harian carries their opinions derived from Bernama. The only semblance of favourable reporting towards the Opposition parties come from the Chinese press including the China Press and Sin Chew. But even then, the political leaning would always be more towards BN.

So how about The Rocket, Harakah Daily, Suara Keadilan, Malaysia Today, Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, The Malaysian Insider and Malaysia Chronicle? As party newspapers and online news portals, do they even attempt to offer a balanced point of view? Or is our desire for free media driven to the extent that it would appear that we have to write articles to the other extreme? Is this necessarily in order for opposing viewpoints to meet in the middle in the mind of the reader?

Anti-government rhetoric?

The fact of the matter is that in the arena of press and broadcast media, it is simply not fair. The Opposition's only saving grace is the Internet for the dissemination of information. Despite all of this, and despite the argument for a fair media, is the Opposition and pro-Opposition journalists like myself guilty of disseminating misinformation? To a certain extent, yes we are all guilty of this.

Does this make us anti-government at all? No it does not. Until today, as the UMNO-BN government has been in power coming to 55 years, Malaysians are unable to distinguish between the Barisan Nasional party and the government. We cannot really be blamed for saying things like "The Opposition control Penang, Kelantan, Kedah and Selangor." As a matter of fact, this statement is fundamentally wrong. When the Opposition becomes a state-government, they are no longer the opposition, but the ruling coalition.

This idea is incredibly difficult to grasp, as Malaysia, like Singapore, is an example of an extremely successful pseudo-democratic system. The reason behind this is that no other party or coalition has ever governed these countries in their short histories. Furthermore, UMNO-BN holds the Guinness World Record for being the longest serving party or coalition in any country which calls itself a democracy. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it throws up serious questions of accountability.

My Government, My Country

I sincerely believe that not a single citizen of this beautiful country wants anything but the best for our country. When we have a government that does the right thing, and operates efficiency and professionally for the betterment of our lives, why would we not have any reason to support this? At the end of the day, it is the goal, not the political party, which is the ultimate concern of the Rakyat.

Though there are indeed anarchists, hardcore Perkasa supports and die-hard DAP supporters, the vast majority of the country wants a government which puts our collective interests first, before the interests of any individual groups, lobbies or parties.

What we want is a sincere, accountable and transparent government that implements policies without favour which would stimulate a more competitive, market-driven economic environment, eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable and practical social advancement. Barisan Nasional was incredibly successful in doing all these things for many years, but with mounting financial scandals, unchecked spending, a ballooning subsidy bill, mounting government debt, immeasurable capital outflow and excruciating inflation, I would now call their governing ability into question.

Can the Opposition govern? They have been incredibly successful in Penang, moderately successful in Selangor and consistent in Kedah and Kelantan. Does this mean that they can take the reins of power at the Federal Government? No, it is not an automatic entitlement. Running a country is dramatically different from running a state.

Many members of the public are driven to political apathy by the sheer volume of politicking and finger pointing both sides engage in. Pakatan Rakyat, need to take the manifesto promises and resolutions they have made and actively put it into action now. Wakil Rakyat have to eat, drink and sleep around the interests of the Rakyat. With all the anti-Opposition propaganda being expounded, the final resort is roll up their sleeps and tie up their sarongs and get to work with the personal touch.

Would I vote for Barisan Nasional if they truly had the people's interests at heart? Absolutely 100%. I am not anti-government, nor shall I ever be anti-government. But I do think it's time for a change, don't you?

Published in The Malaysian Chronicle (20th February 2012)
Free Malaysia Today (3rd March 2012) 
Malaysiakini (23rd February 2012)
Malaysia Today (5th March 2012)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The story of a prime minister

By Zairil Khir Johari

FEB 17 — This is the story of a man who became prime minister not very long ago.

This man had not, however, been elected into the premiership, and consequently never earned his own governing mandate. He had succeeded into the job when his predecessor was forced to resign under internal pressure. While the coup was not entirely of his own orchestration, this prime minister had played an important albeit implicit role in facilitating it.

His predecessor is an altogether different story. Initially elected with much fanfare by a buoyant nation on a platform of hope and change after years of rule by an authoritarian and right-of-centre leadership, his premiership had by its tail-end been reduced to a lethargic disappointment.

Though heavily criticised and the subject of mass ridicule, he was still able to pull through with a mediocre win at the general election. Remaining defiant, he announced that he would fulfil the mandate of the people and see through his term as prime minister.

However, his own party members had other plans. Disenchanted with his leadership, the internal politicking began. New pacts were formed, loyalties shifted and deals were cut. Attention now turned to our protagonist, the then-deputy prime minister, a man long known for his loyalty and methodical methods.

Convinced that the gamble would pay off, he began to make his moves. Though his actions were not overt, the die was cast and the message was clear. In the end, faced with open revolt and under immense pressure, the incumbent prime minister had no choice but to announce that he would step aside within a year. Even that was too long and before the year was up, his premiership had crumbled to an abrupt end.

Expectations were high for the new prime minister. In an elaborate campaign to both distinguish himself from his predecessor and spruce up his public image, he took on the mantle of a statesman with vision for leadership and change.

This led to a popularity high and favourable approval ratings. Soon, the opportunity for snap polls presented itself. With the benefits of a honeymoon period still lingering, it would have been the perfect time to call it. Yet an indecisive itch overcame him and he decided against it at the last minute. Instead, he thought it best to wait for a better opportunity.

In hindsight, that was perhaps his biggest mistake.

As days went by, the public began to realise that a man who has been a part of the system for so long is really incapable of change. His promises of a better future began to ring hollow amidst growing economic uncertainty.

The longer he was into his administration, the more problems unravelled. Financial irregularities and scandals involving his party members made dimmer and dimmer the prospect of a desirable moment for a general election.

Yet the prime minister kept waiting and waiting, until by the time he knew it, his government’s term of office was up. In the end, what was supposed to have been snap polls that would have leveraged upon his then-popularity and caught his opponents by surprise had become an exercise that was easily predicted by all and sundry.

Having rigorously prepared for so long, the hungry opposition wasted no time in pouncing aggressively. Without the element of surprise, the prime minister had lost the upper hand and soon found himself on the defensive. Election Day came and the nation delivered its result. Though not very conclusive, it was certainly very clear about one thing: the people had rejected the prime minister.

After a short period of denial and desperate attempts at forming a coalition, the prime minister had little choice but to accept his fate. Indecisiveness, poor decision-making and the inability to carry out necessary reforms are traits that will characterise his legacy as a short-lived prime minister who had never won his own mandate.

This is the story of the former British prime minister, Gordon Brown.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.