The night Mahathir came to town

Yesterday evening was billed as a special session with the Malaysians living in Indonesia with the new old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. It was part of his first official visit to neighbouring Indonesia where he would meet Jokowi.

I went with mixed feelings. I was curious to see the old warhorse, still flushed from his electoral victory in May, how he might have changed and how he was holding up. I was also curious to observe the reaction of the Malaysians living here toward him. At the same time there was a feeling of unease. After all, this is the man that set in motion most of the things that are wrong in Malaysia today, including Najib, his cronyism and the corrupt system and is now returning as a saviour of the people.

But go I did and these are some of the observations from last night.

Mahathir himself. He is still sharp and spry at 92. He was lucid but he seemed less intimidating than before, when I was a reporter in Malaysia in the mid 80s. Back then he seemed someone that you did not want to piss off at all. Perhaps he was tired from the trip.  Perhaps times have changed. Or perhaps I myself have changed.

In his speech he hit on the theme again about how his government was gathering the evidence to prosecute Najib for his corruption. This to me seemed unnecessary for a Prime Minister (and for his Ministers in the Cabinet). Prosecution of Najib should be carried out by the Attorney-General and investigations should be carried out by the Police or the anti corruption commission. The Prime Minister should stay above the fray to let the law take its course and to avoid any hint that the prosecution of Najib might be politically-motivated.

The audience. Was remarkable. Clutching their handphones they all wanted a piece of Mahathir. The adulation and hero-worshipping was almost embarrassing. Sure , Mahathir had achived something great by toppling the Barisan Nasional government in the polls, but surely the appreciation must be tempered by some wariness, considering the track record of the man when it comes to curbing press freedoms, using the draconian Internal Security Act to lock up political rivals, instituting a system of cronyism and other foibles? What I saw was the forgetfulness of crowds and their willingness to embrace heroes.

Then there was question time after Mahathir’s speech and it was absolutely cringeworthy. A Malaysian student used the time to ask Mahathir to attend a Malaysian-Indoensian student event they were organising in November, as if a Prime Minster did not have more important matters to attend to. Mahathir politely told him no.

A Malaysian woman married to an Indonesian asked if her husband and kids, all residing here, could have Malaysian citizenship. Mahathir explained that she and her husband had a choice to become Malaysians or Indonesian citizens. So do their children when they came of age.

A woman from ASEC, like everyone knew what ASEC meant, asked  how and when Malaysia would lead the ASEAN Countries to better economic integration. Even Mahathir was not clued in on what ASEC was and had to ask. Asean Secretariat it turns our ASEC was. His answer was diplomatic and cheeky: that is a question we will ask the ASEAN countries when we meet, but anyone with half a brain would have realised that Malaysia’s priorities were to overcome the massive national debt of $1Trillion that Mahathir talked about his speech and to get its house in order after a decade of Najib’s rule (also takes about in Mahathir’s speech) than to lead ASEAN.The conceit and self-enteredness of the ASEC woman was astounding.

Then there was grandstander, some Malaysian who imputed that he had been tod to get out of Malaysia from before who insisted on sharing his views to all and sundry when question time was for asking questions. He blustered on about values and things that mattered to him and no one else. Mahathir cherry picked and said something about values.

The only question that made some sense was a Sarawakian who asked when the Government was going to get the anti-corruption body the MACC to investigate the chief minister of that state. Mahathir said that for the government to investigate a report would have to be lodged. The questioner said that some Malaysian from Miri had actually filed a report. Mahathir averred.

The food. The only other interesting thing about last night was the food. For a country and people who are so proud of their cuisine it was a bit of a surprise that the Embassy was serving in their buffet Nasi Padang instead of some Malaysian fare. Chalk one up for bilateral relationships, one down for the yearning Malaysian palette.

All of these elements combined left a funny taste in the mouth but that is Malaysia today, I suppose.

 

 

 

 

Please help ensure this hater Jamal Yusof has no place to hide in Indonesia – and make Rp35 mio in the process

Indonesian friends, your help is needed to ensure that this man, who is not unlike those who incite hatred in Indonesia, doesn’t use Indonesia as a refuge from the justice he deserves in Malaysia.

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His name is Jamal Yunos and he used to be a division leader of Umno, the party that was under the control of now-ousted Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Yunos was Najib’s hatchet man, the leader of the Red Shirts, Umno’s equivalents to Hitler’s Brown Shirts.

In his heyday, which has been the past few years up until Najib’s coalition lost the elections in May, Jamal has been terrorising Malaysian Chinese, Indians, Malays,  Christians and others who dared to disagree with Najib and Umno.

Here’s a video of his terrorising days, this one directed against Bersih supporters. Bersih was a movement by Malaysians to ensure elections. See the similarities of him an cohorts bullying others while police look on, even supporting.

 

Now that Najib has lost the election in Malaysia, Jamal is a wanted man in Malaysia. He escaped police custody and is now on the lam. He’s purported to have fled to Karimun in Indonesia.

Malaysian police are looking for him, Indonesian police say that they have not been served a request to arrest him and a businessman in Malaysia is offering RM10,000 (about Rp 35 million) for information leading to his arrest.

So if you see this scum, please take a photo or video of him and share on social media. Better better still get the attention of Kepong Member of Parliament (Twitter handle @limlipeng) and claim your reward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for old dogs in new Malaysian government to learn new tricks?

Many Malaysians have heaped scorn on Bloomberg Gadfly columnist Andy Mukherjee for suggesting that the country’s new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng should exercise more tact when speaking about the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue.

The anger is understandable. After 9 years of Najib and his cronies, Malaysians feel they have achieved something substantial by ousting the scoundrels. Some feel that after the lies and cover ups of the Najib regime, Lim’s statement comes as a welcome breath of fresh air.

Still others argue that the main concerns of Malaysia these days is reform and statements like that would not affect Malaysia’s long-term financial standing. Others argue that Lim’s outbursts are justified against the rapaciousness and nefariousness of the the last government.

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Photo of Lim Guan Eng from the Malay Mail 

All very understandable emotions for Malaysians to hold. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to dislodge a corrupt government that does not hesitate to use every means at its disposal to stay in power.

These views, however, also try to gloss over the fact that Lim and many of the new ministers are short of some vital skillsets to become effective governors.

 

One skillset they need come under the collective term of media training. Media training, done well, teaches the politicians to do several things, among them messaging and message discipline, what they should and should not talk about and how to control the course of any interview so that they, rather than journalists or others, determine the message they want to deliver.

Messaging is important, especially for groups such as the Cabinet because it allows everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet. Messaging is also about the crafting of messages so that they resonate with the audience. Every effective message must pass the “so what?” test from a skeptical audience. for instance, and must never be defensive or overstate the case.

Message discipline is the understanding that you do not depart from the messages agreed. If the government wants to, for instance, talk about its attempts to stabilise the national debt then every minister should be delivering this message and not be diverted into taking about who or what caused the debt, the nefariousness of the former government or other topics. In US political circles, until the chaos brought on by Trump, the biggest communications sin a politician could make was to break message discipline.

How to keep message disciple? A tried and true technique is what they call Bridging, or as the Americans would have it, the Bump and Switch. The basis of this technique is that all spokespersons will get ultimately two types of questions: The Productive Question that allows you to deliver your messages easily (e.g. “tell us about your financial policy” – assuming you’ve formulate one and ready to share it with the public). In such instances they spokesperson should just answer in a straightforward manner.

Then there is the Unproductive Question, a question that you’d rather not answer (e.g. “We hear that many people in your party are unhappy with your actions…”). When confronted with the Unproductive Question you could give a short answer or Bump (e.g. “Disagreements are part of a healthy political process…”) then “bridge” or “switch” to your key messages via a bridging statement such as “what’s important now is…” or “what your readers should be more concerned about is…”.

The theory is simple but it takes a lot of practice to perfect this into an art so that you always sound credible, authentic and authoritative.

Journalists hate this technique because it robs them of their sense of control during an interview and it allows you to send the messages you want, not dance to their tune. They also have some mistaken notion that an unskilled politicians would be more honest than one skilled in media handling techniques because spontaneity is a measure of honesty.

Media training is also about sensitivity training, the “tact” referred to in Mukerjee’s article. It’s sensitising the spokesperson or politician to what should be said, what’s acceptable and what not, and how things could be delivered better.

Media training, however, is a double edged sword. Used by politicians of integrity it allows them to set the national agenda, to persuade and educate others and to build consensus. Used by unscrupulous politicians it can be a skill to obfuscate, to evade and to bury the truth.

While passion, honesty and being forthright are certainly virtues that every politician in the new Malaysian government has or should embrace it also makes sense for them to complement these qualities with media handling skills.

It is difficult, especially for Lim, who has spent most of his professional life as a persecuted opposition figure.  There were few people he and his party members could trust, and outspokenness was a virtue they could not do without. Bravery trumped skill.

But times change and so do circumstances. It is not enough that the new Finance Minister be brave, outspoken and passionate to speak agains wrongdoings. He should do it in a manner that reassures others, investors, the public, supporters and even opponents that the new government would be one that is fair and respects due process, that is thoughtful and refrains from emotional outbursts and that it has a solid plan to make things right, or at least better, for the new Malaysia.

The opportunity for Lim and the new government to usher in a prosperous, vibrant and confident Malaysia is here. All it takes is to acknowledge that they may need to learn some new skills to seize the day. Will they take it?

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of a Queer Muslim Indonesian

So proud of former colleague Zulfikar for starting this book project.

Here’s what I wrote about Zul’s upcoming book at the Maverick blog:

It’s great when one of us go on beyond the workplace to do new, wonderful and imaginative things.

So we are thrilled to learn of Forever Mavbro Zulfikar’s latest adventure – to write a book called So I Stopped Being Gay: A Story of Giving Up by a Queer Muslim Indonesian.

He is kickstarting his effort with Publishizher, which Zul explains as: “a NYC-based crowd-powered publishing company” that is helping him to write the book. They need your help to fund the production though.

read more

For more on Zul’s story

Hypocrisy in supermarket Iceland’s ban on palm oil

This is an opinion piece I wrote for The Palm Scribe:

Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker’s announcement that the frozen food chain will be banning the use of palm oil in its own brand products by the end of this year would strike some as a laudable and heroic effort to get the industry to be sustainable.

This is especially so when we see the youthful Walker being filmed, in a video released by Iceland Foods, braving forests, swamps  and what appears to be palm oil caused wastelands in Indonesia to uncover the truth about palm oil.

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In the video Walker is big on the word prove.

His visit to Indonesia, he said, has convinced him that “currently no major supermarket or food manufacturer can fully prove that the palm oil they use is truly sustainable and the damaged being cause to the global environment as precious rainforest continues to be lost.

he goes on, saying that Iceland’s ban on palm oil in its own brand products is a way to “prove to the food industry that there is no need to participate in the destruction of the rainforest.”

As such “removing palm oil is the only way we can prove to our customers that our products are not a cause of environmental destruction.”

Walker is young and idealistic. The 37-year old geography graduate from Durham University has been in this job for three years. Before that he was the International Business Director of Iceland. He is also the son of the founder and CEO of Iceland, Sir Malcom Walker.

Richard’s idealism is laudable. But has he been misguided in announcing the ban?

Here are three reasons why his decision may have been misguided:

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Why doctors are pissing themselves silly over an illustration of the controversial Dr Terawan

Been told by a doctor friend that the medical profession in Indonesia is pissing themselves silly over the infographic on the front page of Tempo above.

The source of this derision? Stroke specialist Dr Terawan has been in the news lately for his controversial “brain cleansing” procedure, resulting in him being kicked out of the profession

In illustrating the story surrounding Dr Terawan, Tempo’s artists have drawn him holding a catheter, supposedly for inserting into the blood vessels in the brain.

The only problem is that the catheter portrayed is the one used to insert into the penis for patients unable to pass water properly.

So it is rightful that the doctors are apparently taking the piss out of the paper in their WA groups.

Crisis Management Observers: Watch how Pertamina manages the Balikpapan oil spill

So far so bad. The company for four days ruled out the possibility that it was responsible for the oil spill.

It only admitted late yesterday that a raptured undersea pipe belonging to the company caused the oil spill that caused the deaths of several fishermen when part of the spill caught fire.

To jump to conclusions without first finding the facts and verifying them before making an major announcement is an early sign that this company has not been trained properly in crisis management principles.

Let’s wait to see how it makes this crisis situation in the next coming days.