Category: Malaysia

Non-festive Chinese New Year at KLIA

Landing in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost and international airport a couple of days just before Chinese New Year is depressing.

There are perfunctory signboards and decorations to mark the Lunar new year but there is nothing festive about it. There is no longer the annoying raucous Chinese New Year music that used to annoy me but now I miss.

The upbeat tunes full of drum beats, cymbal clashes and effusive lyrics wishing prosperity, luck and whatnot are no longer played over the public address system and even in shops and restaurants.

It’s as if Chinese New Year has to sneak into Malaysia, afraid of making any noise lest it annoy the Ketuanan of this land.

So a muted silence prevails and, combined with the under-air-conditioned halls in the low-cost and international airports give the visitor the nuances of a joyless country. (I landed at the low-cost airport from busy, vibrant Chiang Mai and then went to the international airport to wait for someone to arrive)

Was it so long ago when Malaysians would be so proud because everyone celebrated everyone else’s festive days? Or have I been reimagining my past life in Malaysia?

Why Edi Rejang’s apology is not an apology

Ostensibly the man who insulted and hurled verbal abuse at a beer promoter in Kuala Lumpur’s Ampang Point shopping mall day before yesterday has apologised.

After being whiplashed by Netizens and apparently lost his job since a video of him abusing the beer promoter that he himself uploaded went viral, Edi today released the video below. In it he said he was sorry to Malaysians and the beer promoter for what he did. He has since apologised to the DAP parliamentarian defending the beer promoter, the parliamentarian will be visiting the beer promoter to convey his apologies and Edi now hopes this issue can be left behind.

That is one of the sorriest (excuse the pun) apologies I’ve heard. If Edi had wanted to make a sincere apology he should explain why he think he was wrong in harassing the beer promoter. He should unequivocally say that he was being a racist and explain to people what made him say those things including flipping the bird at the beer promoter. As an atonement and a public service, he should caution others not to make the same mistake as him in the future.

I could not fathom the reason why Edi was apologising to the DAP politician. Via a video that he was savvy enough to release he could have done it direct to the beer promoter.

In the social media responses to Edi’s apology, many Netizens have said that Edi should be cut some slack because he’s had the nerve to apologise. I disagree because his apology is perfunctory and does not seem sincere, nor was there any evidence that there has been some self-realisation and he’s a changed man for the experience.

He deserves everything coming at him. Hopefully, the continued assault on his insensibilities would send a message to him that he cannot shrug off the import of what he’s done with a trite video apology and that the rest of us can differentiate what’s genuine from what’s ersatz.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Pribumis, Bumiputras and the politics of race

Let’s be honest: when the word Pribumi is used, it is code for anti-Chinese. This is the same in Malaysia where the word Bumiputra is used to mean anti-Chinese.

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Lining Anies’s passage to his inauguration: Not enough that you have to be a Pribumi but a Pribumi Muslim. No protection even if you’re a Pribumi.

The parallels do not stop there. The champions of the the racial ideology – Anies Baswedan in the case of the Pribumis and Mahathir Mohamad in the case of Bumiputras – are also shapeshifters. Both are of immigrant stock fashioning themselves as the torch bearers of the indigenous people.

 

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Never too Arab to champion Pribumi rights

 

Mahathir who championed Bumiputraism hailed from Indian Muslims in Kerala in South India.

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Mahathir’s identity card before the makeover: Never too Indian to champion Bumiputra Rights

Anies is from Arab stock and he is now claiming to champion the rights of pribumis.

Both seek to exploit the politics of race against a community that has proven easy pickings – the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Mahathir wrote his The Malay Dilemma in 1970, a year after racial riots tore through Malaysia. The cause of the riots was that the ruling Alliance (forerunner of the Barisan Nasional) for the first time lost its two-third majority in Parliament in the 1969 national elections. It was more a psychological defeat rather than a real one. They were still in power but they had lost the majority ended to amend the constitution. They also lost most of their seats to the DAP, a Chinese-based party.

Tensions rose after the elections and on May 13 1969 a riot broke out in Malaysia. The next year Mahathir came out with his book that essentially said that the Malays were the indigenous people of Malaysia; that they were too  nice and had been taken advantage of; and that affirmative action was needed to balance out the dominance of the Chinese Malaysians in the economy and commerce.

This hate mongering was effective. It propelled young Turks like Mahathir into power and allowed them to oust the Old Guard typified by Tunku Abdul Rahman, who stood for decency and moderation.

The take out from Mahathirism is that race is an easy card to play and it can be devastatingly effective. The Barisan Nasional has been in power ever since and each time it is threatened it trots out the racial card and that is enough to get it though one election after another. Even Najib, tainted as he is by the 1MDB scandal and the murder of Mongolian model Alantuya, remains in power through the Machiavellian use of racism and money politics.

Anies is embarking on the same path. His campaign was racist and he is now fashioning himself as a champion of the Pribumi. That is, as we say in Indonesia #kodekeras for anti-Chinese.

As he and Saracen have demonstrated during the gubernatorial elections, playing the racial card is effective. Ahok is now in jail and Anies-Sandi is sitting in the governor’s chair.

Like the Barisan Natsonal  who will play the race card each time there is anything to threaten their grip on power they will do the same.

What is a threat to Anies-Sandi now is accountability. They made a lot of wild promises to get elected. If they fail to deliver, even the masses that vote them in will begin to turn against them.

They need to distract the attention of the hoi polloi and redirect that energy into something else – and hating the Chinese “colonizers” of Jakarta is as convenient a target as it can get. Similarly what threatens Najib is accountability over 1MBB, so what does he do? All sorts of racial distractions such as the nonsense about Ketuanan Melayu while he quietly hocks the nation to the Chinese Chinese.

So what are the rest of us to do with such an inexorable force as racial politics?

Indonesia can be different from Malaysia where the Bumiputra is synonymous with Malay. In Malaysia the predominant non-Chinese group are the Malays (an artificial construct as most of them are keturunan Orang Jawa, Orang Minang, and even the present Prime Minister Najib is keturunan Orang Bugis – but they are all manipulated to be in one “race” the Melayu or Malay).

Non-Chinese Indonesians are so diverse in ethnicity and religions that nobody can claim to speak for them. And this is where Indonesia’s strength lies – in its diversity. #Notmypribumi seems an appropriate hashtag for anything racial Anies utters from now on.

Indonesians should also b aware of the devastating effects of racial politics. Go to Malaysia and see the harm that Mahathir has done there. People there are so polarized that they eat in different restaurants, make friends mainly only with the same “racial” groups. Each year that passes there is less tolerance and more absurdity – like the Muslim launderette owner in Johor that would accept only Muslim clients to prevent pollution from other races (race and religion are synonymous in Malaysia, thanks again to Mahathir).

The situation is so bad that parents (even Bumiputra ones) tell their children not to stay in Malaysia and to work and live overseas if they can help it.

Indonesia can do better than Malaysia and the time to act is now by refusing to fill into Anies’ scheming. Avoid giving his racial politics much credence by discussing it at length but keep focusing on what he actually does as a Governor against his election promises. At best it would force him carry these promises out – which would be the benefit of everyone. At worst, it would starve his intent to use racial politics of the reaction it needs to create a Malaysianization of Indonesian racial relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do pribumi Indonesians think about their Chinese counterparts?

Not much that is good. That’s what the Singapore-based  ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute found in a survey titled  Chinese Indonesians in the Eyes of the Pribumi Public,

If the survey is accurate it suggests that after decades of living cheek by jowl with the pribumis, they still harbor stereotyped perceptions about the Indonesian Chinese.

Among the most glaring stereotyped are that the Chinese Indonesians tend to be more wealthy than the pribumis. Over 60 percent of respondents in the survey felt this.

Astoundingly almost half of the respondents, 47.6 percent, believe that the Indonesian Chinese  harbor divided loyalties between Indonesia and China.

The survey, which was conducted in May 2016 after the anti-Ahok protests, did not say whether these sentiments were as intense before the demonstrations.

Several questions come to mind from the survey results:

  1. Does this mean that no Chinese Indonesian can ever stand for high office and win, because all the opposition has to do is to fan the racial flames?
  2. Can pribumis be so oblivious of the many, many walthy-off Pribumi officials and  businesspersons that are so visible in everyday Indonesia?
  3. Does it mean that Indonesian Chinese should prepare for a difficult year ahead and until the 2019 presidential elections are over before letting out their breath? Will Indonesia be a racial powder keg all primed?
  4. Should Indonesian Chinese try harder to disabuse their pribumi counterparts of their prejudices? Or are they better off letting things lie than run the risk of stirring things up?
  5. The would the results of a similar survey, if conducted in neighboring Malaysia, show a lower, similar or higher level of prejudice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Malaysian newbie in Jakarta

What would you make of Indonesian working life and the people in general if you’re a Malaysian, newly graduated and looking for some work experience? Andrew Seow took the plunge and tried his hand in public relations at Maverick and this is this story:

 

Time passes when you are having fun. So after what felt like mere days I realized that my four-month work experience with Maverick in Jakarta had reached its inevitable end.

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Just prior to joining Maverick I had, like so many in my generation, been given lots of encouragement to do well in school and then getting a degree from a recognized university as the jumping off point with which to launch a respectable career.

When I left university at the end of last year, however, I realized that I was rather clueless of what I would like to do next. I was beset by a sense of emptiness, not knowing how my life would turn out, and what my next moves should be.

Realising that the best course of action was to begin immersing myself in the real world of work, I reached out to a family friend whom I grew up referring to as Uncle Hock Chuan, but whom I later learnt was referred to as Pak Ong, the well-known PR consultant in Indonesia.

When Maverick decided to accept me I quickly packed my bags and headed for Jakarta with few expectations except to fulfill three goals – to learn as much as I could about the industry and country, make as many new friends as possible, and have a damn good time doing it.

The first thing that struck me on arriving at Maverick was its creative working space concept. It was a huge relief being in a cool working space as I’ve never liked being contained in claustrophobic cubicles.

The open office environment was comfortable to work in, dismissing the usual hierarchal tension between senior and junior co-workers. Also, how often can people brag about their office having a Tatami room? The beanbag and pillow-filled Japanese-styled room ended up being my most productive working space, especially for Gen Zs like me who do our best work away from chairs and desks when working…read more

Surprises in Malaysian Health Care

My impressions about public health care in Malaysia were shaped at last three decades ago. Then, it was the choice you made if you could not afford to be treated elsewher

This was because the hospitals were run like government bureaus with the civil servant acting like the rest of us were servants. Many were incompetent, many rude and a lot of them embraced both qualities.

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Someone’s doing something right at University Malaya Hospital. I like the fact that they have signs like this in the hospital asking its staff to say no to harassment. When you value your people they get energized and get a boost to their self-esteem

 

 

So when Unspun’s mum had to have a major operation in the University Malaya Hospital, because being a former civil servant entitles her for free treatment, Unspun was all girded up to do battle with the obtuse. Little did he know, however, that he was in for a pleasant surprise.

Each patient has to share the room with three others. No exception as they do not have classes. The downside of this arrangement is a lack of privacy. There is also no TV set for the convalescent to tune out. And the facilities are a bit worn out – the shared toilet in my mother’s ward had a broken shower head and a leaky sink.

But apart from these drawbacks the medical attention she got, the professionalism, courtesy and efficiency of the doctors, staff and nurses was second to none. Unspun has been in private hospitals before and can attest first hand that the team at UMH rocks, not only in the surgical ward but also in the other sections such as biting and administration that we had to deal with.

There were two more surprises in store as my mother got discharged from the hospital. The first was the speed of processing the discharge. The doctor in attendance told us he would complete the paperwork that morning and when he did he dropped by the bed to tell us that he had done so and we could check with the central desk for the rest of the documentation required.

The nurse at the central desk took less than an hour to process the rest of the papers, I took a slip from her and went down to the cashier. Here lay another surprise.

The cost of the operation, that involved a mastectomy, ward charges and other associated costs, came up to a whopping RM1,250. That’s about Rp4.25 million! And because my mother had been a teacher in a public school, she did not have to pay a cent or as they say in this country sen. A woman who had had a previous mastectomy at a private hospital told us that she had hers done for RM20,000.

This set our family and friends discussing the merits and demerits of seeking treatment in the public vs private sector and this was our unanimous opinion: Sure the private hospitals have prestige and comfort but the motivation of the private hospitals is to make money.

The doctors who work there are caught in the system. They have to feed the beast – make money or else. So they end up prescribing expensive treatments that the patient do not necessarily need. We all recalled first hand stories of how a hospital insisted on propping a friend who had been brain-dead, against the wishes of the family – and then charging them a whopping amount for healthcare after that.

A cousin of mine tells me of how a private hospital was harassing him to commit to collecting the bod of his father – when the father was imminently dying but not dead yet.

Another friend tells me of the elaborate and expensive procedures a doctor in a private hospital administered on him – to lance a boil. Just because the doctor knew that he was insured and the hospital can claim from the insurance company.

This contrasts with the doctors working in the public hospitals. Unmotivated by the need to make lots of money to cover their high salaries and bonuses, the doctors actually give the patient what they want. They would not rush into a treatment until they are sure.

Another plus point with public hospitals is that they apparently have the best medical equipment in the country because of government funding.

So when Unspun was walking his mother out of University Malaya Hospital he was smiling because there was something good to say about Malaysia. In a country where the politics sucks and racial segregation seems to be worsening, and professional standards dropping, someone is doing something right at University Malaya Hospital.