Thursday, March 20, 2008


"Mati ayam, mati tungaunya (if the fowl dies, its ticks perish too)" - an old Malay saying.

As far as I’m concerned, Umno-BN is deceased. Finito. R.I.P. Kaput. What happened on March 8th was a gigantic Samurai sword that moved so swiftly the 10-headed hydra of Might-Is-Right that has terrorized us for the last 25 years lost all its heads. The BN survivors of the March 8th debacle are all operating in Safe Mode now, their operating systems having crashed big-time. Perhaps the Umno-BN hard drive can still be booted up a few more times and some useful data saved - but the motherboard itself is on the verge of terminal malfunction. So let's not speak ill of the dead.

Anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed by establishment pundits with vested interests can see that Anwar Ibrahim has got what it takes to steer this floundering ship back on course. And what it takes is intelligence, courage, stamina, adaptability, good humor, experience, and most importantly, ethical sense. His resilience has been proven over the last ten years by his capacity to transmute tragedy into triumph, transforming himself from victim to victor - all the while maintaining his dignity, clarity, and focus.

Whatever his early political agenda, the Anwar Ibrahim of 2008 has been forged in the furnace of personal pain and endurance. In 1998 he could have taken the money and run - become an academic or corporate CEO. But he didn’t. He stood up to Mahathir (right) and fought like a man. That’s how he gained my respect and admiration and trust. There are very few in our midst today that I can describe as “heroic.”

Is Chandra Muzaffar a hero? He might have been once, back in the early 1980s when he left academia to battle the monstrous menace of Mahathir. But after his ISA experience in 1987, Chandra’s spirit buckled. He left Aliran to establish JUST and for a few years he continued to say the right things. But he had lost his fire, his fighting spirit. He had gone the way of Lee Lam Thye.

Is Raja Petra Kamarudin (left) a hero? Most certainly. He stood by Anwar Ibrahim in the early days of his rebellion against monumental odds and was arrested under the ISA for his efforts. He was a tireless webmaster for the official Reformasi website and that subsequently led to his launching Malaysia Today - a "no holds barred" local news portal that has played a crucial role in exposing the dark side of Umno-BN and gained an immense readership. Indeed, RPK grew to be such a thorn in BN's backside a police report was filed against him by an Umno hatchetman and he was interrogated for eight hours. He threw his energy into the Opposition campaign as a featured speaker at many ceramahs (political rallies). Although a bona fide prince, RPK has always been accessible, down-to-earth and his finger is firmly on the pulse of the people. A large part of the credit for what happened on March 8th must go to RPK.

[Since this essay was written, much has transpired that warrants the inclusion of a footnote: RPK was arrested under ISA in September 2008 and sent to Kamunting; in November a courageous high court judge ordered his unconditional release, and RPK subsequently went into self-imposed exile; recently, RPK turned petulant and began attacking Anwar Ibrahim, although it appears to be more a personal than political feud. This has dimmed RPK's heroic lustre to a serious extent, even if he remains a positive force for change.]

Is Tian Chua a hero? I would say YES! But his career as a politician is only just beginning and he has a lot of learning to do, especially in terms of his approach. Even so, his fearlessness in the face of police violence has inspired many to speak up or march for justice. There are many other heroes I can think of: Lim Guan Eng, the new Chief Minister of Penang, for example, jailed by Mahathir for speaking up on behalf of a schoolgirl gang-banged by the former Chief Minister of Melaka; Tony Pua, who sold his successful IT business to launch his political career as an outspoken blogger and DAP candidate; Sivarasa Rasiah, who has spent the last 20 years defending human rights... it so happens they are all in the Barisan Rakyat.

And then there's Steven Gan, managing editor of Malaysiakini, who stuck to his guns as a political journalist and quit The Sun when he rubbed the establishment up the wrong way. In 1999, at the height of Reformasi fervor, Steven teamed up with Premesh Chandran to launch Malaysia's first news portal. Over the years Malaysiakini has survived several police raids and the confiscation of its computers. For invaluable services rendered to truth-loving Malaysians, this news portal deserves a standing ovation - and a thousand-fold increase in subscribers!

But to my mind nobody can match what Anwar Ibrahim has accomplished: he has led us through the Chapel Perilous of racial politics and now, for the first time since Merdeka, we can look around and appreciate the beauty of our own diversity and say, “Vive la difference!” On March 9th I was blissed out by a tangible feeling that we are no longer stuck in the rut of ethnocentric tempurungism, that we have finally outgrown all that “Bangsa-Ugama-Tanahair” hot air. I went to town and felt the genuine goodwill and jubilation that shone from every face I saw - Malay, Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli, Dan-lain-lain!

What has been missing all these decades is the possibility that we can love one another as humans, regardless of skin color or creed - that’s because cold-blooded ambition and ruthless greed have no use for empathy and warm feelings, nor does it encourage compassion, kindness, and spontaneous joy. No, it feeds and fattens itself vampire-like on fear - other people’s fear. And now, on that bright Sunday morning after GE12, the fear had dissipated like a bad smell in the winds of change. PKR flags fluttered proudly against a glorious blue Selangor sky, proclaiming that the people's eyes were open at long last.

In the climate of fear Mahathir created during his 22-year reign, anybody who dared speak the truth became a hero - or martyr. Anwar Ibrahim, more than any other political icon in the country, succeeded in transcending his own childhood prejudices to embody the universal values that will unite rather than divide us as a nation. That is indeed the mark of a hero. Let us honor this hero (who nearly became a martyr) by giving him what he fully deserves - the chance to serve as prime minister (at least till he tires of it or we tire of him). At the same time, let us all aspire to become heroes too, so that we will no longer be scared children in need of a grown-up to lead us across the street. Let us each become, in time, self-governing individuals whose relationship to our political leaders is akin to an orchestra’s respect for the conductor, knowing full well that his job is to create a symphony from the potential cacophony of so many different instruments.

[Illustration by Antares from Two Catfish in the Same Hole; photos pinched from various sources]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Can Anwar become Prime Minister in the next few weeks?

This is how my son-in-law Marcus responded to an article I circulated with the headline "Can Anwar become Prime Minister in the next few weeks?":

You must be joking. He comes from the same breed and is just a lamp (sic) in a wolfs outfit. Hope u are not serious.

I am absolutely serious, Marcus. There has been a systematic attempt to undermine Anwar's credibility by those who recognize that he is indeed the most intelligent, adaptable, and charismatic leader to emerge from Umno's ranks. Mahathir's vicious attack on him which led to Anwar's 6 years of humiliation, imprisonment and intense suffering was the furnace that remolded the man into a prime ministerial candidate that I personally endorse. I have no fear of Anwar Ibrahim and am pleased to have him (as well as Lim Kit Siang) as Facebook friends :-)

An important factor people who irrationally hate and fear Anwar seem to have forgotten is that PKR is no longer just Anwar Ibrahim. He is surrounded by many good people - Syed Husin Ali, Sivarasa Rasiah, Elizabeth Wong, Nathaniel Tan, to name just a few - who will immediately quit PKR if ever Anwar's dark side begins to reassert itself and turns him into a monster. Anyway, having survived and outlived the Greatest Monster of Them All (yes, I mean Mahathir) we can deal with any wannabe Monsters that show up!

Having met Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah during the Reformasi days, I have no doubt that they are very fine people and will always have a moderating effect on Anwar.

Since September 2, 1998, the day Anwar Ibrahim was fired, I have been monitoring the man closely and his every move and utterance has impressed me favorably.

We are living in a whole new era now, Marcus. All those who have spoken negatively about Anwar Ibrahim can only warn about his ambition and lust for power - and they say he was just like the other Umno politicians before he got sacked. Anwar Ibrahim WANTS to be PM. He has always said so. He was, in fact, next in line for the job before September 1998, having been groomed by Dr M for 16 years. Nobody can say the PKR has no experience governing. I have no quarrel with people who are ambitious - so long as they have what it takes to be at the top, and what it takes is a willingness to learn from their own mistakes and to keep their minds open to feedback from others. The recent elections was largely won through a free flow of information via the blogs and news portals like Malaysiakini.

Bloggers are a very vocal bunch. If Anwar becomes PM and starts regressing into authoritarianism he will hear about it immediately. In any case, I will personally hold him accountable to his pre-election promise of abolishing all repressive laws (ISA, OSA, etc). Once those laws are gone, the mechanisms by which citizens can keep their elected leaders in check will be restored.

Your nervousness probably comes from the views of so-called experts who move in power circles. They all suffer from the same disease: hero-envy! They are secretly envious of Anwar because he has the capacity to reinvent himself - from victim to victor within 10 years. Remember those images of Anwar from early 1999, with black eye, frogmarched around by policemen, in constant pain from a spinal injury, attending his mother's funeral in a wheelchair, not allowed to seek medical treatment in Germany... slowly poisoned by arsenic mixed into the paintwork of his Sungai Buloh cell. Look at him today. I for one am very impressed and will publicly name him a national hero. He showed Malaysians you can defy Mahathir - and live!

Cheers & Hugs,

P.S. In any case, there isn't anybody from Umno who qualifies as PM. Certainly not Najib, the urbane sleazeball with blood on his hands and Lady Macbeth on his back! Hishamuddin is a braindead lout and Khairy J is definitely the most hated Malay in Malaysia (people believe he had to cheat to win in Rembau). All the old farts are out - and none of the newer faces has a personality or even a known opinion outside of Umno party dogma, viz., the Malays need Umno to defend their special rights. No PAS leader is acceptable as PM - not yet - because they are too closely aligned with a religion. The DAP leaders may be sincere for the most part but many are from the ranks of hawkers and sundry shop owners - a bit uncouth and unsophisticated when it comes to dancing with the complex Malay psyche. This leaves PKR - the first workable multi-ethnic party in Malaysian history - and I'm extremely pleased Selangor is now managed by PKR! No, I am not a card-carrying member - though in 1999 I paid my RM2 to join KeADILan in KKB. Unfortunately the schoolteacher who was acting as treasurer absconded with all the money collected and later rejoined Umno - so I was never registered :-)

Magick River
44000 Kuala Kubu Baru