Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 13 Sept 2016

Politicians tend to speak and act out of the bubble they have built around themselves as they pounce on political opportunities that present themselves. It can take their loved ones to see through all that falsehood and hypocrisy. Thus, Anwar’s daughter Nurul Nuha Anwar must be congratulated for demanding that Dr Mahathir Mohamad publicly apologises to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and admit his past transgressions against the opposition leader before he can hope to forge any alliance with Anwar’s coalition. Nurul Nuha said that Dr Mahathir must first own up to the “trumped-up” sodomy and corruption charges against Anwar back in 1998. Bravo!

This is the first thought that comes to the mind of anyone who cares about justice and dignity in this country. And yet, how many politicians in Pakatan Harapan and Civil Society leaders, with the exception of Saari Sungib, have demanded that of Mahathir ever since he headed the “Save Malaysia” Declaration in March 2016?

Sorry is all that you can say, Mahathir

After Mahathir’s attendance in court on September 5 for a case involving Anwar and their token handshake, PH and Parti Pribumi politicians have been falling about themselves hailing this as a historic compromise which spells good times ahead for the Anti-Najib Coalition.

The fact remains that to date, Mahathir has strenuously refused to apologise to Anwar or retract his scurrilous defamation of Anwar’s character since 1998. In September 2005 at a press conference after a human rights conference, the former Prime Minister was quoted as saying: “I cannot have a sodomiser in my Cabinet. Imagine a gay PM – nobody will be safe.”

On 24 Sep 2005, Anwar demanded an apology and damages totaling $26.7 million from former Prime Minister for those scurrilous comments. Mahathir had reiterated his assertion that he’d fired Anwar as his deputy in 1998 because Anwar’s alleged sexual orientation made him unfit for office.

Then, despite the generous gestures shown toward Mahathir by his former detractors, including Anwar after the ‘Save Malaysia’ caper in March 2016, Mahathir has not displayed any remorse for his past record and instead, repeated his defamatory attacks on Anwar’s character when he appeared on Australian TV soon after the ‘Save Malaysia’ Declaration.

Anwar’s letter from prison in June 2016 showed that he was hurt when this “humiliation, sadly did not elicit any response from my trusted colleagues…It’s baffling to note that after working with Pakatan Harapan civil society and my trusted colleagues, he continued to pour scorn and venom against me!”

Thus, if these Pakatan leaders could be forgiven for their “audacious naivete” in working with Mahathir, there was no excuse for their continued alliance with the latter AFTER he repeated his prejudiced comments against Anwar. As to who is calling the shots in the Anti-Najib Coalition, this terse admonition by the Pakatan de facto leader in his letter from prison said it all:

“But I resent the insensitivity in pressuring the president and in particular Nurul Izzah to pay respects to Tun M or attend his functions. You may want to appease him, but to demand such a sacrifice from my family, particularly after the recent scorn is the unkindest cut of all!”

No excuse for being unprincipled

Defence of their de facto Pakatan leader is only part of the equation; even more serious is the abandonment of their principles regarding Anwar’s conviction by the state. Throughout Anwar’s sodomy trials, the Pakatan leaders had maintained that he was a “victim of political conspiracy and fabricated evidence”. When he was sent to jail for the second time, senior opposition parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang said: “It’s a day of infamy. It’s a shocking decision.” The PKR deputy president Azmin Ali labelled Anwar’s jail term “perverse”, an “injustice” and an “absolute disgrace”, while former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenavasan likewise slammed the political conspiracy against Anwar.

Hence by not condemning Mahathir for repeating his scurrilous attacks on Anwar’s character even AFTER the formation of the Anti-Najib Coalition, it exposes the Pakatan leaders’ inconsistent stand on Anwar’s innocence in his political trial.

Who’s sorry now?

The Pakatan leaders can learn a lesson in political consistency, morality and human dignity from Anwar’s daughter today. They should demand an apology from the man who initiated the prosecution of Anwar in the first place when he was Prime Minister. Mahathir should be asked to forthwith withdraw his scurrilous attacks on Anwar. Failure to do so should result in him being booted out of the Anti-Najib Coalition.

And when Mahathir has apologized to Anwar, he can start apologizing to me and the others he incarcerated under Operation Lalang; to Tun Salleh Abas and the other Supreme Court judges he sacked in 1988; and to all Malaysians for the more than 100 billion ringgit he squandered during his term in office.

Real Reformasi!

The reform movement should then be redefined to target not just an individual but the political regime and political economic system that oppresses, divides and exploits the people.  The aim would not only be to call for Najib’s resignation but to change the racist and exploitative regime. Furthermore, reforms should target the neoliberal economic policies that were set in motion by none other than Mahathir in the early Eighties.

Najib has merely made more extreme the structures created by Mahathir to entrench the powers of the Executive, emasculate the democratic institutions and provide the means for private enrichment of the elite in this country. Racist and racial discriminatory policies were also entrenched by Mahathir in the early Eighties and further manipulated by Najib until today.

Firmly stick to your dignity and integrity, Anwar!

Even as you endure the cruelty of the oppressive regime, Anwar, listen not to the forked tongues of your “trusted colleagues” but hark the wise admonition that emanates from the mouth of your daughter Nurul Nuha. Her demand for an apology from Mahathir is backed up by this advice by the great Aristotle:

“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.”


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 18 August 2016

Someone commented recently that Malaysian civil society is dead because she noticed that ever since 2008, NGO activists have either been co-opted by the alternative coalition into their parties, their think tanks or were actively working in tandem with these political parties by being selective in their criticisms of the political parties.

Well, Penang Forum, the NGO coalition of which SUARAM Penang is proudly a member, is proving to be the exception. They have risen to the occasion not only to critique the Penang State Government’s Transport Master Plan (TMP) but to present a cheaper and environmentally preferable alternative for the people of Penang. Their concern for the negative impact on George Town’s world heritage site caused by the TMP involved their proactive action to write to Unesco requesting for an advisory mission and impact assessment on the proposed TMP:

“The issue is the impact the TMO project – which features a major light rail transit (LRT) and monorail transport hub at Sia Boey, along the old Pragin Canal, – would have on George Town’s heritage (site)…

“We are extremely concerned that the construction of LRT and monorail stations in a tertiary zone (zone bordering a buffer zone) of the Unesco-listed George Town will pose risk to its outstanding universal value status.”

NGOs are sentinels NOT lapdogs

For their efforts, Penang Forum has been under vitriolic attack by Penang state DAP leaders for being “backstabbers”.  Judging by the recent caution by the Chief Minister to Penang NGOs “not to bite the hand that feeds them”, it seems that the Penang state leaders are not aware of the role of civil society…

Civil society organizations exist to promote and protect democracy. Their contribution to economic development, political awareness and societal advancement has been acknowledged and supported in the international arena. NGOs play the mediating role between the individual and the state by articulating citizens’ interests and demands. They owe allegiance only to truth, social justice, democracy and the human rights of the people. Perhaps other NGOs in Malaysia would like to express their opinions on this unjustifiable attack on Penang Forum.

Negative impact on heritage sites

I have written about the scandal of Kuala Lumpur city planners and heritage protectors allowing the construction of the concrete monorail monstrosity to obstruct the views of the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, the Chen Ancestral Shrine, the Guan Yin temple and other Kuala Lumpur heritage sites. The Guan Yin temple was built in 1888, the Chen Ancestral Temple in 1896 and the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 1934. There are other heritage sites along the monorail route which are likewise needlessly obscured from view.

Likewise, Penang Forum has urged the state leaders to work together with the National Heritage Department, Unesco and civil society in solving the issue of whether the Transport Master Plan (TMP) will have a negative impact on George Town world heritage site. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and the project managers have insisted that the construction of the transport hub is not within the heritage site. To this, Penang Forum has rebutted:

 “If they are so confident, then why are they upset about Penang Forum writing to Unesco asking for a mission to determine the impact of TMP on the heritage site?

“They should welcome it and let it be evaluated so that there is no wrong (done)!”

Khoo Salma of Penang Forum has further warned that if the state signs and commits to implementing the TMP before Unesco finds out that the project endangers the world heritage site, the state might have to compensate the developer for breach of contract. Then again, Penang rate payers will be the losers:

“This is a similar case to the Penang Island City Council having to compensate RM20 million to Boustead Holdings Bhd for requiring it to lower the building height to 18 metres after approval was given for a taller building at the site,” Khoo Salma said.

To close this with the infamous words of a Penang DAP leader, the Penang state government should “stop behaving like crybabies”.


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 25 June 2016

Ever since the news broke about the residents at Waja Apartments in Taman Tun Perak, Cheras openly displaying a banner calling for realtors to refrain from renting condominium units to African tenants (“Say No to African People”), I have waited to see if there would be protests by Malaysians, especially politicians and community leaders against this blatant racism.

I was sadly disappointed. After all this time, it is only former Miss Malaysia-Universe Deborah Henry who has protested against this blatant racism, saying it is unfair to generalise and stereotype a community for the mistakes of a few: “There’s a thin line between racism and discrimination. One bad person doesn’t equate to an entire community.” She criticised the action of displaying racist banners in residential areas as unhealthy, saying that instead, these issues need to be dealt with appropriately. It has been reported that such banners against Africans have cropped up in Shah Alam and the Sunway area as well.

In fact, such blatant racism is not just unhealthy; it is condemned and outlawed by the world community, in particular the Declaration of the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban 2001:

35. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Africans and people of African descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Africans and people of African descent…”

Just in case Malaysians feel they are a superior race to Africans, they may like to know that following from this clause of the 2001 Declaration at Durban:

36. We recognize that in many parts of the world, Asians and people of Asian descent face barriers as a result of social biases and discrimination prevailing in public and private institutions and express our commitment to work towards the eradication of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance faced by Asians and people of Asian descent…”

Living in a ‘Malaysian Bubble’

Yes, for years through the colonial experience, Asians have suffered racism and racial discrimination even in their own countries. However, Malaysians who have lived all their lives in this post-colonial “Malaysia Bubble” have had a different lived experience in which they do not identify as victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The reason the Malaysian government has not ratified the International Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is because racial discrimination is part of “normal life” in Malaysia where it is disguised as “affirmative action”. For what is the policy that excludes “Non-Bumiputeras” from public institutions such as UiTM but blatant racial discrimination? Likewise, the policy that gives discounts for house purchases, etc. to “Bumiputeras only”.

Time for an Equality Act

Once Malaysia ratifies the ICERD, we would have to introduce legislation to outlaw racism and racial discrimination. In countries that have ratified the ICERD, they have introduced an Equality Act and incorporated Equality into their Human Rights Commission to ensure the implementation of the Equality Act. Furthermore, to outlaw racism and speeches that promote hate crimes, such countries have introduced a Race & Religious Hatred Act to deal with intolerant racists and assorted bigots.

Until such time, this ugly incident is a reminder to each of us to audit our own biases and prejudices, and reflect on how we would feel faced by such discrimination. Certainly Asians who have travelled abroad will have experienced racism at first hand and in different guises.

You’re an African!

Watching all this racism against Africans by Malaysians, I am reminded of this song by Peter Tosh from the Seventies, titled ‘African’ which crystallizes the nature of racism:

Don’t matter where you come from

As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African

No mind your nationality

You have got the identity of an African…

So don’t care where you come from

As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African

No mind your complexion

There is no rejection, you’re an African…

‘Cause if your plexion high, high, high

If your complexion low, low, low

And if your plexion in between, you’re an African…

And if you come from Russia

(You are an African)

And if you come from Malaysia

(You are an African)!”