Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 15 August

The GE14 election defeat of the BN which had ruled the country since 1957 was testimony to the determination of the Malaysian people and civil society who had opposed BN rule for decades. Sixty-one years of BN domination had included 22 years with Prime Minister Mahathir at the helm. The Malaysian people chose to cast their votes for the PH coalition because PH had promised in their GE14 manifesto to implement wide ranging reforms that made them seem radically different from the governance experienced under the BN.



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, 15 Feb 2017

There is an attempt by some “eminent persons” to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian Constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the Constitution. In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our Constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This “national philosophy” of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of 13 May 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected “eminent persons” rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of “Belief in God” is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any Preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US Constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People … in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US Constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the Constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The Preamble to the Constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political;   LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a Preamble of Indian Constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the Constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian Constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on “Belief in God”.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including “Belief in (the monotheistic) God” in the hypothetical preamble to our Constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime Ministers to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the judiciary in the country. For example, on his 80th birthday on 8th February 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic State, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular State with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st birthday on 12th February 1983.

The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on 27 Sept 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam … and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterized Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh v Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is … secular law.” The previous Lord President Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a Preamble to our Constitution – for such a Preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our Constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the State and religion. This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the State and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only “Belief in (Monotheistic) God”, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

I am truly surprised that our “eminent persons” cannot see that such an imposition of “Belief in God” does not include polytheists, animists and ancestor worshippers. Their attempt to argue that, despite their inclusion of “Belief in God” in the hypothetical preamble, other faiths of minorities are in fact protected by the Malaysian Constitution, unwittingly demonstrates the secularism and inclusiveness of our Constitution.

Now, if the Constitution already guarantees the equal right of Malaysians of all faiths – monotheistic, polytheistic, atheistic, animistic as well as ancestor worshippers – is it not presumptuous if not sacrilegious to try to impose “Belief in God” on ALL Malaysians?

To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 9 Feb 2017

At last, the two political coalitions in the country have been forced through their grandstanding to call for Royal Commissions of Inquiry (RCIs) into three of the worst financial scandals in recent Malaysian history. Pakatan Harapan has of course been calling for an RCI into the most recent 1MDB scandal that has made international headlines. To get at the former Prime Minister and new member of Pakatan Harapan, Dr Mahathir, the BN Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak has called for an RCI to look into the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited (BMF) and Bank Negara foreign exchange (forex) scandals as these equally big financial scandals have never been investigated by an RCI and charges imposed.

Malaysian civil society says Aye to both these calls since the government can never regain the trust of the people until these three multi-billion financial losses have been accounted for and the negligent and corrupt leaders have been brought to account.


The first RCI should investigate the current financial scandal around 1MDB. 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the state investment fund has come under investigation for alleged impropriety after reports emerged that investigators traced some US$700 million wired into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts. 1MDB was 42 billion ringgit in debt at the time of the scandal. Investigations by the US Department of Justice has uncovered the fact that insiders siphoned off billions of dollars and treated themselves to penthouse apartments in New York, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills and paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. An independent RCI can uncover who authorized these enormous sums of taxpayers’ money to be abused in this way and recommend appropriate convictions of the corrupt and negligent.

Forex losses in the 90s

There has also been no RCI into the colossal forex losses as a result of speculation by Bank Negara in the international currency markets from 1992-1994, with the losses cited as ranging from RM10 billion to RM30 billion. Such a RCI can determine the actual extent of the colossal forex losses and whether there had been any financial malpractices and abuses by then Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Bank Negara Governor in view of the inconsistencies and conflicting explanations about the colossal forex losses. The RCI should recommend the appropriate charges for those who abused their powers.

The BMF Scandal in the 80s

One of the first scandals soon after Mahathir came into office in the 80s was the RM2.5 billion scandal in Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, a Hong Kong based subsidiary of state-owned Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad. Besides the wide range of shady dealings involving the Carrian Group, the sordid details included the murder of a BBMB auditor who had gone to Hong Kong to investigate the propriety of the loans. No RCI has thoroughly investigated this scandal to see who in Kuala Lumpur had authorized those shady deals and recommended the appropriate charges against those responsible for this massive financial scandal.

Other financial scandals of the 80s and 90s

There have been other financial scandals including the $600 million losses suffered by the country over the Maminco-Makuwasa tin caper on 19 Nov 1986, the “piratisation” of the North-South Highway in 1987, the bail out of Mirzan Mahathir’s Konsortium Perkapalan Bhd as well as Renong during the 1997 financial crisis, Perwaja Steel’s RM9 billion liabilities.

No trust if there is impunity

Malaysian civil society demands social justice, democracy and human rights and there is no place for impunity. Impunity is especially common in countries that do not respect the rule of law, that suffers from corruption and have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak. The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005 states that:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

Is BRIM corruption or crass populism?

Is BRIM corruption or crass populism?
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 30 December 2016

Dr Mahathir and now Azmin Ali have claimed that the BRIM handouts are akin to corruption by the Najib government. While Dr Mahathir is prone to selective amnesia, the Selangor MB should know that Najib’s BRIM cash handouts are actually a copy of similar cash handouts made by the opposition-led Penang state government.

After the 2008 general election, the Penang state government prided itself on a plan to give cash handouts of 100 ringgit annually to every senior citizen aged above 60. It also introduced a scheme to wipe out hard-core poverty by ensuring that every family receives at least 500 ringgit a month. Then in a move that I called “populism gone mad”, the Selangor state government decided to provide free water to consumers in the state. The current water crisis in Selangor is perhaps the instant karma that comes from such a poorly conceived populist project. Water is a limited precious resource and water demand management acknowledges this by setting targets for per capita water use, and reducing the scale of non-revenue water – giving away free water makes a mockery of the need to conserve that precious resource through water demand management.

Free makan at whose expence?

Before he became Menteri Besar, Azmin Ali’s had criticised the State Government under Khalid Ibrahim for it’s spendthrift ways in splurging RM500,000 on a single official ceremony at a time when the state reserves had dipped below RM800 million. Has Azmin put a stop to such wasteful and populist free makan splurges? Who pays for the free makan at Open Houses during each festival – the state government, Pakatan coalition or Selangor ratepayers? There was even the time when the PR Speaker told off the State Exco Ronnie Liu for spending RM10,000 on durian feasts for his constituents. Who knows what else goes on…

Is this corruption, or do free handouts count as corruption only when they are given out close to an election? Both coalitions are equally guilty of vote buying through free handouts during the election campaign.

Mahathir gave only to favoured Bumis

While Dr Mahathir’s term in office was not noted for free cash handouts to the lower income masses irrespective of ethnicity, he did grant contracts, licences, share options and other benefits specifically to ethnic Malay individuals and companies over and above other ethnic minority groups. He created a class of newly rich Malays with a vested interest in keeping their patrons in power. Many of these “favoured Bumiputera capitalists” only managed to survive the 1998 financial crisis through being bailed out indirectly by Malaysian taxpayers.

In fact, soon after the 2013 general election, Dr Mahathir accused Najib not so much for this alleged corrupt practice of free cash handouts but of pandering too much to the Chinese and of not giving enough attention to the Malays, who form the backbone of Umno’s support.

During Abdullah Badawi’s administration in July 2007, ahead of the March 2008 general election, civil servants were awarded hefty pay increments of between 7.5% and 35% while their cost-of-living allowances were doubled. Government pensioners, too, were awarded significant hikes in their monthly checks.

Can all this be considered corruption too or is it only considered corruption when free handouts are race-free as in the case of BRIM?

The nation needs improved social services & reforms

For a sustainable economy and society, the lower income earning Malaysians require an improved social and public welfare services and other reforms, not one-off cash handouts which are not sustainable and will worsen the budget deficit and national debt.

First, we need fiscal reforms to ensure fair income redistribution by imposing a higher marginal tax rate on high income earners, an incremental Capital Gains Tax on property, other progressive taxes on wealth and luxury goods; plugging tax loopholes; reviewing capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms; regulating and imposing a tax on all international financial transactions and hedge funds; abolishing regressive taxes such as GST.

Secondly, we need to defend workers’ rights & interests by promoting workers’ right to unionise; legislating a progressive guaranteed minimum wage for all workers, including foreign workers; ensuring full employment, retrenchment and pension fund for all workers; abolishing the contractor system for employment of workers; allowing workers and their trade unions to be part of economic influence and decision-making of enterprises, especially control of their pension funds; promoting self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society; according full rights as workers to all migrant workers irrespective of their immigration status.

Thirdly, we need an improved free public health care system for all Malaysians by allocating at least 10% of the GDP in the annual budget to healthcare; implementing better conditions for doctors, nurses and hospital workers in the public sector; freezing the expansion of private hospitals and preventing the leakages in the public sector to private contractors; providing homes and day-care centres for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services, including access to mobile health care.

Fourthly, we need a people-centred and caring social policy by instituting a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities, with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas; respecting the rights of urban settlers in any development plan to upgrade their area or to re-house them; prioritizing the public transport system in the country while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres; providing child-care and crèche facilities in all public and private sectors; providing rehabilitation facilities for those suffering from substance abuse.

Cash handouts do not empower the people

While some economists claim that these cash handouts will lead to higher domestic demand and consumption and stimulate the economy, others are concerned about rising fiscal deficits and inflationary pressures. They do not consider the most important factor in all this populism – the long term dignity and empowerment of the people in the process of a sustainable national development.


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 27 December 2016

From the first time that she entered the political arena as the candidate for the Parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh after her husband’s incarceration, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (Kak Wan) has been treated as the seat warmer for Anwar until whenever he is released and available to contest in the election. The latest such gambit is the suggestion by Kit Siang that she should be made interim prime minister if the Opposition wins the next general election.

Is that paying equal respect to women as candidates in the political process? Is that paying equal respect to Kak Wan? Does that suggestion accurately reflect the position that the Opposition coalition has on women as political candidates? And overall, what are opposition supporters to conclude about the standing of women within the opposition?

These are not of course not the only times that Kak Wan has been suggested to be the seat warmer for Anwar. During the hare-brained ‘Kajang Move’ in 2014, Kak Wan was supposed to be the “interim Menteri Besar” for Selangor except that the plans went awry and Asmin Ali ended up as the MB instead. The consequences of this ill-thought-out political scheme had even more serious consequences for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition when PAS was ejected from the coalition.

Women are NOT seat warmers for their husbands

In 2008, Kak Wan had to resign her seat to make way for her husband to retake the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in a byelection even though either the Chief Minister of Penang or the MB of Selangor could have relinquished their seats for Anwar since they already had enough on their plates in looking after their own respective states. Nonetheless, as far as I know, no feminists at that time raised any objections even though Kak Wan was already an elected Member of Parliament in her own right.

Considering that she is now being considered to be “interim Prime Minister” candidate, isn’t it strange that in 2008, none of the men in Pakatan Rakyat thought that Kak Wan deserved to keep her parliamentary seat while alternative arrangements could have been made to accommodate Anwar such as I have suggested above? This is a basic feminist demand.

However, during the so-called Kajang Move, “feminist” arguments were suddenly proffered to justify Kak Wan being the “interim Menteri Besar of Selangor” when it was evident that the choice of Kak Wan or Azmin Ali was the bone of contention between DAP, PKR and PAS. Concerned Malaysians should note that this was the real cause of the ejection of PAS from the Opposition coalition and not the Hudud issue as it is often made out to be. After all, Hudud has been part and parcel of PAS ideology since the Islamic party started decades ago.

Should the MB for Selangor be decided on merit or can feminist arguments be used to justify Kak Wan as the “interim” MB? Note that it is not clear if the argument is for Kak Wan to be MB in her own right, on her own strengths, or whether this is an argument for why she can’t be the “interim” MB!

Is there hope for an eternal “interim” coalition?

So long as the Opposition Coalition cannot envision a leadership without Anwar Ibrahim, it will be continually thinking in “interim” circles while excuses will continue to be shoveled out for why there cannot be a Shadow Cabinet at this stage. As for policies, their differentia specifica visavis Barisan Nasional is not clear. This is the core weakness of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, not anything else. Real feminist issues like that of ensuring a greater representation of women will be relegated to such tokenistic concessions as being the “interim Prime Minister” or whatever.

Is the lady for turning?

“The lady’s not for turning” was the statement made famous by Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister in 1980 when she stood her ground against the men in her party. Although we do not agree with her policies, this turn of phrase shows that she was a woman with a mind of her own… and she was not about to be any man’s “interim whatever”!

It is this principle that needs to be seen to be rigorously upheld if women’s political participation is to be taken seriously and given the equal respect it deserves, by both the opposition party leaders and their supporters.