Monday, January 14, 2019

让民主声音更多元化

长年在野的反对阵线,去年可说是个政治「惊喜」年。在现有的选举制度下,特別是在天平原本就相当倾斜的系统,人民怨气积深,选箱一开竟然在多处狂吹反风,大至跨了执政门槛换政府。有人说,这是「简单多数」选制依然可取的证据,只要选区划分得体、选民册弄「乾净」、选委会中立,选举舞弊一旦减少,换政府不再是不可能的事,一人一票的民主就会显露发挥出来。事实上真的是如此?
希望联盟新政府已执政了超过半年,这个联盟的合作模式或许就是这个选制的產物。为了入主布城换联邦政府这梦寐以求的目標,倡导和推崇多元种族文化的人民公正党和民主行动党,不得不重审局势允许以高喊並主张土著权利的土团党加入希盟。更令人大跌眼镜的是,他们推举马哈迪医生重作冯妇当首相候选人。
后来的选举成绩显示了希盟的胜利,而土团党以小刀锯大树姿態斩获13席国席,以小党主导政府內阁行政,拿下6个部长职(包括首相、內政部长和教育部长)。我投下的选票是否意味著我支持或默认如此的局势安排?假设我不同意,当初我还有什么其他选择?
票票不等值
在「简单多数」选制之下,主要的在野阵线政党为了不要分散选票而败给当时佔优势的国阵,选前联盟佈侷促成单挑互换票成了主流选举策略(唯有单飞的伊党成为能左右选情的「第三势力」老牌政党)。基本上这造就了三个问题:一,选民未必能在选区內直接投票给自己心属的政党;二,选民未必认同出战的伙伴党和其候选人;三,选民不能拥有更接近他们政治理念的政党在该区上阵,由于目前选制胜出的门槛过高而仍未面世。
坦白地说,身为梳邦区选民的我,深深地体会到目前选制並未赋予我的那张选票同等价值。我的国会议员黄基全狂风扫落叶地狂胜9万2353多数票,贏的也仅是一席。而同样在雪州大港国席,土团党贏714多数票,总得票仅1万7350。
固然当中的问题是选区划分的大小,但我的选票「价值」仅能决定一席。输家的票以及狂胜的多数票,对全国选情已没有其他作用和影响。所以你手上的票如果是属于其中一项,难免你会觉得你的选票「没价值」或「浪费」了,特別是当你的选区是某党的堡垒区,选情已毫无悬念。
选举无可厚非要选为当地服务发言的代议士,但目前的选制並不鼓励跨区域单元课题斗爭如环境正义、性別权益、劳工课题等的领袖和政党。要贏得当地国会议席,候选人的深耕服务与否未必是指標,因为主流政党的知名度、財力撑腰势力和动员支援力量通常更为关键。社会主义党在本届大选的惨败结果是借镜,说明了目前的选制不利第三势力小党自力更生进入议会。
小政党难生存
首先,地方选举仍未被恢復,小党无法在获胜门槛较低的民主平台取得突破,展示问政甚至执政地方的实力。地方选举也是小党深耕服务最有可能被认同的舞台。一旦没有地方选举,到了州级和全国级的选举,小党的劣势就明显浮现。
试问为何我国没有出现类似国外的绿党?当绿色盛会的前领导人黄德都选择加入主流政党,独立在外的小党真的有希望能取得零的突破?成立政党,若非为了贏得席位获得代表权发挥政治影响力,就没有其他道理了。
要知道,一个全国性政党竞选需要涉及一笔不小的预算经费和人力。即便是地方政党,要维持一党持续运作和保持党员的士气,若政党贏不到议席而要等五年再重来,这將会是一个重大考验。人生苦短没有太多的五年蹉跎。这点,问问马华和民政党就知道了。
再说,目前我国並未制度化公费拨款补助符合资格的政党。这让有希望执政的大政党较容易被利益集团「投资」和「绑架」,小党要维持若不仰赖財主不然就是眾筹。即使要靠眾筹来维持一个政党的生存和发展,尤其是一个没有议会代表权的「蚊子党」,委实不容易。
联立制更民主
要在简单多数决的选区击败传统大党谈何容易?即使有潜在的支持者,小党总担心选民最后会否因「大局」而弃保。有了比例代表选制的政党票,这將能鼓舞小党另闢蹊径爭取散落在全国(或州內)各地的支持者把票投给该党,以让他们能跨过最低门槛进入议会议政。有了这个选择,选民不必因青睞政党没在该区上阵而「含泪投票」给他人。
若比例代表选制採取类似德国或纽西兰的「联立制」,政党票还可產生互补作用,弥补「简单多数」选区议席数目的不足。如此一来,政党之间也就无需选前结盟,各政党竞爭发展对地方民主建设有好处。选民也因有了更多开放多元的政治选择,而找到了更接近自己政治意识的政党代表。这样的局面不是更有利于民主的多元发展,更能反映民主声音吗?
有者担忧比例代表选制將提供「温床」给极端右翼份子进入议会。事实上,目前在国会里,狭隘的种族宗教右倾的议员们还会少吗?
我不认同「极端」这个標籤,如果说一个右倾政党能获得大幅度的支持票,这代表了一个不容忽视但真实的民主声音,即便这不是你认同的。这可能是集体对现实政治不满的警讯,需要其他政党正视並如何爭取回支持。
反之,比例代表制开了一个契机,让民主自由进步的理想型政党有了一个希望的据点,集合各地志同道合的支持力量跨过门槛进入议会將民主更多元化!

刊登于《東方日報》東方文薈版2019年1月13日

Monday, January 07, 2019

Public policy and the role of the public intellectual


How can the government encourage more people to adopt public transport so as to solve the problem of traffic jams?
Should local elections – if these are re-introduced – consider the issue of racial composition and representation?
Would the proposal to transform our current healthcare system into a social insurance model enable more people to have accessible and affordable healthcare?
Out of the various models of sustainable development, which would be the most suitable for particular places in Malaysia to adopt, in order to preserve our natural environment and also promote our cultural heritage?
Finally, would changing our country’s electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation give our citizens a more democratic voice?
The questions above involve public policy discussions to a certain extent. Some may be ideologically oriented, while others may be more technical.
The influence and consequences of public policy may vary, from issues with huge implications that might potentially decide your individual rights as a citizen or foreign resident, to basic needs such as a right to shelter and food; or its impact might appear to be so insignificant that you feel it has nothing to do with you.
Some policies could have long-term impacts on groups of people several generations down the line, such as the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1970s.
Some policies also could bring about permanent and irreversible changes, such as certain forest land management policies which permit oil palm plantations to convert and replace primary forests.
Knowledge is power
In Malaysia, policymaking decisions seem to habitually stem from a top-down process. Sometimes, it could be rooted in a certain political actor’s will or out-of-the-blue ‘creative’ thoughts, such as the third national car and property ‘crowdfunding’ policy.
To many people, the ability to influence public policy debates seems to be confined to the political elite. 
Some may believe that the realm of public policy is out of their reach, leading them to forfeit any opportunity to participate in meaningful public policy discussions.
This self-defeating mentality probably has to do with the impression that policymaking is technically too complex, or that they are unable to fully grasp the nuances of policy debates.

Furthermore, others may have lost faith and hope in the country’s political system. The euphoria that has been generated from witnessing the change of federal government for the first time in history has long gone.
Instead, they are more inclined to believe that policy discussion would change nothing, because it is politics akin to Game of Thrones – whereby politicians would act in a similar way to serve their self-interest by keeping the status quo when it comes to politically advantageous policies.
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan once said: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family."
The statement should also apply to our political and civil education. This is because if the people can understand the issues and policies better, then they could be more aware of their own rights, and will not be easily swayed or cheated.
In that way, public opinion could be recognised and turned into a formidable force to oppose and resist unreasonable or unjust policies. It would also help to promote a rational, progressive, democratically mature society.
Policy discussions may take place in a kopitiam, grassroots style, or be held in a posh and premium hotel ballroom and rigorously debated by fellow academics. Despite all that, the outcome still has to go back to the discussant, and whether he or she has conducted any study.
Serious public policy work must show professionalism and integrity in taking account all possible facets of evidence (within a reasonable limitation), that would determine whether the analyses and deductions can convince the public.
If a public policy does not go through a deep and thorough research process, or does not rely on facts and evidence for future projections, it would lack robust theoretical support and a foundation in widely accepted international best practices. The probability of such a policy failing to reach its intended goals is high.
In the end, who should answer for the consequences, cost, and responsibility for such policy failures? Instead of delegating the task of scrutinising government policies to opposition parties, could the public themselves effectively monitor the government’s performance, and directly hold them accountable?
A learning process
Public policy research is a learning process. As a member of the Penang state government’s think-tank and a public policy research analyst, it is my duty not just to amass knowledge but also to spread the seeds of thought, hoping that a new perspective could influence or change society or at least create public discussion.
In order to gain the public’s trust and confidence, what is most important is to be persistent in maintaining the standards of one’s objectivity and professionalism when expressing and defending one’s research outcome in a fair and transparent manner.
If public policy research is publicly funded, it should imply that public interest is very much involved, and thus the research outcomes should be shared with the public. In other words, I believe that I should be seen as an employee of taxpayers, and therefore held accountable to the public.
So, here I am in my position of influence, and therefore I have to honour my obligation as a public intellectual. For that reason, I have to walk out of my ‘armchair and air-conditioned room’ comfort zone and walk into the daily lived experiences of the man on the street. Only then would my proposed policy be worth anyone's salt.
If policymaking were to be compared to a battle of ideas, policy advocates pacing around this ‘battlefield’ must recognise the current situation and be well-versed in the ‘topography’ of issues that one feels strongly about.
He or she could then be in control of the defensive-offensive strategy in winning the battle of influencing and implementing the said policy. There could be room for the omission of menial details, but policymakers or advocates must ensure that the crux of a policy should be steered in the right direction.
Penang is my base, and my work as a public intellectual originates from there. However, my work should not be constrained within the aforementioned locality.
In what is being identified as a strongly federated nation such as Malaysia, the most contentious policy ideas are arguably centred around Parliament in Kuala Lumpur and the corridors of power in Putrajaya.
We have witnessed the historic moment in the 14th general election when the peaceful democratic transition of federal power took place in Putrajaya. The new ruling coalition was named after ‘hope’ and consists of parties which fought for a long period persistently on the ideals of Reformasi and an overarching multiracial philosophy of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’.
The remaining question is, what are the policies and strategies in place to build a progressive and hopeful new multiracial Malaysia?
I would argue that policies that truly solve the needs of the public are the real backbone of reforms that are badly required in a country which had been mismanaged for decades. 
For the coming weekends, my colleagues from the Penang Institute will talk about issues and policies, and share their stories in this space, hopefully to continue inspiring new narratives in the new political era of Malaysia.
The article was published here at Malaysiakini, Opinion, Jan 6, 2019

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Phone interview with SCMP on diabetes in Malaysia


When the journalist from South China Morning Post wanted to arrange a phone interview with me on a favourite health-related subject which I am doing research and my expertise and interest could offer, I just said yes. And I remember I talked to Meaghan for more than half hour on this when she called from HK and wanted to find out the situation in Malaysia.

Below are the parts she quoted me. For the record, I do praise Singapore for what they deserve. On public health and urban planning, Malaysia could learn quite a lot from them.

***
// While doctors and scientists now know more about the disease than ever, their expertise has not yet translated into effective, coherent policy across the board. As a result, millions remain at risk.
“This challenge reflects what society values,” said Lim Chee Han, senior analyst at Malaysian think tank Penang Institute. “If values don’t change, how can public health change?”
...
In Malaysia, where most citizens rely on public health care, the cost of diabetes is mounting. More than 3 million Malaysians have diabetes, and Lim reports Malaysia spends 16 per cent of its health care budget on treating the disease. Lim’s research identified Malaysia as the most sedentary nation in Southeast Asia.
“Malaysians really love their cars and would prefer to be in a traffic jam instead of walking,” he said.
...
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through early detection, healthy diet and exercise. But experts note the diet and exercise decisions people make are often constrained by their environment – proximity to parks, pricing of healthy food versus unhealthy food, and time off from work to cook and work out.
“Behaviour change will not just result from taxes,” Lim said. “It will also result from urban planning, advertising and government interventions in limiting the market for unhealthy food.”
For example, local officials should work together with the Ministry of Housing to build more bicycle lanes and parks.
“Comparing Malaysia with Singapore, there’s a major difference because of urban planning,” he said, noting Singapore prioritised walkability in its urban development, with better connected public transport options.
...
Lim said that in Malaysia, people of all incomes are buying sugary food. His research indicated age, rather than income, determined levels of sugar consumption. Lim said the government should intervene in the market to make healthier options, such as brown rice, more affordable for consumers.
“The government needs to take concrete steps to intervene and not simply let the free market dictate food consumption,” Lim said. “Like cigarette smoking – why not do the same with junk food?” //


Original article: Death by sugar: Can South-east Asia win the war on diabetes?
https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2179776/death-sugar-can-southeast-asia-win-war-diabetes

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Review of my 2018, outlook for 2019

What did 2018 mean to me? to me it signifies big changes in many ways.

To my immediate family:
Xiao Hui has finally got back to workforce in June but also undertaken a very challenging (and demanding) job as a country project manager for an international health organisation. My knowledge could help her only a little bit, more was to cover her and shoulder more responsibility in terms of taking care of Yee Chern. She had made quite a number of travels for her project operation, and will continue to do so in the coming year.Likewise, I thanked my wife for covering me at night sometimes when I had to deliver a talk in public forum or make a talkshow appearance or had important activist meeting to attend!
Yee Chern was sent to childcare centre when he was barely 2 years old. But he is doing very well there, and widely liked by teachers, staffs and peers. In a way, I dedicated more time to be with Yee Chern on one-to-one basis, and had more bonding time together. His personal development in skills and language has grown leaps and bounds, he never stops amazing and surprising us with his new abilities.
Also, now we have to plan for the arrival of Yee Chern's meimei in next May =) 
To my country:
I have to put this first after my family, because it is the main source of changes to my career, activism, circle of friendship, view of nation, society, people and values. The GE14 on May 9th this year was indeed the watershed moment, which its outcome presented more uncertainties, hopes and fears, opportunities and threats to the current way of doing things in governance and politics. We witnessed a peaceful transition of power for the Federal government and many state governments in Malaysia after 61 years of ruling under the same regime via the collective democratic votes (no thanks to the electoral system, though). 
Before the general election, I had already seen how the realignment of civil society groups and Pakatan Harapan politicians to the apex leadership of "The-Return-of-King" Mahathir, in the pretext of 'Big Picture' and desperation to get rid of Najib's cohorts. What the Pakatan as well as certain prominent pakatan-friendly NGOs (and individuals) had conceded, are not only the reformed agendas but progressive ideals conceived since the Reformasi-movement in the late 90s. Principles and moral values, they did not think they were important, as if there were no better solutions and choices; some would be even willing to take unethical approaches to get to the seat of power, nevermind shortcuts. 
Changing the federal government could be one of the means to introduce and implement reformed policies, not the ends itself. The so-called 'New Malaysia' as I observe until now, it has not yet installed the new system yet. I do not want to live in an illusion until I see those very meaningful reforms have taken place. Already I am disappointed with many good policy proposals in the PH GE14 manifesto not being fulfilled (not that I do not have some reservations about the document itself), especially about ICERD and the promise to do away with many draconian and freedom stifling laws. What some activists forewarned about the potential danger and pitfalls about returning Mahathir to the reign, today here I am examining again, yes, they do spot on, and yes, Mahathir is still the same Mahathir. Just look at the recent PPBM AGM, you can see that they gain the political dominance with clever inner-coalition politicking, and worse, the bumiputera/Malay agenda and institutionalised racism have made a comeback to the forefront, with an aim to replace UMNO as the Malay champion. Trust me, it feels like living back in the 90s , and if I take away the speaker names in some of the speeches, you would be mistaken as if that were from UMNO. Mahathir also said the same things strengthening the racial stereotype biases, unashamedly.
If the PH coalition is still dominantly/hegemonically governed by Mahathir's party, the 'New Malaysia' has not born, it is just a change of regime name. My vote was given to a PKR MP did not mean an endorsement to Mahathir's way of governance. I am pessimistic and still worry about the rest of the reformed agenda in this PH government, they have to prove me wrong and cannot blame me for my weak faith in them judging on what has been transpired and happened in the country post-509 until today. My personal hope is, there should be a rise of progressive left-leaning political third force, with the aim of overtaking the current defunct and still hopeless UMNO-MCA-MIC pact. Given the current electoral system is prohibitive for the establishment of new political force, I would hope that there would at least be a reinstatement of local elections and perhaps a change of FPTP system to PR system which gives more surviving space for smaller and local political parties.
To my career/ current profession:
Policy research is my passion and it is something I consider myself rather competent and excel at. Change is only expected ever after the federal government was put in the grasp of PH. Penang Institute decides to expand its capacity as well as influence, talk directly to the power in Putrajaya while the Penang state government has strengthened their grip on the state DUN. The previous General Manager Dr Ong Kian Ming who was re-elected as a MP and he grabbed the opportunity offered to be a deputy minister, thus he resigned from the position. We do wish him well, and thanked him for the guidance and trust placed on us. I believe that we did perform rather well in raising the profile of the institute. The researchers in KL would be more integrated/streamlined with the colleagues in Penang, on research as well as administration. With a few colleagues would be relocating to the KL office (including my good friends Kenneth and Chin Huat), the current cosy office space we occupied in the Uppercase APW Bangsar was deemed too small. In the coming month, we would be moving  to a larger office at KL Gateway, we have to adapt to the new (physical) working environment and administration style. I am also reassigned to the research department called Institutional Reforms and Governance (linked with Political Studies section), given the understanding that the current health-related policy research focus would still be ongoing. I wish that my research works would still be appreciated and supported, for the benefits of the institute, and Penang taxpayers.
I had quite an active and productive yet meaningful year to show for my work performance. Below is the statistics of my work for 2018:


8 TMI articles
9 Oriental Daily articles
4 Contemporary Review articles
2 Media statements
2 Penang Institute ISSUES articles
2 subchapter contribution to the Penang Economic and Development Report (yet to be published)
1 article/chapter contribution to a Singaporean Studies publication (in Chinese, yet to be published)
1 ISEAS Trends in Southeast Asia publication
1 Malaysian Studies Conference full proceeding paper
1 UNU-IIGH's SCHEMA case studies paper
1 Penang Monthly cover story
1 Penang Monthly stats
1 Penang Monthly interview feature

3 paper presentation
2 poster presentation
3 public forum in mandarin
1 workshop in mandarin

More than 16 media-interview engagements on various topics, including 2 video appearance on talk shows.
Mentorship guidance provided for 2 interns.

Peer reviewer for my colleagues for the institutional TMI and Oriental Daily columns
The most unforgetable experience was taking the position speaking up for the abolishment of death penalty in Malaysia. I was cursed, humiliated, belittled, scolded by many individuals/netizens whom I never met before, given the public opinion was standing about 80% against the motion. Nevermind that, I NEVER REGRET for doing what I believe in, and I am super glad about an important piece of legal research I managed to conclude and co-author with a prominent human rights lawyer (also my friend) Ms Ngeow Chow Ying and my trusted intern Harchana. The experience of speaking and sharing the same stage with the new MCA president Wee Ka Siong was also something I can never forget... of course any possible last remaining good impression of him has completely gone after the talk.
I also did something I could not imagine... I was invited as a panelist and spoke in an online talkshow (hosted by PSM)  in almost entirely Bahasa Malaysia for 45 min! I simply just took up the challenge, while it might not be very good but i feel that it was a nice attempt for the first time.
Talking about column writing, next year we will be migrating over to Malaysiakini platform, and hopefully we will make bigger impact in readership in disseminating our policy ideas. One paper on medical tourism in Penang is long overdue, I would have to complete the write up to conclude the project. I have also taken up a challenge to co-write a chapter for the UNU-IIGH on a health-related topic, and this will have to be delivered by the 3rd quarter of 2019! I already look forward to another productive work year ahead, although there could be still some uncertainties await me.
To my activism/ social movement activities:
Many might not be aware (some do), I co-found a NGO called Agora Society Malaysia with a group of activist friends in Jan 20th, 2018. It is a national-level organisation linking up activists, public intellectuals, writers/columnists across different regions in Malaysia, who support democracy values and good governance, ready to be a voice and an influence for progressive, inclusive, just and fair policies reaching out to the general public and policymakers. We are independent and non-partisan, we believe in rational public discourse and policy debates, and we are critical to the things that did not do right.
We feel that it was a right time for doing that because certain rational voices were lacking after the civil society vaccuum created (before and after GE14) when some prominent NGO leaders had either joined/co-opted or become too sympathetic to the new government. Of course, this particular political/activist stand of mine might not be comfortable to some, but I am not apologetic for doing what I believe in. I still keep my cool, rational yet critical head, willing to engage with different political discourse with no bad feelings towards some I still call my friends. I had made my stands clear about the roles of NGO in the post-GE14 Malaysia, in one mandarin public forum representing my NGO. One thing I want to clarify is that, I do not want to interfere certain friendship/relationship with my activist views, so long the person did not speak ill of me in public I would still want to be friendly or diplomatic to him/her (ie. keep my composure).
To my friends:
Time is often limited on my side, as much as i would like to maintain good relationship with many of my friends, often i have to prioritise and distribute time well among family, work, activism, personal hobbies, and many other friends! I treasure/cherish my good working relationship with my colleagues, and I always adopt more inclusive stance and make friend with them as much as I could.
My KL colleagues are all my friends already, and they are awesome! I do also spend increasingly more time with my activist friends, not only for socialising events and random chit-chats, sometimes we incorporated important organisation strategies discussion during our precious meetings. For long time friends, usually my policy is to engage them now and then, and give them some priorities if I was approached too. I have some really good friends from my high school period, I had only seen them a couple of times in 2018, but each time we meet , our hearts grow fonder. I know that next year it will be even more challenging (especially the latter half year), given that my daughter is expected to be due in late May. I know my true friends would understand me.
More responsibilities and challenges to me in 2019, bring it on. Happy New Year 2019, everyone!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

給禹丞的公開信(2018聖誕節)


給禹丞的公開信:

好久沒給你寫信。你成長得那麼快,很快就會讀懂我寫給你的信了。今天下午你麻麻才傳給我短信,問我去年在這個時候有沒有給你寫信。很抱歉,去年底好像特別忙,現在我又不記得忙些什麼了。你媽那麼問,因為她今天看到我在兩年前為你寫的信啊!那時你才7個月大。時光飛逝。

麻麻說,今年好像只有她有聖誕禮物,問我要些什麼。其實,我個人沒有要些什麼給自己。有禹丞那麼懂事可愛的開心果,就很好了啊!我們都很期待明年妹妹的到來,那已是一個未來的大禮了。剛才我們才輪流對妹妹祝賀Merry Christmas,明年我們見!禹丞已懂分辨誰才是他的妹妹….不是那些阿姨叔叔們的“妹妹”,他的妹妹在媽媽肚裡。我看著你那麼溫柔地sayang妹妹,感到很欣慰。你說你已是禹丞哥哥了,會讓出床位給妹妹(其實近期你也沒睡在那裡了)、玩玩具娛樂妹妹、還說會買‘禮物’給妹妹(但問你要買什麼的時候,你說要買火車‘train-track😅)。我想,妹妹肯定會很喜歡你的,我也相信你會是妹妹的好榜樣。

近期因為托兒所那裡傳來手足口症,你也不幸成為托兒所裡最後被傳染的一位。慶幸的是,你僅是輕微生病,比較心疼你吞嚥進食的痛苦而已,其他時候你還是一如往常地活潑,沒大礙。你也很明白自己生病,所以不出門。就這樣你從週五開始就沒出門,直到今天下午,我們看到你的紅色斑點已退食慾已回,才讓你有限度地出門坐粑粑車去遊車河。我們確實錯過了與同事朋友去林明的旅程聚會,但這幾天我們也算相處愉快吧!至少粑粑自從週四晚就每餐都下廚為你準備食物,吃的還好吧?

自從麻麻開始上班,我們為你挑選、把你送去一個歡樂場所的托兒所,我們絕對看到了你的迅速成長。你的老師們都說,你是該所的其中兩個‘天使’之一,人人都喜歡你。我們為你可以融入大孩班,並從玩樂中學習良多,感到驕傲。在該處你必須與朋友老師以英語溝通,在家主要說華語的你,很快地就學習了不少英語,甚至可以明白我的同事朋友跟你的談話,很厲害!我們對你從日常生活對話裡學習到的詞語,還有你的超強記憶,偶爾還是感到驚喜連連。我對麻麻說,我們之間好像沒有可以秘密且順利溝通的第三語了…馬來語福建話廣東話德語,麻麻不太行;日語,粑粑不行;我們其中一人會的語言,包括瑞典語、潮州話都少過半桶水,真的沒法啦!誰叫你的英語進步神速?(其實,我與麻麻有試過一個方程式,就是她說英語,我回廣東話…最後還是覺得很彆扭,沒有持續很久)

我們那天對你毫不怯場的舞台跳舞表演感到驚喜(麻麻還喜極而泣呢!)。你的老師說,綵排的時候,你都不太愛動,表演的時候靈魂天份和魅力全都釋放出來!很有表演欲哦,我們很高興能當場見證並用相機錄下來那些片段。坦白說,我也因為你的學校選唱Satu Malaysia的歌,才開始接觸那首歌和懂得其中的歌詞,呵呵。你那麼會唱,在家裡也愛唱,唱到七情上臉,呃,國歌你都還不會唱咧?等下人家問我你愛Satu Malaysia是不是愛納吉時,我要怎樣解釋?😆

還有,你把你的best buddy死黨Noah(馬來裔)叫成‘阿華’(廣東音),是要怎樣?聽說你的叫法,全學校都懂,有時他們還逗趣模仿你這樣叫阿華呢!你真的很Satu Malaysia!童言無忌啦,不過,真的很可愛。‘肥肥’阿姨剛聽到這則故事時,也笑得嘴不合攏,你真天才!可是吼,你也不需要跟著阿華他做什麼你就做什麼啦,雖然我知道你喜歡他,呵呵。你的朋友Kay KayCaleb也很落力跟你一起玩啊,做莫你對他們沒有同等的熱情?

我們粑粑麻麻在家對你可說是‘相敬如賓’了,尊重你有時的選擇和作風。如果我們認為不適合或不應該的時候,你已到了一個階段開始可以與我們在言語上‘談判式’溝通。我們總是不運用大人的‘暴力’屈你就範,那是我們的last resort。其實你還真是個談判對手,我們粑粑麻麻總得想得出一些另類/創意的條件或稍微妥協,換取你的同意做一些我們認為適時的日常事情。大部分時間,你還算是通情達理,總算不浪費我們的腦汁和唇舌。當然,你還小,有時也難免因為心情或喜好而固執/執著,我們才不得已用‘暴力’(比如說,應該沒有小孩會喜歡吃藥這回事的,你生病的時候,這個真的沒有辦法咯)。你對媽媽短暫離別有時候也是歇斯底里,但是我已身經百戰,我有耐心讓你慢慢沉澱,最壞的情況也只是半小時而已。近來我可以在10分鐘內讓你接受事實並接納替代安慰。

近來麻麻因公事出差到吉蘭丹,我們跟著去。趁麻麻做工時,我甚至已可以帶你一個小瓜開車去玩大約3天,我們還好好、蠻開心的。看吧,我已證明了給麻麻看,我差不多是時候可以帶你獨個兒出國/出去旅遊了,到時我們的旅程一定不一樣。謝謝你那麼通情諒解,你知道粑粑比較不拘小節一點,隨便有時也有隨便的好啦😝

因為很久沒給你寫信了,一寫就寫了這麼多,就算是對過去這麼久沒寫給你的一些補償吧,呵呵。

聖誕節快樂,我的兒!明年我們的聖誕節就會多了一個妹妹一起慶祝咯!(下次寫信,要寫給你們倆了)

祝快高快樂成長,
粑粑
25.12.2018 (平安夜起筆)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Interview with IDN TIMES journalist concerning ICERD ratification

Below are the email exchange/conversation on the questions posted to me by the IDN TIMES journalist Rosa:

The journalist asked: 

i) what's the reason behind this and why it's time for Malaysia to ratify ICERD? 

My reply: 
It began with the Pakatan Harapan GE14 Manifesto, under the Promise 26 entitlted "Make our human rights record respected by the world" it states "Suitable international conventions that are not yet ratified will be ratified as soon as possible, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights."

Then subsequently the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad took to the United Nations podium in New York to speak during the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly on 28th September this year. That speech won a lot of applauses and approvals from Malaysia and all around the world, and seemingly affirmed to more human rights-based approaches and democracy promises. On the very issue regarding human right convention, below is the relevant speech text:

"9. The new Malaysia will firmly espouse the principles promoted by the UN in our international engagements. These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability. It is within this context that the new government of Malaysia has pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights. "

Fast forward to 24th October, P. Waytha Moorthy, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department came out with a statement pledged that the government is committed to ratify all remaining 6 human-rights related treaties including ICERD in the first quarter of next year. This has initiated a strong anti-ICERD movement.

Why is it time for Malaysia to ratify the ICERD treaty? it is long overdue for the Malaysian government to do so, as Malaysia is only one of the 14 countries in the world which has not signed and ratified the treaty. The previous government Barisan Nasional might be reluctant to, because the legitimacy of their ruling based on large electorates/voters who support the Ketuanan Melayu / Malay Supremacy idea (which institutionalise racial discrimination). There is nothing wrong about the ICERD, and if the government is serious about signing and ratification of the treaty, they could still maintain the current affirmative action which favour Bumiputera/Malay ethnic. BUT they are required to also publish a timeline and intended measurable target for those affimative action measures. A fair-minded person would agree, those who believe in Malay Supremacy do not. So they misled and stoked fear among Malay communities about the 'consequences' of ICERD.


ii) Have you ever experienced first-hand discrimination as a result of the infamous Article 153? And if so, do you think by ratifying ICERD something significant will change in a positive way?

My reply:

The special privileges given/accorded under the Article 153 in the Malaysian Federal Constitution are these 3 categories:
1) Positions in the public service
2) Scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities
3) Permit or licence is required for the operation of any trade or business

To ask if one feel 'discriminated', that would be depending on whether he/she is competing directly with the Malay/Natives on the 3 categories above. However, if they are positive discrimination measures ('affirmative actions) and are properly set out, other ethnicities should not feel aggrieved about discrimation due to losing out. Malaysia is unusual in a way that these affimative actions targeted at the majority not the minorities of the nation. Some of my Chinese and Indian ethnic friends did not get into their preferred public university or course due to the 'quota' set up in favour of Malay/ Bumiputera. The fact is also true that positions in the public service, especially most top positions in the leadership and management, are preoccupied by Malays/Bumiputera, many minorities ethnic claim that there is a ceiling in promotion, that would also results in 'discrimination' to them. Finally, regarding land and property purchase, it is a fact that bumiputera enjoy privilege in getting discount and favourable list. If the government does not set a timeline and measurable target for those affirmative actions, this would seriously harm the efforts by the government to promote harmony and unity in this country. The government needs to regularly use evidences and facts to justify the continuation of affirmative actions based on ethinicity.

By ratifying ICERD, this would push the government and all communities to engage in conversation about long term fairness and equality in Malaysian society, the government could review the current policies based on the evidence, consensus building and rational approach to meet the expectation of the New Malaysia. The government has to show their political will and strongly campaign to assuage the fear of certain community.  Righy now, a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding from the anti-ICERD opponents are circulating around, and this is the point I think the government did not do well and conceded too early.



iii) Now, what makes PH backtrack from the plan to ratify ICERD? Do they have the same mindset as BN in terms of securing support from the majority?

My reply:First you have to understand the dynamics within the PH coalition. PH itself did not secure the majority votes among Malay communities during GE14, maybe about 1/3 strong only and split with UMNO and PAS. Now UMNO and PAS work together in Malay-Muslim communcal political agenda, and champion the anti-ICERD campaign. The dominant parties in the current PH coalition are multiracial parties, where the non-muslim MPs are quite significant. Often this PH coalition gave the Malay community impression that it has weaken Malay's mandate in governance, even though the PM right now is from PPBM a bumiputera-champion party to rival UMNO. 

Due to the Malay votes deficit, and also Dr Mahathir's agenda to break and destroy his old party UMNO, he is now actively enticing the crossovers from UMNO to his own party to strengthen his hands in the PH coalition. Given how unpopular now is ICERD among the Malay communities after active campaigns by PAS and UMNO (one should not forget that some major Malay media press are still in the hands of UMNO), Dr Mahathir could not insist on ICERD while luring UMNO to crossover. He and his party want to be seen championing Malay rights back home (not at the UN HQ), that is why some members from his own party already went to media to stage their protest against ICERD too, together with Amanah, a minor Islamist democratic party.
Another factor is, there are upcoming 2 by-elections coming up, one in Negeri Sembilan which is a Malay-majority seat. Dr. Mahathir would not want the anti-ICERD sentiment to brew over too much until his coaltion would lose in the by-election otherwise that would boost the confidence of his main political opponents now, eg. UMNO, and make the UMNO MP crossovers harder to realise due to hesitation about future contest under the PH banner.

So, in short, what makes Dr Mahathir and the PH government backtrack is mostly due to political reason. If he is a true believer in what he said at the UN General Assembly, I cannot give you an answer for sure.


iv) Also, correct me if I’m wrong, the fundamental problem for ICERD supporters is not the existing affirmative action, but how to measure the goals? And once they are achieved then that will be the time for Malaysia to abandon such policy?

My reply:

ICERD supporters, in my opinion, are those who really believe in inclusive, free and fair Malaysia moving away from race-based politics. They might have realised how the so called affirmative actions have been abused in the past and currently they feel that Malay communities should be ready and can have the confidence to compete fairly based on merits. Even for those who have reservation and are in favour to maintain the affirmative action status quo, they might take it as a tactical move to allay the fear of the Malay community, while persuading the government and people to just sign it because those bumiputera policies would not need to be abolished right away. I would personally believe that the ICERD supporters would be happy to do away with the affirmative action if it outlasts its usefulness, and if greater equity has been achieved. To insist keeping the affirmative action beyond the intended targets, how is it not deemed to be racial discrimination? this will not do any good to the nation-building process.



The news article in the end came out here:
https://www.idntimes.com/news/world/rosa-folia/aksi-812-dan-supremasi-melayu-muslim-di-mata-warga-negara-malaysia/full

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A government ill-prepared for ICERD



THE issue of the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or ICERD, caused quite a commotion in Malaysia recently, stirring up Malay-Muslim nationalist and supremacist sentiments, and culminating in an anti-ICERD rally that took place in  Kuala Lumpur last Saturday – where the police estimated a turnout of 55,000.
Disappointingly, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad reiterated that the government will not ratify the treaty because “it does not allow the government to provide affirmative action based on race… and we will not amend our constitution”.
The government’s current stand on ICERD contradicts the position taken by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P. Waytha Moorthy, who had declared that Pakatan Harapan would sign and ratify the remaining six core human rights international treaties by the first quarter of 2019 – including ICERD. This U-turn seems to suggest that the anti-ICERD protesters are in the right – but are they, really?
ICERD is not complicated, nor is it difficult to agree to – worldwide, only 14 nations have yet to sign the 53-year-old treaty. Malaysia is one of them, alongside Brunei, Myanmar, North Korea, and some small Pacific island countries. ICERD has 25 articles in its provisions, but the core principles and definitions are contained in the first seven articles (Part I).
The preamble of ICERD cites many principles originating from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; for example, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, as well as “all human beings are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law against any discrimination”.
ICERD also states that “any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere”. These are very basic and fundamental principles of humanity.
Given a choice, no one would openly admit that they are “racist”. The common defence these people use are proclaiming that they have friends from other ethnicity, implying that “naturally” they do not discriminate or exclude others. By and large, the most contentious point when it comes to identifying a racist is the definition of “racial discrimination”.
But Article 1 of ICERD has a clearly elaborated definition. The anti-ICERD individuals either did not understand, and consequently misinterpreted, the treaty text, or had failed to read it and subsequently were misled and manipulated by others with a political agenda.
A third possibility is that they may truly believe that differential treatment based on race is fair and should be allowed in perpetuity. Some of them claim that defending the rights of one particular race is not discrimination, and that the special position of the Malay race, as stipulated in the federal constitution (e.g. Article 153), should be retained.
On the other hand, Article 5(vii) of ICERD is often cited by opponents to accuse ICERD of implicating religious equality, when the actual content is not to discuss the position of religion but against racial discrimination in practicing the freedom of religion.
Based on past actions, the opponents of ICERD have provoked fear in the public realm, reiterating exaggerating claims that the Malays’ special position and Bumiputera privileges would be eroded and, eventually, totally repealed, if the government were to sign and ratify ICERD.
In fact, Articles 1(4) and 2(2) of ICERD clearly state that affirmative action and protection for certain racial or ethnic groups shall NOT be deemed as racial discrimination. The caveat is that affirmative policies must have a deadline; in other words, they must be discontinued if the policy has already achieved its intended target.
Many ongoing Bumiputera policies do not even have measurable targets and deadlines; in theory, these would have to be remedied and amended in order to fulfill the principles and spirit of the ICERD. I believe this is fair and just, because if the government wants to have affirmative action, the prerequisite is to prove that a certain racial group is still lagging behind and still needs state assistance.
If the situation of a certain group has improved vastly to the point of achieving equal footing with other races, then it would be hard to see how such policies are not advocating racial discrimination, if the government still insists on and persists with a flawed policy framework that benefits only a particular race.
In fact, affirmative action as practiced in many countries is beneficial to minorities – our government’s response is that we have different national conditions. However, the government probably does not want to admit directly that the Bumiputera privilege policies are temporary affirmative measures.
The New Economic Policy launched in the 70s mentioned a target to achieve 30% Bumiputera equity in the stock market, but up until today, there have been no updates on the status of this target, and whether it has actually been met. The NEP officially ended in 1990, but its basic form and spirit still lives on in many of our current policies. The Pakatan Harapan government seems satisfied to follow the status quo.
I wonder – when the government announced that they were going to ratify the six treaties, were they really prepared to run a strong publicity campaign to convince the public of the good behind why they wanted to do it? Given the general lack of public’s basic awareness of human rights, and the fact that most are still living within environments where racism is rather prevalent, the government should have anticipated fast-spreading opposition to ICERD, and responded effectively to the mistruths spun out in public. In this way, they could have brought the unnecessary vitriol under control.
The federal government has the advantage of huge machineries and resources to run a convincing positive campaign for policies it favours, instead of taking a defensive position. From the start, the government could have been swift to spell out its intended reservations, such as a promise not to make any amendments to the federal constitution (as with the United States and Thailand). Yet, it failed to take these early precautions, and when it finally did, it was too little and too late.
On the issues of social justice and equality, a responsible government with a reform agenda and political will must do the right things as promised, and stand firm on acting in the best interests of the nation, even though it might not appear to be a well-received populist policy.
This must come hand-in-hand with ensuring proper strategic planning. In the face of doubts and challenges, the government’s stand and arguments have to be rationally sound, complete, and persuasive.
The more U-turns a government makes on policies, the more it will lose its credibility, in the eyes of both supporters and opponents.
The article was published here at The Malaysian Insight, Voices, Dec 11, 2018.
The Original title is " ICERD U-turn, what is next?"