Examine role of Malaysia NGOs in curbing violence; plight of poor and marginalised; Rajapaksa's comeback bid

Commentaries and insights from newspapers in the Asia News Network (ANN).

Five people were injured including two journalists in a mob attack near Low Yat Plaza after police dispersed protesters at the shopping mall.
Five people were injured including two journalists in a mob attack near Low Yat Plaza after police dispersed protesters at the shopping mall.PHOTO: MALAYSIAKINI

1. Examine NGOs in Low Yat affair

The Government should look deeper into the leaders of rights-based NGOs and see how they can help the police curb violence.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim

The Star/ANN

The fracas at Low Yat Plaza in Bukit Bintang on July 6, which led to fistfights, racial abuse and destruction of property, could have resulted in worse damage had it not been for the swift action of the police.

What is clear from the statements issued by the authorities was that a Malay youth had stolen a smartphone. But the youth and his accomplice were caught by staff at the Oppo Malaysia shop nearby who handed them over to security guards, who in turn called the police.

The accomplice was somehow released and came back later to the mall with several others and started attacking the Oppo Malaysia staff.

What started as a simple case of theft became something more sinister because of false news disseminated by irresponsible elements in the country.

Active instigation by some to stir up anti-Chinese feelings was evident: some alleged that a Malay shopper had been cheated by a Chinese trader who sold him a fake phone, while others alleged that Islam was being insulted, although it is hard to see how and why this was done, if it was done at all.

The police must be commended for the quick action in arresting the troublemakers, and Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has come out clearly and firmly with the facts that led to the brawl, leaving no doubt that it was a case of theft.

IGP Khalid also ordered the arrests of the infamous blogger Papagomo and others suspected of inciting the people with false news.

We should not burden the police and the rest of the community too often with incidents like this, which could easily have led to riots and possible loss of life.

Already shoppers are now afraid to visit Low Yat Plaza and we could be driving the tourists away with news like this, especially when we have a chequered history of race relations.

It is to be expected that the Govern­ment's immediate reaction is to warn the public that it will use the Sedition Act to deter them from uttering inflammatory statements but this is not a long-term solution to the problem: at best it will just make the troublemakers go underground.

Who are these troublemakers?

A non-Malay political party in the governing coalition has expressed anger at the Malay rights group Pertubuhan Kebajikan dan Dakwah Islamiah Se-Malaysia (Pekida) for allegedly mobilising its members to descend on Low Yat Plaza - and these same individuals allegedly got involved in the fights.

Pekida president Jalaluddin Yusof denied that his group was involved but promised an "internal investigation" if members had taken part.

Another group - the Ikatan Musli­min Malaysia (Isma) - blamed Chinese Malaysians for insensitivity towards Islam while racist online bloggers have been spreading false news about Malay victimisation and were calling for "reinforcements" after the riot.

It is time the Government revisits how it deals with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other informal groups in the country.

Some NGOs espouse ideas that do not find favour with the establishment: they may for example champion human rights or gay rights while others might be fighting for racial equality or the plight of the orang asli.

Even environmentalists sometimes get the short end of the stick, but what these groups have in common is that they are not violent - they might be critical of the Government and might use social media to discredit politicians, but that is to be expected in the world today. As long as they do not espouse violence or promote hatred, they should not be classified as troublemakers.

The real troublemakers are those who band together to promote racial hatred and operate as vigilantes in the defence of their "cause".

Some of these might even be seen as supporters of the establishment, perhaps because in the early days they were promoted and supported by some of our top leaders.

Pekida is one such example, and I am sure the real purpose of its formation - stemming from our ethnic animosity on May 13, 1969 - was nobler than its current persona suggests. Papagomo himself was once the darling of the establishment, too.

However, we are no longer fighting one another and surely we want to build a country that will last for the benefit of all of us: such a country must obviously be a peaceful one.

If the concern is about Malays defending this country, the Armed Forces, police and the paramilitary groups such as Rela are predominantly Malay, so do we need more race-based "volunteers" to keep the peace?

When I was in Umno, some Pekida members offered to "help" me with my political work but I did not think their skillset was useful in making Umno the party of choice in my constituency.

Now we have groups like Isma who on the surface look like the champions of Islam and Muslims, but I wonder if the country needs such groups that are at best extremely impolite (and some say violent) in the way they express their views when "defending the honour of Islam".

After all, we already have the Federal Government with the powerful Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) at the forefront as well as state religious bodies, the state governments and the Malay Rulers to defend and promote Islam.

What I am suggesting is that the Government looks deeper into the leaders of these rights-based NGOs and see how they can help the police curb violence, not just in Bukit Bintang but throughout the country.

The police did a wonderful job fighting the Communists after Independence and they now have their hands full looking for Islamic State sympathisers within the country who are bent on creating trouble.

They have millions of illegals as well as local criminals to monitor in order to maintain the peace. They do not need other problems created by people who display their intellectual deficiency by promoting violence.

Our leaders need to differentiate between NGOs or critics who are violent and those who are mere irritants. The former have no place in our society but democracy de­mands that we tolerate the latter.

Again, let us thank IGP Khalid and Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Datuk Tajuddin Md Isa for their decisive and quick action in stopping the troublemakers.

Malaysia must remain peaceful and stable, and only a non-partisan and efficient police can keep this country in one piece.

2. Idul Fitri and the plight of the poor, marginalised

Ramadan is a good time to realise that to know God is to do justice and righteousness.

Syafaatun Almirzanah, Yogyakarta

The Jakarta Post/ANN

Muslims will celebrate the festival of Idul Fitri tomorrow (Editors' note: This article was posted by The Jakarta Post on July 16, 2015).

It is a festival that follows one month of fasting and prayers.

Fasting and prayer carry the message of self-restraint, controlling greed and temptation and resisting excessive consumption.

It also enables those who fast to be sensitive to other's suffering and to be compassionate toward fellow human beings.

By fasting Muslims undergo what phenomenology calls verstehen, which means "understanding".

It entails nothing less than "reliving" the experiences of other people: in this case the experiences of the downtrodden, the weak and the marginalised.

By fasting Muslims are choosing to empathise with the poor; a feeling that should be shared not only by Catholic and other Christian churches, but among all believers.

Liberation theology, the movement that says the church should act to bring about social change, arose in Latin America in a very distinct socioeconomic context characterised by exploitation and repression.

As Norbert Greinacher said, it is the "creative and authentic attempt to give a genuinely Christian answer to the situation of real suffering".

Today, we find ourselves in a world of accelerating change, shrinking distances and mounting political crises that have deep economic roots.

We therefore need a theology that is relevant to this situation. Suffering and exploitation are the point of an encounter between God and the poor.

Ramadan is a good time to realise that to know God is to do justice and righteousness, to uphold the cause of the poor and needy. God and justice are inseparable.

The closest to the Lord are those who serve the people, "and whosoever wants to be the first (leader) must be the slave of all" (Matthew 20: 27).

Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough.

When believers are addressed in the Koran, it is always as "those who believe and do good deeds".

In other words, as a Muslim one has dual responsibility: one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

To make a choice to care about the unprivileged is a commitment to acting and living from a point of view that respects people.

As Donal Dorr said, it is "to proclaim by one's actions that people are more important than the systems that deprive them of their basic rights - the rights to eat, the rights to work, the rights to participate in decision-making, the rights to worship according to their conscience and even the rights to life itself."

In the Koran, this relationship to the poor is reflected in the particular identification of God Himself with the oppressed, the lifestyles and methods of all the Abrahamic prophets, the Koranic condemnation of the powerful and the accumulation of wealth and the Koran's message of liberation to women and slaves.

Furthermore, there are a number of verses that link faith and religion with humanism and a sense of socio-economic justice.

A denial of these is linked with a rejection of justice, compassion and sharing (Koran 107: 1-3, 104; 22: 45).

"There is a very close connection between our relationship to God and our relationship to our neighbour," says Dorr.

According to the Koran, nearly all the prophets, including Muhammad, came from peasant or working-class backgrounds, and the choice to care about and identify with marginalized people seems to be implicit in their very origins.

This is particularly manifest in the Sunna, the way of life of Muhammad and his early followers in Mecca.

He was commanded by the Koran to remain committed to the marginalised rather than gain short-term financial and economic advantages, which would have allowed Islam access to the wealthy and the powerful in society (Koran 80: 5-10).

This identification with the marginalised was also a personal choice of the Prophet, as is obvious from his prayer to "continue living among the poor, to die among the poor and to be raised among the poor" (Ibn Majah, 1979).

Righteousness consists of "just belief" and "just action", including faith, prayer, wealth-sharing, equitable and compassionate behavior and patience in the face of hardship and difficulty.

And as we know, the voice of the poor is God's voice.

As Jack A. Nelson wrote, "When we open our hearts and minds to that voice, we discover that both our spiritual and economic well-being is intimately tied to the well-being of our brothers and sisters who live in our neighbourhoods and throughout the globe."

As important as it is, global Muslim identity cannot be located in a renewal of personal piety.

It also cannot be rooted in making societies more ritually "Islamic" (i.e., women dressed in the hijab, shops closed for prayer) without the essential commitment to global justice.

This commitment - if it is to be truly universal - must be interreligious, because without partnering with other faith communities, it's unlikely the work of justice will ever be effectively accomplished.

After Ramadan, during the Idul Fitri celebration is the time to realise and understand the meaning of faith as solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized in a struggle for liberation.

It is in this way that all religions can cooperate.

In today's condition, the primacy of liberative praxis over verbal affirmations of dogma is needed because, as Rida said, "there is no right greater than justice and no wrong worse than tyranny."

Religion should no longer stay in the realm of preaching, but through direct practical observation of reality.

We pray that all of humanity is benefited by these virtues and lives in peace and security.

Li al-saimi farhatani, farhatun hina yafturu wafarhatun hina yulaqqi rabbah (For someone who fasts, he has a double happiness, happiness when he breaks the fast and happiness when he meets his God).

Eid Mubarak!

The writer is a professor of religious studies at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta. She was previously a visiting professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

3. Malaysia and China's Silk Road

China's Belt and Road stresses connectivity between nations, from people-to-people links to transport infrastructure, and Malaysia is keen to be part of it.

Tho Xin Yi

The Star/ANN

Much has been said about Belt and Road, a highly ambitious cross-continental and maritime integration plan by China. But how exactly can Malaysia ride the wave of China's aggressive push?

China has emphasised that the initiative is oriented towards win-win cooperation, not only to achieve domestic economic growth but also to drive development of countries along both routes.

As Chinese Commerce Ministry's International Trade and Economic Cooperation Research Institute director Huo Jianguo put it, "The implementation of the Belt and Road depends on the responsiveness of the relevant countries."

The Malaysian government has voiced keen interest in being part of the initiative.

In the China-Malaysia Business Dialogue on the Belt and Road organised in the capital of China this week, government officials and industry players from both countries were invited to share their views on how best to collaborate.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), e-commerce, halal products, finance, infrastructure and port cooperation were among the key topics discussed in the dialogue co-organised by MCA and the China Economic Cooperation Centre, and officiated by MCA President Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

Building on the foundation of the current collaboration between Malaysia and China in various sectors, such as a Renminbi clearing bank in Malaysia and sister industrial parks, more opportunities can be harnessed to meet the needs of respective countries.

The Belt and Road stresses connectivity between nations, from people-to-people links to transport infrastructure. Railway is heavily promoted by China; Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was even nicknamed "the railway salesman" for actively pushing for Chinese railway systems.

Chinese railway's global expansion has found its way to Malaysian shores. A recent example is the CRRC Rolling Stock Centre Malaysia in Batu Gajah, a RM400mil manufacturing plant for rail transportation.

For Malaysia, improving the railway system in the country will drive economic development.

Transport Ministry deputy secretary-general Chua Kok Ching said the two important interstate railway projects in the peninsula - Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double-track and the East Coast Rail Link - will link the ports and growth centres in Malaysia.

"Exporters of rubber and rubberwood from southern Thailand can divert their cargo to Kuantan Port or the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor when the new railway routes are ready," he said.

"This will save them a tremendous amount of time as they do not need to loop around the Straits of Johor."

On halal products, vast opportunities are available to Malaysia to capture the population of 23 million Muslims in China with the well-recognised halal certification system.

Malaysia Halal Development Authority general manager Mohd Syafulzahni Abd Aziz said Malaysia and China can collaborate for China, with a strong agricultural industry, can supply the products consistently, while Malaysia has the know-how and expertise to ensure that the halal integrity is intact.

The products, after processing and value-adding, can be exported to a global market, he added. 

Halal tourism, logistics, Islamic healthcare and financing are other areas to be explored between two countries.

The SMEs are the engine of the economy, representing 98.5% of the total number of firms in Malaysia, and 99% in China.

Without establishing a brick-and-mortar presence out of Malaysia, the SMEs can use e-commerce to expand their businesses in China.

Tian Yuan of Alibaba's 1688 division said Alibaba aspires to facilitate an online Silk Road.

In 2013, China surpassed the United States in e-retail sales. A total of 360 million people, roughly a quarter of the nation's population, are online shoppers in China.

"Our B2B platform is an infrastructure for SMEs to connect to distributors and retailers in China," Tian said.

"We provide the payment system and logistics. Our credibility enables business operators to do transactions online without seeing each other."

Liow, in his speech, said Malaysia is ready to unleash its potential and function as a fulcrum in the Southeast Asian region.

While complementing each other in the supply and demand chain, Liow said Malaysia will also be benefiting from China's advanced technology.

4. Rajapaksa's comeback bid in Sri Lanka

The former President says people are disappointed with the ruling government which has been in power for six months.

Sam Rajappa

The Statesman/ANN

The 17 August parliamentary election in Sri Lanka is reminiscent of India's 1980 Lok Sabha election when the choice before the people was to bring back to power Indira Gandhi whom they voted out decisively three years earlier or back a khichdi of infighting political forces.

The BJP was not born then.

Similarly, the choice before the people of Sri Lanka is to bring back former President Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa who was routed in the 8 January presidential election in his new avatar as prime ministerial candidate.

To a question whether it is proper for the former President to aspire to become the Prime Minister, Udya Gammanpila, leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, a constituent of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led United People's Freedom Alliance, says, "If Vladimir Putin can become Prime Minister after serving as President of Russia, why not Rajapaksa?"

Anyway Sri Lanka is committed to do away with the presidential form of government and return to the parliamentary system.

Rajapaksa says the people are already disappointed with the six-month-old Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe government and want a change and that he will be the instrument of change.

It is difficult to believe that the 6,217,162 people who voted against Rajapaksa in the January revolution to restore rule of law and a semblance of democracy in the country are so disenchanted with President Sirisena to bring the dictator back to power.

That Sirisena did not live up to the people's expectations cannot be denied, but that does not mean they are yearning for the bad old days of the Rajapaksa regime.

The Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, the monk who played a pivotal role in the January revolution, says his dream of yahapalanaya (good governance) remains shattered.

"The future is bleak. Those of you who can get out, the time is ripe. If you can get a visa even to hell, please go," was his advice to the people of Sri Lanka.

A coalition led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe of the United National Party under the banner of a hurriedly formed United National Front for Good Governance is the main alternative platform available for those opposed to Rajapaksa's comeback.

A number of UPFA MPs, disgusted with the sudden turn of events, have shifted their loyalty to the UNFGG.

They will be contesting under the elephant symbol of the UNP. Also contesting under the elephant symbol are candidates of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress except in the districts of Batticaloa and Wanni where the party will contest under its own symbol.

The Muslims suffered a number of attacks by the Bodu Bala Sena, orchestrated by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the dreaded defence secretary under President Rajapaksa.

The Janatha Vimukti Perumana has also left the UPFA and has fielded candidates in many districts.

The Tamil National Alliance, though not a constituent of the UNFGG, is among those supporting Wickremesinghe for prime ministership.

It has fielded candidates in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces.

The Tamils have not forgotten the kind of surveillance that was carried out when Rajapaksa was in power and how the Northern Provincial Council was reduced to a non-entity.

At a special convention of the UNP at Borella, Wickremesinghe said if the UNP front was voted to power, it would devolve power to the provinces, one of the long standing demands of ethnic Tamils.

He also promised to return large tracts of land acquired during the civil war in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, since converted into cantonments, to the rightful owners.

Around 50 political parties and more than 100 independents are in the fray for the 17 August election.

If the UPFA or the UNFGG does not get a majority to form the government, which seems the most likely scenario, horse trading will bloom.

The party with the deepest pockets will have an edge. Everyone agrees Rajapaksa has the deepest pocket.

For Sirisena, who came forward from the ministerial ranks of the Rajapaksa government on 21 November last to announce his historic decision to contest against a seemingly invincible leader "to be the harbinger of a resplendent dawn," handing over the SLFP nomination to Rajapaksa to contest the parliamentary poll was a painful choice.

Denial of nomination meant a split in the party.

He put party interest before national interest.

To make up for his seeming betrayal of the trust 6.2 million people placed on him in the 8 January presidential election against the 5.8 million votes garnered by Rajapaksa, Sirisena has vowed to work for the defeat of the former President in the 17 August parliamentary election.

"I continue to stand against Mahinda Rajapaksa and he will be defeated again," said Sirisena.

When Sirisena assumed office as President on 9 January, Sri Lanka stood poised to change the culture of thuggery, crime, drug mafia, embezzlement and nepotism institutionalised under the Rajapaksa regime.

Out of the national budget of Rs. 1.7 trillion (S$17.35 billion), Rs. 1.2 trillion was controlled by the Rajapaksa family.

An investigation into Rajapaksa amassing Rs 18 billion was ordered but made no progress Projects in which China had invested, including a $ 1.4 billion port city in the capital, Colombo, were re-examined and put on hold.

China had already built a harbour and airport in southern Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa promised to resume Chinese projects suspended by the Sirisena government immediately if elected. Rajapaksa as Prime Minister will have more powers than any of his predecessors following the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in April this year.

On his becoming chairman of the SLFP, close associates in the party, including former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, called on Sirisena and advised introduction of drastic reforms to clean up the Augean stable the party had become under the stewardship of Rajapaksa.

They also advised him to remove Anura Priyadarshna Yapa from the post of general secretary of the SLFP and Susil Premajayantha as general secretary of the UPFA.

Both were known acolytes of Rajapaksa.

Sirisena ignored their advice.

Had he heeded the advice he would not have found himself in the present predicament. Rajapaksa, on the other hand, did not consider his defeat in the presidential election as the end of his political career.

Instead, he swung into action plotting his return to power by building a constituency within the SLFP with the support of those MPs who benefited enormously in terms of power and monetary gains when he was President.

They organised rallies on the theme 'Bring Back Mahinda' in Nugegoda on 18 February, in Kandy on 7 March, in Ratnapura on 26 March, in Kurunegala on 1 May and in Matara on 12 June.

These rallies demonstrated that his Sinhala-Buddhist vote bank was still intact.

Only the Sinhala liberal constituency was upset at his comeback bid. Kumaratunga, disgusted with the ongoing shenanigans, left the country on a long European holiday.

The majority which voted to oust Rajapaksa in January need not despair of the possibility of his bouncing back in August.

A formidable alternative is already in place in the form of UNFGG.

Election watchdog People's Action for Free and Fair Elections on 12 March launched a Code of Nominations to be followed by all political parties while granting nominations to candidates in all elections.

Its purpose was to ensure 'rogues and rascals' will not be nominated. The Code enshrines eight principles, among them one should not be a criminal, free of bribery and corruption charges, free of anti-social trades, free of abusive financial contracts and environment friendly.

This document was approved and signed by leaders of all main political parties.

Sirisena signed it on 16 June in his capacity as leader of the SLFP. Rajapaksa had stated on more than one occasion that he had safeguarded and covered up every misdeed of the members of his government.

He should now reveal their names so that the known bad apples could be weeded out of the 17 August race.