Sunday, 8 April 2012

Q & A Session in Forum “Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and the Equality of Ethnic communities”

Questions & Answers

Forum "Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and the Equality of Ethnic Communities"

  • PSM: "Hindraf is ideologically similar to MIC or Perkasa." Do you agree?
  • How do Malays look at Article 153?
  • Is Article 153 flawless?

From Left: N. Ganesan, Kua Kia Soong, Yong Siew Lee (Moderator), Suba (Moderator), Azmi Sharom


Question 1  (from Koh Wai Kiat)
(This question is directed to Dr. Azmi but open to all speakers.)

What do you think is the reason behind the lack of Malay attendees today's (and the last time you and Dr Kua were in JB to talk about fair elections) forum?

Are we giving out the wrong signals that what we are doing is not for the benefit of all? What can we do about this?


Azmi : The only logical reasons that I could think of is, that they don't agree with us. Secondly, Even for those who agree with us, they might feel nervous or worried to come to a forum like this. I do not at any time suggest that I am the spokesperson of any group of people, I am only the spokesperson for me. I really can't answer this.

I think the second part of the question is perhaps more important: what can we do to make people realize, that the issue we are talking about here is not just about non-Malays?

It is about the country as a whole. I think that is a good question, because it points to how we (as the people who in the public eye speak about issues like this) approach the question in the future.

Ultimately, this is not a big country, but we have so much potential. And for me, the potential is going down the drains. The reason for this is: because the country is governed in such a way, where it is so unjust, so biased, and so nasty, that anyone with half a brain (it doesn't matter what ethnic community he comes from) … why would he stay.

And what's going to be left behind? How are we going to be truly developed if we live in a society as divisive, and as racist as we live in today? No society can survive, no community, no nation can survive in this kind of situation. We are talking about everybody surviving. For me, that is the message that has to be pushed through, and it's not being pushed through.

After 40 years of New Economic Policy (NEP), the vast majority of those from low income families are still Malay. So what has it done for poverty and deprivation? Very little. But this is not made known.

Obviously, what we have been doing, is just not working, but this is not being questioned. The rich is getting richer. We have one of the worst records of the distinction between the rich and the poor, definitely in the region, probably the world.

These are hard issues that we have to face. If we do not face them, and do not deal with them, it is going to be bad for the entire nation. This is the message we have to get through.

Ganesan : Actually, that is a very difficult question. What we are doing today is not wrong. It's just that we are articulating from the side that makes it appears self-serving,  and that's difficult. However, as I said, what we are talking about today is, that racism is immoral. Think about it. Whatever the justification, racism is immoral.

We can't be wrong. So we are not saying anything wrong here, it's just that we have to come out with some way of reaching out, to change public opinion, to change social values, to make people realize that it has been articulated purely from the side. It takes on a different meaning.

It has to be articulated in a way where everybody realizes, that it is actually affecting them. Today I don't think that the realisation is there. By a forum like this, we are talking about areas of exploration. This is a start. When could we talk about this kind of things in the past? Now we are talking about these things.

This is a start, but we have to continue. We have to find ways of actually articulating these issues to broader sections. Just like what happened in the last election. Now opposition to the government is more broad based than it used to be. It is going that way. We just have to find more answers to this question. Maybe we don't have them right now.

Kua : I'm more in favor of a two-prong approach. That's why I put on the slide just now, about going back to what the agreement is about, differentiating between what was in 1957 and what was in 1971.

It is very important now that the election is coming, that people all over the land come out with their demands. I am more interested in demands of PR, because I think we have given up on BN after 54 years. So what are we demanding? Are we going to succeed with saying: abolish Article 153?

Anwar Ibrahim and Khalid Ibrahim have said that they are prepared to do away with the New Economic Policy (NEP), which came in after 1971. And we are asking for an Equality Act in our demands for the 13th general election. So, if we put all these demands together and we succeed in doing that, I think for the time being that is not a bad victory. We can win that. That's more important than we put forward our demands in a way that we think will win.


Question 2 (from Kuna Chelliah)
To Mr Ganesan, all Malaysians are very conscious of the fact that Hindraf was highly instrumental in creating the tsunami of the 12th General Election that saw Pakatan Rakyat denied BN their 2/3 majority in parliament.

They have been championing the down-trodden Indians from the rally of 2007 to-date.

Fast-forward, Hindraf is unable to work closely with the Pakatan Rakyat in ensuring that PR is able to wrest control of Putrajaya after GE-13!

How is Hindraf going to make a political impact (for the Indian population) if they are unable to work with neither BN nor PR?


(Note: Refer to answer from Ganesan in Question 3.)


Question 3
It can be said that the demand put forward by Hindraf is also the shared aspirations of other minority ethnic communities, including the Chinese community.

In your opinion, what should PR (the largest Parliamentary opposition party who claimed to be well prepared to take over the federal government) do to fulfill peoples' aspirations and demands?

If PR becomes the ruling party, do you think if there is any possibility to repeal Article 153?


Ganesan : This is our opinion within Hindraf. In a sense, it answers the question directed to me. We have been disappointed with the way PR has responded to the problems that we have raised, that we stand for after the last general election, after the unconditional support that we gave.

We have been critical/vocal about it, we have been very open about our views, about how they have performed. In fact, Anwar Ibrahim himself, in forums which I have not attended, but our people have attended, have accused us of being racist.

Be that as it be, I think they have not listened to our expectations. Going forward, we do not think that the battle will be won on these issues just by changing the government in the next election. Because politicians are politicians, once they get elected, what they think about next? Getting re-elected.

If PR does get into Putrajaya, who is going to be the opposition? Think about it. They are not going to have an easy time. Whatever now UMNO has been saying, they probably say it louder, probably say it in different ways/more ways. Things change but the pressure will be on PR. So do they have enough space to make these changes? In our opinion, the battle would just have begun, it won't end in the next GE.

This leads me to the next point, Hindraf's position is: we are unhappy with the way PR has responded, but our primary objective now is for UMNO to go. UMNO has to go. That first change has to happen. If this first change doesn't happen, and we are frozen where we are now, we do not expect other changes (some of which like what we have been talking about today) will ever happen. So the first change has to happen, UMNO has to go. This is clear within Hindraf.

So does it mean you (Hindraf) support PR? Under the present circumstances, what alternative do we have? We want change, so we have to push the primary obstacle to change first. And then as I said, the battle has just begun, and it has not been won, so we continue our struggle.

And we believe, probably democratic space will open up a little bit after PR comes in. For example, today, we are illegal organization. We don't have registration. Maybe we will get registration. Maybe we will have more balanced media. Maybe we will have our own paper, whatever. Maybe democratic space will open up.

The struggle goes on. I don't think change is going to come that easily, especially when it is so entrenched. Hindraf's position is that, if we just leave it to PR, they will not change. We will have to continue as democratic forces. We have to continue to push for change.

Azmi : My hope is that, if PR takes Putrajaya in next GE, there will be a definite shift in the democratic space we have today. That's my most optimistic hope. I do not, for one second, believe that the country is going to be perfect.

One of the human rights we have, is the right to live without fear. Under the BN, we have been living in fear for 54 years. I am hoping that with PR, we can get rid of some of the more draconian laws.

Probably, none of the sandiwaras which BN gave us . We don't want "sandiwara" like what was given by the BN. They take away the Police Act, and give us the Peaceful Assembly Act, which is worse than the Police Act. They promise to take away the ISA. God knows what they will replace the ISA with, probably something just as bad. None of these sandiwaras! What we want to see is: some real and proper changes in the democratic space. We don't have to be fearful anymore. We have the freedom to discuss these things, to bring it up to the open. Only with honest open discussions without any fear, can we actually slowly but surely make change. That's my hope.

Kua : This question is about whether PR will accept the retraction of Article 153? At the present moment, with the GE just around the corner, are people really putting forward to PR, forget about BN, what their demands are? What are your exact demands? What are people's demands?

Are they for the repeal of Article 153? And what else? At the moment we got Bersih who is asking for free and fair election. What they want is quite clear. The last time when I was in JB, I listed 16 - 17 demands. Free and fair election is only one of them. So PR has been brought to the negotiation table and asked: are you prepared to accept our demands?

Like I said, PR or Anwar Ibrahim said they are prepared to see the repeal of NEP. That's a big thing you know, and I think it was Tony Pua, who said that the civil service has to be streamlined, made more efficient etc. Anwar said something like: it was economically favorable, but politically difficult. So I became a bit worried whether when it comes to abolishing NEP, he is going to say the same thing. Recently, I heard again in a forum somewhere in the country. I think, just a few days ago, he said again that he is against NEP.

So PR has been brought to the negotiating table, with the people, civil society, NGOs etc, and we put our demands to them. How many Tamil schools, Chinese schools are you going to build?

We know what BN is like. The facts speak for themselves. After 12 GEs, the BN has built negative, like Ganesan has just mentioned. Look at the numbers of schools in 1957, and the number of schools today, we have minus, minus 70 or 80 for Chinese schools and minus 300 for Tamil schools.

So PR has to be brought to the negotiation table, and asked "what do you stand for?" And we bring our demands to them. Now we are asking them "Are you prepared to repeal Article 153?" I doubt it very much they are prepared to repeal Article 153.

But they are prepared to repeal the NEP. I think that's a big step. They are prepared to accept Equality Act, which means it will neutralise Article 153. We move on that way. But PR must agree and confirm that they agree to these demands. So when they come into power, and when they take over Putrajaya, they will help us to achieve this.


Question 4
Of late, there was an interview published by Malaysiakini. A Member of Parliament from Parti Sosialis Malaysia commented on Hindraf: "It is premised on an ethnic analysis of society, and there isn't much ideologically speaking to differentiate it from either MIC or Perkasa." (See reference below)

What is the opinion of each speaker?


Ganesan : I represent Hindraf's view point. Our position/platform basically is a convergence of class and race. Also, the fact that these problems even till today are seen in the context of general problems.

But tell me, who else has the statelessness problem? Tell me, what other schools are in 20-foot containers? Tell me, whose temples are being demolished (at the highest rate)? So who's taking these things up? Is PR taking it up? Who's taking it up? So when Martin Luther King stands up for the blacks, and we stand up for the Indian poor, what is so wrong about it? You tell me.

I can understand where the comment of Dr Jeyakumar comes from. Basically he is competing in the same market place as us. PSM for all its socialist ideology, 95% or even more of their members are Indians. So if he makes a comment like this, I can only say it is because he probably feels a little bit of competitive pressure. But our view point is very clear, it is a convergence of class and race, and since nobody else is doing it, I think somebody has to do it. And I think we are as righteous as anybody else to do it.

Kua : I like the way which Hindraf is working with like Suaram JB etc. That is the way to go. I like the way Hindraf came out just before the 2008 election. I like to see that.

I agree with Ganesan, that the Indian masses (Indian doesn't include Ananda Krishnan or Samy Vellu) are being specially oppressed. It is only right to organise, to defend them, especially people who are victims of death in custody etc.

During the time when people were calling Hindraf racist, I wrote an article to defend Hindraf. I said don't simply fling the label racist at Hindraf; fling racist at the people who are really racist, say UMNO. Don't trivialize the term racism.

So far so good, until one day I was surfing the net, and I saw this attack by Uthayakumar on all kinds of people, like a machine gun, and I was one of them. This book (presented to me by Hindraf just now) says Dr Kua would research the May 13 riots, but he will not research Kg Medan. Is that fair?

Dr Kua is like some kind of superman: I can write all kinds of history. People always think how do you write so fast, but now I am being accused of not doing research on Kg Medan. Is it fair? I don't think it is fair.

But I am very proud to tell you, by the end of this year, Suaram is going to come out with the history of Kg Medan. I am helping to edit it. It will be written by our Suaram director, Arumugam. But I am very proud that it is coming under Suaram.

I feel very strongly about Kg Medan; I have written about Kg Medan countless times. In documents about racism in this country that I had sent to Durban, at the world conference against racism and racial discrimination, I make sure I included Kg Medan.

And you have seen my articles in newspaper. When I mentioned racism, Kg Medan will be in there, but I am still attacked by Uthayakumar. I thought I said leadership in Hindraf must be very clear what it wants to do,  and what it says.

I say you can only fight racism with solidarity. You want solidarity with people like me, like Suaram JB, like PSM as well (if you can't unite with PSM, I don't see who you can unite with). So I hope all the best for Hindraf in the time ahead, in the struggle to fight for the rights of the Indian masses.


Question 5
(This question was originally written in Chinese and translated by the organizers.)

Dr Khoo Kay Kim once said that when Malayan Independence Constitution was drafted, the Chinese representatives requested equal rights with the Malay. The rulers declined due to the fact that the Chinese were not citizens. But now we are the citizens of this country, we are born and raised here. Isn't it constitutional to have equal rights?


Azmi : Of course everybody should have equal rights. It's so basic, we are all human beings. At the end of the day, this whole idea of unequal treatment in the Constitution, have to be looked at once again and then see what the purpose is, what the objective is. Has it been fulfilled? Can it be fulfilled? Or, will it not ever be fulfilled?

The trouble is this: there is no underlying ethos, no underlying principle, no underlying sense of idealism in this country. The equality is what we should aspire to. It doesn't exist in this country. This is why we have the situation, because our leaders have no aspirations.

Our leaders only think about what's going to happen to them tomorrow. They don't care about the country in the sense of what kind of principles, what kind of ethos, what kind of morality that we should have in this country. They don't have any of those things.

The answer to your question is: actually, we are all equal and that's not something which can be given or taken away by the Constitution. That is inherent. It is something which exists in us, simply because we are human beings.

The issue is: is it being respected or not? And you can easily say that it's not. And why it's not being respected? This is what we have to do, this is what we have to look at, and this is what we have to challenge. Probably that's not a good answer for you, but that's the best that I can do. Thank you.


Question 6
To Dr Azmi, you said Article 153 is not flawed. Only its implementation (is flawed). Article 153 ignores the Orang Asal, an important group. How can you say that it is not flawed?


Azmi : Yes, it's flawed. But there are provisions in the Constitution, specifically just for tOrang Asli as well. They don't fall under Article 153, but there are other provisions there, but that's not respected either.

What I meant, by it's not flawed, is that, personally, I do not believe that the affirmative action per se is bad. That's my driving message here. I never believed that affirmative action is inherently wrong.

In fact, I think, to a certain extent, it's necessary for the more holistic version of equality. For example, I came from a middle class family, very comfortable. I should not be getting the same kind of help as a similar boy who's from a working class, poor family. That's unequality, but that's affirmative action I think is necessary. It's only fair.

So, in that sense, Article 153 is something which is giving the government permission to conduct affirmative action. In that sense, it's not flawed. But, it's been abused. Right now, the way it's been done is that, Malay people have been thought that without Article 153, they are doomed and finished.

The divide-and-rule, which the British government started, is now being continued by the Barisan. They used this kind of things, not to push for any proper societal re-adjustment. They used it for their own particular gains.

Even if the authority, the Barisan, it's hilarious. According to UMNO, if Pakatan comes into power, that means DAP, the Chinese, will control the country. According to the MCA, if Pakatan comes into power, the PAS (that means the Muslims) will control the country. So, which one is it? Who is going to control the country? The Chinese? Or the crazy fundamentalist Muslims?

Get your story straight. They are doing it to us now. Everything that they are doing, is purely for the sake of getting power. They divide us. One of the myths which they go on about is that, the Malays are doomed without them, and they are doomed without Article 153. But I think we are all doomed with them, but that's another story.


Question 7 (from Murthi)
UMNO leaders and Mahathir are claiming Malaysia is not a secular country. It is an Islamic religious country. Which is true according to the Constitution?


Azmi : Malaysia is a secular country, full-stop. Anybody who says otherwise is lying. Penipu. Very simple: Constitution says that the religion of the country is Islam. It doesn't say that Malaysia is an Islamic state. There is very big difference.

The highest court in the country is the supreme court. Now it's called Mahkamah Persekutuan. Dulu nama dia Mahkamah Agong. The supreme court, in the case of Che Omar Che Noh, decided that this country is secular. The Constitution is secular. Our legal system is secular.

Article 3 of the Constitution, with regard to the Islam legal religion of the federation, is to be limited only for official purposes. For example, the Doa at the opening of parliament, that kind of thing. It is purely for formalistic purposes, it is not for legal purposes.

On top of that, if you look back to the Reid Commission, when Article 3 was put in, it was suggested by the Pakistani member of the Reid Commission. When they were asked for their comments, the Alliance (nobody else - they were UMNO, MCA, MIC) clearly said that, the inclusion of Article 3 does not mean that the Constitution is not secular. So, anybody who says that this country is not a secular country is a liar.

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Reference for Question 4:


Where PSM differs with Hindraf

Source: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/191001

This is the final of a two-part interview with Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar. The PSM leader provides insight into what it means to stand apart from the political mainstream but still engage with it.

Malaysiakini: How does a political party like the PSM move beyond its grassroots level, especially since the alternative media is not accessible to most people?

Jeyakumar: One, we take up issues that affect a larger number of people for example the healthcare system, the oversupply of nursing graduates, the GST (Goods and Services Tax), the contractualisation of labour, etc.

Initially we were confined in communities facing dire straits, for example eviction, but now we have broadened our reach.

Two, we prepare simple pamphlets on all these issues in three languages and distribute these in 'pasar malams', coffee shops and numerous other places.

Three, we do get coverage in the mainstream media when we do things like holding a demo in front of some ministry, or file a case suing the PM's Department, or even holding a press conference.

Though the editors have their constraints, many of the reporters on the ground respect the PSM for its principled stances and the fact that there is often substance in what we say.

And I think that we have definitely moved beyond our grassroots bases. We have captured the attention of the Malaysian public, to a degree. And we come out with a whole lot of press statements, pamphlets and small booklets, e.g. my speeches in Parliament. Our analysis is spreading wider than it was four years ago.

Could you cite a situation when the PSM didn't want to compromise its principles even though by doing so, the party would move beyond its grassroots level?

We didn't get on to the Hindraf bandwagon though several politicians from the PR (Pakatan Rakyat) parties did. In late 2007, we were one of the few voices in the opposition that criticised the ideological basis of Hindraf while speaking out against their victimisation by the government.

It is relatively easy to mobilise people using emotive racial arguments, but we feel that will ultimately make it difficult to build the coalition of the "99 percent" that we need to build to restructure our economy and society.

How exactly did the Hindraf wave affect Sungai Siput?

It made some of the voters very angry with (former MIC chief) Samy Vellu who was perceived as being dismissive of the Hindraf movement. It also neutralised his secret weapon.

Samy Vellu (left) had managed to get some 3,000 to 5,000 Indians from outside Sungai Siput to register as voters in Sungai Siput.

These voters would be bused in on polling day and given money after voting. They gave Samy Vellu a head start in every election.

However, more than 50 percent of them got pissed off with him over his mishandling of Hindraf and so they came and voted for me.

What are your impressions of Hindraf now?

The same as it was in 2007 when the movement peaked. I understand the concern and anger that many Indians feel regarding the marginalisation of Indians by BN policy.

I respect the courage and sacrifices of the Hindraf activists. I recognise and acknowledge the role Hindraf played in helping creating the March 2008 tsunami.

But Hindraf as a movement is based on an analysis that is past its "use-by" date. It is premised on an ethnic analysis of society, and there isn't much ideologically speaking to differentiate it from either MIC or Perkasa.

The PSM has always argued that the marginalised among the Indian community need to form a coalition with the marginalised of other racial groups, including the Malays, to challenge a socio-economic system that is skewed towards the super-rich.

This is diametrically opposed to the Hindraf strategy of uniting all Indians to challenge perceived Malay hegemony. The PSM has from the beginning stated this position clearly and openly.

With regards to your comments on Hindraf, do you think that component parties of Pakatan are split along ethnic lines even though they claim to represent all Malaysians?

It is not a contradiction. You can espouse a "Malaysian" outlook despite having a predominance of a particular racial group in your party.

It is your analysis of the political and socio-economic system that is important. If you adopt an analysis that is not a race-based, you will be speaking for all oppressed Malaysians even if your membership is more of a particular race. That's one of the differences between the PR parties and the BN parties.

Do you find the lack of backing of large vocal political parties a help or hindrance when it comes to voicing the concerns of your constituents?

We find that the larger parties often are focusing on personality issues of one leader or the other, while the PSM strives to highlight issues affecting the grassroots.

It is the mobilisation of the rakyat that highlights issues that we want to bring up. Once the rakyat get involved, the other parties usually will come to show their support.

This is an interesting point. Do you view the PSM's role as a catalyst to get other political parties involved in the process and could you give an example of an issue that PSM brought to the public attention and how other political parties followed?

Yes, a catalyst and a pressure group. For example, we have always been strongly against the setting up of private clinics in government hospitals.

When I found out from an answer to a question in Parliament that the government was thinking of extending the private clinic initiative to another four hospitals (in addition to Selayang and Putrajaya), the PSM organised simultaneous pickets in all four hospitals.

The PR parties which hadn't been so concerned by the issue all came out in support of our position when they saw that the general public reacted favourably to our stance.

Our annual asset declaration is another example. Now the Penang state government has started the same. We have been on the forefront of the anti-FTA (Free Trade Agreement) movement and the anti-GST group.

Recently we started an expose of the overtraining of nurses by the private colleges, which are driven by the greed for the PTPTN (private higher education) loans.

We have also presented a list of 'Peoples' Expectations' to the Pakatan Rakyat leadership in Perak that we want them to implement if they come to power in PRU13 (13th general elections).

What is the difference between your 'Peoples' Expectation' list and the Pakatan manifesto?

I think we, the PSM, are more grounded in the reality that ordinary Malaysians live in. So we have more specific programmes and suggestions. However, there is a fair degree of overlap between the two documents.

Malaysian politics is personality driven and you have achieved an almost cult-like status. Is there a process within the PSM to groom a new generation of leaders?

Yes, there is. We are constantly pushing/encouraging newer and younger members to take up more responsibility. Meeting and discussions are given importance within the PSM. We believe our active members must understand why we take certain decisions.

We need to enhance the capacity of our members if we wish to expand our influence. I believe that we have to give younger members room to experiment and grow. The PSM must have an enabling environment for younger leaders to develop.

Could you give us an example of where there was disagreement between (younger) members on the decisions the PSM made?

Example 1, the younger people are generally more gung-ho. Some of them have been pushing for PSM to stand in more seats in PRU13 (we stood candidates in four seats in PRU12).

They argue that for the amount of work we do, and the commitment and capacity of our potential candidates, we should be given more seats to contest.

But the majority accepted the argument that PRU13 is about changing the BN and that the general public would think poorly of the PSM if they saw us as the cause of three-cornered fights in several constituencies.

Public perception is all-important to any political party as only if the public views us positively can we succeed in winning them over to our position.

Example 2, in Sungai Siput we have taken a decision to do away with the garlanding of leaders in public functions. It's a feudal carry-over and is inimical to the development of true democracy.

But when I visit temples during festivals, the temple committees invariably want to garland me. The younger members get upset when I accept the garlanding as they feel we are not keeping to our principles.

However, the older members argue that it would seem disrespectful to refuse, and as we are still in the process of making friends with the temple committees, most of whom were strong MIC supporters; we should not be so inflexible.

What was your impression of the debate between the MCA and DAP?

Don't understand Mandarin. But from the body language, (MCA chief) Dr Chua Soi Lek looked more in control.

And given the opportunity, who would you like to debate and what would the topic be?

The minister of labour - Malaysia's current macro-economic policy is leading to a massive erosion of the rights of our workers. The minister of health - over the 1Care health system.

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