Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lessons from Hulu Selangor by-elections

The voters of Hulu Selangor (HS) have spoken and all parties must respect their verdict whether they like it or not. It is also time for them to fulfill their promises made during the campaign.

According to the Election Commission (EC) the voter turnout was 75.87 % which works out to a total of 48,935 votes. Off that the Barisan Nasional (BN)candidate obtained 24,997 votes(51%) and the Pakatan Rakyat(PR) 23,272 votes(48%),with the former winning by a majority of 1,725votes. It was interesting that both coalitions improved slightly on their votes obtained at the last polls but the BN managed to increase more than the PR.

The BN managed to get more of the Malay and Indian votes, although not up to its pre-March 8 levels, but its share of the Chinese votes seems to have dropped. The BN may have won the HS seat by a majority of 1,725 votes but that does not seem to reflect a change in the feelings of the people on the ground. There appears to be equal support for both BN and PR despite the advantage the former had as the ruling party.

As usual the winner rejoices and loser finds excuses to justify its loss.The PR says that the BN had spent about RM160 million to secure its victory in the Hulu Selangor which means it had to fork out an average of RM65,000 per voter. The people may be entitled to the money but must it be given out during by-elections when the government has five years to do so?Isn’t it a form of corruption? The PR further claims that it had to work against an unfair EC which failed to ensure free and fair election, police intimidation, attempts to prevent voters from voting freely without fear and a blatantly biased mainstream media.

Elections are the fundamentals for a democracy to thrive and if they cannot be conducted in a manner fair to all parties then it defeats the very purpose of democracy itself. As such he EC must seriously investigate these allegations and come clean of its role in conducting the by-elections, which the opposition claims, was unfair to it.

The number of untoward incidents during the by-elections was also higher than usual. According to the police 37 people were held, 215 reports lodged during by-election and there were a number of those who sustained injuries and had to be treated at the hospitals. These are dangerous precedents that must never be tolerated as that would only become a major problem in the future like in many countries. The people must be educated on the importance of a healthy contest and violence of any sorts must not be condoned for any reason. A highly professional and independent conduct of the EC and police will go a long way to prevent unnecessary provocations and violence during the elections.

The BN may have won the by-election with increased support from the rural Malay and Indian voters but the increase is far from what the BN leaders expected. Moreover the much needed Chinese support has dwindled from 37% to 28%. Despite the massive campaign, the large amount of money spent and grants approved and promised, the BN did not get the landslide victory as expected. This calls for a thorough soul-searching review of its operation and system of governance.

Instead of punishing those, especially the Chinese, who have not voted for it as advocated by certain extremist’s quarters, the BN must find better means to reach out to those who rejected it. It must accept the stark reality of the increasing maturity of the voters of all races who are not going to be influenced by money politics, unrealistic promises and political slogans that remain as mere rhetoric. Character assassination, racism, bribery and brute force may help to win one or two by-elections now, but there are already signs that more and more Malaysians are not going to be hoodwinked by these antics in the future.

Racial politics of the past are increasingly being rejected by the people of all races as they are beginning to realize that they are all here to stay and have to adapt to live side by side in harmony for long term peace, prosperity and progress. Nothing less than concrete policy changes to ensure fairer opportunities and treatment of all races will bring back the non-Malay vote. In this regards Umno, as the backbone of the BN, must distance itself from extremist groups to show that it is sincere about its 1Malaysia policy.

The people now want genuine development in all areas - social, economic, political and moral. Bread and butter issues are not going to be the defining factors like they used to be before but rather sophisticated national issues regarding economic prudence, transparency, social justice, corruption and a fairer distribution of the wealth of the country among the people.

On the other hand the PR, in particular PKR which has lost significant support from the Malays and Indians especially from the rural areas must also conduct a no holds- barred session to see where they have gone wrong. They should not take the people’s support for granted but work to attract the people for its own merits not be contented with the gains from the demerits of the BN as they are doing now.

The PR’s consistent multiracial platform, its unrelenting stand against corruption, power abuse and more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth based on a person’s needs and merits rather than his ethnicity or political affiliation have all been well received by the people of all races. The PR must continue to build on the support of the people by focusing on bigger a national agenda and not allow petty squabble among its members to sidetrack its resolute in achieving its goals.

The HS voters have indicated that the people will not hesitate to reject the PR if it continues with its internal squabbles. The partners of the PR may be ideologically diverse but should be united by a common aim that should transcend all differences among them. It must move more swiftly in forging a stronger and more cohesive coalition that the people can rely on as an alternate government.

The PKR may be glue that seals the members of PR but it is the weakest link that is threatening to give way to its disruption. The defections of its members are a serious problem which its leaders must not take lightly. There must be stringent control in the admission of new members into its fold especially those who cross over from BN.The fact these people can cross over from another party reflects poorly on their integrity and loyalty. Its politically publicized practice of mass admissions must be stopped. Members of BN parties applying to join PKR must be placed on a probationary period, so as to give time to gauge their loyalty, before they can be admitted as permanent members.

The MIC candidate may have won the by-election but it in no way alleviates the woes of the Indian community as his win was mainly due to Umno supporters. Many of the urban and younger generation of Indians do not support the MIC. Unless the party undergoes a major revamp whereby the present leadership is willing to make way for new blood that would introduce more relevant strategies to meet the many complex challenges of the new millennium, the party that was the sole undisputed representative of the Indian community for 50 years may finally meet its demise in the near future.

The Indian community must realise that being a minority it cannot survive fighting along racial lines as that will only result in the community being continually being marginalized. It future lies in a multiracial Malaysia where the Indians, like the other races, are given due recognition as legitimate citizens.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hulu Selangor – Do or die for MIC

The Hulu Selangor by-election may be seen as is a public referendum of sorts on a number of issues. Among them are the assessment of Najib’s 1 year as PM especially his 1Malaysia policy, liberalization of the economy and the ability of the Umno-led BN government to bring change. It will also be a measure of the level of support for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in particular PKR which has been plagued by the defection of a number of its members, the satisfaction of the people in PR ruled Selangor and most of all it will be the gauge of the people’s eagerness for a two-party system of governance.

The Hulu Selangor by-election is not about roads and drains nor is it about water and electricity. It is not about the personal habits of the candidates. It is about sending the right person to parliament where national policies are formulated and approved. It is about maintaining a strong opposition in parliament to ensure accountability and transparency in the formulation and implementation of sound policies that benefits the people at large. The people of Hulu Selangor must decide which of the two candidates will best fulfill these criteria in the highest legislative body.

After two years the people should be well aware of the advantages of having a strong opposition. The various pledges by the government to bring change are indirectly the result of the salient pressure by a formidable opposition. The 1Malaysia policy is the result of the opposition platform of a multiracial approach which promises to do away of racial politics. Similarly the NEM is also due the opposition’s pledge to eradicate race-based economic policies. The fight against corruption, the halt on unnecessary mega projects and bucking up of the various public agencies are the result of the government’s ‘fear’ of the strong opposition. The healthy competition between the ruling and opposition parties will definitely bring long term benefits for the people.

This is the first time in the history of the nation that a strong and formidable opposition in parliament. It was due to the wisdom and maturity of the people who made that possible at the last general elections. I am certain the same wisdom and maturity will prevail for the voters of Hulu Selangor to do the right thing come this Sunday.

Besides these, the by-election may well decide the survival of MIC, the third largest component party in the BN. The dissatisfaction of the Umno members in the constituency with its former candidate Datuk G.Palanivel, who is non-other than the number two in MIC was a significant indicator of the people’s aversion for the Indian party that suffered heavy losses in the last general elections. It was after much arm-twisting diplomacy that the Umno members agreed to allow the MIC to field its candidate, Kamalathan, against the wishes of many on the ground.

It is very sad that Kamalanathan has to present himself as Kamal to the Malays, Nathan to the Indians and Than to the Chinese. It was the height of hypocrisy that the DPM himself has to stoop low to describe Kamalanathan’s name as symbolizing 1Malaysia.After 52years of independence, it is deeply disturbing that a legitimate citizen cannot be accepted as a Malaysian. It reflects a failure of our system of communal politics.

The Hulu Selangor by-election is a do or die battle for Samy Velu and his MIC. Even the PM, who was mainly responsible for allowing the MIC to contest against the wishes of many in own party who wanted the seat to be given to Umno, warned the MIC to ensure its candidate wins the election at all cost. A loss for Kamalanathan may be a small setback for BN but a fatal blow for the MIC and its long-serving president, who has been openly rejected by the Indian community. All attempts at rejuvenating the party after its massive loss in the last general elections have failed due to Samy refusing to step down despite severe pressure from within and outside the party.

The credibility of the MIC is at its lowest and it needs massive rehabilitation to regain its past status as the sole and undisputed representative of the Indians in and outside the government. Two years after its collapse we are certain that this rehabilitation can never be brought about by the existing leadership. It needs a new beginning now to bring about the changes that the community requires and judging by what is happening there is no hope for the revival of the party.

The MIC must win this by-election if it wants to survive. The party is dying and a loss for its candidate will only accelerate its demise. Umno will never entrust future seats to the MIC if it fails to deliver Hulu Selangor this time around. It is sad that the future of the MIC,a founding member of the Alliance and the BN, and a party that was in the blood of every Malaysian Indian, is to be determined not by them but by Umno.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Scholarships for top scorers

Stretching to help fairly all who deserve

The government’s decision to spend RM1.24bil to award scholarships to 1,500 top SPM students may be laudable but spending such a hefty sum on a relatively small number of students to undertake their first degree programmes abroad is unwise. High performers must be rewarded appropriately but the money spent must be prudent to benefit as many as possible.

Why can’t our top scorers be sent to do their pre-university courses and basic degrees in local institutions? By sending the best to local universities, which cost much less, not only more students can be sponsored but at the same time also help improve the standards in our own local universities which is on the decline in recent years. How can we elevate our universities to the status of world renowned institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and many others, when we keep sending our best overseas? This would only boost the foreign universities at the expense of our own.

It must be borne in mind that high achieving students make up far less than 10% of students. The vast majority are average performers who should also be catered for adequately. There are also many who do badly or even fail their examinations and it is equally important to cater for the special needs of these category of students as well. Spending all we have on a few top students and neglecting the vast majority who obtain mediocre results will be detrimental to the nation. It will be this majority who are considered mediocre who will be form the bulk of the workforce in the future.

Selection of students for scholarships causes a lot of uproar every year. I admit there is no one ideal system that would satisfy all but whatever method is chosen must ensure that genuinely deserving students are not deprived of the opportunity to pursue their tertiary education. In this regards the selection process must be more transparent and open.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and Education MinisterTan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin the students for scholarships are selected under the excellent academic achievement category will be assessed according to academic performance (85%), co-curricular activities (10%) and Public Services Department interview (5%).This clearly indicates the over-emphasis on academic excellence over all others. Unfortunately important factors like financial affordability, extra-curricular excellence and the all important aptitude seem to carry little weight. Not all top scorers have the aptitude and not all with aptitude will be top scorers either.

Academic performance is of course a very important factor in selecting student for scholarship but it would be unfair to base the assessment on just a single public examination. It would be a better if it is based on continuous assessment throughout the year by the respective teachers who would know the students best.

In the past tremendous emphasis used to be placed on testimonials from teachers with regards to character, attitude, aptitude, behavior and academic performance of students. Students with excellent testimonials are given greater priority for scholarships and other awards. Students then strive very hard to excel in all areas, not just academic, so as to get a good testimonial on leaving school, knowing very well that only academic excellence with good testimonials from their teachers will take them far in their career and lives.

Unfortunately today testimonials are rarely sought as they have very limited value particularly for top scorers. All that matters is a string of A’s and nothing else. Students spend so much time and money to obtain those A’s often at the expense of all other equally useful activities that are essential to make one all rounder, being well equipped to handle the many problems they may encounter with maturity and wisdom.

It would a great injustice if a student from a humble background but with the right aptitude but with only above average results denied financial assistance thereby forcing him to abandon his career that he is passionate about. It would not only a setback for the individual but also a great disservice to the nation.

It is time for the government to seriously consider a fairer and more comprehensive method of awarding scholarships to our deserving students. These awards should be granted to all who are eligible based on overall merit without discrimination whatsoever in keeping with 1Malaysia policy. Unless we give every deserving Malaysian child the opportunity to pursue his ambitions and ideals, our nation will not be able to move forward in this highly competitive global world.

As responsible citizens the people too should dotheir part to ensure that as many Malaysians as possible will benefit from government aid to further their studies. With limited resources and a large number of deserving students, it would only be fair for those who can afford to be considerate to make way for the less fortunate who are genuinely in need of financial assistance without which they will have to forgo their dreams of a tertiary education for good.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Arresting the moral decay

Morality, a matter of perception?

One of the greatest worries of parents, teachers, religious institutions and the government today is the declining standards of morality in society. This is not just in Malaysia but a disturbing trend throughout the world.

Recently I was appalled at the opinion expressed by a young woman in her twenties on a number of issues related to morality. According to her she does not see anything wrong ‘going steady’ with an already married man or ‘snatching’ him away from his wife and children. She does not see adultery and divorce as being morally wrong. A quick survey would indicate that this young woman is not an exception as there are many young people who share her views.

Today staying together before marriage is no more frowned upon as it used to be in the good old days. A friend narrated the shock of his life when his daughter introduced her boyfriend at the breakfast table one morning. She had brought him home late the night before without his knowledge.

Pornography which was a real taboo before is being openly circulated without much fear and guilt. Raids on vice dens have become so common that they cause little shame for those caught in such places. It is deeply distressing that what we were taught as terribly wrong when we were young has become totally acceptable as norm by the younger generation of today.

Morality may be subjective but divorce and adultery are vices that are despised by all major religions of the world and it is disturbing that despite claiming to have become more religious we seem to be becoming an increasingly more promiscuous society where sex has become a casual affair.

Not only divorce and adultery but sex outside marriage, group sex, abortion, sodomy and even incest that was strongly forbidden and considered as grievous sins before are being accepted as norms in our society today. Sex parties have become a way of celebrating certain occasions especially New Year for our youngsters. Divorce has become a necessity these days to safeguard the peace and tranquility of an individuals who gets into dispute after marriage. The high rate of divorce that is so easily obtained these days for the most trivial excuses is totally destroying the sanctity of marriage and the family unit.

The family unit which used to be the main source of happiness is slowly but surely becoming disintegrated. The moderating influence of the elders in the family is slowly fading resulting in the high rate of immoral activity, crime and neglected elderly parents in our society today.

What has gone wrong? As parents, teachers and religious leaders why have we failed to instill basic moral values in our children? We take them regularly to places of worship, we pray together in the house, we read the holy books and preach morality to others but why are our children going astray? Are we being the right role models for them?

We tend to blame the internet for the declining morality in society today. It may be true but what are we doing to reduce the undesired effects of the internet on our youths? Internet is here to stay as it has far more beneficial than bad effects and it cannot be eliminated for whatever reasons. We have reached a stage where we cannot imagine living in a world without internet.

We have no choice but adapt to live with the internet. What is more important is to educate our young to attain a discerning mind whereby they can differentiate good from bad. It may be an uphill battle but what choice we have as parents, teachers and religious leaders other to try our best.

The influence of religion in the lives of the young may also be fading as these institutions of morality have become more obsessed with form rather than substance. As followers we have become more interested in observing elaborate rituals to attain rewards in the life after rather than following the true teachings of our respective faiths to interact with one another in a more humane manner. Instead we seem to have subtly involved in a war to prove our religion is more superior to others and in the process triggering inter-religious ill-feelings and conversions.

In the fight against the moral decay it is important to ensure that as elders we are ourselves clean and morally upright. If we want to stand a chance to succeed in combating the evil influences of modern technology we have to lead by example not by preaching as experience shows nobody really follows what we preach. Leading by example has the most profound influence on our children. It is the most important measure but it is also the most difficult to follow.

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