Friday, April 25, 2008

Rustam A Sani (1944-2008)

Obituary: Rustam A. Sani
By Jomo K. S.

I write this in haste from afar without the benefit of any reference material. But I must do so, as I have lost another brother, taken away before his time.

I first met Rustam, soon after joining the UKM economics faculty in early 1977, then still at its temporary campus in Pantai. The crammed facilities in the PKNS flats there forced a certain physical closeness which was, in turn, conducive to generating close personal relations.

Rustam was then in the Anthropology and Sociology Department with Halim Ali, Sanusi Osman, Hood Salleh, Dahlan Hj Aman, Ting Chew Peh, Cheu Hock Tong, Shamsul Amri and others, many of whom had been students of Syed Husin Ali at the University of Malaya in the 1960s.

Struggle for the Nation
Born towards the end of the Japanese Occupation in the Perak border town of Tanjung Malim, Rustam grew up in the shadow of his famous father, Abdullah Sani @ Ahmad Boestamam.

As a mature student at university, Rustam quickly established a reputation in his own right as an essayist, poet and pamphleteer in the Socialist Club and promoting the national language at the University of Malaya. He often joked that if he had agreed to run in the May 1969 election, he would have become Selangor Mentri Besar at the age of 25!

Instead, he opted to do a Masters at the University of Kent in Canterbury where he indulged and mentored a variety of undergraduates including PAS Secretary-General Kamaruddin Jaffar, economist Ghazali Atan and publisher Tan Siang Jin.

There, he deepened his preoccupation with the challenges of Malaysian nationhood, an enduring theme in his writings since the 1970s, and the subject of one of his two latest books to be launched posthumously by his old friend from the 1960s, citizen Anwar Ibrahim.

Soon after I joined UKM, I left for a semester to finish my thesis, returning only to find him preparing to leave soon after with his wife, Rohani, and young children, Azi and Rini, for Yale. But after passing the tough comprehensive exams there, he lost interest, preferring instead to write a statistics textbook for those afraid of such quantitative methods.

Back at UKM, he switched to the Politics Department as his old Canterbury friend, then ABIM Secretary-General Kamaruddin left to join Anwar in UMNO and the government. With Syed Husin at the helm of the Malaysian Social Science Association (PSSM), Rustam and I started a bilingual quarterly journal, Ilmu Masyarakat, to try to open new Malaysian debates under the then new Mahathir dispensation, to which the former UKM academic as well as PNB and Guthries chief executive, Selangor Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim was an early and insightful contributor.

Patriot and Statesman
At the end of the 1980s, Rustam accepted Nordin Sopiee’s invitation to join ISIS. There, he crafted Mahathir’s historic February 1991 speech promising a ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ as part of his Vision 2020 (thankfully translated by Rustam as Wawasan 2020, instead of the earlier Visi 2020), changing the terms of national discourse in one fell swoop.

Frustrated by its lack of serious commitment, he left ISIS in the mid-1990s to become a writer, translator and reluctant businessman. Soon after, he agreed to become Deputy President of PSSM, later inaugurating the biennial series of international Malaysian Studies Conferences in which we tried to reposition Malaysian studies as a national -- and nationalist --discourse, rather than as post-colonial area studies.

However, the events of 1997-1999 disrupted our plans, and Rustam rose to the popular national call for reformasi following Anwar’s incarceration and persecution, becoming its most thoughtful ‘participant observer’. As deputy president of the party his father had founded almost half a century before, he negotiated its principled unification with the political movement which had emerged around Anwar despite several high profile defections.

Rustam was always a reluctant politician and had little patience for the intrigues which seemed to preoccupy some of his counterparts, including his fellow former academics. Generous in spirit and encouraging of younger talents, he never hesitated to give his all to the writing he enjoyed, regardless of the sacrifices involved. Although principled, he never claimed the high moral ground or used his language, writing and other talents to put down others.

Although I only saw him a few times after leaving the country in 2004, we kept in touch. March 8, International Women’s Day, must have given him great satisfaction indeed, as he saw the people give the nation another chance. He must have been pleased that Anwar – another son of the Burhanuddin Al-Helmy tradition to which he himself belonged -- will launch his last two books today as he moves to take his rightful place in our nation’s history.

Boestaman-Nationalist Father
Boestamam -- who had allegedly taken the names of his two heroes, Ahmad Sukarno and Subhas Chandra Bose -- had been a young follower of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) from the late 1930s in Perak, emerging after the war as the militant youth leader of API (Angkatan Pemuda Insaf) to the older and more moderate Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmy and Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako) of the Malay Nationalist Party (PKMM).

PKMM, in turn, led PUTERA (Pusat Tenaga Rakyat) which joined with the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU)-led All Malayan Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) to craft the People’s Constitution in 1947 as the basis for Malayan independence, years before UMNO switched its slogan from ‘Hidup Melayu’ to ‘Merdeka’ under Tunku Abdul Rahman’s leadership.

Boes was detained without trial for seven long years from early 1948, before the Emergency was declared in mid-1947, together with thousands of other Malay youths demanding independence. This pre-emptive repression by the colonial power was to ethnically colour the subsequent anti-colonial resistance.

Soon after he was released in 1955, he set up the Partai Rakyat Malaya, and later joined with the Labour Party of Malaya, chaired by Pak Sako, to create the Socialist Front, which later also included the popular expelled UMNO agriculture minister Aziz Ishak’s National Convention Party. Detained again without trial over the mid-1960s together with many other leftist politicians and activists, Boes faded from the headlines of Malaysian politics as Rustam came of age.

Jomo K. S. is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reformasi apa lagi, Pak Lah!

Berikut tiga kenyataan/artikel yang dikeluarkan dalam tempoh beberapa hari mutakhir. Perdana menteri menggelarkan kabinetnya pada 18 Mac sebagai "kabinet reformasi". Sebulan selepas itu (hari ini), reformasinya bertukar deformasi....

Dan, kita pun layak maki-hamunnya (kalau kita mahu)!

Reform or repression? Badawi's reform cabinet (18 April 2008)

When Prime Minister Badawi named his new cabinet on March 20th. after the unprecedented election bashing he got, he called his new cabinet the reform cabinet and that he is willing to institute major reforms. In the March 8 election, the 14-party National Front(Barisan Nasional) government lost five states to the opposition coalition (Pakatan Rakyat) as well as lost two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia make the following observation in the wake of the recent reforms called by Badawi and the power struggle within UMNO :

While the Police Force has a new uniform, yet they don't seem to have a reform attitude. The Black 14 peacefully in-door gathering at a private venue was disrupted by the police at 10.20pm. when Anwar Ibrahim was giving his speech. What was even more high handed was when the police went to serve 111 notices as early as 6.30am to four leaders of Pakatan Rakyat including the Menteri Besar of Selangor , Khalid Ibrahim and PKR President Dr Wan Azizah Ismail. This is sheer harassment and an infringement to freedom of assemble. How does this action speak about the reform cabinet of Badawi?

Then comes the banning of popular Tamil-language newspaper -Makkal Osai. No reason was given though it is clear that it is a political decision as the daily has been critical of the leadership of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The paper also gave wide ranging coverage to the rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) in November 2007 and the issues surrounding the rally and its leadership. Our own assessment of Makkal Osai is that the paper ensures that it gives a 50% coverage to both Government and opposition news. But such mathematics does not help in Malaysian freedom of media, where the daily newspapers must give at least a 80-20% advantage to the Ruling parties' controlled newspaper. This ban takes place while new Information Minister, Shabery Cheek talks about freedom of the media. How does this ban fit into the new reform cabinet?

On the issue of the ISA, the new Home Minister, Syed Hamid Albar has made it clear that ISA is going to stay by refusing to immediately and unconditionally release the Hindraf detainees as well as other ISA detainees , some of them going into their seventh year of detention. So what does this say about the new reforms brought by the new cabinet.

Yesterday, Badawi once again tried to hood-wink by introducing reforms to the Judiciary. Badawi was very careful not to utter the word apology as well as the word "independent" when naming the new commission -Judicial appointments commission" which will give the Prime Minister prerogative to select the members of the Commission. Nothing was said about the other Commissions he set up before this and his failure to pass the IPCMC bill. Though Badawi has been quite radical is setting up Commission but nothing radical has been done to implement the outcomes. This announcement would keep the State controlled TV and media busy for another few weeks.

With this backdrop, it is therefore quite clear that the BN's Govermment intention to introduce an anti-hopping law has nothing to do with democracy and fundamental liberties. On the contrary, it is designed to control and contravene fundamental liberty as well as freedom of association. PSM, a party which has been denied the right to freedom of association for a decade now, can vouch on this.

No reform can reform the obsolete state the Barisan Nasional is today and the politics it offers. It is time for to take over power at the Federal level and undo the structures and the political systems created by the BN. In order to do that, BN has to go. BN rules the day by reform and repression.

The future of Malaysian politics cannot be held by a minority class using reform and repression to be in power. While the future of Badawi seems uncertain, the road to change is not going to be easy. BN leadership with its 50 years legacy of Emergency law and ISA will not transfer power easily to any new Government. It is this time, that the will of the people will have to prevail.

PSM and its front organizations are committed to face whatever consequences and call upon the people to raise as they have done many times before against this tyranny of BN rule. It is only when the mass majority of the people are united as a single united class led by principles of justice, conscious and equality can we overthrow the BN brand of politics of race, religion and corruption

S.Arutchelvan, secretary general PSM

Makkal Osai: Reform? What reform? (17 March 2008)

It seems that it is business as usual for the Barisan federal government and the insincerity underlying the promises of reform becoming more evident.

The Home Affairs Ministry has refused to extend the permit of Makkal Ossai (‘Daily threatened racial harmony: Syed Hamid’, Malaysiakini, 17.04.2008).

In the usual double speak that we have become so familiar with, we are told by the Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, that there is no question of the permit having been cancelled, it is merely not being extended.

Tell that to the employees of the newspaper who have suddenly found themselves facing unemployment. Explain to them how they are supposed to meet their financial commitments be they mortgages, car repayments or just food on the table. Glib sophistry is not going to be consoling them.

But, oh wait, that is the point, isn’t it? Force the editors through concern for their colleagues into becoming more Barisan friendly or at the least, Pakatan unfriendly. The nuances of the promise of an ‘appeal’ by the Minister resonate loud and clear.

In legal speak, we refer to such pressure as duress. But then, what else can one expect from a Ministry that is equally responsible for the implementation of the Internal Security Act.

The Minister says that the newspaper threatened racial harmony. He does not say how nor does he specify when. He appears to have adopted a very broad-brushed approach, one that could have equally resulted in the conclusion that the New Straits Times or the Berita Harian or the Utusan Malaysia or any other major daily had similarly threatened racial harmony at some point or other.

The Minister after all does not specify that the threats arose from editorial pieces or from news reports or, if so, from style as opposed to content. He should recollect that, if one wants to stretch a point, we have been exposed by major dailies to content that could arguably be said to be racist or supremacist or divisive from time to time.

The recent speech of Tengku Faris of Kelantan that raised many an eyebrow was dutifully reported by the major dailies as were the incredible speeches at the last two UMNO general assemblies.

"Makkal Sakti" does not deserve to be singled out. We have heard of no specific incident recently that created controversy, that shook the nation to its very core. The refusal of the renewal smacks of arbitrariness and has made victimis those who work for the newspaper.

Views are views. I think that is why it is called press freedom. And as for racial harmony, Malaysians are more mature than the government gives them credit for. That is why they voted the way they did. But perhaps, the seemingly continuing inability of the government to see that is the real problem.

The government says that it is pushing for reforms, that it made the mistake of overlooking the significance of alternative media. I find this hard to believe in the face of this kind of indifferent, callous, self-serving sort of conduct. If the government was sincere, Makkal Ossai would continue operating, its staff would not be facing the prospect of joblessness and we would not be having this discussion.

For any of you doubting the wisdom of having voted against the Barisan this last general election, keep in mind that with behaviour like this, there really is no other choice.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar

Umno's and BN's post-March 8 schizophrenia (17 March 2008)

Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders should end its post-March 8 schizophrenia – claiming to have finally heard the voice of the people and yet still refusing to “walk the talk” of reforms like closing down the Tamil daily Makkal Osai, continued detention of Hindraf leaders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and stonewalling the proposal for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to create an efficient, incorruptible, professional world-class police service to keep crime low and make the country safe for Malaysians, visitors and investors.

Such political schizophrenia seizing Umno and Barisan Nasional has become a daily staple in the mass media, as illustrated by the following two headlines today:

Najib tells BN: Win over support from non-Malays (NST);
Makkal Osai loses licence – Tamil daily’s application rejected (The Star)

Has it occurred to the Umno and Barisan Nasional leadership, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, that the best way to ensure that the Barisan Nasional will lose even more support from the non-Malays are high-handed, arrogant and undemocratic actions like the closure of Makkal Osai, the refusal to release the five Hindraf leaders, P. Uthayakumar, newly-elected Selangor DAP State Assemblyman for Kota Alam Shah A. Manoharan, V. Ganabatirau, R. Kenghadharan and T. Vasantha Kumar or refusal to give Uthayakumar the best medical treatment while under ISA detention?

In fact, such political arrogance and contempt for human rights will also offend all right-thinking and justice-loving Malays, as illustrated by the March 8 “political tsunami” which saw Malaysians voting across racial and religious divides.

New Straits Times announced today that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to announce several measures to reform the judiciary at a dinner organized by the Malaysian Bar at Hotel Marriot, Kuala Lumpur tonight.

I will attend the dinner. While DAP and Pakatan Rakyat will support judicial reforms to restore national and international confidence in the independence, impartiality, integrity and quality of the judiciary after two decades of “judicial darkness”, however belated, they are merely first steps in a journey of a thousand miles of major national reforms whether in mindsets, institutions, laws or governance if Malaysia is to rise to the challenges of globalization where the competition is not between Malays and non-Malays but between Malaysians and the rest of the world.

Lim Kit Siang, MP for Ipoh Timur