Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the principled statesman

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

NEXT week, on Feb 8, will be the 115th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

Tunku was the seventh son of Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Tunku’s mother is Che Menjalara, the daughter of Luang Naraborirak from Thailand.

He was educated in Alor Setar, Bangkok and Penang, before graduating from Cambridge University in 1925. He then completed his legal training in 1949.

He successfully led the series of negotiations that resulted in our independence from Britain. For that, he will forever be known as our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence).

On Aug 31, 1957, Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. The proclamation was the basis and the principles behind the founding of our nation.

In the proclamation, Tunku said our nation shall “be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

Liberty and justice – these are the principles that must guide our actions and policies.

In 1963, Tunku brought four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – into one, to form Malaysia. Rightfully, that made him our Bapa Malaysia too.

On the day that Malaysia was formed, rather than reading out a different statement, he opted for the same proclamation, turning what was once called the Proclamation of Independence into the Proclamation of Malaysia.

Of course, as Prime Minister, he made his fair share of mistakes. There were actions of his that many of us today would consider as far short of the ideal. But on balance, many Malaysians today are longing for the environment fostered by Tunku’s administration.

He turned the principles of liberty and justice into actual policies, all aimed at ensuring the welfare and happiness of the people. He was determined to ensure every single citizen of the country enjoys liberty and justice equally, regardless of race and religion.

One thing for sure, his vision of how to unite the country was the correct one. He did not put one group above the other because he knew very well that a happy country can only exist if its citizens were equals.

Sadly, this vision of equal treatment disappeared soon after Tunku’s departure from office. Until today, we are still affected by the consequences from divisive ethnic-based social engineering.

When Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, and I decided to start the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), we made a conscious decision to dedicate our work to injecting Tunku’s ideals into all facets of public policy.

We launched Ideas on Feb 8, 2010, at an event that was also designed to celebrate Tunku’s birthday. Therefore, next week will also be Ideas’ eighth anniversary.

The last eight years has been challenging but fulfilling. The nature of an independent think tank is not widely understood in Malaysia, where labels of either being pro-government or pro-opposition are thrown around too easily.

When we say that we believe in principles rather than partisanship, many people become confused because we do not fall within their traditional labels.

The culture of “only bad news can become news” does not help either. Our criticisms get picked up by the media more frequently than our praises.

I have now become used to politicians and policymakers from both sides saying that we only criticise them and that we never give them credit. This wrong perception can only be expected because when we give credit when it is due, it is hardly covered.

As far as challenges go, last year was by far the most challenging one. We were very close to shutting down in August because of a major cashflow crisis after two large funders suddenly pulled out.

I had to go cap in hand to various people begging for money to keep us alive. Thanks to two donors, one from Britain and another from Johor Baru, we got through the crisis.

Moving forward, our quest to translate Tunku’s vision into policy proposals will continue. In an increasingly divided Malaysia, we will stay true to his unifying vision.

There are far too many people who, in private, complain like mad but refuse to speak up publicly even though they know they can change the country’s course towards the better. I promised my team at Ideas that we will never become like that. Hopefully history will show that I keep my word.

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan
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Looking back at 2017

Monday, January 8th, 2018

2017 is behind us. As we move forward in 2018, it is useful to look back at the events and issues of 2017 which has impacted the legal landscape of the country.

Compared to previous years, when Parliament enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, amended the Sedition Act and enacted the National Security Council Act, no controversial law was tabled in 2017. The long talked about legislation to control online news portal did not see the light of day in 2017. Similarly, we also did not see the follow up to the proposal to amend the Legal Profession Act which was first raised in 2016, after objections from the legal fraternity.

The Private Member’s Bill to amend Act 355, brought by PAS and which received tacit approval from Umno also was not passed or even debated in 2017. The last time the motion was raised was in April 2017, when it was tabled but was postponed to another sitting before it could be debated. It is unlikely that the motion will be raised in the Dewan Rakyat before the next general election, which is due to happen this year.

The biggest legal controversy of the year must surely be the service extension of the Chief Justice, Tun Md Raus Sharif and the President of the Court of Appeal, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin beyond the mandatory retirement period stipulated in the Federal Constitution. According to the Government, the both of them were appointed as additional Federal Court judges under Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

Pursuant to the resolution, the Bar Council had filed legal proceedings to challenge the extension and it was reported recently that the matter has now been referred to the Federal Court for determination. We will likely find out how the Federal Court will interpret the relevant provision in 2018.

2017 also saw the conclusion of the judicial reviews filed against the re-delineation process and proposals by the Election Commission (EC) in 2016.

The legal challenges were filed by many parties, the biggest and most important one is the judicial review filed by the Selangor government. At one point, Selangor even managed to obtain an injunction to prevent the re-delineation process until the conclusion of the Court process.

Unfortunately, a series of decisions by the Court of Appeal effectively ended the judicial reviews by deciding that the re-delineation process cannot be challenged in Court. As it stands, the EC has resumed the process and it will likely be completed before the next general election.

Lastly, 2017 also saw the Federal Court deliver a landmark judgment on judicial power in the case of Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd vs Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat.

The Federal Court decided that judicial power of the Federation is still vested in the Courts, despite the amendment made to Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution in 1988. What this means is that Parliament cannot limit or oust the jurisdiction of the Courts by way of Federal law.

by Syahredzan Johan
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A need for sober minds

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman (left) and Tun Jugah Barieng at the signing of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in London on July 9, 1963. (FILE PIC)

SARAWAK Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg is probably right when he contends that he is not being emotional in pushing for the state’s rights, some of which he claims are in hidden official documents related to the formation of Malaysia recently uncovered.

That being said, there is no denying that there is much noise in the public domain in Sarawak related to the whole subject of state rights and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). The subject matter is, perhaps, intrinsically emotive. It is, therefore, incumbent on all responsible Malaysians, and especially those holding public office, to treat the matter with utmost care, lest it becomes too emotionally charged.

To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had given his assurance that the government under his leadership would not stop any public discussion on the matter. That necessarily puts the onus on everyone, and in particular, politicians, to be as matter-of-fact as is possible when raising issues related to the subject.

Najib had also made a blanket commitment that if it was found that state rights had inadvertently been taken away by Putrajaya, they would be returned where they rightly belong. The emphasis is rightly on the qualifier “inadvertently”, since suggesting otherwise may give rise to public suspicions (easily fanned by some quarters, one must add) that those rights have been surreptitiously or even deliberately taken away.

The very public commitment given by the prime minister is crucial and may suggest that for the contentious issues related to the subject matter to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved, sober minds must prevail at all levels and that both the state government and its federal counterpart must always be on the same page over the matter.

It will be needlessly incendiary to pit both the state government and Putrajaya in such a way that it may be interpreted as being in any sort of adversarial positions vis-à-vis the matter at hand. Such interpretations will, in any case, be false and wildly misleading.

The Federal Government, right from the very first day of Malaysia, is composed of strong representations from both Sarawak and Sabah, and the composition of Parliament has been deliberately skewed by the MA63 to afford both states a disproportionate share of members of parliament relative to their respective share of the total national population.

Sarawak’s past leaders, such as Tun Jugah Barieng, Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub, Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, served meaningful and illustrious stints in the federal cabinet and were instrumental in the formulation of national policies, some of which still have direct and far-reaching impact on the state even today.

If anything, the bonds binding Sarawak and the Federal Government today are even stronger. The fact that both have all these years been administered by Barisan Nasional meant that issues and disagreements can be honestly deliberated and resolved with the minimum of fuss or heated public arguments.

It is of utmost importance that we all not lose sight of the reality that we are all in this together. Sarawak’s recent leaders, including the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Abdul Rahman Zohari have, after all, time and again stressed that there was never ever any question of Sarawak being anything but an integral part of Malaysia.

There are signal lessons that can be drawn by everyone in Malaysia from such “black swan” political developments as Britain voting to exit the European Union and Catalonia voting illegally to secede from Spain.

Both developments did not happen in isolation or out of the blue. They were the culminations of long-standing disputes and public debates that had simmered for decades and even centuries (in Spain’s case). In both cases, politicians of the day — perhaps, in the heat of the moment — decided to take on public positions, which painted them into tight corners from which it became almost impossible to retreat without suffering humiliating accusations of a climb-down or a sell-out.

By John Teo.

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The sisters’ education crusade in Malaysia

Sunday, November 12th, 2017
Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

No one would treasure the legacy of the Christian sisters more than the sisters themselves, so the controversy over the three convent schools in Penang is most unfortunate.

THE soul of the Infant Jesus Sisters institute (IJS) lies in the very foundation that was established by the pioneer sisters who risked their lives to reach Penang and struggled against all odds to raise it off the ground in the second half of the 19th century.

Convent Light Street was where the heartbeat of the institute once reverberated. It is not only dearest to the sisters here in Malaysia but also significant to the IJS global community.

Administered from their Mother House at historic Rue St Maur in Paris for over three-and-a-half centuries, the institute now serves in four continents.

In Malaya transitioning into Malaysia, the IJS institute held the record of establishing and operating the most number of convent schools in Malaysia and IJS worldwide at the height of their popularity in the 20th century. There were more than 30 serving in Peninsular Malaysia alone. These have produced millions of young women with sufficient knowledge and, in the words of the sisters – good characters ready to face the challenges of adult life for over a century.

The sisters were there when the nation at its infancy needed them most – socially and economically. Through education – academics, home science and character building, it enabled women to bring up good families (in the words of the sisters) and participate in the workforce.

M. St. Mathilde

Mother St Mathilde (1814-1911). — Photos courtesy of IJS Convent Cheras.

The controversies that currently engulf the notification of intent issued by IJS for the return of their landed properties in Penang are unfortunate. They would not have risen if matters were handled in a less careless manner by relevant quarters. There should have been meaningful dialogue with the sisters. A plan should be put in place with regards to the purported closure of the schools concerned, if such had been intended.

The notification to retrieve its properties by IJS was done in good faith. The conduct of affairs thereafter is the responsibility of the Education Ministry.

As speculation goes, it may possibly entail cessation of new intakes at subject premises and relocation of existing students. The so-called leakage of the ministry’s letter with “alarming” content – which is “IJS’ request under consideration” brought forth disastrous reactions from the public. It was later withdrawn.

The lack of measured response from a public official to media enquiries on rumours that the sisters are selling their properties to developers for re-development was even more damaging. It did not give any consideration to the idea that the “talk of sisters’ selling out and eliminating their own heritage and legacy” was a vicious one. It added fuel to state of emotions in worried parents and opinionated public.

It is upsetting to parents whose children are now studying in the convent schools at Light Street, Pulau Tikus and Green Lane respectively. It is particularly saddening to the alumni communities of these schools. And in general, many ex-convent girls are affected.

It is difficult to accept what seems to be illogical. Will the convent schools suffer eventual demise in the hands of the sisters?

How horrible, not because it is going to happen that way but because the sensible and rational-thinking sisters have to suffer great distress on such persecuting allegations for a good plan that was being executed. They are re-activating their mission of providingwholesome education and preserving their landmark properties in the tradition of their founding sisters and institute objectives.

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Revisiting history without bias

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Using proper methodology, sound and valid arguments, any debate could spark a real interest in history itself.

A FEW years ago, there was an interesting debate on whether historical figures mentioned in a number of historical documents were real or myths.

The debate on Hang Tuah and his brethren, as well as Hang Li Po, was indeed attention-grabbing, and sparked interest in “historical revisionism” – revisiting and reinterpreting historical records, usually (but not necessarily) based on newly found historical evidence, which leads to challenging current and popular interpretations of historical facts.

More often than not, historical revisionism is met with much controversy. Those who are comfortable with the status quo would find new interpretations of historical facts unnerving and troubling.

This is in contrast to the many branches of science where theories and ideas are regularly revised, refined and reinterpreted when new knowledge comes to light.

As an example, Arab-Muslim polymath Ibn al-Haytham revised and corrected the theories of vision propagated by his Greek predecessors such as Euclid, Ptolemy and Aristotle, based on experimentation which was empirical and objective.

Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of vision still stands true to this very day, until and unless someone revises it based on new evidence. The beauty of scientific knowledge is that it can be tested and retested, and subjected to peer reviews. This exhaustive process results in science being regarded as “trusted” knowledge.

But there are also instances when certain quarters exhibit “scientific denialism” – the irrational rejection of empirically verifiable realities. Examples include those who subscribe to the flat Earth theory, those who reject vaccination as a conspiracy, and those who view climate change as a myth.

The challenge with interpreting history is even greater, compared to interpreting scientific data. There are those who deny empirical evidence even with science, so imagine the challenge with historical interpretation. There have been many cases in history where events have been interpreted in a biased manner, even denying that events actually took place.

We have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of Merdeka and in a few days, we will celebrate the 54th anniversary of the formation of our beloved country, Malaysia. Having a sense of history is critically important for today’s Malaysians who are mostly born after 1957.

Without any objective reflection of history, we may not truly understand the struggles of the past. The less appreciation we have for history, the greater the risk of creating a generation of Malaysians who do not appreciate the value of independence.

One important reminder is found in Muqaddimah, by the 14th century Arab-Muslim historiographer Ibn Khaldun. He theorised how long a civilisation would survive, based on observations of the Arabs and Berbers. Ibn Khaldun astutely noted that civilisations generally lasted around 120 years, or three generations.

He wrote that the first generation was a generation of fighters, who endured hardship and fought for freedom for their children and grandchildren. They were strong-willed, had a strong sense of brotherhood, possessed strong patriotism, and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their country.

The second generation benefited greatly from the sacrifices of the previous generation. However, because of the relative comfort that they experienced, the characteristics possessed by the first generation began to wane with the second generation. None-theless, since there was still direct contact with the first generation, the second generation still exhibited an appreciation of the importance of patriotism.

With the third generation, all the traits possessed by the first generation was almost non-existent. They lived in a comfort zone and no longer appreciated or understood the importance of the sacrifice of their forefathers. It was during the third generation that civilisations began to crumble, according to Ibn Khaldun.

We could indeed see this in our own history. The Empire of Malacca stood for about 111 years (a mere nine years short of Ibn Khaldun’s theory) before it fell to the Portuguese in 1511. We have read how treachery, egotism and materialism crept into the empire that led to the downfall of Melaka.

This shows how important it is for us to learn from history. What is more pertinent is that the history that is learnt is history that is objective.

There is nothing wrong with re-evaluating historical events and players. Historical revisionism can be an enlightening and beneficial academic exercise which can contribute towards enriching knowledge.

However, we must ensure proper methodology is used, and that arguments presented are sound and valid, as there is a very fine line between “historical revisionism” and “historical negationism”. If revisionism is done to present a new narrative that negates or denies people or events, then the exercise would not be objective.

by Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen Shaikh Mohd Salleh
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UK-Malaysia Ties: Then,now and the future

Monday, August 28th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaiming independence for Malaya on Aug 31, 1957, at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. (FILE PIC)

THE month of August bears witness to the commemoration of two diametrically contrasting independence movements, culminating in freedom from British colonial rule.

As the hour of midnight struck on Aug 14, 1947, the partition of British from India became reality when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress Party declared India an independent nation free from British colonial rule. A few hours previously, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League had claimed the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a homeland of the majority of India’s Muslim population.

A sordid and hasty retreat from the British Empire saw a forced two-way migration of populations — Muslims and Hindus — one of the largest in history, culminating in unspeakable acts of brutality and violence on both sides and resulting in over a million deaths.

If it had happened today, the British government would have been hauled in front of the International Court of Justice, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

Contrast this with a decade later on the Aug 31, 1957, when at the stroke of midnight, a proud Tunku Abdul Rahman uttered the words “Merdeka” (Independence) seven times at the packed Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, thus proclaiming Malaya (later to become Malaysia) independent from Britain.

The difference to the chaotic partition of India could not be more stark — a peaceful transition of power following relatively amiable talks between Malayan leaders and their erstwhile colonial masters.

“Today, a new page is turned,” declared Tunku in his historic address. “And Malaya steps forward to take her rightful place as a free and independent partner in the great comity of nations — a new nation is born and though we fully realise that difficulties and problems lie ahead, we are confident that, with the blessing of God, these difficulties will be overcome and that today’s events, down the avenues of history, will be our inspiration and our guide.”

Talking about Midnight’s Children, it just happens that my wife, Leila, is a “Merdeka baby”, not born on the stroke of midnight but a couple of weeks before independence at the main hospital in Singapore, then part of the Federation of Malaya, but who had grown up in Petaling Jaya and schooled at Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, where her English-born mother was a teacher.

Her father, Shaykh Sir Dr Mohamed Zaki Badawi KBE, OBE, was a prominent Egyptian Azaharite scholar, who was despatched to Malaya with fellow Azharite Shaykh Abdul Rauf, to establish a Muslim College that later became Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

In 1956, he moved to Universiti Malaya, then in Singapore, transferring to the Kuala Lumpur campus in Peninsular Malaya, teaching Arabic and Islamic Studies.

His students included scions of Malaya, who later went on to achieve high office in politics, the civil service, academia and business. They include the young Tun Musa Hitam, who went on to become deputy prime minister of Malaysia in the government of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

My wife’s earliest post-Merdeka recollection, I am afraid, was more mundane albeit befitting a toddler of 28 months — her close affinity to her Aya, who was effectively her surrogate mother who taught her the Malay language, and her usurper newborn sibling Faris, who had suddenly dominated the attention of her parents and visitors alike.

Dr Badawi was endeared to Malaya/Malaysia and contributed inter alia with others to the development of Islamic studies and Islamic finance in the decade after independence.

He, for instance, had cooperated with Royal Professor Ungku Aziz, the prominent Malaysian economist, founder of Angkasa cooperative movement and father of Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, when she was governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, to establish Lembaga Tabung Haji in 1963.

Ungku Aziz wrote the concept paper for Tabung Haji, while Dr Badawi gave the fatwa (legal opinion) endorsing the establishment of the institution. Dr Badawi also cooperated with the Islamic Affairs Department at the Prime Minister’s Office, Islamic Development Department and had a close relationship with several Malaysian prime ministers advising them on Muslim affairs especially abroad, and also served on the Syariah Advisory Boards of Bank Negara and Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority.

Years later, he gave a landmark fatwa to Malaysian Islamic bankers endorsing their use of Bay Al-Dayn (sale of debt) in transactions. He defended the differences in syariah opinions relating to Islamic financial law, stressing that if Muslims can tolerate variations in the rules governing their relationship to God, then surely they can accept variations in the rules governing financial contracts.

Indeed, one of the countries that Malaysia has been forging close relations in Islamic finance over the last 35 years is Britain. The two countries have shared a common bond and relationship that first started in the 17th century. But this year’s 60th anniversary of Merdeka also marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Putrajaya and London.

These relations have had their ups and downs. But, there have been more about spats between friends rather than adversaries.

Malaysia is the United Kingdom’s second largest trading partner within Asean, while the UK is Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner within the European Union. UK-Malaysia trade totalled to £2.76 billion (RM15.2 billion) in 2015.

By Mushtak Parker.

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Boys who saw their hopes come true

Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Foch Avenue in Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s. FILE PIC

IT was only a few more days before Merdeka was declared in 1957. I had just turned 11 and was lounging with some boys at the corner of a quarters’ block in the Police Depot (now Pulapol), off Gurney Road in Kuala Lumpur.

We were barefooted and wearing shabby shirts and shorts, but were in an exuberant and expectant mood. Then, we got into lambasting the orang putih, who had to balik negeri soon.

None of them escaped our naive contempt and ridicule. High commissioners, government officials, traders, soldiers — we fired away unabashedly with our snide remarks.

“Now they will return home without a job. Maybe they will have to drive taxis and buses, or even beg for a living. Let them!”

The fervour and disdain was as intense as any young boy during those days could muster. We were also wishful and full of hope.

“We should be senang (well off) after this because we shall govern the country and have control of our kekayaan (wealth). We will not be poor anymore as we will get to own this wealth. We can defend the country and our soldiers will fight and defeat the pengganas komunis (communist terrorists or CTs) by ourselves.”

All these we gleefully said in between laughter and giggles.

There was only one lone cautious voice, a slightly older boy, who sounded out his apprehension as to whether things could happen that easily since the country was still undeveloped and not rich.

His concern was quickly dismissed by another boy as we continued to talk about the bliss that was to come. I had written about this before but will re-live it anyway as it is quite incredulous. It is an insignificant happening, yet a memorable one deeply etched in memory.

The conversations were reflective of the feelings at that time with the coming of Merdeka. They were also innocent expressions of our hopes and fears as boys. Boys who went on to become men, and be with the country on its journey forward and, eventually, to witness the present.

The feelings should not be too difficult to comprehend. We were of the generation born just after the war and survived the difficult post-war period. Then, we grew up during the period of the first Emergency, which was declared in 1948 and saw the consequences of the communist revolt on the Malay peninsula.

The conflict was a civil war, and we felt the threats, dangers and fears from perennial dusk-to-dawn curfews, the security checkpoints, the identification checks of people, the barbed wire entanglements and seeing soldiers and policemen of all shades, size and colour always around us.

In the air, ex-Battle of Britain pilots flew their fighters and bombers, at times dropping leaflets instead of bombs, which thrilled us as much as it reminded that the communist threat was real. At the same time, Radio Malaya and the Information Department broadcast frequently anti-communist messages and news of the Special Forces’ contacts with CTs, and their numbers killed or captured.

All of these were seen and felt while being conscious of our subservience to the orang putih, who remained unchallenged as the lord and tuan.

We were, therefore, in some disbelief that we would be gaining independence.

An uncertainty that was put to rest when the Union Jack was finally lowered and the flag of the Federation of Malaya raised in its place at the Selangor Club padang (now Dataran Merdeka).

The next morning, on Aug 31, Tunku Abdul Rahman formally declared the country’s independence and led all at Stadium Merdeka to shouts of Merdeka!

But, as the days went by, we realised that it took more than shouting “Merdeka” to build a country and a nation. It required vision, leadership, time and a lot of hard work and sacrifices. Thus, other than the immediate change of government and leadership, things moved rather slowly and gradually forward during the first few years of independence.

The Emergency was declared over in 1960 although the communist threat continued to loom. Hundreds of CTs remained active at the Malaya-Thailand border, operating from their sanctuary in southern Thailand. The government sought to contain this threat while focusing on the unity and uplifting of the standard of living of the population.

On the personal side, life continued to be hard for all of us at the Police Depot. In school, we had to survive only on my father’s low policeman’s pay.

The hopeful imaginings of bliss did not materialise as quickly as we had thought, and soon, they were temporarily forgotten. The older boy was right. We had first to study and work hard in order to attain progress and security.

The kampung stay during school holidays were the best times for us. It provided pure happy moments — gathering mangosteens, rambutans and durians when they were in season, and then pampered by my maternal grandmother when the better-off cousins were not around.

My mother and father became noticeably resigned to the drudgery of a hard life, constant work and the small rewards. Thankfully, they persevered without ever showing any sign of despair or of wanting to give up. This grit is their greatest example for me to follow in my own adult life.

A significant happening occurred in the late 1960s, when my father became the personal bodyguard of the Raja of Perlis, the third Yang Dipertuan Agong.

We were initially excited when we had to move into Istana Negara, but were quite dismayed by the small and windowless workers’ quarters. My parents, however, remained unperturbed and laboured constantly to make the quarters more habitable.


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Privilege to grow up in an independent nation

Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj proclaiming the country’s formal independence from Britain at Merdeka Stadium on Aug 31, 1957. FILE PI

AT the tender age of 7 nobody can be expected to be politically aware. Life was a take it as it is given.

The adults, though, were euphoric. Those in my family were noticeably overjoyed, something normally seen only during festivities such as weddings, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Safar (the second month of the Islamic calendar) to mention a few, or when long-lost cousins were found. This last my mother had the fortune to experience.

Radios and televisions, now ubiquitous, was then, at best, found in the wild imagination of those prone to fantasy. There was an unending refrain of “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!”. It provided a brief respite from the news which normally provided statistics on the number of Communist insurgents who were shot dead or had surrendered.

Why do I remember this? Well, as a child I dreaded the midday news and would pedal my tricycle so I would be out of earshot of this tragedy.

Now, however, I understand that this peninsula, dangling from the Isthmus of Kra, was being fought over. Indeed, the Federation of Malaya, as the newly independent nation came to be known, was a British colony struggling to regain its sovereign identity. The Communists were unwilling to gracefully accept the defeat of the Malayan Union and the Malays refused to give up their right to the land known as the Malay Peninsula. The British were trying to do the right thing and retain a foothold, all at once.

Unlike in neighbouring Indonesia, where the war of independence pitted the Pribumi against the Dutch colonisers, Malaya had to contend with a Communist insurgency or, if you like, a civil war of sorts.

But, reason triumphed and a compromise was struck even before the insurgents were defeated and Malaya gained independence on Aug 31, 1957.

Merdeka, I imagine was a merrymaking event unlike any other. It is, perhaps, comparable to victory day, the day when, for the masses, good triumphs over evil. While the bliss of innocence denied me the depth of emotion born of nationalist fervour, the years since have demonstrated how much freedom is to be treasured, how important the right to self-determination is to nation building.

I first noticed this when my father, a colonial civil servant, became part of the transitional administration. He had returned from Cardiff, Wales, armed with a degree. Some two years before independence the large colonial bungalows in the exclusive recesses of Kuala Lumpur were being filled by non-British officers who were shipped in to man the colonial civil service. Hence, my vivid recollection of the Pertunjukan Seni, Tarian dan Anika (Pesta) at the Lake Gardens in 1956, because we lived in Clifford Road and the lake was within walking distance.

A repeat of this grand and extraordinary jubilation has yet to happen. That the Pesta was etched into my young mind is testimony of this magnificent showpiece of nationhood. That year, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj returned from London with news of Malaya’s imminent independence. Malaya had negotiated her way to self-determination.

The first general election had occurred the year before. I vaguely recall (Tun) Ghafar Baba, then a schoolteacher, visiting our Melaka house in the run-up to the 1955 elections to garner support for the Alliance Party. My mother, a teacher, was a natural constituent. Once the Malayan Union was defeated the fight for an independent Malaya picked up pace and so palpable was the nationalist sentiment that even a child could feel it. The Alliance symbol, the political symbol which took Malaya into independence, was everywhere, including in our house.

Therefore, Merdeka was momentous for me in that there was the Pesta, a huge celebratory, fun-filled gala involving all Malayans. But, did I know it then? No, but I did know that somehow heroes were made as a result of the struggle for freedom.

Our traditional house in Melaka had the famed tangga batu (stone staircase) with exquisite tiles and a serambi (verandah) where a huge portrait of Soekarno, the liberator of the Indonesian islands, was hung.

Growing up in an independent, sovereign nation then is a privilege. But, the break-up of Malaysia was a low point, surpassed only by the May 13 riots. However, the highs must come with the lows for the one without the other makes national identity impossible. How would Malaysians know what is good when all they were ever privy to was a national struggle of words and more words, debate after debate and talking heads?

The country’s rich natural resources made it easier to develop. And, every five years or so, the people get to decide who will lead them. The race riots of 1969 therefore necessarily defined the route to be taken, a peaceful and stable one.

That 60 years of independence was all it took for Malaysia to achieve modernity is near miraculous. Politics aside, Malaysians have themselves to thank: the wisdom that has seen a long stretch of political stability; the recognition that prosperity comes through hard work; and, the realisation that reason must always take precedence over pride and prejudice.

I grew up with Chinese neighbours and sleepovers among us girls were natural. The aunty next door held prayer meetings and my parents never took exception. Both aunty and my mum were teachers and they walked to the school where they worked together and walked home together.


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Sixty years and growing

Thursday, August 10th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman during the Proclamation of Indpendence in 1957. There will be a re-enactment of the proclamation at this year’s National Day celebration.

I WAS born five years after Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed Malaya as “a free and independent partner in the great community of nations” in his speech at the Proclamation of Independence at the Merdeka Stadium 60 years ago.

So, when Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak announced that there was going to be a re-enactment of the 1957 Proclamation of Independence at this year’s National Day celebration, themed “Negaraku Sehati Sejiwa”, I felt quite excited.

The re-enactment at Dataran Merdeka will “bring Malaysians back to that historic day when we celebrated Merdeka 60 years ago”.

“This is also to remind all Malaysians to appreciate the sacrifices of our forefathers and educate the younger generation on the spirit of Independence,” he had said at a press conference after chairing a meeting on the National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations recently.

Exciting, yes, as we would re-live that moment in the country’s history.

My mother told me she was at Padang Pahlawan in Melaka on Feb 20, 1956, when Tunku first announced the date of the country’s Independence Day. He had just returned from London after three weeks of negotiations with the British. My mother was 16 years old then.

She was barely a year old when the Japanese invaded Malaya in 1941. The Japanese invasion not only left a deep wound in my maternal grandmother’s heart, but also an ugly scar on her left arm.

After her husband died in Muar when he was knocked down by a Japanese army’s truck, my grandmother and her three children, including my mother, left for Johor Baru. In an air raid, a bomb exploded near my grandmother, which left her injured.

Friends of my grandmother also remembered their “zaman Jepun” days, where they had to take their daughters into the jungle whenever they hear of the Japanese approaching their villages. Female family members as young as 11 were taught to lie flat on the ground, for fear of being found by the Japanese army.

Then, there was the communist insurgency. My mother remembered having to eat tapioca back then as food was scarce.

She spoke of taking refuge from the communists in the Kempas jungle in Johor Baru back then.

When she told my niece and nephew about this, they didn’t want to believe it at first. The Kempas they know is a neighbourhood with modern amenities, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets at the nearby Setia Tropika. In fact, Kempas is now part of Iskandar Malaysia.

My mother told us of women giving up their jewellery to help finance Tunku Abdul Rahman’s trip to London. I later found out about Datuk Siti Rahmah Kassim, who had spontaneously offered her gold bangle, a wedding gift from her father, during an Umno conference back then, when Tunku Abdul Rahman lamented that the party did not have funds to send him and his delegates to Britain for negotiations. She inspired so many other people to contribute their valuables, including rings, bangles, gold wristwatches, dress pins and brooches to fund the trip.

I consider myself lucky that I grew up with grandparents, parents and elders who lived through the struggles to gain Independence. I listened to their many stories. And these stories are passed on to the next generation as we want them to realise what our forefathers had gone through back then. We want them to source information on the country’s history from all avenues. We certainly don’t want them to be an ignorant lot.

What I know of that day is from history books, newspaper articles and stories told to me by my grandparents, parents and elders. The Union Jack was lowered at the stroke of midnight at Dataran Merdeka on the night of Aug 30, 1957. I read that it had rained that night. It was about half an hour before the ceremony signifying the end of British rule in Malaya that the rain stopped.


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Stamping Yap Ah Loy’s legacy

Monday, July 10th, 2017

PETALING JAYA: For all that he had given to lay the foundation for the growth of Kuala Lumpur, the descendants of Yap Ah Loy, who are now into the sixth generation, will surely want his contributions as the third Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur remembered as part of the nation’s history.

The family is, of course, delighted that soon, Yap’s name will be immortalised in stamps by Pos Malaysia.

James Yap Mook San, 79, the great-grandson of Yap, said people were free to debate whether Yap was the founder of Kuala Lumpur or not.

“But you cannot change history. It is important to note that he helped to end the (Selangor) civil war in 1873.

“After the civil war right up to 1885, the town was ravaged by floods and fire. He did not run away. He rebuilt the town within three to four years,” he said during a gathering of Yap’s fourth to sixth generation descendants in Kelana Jaya yesterday.

James, who lived with Yap’s second son Loong Shin for about five years, added that one of Yap’s strategies that helped him win the war was the bamboo cannon experts he brought in.

“Yap also knew the routes that the enemy came in from, such as Rawang, Kepong and Pahang. He also camouflaged pit traps and many fell inside them, giving Yap the time to attack,” he added.

“Immediately after the war, he went into rebuilding the town by setting up accommodation for employees, hospitals, schools a temple and a market,” said James.

“He also introduced street lights with hanging kerosene lamps.”

Datuk Kevin Lai Tak Kuan, who headed the organising of Yap’s annual memorial ceremony to commemorate his contributions, said it is important to highlight that stories about Yap were not fabricated or sensationalised.

Lai revealed that commemorative stamps and first-day covers featuring images of Yap would be rolled out within a month, as a homage to the kapitan.

James, who suggested the commemorative stamps years ago, said it was not only a proud moment for Yap’s descendants but also people from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

“It is unfortunate that he died young (aged 48) but thank God, the foundation (for the growth of Kuala Lumpur) had already been laid,” he said.

James’ son Glenn, who is in his 40s, hailed Yap as the key figure in developing Kuala Lumpur by putting in infrastructures and public amenities.

“During the 1880s when the town was hit by fires and floods, wooden buildings and structures were destroyed.

“Frank Swettenham, the British Resident of Selangor, ordered buildings to be constructed using bricks. Yap led the way by setting up a brick factory,” said Glenn, adding that the place is now Brickfields.

Yap, a Hakka from Huizhou, was born on March 14, 1837. He left China for Melaka when he was only 17 and arrived in Kuala Lumpur when he was 25. He started off as a miner and petty trader and his fortunes improved when his friend Liu Ngim Kong became the Chinese kapitan.


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