Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Khoo Kay Kim: An oral history appointment fated not to be

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
File picture of Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim at his home during an interview after winning the 2018 Merdeka Award in the outstanding scholastic achievement category for his contribution to the scholarly research, development of reinterpretation of Malaysian history and lifetime dedication in history education. Pix by NSTP/Asyraf Hamzah

HISTORY is what happened in the past. And the past can also be fated not to be, at the same time. On the Tuesday morning of May 28, I was initially slotted for an oral history session with Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim, widely regarded as the nation’s historian.

That interview was destined not to be. It was earlier postponed as Khoo was hospitalised. An earlier attempt was also scheduled on the morning of the 28th day of the month. It was February. The initiatives were part of the Perdana Leadership Foundation efforts at documenting ideas and moments on the nation’s past. But on Monday of the last week of February, I was informed that the interview was called off: “The doctors need to run a few more tests on him,” said the WhatsApp message.

It was a coincidence that my column in Higher Ed last month on Wednesday, May 29, the day after Khoo’s demise, was on the use of newspapers as historical sources.

And I cited the late professor’s book titled Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu sebagai Sumber Sejarah (1983).

When I started my academic career at the then School of Mass Communication, Institut Teknologi MARA in 1986, Khoo’s writings were heavily used and referred to in my Journalism and Communication courses. It was unusual for the work of a historian to be used in a communication and journalism school in Malaysia — then in the early 1970s and even now.

Then I was teaching an introductory course on Journalism, where the focus was on newspapers and periodicals. The structure of the course was divided into three portions — the organisation, the producer and the product. For each, I would approach from a socio-historical perspective. This led to the need for some pertinent local literature to meaningfully understand the abstract and the context. There were few books then bearing on the sociology or history of Malay newspapers and journalism, or for that matter similar materials with reference to the national context.

One was W.R. Roff’s The Origins of Malay Nationalism (1967). Roff devoted a significant part of the book to the role of Malay and Malay-language journalism and newspapers, their leading editorial figures and opinion leaders from the early 1800s to the birth of Utusan Melayu (1939). I was looking for more context in narrating newspapers to society. Roff was useful enough. However, this led me to two works by Khoo pertinent to what I had imagined for the course. One is Malay Society: Transformation and Democratisation (1991), which I added as reference. The other was the 1983 Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu published by Perpustakaan Universiti Malaya. The latter in addition to Roff’s were my initial references on the socio-historical corpus on Malay newspapers. Malay Society: Transformation and Democratisation provided the context in understanding the how and why of the evolution of Malay newspapers and journalism.

There was also Ahmat Adam’s 1992 book Sejarah dan Bibliografi Akhbar dan Majalah Melayu Abad Kesembilan Belas.

A.F. Yassin’s Etika dan Wartawan: Satu Kajian Ke di Malaysia (1986) provided some discussion on ethics. The work was based on the author’s M.A. thesis in 1980 for Universitas Padjadjaran in Indonesia.

Khoo’s Majalah dan Akhbar Melayu sebagai Sumber Sejarah demonstrated his perspective on and insights into newspapers and journalism as legitimate objects and sources of study about society, Malay society in particular.

And in his autobiography I, KKK: The Autobiography of a Historian (2017), Khoo recalled his engagement with newspapers as a student of history.

“…one of my principle resources for research was old newspapers, such as the Prince of Wales Island Gazette, Malaya’s oldest newspaper. I found them to be a great source of information for those wanting to know about the past. Until today, I have a fascination for reading Malaya’s old newspapers. Visitors to my office are often bemused at the piles of newspapers that rise from floor to ceiling.” (Khoo Kay Kim, 2017: pages 124-125)

I experienced the “piles of newspapers” in the late 1980s when I entered his room for an article I wanted to publish in a journal I was editing. The article was on Walter Makepeace (1859-1941), journalist and editor of the Singapore Free Press.

In I, KKK, the late historian argued that there is no easier way to find out about the past, without which it will be difficult to understand the present. To him, newspapers seized the mood of the times. Khoo had a fair sense of the logic of journalism and newspapers, their importance in public education. He recalled that in the past, local newspapers were important because they played the role of publishing talks and lectures by the more educated segments of society.

In the course of witnessing the early development of the nation, Khoo began to be approached by journalists “who liked to discuss the country’s affairs. I would lead them into a discussion of history, which they knew very little about.” (Khoo Kay Kim, 2017: page 130)

How well do we know our past? Before the interview that never happened, a list of questions was drafted — of the past, present and future of the nation and of the man generally regarded as a historian of Malaysia. There were 25 questions.

Broadly what we would have discussed would cover the times of his life and how that has shaped the person, the teaching and appreciation of history, his publications, the future of Malaysia and how he wants his legacy to be remembered. And sports, P. Ramlee and national unity.

By A. Murad Merican.

Read more @

May 13 and societal insecurity

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
A dated picture of a deserted Kuala Lumpur during the May 13, 1969 incident with security forces on patrol. FILE PIC

THE incident of May 13, 1969 had been regarded by most historians, political scientists and sociologists as an event symbolising “the worst racial riot” in the history of Malaysia’s post-independence period.

Analysed from the perspective of security studies, however, the incident was a testimony to Malaysia’s political and societal insecurities experienced by our people in the aftermath of the 3rd General Election.

In his book, People, State and Fear (1991), Barry Buzan explained that “political security concerns the organisational stability of states, systems of government and the ideologies that give them legitimacy”. He also stated that “societal security concerns the sustainability, within acceptable conditions for evolution, of traditional patterns of language, culture and religious and national identity and customs”

The May 13 incident threatened Malaysia’s political security because it had disrupted our system of parliamentary democracy; and had affected the day-to-day management of our country through the cabinet system. Its threat to democracy was reflected by the suspension of the Malaysian Parliament. Its impact on the country’s management system was evidenced by the setting up of the National Operations Council (NOC) as an emergency government.

The above were enforced from May 1969 until the restoration of democratic rule in 1971. Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, the then home affairs minister, said that within the above period, “democracy is dead in this country. It died at the hands of the opposition parties who triggered off the events leading to this violence” (The Straits Times, May 19, 1969).

Whether this statement was correct or otherwise, the fact remains that the May 13 incident had truly damaged Malaysia’s national unity, religious harmony, public order and national security.

Arjunan Narayanan and Kamarulnizam Abdullah, on the other hand, wrote in Keselamatan Nasional Malaysia (2013), “the incident of May 13, 1969 communal crisis was the turning point in Malaysia’s political system”. It had changed “the structure of Malaysia’s race relations”. More importantly, “it had brought about a new transformation to Malaysia’s nation-building process”.

The incident also had jeopardised Malaysia’s societal security. In his book, May 13, 1969: A Historical Survey of Sino-Malay Relations (1983), Leon Comber said that “the government acknowledged that the riots were caused by “ethnic polarisation and animosity”. This was because the incident was believed to have resulted from intense politicking in GE3, particularly on Article 3 about Islam as the religion of the Federation, Article 152 on Bahasa Melayu as our national language, and Article 153 on the special position of the Malays and Bumiputeras.

As such, it was appropriate to consider that the incident of May 13, 1969, had severely affected the government’s efforts in managing race relations and nation-building. This was why it needed a special security management tool — the NOC system — as well as several new policies and short- term programmes to resolve it effectively.

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, for example, had dedicated his premiership (1971-1976) to resolve the problems of national unity, socioeconomic imbalance and disparity, as well as political instability.

On Aug 31, 1970, he announced the Rukun Negara or the National Doctrine to restore Malaysia’s fragile democracy, national unity and political stability. In 1971, he introduced the New Economic Policy as an instrument of “social re-engineering” through an affirmative action programme formulated by NOC.

Therefore, what else do we expect from the May 13 incident? Is it necessary for us to totally discard existing narratives about it as contained in various domestic literature; just because we
suspect a different version of it, especially because of its alleged prejudice against the non-Malays and the leadership of Tun Razak?

Is it necessary for us to pressure our government to declassify documents and data related to it? Can this move enhance our understanding of Malaysia’s political and societal security? What if the classified documents are politicised to further threaten national unity and national identity?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as Malaysia’s chief executive of security management, had said that the government “will study” any request to declassify the documents. This is politically correct because the government had emphasised transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

But would it be politically inappropriate if the majority of us believed that the PH government should continue declassifying the information? Would it be pertinent if we suggest that the incident be studied from the perspective of security management structure and strategy?

The status of Malaysia as a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious state should have motivated the government to encourage the people to conduct studies on the security management strategy of the NOC. As suggested by some analysts, the findings of this research should be incorporated into existing SOP on crisis management concerning Malaysia’s political security and societal security.

By Datuk Dr Ruhanie Ahmad.

Read more @

Yearender2018: Malaysians vote for change

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

The year 2018 will go down in the history books as the year Malaysians reset the nation’s course. On May 9, Malaysians took a leap of faith and embraced change for the first time by voting in an Opposition pact – Pakatan Harapan – to serve as the federal government.

The coalition made up of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, PKR, DAP and Amanah now holds 118 of the 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat. Barisan Nasional, previously in power for 61 years before losing the 14th General Election, is now down to 37 seats.

Many of the component parties have left the coalition, leaving the party with only three core members – Umno, MCA and MIC.

In Umno, a spate of resignations by its members of parliament since the general election have left the party nearly crippled and its leadership in crisis.

Two other major political forces emerged when the balance of power shifted. The first is PAS with 18 parliament seats, the second is Gabungan Parti Sarawak, a four-party pact with 19 parliament seats which governs the state.

By voting in a new government, Malaysians also opted for the return of a familiar face. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad leads Malaysia for the second time, earning the 93-year-old a Guinness record as the world’s oldest prime minister.

Widening inequality, rising prices, corruption, the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal and a sense that Malaysia was going astray created a wave of people power that grew and unseated Barisan.

Race and religious issues though, continue to cast a shadow over the country, while the large national debt, financial mismanagement and corruption scandals inherited from the previous administration have delayed Pakatan’s bid to fulfil a number of its election pledges.

Many challenges lie ahead, but this year will be remembered as the year we came together to create a New Malaysia. – Razak Ahmad

From Prison To Parliament


Photo: Bernama

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim went from prison to palace, and then to parliament this year. The political fortune of Pakatan Harapan’s choice as the next prime minister saw a dramatic turnaround as Malaysians voted for change at the ballot box in the 14th General Election (GE14).

Anwar had been sacked as deputy prime minister on Sept 2, 1998 and charged later that year for corruption and sodomy. He was sentenced to six years for corruption and nine for sodomy.

Released from prison in 2004 after the federal court overturned his sodomy conviction, in 2008, he was again charged with sodomy. Acquitted in January 2012, this was overturned by the court of appeal in March 2014, and Anwar had to serve a five-year jail term.

Two days after GE14, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted Anwar a full and immediate pardon. He was released from prison on May 16, and on that same day, granted an audience by the King at the royal palace.

In October, Anwar won the Port Dickson parliamentary by-election held after the incumbent vacated the seat to make way for him to contest, and the following month, Anwar, who was the sole candidate for top position in PKR at the party’s national congress, was officially announced as PKR president. – Razak Ahmad

Tale Of Two Chief Ministers


Voters gave Pakatan Harapan a resounding win in parliament, but no clear winner emerged in the election for the 60 state seats in Sabah.

The then-ruling Sabah Barisan Nasional led by Tan Sri Musa Aman won 29 seats on May 9. It was equal to the tally of Parti Warisan Sabah and its Pakatan Harapan allies, DAP and PKR.

The deadlock was broken when Barisan won support of Parti Solidariti Tanah AirKu (Sabah STAR), winning the remaining two seats in the assembly. Musa was sworn in as chief minister by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin on May 10.

However, Barisan’s majority was erased when component party Upko quit the coalition, followed by the defection of six Umno assemblymen. Things tilted in favour of Warisan and its Pakatan allies, and Warisan president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal was sworn in as chief minister on May 12.

Musa sought a court declaration that he was the legitimate chief minister to nullify Shafie’s appointment. However, he became the focus of the authorities after he left the country following a police report lodged by Juhar against him.

In November, Sabah’s political uncertainty finally ended with the High Court declaring Shafie as the legitimate chief minister. – Fatimah Zainal

Charged For Corruption


Photo: Bernama

True to its commitment to uphold the rule of law, the Pakatan Harapan government lost no time in prosecuting those allegedly involved in corruption. A first in Malaysian history, the country witnessed a former prime minister and his wife arrested for graft charges.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was first arrested on July 3, and on the next day, slapped with charges related to the 1MDB scandal. This happened two months after police authorities raided his residences,  and seized luxury possessions and cash.

Najib later faced more charges related to money laundering, bribery and criminal breach of trust (CBT), with the total number of charges against him to date standing at 38.

His wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was first charged on Oct 3 for money laundering involving more than RM7mil. Fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, who is at the centre of the 1MDB scandal, was charged in absentia on Dec 4.

The anti-corruption crackdown also stretched its hand to many other senior officials linked to the previous administration. Among them were Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, hauled to court for 45 corruption charges, and Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, charged for allegedly receiving RM3mil in bribes from property developers during his tenure as federal territories minister.

Baling MP and Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim was also charged over corruption and money laundering allegations. – Clarissa Chung

Toughest Year By Far.

This year has not been kind to MCA, which turned 69. It won only three seats (one parliamentary seat and two state seats ) out of the 129 seats contested – its worst electoral performance in history.

Winning the Ayer Hitam parliamentary seat for the fourth time, Dr Wee Ka Siong is the only MCA MP. He was elected MCA president in November.

“It has been six months down the road and we are learning and doing our best in our new role,” he said, adding the party accepted the people’s decision at the ballot box and is focused on being an effective Opposition. – Foong Pek Yee

Looking Into The Minority

For more than a decade, Senator P. Waytha Moorthy has been at the forefront of the Malaysian Indian dilemma. First with Hindraf, then as an exile, and later with a short spell in the Barisan administration. Now, he is with the National Unity ministerial portfolio in the Pakatan government.

The narrative that a majority of the Indian minority has been marginalised is borne out by lower life expectancy, disproportionately low business ownership, and higher crime rates.

by Martin Vengadesan
Read more @

Non European history: Out of place and outside the West

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018
The Stadthuys of Melaka. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility.

LET us begin with this statement: European history invariably serves as a template for all history, even when we are least aware of it, or writing history in opposition to Eurocentric history. Malaysian history, and what is true of the nation’s history, is true of nearly every national history where the categories such as ancient, medieval and modern, for example, that have informed the study of the European past are assumed to be the “natural” categories through which one might interpret any history.

The problem in post-colonial states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and India, for example, is the national project for a post-independence history. These nations were made to partake in things “national”, hence the phrase “national history”, in part for the reason that history occupies a distinct place in the evolution and framework of the modern nation-state. Writing on “History ‘outside’ the ‘West” (2012), historian Vinay Lal begins with James Mill’s early 19th century “History of British India”, a voluminous work that until the end of the last century, remained the standard narrative of the Indian past.

The periodisation between ancient, medieval and modern, is not unproblematic, but quite commonplace. Vinay focused his arguments on Indian history, saying that Mills characterised ancient India as “Hindu” and rendered medieval India as “Mahomedan”. Along the way, the word “medieval” has come to represent not merely a chronological stage of history. It is a state of mind — a state characterised by the lack of reason, disregard for progress, and primitivism in thought, belief and conduct. It is like periodising the time of the Melaka Malay Sultanate as the medieval period in the history of Malaysia.

“Medieval” equates that period in the Malay Peninsular with that of Europe. But conditions were different. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility. Europe was primitive then. With reference to India, Mill’s history demonstrated he was fully aware that north India, in second millennium CE, had come firmly under Muslim rule, commencing at least with the Delhi Sultanate, and he may have some knowledge of some Muslim sultanate in the Deccan, though like most colonial, and many contemporary historians and commentators of India, he had fallen into the habit of supposing that the history of north India could effortlessly be passed off as the history of the entirety of India.

Vinay’s argument was to establish a number of fundamental principles in the writing and interpretation of history. Apart from European history serving as a template for all history, he described European history as assuming a temporal linearity. This perspective sees the movement from the ancient age to the modern age, also the gravitation from slavery to liberty, from religious life to secularism, and from a life embedded in community to individualism. According to Vinay, the narrative from the most bitter conflicts readily becomes relics of the medieval age. The “fanaticism” of the Serbian nationalist, the Hindu fundamentalist and the (Islamic) terrorist are examples of an existentially troubled journey towards freedom.

People outside of Europe, those in Southeast Asia, and India for example, are condemned to live in someone else’s history, with consequences that have been seen across all domains of life. Europe’s past is “our present”. When at long last, “the native arrives at the destination, it is only to discover that the European has moved to another station, leaving only his baggage to be collected by natives”.

As a corollary to the above, it becomes imperative to understand that much of history is not merely Eurocentric, but in fact European history. Other histories are thus ancillary histories, the limbs to the body of European history, illustrating strands of European culture, thought and consciousness. To ourselves, the visible and invisible non-European self is distorted by Eurocentrism. The final fundamental principle was that most British histories of Britain are still oblivious to the history of colonialism — that itself alters the history of Europe and that of the entire West. There is no bridging discourse and assumes the absence of any influence by Asian and African histories upon British history, culture and politics.

The colonised had no place in world history, according to the dominant narrative. Being out of place does not necessarily originate from the metropolitan West. Many non-Western countries, including Malaysia, have their share of problems with regards to decolonise received narratives. We are oblivious to the process of taking possession of the past. Both in history, the arts and the social sciences, colonial frameworks of knowledge still linger. The desired “national” narrative is deeply contested amongst scholars, intellectuals and the laity. The activism of civil society and politicians has only exacerbated the problem.

By A Murad Merican.

Read more @

UN objectives rely on a united nation.

Friday, October 26th, 2018

THE Federation of Malaya became a member of the United Nations within three weeks of Merdeka, with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad saying, “In the field of external affairs (we will be) on the most friendly terms with all countries in the world.”

External Affairs Ministry secretary-general Ghazali Shafie said, “Towards the maintenance of international peace and security, the federation government is pledged to uphold the Charter of (the) United Nations.”

The Alliance Party’s manifesto for the 1959 election stated the same.

The current government made a strong statement of support for the UN on its 73rd anniversary on Wed­nesday, saying it remains the best body to address global problems.

Echoing Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly, the ministry’s deputy secretary-general expressed hope that the Security Council would be reformed, in particular so that the veto should be valid only if two permanent members and three non-permanent members agree, with an additional simple majority vote by the General Assembly.

Malaysia’s long relationship with the UN can be summarised with an array of acronyms. Locally, UNDP, UNFPA, Unicef, UNHCR, WHO, UNU and WFP have been active, and UNDSS, Unaids, Unido, Unesco, UN Women and OHCHR have agency heads here.

We are a member of Unctad, Uncitral, FAO, Icao, Ifad, ILO, IMO, ITU, UPU, Wipo, WMO and UNWTO. Many of these come under the UNDG and most of them are coordinated by Ecosoc (which a Malaysian headed in 2010).

Malaysia is also a member of the IMF and WBG, which are technically part of the UN system, as well as CTBTO Prep Com, OPCW, IAEA and WTO, which maintain strong relations with the UN.

Cyberjaya houses service centres of two UN agencies: the Global Service Centre of WHO since 2008 and the Global Shared Services Centre of UNDP since 2012.

Currently, Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif serves as UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of the UN Human Settle­ments Programme. Other Malaysian women who have served in the UN include Tan Sri Rafiah Salim, who was Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, and Datuk Mazlan Othman, who was director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Don’t confuse UNHCR with UNCHR (where Datuk Param Cumaraswamy served as a Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers from 1994 to 2003), which was replaced by UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) in 2006, of which Malaysia was a member from 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2013.

But Malaysia controversially failed to be re-elected in 2017. This body is supervised by OHCHR, where a Malaysian has served as a member of one of the Working Groups.

However, no Malaysian judge has yet sat in the UN-established ICJ nor the ICC (which is separate but cooperates with the UN) – we are not a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the latter. Nor are we a signatory to the Convention Relat­ing to the Status of Refugees, although the government has promised to ratify it and its 1967 Protocol.

The Malaysian Armed Forces have participated in 36 UN peacekeeping operations (each with its own acronym, of course) involving over 35,000 personnel since 1960. Currently, Malaysia is involved in six peacekeeping operations.

And at the highest levels of the UN System, Malaysia supplied the president of the General Assembly in 1996 through Tan Sri Razali Ismail, who later served as the UN secretary-general’s Special Envoy for Myanmar from 2000 to 2005.

Malaysians served as president of the Security Council seven times during the four periods when Malaysia was a non-permanent member: 1965, 1989-1990, 1999-2000 and 2015-2016.

The latest was Datuk’ Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was then deputy prime minister.

At the UN Day anniversary event this week, the United Nations Award was presented to Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, the MyKasih Foundation and the Ozone Unit of the Department of Environment for their contributions towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

In recognising activists, civil society as well as the government, the UN has signalled that its objectives are not limited to the efforts of governments alone, and I hope the government’s policies will show that it agrees wholeheartedly.

By Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

Read more @

Leading the nation’s tertiary education

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj addressing a 2,000-strong crowd who turned up to witness University of Malaya’s convocation ceremony on Sep 21, 1957..

THE year 1957 was a historic moment for Malaysia’s higher education sector.

It was during this time that a branch campus of the University of Malaya (UM) was temporarily set up at the Kuala Lumpur Technical College in Lembah Pantai in the capital’s southwest.

The university came into being on Oct 8, 1949 with the merger of the King Edward VII College of Medicine (founded in 1905) and Raffles College (founded in 1928).

UM derives its name from the term “Malaya” as the country was then known. The Carr-Saunders Commission on University Education in Malaya, which recommended the setting up of the university, noted in its report in 1948: “The University of Malaya would provide for the first time a common centre where varieties of race, religion and economic interest could mingle in joint endeavour. University of Malaya must inevitably realise that it is a university for Malaya.”

The university saw rapid growth in the first decade of its establishment and this resulted in the setting up of two autonomous divisions on Jan 15, 1959, one in Singapore and the other in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1960, the governments of the two territories wanted to change the status of the divisions into that of a national university: the Singaporean one later becoming the National University of Singapore and the one in Kuala Lumpur being UM. Legislation was passed in 1961 and UM was established on Jan 1, 1962.

On June 16, 1962, UM celebrated the installation of its first chancellor, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who was the first prime minister. The first vice-chancellor was Professor Alexander Oppenheim, a renowned mathematician.

UM is one of five local public universities with the research university status. The others are Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.


Read more @

History as first M’sian woman DPM leads the swearing-in

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Kuala Lumpur: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail led a line-up of 13 Cabinet ministers in taking their oath of office, loyalty and secrecy before Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V at Istana Negara here today.

The swearing-in, which took place at the Singgahsana Kecil (Minor Throne Room) of the palace, was witnessed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Also present was his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.

The ceremony began at 5.45pm with the acceptance of the instrument of appointment by Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president, as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women and Family Development.

She then took her oath and signed the official instrument of appointment, witnessed by Chief Justice Tun Raus Sharif and Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa.

Then, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin; DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu took their oath together as the Home Minister; Finance Minister and Defence Minister, respectively.

Simpang Renggam MP Dr Maszlee Malik; Titiwangsa MP Rina Harun and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali took their oath together as the Education Minister; Rural Development Minister and Economic Affairs Minister, respectively.

Subsequently, PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin, DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke and DAP deputy chairman Gobind Singh Deo took their oath together as the Housing and Local Government Minister; Transport Minister and Communications and Multimedia Minister, respectively.

Then, Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran and Amanah strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad took their oath together as the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister; Human Resource Minister and Health Minister, respectively.

Dr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh Prime Minister on May 10, a day after Pakatan Harapan won the country’s 14th General Election after defeating the Barisan Nasional which had been in power for 61 years.

Read more @

Unusual beginnings of Penang’s oldest mosque

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The Masjid Kapitan Kling is situated on an 18 acre piece of land granted by the British East India Company in 1801.

THE ageing piece of newspaper cutting slips out from between the pages of a book I just acquired from the Penang flea market. Not daring to grab it in mid air out of fear of crumpling the fragile parchment, I patiently allow it to come to rest on the carpet in my Magazine Road hotel room before picking it up for a closer look.

My heart skips a beat when it turns out to be part of the Penang Shimbun, an English language daily published during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. Dated Aug 27, 2603, it announced, among other things, the date for local Muslims to commence fasting during that particular year, which coincided with 1943 in the English calendar.

The declaration, made at the Penang Muslim Association by Syed Hashim Idrus who represented the state’s Board of Kathis, stated that Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley would begin their fast on Sept 1 or a night earlier, depending on the sighting of the moon on the evening of Aug 31.

The paper went on to explain that Muslims the world over began their annual fasting on the first of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim calendar. The fast, which lasts for a full month, begins each day before the sun rises and ends with its setting below the horizon.

A prominent community leader, A.M. Yusuf Izzudin, was quoted in the text asking Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley to offer special prayers in mosques during the fasting period to seek divine intervention to help the Japanese Imperial Army win an immediate victory in the war.

Part of the newspaper cutting declaring Ramadan in 1943


This immediately brings to mind the oldest mosque in Penang, Masjid Kapitan Keling. This19th century place of worship, built by early Indian Muslim traders in George Town, must have surely been one of those places where these sanctioned prayers were held during World War II.

Located strategically at the corner of Lebuh Buckingham and another road that bears its name, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, this prominent Islamic centre originated from humble beginnings. Back in the 1800s, it became the first permanent Muslim institution to be established within a neighbourhood that was home to the Chulias, a significant sized Indian Muslim community which wielded considerable influence on the island.

At that time, George Town was growing at an exponential pace and there was a great need for residential homes, shops and godowns. In order to meet the demand for builders, Captain Francis Light requested for a large number of work force from the British East India Company (BEIC) in Calcutta. This request, and subsequent arrivals after 1787, led to the growth of the Chulia settlement.

On Jan 25, 1794, Light wrote that the Chulias who hailed from the ports along the Coromandel coast as well as from nearby Kedah were second only to the Chinese in terms of numbers. While most of them were shopkeepers, other members of this community earned their keep by working as traders, boatmen and labourers.

One prominent Chulia even became part of Penang’s six member civil administration. Long Fakir Kandu, who hailed from Kedah, held the prestigious position of writer and earned an annual salary of 360 Spanish Dollars.

Growth in Penang was spurred further when the colony received additional funding after becoming the fourth Presidency of India in 1805. A census ordered by the acting governor, Colonel Macalister five year later showed a total population of 24,422 with the Chulias numbering more than 5,600.

This relatively large number of Indian Muslims already had their own places of worship since the earliest years of the colony. A 1791 town map indicated the presence of two mosques south of, what was then known as, Chulier Street. One was on the present site of Masjid Kapitan Keling, while the other was located at the end of Queen Street.

The former catered primarily to the BEIC troops while the latter, known simply as Chuliar Mosque, was a prayer house erected by the Chulias who relocated from Kedah. At that time, both probably consisted of temporary wooden structures with attap roofs.

As the congregation size grew in tandem with the colony’s expansion, it became necessary to erect a more permanent place of worship. In 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Leith, appointed Cauder Mohudeen as Captain of the South Indian Keling community or Kapitan Keling in short.

Mohudeen was a ship’s foreman who hailed from Porto Novo, about 50 kilometres south of Pondicherry in India. On Nov 21, 1801 Leith executed Land Grant No. 367 which granted an a 7.2ha piece of land for Mohudeen to build a mosque on the south side of Malabar Street (today Lebuh Chulia). The grant clearly stated that the land could not be sold or transferred and ownership would immediately revert back to the BEIC once it ceased to be used for the religious purpose intended.

Over a period of two years, Mohudeen demonstrated leadership by bringing in builders, stones and bricks from South India to build the mosque. He turned to Tamil Nadu when seeking architectural inspirations for what was to become the original version of the present Masjid Kapitan Keling. Mohudeen had the artisans embellish the building with intricate details like miniature stepped minarets, oil lamp niches, heavy stucco mouldings, lattices and fine dentilation.

In 1803, a squarish building complete with a circular well on the southern section and main entrance along Lebuh Chulia was ready to receive its first congregation. Also, at around this time, the other mosque near Queen Street fell into disuse and its followers were believed to have moved to join the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling.

The Lebuh Campbell Market in George Town was built on former Muslim cemetery land.


This period of prosperity in Penang also saw the arrival of a significant number of Acehnese traders, who brought with them much sought after commodities like pepper and betel nut which the Chulia merchants exported to India in large quantities.

Like the Chulias, the Acehnese also saw the need to set up a place of worship of their own. By 1808, Masjid Melayu was established in Lebuh Acheen by Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Idid, a Hadhrami Arab merchant prince hailing from Aceh.

Masjid Melayu, a mere 300 metres from Masjid Kapitan Keling, was frequented by the Acehnese, Arabs, Malays, Bugis and other people of the Muslim faith from the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia).

The fate of both these places of worship became intertwined thanks to a dispute between the Masjid Melayu and Masjid Kapitan Keling followers during the early part of the 19th century. This disagreement eventually led to the birth of a unique Penang custom called masjid bergilir (alternating mosques) where the combined congregation had to alternate between the two places of worship each Friday.

Historical records are unclear as to when this incident took place exactly.

It’s only known that towards the end of the fasting month on one particular year, Sheikh Omar Basheer from Masjid Melayu announced the date of Hari Raya Puasa but his calculations were disputed by the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling. As a result, Basheer brought the Masjid Melayu cannon to Masjid Kapitan Keling and promptly fired it to declare the end of Ramadan. His provocative act didn’t go unnoticed by the mosque goers.

The next day, the community living around Masjid Melayu celebrated Hari Raya while those at Masjid Kapitan Keling continued their fast. One thing led to another and eventually a fight broke out between the two communities. During the ensuing melee, a youth from Armenian Street was badly beaten up and left to die in a nearby ditch.

The British authorities acted swiftly to prevent the chaos from escalating further. Three suspects were eventually arrested while another managed to escape by stowing away on a ship destined for Jeddah.

In order to mend ties, the two rival groups were ordered to alternate between the two mosques for Friday prayers. So, on each Friday, worshippers would all go to the appointed mosque and leave the other empty. This practice came to an end by the early 20th century when congregation size had grown considerably and both mosques had to be used at the same time.

The onset of the Indonesian Confrontation in the 1960s, however, saw a revival of this tradition. The armed insurgency by the Indonesian Army had put the Sumatran community living around Masjid Melayu in a bad light and their numbers began to dwindle. The lack of quorum to sustain the Friday prayers at Masjid Melayu led the authorities to reinstate the alternating mosque practice.

The wealthy Indian Muslims were a group of very influential people.


As I continue reading the rest of the newspaper cutting, it becomes clear that the Japanese Army only started having a clear policy towards Islam just a year before the parchment in my hand was printed. It reported that Friday prayers only resumed at Masjid Kapitan Keling during the onset of Ramadan which fell on Sept 4, 1942.

That period also saw the establishment of the Penang Islamic Advisory Council headed by Abdul Manan Nordin. Masjid Kapitan Keling was represented in this council by its head imam, Mohamed Abdullah while R. Kutaluddin and H. Sadar Ali stood in for the Indian Muslim community.

Apart from attending to the needs of the Muslim community and helping to strengthen ties with the Japanese Imperial Army, this newly-formed council was handed the responsibility of determining the accurate dates for subsequent Ramadan and Hari Raya Puasa celebrations.

The article continues with a rather vivid description of the previous year’s Hari Raya Puasa celebrations which fell on Oct 12, 1942. It said that about 5,000 Muslims assembled at the Chinese Recreation Club field at around 9.30 am to perform their traditional Aidil Fitri prayers. The ceremony started in earnest half an hour later with the arrival of General S. Katayama, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang.

I rub my eyes in disbelief when I reach the final part of the text. Once the prayers and sermon were over, the entire congregation got on their feet and changed their position from the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and began facing the direction of the Tenno Heika or Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

After the people had finished paying their respects to the Japanese Emperor, the ceremony ended with representatives from the various Muslim communities swearing allegiance and loyalty to the Imperial Japanese Army. They promised to uphold the peace and obey the laws in Penang.

The mosques promoted Quran reading among the people.


The people were so taken aback by the bizarre compulsory salutations in the direction of the Land of the Rising Sun that they began referring to Hari Raya Puasa celebrations during the Japanese Occupation as Raya Banzai.

The last Hari Raya celebrations held in Japanese-occupied Penang was on Sept 19, 1944. A grand affair was planned at Masjid Kapitan Keling but, by then, the long suffering people had become cynical of the Japanese and their increasingly obvious attempts to capitalise on religious occasions to gain political mileage.

Their anger were further stoked when the important Takbir Raya had to be interrupted half way due to the arrival of the Japanese Governor. They were forced to stand up and face east to pay respects to the Japanese Emperor. Their ire must have been quite visible for the imam had to appeal to everyone to remain calm during the close of his sermon.

By Alan Teh Leam Seng.

Read more @

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
Read more

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
Read more @