Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson: The "thriller" lives on

Shrine outside a music store in central London.
Michael Jackson continued to be on the front pages of all British newspapers. He has become more valuable in death. Overnight, he has topped the singles and album charts with UK radio stations playing his music non-stop. His songs have now become the most downloaded, chalking up record sales, partially driven by newspapers which campaigned for his fans to make him the No 1 over the weekend.

Certainly the UK media has not made the news of his death a one-day affair. Many tribute events have been lined up even as interesting bits of news come out - that MJ was a living skeleton, he was bald, he only ate once a day, he had 13 plastic surgeries and that his body was riddled with needle wounds.

The revelation that his personal will has not been found has added more mystery to the story. Why would a rich man, despite his mountain of debts, not keep a copy of his will? The man, even in death, has certainly made sure he dominated the front pages. The BBC has continued to provide daily "live" crossovers to Los Angeles.

At the O2 Arena, where he was supposed to perform in 50 shows - fans have placed flowers, candles, posters, messages and pictures at shrines as a mark of respect for him. I saw the same scene at the busy HMV Trocadero branch near Picadilly Circus and outside the Lyric Theatre, where the musical "Thriller" is being played.

It's becoming more difficult getting tickets for the show where reviewers have generally given nasty comments. People have been known to walk out of the show, which is sometimes described as patchy.

Meanwhile, out in the streets, young black men, known for showing off their audio gadgets in their cars, are playing loudly his songs, instead of the preferred hip-hop songs.

British politicians, however, must have expressed relief that the media has lost interest in them after weeks of having their expenses scrutinised by the media. For the time being, Michael Jackson is the man of the hour. The media frenzy is expected to peak at his funeral, which has not been determined, as autopsy reports are being compiled and investigations being conducted.

The Thriller is not about to abate...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Of burqas, mini-skirts and women's rights

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered a study of the wearing of burqas in his country with the possibility of banning it. He has said that the burqa, the full length veil with just a mesh screen for the eyes, is not welcomed in France. Sarkozy has described such clothing as "a symbol of servitude and humiliation."

He reportedly said “we cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind a mesh screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity”, but he stopped short of advocating a ban on burqas.

Sarkozy reminds me of PAS politicians who occassionally call for a ban on mini skirts and other "sexy" attire, blaming the wearers for the rapes instead of men who cannot exercise self restraint. Yes, the people who forget many sex crimes take place in rural settings where victims include grandmothers and minors, who hardly fit into the "sexy" category. Like Sarkozy, they talk about imposing a ban on clothing without thinking about the practicality and whether it is feasible to stop people from wearing clothes they like. What about their rights?

We may agree with Sarkozy but we should defend Muslim women who chose to wear the burqas and hijabs. Whether it is for religious modesty or requirements or simply because of cultural and sociological reasons, it's nobody's business. Certainly not Sarkozy's. At airports and exam halls, for example, they should be subjected to security checks, of course.

On the same principle, however, no one should stop women from wearing clothes they choose. Banning jeans, tight skirts or T-shirts is as outrageous as banning burqas. Who are these self appointed guardians of morality to decide on our choices? The moral crusaders should now know what it feels like when the likes of Sarkozy and other right-wingers start to ban burqas across Europe. As the saying goes, do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.

Farewell, Michael Jackson!

Michael Jackson is the icon of my generation. As a colleague of mine rightly pointed out, the tragic news of his death is the "Elvis" moment of our time, in reference to the death of the then King of Rock and Roll of the 60s generation.

For the 80s generation, the King of Pop was Michael Jackson. He was our undisputed King. No other news has been of relevance for the past few days. But now we mourn the passing away of a legend, who brought the world together much more than any politician.

In his words, his was a world of "neither black or white" and Michael went to great lengths to change that even physically himself. The world is grieving for him because he brought joy to all of us and we also saw the pain he had to go through from the child molest charges against him to his financial dire straits.

Many saw him as a money machine to be used. Despite his obvious poor physical condition, he was signed up to perform in 50 shows in London. It can only be described as sheer madness, if not exploitation. The tickets for the shows were all sold out in an hour.

But there was also a price to be paid as the man prepared for the tour. The toll must have been too much. Michael, the world would never forget you and your songs. Farewell.

See also my On The Beat column today.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An uneasy truce in PAS - picking up the pieces

It was unprecedented - the normally well-composed Nik Aziz losing his cool, lashing out at his deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa angrily, and 10 PAS MPs pledging their support for the spiritual leader. The signs were clear. Not just that, there was even talk of not putting up posters of party president Hadi Awang in a by-election. Something unheard of, until now.

It was clear that the two top PAS leaders, who had earlier supported moves for unity talks with Umno, had little choice but to retreat. The resentment was just too great. Their Pakatan Rakyat allies, DAP and PKR, were also not amused at the power play with even talk of forming a unity government, at the expense of the opposition.

The readiness of the two PAS leaders to take a different path has obviously gone down badly. It would be hard for them to regain the confidence of their allies. The relationship would never be the same again as it cannot be forgive and forget. Sheer political ambitions of possible ministerial positions, walking along Putrajaya's corridors of power, and carving out the different states seems to have ruled their heads, as much as they wish to deny.

Hadi's constant berate against having more non-Muslim elected representatives, as quoted in the Harakah, also revealed the dark side of him. His intolerance may be overlooked by fanatical supporters of PR but the fact is that he has become uncomfortable at the huge number of Sabah and Sarawak MPs, many of whom do not share his religious fervour, even if they are Muslims.

Husam Musa also found out that certain things would never change in PAS. PAS has never hidden its Islamic agenda. The conservatives voiced out loud that the top two posts should be reserved for ulamas. No matter how much reforms Husam can bring, he did not have a beard, as he himself said after he lost.

Within PAS, the party leaders have plenty of damage control to do now. Hadi and Nasharuddin cannot ignore the many leaders in Kelantan who were wiped out in the party polls. They may have put on a united front, blaming Umno and the media for their own weaknesses but the fact remains that there are still many unhappy faces in the party, who are still trying to make sense of the events of the past one week.

But they need to explore further. Have these talks with Umno been going on informally for sometime, which perhaps prompted them to take a step further. That's however academic now because the objections against the proposed unity talks has been strong. Still, the question is whether Hadi and Nasharuddin have taken two steps back as a strategy and temporarily shelved the idea for the time being. It looks like an uneasy truce.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Storm clouds gather, much disunity over unity talks

Nasharuddin Mat Isa and Hadi Awang: Their Tok Guru is not too pleased with them

The rift between PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat and party president Hadi Awang is finally out in the open. Nik Aziz today stunned party members by asking deputy president, Nasharuddin Mat Isa, to quit the party and join Umno. The statement has wide implications because Nasharuddin has the ears of party president Hadi Awang, who is also advocating unity talks with Umno.

The tone used by Nik Aziz is unusually strong and harsh, reflecting the high emotions, as he has asked Nasharuddin to quit his parliamentary seat which he "won under a PAS ticket." The Kelantan Mentri Besar also accused Nasharuddin of "causing a lot of problems" and "talking rubbish." Nik Aziz even described what Nasharuddin is doing as "immoral."

Party secretary-general Mustafa Ali, another ally of Hadi, issued a statement saying the talks should include PKR and DAP. It is not clear, at this point, whether the two parties would accept the proposal. It would be harder for PKR which cannot dismiss the sentiments of the Malay support but the question is whether PAS would go ahead if PKR declines. It seems to be aimed at appeasing the allies in Pakatan Rakyat.

In parts of Kota Baru, banners have appeared protesting against the unity talks proposal, reflecting the deepening split between Nik Aziz and Hadi. It will be even more difficult for Nasharuddin, who is an MP for a Kelantan seat, with Hadi getting his support in Terengganu. Both Nik Aziz and Nasharuddin have accused each other of acting on their own, saying their stand did not reflect the sentiments of the party members.

But the bottom line is this - Nasharuddin and his men won most of the seats in the leadership in the recent general assembly, when party delegates were already well aware of their plans for unity talks. Hadi and Nash can claim endorsements and the fact their men swept the key positions would have strengthened their case.

PAS is aware that should the unity talks go ahead, it would put PKR and DAP in a weaker position. The ulamas know they are being wooed by Umno and PKR and DAP. If Umno and PAS sit down, it would be a blow to Pakatan. PKR and DAP need PAS badly because it has the best machinery and structure.

The religious zeal of PAS members, believing they are pushing for an Islamic agenda, also set them apart from the PKR and DAP supporters. Anwar Ibrahim seems to be scrambling to glue the opposition alliance together but the message he would probably get from Hadi is that he should not take PAS for granted.

Hadi wants to play big brother in Pakatan. He wants to dictate the course of PR, not PKR or DAP. Hadi is not used to playing second or third fiddle, The frustrations among PAS members is that they have been taken for a ride.

Many are uneasy with the aggressive nature of some DAP elected representatives, pointing out the antics at the Perak assembly, which they said would not be approved by the Malay community. Some PAS leaders have expressed their unhappiness in private with claims that they have been "sidelined" in PR and that DAP appears to be playing a more prominent role.

The events of the coming weeks would have great impact on the political landscape of the country, particularly the political equation. The monsoon season has come to the East Coast much quicker this year. We can expect more angry statements over the coming days.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Umno-PAS unity talks - a step nearer?

It's the strongest response ever - PM Najib has described the call by PAS for unity talks between Umno and PAS as "sincere" and that the government was open to such talks. His key words were "willing" and "open" and that Umno was prepared to consider any proposal from PAS raised by the Islamist party.

Deputy PAS president Nashruddin Mat Isa, who is a big supporter of such talks, has responded positively to Najib's statement, but as a safety net, said the party would not be a stooge of Umno. This is probably to appease PAS members who are against the proposal.

But today's development is significant as it could set the stage for a new political landscape if the two biggest parties decide to sit down and work in common areas. Premature as it may seem, it could also be the beginning of something bigger now that the top guns have sent the right signals.

Even PKR has reacted cautiously to the proposal for unity talks by saying it would not object to such talks. The party is obviously aware that the sentiments of the Malay electorate, the largest core of voters, which want the two parties to work together. To object to such talks would be going against the sentiments of a large section of the community, particularly the Malay heartland. These two parties cannot afford to ignore the Malay-Islam agenda.

It is obvious that PAS is not comfortable with PKR leading the Pakatan Rakyat charge, with PAS leaders believing that they should be the one calling the shots. Hadi Awang is seen to be uncomfortable that the Islamic cause has been compromised by PKR and that DAP seems to be steering the course of the coalition.

It is no secret that while there were sympathies for the events leading to the collapse of the Pakatan-led Perak government and what had taken place at the Perak state assembly, there is also a great deal of quiet dissatisfaction over the aggressive nature of some PR elected representatives.

Then there is the question of Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial that would be coming up next month. There is some sense of nervousness as to what would crop up during the trial, even as the charges are being considered as a political frame-up.

But how the unity talks would take place is another thing. It could be open or just informal chats, away from the glare of the media and those against the idea. Or for that matter, if it takes place at all. Nik Aziz and his supporters would throw in everything to stop the talks and within the BN, there is also a need for Umno to explain to the other component parties what it is all about. Nash also said today that he would be meeting PR leaders to explain. In short - plenty to explain on both sides.

Interestingly, Anwar has quickly come out to diffuse the situation by saying that Hadi is committed to PR and will fully explain his views on the unity talks next Monday, the Star SMS Alert reported.

It would be easier, however, if PAS and Umno would agree that these meetings would simply be termed unity talks, instead of Malay or Muslim. A technical committee, comprising secretaries-general of PAS and Umno, could be set up to explore ideas and the logistics.

Zulkifli Nordin finds Nizar's actions too extreme

Nizar Jamaluddin's protest at Parliament is not getting the support of all opposition Members of Parliament. Zulkifli Nordin, the maverick PKR MP has blogged that he regretted the fracas yesterday, saying "we don't stoop to their low level," in reference to the BN.

He said the opposition should have been more restrained, civil and civilised. He said seeking legal redress was always a better option. Or they could take the case direct to the people through ceramahs or campaigns.

The Kulim Bandar Baharu elected representative said he understood the sentiments over what had taken place at the Perak State Assembly where the Speaker was forcibly evicted but asked whether the same tactics should be applied.

But besides PKR and DAP MPs, there were PAS MPs such as Mahfuz Omar, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli and Khalid Samad who appeared to back Nizar. They too were given the marching orders by the Speaker.

PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa told Agenda Daily that the party was not informed by Nizar of his actions, saying it was spontaneous.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Zulkifli Nordin defends PAS ruling on dressing

PKR MP Zulkifli Nordin has defended a ruling by the Kota Baru Municipal Council against purported improper sports attire at its park. The controversial Bandar Kulim Baharu MP has questioned the right of joggers to wear "tight shorts, mini skirts, breast-hugging T-shirts and tight shorts for men."

Zulkifli's line of argument is a pathetic joke. No one who goes to a park to exercise would wear mini-skirts and what is his definition of "tight shorts" and "breast-hugging T-shirts" especially in conservative Kota Baru? He is just exaggerating. Joggers want to feel comfortable and healthy when they go to a park to exercise. Wearing shorts is certainly not extraordinary nor indecent.

The problem is when such a directive is issued, its implementation is always open to abuse. What is essentially a decent pair of shorts could be regarded as "sexy and skimpy" in the eyes of some self-appointed guardians of morality. After all, even rock singer Avril Lavigne is regarded as "sexy" by PAS, which became international news. The KB ruling is unnecessary and smacks of Talibanisation of the state by PAS. In short - no pun intended - there are now many intolerant moral policemen around.

In his blog, Zulikifli has pointed out that in Uttar Pradesh, colleges have banned female students from wearing jeans and other forms of western clothing. Anyone who has a rational head would object, of course. Why should jeans and western clothing be banned? Does that make it right? Using the same principle, how would Zulkifli react if colleges in western countries decide to ban the purdah and other Arabic clothing? What if these westerners claim that headscarves and similar clothing would be unsuitable for sports?

People must have the right to choices. How people want to dress up is nobody's business and if there are those who want to cover themselves from head to toe, even in the heat, it is their right. We should defend their rights, as Karpal Singh has done so. But if we wish to run around in shorts, loose or hugging T-shirts, it is also our right. If there are such dress code in our local public universities or parks in other states, we should also register our protest. It is also Zulkifli's right to quit PKR and join PAS.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PAS deeply divided over unity talks issue

Party president Hadi Awang (left) and Spiritual Adviser Nik Aziz

There are now two factions in PAS - that's the own words of PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat,whose men were all sidelined and voted out in last week's general assembly. The Kelantan Mentri Besar has admitted that he was "emotional and angry" with what has been taking place in his party. He even lashed out at newly-appointed secretary-general Mustapa Ali, who has issued a gag order.

The usually calm tok guru is now mad as hell, something many Malaysians have never seen before, demonstrating the seriousness of the split in the party now. He has also admitted attending a secret meeting of his supporters.

PAS president Hadi Awang, meanwhile, said he was prepared to discuss with Umno on issues such as media freedom, the elections commission and judiciary reform. Well, that would be difficult for Nik Aziz to object. Those are legitimate concerns. But it isn't just Nik Aziz that Hadi has to deal with now, DAP's Karpal Singh is also going for his head with the veteran DAP asking PAS to reassess its position in Pakatan Rakyat. The fallout isn't happening just in PAS but seems to have spread to Pakatan Rakyat.

The path taken by Hadi does not come as a surprise to many in the political and media circles. He has never been a fan of Anwar Ibrahim who has now assumed the post of Opposition Leader. The crown, as far as the Terengganu leader is concerned, is his. That includes the Prime Minister's post if the PR forms the next federal government. He's of course counting the chickens before they are hatched but that's what ambition is about.

Hadi is also said to be slighted with the bigger role given to DAP by PKR, as he sees PAS as the second largest party in Malaysia after Umno. The perceived disrespect towards PAS by the two PR partners has been boiling for some time. It was only a matter of time before it exploded.

Hadi, if we care to remember, has also been uncomfortable with the secular path by PR. Last year, Hadi expressed his unhappiness at the increasing number of non-Muslim elected representatives from Sabah and Sarawak in an interview with Harakah. So, don't blame the press for misquoting him. It was the official PAS newsletter that quoted him.
In fact, he threatened to pull PAS out of Pakatan if there were more non-Muslim MPs. He was talking about non-Muslim MPs from Sabah and Sarawak, presumably Christians in this case. See New Malaysia and Charles Hector. You can't fault Hadi for being consistent. He has never changed his stand of wanting to set up an Islamic state either. His position on Muslim elected representatives is also clear; it's just that many chose to ignore it or to believe what they wanted to believe.

But we can guess. Soon, all the angry statements would be forgiven, the press blamed for instigating, and a show of unity would be put up. Well, it's just another day in Malaysian politics until PAS make another ridiculous statement on dressing, concerts and hudud laws.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Meeting Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal legend in KL

No politics today, just football. I had the opportunity of meeting Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Monday. Yes, the legend himself, at the KL Hilton, where he was staying.

The Frenchman was in KL for only 48 hours but his presence was enough to get reporters from Thailand and Singapore to fly down to interview him. It was his second visit to KL. This man obviously lives, eats and sleeps football. His spends his free time watching football on television, saying this helps him relax as the games do not involve Arsenal!

Friendly and chatty, he readily posed for photographs with members of the media as well as fans who caught wind of his presence in town. He's also as tall as he looks on television. He's much skinnier though without the jacket and tie.

Wenger is also a very technical person. He talks about performance, skill and talent. No wonder, he is called The Professor, not just because of his degrees in engineering and economics, but his analytical skills in football.

He still speaks English with the French accent, which we are familiar with but it's easier to understand him than Alex Ferguson, I guess!

Despite the attempts of the sponsor to keep the location a secret on Monday, it did not really work 100 per cent. Yesterday, over 1,000 fans turned up for the public event at Dataran Merdeka to get a glimpse of this lanky fella.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PKR MP Zulkifli Noordin wants action against SIS

First, some PAS delegates want Sisters In lslam to be banned. Now it's the turn of PKR Kulim Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin to call for action against the group. He wants the Companies Commission of Companies to "force" SIS to drop the word "Islam" from its name. He is a lawyer but we would like to know how that can be done legally, the Nut Graph reported. But as he suggested - use force.

He has proposed that SIS changes its name to Cosmopolitan Women's Alliance in line with their image as "most of them do not wear the tudung" and "are unmarried," according to Zulkifli. Zulkifli is the same lawyer who acted aggressively at the Bar Council forum and forced his way into a forum. The PKR did not act against him and let him off scot free, presumably worried that he would quit the party.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

PAS wants Sisters In Islam banned!

Latest: PAS wants teaching of Maths and Science in English to stop, see Msian Insider.

PAS has asked the National Fatwa Council to ban Sisters in Islam, the outspoken women group, if they were found to violate any rules. The resolution was adopted without a debate, according to a report. The outspoken SIS leaders were said to be too liberal for the PAS delegates, especially the conservatives who have now gained control of the party.

Just yesterday, reporters covering the PAS general assembly came under firing from some delegates for interacting freely. These delegates wanted gender segregation to be imposed and were pissed that women reporters did not cover their heads.

As the saying goes, be careful with what you wished for. The Islamist party is not even in power yet but is already showing its intolerant stand. At the end of the day, PAS will never change because that is the basis of its struggle and those who attempt to reform the party have found themselves sidelined.

For years, there have been talk to bring in non-Muslims as associate members but in the end, they will just remain members of supporters club, with no clout. They would only be useful tools to help the ulamas gain political power. But many non-Muslims are now cheering for PAS leaders believing that only these ulamas can bring hope to this country. In their hatred of the BN government, they feel that these PAS leaders have become their saviours and they actually believe that PAS would be an alternative that allow the liberal lifestyle. Good luck.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Post-PAS general assembly: PAS for Ulamas only?

So finally the results are out. The so-called progressives and reformists in PAS have found themselves voted out by the conservatives in PAS. Young leaders like Husam Musa and Khalid Samad, who are known to non-Muslims, have been voted out.

Despite their moderate stance, such as Khalid Samad's regular appearance at church-organised forums, he has never represented the real PAS stand. Husam, who lost in his attempt for the number two post, obviously took the defeat badly telling reporters "maybe my beard wasn't long enough."

His contender, Nasharudin Mat Isa, quickly defended his party boss, Hadi Awang, for the proposed unity talk, which some see as an attempt to work with Umno. Some envisage a unity government. Interestingly, Husam has said that he knew a lot of what was happening. We would certainly like to hear more about it.

The only exception was Nizar Jamaluddin, who garnered the highest votes for the central committee posts. Nizar's moderate and progressive approach has endeared himself not only to Perakians but also others, and the delegates must have wanted to give him a vote of confidence amidst the tumultuos time he is going through.

The so-called moderate face of PAS was overshadowed by some delegates who complained about the mingling of male and female reporters at the general assembly, with one describing such act as "pesta maksiat" and demanded that women reporters cover their heads. This is the real PAS.

The powerful theologians were obviously uncomfortable with the experiments of the younger leaders and in the end, they tightened their hold on the party. Even the hardliners won the Youth wing. The pro-ulama group almost had a clean slate. It is clear that the older delegates were uneasy with the way some young PAS leaders had push the party too far in its programmes with the DAP and PKR.

For Hadi Awang, he has always eyed the jewel in the crown. The Prime Minister's post, if ever the Pakatan Rakyat, takes over the federal government has to be his and not Anwar Ibrahim. The uneasy relationship between Anwar and Hadi is well known among the political and media circle. As with most politicians, it is all about power and positions eventually.

The voice of conservative PAS would now be louder with those in turbans and flowing robes dominating the party leadership. The results have showed that Hadi is the man in PAS, not spiritual leader Nik Aziz. His men were all wiped out in the race, certainly a big blow to the well-respected leader.

There would probably be changes in the relations between PAS and its partners in Pakatan. Nasharudin made clear, after his victory, that the doors for talks with Umno was opened. For added measure, he said the same principle was applicable with other parties and non-governmental organisations.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

RM300million, one year old and it collapses!

Click on photo for more photos via Star Online's photo gallery

It's shocking! How can a stadium that's touted to be the "Pride of Terengganu" collapse after just one year and built at a staggering cost of RM300million. The only saving grace is that no one was killed in the incident, when a section of the roof collapsed today.

The stadium was "rushed" it seemed to be ready for the Sukma Games last June. The contractor is said to be a South Korean firm and certainly the firm would have plenty to explain. One does not need to be an expert to conclude that a lousy job has been done.

Investigations have been promised by the authorities but we hope the findings would be made public. It should now be standard practice in cases where public money is involved. Like the PKFZ losses, the public must know who is at fault for the collapse of the roof. The damage, we are now told, could cost us at least RM35mil.