More storms a-brewing for RPK – By Daniel Chandranayagam

Global Voices Online | 06-Sept-2008 – A new legal wrangle might join the criminal defamation charges and defamation law suits sitting on the doorstep of Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK). Newspapers reported recently that the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) and other Muslim bodies had lodged a police report against him for allegedly insulting the Malays, Muslims and Islam.

The articles in question, “I promise to be a good, non-hypocritical Muslim” and “Not all Arabs are descendants of the Prophet”, are found on his now-blocked website, “Malaysia Today” (for mirror site, click here).

Jakim’s director-general, Datuk Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, was reported to have said, “The articles were also prejudicial and appeared to be reflective of the voice of a third party who had no understanding of Islam and similar to the western media’s approach.”

Others organisations which lodged reports against RPK were the Federal Territory Religious Department, Islamic Da’ Wah Foundation Malaysia and Federal Territory Islamic Council.

In response, RPK was reported to have said, “I couldn’t be bothered anymore if they call me anti-Islam, anti-Malay, anti-Umno… they can call me anti-God, if they want,”

While some claim that some cabinet members were shocked when they read the articles in question, some commenters on Malaysia Today seem to be of the opinion that the articles in question were not directed at the muslim population in general, but to a specific few.

In August this year, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, was reported to have said that the government was duty-bound to preempt action jeopardizing the nation’s stability. He was quoted as saying, “In this country, it’s all about perception… Then nobody’s going to get angry. It’s not that you can’t discuss, but sensitive things, it’s better behind closed doors rather than openly,”

The past year has seen several defamation cases against, and sedition and criminal defamation investigations into, bloggers and Malaysian netizens. Investigations into these new police reports against RPK could lead to his detention without trial under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act 1962 (English / Bahasa Malaysia). Meanwhile, racial and religious resentment seems to be brewing in the nation.

It comes with little surprise that Malaysia’s ranking with in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index has dropped from 92nd place in 2006 to 124th place in 2007. A recent survey by the Centre for Independent Journalism and the Merdeka Center found 87% of Malaysians polled desiring greater media independence. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Credit Suisse has warned investors to stay away from Malaysia in her current climate.


Many ignorant of independent media concept – By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

Malaysiakini | 04-Sept-2008 – News consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the media owners’ influence on news dissemination and hindrance to press freedom, an independent survey revealed today.

The survey, carried out by media watchdog Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) with opinion pollster Merdeka Centre, showed that 78 percent of those surveyed thought the rile of media owners affected media credibility.

The survey was conducted on 1,203 randomly selected respondents aged 21 and above.

“Thirty-nine percent identified the government and people or companies connected to the government as the owners of most media outlets.

“The survey also revealed that Malaysians were critically assessing the content of the local mainstream media, upon which the majority relied heavily as sources of information,” CIJ executive director V Gayathry told a press conference today.

The survey also revealed that only 35 percent of the respondents thought that the mainstream media were not reporting fairly.

Furthermore, only half of the respondents believed that the performance of the mainstream media according to six major indicators – ethical, variety of opinions included, variety of issues covered, objectivity, fairness and truthfulness- were met.

This, said Gayathry, reflected the poor confidence the public has on the credibility of the mainstream media due to its close affiliation with the government.

For democracy to function properly, media freedom advocates like CIJ and others have always called for a clear separation between media organisations and the state.

“And media organisations must also learn to create their own code of conduct that is based on just and fair reporting and not place the burden of media reform totally on the government,” added Gayathry.

Govt or media responsible for media freedom?

The CIJ executive director was referring to the survey’s finding that indicated the public’s mixed views on who can carry out media reforms.

In the survey, two-thirds had the impression that improving greater media independence was out of their hands while 35 percent felt that the government played the most important role.

“Such sentiment matched even those from the Malaysian Bar, when during the Walk for Press Freedom event in June, its Human Rights Committee responded to Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim by saying the state bears the primary burden of removing laws that have impinged freedom

“The statements were also introduced by itself as a retort to Zaid’s earlier statement that it was part of the press’ responsibility to conduct reforms within industry,” read the survey.

Nevertheless, 30 percent of the respondents thought that it was the public itself that had the greater role to ensure that media independence exist in the country.

Public lacks understanding on media independence

Also an issue is the blurry understanding of the public on the concept of media freedom.

Despite having more than half the respondents agreeing that the media needs more independence, about half still believed that the government has rights to control over media organisations.

Huge percentage of the respondents when asked why they thought the government should or should not have control over the media had no clue as to why they thought so.

“This is an issue and this is why organisations like CIJ and other media rights groups must come into the picture to educate the public on the issue,” stressed Gayathry.

The survey also revealed that the public has a very low recognition to the role of civil society groups when it comes to fighting for greater press freedom.

“This was particularly evident when the 2008 Memorandum on Media Freedom launched online on May 3 by three NGOs including CIJ only managed to garner 1,946 endorsees until now,” added the survey.

CIJ however was confident that the public was showing signs of progress when it came to inducing public awareness on the need for greater media freedom judging from the survey’s findings.

“Despite low level of recognition towards organizations working to improve media

freedom, the public was open to the idea of media independence. This further showed that the stigma of equating supporting media independence to danger did not exist.

“Hence, it is in the interest of the public and the nation for civil society organisations such as CIJ to continue its work to further educate the public about media independence,” concluded the survey. – Malaysiakini

Press freedom? What’s that? – By Shannon Teoh

The Malaysian Insider | PETALING JAYA, 04-Sept-2008,  — A survey found that while 87 per cent of Malaysians want greater media independence, the public is unclear on what it actually means.

Commissioned by the Centre for Independent Journalism and conducted by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, it found that a majority of respondents polled did not understand the concept of “media independence”.

This was evident as 54 per cent claimed they did not understand the concept of “media as a watchdog”. While 60 per cent felt that public opinion and peer-review would be better methods of regulating media than the use of laws, 77 per cent were unable to name laws that govern the Malaysian media.

The law that was cited the most, at 8 per cent, was the Internal Security Act, although CIJ executive director V. Gayathry stated that the media watchdog have tracked less than five journalists who have ever been detained under the Act.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of the 1,203 respondents of voting age polled believe that when a news source is perceived to be pro-government or pro-opposition, its credibility is affected.

“There is no doubt that the media continues to be an important provider of information to the public,” said Merdeka Centre programmes director Ibrahim Suffian at a press conference this morning.

“But people want to hear what they want to hear. We found during the elections that 90 per cent relied on the mainstream media but in the end BN only received 52 to 53 per cent of the popular vote,” he said, referring to 70 per cent of respondents who said that the mainstream media was slanted towards the ruling coalition and that those who rated the truthfulness, fairness, objectivity and ethics of the mainstream media favourably were in the minority.

This corresponded with the fact that over half believe that the government owns most media outlets with another 15 per cent identifying a government connection to media owners.

“I may buy your paper but I don’t buy into it,” Gayathry said of the public’s attitude towards the mainstream media.

Censorship in the media also found disapproval except for vulgarities and obscenity, where 84 per cent wanted these things to be censored and where racial conflicts were concerned with only 41 per cent not wanting it being censored.

Among the top changes that respondents wanted to see was a more critical media (26 per cent), a complaint mechanism on the media (23 per cent) and ease for the public to set up media outlets (19 per cent). However, only 30 per cent of those polled said the public played the most important role in improving media independence, with 35 per cent laying the responsibility on the government. – The Malaysian Insider

Malaysians Think Anwar is Innocent

Angus Reid Global Monitor | Abstract: (Angus Reid Global Monitor), 30-Aug-2008 – The majority of people in Malaysia think allegations of sexual misconduct against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are false, according to a poll by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research. 55 per cent of respondents share this view, while 11 per cent think the charges are true.
(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – The majority of people in Malaysia think allegations of sexual misconduct against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are false, according to a poll by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research. 55 per cent of respondents share this view, while 11 per cent think the charges are true.

The ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO)—the biggest party in a coalition of 12 political factions known as the National Front (BN)—has formed the government after every election since the Asian country attained its independence from Britain in 1957.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as prime minister in October 2003, after the retirement of Mahathir Mohamad, who served for more than 22 years. In the March 2004 election, the National Front secured 198 of the 219 seats in the House of Representatives. Abdullah was sworn in as head of government with the biggest majority in three decades.

In the March 2008 ballot, the National Front won 140 seats in the legislature. The coalition’s share of the vote dropped drastically, from 64.4 per cent in 2004, to 50.27 per cent in 2008. According to Human Rights Watch, the most recent election was “grossly unfair” and marred by irregularities.

In 1999, Anwar—who served as deputy prime minister and finance minister during the Mahathir administration—was sentenced to jail on charges of sodomy and corruption. Anwar was regarded as Mahathir’s natural successor but had become a critic of the administration. Many Malaysians saw his conviction as politically-motivated.

In 2004, the Federal Court reversed Anwar’s conviction for sodomy and he was released from prison. Anwar’s wife, Azizah Ismail, formed the National Justice Party (PKN) in 1999. Anwar is now the leader of a coalition of opposition parties.

Last month, Anwar was arrested again, this time over allegations that he had “illegal sex” with a male aide. Homosexual sex is defined by Malaysian law as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Anwar pleaded not guilty, and has been released on bail. He is running for a seat in a legislative by-election next week.

On Aug. 22, Anwar decried the government’s tactics, saying, “Since the 1999 general election, they have used every means, threat and dirty tactic in the book to ensure they secure the landslide victories. This time, this by-election takes the cake and the prime minister, deputy prime minister, ministers and other BN leaders have jumped on the bandwagon on a free-for-all, no-holds barred smear campaign against me.”

Polling Data

Do you believe in the allegations of sexual misconduct against Anwar Ibrahim?



Do not believe


Not sure / No reply


Source: Merdeka Center for Opinion Research
Methodology: Telephone Interviews with 1,030 Malaysian voters, conducted Jul. 4 to Jul. 14, 2008. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Sodomy and the backlash

The Economist print edition | 28-Aug-2008 – A sweeping by-election victory takes Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, a step closer to power. The government seems blind to the danger signals

AFTER an ugly, mudslinging campaign, a by-election on August 26th in the northern constituency of Permatang Pauh may have changed Malaysia’s political landscape permanently. The stakes were high. The main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, bidding to return to parliament, had to win convincingly to keep up the momentum of his drive to unseat the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its allies, which have ruled since independence from Britain in 1957. The government, which lost its two-thirds majority (needed to change the constitution) in a general election in March, wanted at least to deny Mr Anwar a big majority. But he won by almost 16,000 votes, 2,000 more than in March, when his wife (with Mr Anwar above) defended the seat.

So Mr Anwar’s second shot at power remains on track. Ten years ago he was deputy prime minister and UMNO’s heir-apparent. But he was brought down by trumped-up charges of “sodomy”, a crime in Malaysia, after falling out with the then leader, Mahathir Mohamad. Mr Anwar was jailed for this and a further charge of corruption, then freed in 2004 after Dr Mahathir had handed the reins of power to the current prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. Mr Anwar has since built an unlikely opposition alliance. His own, multiracial People’s Justice Party (PKR) has teamed up with both the Islamic Party (PAS), which appeals to Malaysia’s Muslim, ethnic-Malay majority, and the firmly secular Democratic Action Party (DAP), whose main base is the ethnic-Chinese minority.

In June, soon after a ban on Mr Anwar’s holding political office expired, a young male aide made familiar-sounding accusations of sodomy, for which Mr Anwar will, again, go on trial soon. The government insists this is no put-up job, though to its embarrassment it soon emerged that the accuser had met Mr Badawi’s deputy, Najib Razak, and other government officials. In the by-election campaign, the government side constantly played video clips of Mr Anwar’s accuser swearing on the Koran that his allegations were true. In turn, the opposition reminded voters of the gruesome murder of a Mongolian woman, over which one of Mr Najib’s advisers and two police bodyguards are on trial.

Little of the mud slung in Mr Anwar’s direction seemed to stick. According to a poll by Merdeka Centre, an opinion-research outfit, the weekend before the by-election, 59% of voters in Permatang Pauh thought the sodomy allegation politically motivated, and only 11% deemed it the main issue in the election, compared with 32% who thought the economy was. Mr Anwar promises to abolish the policy of giving Malays preference for state jobs and contracts, arguing that it has mainly benefited the well-connected few. Ethnic Malays, by voting for Mr Anwar in large numbers, seem to have rejected the government’s charge that he is a traitor to his race.

Zaid Ibrahim, a lawyer whom Mr Badawi recently brought into his cabinet to lead the reform of a corrupt judiciary, says the lesson from the by-election is that voters are tired of personal attacks, and of the “overkill” tactics the government turns on its opponents. It should, says Mr Zaid, start showing the opposition some respect and engage it in a policy debate.

Other ministers, however, are much more relaxed about the by-election defeat. Shabery Cheek, the information minister, argues that the governing coalition has recovered from similar setbacks before. Furthermore, he says, Mr Anwar was campaigning in his home constituency, in a seat he used to occupy before his 1998 troubles, so his comfortable win was not that significant. Syed Hamid Albar, the home minister, notes that voters still gave the UMNO-led coalition a majority in the general election: this shows, he argues, that they still want the government in power, even if they also want to give the opposition a stronger voice.

For Bridget Welsh, an American academic who studies Malaysia, this laid-back view suggests that much of the government is “in denial” about the message the voters are sending. Hitherto, says Ms Welsh, Malaysians have been rather risk-averse. But ministers may be underestimating the effect that access to uncensored news, via the internet, is having in changing people’s views. To relieve the pressure for his resignation over the March election upset, Mr Badawi has promised to hand over to Mr Najib in 2010. Ms Welsh notes that since Mr Najib is popular within UMNO, but is seen outside it as a hardliner, his rise may not solve the party’s problem with voters.

Mr Anwar claims he is close to prising enough parliamentarians from the government benches to give him a parliamentary majority—he even boasts of taking power by September 16th, Malaysia Day. But this will be a tall order. His alliance has 82 seats in the 222-seat lower house. He would need comfortably more than the minimum of 30 floor-crossers to form a stable government—and in practice most would need to be Malays, ie, from UMNO rather than its non-Malay coalition partners. Most potential defectors will be loth to jump ship unless they feel sure the government is about to collapse.

Mr Anwar says it is not that important if he does not get enough defections by September 16th. He argues that the “climate of change” among the public, especially the Malays, means that the momentum behind him is now unstoppable. However, Tricia Yeoh, of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, a think-tank, says that to maintain it, the opposition leader must urgently press on with forming a credible shadow cabinet, to show that his disparate alliance has the “seriousness and capability” to take on the job of government.

What if UMNO does fall, either through defections in the short term or by losing the next election, and Malaysia gets its first alternation of power? Many institutions of state—especially the police, courts and civil service—are deeply politicised. But Ong Kian Ming, a political scientist, reckons that most would fall in line if the opposition takes power, as long as Mr Anwar avoids provoking them needlessly. Most big Malaysian businesses, despite their cosiness with the current government, would also prefer an Anwar government to a prolonged period of political instability. In the meantime the government looks likely to do everything it can to retain power. Except, it still seems, the one thing that might work: showing some tangible progress on the reforms Mr Badawi keeps promising but never provides.


Fence-sitters hard to read – Analysis by JOCELINE TAN

thestar online | 25-Aug-2008 – The silence on the ground among the Malay fence-sitters in the Permatang Pauh by-election has both sides worried about which way the swing votes will go.

DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim is once again looking like the average Penang Malay bloke.

Days of campaigning under the sun have turned his skin several shades more tanned and dark sunspots have formed on his cheeks. And the last time he was this slim was when he was in prison.

The campaign toll has also been tough for Datuk Arif Shah Omar. He told people he has shed 5kg since the day he was picked as the Barisan Nasional candidate.

But when he stopped by at a wedding luncheon in the PAS stronghold of Guar Perahu yesterday, he ate so heartily his friend teased him: “You said you lost weight but the rice on your plate looks like a small hill.”

The Permatang Pauh by-election campaign has captured the imagination of the whole country.

Anwar and Arif Shah have said all that they have wanted to say to those voting in this by-election. They know it is now time for the voters to digest the information bombardment of the last 10 days or so.

The question most asked now is whether Anwar will win with a bigger or lesser majority than the 13,398-vote margin secured by Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in March.

Both sides express optimism in public. But privately, the candidates are rather apprehensive.

The ground has been rather quiet especially among the Malay fence-sitters or the swing group as they are known.

They are estimated to be about 20% of the 41,000 Malay voters; they are not members of any party and their votes swing with the issues and personalities of the day. Their silence is worrying to both sides.

During the March 8 elections, Barisan politicians had also noted an unusually quiet ground in Penang which turned out to be a harbinger of a massive swing to the Pakatan Rakyat.

But the silence among the Malay swing voters in Permatang Pauh is a little harder to read.

The core Malay supporters of Umno, PKR and PAS will accept whatever their respective party leaders tell them and they will vote accordingly.

But Saiful Bukhari Azlan swearing on the Quran inside a mosque has really put this group of politically non-committal group in a quandary.

In the last few days, colour banners showing Saiful seated cross-legged with one hand on the Quran flanked by his father and the imam have gone up in parts of the constituency.

Whoever put them up was aiming for a shock effect because Saiful’s entire oath, including his highly explicit mention of the sex act, was reproduced in bold black print.

“This is a by-election, not a swearing competition,” said PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar.

But a Merdeka Centre survey, which is still being tabulated, suggested that the sodomy allegation against Anwar has had an impact on the older generation and housewives.

Housewives, in particular, had been very loyal to Wan Azizah throughout her husband’s incarceration because they identified with her plight. But because they are not serious readers or Internet-savvy, they also tend to be more susceptible to hearsay and persuasion.

Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian said that as of yesterday, Anwar’s estimated share of the vote was still much less than 60%.

“His share is somewhere in the high fifties now. If nothing untoward happens in the next few days and if the leading ulama in PAS continues to endorse him, he may be able to match what Wan Azizah got in the elections,” he said.

He said the younger voters clearly favoured Anwar.

“But bread and butter issues are just as important as political issues to those with young families. They are concerned about rising costs, jobs and incomes,” said Ibrahim.

Dr Wan Azizah secured a total of 30,348 votes against Barisan’s 16,950 in the last elections. It was an impressive victory that surpassed her own win in the 1999 polls when emotions were still high over her husband’s sacking.

Umno has 19,000 members in Permatang Pauh of whom 17,000 are registered to vote. Even if some of them do not support their own candidate on polling day, it will not be in big numbers.

But Ibrahim’s reading is that even if all goes well for Anwar, he would be hard-pressed to outdo the majority secured by his wife.

As such, Anwar may well find that his toughest feat tomorrow may not be in beating Arif Shah but his own wife’s record.

Merdeka Center