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Standing up for freedom and justice

Let history record that we at this time and place did our little bit for the cause

by P Ramakrishnan
Aliran Monthly Vol 25 (2005): Issue 9

AMFirstEdtionandRama (46K)
start_quote (1K)...sometime in October 1980, we received a letter from the Home Affairs Ministry asking us why we had not forwarded copies of our publication as required by law. It was then that we found out that we had a permit to print.
end_quote (1K)
P Ramakrishnan, holding up the maiden issue of Aliran.

Let me first of all thank all of you for your presence. We are very honoured that you have chosen to sacrifice your Sunday afternoon to be with us and to be part of this function. There are many amongst you who have given exemplary assistance to make this occasion a great success. We are truly grateful to each and every one of you.

We are also very grateful to the many generous donors and supporters who have kept faith with us and continue to be a source of support and inspiration in this long and arduous journey.

We are equally grateful to Comedy Court for performing gratis. Allan (Perera) and Indi (Nadarajah) have that rare gift to see the funny side of politics. You see their commentary, you think politics is fun and you laugh. But when you read our commentary, you conclude that politics is terrible and you want to cry.

The good fight

I also wish to pay tribute to theSun newspaper for the fantastic coverage they gave Aliran yesterday. In our entire 28 years of existence, this was the first occasion when so much space was given to highlight and acknowledge Aliran’s contribution and its role in Malaysian society. We are the only organisation to be accorded this rare honour and recognition.

For a long time, we have not been quoted or reported by the mainstream media. We were totally ignored and completely shut out. We were given the cold shoulder as if our views were of no consequence and we did not matter.

Many wondered whether we were around; others suspected that we had been closed down; and yet others concluded that we were silenced through intimidation.

It was so bad that it looked as if there was a deliberate attempt to remove Aliran from the memory of this nation.

Under the circumstance, we are extremely grateful to theSun. It took a great deal of courage to break out of this mould and do what you did. In doing so, you stand out as a newspaper that can and will uphold the highest standard of ethical journalism, that is, to report the truth and to be fair in your reporting.

I salute you.

Friends, I stand before you with a profound sense of gratitude. You are the caring, feeling and thinking Malaysians. You represent the best in our society. In a sense, your presence today is a micro-representation of the conscience of this country. It is people like you who motivate us, nourish our spirit and strengthen our resolve to carry on with this good fight.

For 25 years we have carried on this good fight through Aliran Monthly. In spite of the obstacles and bureaucratic nuisance, we have never failed the Malaysian public. Aliran Monthly may not be on time but we have come out regularly without fail. Every issue of Aliran Monthly is a labour of love. It is like delivering a baby. At times it is difficult and even painful but this is nothing compared to the joy when the Monthly is delivered!

You would have noticed that we have never found it necessary to brandish a keris to drive home a fact; neither has it been necessary to open our mouths like a hippopotamus in order to be heard!

A publication is born

The programme that you have with you carries 25 covers to symbolise the 25 years of Aliran Monthly. Each and every cover has a story to tell. And every story has an episode to recall. But I don’t propose to tell all the stories. It will take us into the morning. We just can’t afford to do that. You haven’t paid for your breakfast.

In our 25 years of publication we have produced more than 250 cover stories. And we have covered almost every subject that is of grave concern to all of us.

The first cover was white and the masthead was very different. It was a four-page tabloid. It was a very rushed job. We didn’t know that we had been given a permit. Probably it got lost in the post and never reached us. Not that the postal service is any better today! Some things just don’t change.

But the fact was sometime in October 1980, we received a letter from the Home Affairs Ministry asking us why we had not forwarded copies of our publication as required by law. It was then that we found out that we had a permit to print. Since the year was ending, and as we hardly had time to put together a magazine, we came out with this four-pager.

Then the following year they did not give us a permit. Don’t ask me why. It is the privilege of power. It is their right to be arrogant!

From Quarterly to Monthly

Then we applied for a permit to publish a Quarterly. The cover seen here is from the first issue. It conveyed a very valid and legitimate message: Criticism is not a crime. Indeed it is our patriotic duty to criticise whenever it is necessary to do so.

We produced the Quartely for two years. They contained lengthy, analytical articles. But then, to wait for the next Quarterly took three months. It was far too long. We felt that we should communicate with the public more frequently. So we applied for a Monthly and we were given a permit for 1984. The first copy of the Aliran Monthly was published at the height of the BMF scandal. Of course we had a lot to write!

We were selling the Quarterly and Aliran Monthly - you wouldn’t believe this but yes, just for a ringgit a copy. And to our credit - or otherwise - we maintained this price for 10 long years. Each time when there was a need to raise the price, there would be a great tug of war among the exco members: To raise or not to raise? There would be vigrous debates. Reluctantly we raised the price in 1992 by a mere 50 sen! Then the cost of printing went up in the middle of 1994, and after a lot of soul searching we increased the price by another 50 sen.

You would realise that we are no prudent businessmen! No wonder we are in dire straits financially!

A touch of gloss

In 1993 we decided to use glossy art paper for the cover and the middle pages. This issue focused on the Constitutional Amendments. We didn’t mean to gloss over this important issue.

At that time Mahathir wanted to appoint Tun Mustapha as Federal Minister but he overlooked the constitutional provision requiring Mustapha to resign from the Sabah State Assembly. This would have entailed a by-election. UMNO Baru was on a very weak wicket in Sabah. A by-election at this time therefore could have had disastrous consequences for UMNO Baru because of the formation of a PBS-USNO coalition government. This coalition had the advantages of the government machinery and state resources to clobber UMNO.

So the constitution was amended to prevent a by-election and serve UMNO’s interest. The amendments took care of two problems for UMNO Baru: Mustapha need not resign and there would be no by-elections. Not only that, in future there would be no by-election if a vacancy is caused either by death or resignation of an elected representative within two years before the next general election was scheduled.

This wasn’t the only amendment during the long tenure of Mahathir. The numerous amendments during his time mutilated the constitution. Yet this was the man who criticised the Tunku, our beloved Bapa Malaysia, in the following words: “The manner, frequency and the trivial reasons for altering the Constitution reduced this supreme law of the nation to a useless scrap of paper.”

We wonder what it is worth now!

Adding colour to the struggle

Then towards the end of 1993 we went full colour for the first time. It coincided with the Highland Towers tragedy. This issue featured this sad occasion very vividly and the title – Malaysians Mourn - spoke on behalf of all Malaysians.

All this while the masthead was static. We couldn’t feature our pictures full page on the entire cover. And so, we opted for a new masthead which could be moved around and pasted on top of the pictures on the cover. This was in 1995.

A bombshell is dropped

The cover featuring Rahim Tamby Chik was not meant to be the cover story. This was a last minute switch to replace a planned cover story. What we had wanted to carry was an important issue involving Al Arqam, which had just been banned. We had 16 pages of material on this subject matter. The artwork was done and the films were made and sent to Kuala Lumpur for printing. At that time the Monthly was printed in KL.

That weekend I was in Frasers Hill taking a break. Even during breaks, Aliran is not far away from most of us. After breakfast that Sunday morning, I rang the printer to ask when the Monthly would be ready.

I had the shock of my life when he said that he wasn’t going to print the Monthly any more.

I asked him why.

And he replied that he took the entire artwork to the Special Branch to get clearance. It appeared that they told him, “If you want to print go ahead. If you get into trouble, it is up to you.” The poor guy got the message. It was time to stop dealing with Aliran. This was just before he 1995 general election.

I told him that it was not fair to leave us in the lurch at the last moment. I told him that we would remove the 16 pages on Al Arqam and substitute other articles. I pleaded with him to print this particular issue so that this could give us some time to scout around for another printer. Finally he agreed.

That’s how Rahim hit the cover of this issue. Incidentally, we had reproduced an article from Asiaweek focusing on the flamboyant Chief Minister of Malacca in the previous issue of the Monthly. Titled “Riches, Romance and Rahim”, the article touched on the disturbing allegations hounding the Chief Minister, including allegations of womanising and accumulating excessive wealth.

The Chief Minister’s Press Secretary, Khairuddin Hassan, promptly wrote to us, dismissing the accusations as baseless. Well, it looks like Rahim is indeed “Rugged, Robust and Resilient”. He is now back in the UMNO Supreme Council!

After a long search we found a printer in Penang who agreed to print. The cover story “Time To Speak Out” was the issue produced immediately after the Rahim issue.

In 1994, money politics became a big issue. It was so rampant that amendments were introduced to the UNMO Baru Constitution to allow for disciplinary action to be taken against members who indulged in vote buying during party elections. Mahathir speaking about the amendments made it sound as if he had found a cure to get rid of this disease at long last.

Some things never change

But money politics has been with us for a long time. For some reason, money politics during elections seems okay. Perhaps it is because when the voters are bribed in order to remain as a ruling party, it seems it is not corruption. But when delegates are bribed to dislodge others from their position then it becomes haram. In this party situation, one’s chances of being elected are threatened and therefore a lot of noise is made about money politics. But all that noise about money politics is really to safeguard selfish interests and nothing more.

Rules, of course, do not get rid of corruption. Rules and regulations by themselves are of no effect in the absence of moral outrage for money politics. Amending the UMNO Baru Constitution or legislating new laws will not curb money politics. There must be a revulsion for it. It must be seen and perceived as something wrong and unethical.

Tun Mustapha alleged then that money in Sabah dropped like leaves from the tree and he furnished proof in the form of receipts. What happened? Nothing!

There must be a political will to act. Very often what we get is lip service

A young Rafidah embroiled in controversy

While on the same topic of corruption, let me refer to the picture next to Money Politics. Yes, that’s the pretty face of a young Rafidah Aziz who is now on the run!

The issue of ‘Gravy Train of Share Allocations’ may shock you if you were to read it now. If you thought that awarding 16,000 APs to a single person is mind boggling and unjustified, you are right.

We agree entirely with Mahathir when he asked,”…why was such a huge number of APs given to two persons and those two persons passed them to others. I would imagine they must have made a lot of money. How much income tax did they pay?”

But did Mahathir raise the same questions when other shocking figures were released when he was the Prime Minister? What are these figures and who are the recipients? Take a deep breath. And if you have a weak heart, close your ears.

The recipients and the figures are:

Mahathir’s son received 1.5 million shares; Anwar’s brother received 1.5 million shares; Hamid Omar’s son received 5.2 million shares; Rafidah’s son-in-law received a total of 5.7 million shares in two companies; Megad Junid’s son received a whopping 14.8 million shares. Yes, these are staggering figures!
We raised the following questions with regard to these allocations:
  • Why are shares allocated to well-off relatives of leaders of government?

  • If the whole scheme was introduced to help underprivileged bumiputras, why has it turned out that it only benefits the rich bumiputra more?

  • There is no reason why rich bumiputras should become richer from schemes meant to help the poor.
Eleven years later, we are still asking the same questions. You must read the latest Aliran Monthly - 'Whose Nation? Whose Agenda?' - to realise the rot that has entrenched itself.

You decide

Well friends, these are some of the issue and challenges that confront us. We have survived thus far. Will we be around for the next 25 years? You will have to decide our fate. As long as Aliran Monthly is saleable to sustain our work, you can count on us to keep fighting.

Since our sales have dropped, we are obliged to seek funds by appealing to generous people like you. If you can help us to keep the flame of freedom burning brightly by persuading your friends to subscribe to the Monthly or by taking on a gift subscription for them, that will help greatly. If you can help to expand the readership, then the next time we organise a dinner we will not charge you exorbitantly! We will organise the dinner as a social function and charge you reasonably and tell you more stories!

Finally, my friends, if we don’t stand up for freedom, democracy, human rights and all that we cherish dearly, if we don’t face the many challenges confronting us boldly and honestly, history will judge us very harshly. Let history record that we at this time and place did our little bit for the cause of freedom.

Please support our work by buying a copy of our print publication, Aliran Monthly, from your nearest news-stand. Better still take out a subscription now. If you prefer to read our web-based edition, please support our work and make a donation.

This is the text of a speech that was delivered during the high tea on 25 September 2005 at the NUPW hall in Kuala Lumpur to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Aliran Monthly.

Now tell us what you think in fewer than 250 words. Your comments may be published in the Letters section of our print magazine, Aliran Monthly.