Last week Anil and I took a drive to Kangar, Perlis to deliver bound copies of Aliran Monthly to Kangar MP Noor Amin Ahmad.
The youthful Amin had bought a complete set of our print magazine archives. (We have two more sets left for sale.)
Before meeting him, we savoured some tasty nasi biru kerabu daging, which made the journey even more worthwhile!
After the trip, I reflected on the wealth of historical data, analyses and information in the articles and commentaries that spanned from 1980 to 2013.
Many of those who contributed articles to Aliran Monthly from back then are still active in civil society, but quite a few others have passed away. We are grateful to have some new writers sending in articles, ensuring that Aliran continues to provide alternative analyses and insights into current developments in the country.
Is there a thread that binds these thousands of articles? To answer that, we need to look at why Aliran was formed. The rules of the society state: “The aims of Aliran shall be to promote a common sense of nationhood and a genuine understanding of development in accordance with the aspirations of the Rukun Negara.”
There aren’t too many words in the stated aims, but the key phrases “a common sense of nationhood” and “development in accordance with the aspirations of the Rukun Negara” are meaningful.
The Rukun Negara promotes unity, democracy, freedom and justice. Malaysians are urged to “create a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner”.
We are also urged to uphold “a liberal approach towards our rich and varied cultural traditions” and “build a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology”.
Aliran identifies itself as a social reform movement guided by a clear set of principles. Based on the aspirations of the Rukun Negara and basic moral principles, we in Aliran promote values of “equality, justice, freedom, solidarity, peace, conscience, human dignity, truth, mutual respect, courage and democracy”.
This is the common thread that binds the many articles uploaded to our website. The writers are guided by these values and principles we cherish.
On the flipside, Aliran denounces injustices, abuse of power, corruption, greed and any assault on the rule of law.
In our democratic system, the separation of powers between the judicial, legislative and executive arms of government is essential to provide some checks and balances. But some leaders often have no qualms about overstepping their boundaries and wading into the territory of other institutions.
One prominent politician said recently one of the key gripes his party has with the Perikatan Nasional government was its decision to allow court cases against a particular political party and its leaders to proceed. The caution by the Bar Council was timely – for this politician does not seem to think much of the independence of the judicial process.
A new contributor, R Murali, laments the erosion of good governance in our country. He highlights some features of good governance: accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, equity and justice, honesty, integrity and impartiality.
Unfortunately, the current government is way too invested in staying in power (see Aliran’s statement on the declaration of emergency) and thus prepared to compromise on these features of good governance, including having a system of checks and balances. The result: divisive ethno-religious rhetoric is often tolerated and allowed to fester.
One silly example is that Muslims should not utter “Merry Christmas” greetings. Another instance is Jakim pronouncing that bakeries and cake shops using the halal logo should not display cakes with the Merry Christmas greeting on them. What next?
The dominant strain of politics since the ‘Sheraton Move’ and the formation of the PN government has been the contestation over which party can better represent the Malay-Muslim community. This implies that the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities are of little or no consequence.
Another contributor, Jem, has thrown a challenge to the younger generation: come forward and present a more inclusive form of politics. She urges them to recognise the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural people of this land.
We need to embrace diversity, honour and respect differences, and build bridges that promote unity. This would be consistent with the aspirations and exhortations of the Rukun Negara.
The Rukun Negara declares that the people should “create a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner”.
Has our country achieved this? No. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
The case of the Proton Iswara family received much publicity: a security guard, the sole breadwinner of his family earning around RM1,200 a month, had lost his house in a fire in April 2020 and could not afford to rent another abode. So he, his wife and their three children slept in the family car and used public toilets to freshen themselves.
After the press highlighted their plight, philanthropist-cum-Muslim preacher Ustaz Ebit, who helps people irrespective of race and religion, travelled from Johor to Penang over Christmas to provide them aid and temporary rented accommodation. The Penang Island City Council subsequently processed their application and allocated them a low-cost flat.
This family was fortunate to receive such help after the media highlighted their plight. But what of the many other families who are struggling daily to make ends meet?
Mustafa, in his article, highlighted that in October unemployment had risen by 1.5% over the previous month to reach 748,200 people. With Covid cases rising in recent weeks, the situation could worsen. The government must urgently focus on easing the plight of those suffering rather than playing politics to cling on to power.
Prof Philip Alston, the former UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, released his final report based on his 11-day visit in 2019 to various states in parts of Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sabah, Sarawak and Kelantan. His report showed that Malaysia’s official poverty rate of just 0.4% – the lowest in the world – was “misleadingly low and unrealistic”. He believed the real poverty rate could be high as 15% (mind you, that was before the pandemic).
Azmin Ali, the then-economic affairs minister, was quick to rubbish the figure as totally inaccurate.
Instead of being defensive, would it not have been more appropriate for the government to have sought to ease the plight of the poor and marginalised in both urban and rural areas? The Orang Asli, documented and undocumented migrant workers, daily wage earners, the jobless, single parents, the differently abled – all of them need special help and attention.
Remember, our task and challenge is to ensure that everyone enjoys a fair distribution of the prosperity of the country. But how can that be when we have families who have to sleep in cars or the ‘houseless’ who have to sleep on pavements and depend on charity for a single meal every day?
Meanwhile, we have arrogant politicians who testify in court that RM2m is like “pocket money” or loose change for them. This is the kind of obscene injustice we see in our country.
The coronavirus pandemic has given Malaysians a chance to press the ‘reset button’ and prioritise what is important in our lives. We should all become more sensitive to the importance of sustainability and become more humanitarian. We should fight prejudices and be more accepting.
The political leaders on both sides of the divide have failed to carry out their responsibility. They seem more interested in grabbing power than taking care of the people’s welfare.
After the collapse of the PH government and the jostling for power by politicians from both sides, we the people need to be wary about whom we choose to represent us at the next general election.
We should only support candidates that pass the test of integrity, inclusiveness and a genuine concern for everyone, regardless of their race and religion. Let us reject power-crazy, greedy, corrupt and racists politicians.Henry Loh
Coordinator and co-editor, Aliran newsletter
13 January 2021