THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

52. Dr. Abdul Kalam ...

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, 11th President of India, at USM's Convocation Ceremony yesterday, when he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

“Access to Justice to all has to be the mission.”

His Biodata

Born on 15th October 1931 at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, specialized in Aeronautical Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology. Dr. Kalam made significant contribution as Project Director to develop India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India an exclusive member of Space Club.

He was responsible for the evolution of ISRO's launch vehicle programme, particularly the PSLV configuration. After working for two decades in ISRO and mastering launch vehicle technologies, Dr. Kalam took up the responsibility of developing Indigenous Guided Missiles at Defence Research and Development Organisation as the Chief Executive of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). He was responsible for the development and operationalisation of AGNI and PRITHVI Missiles and for building indigenous capability in critical technologies through networking of multiple institutions.

He was the Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development from July 1992 to December 1999. During this period he led to the weaponisation of strategic missile systems and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in collaboration with Department of Atomic Energy, which made India a nuclear weapon State.

He also gave thrust to self-reliance in defence systems by progressing multiple development tasks and mission projects such as Light Combat Aircraft.

As Chairman of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and as an eminent scientist, he led the country with the help of 500 experts to arrive at Technology Vision 2020 giving a road map for transforming India from the present developing status to a developed nation.
Dr. Kalam has served as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in the rank of Cabinet Minister, from November 1999 to November 2001 and was responsible for evolving policies, strategies and missions for many development applications. Dr. Kalam was also the Chairman, Ex-officio, of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C) and piloted India Millennium Mission 2020.

Dr. Kalam took up academic pursuit as Professor, Technology & Societal Transformation at Anna University, Chennai from November 2001 and was involved in teaching and research tasks. Above all he took up a mission to ignite the young minds for national development by meeting high school students across the country.

In his literary pursuit four of Dr. Kalam's books - "Wings of Fire", "India 2020 - A Vision for the New Millennium", "My journey" and "Ignited Minds - Unleashing the power within India" have become household names in India and among the Indian nationals abroad. These books have been translated in many Indian languages.

Dr. Kalam is one of the most distinguished scientists of India with the unique honour of receiving honorary doctorates from 30 universities and institutions. He has been awarded the coveted civilian awards - Padma Bhushan (1981) and Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna (1997). He is a recipient of several other awards and Fellow of many professional institutions.

Dr. Kalam became the 11th President of India on 25th July 2002. His focus is on transforming India into a developed nation by 2020.

51. Panel absolves judges

by Azura Abas, New Straits Times

A six-man panel of prominent names in the judiciary, both local and foreign, has absolved the senior judges involved in the 1988 judicial crisis.

The panel comprised former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma; retired Attorney-General of Pakistan Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim; Pakistan Human Rights Commission chairman Dr Asma Jahangir; Law Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA) past president Dr Gordon Hughes; lawyer Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman and legal consultant Datuk W.S.W. Bill Davidson.

They examined the proceedings of the first tribunal which had found former lord president Tun Salleh Abas guilty of misbehaviour and the second tribunal that had recommended the removal of senior judges Datuk George Edward Seah and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawan Teh.

For almost a year, looking through materials made available in both tribunals, the six concluded that Salleh was innocent of all charges against him and determined that he had performed his constitutional duty to uphold and protect the doctrine of separation of power and the rule of law in the larger interest of the country.

For the conclusions and findings reached by the second tribunal, they had found "glaring inconsistencies between enunciation of the legal principles and their application to the facts by the tribunal" which they had deemed as "incomprehensible".

One of the recommendations listed in the 79-page report to rebuild public confidence in the country's judiciary system was to use the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA Region, 1997, of which Malaysia is one of the signatories, as guidelines for the nation's independence of the judiciary and judicial accountability.

The panel also prescribed the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct 2002 that Malaysia could consider as a guideline. The code of conduct was built with reference to several codes and international instruments, including the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association, August 1972; the European Charter on the Statute for Judges, Council of Europe, July 1998; as well as the Judges' Code of Ethics of Malaysia, prescribed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the recommendation of the chief justice, the president of the Court of Appeal and the chief judges of the High Courts, in the exercise of powers conferred by Article 125(3A) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, 1994.

Later, Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the review made on the 1988 crisis was to clear the record for those involved.

"We knew these judges were innocent but there are published records that state otherwise," she said.

"The Government should accept it in full."

Ambiga said the report, commissioned by Malaysian Bar, LAWASIA, International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute, and Transparency International Malaysia would be forwarded to the government, Bar associations abroad and international organisations.

Together with the report and the payment of exgratia to the senior judges involved, she also believed the 1988 judicial crisis chapter could now be closed.

However, she hoped the crisis would act as a reminder to the nation on the importance of having an independent judiciary by keeping it separate from the executive and to have a judicial reform.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

50. Floods in India

Millions of farmers and their families may be displaced for months after severe floods in northern India wiped out crops and homes, leaving hundreds of villages under several feet of water and hundreds dead.

The Kosi River in Bihar, one of the poorest and most populous Indian states, overflowed its banks this past week after a dam burst in neighboring Nepal, causing the worst floods in the area in 50 years.

More than 21 million people and over 102,000 hectares, or 394 square miles, have been affected by the flooding, the Bihar government said on Friday. About a quarter of a million people have been evacuated so far - IHT.

49. Excerpts of Acceptance Speech by Barack Obama

( kind courtesy of CNN )

*Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

*Tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land -- enough! This moment -- this election -- is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."

*Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and our respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

*But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Sen. McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.

*Now, I don't believe that Sen. McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under $5 million a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than 100 million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

*For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy -- give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. You're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps -- even if you don't have boots. You are on your own.

*Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States.

*That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president.

Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will, listen now, cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

*And for the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. We will do this.

*Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years, and by the way John McCain's been there for 26 of them. And in that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil that we had as the day that Sen. McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

*As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

*Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. You know, Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American -- if you commit to serving your community or our country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

*Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons.

*Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime -- by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less -- because we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy.

*And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility to provide love and guidance to their children.

*Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility -- that's the essence of America's promise.

*And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush administration, even after we learned that Iraq has $79 billion in surplus while we are wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need a president who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

*You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice -- but that is not the change that America needs.

*We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans -- have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

*As commander in chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

*I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

*But what I will not do is suggest that the senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and each other's patriotism.

*The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America -- they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

*We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. You know, passions may fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. But this, too, is part of America's promise -- the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

*For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us -- that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it -- because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

*You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

*Instead, it is that American spirit -- that American promise -- that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

*America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise -- that American promise -- and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

48. Profile of Barack Obama

If elected president of the United States, Barack Obama would be the country's first African-American president.

It is a prospect that, in a country scarred from centuries of racial tension and violence, has tantalised many.

Whatever happens in the November's poll, his victory in the Democratic nomination contest following a drawn out battle was a historic moment in US politics.

There is little doubt that he enjoys considerable popular support, having forged a campaign that has drawn on the backing of African-Americans and young voters.

But Obama's message of change has also turned into a fundraising phenomenon, raising more than $330 million dollars since his campaign began, 99 per cent of it from individual donors, easily outstripping his Democratic rivals.

Critics say that Obama's campaign is based on style over substance and he has been attacked by some commentators for seeming to shy away from making definitive policy statements.

And in recent months Obama has been accused of revising and even backtracking on some of his positions on key issues such as the Middle East peace process.

The son of a Kenyan father and American mother, Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. After his parents divorce, his mother remarried and he lived in Indonesia for several years.

He later obtained his degree in New York and spent several years working for church groups assisting the poor in Chicago in the midwestern state of Illinois.

Obama eventually, like several other presidential candidates, entered the legal profession, becoming the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review while obtaining his law degree.

He then returned to Chicago, teaching and working as a civil rights lawyer before entering the Illinois state senate in 1997.

In 2004, Obama was elected to the US senate, only the third African-American to achieve such a post since the US's Reconstruction era of the late 19th century, as his website proudly touts.

Not long afterwards, Obama delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic party's annual convention in Boston, Massachusetts, in which he criticised George Bush, the US president and called for an end to the Iraq war.

The speech sparked national interest in the young senator, and soon led to breathless queries from the media over whether he would announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

When he finally did so, there was a media frenzy. The young, photogenic senator was feted by many as the new face of the Democrats.

But it took a long, at times bitter and often bruising presidential primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, for Obama to clinch the Democratic nomination.

And after capturing the nomination Obama had to move quickly to wrest initiative from Republican nominee John McCain.

The prospect of an African-American with a Muslim heritage becoming president has raised hopes of many around the world for changes in US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
However in his first major speech after winning the nomination Obama angered many Arabs when he told an influential pro-Israel US lobby group that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel.

Those fears were heightened during Obama's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, when he once again underlined his support for Israel.

However, on Iraq and Iran, Obama has said he will chart a very different course from that of the Bush administration.

Obama has also made much of his early opposition to the war on Iraq and his stated policy is to withdraw US troops from the country.

The Illinois senator has also said he could be prepared to negotiate with the leaders of countries that are perceived to be hostile to the US, such as Iran and Cuba.

At home, however, Obama is going to have to work hard to to quell concerns over his perceived lack of experience in foreign policy.

During his drawn out primary battle, Obama struggled to win the votes of white, working-class voters in many areas, a consideration that could influence his choice of running mate.

And while polls have indicated that Obama is by far the candidate most countries across the world would like to see win the election, it is his own people he must convince in order to capture the presidency and make US history.

Source: Al Jazeera

47. Service Interruption

My Journal would like to apologise to all readers that no postings were possible yesterday due to Streamyx service interruption by Telekoms Malaysia. Postings resume today.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

46. Prime Minister-In-Waiting

Major events in the life of Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, 61

1968: Mr Anwar emerges as a major political activist by helping to found the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, a leading students organisation.

1974: He is arrested and imprisoned without trial for 20 months after leading student protests against poverty among farmers.

1982: Then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad enlists Mr Anwar to join the United Malays National Organisation ruling party. He wins a parliamentary seat in northern Permatang Pauh constituency.

1983: Tun Dr Mahathir appoints Mr Anwar as Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports.

1986: Mr Anwar becomes Education Minister and implements policies seen as favouring the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.

1991: Dr Mahathir places Mr Anwar in charge of the Ministry of Finance.

1993: Mr Anwar wins ruling party poll to become deputy prime minister.

April-June, 1997: Dr Mahathir takes a two-month holiday, leaving mr Anwar as acting leader.

June-September, 1997: Asian financial crisis hits Malaysia. Dr Mahathir reverses several actions Mr Anwar took.

Sept 2, 1998: Dr Mahathir fires Mr Anwar from the Cabinet after an economic policy dispute.

Sept 20, 1998: Mr Anwar is arrested for alleged sodomy after he leads a protest during which tens of thousands demand that Dr Mahathir resign.

Sept 29, 1998: Mr Anwar appears in court and pleads innocent to corruption and sodomy charges.

April 14, 1999: Mr Anwar is convicted of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison. He is forced to resign his Parliament seat.

Aug 8, 2000: Mr Anwar is found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison, to begin after completion of six-year corruption sentence.

Oct 31, 2003: Dr Mahathir retires and hands power to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Sept 2, 2004: Malaysia's highest court overturns Mr Anwar's sodomy conviction and frees him.

March 8, 2008: Mr Anwar's three-party opposition alliance wins an unprecedented 82 seats in Malaysia's 222-member Parliament and wrests control of five states.

Apr 14, 2008: A ban on Mr Anwar holding political office stemming from his corruption conviction expires. Mr Anwar claims he can topple the government through parliamentary defections by mid-September.

June 29, 2008: Mr Anwar's 23-year-old male former aide accuses Mr Anwar of sodomising him.

July 31, 2008: Mr Anwars wife vacates her parliamentary seat in Permatang Pauh to allow him to contest it.

Aug 7, 2008: Mr Anwar pleads innocent in court to a charge of sodomising his former aide.

Aug 26, 2008: Mr Anwar regains his parliamentary seat in Permatang Pauh in a landslide electoral victory. ST/AP

45.Renewed Opportunism

Analysis by Malaysian Insider

It's is hardly surprising that Umno leadership pretenders, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, have renewed calls for Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's resignation as premier after Barisan Nasional's comprehensive defeat in the Permatang Pauh by-election.

The pressure for Abdullah to step down started right after BN's disastrous performance in the general election but quietened soon after the prime minister and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced a transition plan which would see the latter taking over both the administration and party sometime in the middle of 2010.

Although not unanimously accepted by Umno rank and file, it was enough to buy Abdullah some time to build his legacy and give Najib a chance to resuscitate a tattered public image courtesy of his top advisor's involvement in the gruesome Altantuya murder.

The transition plan scuppered plans by Abdullah's detractors in the party to oust him during Umno's general assembly in December. Most notably, Abdullah chief critic from within his own cabinet, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, was forced to back down from contesting one of the two top posts in Umno to defending his third-tier vice presidency.

Many felt Muhyiddin was forced to retreat because with Abdullah and Najib circling the wagon with the transition plan, there was little support among party leaders and warlords for him to move up the party hierarchy.

Similarly, Tengku Razaleigh's campaign to once again become the president of Umno was losing its momentum. Privately his advisers admitted to fighting a losing battle and the transition plan was as good as a nail in his political coffin.

For Mukhriz, his political career's high point of replicating his father's act of dissent by writing a letter demanding the prime minister's resignation lost any traction it may have generated with the 2010 plan and his own hopes of becoming the next party youth leader were also diminishing with a strong surge of popularity of former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo among grassroots youth members.

So for these Abdullah critics, the result of the Permatang Pauh by-election is another opportunity for them to generate momentum against the prime minister.

They claim that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's victory is confirmation of the rakyat's rejection and repudiation of Abdullah's leadership. The result is a signal that nothing has been done to salvage the situation since the general election and BN needs a new leader before it becomes too late.

Such calls are at best opportunistic. First of all, this was not an election that was winnable for BN. It took place in Anwar's "back yard" and is a seat that has been in the Anwar family for the last seven terms.

From the get go, many in Umno had already conceded defeat and this was reflected in the reality that at times during the campaign it appeared as though Najib was the only Umno leader working the ground.

While admittedly the prime minister's public approval ratings have been sliding, they are still as strong as Anwar's and Najib's. The by-election was fought under very difficult localised circumstances for BN and to use the results to hasten Abdullah's departure would be opportunistic as well as missing the point of the defeat.

Secondly, the by-election was, if anything, framed as a referendum between Anwar and Najib. Again, although this is unfair because it was held in Anwar's stronghold, many sized up both "prime ministers-in-waiting" during the campaign.

Anwar was as relentless in his attacks on Najib and vice versa. The deputy prime minister believed at one point his own credibility was at stake and swore in a mosque that he never met Altantuya or had anything to do in her murder.

If anything, Najib is as damaged as Abdullah after this by-election campaign which means whenever a leadership does transition takes place, it will do little to save the fate of Umno and BN.

To be fair, Tengku Razaleigh understood this and launched his latest salvo against the top two leaders. Mukhriz, on the other hand, was more disingenuous refusing to criticise Najib for tactical reasons relating to his own future career and limiting his attacks to his father's arch enemy, Abdullah.

Thirdly, Umno and BN must understand that this is not the time to mess about with pressure on the leadership. With Anwar's threat of Sept 16 looming, Umno and BN need to hunker down, close ranks and train their guns outwards.

They are already going to be in for a rough ride with Anwar as the parliamentary opposition leader, they cannot afford to waste their time and energy attacking their own leadership especially after a transition plan between Abdullah and Najib was put in place very recently.

Lastly, the calls for the prime minister to step down again demonstrates Umno's ignorance of the real causes for their plunging popularity. It is not Abdullah per se that the rakyat are rejecting but the system that Umno is seen to propagate.

The refusal to reform, the denial of corruption and the inability to appear magnanimous to non-Malay interests continue to characterise Umno. This is what the rakyat is against and they punished Abdullah for it in the general election because he let them down by not moving firmly enough with his reform agenda.

Umno needs to understand that the by-election result was largely due to Anwar and his personal connection with the voters of Permatang Pauh. While there may be many national factors, these alone do not explain Anwar's resounding win.

He is "family" to the people of Permatang Pauh - a favourite son that they believe will be prime minister. To take the result and turn it against Abdullah smacks of sheer opportunism and denial of the root causes for Umno’s and BN's continued decline into obscurity.

44. K.L. Floods

Massive traffic jams were reported along the Federal Highway, KL-Seremban highway, Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan Tun Perak and Puduraya. A City Hall flood operations room spokesman said the water levels at Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak rose about two metres within an hour after the rain - The Star.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

43. Anwar's Uncertain Journey

By Premesh Chandran, CEO Malaysiakini

Condemned to political oblivion, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has completed a spectacular comeback to politics just short of the 10th anniversary of his expulsion from the cabinet and Umno.

He will soon be appointed opposition leader, taking the seat right opposite Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and leading the Opposition in the budget debate, home ground for the former finance minister.

Nevertheless, leading the Opposition is hardly Anwar’s objective. Anwar has declared – and repeated in recent weeks – that he will have the numbers to form government by September 16th. With 81 in Pakatan Rakyat and one independent,30‘converts’ are needed to reach the magic number of 112, a clean majority of the 222 members of parliament.

Once the majority is achieved, politicians wanting to stay on the governing side will create a second wave of defections, expected to take Pakatan up to a comfortable majority

Most are skeptical that Anwar has the numbers. Within the BN, only the Sabah Progressive Party - with two parliamentarians - has come out publicly in support of a motion of no-confidence against the current prime minister. Nevertheless, rumours abound on how Pakatan will get the breakthrough.

One such strategy is that, rather than rely on individual parliamentarians, Anwar will seek to break the Barisan National coalition, and bring whole parties into Pakatan. With junior coalition partners feeling the strain of Umno hegemony, the timing may be right for defection.

The first cracks may occur if Pakatan is able to get just three parliamentarians in Peninsula Malaysia to defect. With a simple majority of 83 out of 165 MPs in the peninsular, Pakatan will then be able to occupy the political high ground and call on political parties of Sabah and Sarawak to work with the majority coalition of the peninsular.

The east Malaysian parties may well be able to justify a withdrawal from the BN and a new tactical alliance with Pakatan. This will push Pakatan well beyond the 112 members of parliament to form government.

Another scenario involves Umno losing its dominance within the BN. If nine out of 79 Umno parliamentarians cross over, Umno will be a minority within the coalition and will have difficulty holding on to the reins of power.

BN will not go quietly

If Anwar succeeds in putting the numbers together and pushing through a no-confidence motion against Abdullah, it remains to be seen how the Yang-diPertuan Agong will exercise his power in appointing a new prime minister.

Under Article 40 and 43 of the Federal Constitution, the Yang-diPertuan Agong is at liberty to appoint a new prime minister "who in his judgement, is likely to command the confidence of the majority". Hence selecting the opposition leader is not necessarily an automatic decision.

The king could instead appoint the current deputy prime minister Najib Razak, if he believes that Najib can command a majority in Parliament. The opposition would then have to table another no-confidence motion against Najib.

Most believe the BN would rather go to the polls then hand over power to the opposition. Nevertheless, it is within the discretion of the King to dissolve the parliament.

If another general election is called, some BN component parties may chose to exit the coalition and contest on their own, in order to be free to align with the victors.

Even with sufficient support, the journey to Putrajaya will be littered with booby traps. After 50 years in power, few expect BN to go quietly. The closer Anwar gets, the more likely the struggle for power will get dirty, very dirty.

All attempts will be made to remove Anwar from the political scene, at least temporarily, and then exert enough pressure to split Pakatan. While the first attempt at this – creating charges of sodomy while negotiating with PAS – failed to produce results, other such attempts are likely to be forthcoming.

Defecting BN politicians may also see themselves being investigated for corruption overnight.

The battle will not end, even if Anwar succeeds in becoming prime minister. Constitutionally, enforcement and judicial bodies are outside the ambit and control of the prime minister.

Even out of power, Umno may have sufficient influence over the civil service, the media and the police to make governing the country an acrimonious affair.

42. OathTomorrow


by Lee Yuk Peng, The Star

Newly-elected Permatang Pauh MP Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will be taking his oath in the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia made the announcement when the sitting resumed at 10am Wednesday.

The Speaker's office confirmed receiving the letter from the Election Commission on the Permatang Pauh by-election result on Wednesday morning.

This means Anwar will be able to attend the Parliament sitting starting Thursday and he will in the House for the tabling of the Budget on Friday.

At a press conference later, Pandikar said he had yet to receive any letter from the opposition parties on the post of Opposition Leader.

"I am still waiting to hear from the opposition parties,'' said Pandikar, adding that the EC was very efficient, notifying him of the by-election result within a short period of time.

Pandikar also said Anwar has been informed of the oath-taking ceremony.

At the Parliament Lobby, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said PKR, DAP and PAS will be sending a letter to Pandikar to appoint Anwar as the Opposition Leader.

Anwar on Tuesday won the Permatang Pauh by-election by a resounding 15,671 majority, beating Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah who only managed 15,524 votes and Akim’s Hanafi Hamat who got 92 votes.

41. Anwar's Victory Speech

by Beh Lih Yi, Malaysiakini

Newly-elected Permatang Pauh MP Anwar Ibrahim has described his landslide victory in the by-election as a ‘defining moment' that should serve as a ‘major lesson' for the ruling BN.

"I thank the voters and consider this as a very defining moment in our history. This is in pursuant to the clamour and demand for change that you have seen during the March 8 general election," he told a packed press conference after he was declared as a winner.

Anwar won the parliamentary seat with a handsome majority of 15,671-majority vote after defeating his opponents, BN's Arif Shah Omar Shah and Akim's Hanafi Hamat.

An elated Anwar, who was accompanied by top leaders from the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, also said the election results should serve as a major lesson for BN to stop making personal attacks against him.

He said this when asked to respond to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak who had congratulated Anwar for his electoral victory at a separate function.

"I must thank him (Najib) for the congratulatory remark. This should be considered as a major lesson that in any election or by-election, all issues (discussed in the campaign) must be on the agenda and issues of politics.

"(They have to) stop the malicious and scurrilous attack or racist remark in the campaign. I thank him for his kind word and I would ask us - both BN and PKR - to move forward and discuss on the national reform agenda," said Anwar.

One of the issues that has been consistently featured in the BN's by-election campaign was the sodomy charge against Anwar, which has been denied by the latter as politically-motivated.

The BN leaders have also repeatedly challenged Anwar during the election campaign to make a religious oath that he has not sodomised his ex-aide as claimed. Anwar has declined to do so.

"All this controversy of oath will be resolved because I have now decided to take the oath," he quipped in referring to his oath-taking ceremony as a parliamentarian in the Parliament soon.

On the timing of when he will take the oath as MP, Anwar said it will be subject to the discussion between Election Commission and the House Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia.

He expressed hope that there will not be any undue delay of the ceremony, which will see his return to the Parliament after a 10-year hiatus since his unceremonious sacking from the government.

Anwar was tightlipped when asked on the impact of his electoral victory to the Sept 16 plan, the self-imposed deadline of the defection plan involving BN MPs which he has claimed will eventually see the BN government being toppled.

"I will take the oath, discuss and meet with the Pakatan leaders first and then announce (the next step)," he replied.

On the sodomy charge against him, he reiterated his confidence that there he would not be affected by it as "there is no case as far as I am concerned".

On his immediate plan, he quipped: "I'll catch some sleep and get back to Kuala Lumpur".

According to his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the family is likely to leave Permatang Pauh tonight to return to Kuala Lumpur. Party leaders said Anwar may be present at the Parliament tomorrow despite no scheduled oath-taking ceremony.

Also present at the press conference were Wan Azizah, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, as well as PAS vice-president Husam Musa.

Speaking at the same press conference, Kit Siang said there was no reason why there should be any delay into Anwar's swearing-in ceremony as past record has shown it could be done in 36 hours.

"Any delay will be disservice to the Permatang Pauh voters who have acted on behalf on 27 million Malaysians who have voted for democracy, justice and freedom," he said.

PAS' Husam said he was proud with the decision of the Permatang Pauh voters as it signalled people's demand for fundamental changes in the government.

Whereas for Guan Eng, who is also the Penang chief minister, he said the results showed that the racial politics does not work anymore in the new era of politics.

The press conference ended when Anwar asked his wife, who he has described as his "major strength" throughout his career, to speak.

Wan Azizah, the ex-parliamentary opposition leader and Permatang Pauh MP, said she was proud with the voters for having risen above racial barriers to vote for the future that Anwar advocates.

"I am proud to have been their representative of Permatang Pauh in the time when it was bad and now the time for the future and for change. I am very happy," she said in a visible jovial mood.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

40. Live Coverage...

Permatang Pauh Decides !
Live coverage, by kind courtesy of Malaysiakini, until official results are announced.

9.50pm: Final official EC tally - Anwar got 31,195 votes, Arif Shah, 15,524, Hanafi, 92. Anwar won with a majority of 15,671. Anwar's wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won the seat with a 13,388 majority at the March 8 general elections.The turnout is 80 percent, or 46,811 voters, which is much higher than what the EC has stated earlier.

Meanwhile, outside Tuanku Bainun Teaching Institute, thousands of jubilant PKR supporters have gathered to embrace their leader's return to Parliament.PKR vice-president Azmin Ali is already there to address the crowd numbering some 6,000. Other party leaders like R Sivarasa and Tian Chua are also there.Anwar is expected to address this ecstatic group of supporters later as well. Tian said that the overwhelming victory showed that "the prime minister's racial politics is bankrupt".

9.25pm: Official EC results: With final five ballot boxes to go, Anwar has bagged 29,526 votes, Arif Shah (14,444) and Hanafi (89). Majority so far: 15,082.

9.12pm: Official EC results: With 11 more boxes to go, Anwar has won the by-election with a 14,551 majority. He garnered 27,977 votes while BN's Arif Shah obtained 13,426 while Akim's Hanafi Hamat got 85.

8.55pm: The Barisan Nasional ruling coalition has declared defeat in a by-election against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who will return to parliament after a decade-long absence.

"Yes, of course, we have lost... we were the underdogs going into this race," said Umno information chief Muhammad Muhd Taib.

8pm: Unofficial results: Anwar Ibrahim is the winner, obtaining a majority of 16,210 votes. He garnered 26,646 votes while Arif Shah Omar Shah got 10,436. Anwar's wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won the seat with a 13,400 majority in the March 8 general election.

7.59pm: Unofficial latest count, Anwar has obtained 16,101 votes as opposed to Arif Shah's 6,071.

7.43pm The EC starts to announce official results as per the ballot boxes it has counted. As it stands, Anwar is leading by 3,507 votes.

The breakdown is as follows: Akim's Hanafi Hamat (9 votes), Anwar (5,398 votes) and Arif Shah (1,891).So far 20 ballot boxes of a total of 111 have been opened and counted. Anwar had won in ALL these 20 boxes. In one particular box, he had obtained 441 votes compared to Arif's 14.

7.25pm: There are signs of significant swing to PKR despite the lower turnout. In the state constituency of Penanti, which PKR won at the March 8 general elections, the party has bagged the sole polling station, Telok Wang, it failed to win five months ago.March 8 result: BN - 261 votes, PKR - 227Aug 26 result: BN - 232 votes, PKR - 260Anwar is also making gains in the state constitutency of Seberang Jaya, where PKR had lost to BN candidate Arif on March 8.

7.25pm: Anwar's press conference at 9pm is believed to declare his victory. The press conference was rescheduled to 9pm from its original time of 7.45pm.

7.20pm: Unofficial results so far: Anwar 5,855; Arif Shah 1,910

7.13pm PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim is to hold a press conference at his by-election headquarters at Yayasan Aman at 7.45pm. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak will also be holding a press conference at about 9pm.

6.55pm: Counting in all 25 polling stations is now underway. From inside sources, Anwar is leading in all voting streams. Votes are being counted simultaneously in all the polling stations with the results to be sent to the main counting centre for the final tally.According to EC secretary Kamaruzaman, 38,144 voters went to the ballot box today with turnout being 65.25 percent. This is much lower than the 82 percent turnout at the March 8 general elections

6.30pm: Thousands of supporters, almost all from PKR, have gathered at the main counting centre. A police helicopter was hovering above the centre. Numerous police roadblocks were also mounted along the roads leading to the centre - this despite the police blocking the main access to this place.About 30 police and FRU trucks were also seen in the vicinity, along with hundreds of police personnel

6.05pm: According to EC secretary Kamaruzaman, voter turnout was at 63.7 percent at 4pm. Final voter turnout yet to be released but expected to be lower than the 82 percent at the March 8 general elections.

5.53pm: The police have blocked the main road to the Tuanku Bainun counting centre where the announcement will be made later tonight. Even journalists with EC tags are not allowed to pass through. The move is seen as an attempt to deter people from gathering at the centre.

5.26pm: BN candidate Arif Shah is still confident of taking the seat.

5.11pm: PKR top leaders are confident that Anwar would win the seat as their exit polls show that he is leading by 18,000 votes.

5.10pm: EC officials will start counting votes polled at the respective polling centres by 6.30pm. The final count from all 25 polling centres will then be brought to the Institut Perguruan Tuanku Bainun for the official result to be announced.

5pm: Polling ends for the Permatang Pauh by-election.

4.35pm: Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is understood to have left Penang to Kuala Lumpur, an early indication that the premier has accepted defeat and has no reason to stay back.

4.25pm: Voter turnout stands at 53.5 percent, according to EC secretary Kamaruzaman at 3pm.
He also denied rumours that the EC had extended the voting hours to 6pm. Polls will close at 5pm.

2.35pm: PKR vice-president Azmin Ali wants all party supporters to use motorcycles to go to the polling centres due to the massive traffic jams in all roads leading to these centres.

"From the indications we are getting, we are very confident of Anwar's lead," he said.

But he said that traffic gridlock on the narrow roads of the largely rural electorate had disrupted exit polling aimed at determining how voters cast their ballots.

"It is so bad that it's very hard for us to determine accurate exit polls due to the large number of people filling the polling centres and the long jams outside," he told AFP.

2.30pm: A worried-sounding BN candidate Arif Shah is urging voters to come out to vote.

2.20pm: Malaysians for Free and Fair Election (Mafrel) spokesperson Ong BK said the election watchdog has recorded three cases of voters' names missing from the electoral roll this morning.

He said these complainants have all voted in the previous elections but could not find their names on the roll today. In one case, the complainant found his name missing despite his wife being allowed to vote.

"We don't know whether this is going to be a pattern as we have to continue to monitor the process until polling is closed" he told Malaysiakini.

1.27pm: The rain has stopped in certain areas, the traffic situation has improved in some parts and voters seem to be taking their time off for lunch first.

1.15pm: All roads leading to voting centres are going nowhere! Traffic has come to a standstill in most parts of Permatang Pauh.

Najib attributed the massive traffic jams at the centres to narrow roads and on voters coming out early to vote.

1pm: Election Commission secretary Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor said voter turnout as at noon was 44.8 percent.

However EC deputy chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar told Malaysiakini that he estimated the turnout to be at about 53 percent as at 1pm.

39.Thai Protesters Storm-In

from Al-Jazeera

Anti-government protesters have pushed their way into a compound housing offices of the prime minister, just hours after they took over a government-run television station.

The protesters, members of the People's Alliance for Democracy, did not attempt to enter the prime minister's office, but are demanding his resignation.

Police said between 15,000 and 17,000 protesters broke a chain on the gate and entered the grounds.

Earlier on Tuesday, protesters wearing black and with their faces covered forced the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) off the air.

The state broadcaster was off for several hours and the attack caused minor damage but no injuries, Thai media reported.

Police arrested about 80 people, some of whom were armed with guns, knives, sling shots and golf clubs, NBT reported.

Protestes say it is their final push to bring down the elected government of Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister.

Soifah Osukonthip, an NBT newscaster, said the protesters repeatedly shouted at staff to "get out".

"All 150 of us were rounded up for a short while before police arrived and talked them down to the ground floor," Soifah said.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an anti-government protest group, initially denied any involvement in the raid but after the arrests PAD leaders at a semi-permanent protest venue in central Bangkok, the capital, called on their followers to march on the state broadcaster.
Hundreds of protesters were seen bursting through police lines and protesting outside the gates of the media compound.

Thousands more had gathered outside the compound of the main government offices, Government House, preventing employees from entering.

"We are now controlling most of the key government offices to prevent them from coming to work," Sondhi Limthongkul, a PAD leader, said on Tuesday.

The PAD is hoping to draw "hundreds of thousands" of people to Tuesday's rally outside Government House, in its latest attempt to unseat the elected government.

Police say they are expecting only up to 35,000 people but do not plan to confront the demonstrators, a spokesman said.

The prime minister said in a televised speech on Monday that he was not threatened by the rally and that "if they break any law, they will be dealt with accordingly".

38. Nawas Sharif Pulls Out

by Jane Perlez, The New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The five-month-old coalition government in Pakistan collapsed Monday when the head of the minority party, Nawaz Sharif, announced his members would leave the fractious alliance, citing broken promises by Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the majority party.

“We have been forced to leave the coalition,” Mr. Sharif said in Islamabad. “We joined the coalition with full sincerity for the restoration of democracy. Unfortunately all the promises were not honored.”

The exit by Mr. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, had been expected in the last few days, and was finally spurred by the decision of Mr. Zardari to run for president, in an electoral college vote set for Sept. 6. President Pervez Musharraf resigned last week under threat of impeachment.

The departure of Mr. Sharif, whose party sat uneasily with Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, is unlikely to result in immediate elections. Mr. Sharif said his members would sit in the opposition in the Parliament and try to play a “constructive” role.

The Pakistan Peoples Party holds the most seats in the Parliament, but not a majority. Political analysts said they expected it would be able to cobble together a new parliamentary coalition with smaller parties.

Still, Pakistan faces continued political instability that may distract from serious governance and serious efforts to turn back the growing strength of the Taliban in the northwestern parts of the nation.

The main problem between Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari was a profound disagreement over the future of the former chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was fired by President Musharraf in March 2007, reinstated by the court in July, and placed under house arrest in November. He was finally freed in March of this year, but has yet to be restored to the bench.

Mr. Sharif has insisted that Mr. Chaudhry along with some 60 other judges, who were also fired in November, when Mr. Musharraf declared emergency rule, should be restored to the bench.

To drive home the point about broken promises, Mr. Sharif, a former two-time prime minister, released an accord signed by the two men on Aug. 7.

The document shows that Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif agreed that all the judges would be restored by an executive order one day after Mr. Musharraf’s impeachment or resignation. But Mr. Zardari stalled.

In an interview with the BBC Urdu-language radio service on Saturday, Mr. Zardari defended his position, saying agreements with the Pakistan Muslim League-N were not “holy like the holy Koran.”

The Aug. 7 accord, signed as the two parties maneuvered to force Mr. Musharraf out, also said the two men would agree on a presidential candidate.

Instead, according to Mr. Sharif’s aides, Mr. Zardari went ahead to plan his own candidacy for the presidency, and arranged for the election to be held on Sept. 6 without consulting Mr. Sharif.

At the news conference in Islamabad, Mr. Sharif introduced his party’s candidate for president, Saeed-uz-zaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice. Mr. Siddiqui refused to take the oath of office to remain as chief justice after Mr. Musharraf took power from Mr. Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999.

The presidential vote polls the national Parliament and four provincial assemblies. It is expected that Mr. Zardari will prevail.

There was no immediate official reaction from the Pakistan Peoples Party on the collapse of the coalition.

But a member of Parliament from the party, Fauzia Wahab, said the party would “conveniently and easily survive” without the support of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. She criticized Mr. Sharif for “holding the system hostage of one man,” meaning Mr. Chaudhry.

Mr. Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December, has consistently opposed the reappointment of Mr. Chaudhry since the coalition came together after Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

The basis of Mr. Zardari’s objection appears grounded in a fear that the judge would undo the amnesty granted to Mr. Zardari on corruption charges when he returned to Pakistan on the death of his wife after years in exile.

Mr. Zardari served in government in the 1990s, when Ms. Bhutto was twice prime minister in the 1990s. He spent more than eight years in jail on various corruption charges that were dropped on his return and which he says were politically motivated.

In the week since Mr. Musharraf resigned, Mr. Zardari has emerged as the chief political force in Pakistan, and he appears to have the backing of the Bush administration as he drives forward toward the presidency.

In the past two days, Mr. Zardari’s statements have increasingly coincided with Washington’s policies, particularly on the campaign against terror, the United States’ central concern here.

In the BBC radio interview, Mr. Zardari used unusually strong words against the Taliban, whose presence in Pakistan’s tribal areas has gathered steam in the last year. “The world is losing the war,” he said of the fight against the Taliban. “I think at the moment they definitely have the upper hand.”

Mr. Zardari said in the interview the Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella group of the Taliban in Pakistan, should be banned. On Monday, the Interior Ministry announced the group would be added to the list of banned organizations. Other Islamic extremist groups are on the Interior Ministry’s list, but the listing appears to have had little effect.

Several months ago, the government in the North-West Frontier Province, which is allied with Mr. Zardari’s party, signed a peace agreement with an Islamic extremist group, in the province’s Swat Valley. That accord is now broken and the Pakistani Army has been fighting the group for the last several weeks.

Salman Masood contributed reporting.

Monday, August 25, 2008

37. The Beijing Olympics

..... and so another Olympic Games came to an end last night in a spectacular show of fireworks. Farewell Beijing and onwards to London in 2012. Below are some highlights of the 29th Olympiad.

Fireworks extravaganza brings Beijing games to a close as the flag is officially passed to London.
For some action, here is a video clip of Usain Bolt, in the men's 100 metre finals, becoming the fastest man on earth.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

36.Abraham Lincoln said:

" You may deceive all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time."

- Abraham Lincoln, 1809 - 1865, 16th President of the United States.

35. Obama-Biden it is !

from CNN, Springfield, Illinois

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama introduced Sen. Joe Biden to the nation as his running mate on Saturday, telling supporters he is "a leader who is ready to step in and be president."

"For months, I've searched for a leader to finish this journey alongside me and join me in making Washington work for the American people. I searched for a leader who understood the rising costs confronting working people and will always put their dreams first," Obama said.

"Today, I've come back to Springfield to tell you I've found that leader," he said.

The rally is the pair's first joint appearance since Obama announced that Biden, the senior U.S. senator from Delaware, would be his running mate on his Web site and in a text message to supporters early Saturday morning.

Thousands of cheering supporters gathered Saturday for the rally in Springfield, Illinois, where Obama announced his candidacy last year. It will be their only public appearance together before next week's Democratic convention in Denver.

As he took to the podium at Saturday's rally, Biden invoked the 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, who was from Illinois.

"President Lincoln once instructed us to be sure to put your feet in the right place and then stand firm," said Biden, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

"Today in Springfield, I know my feet are in the right place, and I'm proud to stand firm with the next president of the United States of America, Barack Obama."

Democrats hope that Biden's working-class roots and foreign policy experience will help Obama, who informed Biden of his decision Thursday.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, called Biden on Saturday morning and congratulated him, CNN's John King reported.

Before the text messages were distributed, multiple Democratic sources confirmed to CNN early Saturday that Obama wanted the Delaware senator as his vice president.

On Friday, CNN learned that three Democrats who had been considered contenders for the No. 2 spot, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, had been ruled out.

"Sen. Obama has continued in the best traditions for the vice presidency by selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant," Clinton said in a written statement Saturday morning.

"Sen. Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Sen. Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country."

Biden's stock rose this week after he returned from a two-day trip to the Republic of Georgia after Russian troops invaded.

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brings decades of experience that could help counter GOP attacks on Obama's lack of experience in foreign policy.

McCain's campaign quickly reacted to word that Biden would be Obama's running mate, calling attention to Biden's past comments about Obama's experience.

"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt said in a written statement.

"Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing: that Barack Obama is not ready to be president."

In a debate during the Democratic primary contest, Biden raised questions about other candidates' foreign policy experience.

"Who among us is going to be able on Day One to step in and end the war? Who among us understands what to do about Pakistan? Who among us is going to pick up the phone and immediately interface with Putin and tell him to lay off Georgia because Saakashvili is in real trouble. Who among us knows what they're doing? I have 35 years of experience," Biden said.

During another debate, moderator George Stephanopoulos referred to some of Biden's comments on Obama.

"You were asked, 'Is he ready?' You said, 'I think he can be ready, but right now, I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training,' " Stephanopoulos said.

"I think I stand by that statement," Biden replied.

In July, Biden said he would choose Obama's judgment over McCain's war record and foreign policy experience.

"But 20 years of experience that has not been very solid in terms of projecting what was going to happen just doesn't make you a better commander in chief," Biden said. "We don't need as a commander in chief a war hero. John's a war hero. We need someone with some wisdom."

Biden abandoned his own White House run after a poor showing in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. He also ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination but dropped out after charges of plagiarism in a stump speech.

Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Shortly afterward, his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. He considered resigning but decided to continue with his political career.

Biden is serving out his sixth term, making him Delaware's longest-serving senator.

He is married and has three children. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and got a law degree from Syracuse.

In 1988, Biden suffered an aneurysm and nearly died but has recovered fully.

One of Biden's grandfathers was a Pennsylvania state senator, according to the Almanac of American Politics.

Biden will make his first big speech as the vice presidential candidate on Wednesday, the third night of the Democratic convention.

34. Power Dams

by Lee Poh Onn in Asia Sentinel

Malaysia’s politicians authorize a spate of dams they don’t appear to need.

Plans to build 12 new dams in Sarawak, allegedly to meet power demands for decades to come, have recently been uncovered despite the fact that the state has 20 percent more capacity than it needs now - before the controversial Bakun Dam comes online in 2011, bringing with it even more overcapacity.

When news of the projects became public, environmentalists were up in arms. The two existing dams in Sarawak, Batang Ai Dam completed and Bakun Dam nearing completion, were accompanied by a range of widely publicized socio-economic and environmental repercussions worrying enough for the anti-dam faction to exhibit public outrage.

The pro-dam faction, Sarawak's ruling polity, its electricity board, business conglomerates and businesspeople, see the benefits, given that Sarawak has major waterways and a river system that can be drawn into the process of producing hydroelectricity. They also say dams can provide a clean source of energy and, in addition, help Malaysia to diversify away from fossil
fuels which in the past year have witnessed
skyrocketing prices.

Dams are also regarded as supplying clean energy which does not add to the carbon footprint. Industries generate growth and in turn create employment opportunities, and so the official line goes. Importantly, public projects like these have been known to enrich the private coffers of those in power.

The Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, launched in February 2008, is expected to add 1.5 million jobs in the state by 2030 and increase GDP by 5.5 percent per annum. The corridor would include a whole range of industries from downstream oil-based production and aquaculture to aluminium smelting and specialized glass making.

For example, the Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto Aluminium Ltd, has expressed an interest in setting up a RM7 billion smelting plant with Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd, of which two of the chief minister's sons are key directors.

Rio Tinto will reportedly need half of the total energy (1200 MW) produced by the Bakun dam, expected to be completed by 2011. Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) has also signed a MoU to supply energy to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) in Peninsula Malaysia.

The anti-dam group - environmental NGOs, indigenous communities, some members in opposition parties in Sarawak - have expressed alarm about the proposal to construct the new dams and the in-principle go-ahead given to another dam, the Murum.

The anti-dam forces have plenty of justification for concern, when their point of reference is the Bakun dam. The host of environmental issues, social impact on indigenous communities, engineering problems and cost overruns, and vested interests of the polity have been widely documented in the Malaysian press and NGO websites. In fact, the experience is generating grave concerns that history will repeat itself.

When the Bakun dam was approved in 1986, it involved the resettlement of 10,000 people from about 15 indigenous communities and the flooding of an area the size of Singapore. Studies have shown that the resettled communities have been under-compensated, biodiversity resources were compromised, native community rights have been overridden, and those ousted have experienced hardships which have not been adequately addressed by the state government even up to now.

Barring future cost overruns, the total cost of the dam is expected to be a whopping RM21 billion (about RM15 billion will be used to construct the proposed cable to link Sarawak to Peninsula Malaysia, which will only commence after the dam has been completed).

In the latest twist, in July 2008 Sime Darby pulled out from the mega project and relinquished both its ownership option and its involvement in constructing the undersea cable to channel electricity from Sarawak to peninsula Malaysia. The conglomerate cited economic factors although it said it would continue in its role as contractor and complete the construction of the dam itself.

Meanwhile, the state and federal governments have been attempting to allay public concerns by saying the project is progressing well and that the government is open to offers from other companies interested in completing the cable. The Second Finance Minister, Nor Mohamed Yakcop, has said that the government would seek new contractors to complete the undersea cables. The first cable is expected to be ready by 2013, the second by 2015.

Environmentalists have also repeatedly highlighted that the construction of the Bakun dam was due to vested political interests and grandiose plans of the then-prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad and Chief Minister of Sarawak Taib Mahmud. In 1994, the contract was awarded by the Sarawak government without tender to Ekran Berhad, a construction company owned by Ting Pek Khiing, a close ally to both leaders.

Ting himself was a timber businessman, with no experience in dam construction. Subsequently, the project was shelved because of the financial crisis and Ekran's problems with its contractors.

The state cites rising fossil fuel prices which make energy sources generated from dams economically more viable. But for Sarawak, supplying energy from Bakun to the peninsula may not be viable as estimates have put the costs to as high as 30 sen (US 9 cents) per kilowatt hour if the undersea cable is completed. Currently, Tenaga only pays RM 17 sen for each kilowatt of energy. Furthermore, Sarawak already currently has 20 percent overcapacity in its electricity supplies (it has 900 MW but only consumes 700 MW excluding the 2400 MW energy that will be supplied when the Bakun dam is completed). And Peninsula Malaysia has about 30 percent overcapacity in its present energy demands.

So where does this lead to? Should the state government carry on as usual and go about constructing the new dams in spite of concerns expressed by environmentalists?

Rest assured, the federal government will not have much say in the matter after the watershed March 8, 2008 national elections. The talk by Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PKR) coalition, of possible defections by MPs in Sabah and Sarawak after the upcoming September by-elections of the Permatang Pauh seat and PKR's offer to up petroleum royalties from the current 5 percent to 20 percent is enough to silence the ruling Barisan Nasional leaders on voicing their concerns over the economic viability of these additional dams. As such, the Sarawak government will be pretty much left to its own devices.

However, the state government should note that the backlash in the federal elections could also happen in Sarawak. Local elections are in 2011, though it is well known that the chief minister could call for early ones. The Sarawak government cannot continue to construct the new dams without listening to the voice of its indigenous communities and environmentalist NGOs.

The 2006 state elections in Sarawak itself already serve as a warning of things to come as nine seats were lost to the opposition. Previously, opposition parties only held two or at most three seats.

Although a change of government is unlikely, the opposition will likely increase its stronghold if the present ruling coalition continues to ignore public outcry over environmental excesses, in addition to ignoring the welfare of the Dayak communities in the state, which make up more than 40 percent of Sarawak's population.

Issues that are now pressing the state are adequately addressing its native customary rights in land ownership, providing adequate compensation for the revocation of land, opening discussions with the various stakeholders, and also a proper dispute settlement mechanism to avoid a repeat of the Bakun dam grievances which could lead to a state election debacle in 2011, similar to the Barisan's loss in March 2008.

[The writer is a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. His research interests are in environmental management issues in Southeast Asia. The views expressed here are his own.]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

33. The Airbus A340-300

The planes and its interior that Air Asia will be using to fly non-stop from Kuala Lumpur to London, and the Kangaroo route from Melbourne to London, come March 2009.

Photos by kind courtesy of Airbus.

32. That's Life

Kee's Cartoon by kind courtesy of The Star.

31. No Peace in Mindanao

by Carlos H. Conde, Asia Sentinel

A botched agreement, domestic politics and insurgent violence threaten to renew war in the southern Philippines.

By many accounts, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the separatist group in the southern Philippines, should have emerged the victor in what is now widely regarded as a fiasco involving a peace deal with the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the ensuing violence of the last week in Mindanao may well have ended any chance for peace in the immediate future.

The peace agreement, called the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, sought to give far more concessions to the MILF than previous administrations had offered to other Muslim groups. Among these were an expanded Muslim territory and the power and authority to exploit the rich natural resources in these areas as the autonomous Muslim rulers would see fit.

Perhaps more important for the MILF, the agreement was groundbreaking in that it did not mention the Philippine Constitution, the subtext being that the MILF or the would-be rulers of the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, the name of the expanded Muslim region, would operate outside its framework. This would be a sort of dream come true for the MILF, whose leaders, ever since the front's inception in the late '70s, had always maintained that any settlement should not be under the terms of the national Constitution.

Ironically, that proved to be the agreement’s undoing, along with the longstanding fear among many in Mindanao that the concessions could threaten Christian communities. Some Christian local officials sought the intercession of the Supreme Court, which issued a restraining order stopping the government and the MILF from signing the accord in Kuala Lumpur on Aug.6.

What followed pretty much destroyed whatever goodwill the MILF gained in the negotiations and, as a result, now threatens to return Mindanao to a state of war. Two days after the signing was scuttled, hostilities erupted when MILF elements in North Cotabato province under the command of Umbra Kato refused to vacate villages they had earlier occupied, according to the military. The military responded with force, plunging the province and nearby areas into violence and displacing more than 160,000 people from their homes.

Less than a week after that, MILF elements, this time under the leadership of one Commander Bravo, went on a rampage in several towns and villages in the province of Lanao del Norte, shooting civilians, hacking people to death, taking hostages as human shields, and burning down houses. Images of mutilated and burned bodies, including that of a two-year-old girl named Love-Love, flooded the mainstream media, eliciting an outcry from many sectors, including those who had been supportive of the peace process.

The MILF insisted that the attacks were not approved by its central leadership and promised to investigate and punish those responsible. Al Haj Murad, the MILF's chairman, told ABS-CBN television on Wednesday that the peace process remained a paramount consideration.

"We are trying our best to restrain our commanders in order to save the situation. This can be a beginning of the war if not properly handled,” Murad said. “There is still a chance in going back to peace as long as both parties ‑ for us and for the side of the government ‑ will implement utmost restraint in order to hold back the situation."

But to many Filipinos, the damage created by this week's atrocities is such that, in some parts of Mindanao, people are already reliving the horrors of the 1970s, the height of the government's so-called "pacification campaign" against the Moro National Liberation Front, which dominated the Moro movement at that time but has since largely come to terms with the government under a previous autonomy agreement. The MILF broke away from the MNLF in 1981.

On Wednesday, pictures emerged of a group of Christian militias, the Ilaga (literally, rats), arming themselves against the MILF. The name is itself frightening as the Ilaga were the often-vicious militias that faced Muslims in battle a generation ago.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, who was a Marine Corps commander in Mindanao in the 1970s, said Thursday that civilians arming themselves present "a big problem in this country." He recalled that during the insurgency drive in the 1970s, soldiers were taken from other areas to be deployed to Mindanao to pacify civilians who were killing each other. "We do not want a repeat of that," he said, but "that could happen if the government fails to restore peace and order and protect civilians."

In Manila, politicians denounced the MILF and called once again for an "all-out war" against the group, similar to the one launched by then-President Joseph Estrada in 2000. Estrada himself went on national television this week to accuse the Arroyo administration of treating the MILF with kid gloves.

Almost instantly, the other aspect of the peace deal that had riled many Filipinos prior to the attacks – the allegation that the agreement was a Trojan horse designed to keep Arroyo in power beyond 2010 – was nearly forgotten.

Before the attacks, Arroyo and her officials had insisted that the agreement could only be implemented if the Constitution was amended and the form of national government changed from the present centralized system into a federal one. Her critics and allies alike concede that during deliberations by the Philippine Congress on such amendments, no one could be prevented from introducing a proposal to shift to a parliamentary form of government in which Arroyo could be elected prime minister or to abolish the constitutional provision that bans a president from standing for re-election after a single six-year term. Arroyo's term expires in 2010.

The paranoia that greeted the peace deal can be partly explained by the fact that Arroyo, apart from being the most unpopular president since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has been plagued with questions over her legitimacy in office since ascending to power after Estrada was overthrown by a military-backed uprising in 2001. Matters were made worse by charges that she stole the 2004 elections through massive cheating – an allegation that prompted three impeachment complaints against her.

Also, many Filipinos still view her as ambitious and power-hungry, someone who would not hesitate to lie about her political plans if it suited her. (Prior to the 2004 elections, she promised Filipinos that she would not run for president. After being named president, she was quoted by Time magazine as saying, "God put me here.")

Her critics believe she wants to amend the Constitution to extend her term, a fear that has had the effect of poisoning even well-meaning campaigns to improve the charter hurriedly passed in 1987 after Marcos was overthrown. Indeed, at least two of the senators who had earlier backed a Senate resolution calling for a federal system withdrew their support, saying they did not want Arroyo to ride on that issue to prolong her stay.

After the attacks, all of these issues have been pushed to the periphery, allowing Arroyo to take the moral high ground and vow to crush the MILF factions that went on a rampage in Mindanao. Arroyo, said political analyst Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, "still wants the memorandum of agreement but the pressure is on her to deal forcefully with MILF."

"The MILF leadership, if they are serious about achieving peace in Mindanao, should discipline their ranks and not allow them to wreak havoc on the people of Mindanao," said Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a senator from Mindanao who is the foremost proponent of federalism as a way to end the decades of conflict in the region.

The Lanao atrocities, said Casiple, "exposed the fact that the MILF does not really respect human rights, the niceties of democratic and legal processes, and that they do not yet have the requisites of a responsible political movement and a credible aspirant for state governance.”

For Bobby Tuazon, a political analyst at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a Manila think tank, the atrocities were a pity because the MILF "may have gained something out of this fiasco. It was able to press the government to recognize – at least in motherhood principles – the ancestral domain claim of the Bangsamoro people." This, he said, "is a step forward in the MILF's jihad toward self-determination."

For the moment, many sectors, afraid that Mindanao will once again burn, are calling for restraint. "The primacy of the peace process is important," said Julkipli Wadi, an Islamic scholar at the University of the Philippines. "The government cannot afford not to have peace talks in Mindanao."