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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

> Anwar blames PM for 16/9

De facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim yesterday blamed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi for his failure to topple the government by Sept 16, saying that the takeover now must start with the party's victory in the Sarawak state election, scheduled to be held by 2011.

"We set a target, so together with Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang we sent a letter to the Prime Minister requesting a meeting, but he refused," said Anwar to some 5,000 supporters at a ceramah last night as part of the PKR national congress.

"We then asked for an emergency session of Parliament, they refused," the Opposition Leader said of his attempt two months ago to table a motion of no confidence against the government.

He reiterated that Pakatan Rakyat is ready to take over government.

"But to take over, to go through all the items to satisfy political observers, that is tough to answer," he said.

He also said that his answer to those who kept asking "when" was "wait."

Anwar reiterated that he could not reveal the Barisan Nasional MPs who had planned to defect to PR as that was part of the conditions set by the legislators he claimed would be defecting.

Anwar then declared to the party supporters that Sarawak is the new battlefront.

"We will have groups of MPs visiting Sarawak every week. If not, we will throw them out," he quipped.

He also claimed that there were Sarawakian BN MPs who had already pledged their full support.

"Sometimes, I get dizzy. Because they will sign their full support but the next day, he goes back to Kuching and attacks us. When I ask why? He says because they are suspicious of him," he explained - The Malaysian Insider.

> Open skies the way to go!

More than 70 years after the first Singapore-Kuala Lumpur commercial flight, all restrictions will be lifted on airlines flying between the two cities from tomorrow.

It took five years of lobbying by budget airlines and travellers before the final barriers to open air travel could be dismantled in one of Asia's most restricted air sectors.

The big winner in this move to liberalise the sector is the traveller. Liberalisation means choices galore - more carriers, more flights - and lower fares as competition grows.

Cracks in the barriers first appeared in February this year, when low-cost carriers Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia and AirAsia received the all-clear to fly between the two cities - but with a caveat. Only four flights a day were allowed in total.

That's set to change. From tomorrow, there will be up to 14 daily low-cost services. This is on top of the more than 15 full-service flights available, operated mainly by Singapore Airlines (SIA), SilkAir and Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

With this big boost in capacity, the Singapore-KL sector will overtake the Singapore-Bangkok and Singapore-Jakarta routes to become the most heavily served route out of Changi Airport, based on the number of flights and seats set to flood the market.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), there will be 432 flights a week between Singapore and KL from tomorrow. That's a 120 per cent increase over the figure a year earlier.

In contrast, there has been a slight year-on-year drop in the number of flights between Singapore and Jakarta, which is 328, and between Singapore and Bangkok, which is served by 303 flights.

Data obtained from Britain-based OAG, which tracks flight bookings and trends, shows that more than 1.4 million seats will be released for the Singapore-KL route from tomorrow till end-March next year. This is a spike of almost 60 per cent compared with the same four-month period a year ago.

The Singapore-Bangkok sector dips to second spot and Singapore-Jakarta to third, with about 1.3 million seats being released in each market.

Filling up so many seats on the Singapore-KL route will be tough, several industry players, including MAS, have warned.

The liberalisation comes at a time when a global financial meltdown is wreaking havoc on the air travel industry, on a scale not seen since the Sars crisis in 2003.

Hit by weak demand for travel, hard-pressed airlines are cutting capacity, dropping routes, parking planes and shedding staff.

Still, carriers remain upbeat that the additional capacity being injected into the Singapore-KL sector - mainly by low-cost carriers - will stimulate new demand and, in time, grow the pie for all.

According to Kathleen Tan, the regional head of AirAsia's commercial division, six in 10 of its customers are either first-timers or repeat fliers. Its clients also include those who used to fly with full-service airlines as well as bus travellers.

Malaysia offers a base of 25 million people for airlines to tap, so liberalisation can only grow the market, she noted.

At travel facilitator Abacus International, vice-president for North Asia and content marketing Patrick Lai agreed, adding that the proximity of the two cities, as well as close "business, personal and cultural relationships, may provide a considerable stimulus for the travel market".

There is no 'one size fits all' strategy, and experts note that different carriers will appeal to different passenger types.

SIA and MAS are banking on their international networks and connectivity to reel in customers, as well as a code-share arrangement that allows a traveller holding an SIA ticket, for example, to also fly with MAS, and vice-versa. In code-sharing, a flight operated by one airline is jointly marketed as a flight on other airlines.

MAS commercial director Abdul Rashid Khan said that the Singapore-KL route is significant not just as a point-to-point service, but also as a "springboard" for the airline's services out of KL.

SIA competes on the basis of its strengths, said spokesman Stephen Forshaw. They include innovative products and service offerings, as well as an extensive network that spans 150 major cities, including code-shares.

In the end, the market will decide whether there are too many or too few seats, Forshaw noted.

"But markets are dynamic and, as with many other routes, there will be too much capacity at times and too little at other times," he said. "An open market allows airlines to adjust capacity freely - either up or down - which is a good thing."

Certainly, liberalisation has been good for the flying public. They get not only extra seats and flights but also slashed fares, as airlines try to stimulate demand in the face of the current slowdown in the travel segment.

The price war erupted several weeks ago when the low-cost boys started offering seats for practically nothing. Travellers could get a return trip to KL for less than S$60 (RM144), basically paying for just the airport tax and other surcharges. That's less than the cost of a one-way ride on a luxury coach.

Not to be outdone, MAS went to the market with its offer of S$172 nett for a round-trip fare: S$89 out of Singapore and RM199 (S$83) out of KL. SIA then released tickets at S$293 each, for two people travelling together.

These discounted fares are way below the round-trip charges of more than S$400 imposed in the days when the two national carriers had a virtual monopoly over the market.

The liberalisation of the Singapore-KL market is part of a wider plan to free the skies above Asean.

When the transport ministers of the 10 member states met in the Philippines recently, they agreed on a long-term road map that will see the creation of an Asean Single Aviation Market by 2015.

When that happens, all carriers of member states will be able to criss-cross the region's skies without any restrictions.

But liberalisation rarely comes easy, and fares for the Singapore-KL sector are a case in point.

There had long been complaints about the exorbitantly high rates for the 45-minute sector, but it was only in August 2006 that travellers saw a glimmer of hope.

Malaysia's then-transport minister Chan Kong Choy surprised many when he revealed that his ministry had set up a committee to study the implications of opening up the route.

It took another 14 months for the two governments to decide that they would give low-cost carriers a foot in the market from February this year and allow full liberalisation from tomorrow.

Seventy-one years after Wearne's Air Service - the first airline to operate internal flights in what was then Malaya - launched thrice-weekly Singapore-KL flights in June 1937, the full potential of the market is finally being realised - The Straits Times.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

> Protesters defy police orders!

Protesters gathered at Suvarnabhumi International Airport

Anti-government protesters today ignored orders to leave one of Bangkok’s besieged airports and faced off with Thai police, raising fears of clashes as crippling demonstrations escalated.

Tensions mounted with Thai television showing angry demonstrators arguing with police on a road to the main Suvarnabhumi airport as police tried set up a checkpoint to stop more people heading to the protest site.

Despite Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s declaration of emergency rule at the airports, protesters trying to topple his elected government have remained entrenched, barricading themselves in with barbed-wire and tyres.

Late yesterday, authorities ordered protesters to clear the small domestic hub Don Mueang, while police in body armour began gathering at the Suvarnabhumi international airport, which is heavily guarded by the activists.

Suvarnabhumi has been shuttered since late Tuesday, and every day the siege continues, 30,000 more passengers miss flights and the kingdom loses seven million dollars in tourism revenue, ministers and officials have said.

Chamlong Srimuang, a retired army general and one of the key leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group, said demonstrators at Suvarnabhumi should prepare for police action and a prolonged seige.

“All who have just arrived from upcountry and those who are still at home, please continue your journey to Suvarnabhumi,” he told crowds at the prime minister’s Bangkok offices, which the PAD occupied in late August.

“Bring food and drink because police have sealed off our protesters.” 

Police were not immediately available to comment on the situation Saturday.

The army chief has said he does not want to remove the protesters for fears of bloody clashes, and on Wednesday urged Somchai to dissolve parliament and hold new elections — calls the premier promptly rejected.

In signs of further rifts between the government and security forces, Somchai yesterday removed national police chief General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, as police failed to take action after the emergency rule order.

The protesters are calling for the resignation of the government elected in December, saying it is running Thailand on behalf of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is banned from politics.

The government said it tried to start negotiations with the PAD, but protest leaders have so far rebuffed the overtures, and say they will stay remain at the airports until the resignation of Somchai — Thaksin’s brother-in-law.

A police officer estimated Saturday that 3,000 protesters were camped out at Suvarnabhumi, about 1,000 were at Don Mueang, and only 700 remained at the premier’s Government House offices.

Numbers are expected to swell over the weekend.

The PAD — a loose coalition with the backing of elements in the military, the palace and the urban middle classes — began their campaign in late May.

Protests have steadily escalated, with the PAD seizing Government House in late August. On October 7, two protesters were killed and 500 people injured as PAD supporters and police clashed outside parliament.

The leaders called for a “final battle” against the government tomorrow, and rampaged through the government district before heading to the two airports, dealing a huge blow to Thailand’s vital tourist industry.

Government spokesman Suparat Nakbunnam has said Somchai will remain in the northern city of Chiang Mai indefinitely, a pro-government stronghold, “as there are still uncertainties in the tensions between the government and army.” - AFP

> Anwar says victory only delayed

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim admitted today his plans to topple the Barisan Nasional (BN) government had been foiled but he did not say whether he had abandoned the idea of engineering defections to take power.

“Yes there have been setbacks. We skirted with destiny on Sept 16 and despite our best efforts, our march to victory has been delayed. I empathise with you and with the people of Malaysia,” said the PKR de facto leader.

“We are all forced to further endure the slings and arrows of an incompetent government that has lost touch with the people,” he added.

Speaking before 2,000 party delegates at the PKR annual national congress, Anwar took the opportunity to rally his supporters and attempted to redefine his promise for change.

“Although our promise has not yet been fulfilled, the Pakatan Rakyat leaders and I remain committed to the agenda for change and our tenacity has never been stronger,” said Anwar to loud cheers from the crowd.

His fighting words to the party faithful came amid a sense of waning momentum on the part of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) challenge to the BN federal government.

The BN’s transition plans, which will see Datuk Seri Najib Razak take over as prime minister from Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi next March, has brought renewed stability to a government badly shaken by the resurgent opposition boosted by the March general election results - The Malaysian Insider.

> Wan Azizah slams power transition plans

PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail today slammed the transition plan agreed to between Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Najib Abdul Razak set to take place next March, saying it would not bring any positive changes to the country.

During a policy speech at the PKR annual congress in Stadium Malawati, Shah Alam this morning, she told the 4000-strong crowd that the transition plan would only impact the nation in a negative way.

"We are here to stress that the transition plan between the prime minister and his deputy, Najib Abdul Razak will not make any positive changes to the damage that has been done to the judicial system, the police, the Anti-Corruption Agency and Parliament," she said.

Wan Azizah, who is also former Permatang Pauh MP and the wife of PKR de-facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, said the transition plan would be "no different than the old regime", referring to the tenure of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"It will have so much similarities with the old regime, where the Internal Security Act and corruption were widely practised. The same regime also contributed to the terrible erosion of government institutions," she added.

The transition plan, which was originally planned for June 2010, had to be pushed forward to next March after Abdullah was forced to review his departure date after losing support from Umno grassroots in the wake of the huge loses suffered by Barisan Nasional in the last general election.

Najib, who is Umno deputy chief, last month won the leadership of the ruling party unopposed, paving the way for him to be appointed prime minister next March.

Touching on the good relationship between the political parties in Pakatan Rakyat, Wan Azizah also reiterated PKR’s commitment to DAP and PAS, saying the opposition coalition would do all in its power to preserve the special position of the Malay rulers, Malays, Islam and Bahasa Melayu.

"In fact, we are willing to return royal immunity in the spirit of a constitutional monarchy. This is the real meaning of the change we are committed to bringing to the country," she said.

Growing support from Sabah and Sarawak

Wan Azizah today also vowed to pull off an "incredible performance" during Sarawak’s state election next year. She said PKR had thousands of new members, mostly from Sabah and Sarawak, a strong indication of winds of change sweeping the two states.

"If we were able to gain power in Sabah and Sarawak during the previous general election, we could have formed a new federal government by now. Insya’Allah this hope will materialise when the time comes," said the 56-year-old politician.

She added that PKR was currently in the midst of strengthening the party’s relationship with the two states to "ensure a more successful future" with them.

"We are also committed to our promise - where 20 percent of petroleum and oil revenues in Sabah and Sarawak will be given back to the people.

"We also promise to give more pro-active roles to these states at the federal level if we are chosen to lead the country one day," stressed Wan Azizah - Malaysiakini.

> Death sparks by-election buzz

The sudden death of Malaysia's Deputy Education Minister Razali Ismail yesterday has created a buzz among politicians of the by-election that will have to be held soon for his Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat.

The Election Commission is expected to call a by-election within 60 days of receiving official notification of Razali's death.

A father of five, Razali collapsed while playing badminton at the teachers' training college in Genting Highlands, Bernama reported yesterday. He was attending a Terengganu Umno retreat.

A by-election in Terengganu, political watchers say, could be a tricky test for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as Umno leaders in the east coast state are split into factions.

Razali, 59, was a two-term MP for Kuala Terengganu, but he barely won his second term. He beat his two opponents by a razor-thin margin of 628 votes during the March general election.

He had bagged 32,562 votes against Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas) vice-president Mohamad Sabu, who got 31,934 votes. The independent candidate, grandmother Maimun Yusuf, 89, proved to be a spoiler by garnering 685 votes. Without her, the seat may well have gone to PAS, as Mohamad Sabu is popular on the ground.

The slim victory in March suggests that Umno will not have an easy time retaining this seat, in a state that has seen much upheaval and had fallen to the opposition in 1999. Umno infighting in the state also cost it votes in the March election, although it retained power.

Terengganu saw a protracted constitutional crisis after the election, when its ruler refused to appoint the menteri besar selected by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, despite Datuk Idris Jusoh commanding the majority of the confidence of the state assemblymen.

Instead, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin installed his own choice, Umno assemblyman Ahmad Said - a move Abdullah first described as "unconstitutional". But the Sultan won the public faceoff and got his way.

The resulting Umno infighting is not yet fully settled, analysts say.

Coming just before Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak takes over the hot seat as the leader of the country, this could be seen as a referendum and a stern first test for both himself and the fractured BN that he is taking over. As the deputy president of Umno, Najib is traditionally the head of the election machinery for by-elections.

The last by-election was held in August in Permatang Pauh, Penang. It saw opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim sweeping back into Parliament with a decisive victory, putting severe pressure on Abdullah, and eventually sped up his decision to hand over power to Najib by next March  - The Straits Times.

> Why judge Chin is retiring

Justice Datuk Ian Chin, who revealed the existence of a boot camp for judges, said he decided to go for early retirement as work had become “very stressful.”

In a media statement distributed after attending a farewell gathering with Kota Kina balu High Court staff yesterday, he said he no longer enjoyed working as a judge since last year.

“Suffice for me to say that all too often I found myself in circumstances where I had to make a stand which may be regarded as in defiance to a directive or instruction from my superior, which was very stressful to me,” he said.

Justice Chin had said former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had made thinly veiled threats against judges at the Judges Conference in 1997. He said Dr Mahathir threatened to sack judges who did not support him. Dr Mahathir has denied the claims in his blog.

Justice Chin, 60, tendered his resignation on July 16 and will leave office on Dec 1.

Acknowledging that his early retirement could be described as resignation, Justice Chin noted that only judges who had served for 15 years were entitled to full pension.

“I started as a Judicial Commissioner on March 1, 1992 and was made judge in August 1993. This meant I would have served 15 years as a judge after August 2008.

“It was not until Aug 22, 2008, that the law was amended to regard the period served as Judicial Commissioner as having served as a judge,” he explained.

Justice Chin said he had found a position overseas. But that job meant that he had to leave before August, which would have resulted in him forfeiting his pension.

“I was of the view that I was giving up too much and so I forewent that opportunity,” he said, adding that his leave was approved two months from September to November, giving him the right to a full pension with the exact date of retirement left open.

“Then I was assigned to an election case which resulted in such furore that it added to my unhappiness to continue working as a judge,” he said, adding that this led him to set the date for his early retirement - The Star.

> Terrorists used hijacked vessel

Even as special forces continued to battle the terrorists, investigators have been working to piece together the sequence of events that led up to the massacre that started on Wednesday night.

Based on the continuing interrogation of arrested Lashkar terrorist Ajmal Amir Kamal, investigators believe the 12 terrorists who left Karachi on a merchant ship hijacked a fishing boat to facilitate their final assault on Mumbai.

According to Kamal, the group hijacked the Porbandar-registered Kuber to avoid detection by Indian Navy and Coast Guard patrols, which had a considerable presence in and off Mumbai.

While one group of terrorists used the hijacked boat to land at Sassoon Docks on the eastern coast of Mumbai, a second group used a fibreglass lifeboat to row west to the Cuffe Parade fisherman’s colony.

Before leaving the fishing boat, the terrorists beheaded its captain, who Gujarat authorities have identified as Balwant Tandel, from Una village in the Union Territory of Diu. There is no word on
the fate of the remaining crew of five - The Hindu.

Mumbai citizens lighting candles and holding vigil for the dead - AP.

Friday, November 28, 2008

> Change is coming

PKR has revived its ambition of toppling the BN federal government, saying its failure to take over as promised on Sept 16 did not mean it will fail to do so forever.

“If (the power transfer) is not tomorrow, it will be the day after tomorrow; if it is not in the near future, it will be in the 13th general election (due 2013),” PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali declared today.  

Opening the annual congress of the party's Youth and Women’s this morning, the party’s No 2 conceded a lot of people were “disappointed” when the much-talked about Sept 16 plan did not take place.

However, he blamed the powers-that-be for allegedly using underhanded tactics and asserting pressure on BN lawmakers who were purportedly planning to defect to the opposition, such as monitoring their movements through the police Special Branch.

Anwar says he is in ‘no hurry’ 

Syed Husin also claimed these purported defectors were offered a big sum of money for them to stay within the BN although they had given an undertaking in black-and-white that they would defect to the opposition.

“(Opposition alliance) Pakatan Rakyat’s attempt to meet with the prime minister (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) to discuss the transition of power was also rejected.

“In view of all these obstacles, the power transfer has yet to be carried out. However, this does not mean it will never happen,” he told delegates gathered at the Stadium Malawati in Shah Alam, Selangor, where the three-day congress is held from today.

He added that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would elaborate on the matter in their speeches at the parent body’s congress tomorrow.

The Youth and Women’s wings meetings, are bing held simultaneously today.
The national congress is the first since the opposition party's powerful showing in the March polls.

From one parliamentary seat in 2004, the multiracial party gained significantly from widespread voter disillusionment and resentment to win 31 parliamentary seats. 

Under the Barisan Rakyat (later renamed Pakatan Rakyat) alliance, which includes Chinese-based DAP and Islamic party PAS, the opposition won 81 parliamentary seats and took power in five states.

After the general election, Anwar repeatedly claimed that he had secured enough BN defectors to form the federal government through a simple majority.

However, he missed the declared deadline of Sept 16 and has recently played down the possibility of a takeover, saying that he was in “no hurry” to topple BN.

‘Beware of the racial card’

In his speech, Syed Husin also called on the people to be wary of certain quarters bent on stirring up racial sentiments after the last general election.

He said these tactics were targetted at the leadership in the five states ruled by Pakatan.

“This small group of people claim that Malay supremacy is under threat just because they see a slight increase of the non-Malay role (in the administration). They see from their narrow-minded perspective that only the Malays from Umno can defend Malay rights.

“They have forgotten and dismissed the fact that Malay leaders from Umno were those responsible for taking away Malay rights and robbed this nation of its wealth,” he charged.

Touching on the two PKR wings, Syed Husin said their representation among the party’s elected representatives is not as high as the party had hoped it would be.

Among its 31 MPs, only three are from the Women’s wing and four from the Youth wing, he said. 

He said he hoped to see more women representatives in state assemblies in future - Malaysiakini.

> Keeping dreams alive

Analysis by Joceline Tan, The Star

Although PKR members are disappointed that the party has missed its golden opportunity to form the government, it still has more to crow than to moan about at its first congress after the general election and where frank and critical views will be aired.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s keynote address at the PKR congress this weekend will be the most anticipated speech of the gathering.

As the most central figure in the party and the glue holding together the three Pakatan Rakyat parties, his address will impact his party as well as his coalition partners. Everyone is expecting him to touch on the Sept 16 issue and his continued claims and plans to form the federal government.

Yet, the PKR de facto leader is expected to take only 20 minutes to complete this highly anticipated speech.

“He is crystal clear on what he wants to say,” said his right-hand man Saifuddin Nasution.

Apparently, it was Anwar’s own decision to keep his address brief and to the point.

No other political party in the country features two concurrent highlight speeches at their national annual meetings and it is likely that he also does not wish to steal the thunder from PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s policy speech.

Besides, there is really not much to explain now that Sept 16 has come and gone. His advisers are not in favour of him setting any new target dates given that the party is still trying to do damage control over the first unfulfilled date.

The more realistic among the PKR leaders know they have missed their golden opportunity to form the government and they will have to wait till the next general election for their chance at power.

Their problem is how to convey this to their supporters out there while maintaining the momentum for change.

Anwar, more than anyone else, understands that politics is very much about hope and dreams.

Hence, his primary aim would be to sustain the morale of party and coalition members and to ensure that their dream of power will not diminish.

A special video presentation on the Permatang Pauh by-election will be aired just before Anwar takes the rostrum and that, as some have pointed out, should speak volumes of just how far Anwar and PKR have come since their reformasi days or, more important, of their political potential in the next few years.

But lofty aspirations of power aside, the PKR congress will also have to deal with down-to-earth issues relating to the party’s internal politics and organisation.

It will also have to state its position on hot button issues like the economy, education, religion and culture.

PKR’s electoral success was unexpected and its leaders have been struggling with the weight of being in power, of running the state governments and, most challenging of all, grappling with the high expectations of those who voted them in.

Questions surrounding these issues will form the crux of the debates during the congress.

The congress for the Youth and Women wings start today with deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali making his opening address. The main congress will take place over Saturday and Sunday.

Earlier on, there were signs that some disgruntled party members were planning to use the congress to air grievances about the performance of the Pakatan Rakyat state governments.

Several PKR Youth figures have openly criticised the administrative style of Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim in recent months, accusing him of sidelining party interest in the state and even of neglecting Malay issues.

At the same time, PKR is still adjusting to PAS’ Islamic agenda.

But PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar said party delegates will dwell on constructive criticism rather than just finger-pointing.

Party leaders have taken pains to ensure that the debates will not be anything like what took place at the PAS Youth muktamar in Ipoh where delegates slammed Pakatan Rakyat partners and even rejected the idea of Anwar as the Prime Minister-in-waiting.

As the leading party in the coalition, it has to ensure that the coalition will hold together and perform well enough to face the next elections.

It has to carry the message that the coalition has a place for people of all creed and colour.

“Our future plans depend on the coalition staying together,” said Saifuddin.

Still, this is a party that has adopted the theme of a “New Dawn” and of promoting a new politics for Malaysia.

Its younger members reflect the new generation of Malaysians, hence, expect frank and critical views to surface, be it about party leaders or the workings of the coalition.

All said and done, PKR will have more to crow than to moan about when they convene this weekend.

The only fly in the ointment is that their man is still waiting to be the Prime Minister

> Rude, crude, obnoxious!

He is untouchable. He can use swear words with impunity. He can spray sexist comments in the chamber and use sexual innuendo when he sees fit.

Judging by proceedings in Parliament since the March 8 general election, Datuk Tajudin Rahman, the Barisan Nasional MP for Pasir Salak can pretty much do as he pleases.

He is also living proof that some of the lessons of Election 2008 are being ignored and tossed aside by elected representatives. A walking advertisement that, despite being decimated in five states and having its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament taken away, arrogance and pride still courses through the veins of ruling coalition members.

More troubling perhaps for the average Malaysian is that Tajudin Rahman’s boorish behaviour is a reflection of the reality here – that the winds of change ushered in by the events of March 8 have begun to wane and that Malaysia is settling down once again to a state where apathy and fatigue reign.

Where the public feigns outrage at excesses of politicians and the government, then do a collective shrug of their shoulders and put it down to the way of life here.

Politicians from both sides of the divide know the drill. And that is why the likes of Tajudin Rahman and before him, Datuk Badruddin Amiruddin, Bung Mokhtar Radin and Mohd Said Yusof have shamed the House with outrageous remarks with the conviction that they will be untouched by any sanction or rebuke.

Still, it appears that Tajudin is in a class of his own. In this same Parliament session, he has called his nemesis, the DAP MP for Ipoh Barat a “bloody bastard”, introducing colourful language which the House has not heard before.

Granted that M. Kulasegaran has the ability to get under anyone’s skin with his comments, but "bloody bastard" in Parliament?

Tajudin was asked to withdraw his comments and went on his merry way. Yesterday, he scored a hattrick. The skirmish happened when the House was debating a motion by DAP’s Teo Nie Ching to cut the Education Minister’s salary by RM10 for failing to meet his promises on vernacular schools.

Within minutes of the motion, a shouting match ensued between MPs from BN and Pakatan Rakyat.

During the uproar, Tajudin called Kulasegaran “keling’’. Several minutes later, he labelled PKR’s Azmin Ali as a “biol” (dumb).

Azmin said: "This is too much. If it is only once or twice it is forgiveable, but every time he opens his mouth, he has no respect for anyone."

After being directed by Deputy Speaker Ronald Kiandee, Tajudin reluctantly withdrew his remarks.

But he outdid himself later when he attempted to interject while Pas’ Mujahid Rawa was debating on Teo’s motion.

This was the exchange.

Tajudin: Oh, tak masuk lagi?

Kiandee: Dia tak bagi, Yang Berhormat. Tak bagi.

Tajudin: Dia tak masuk lagi? Dah lama tak masuk-masuk. Main tepi saja.

Mujahid: Yang Berhormat Pasir Salak sabarlah.

Tajudin: Bila nak keluar lagi air dia ?

DAP’s Fong Po Kuan evoked Parliament’s Standing Orders against Tajudin for using offensive remarks. In all likelihood, Tajudin will be given a rap on his knuckles by the Speaker. He may be asked to apologise, something he has done a number of times since Parliament was convened.

Will he face any action from Umno or BN leaders? Unlikely. The prevailing view among Umno politicians is that BN needs some “fighters’ in the chamber to keep the resurgent Opposition in check.

Will the BN Whip Datuk Seri Najib Razak haul Tajudin up and read him the riot act? Unlikely. His supporters argue that there is only one way to deal with the likes of Azmin, Kulasegaran and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the loss of two-thirds majority. And that is not by yielding any ground or being cowed by the Opposition.

Will Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi do anything? Unlikely. He is already in retirement mode and only has time for several pieces of reforms which he has to push through before March 2009.

So looks like we will be stuck with the untouchable Tajudin Rahman and his antics for some time - The Malaysian Insider.

> Commandos move to free hostages

Black-clad Indian commandos moved painstakingly, room-by-room, through two massive five star luxury hotels today in a bid to free dozens of people trapped by suspected Muslim militants who attacked at least 10 targets in India's financial capital of Mumbai, killing 104 people.

The rescue efforts, which continued throughout the day, were punctuated by frequent gunshots and explosions and orange flames billowed from the Taj Mahal hotel. Hostages and several bodies trickled out of the buildings.

More than 300 were also wounded in the highly coordinated attacks Wednesday night by bands of gunmen who invaded two five star hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station, a Jewish center and at least five other sites, armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives.

After dusk , the soldiers ushered several dozen captives out of the Oberoi hotel, another Mumbai landmark.

One of the freed hostages who did not give his name told reporters he had seen many bodies inside the hotel. But he refused to give more details, saying he had promised police not to discuss the rescue while it was ongoing.

The Maharashtra state home ministry said 45 captives had been freed from the Oberoi and 35 were still trapped inside.

Police said they were going slowly to protect the captives.

"The safety of the people trapped is very important," said A. N. Roy, a senior police officer. "It will take time but it will be completed successfully," he said.

A previously unknown Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the carnage, the latest in a series of nationwide terror attacks over the past three years that have dented India's image as an industrious nation galloping toward prosperity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "external forces."

"The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of panic, by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners," he said in address to the nation.

Among the dead were at least one Australian, a Japanese and a British national, said Pradeep Indulkar, a senior government official of Maharashtra state, whose capital is Mumbai. An Italian and a German were also killed, according to their foreign ministries.

Police said 104 people were killed and 314 injured. Officials said eight militants were also killed.

The most high-profile target was the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, a landmark of Mumbai luxury since 1903, and a favorite watering hole of the city's elite.

Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around the Taj Mahal hotel Thursday afternoon, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area.

Soldiers outside the hotel said the operation would take a long time as forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps.

In the afternoon, bodies and hostages slowly emerged from the building. At least three bodies, covered in white cloth, were wheeled out.

Throughout the day, explosions and gunfire were heard and toward dusk flames again blossomed from a window of the Taj.

About a dozen people, including foreigners, were also evacuated from the hotel and whisked into a waiting ambulance. Several of them carried small pieces of luggage. One older man was carried into the ambulance by police.

The attackers, dressed in black shirts and jeans, had stormed into the hotel at about 9:45 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately.

"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai before a European Union-India summit.

Suddenly "another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction," he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.

The shooting was followed by a series of explosions that set fire to parts of the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront. Screams were heard and black smoke and flames billowed, continuing to burn until dawn.

Dalbir Bains, who runs a lingerie shop in Mumbai, was about to eat her steak by the pool at the hotel when she heard the sound of gunfire. She said she ran upstairs, taking refuge in the Sea Lounge restaurant, with about 50 other people.

They huddled beneath tables in the dark, trying to remain as quiet as possible while explosions were going off.

"We were trying not to draw attention to ourselves," she said. The group managed to escape before dawn.

The gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch.

Around 10:30 a.m., a woman, a child and an Indian cook were seen being led out of the building by police, said one witness.

The child was identified as Moshe Holtzberg, 2, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, the main representative at Chabad house. The child was unharmed, but his clothes were soaked in blood.

Sandra Samuel,44, the cook who pulled the boy out the building, said she saw Rabbi Holzberg, his wife Rivka and two other unidentified guests lying on the floor, apparently "unconscious.

Among those foreigners still held captive in all three buildings were Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders, Spaniards, Turks, a Singaporean and Israelis.

"We're going to catch them dead or alive," Maharashtra Home Minister R. R. Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country."

At least three top Indian police officers - including the chief of the anti-terror squad - were among those killed, said Roy.

The attackers appeared to have been targeting Britons and Americans.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands.

"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything - and thank God they didn't," he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

The United States and Pakistan were among the countries that condemned the attacks.

In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the U.S. "condemns this terrorist attack and we will continue to stand with the people of India in this time of tragedy."

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist with the Swedish National Defense College, said there are "very strong suspicions" that the coordinated Mumbai attacks have a link to al-Qaida.

He said the fact that Britons and Americans were singled out is one indicator, along with the coordinated style of the attacks.

"There have been a lot of warnings about India lately and there are very strong suspicions of a link to al-Qaida."

Later Thursday the Indian navy said its forces were boarding a cargo vessel suspected of ties to the attacks.

Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said Thursday that the ship, the MV Alpha, had recently come to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan.

The navy has "located the ship and now we are in the process of boarding it and searching it," he said. Earlier, Indian media showed pictures of black and yellow rubber dinghies found by the shore, apparently used by the gunmen to reach the area.

Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions.

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify that claim.

Among the other places attacked was the 19th century Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station - a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture - where gunmen sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal, leaving the floor splattered with blood.

"They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground," said Nasim Inam, a witness.

Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.

India has been wracked by bomb attacks the past three years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Nearly 700 people have died.

Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 - The Malaysian Insider / AP.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

> Mumbai under attack - the photos

- All photos by the kind courtesy of BBC -

It remains unclear who carried out the audacious attacks and for what reason !

> Pakatan Rakyat to be formalised

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will soon announce its official charter, setting out the tenets for alliance to become a formal political coalition and alternative to the Barisan Nasional (BN).

The Malaysian Insider understands that the charter will establish a presidential council, with each PR coalition member allocated three seats each in what will be its highest decision making body.

PR came into being in April following DAP, Pas and PKR’s stunning performances in the March general election.

However, it has never been officially registered.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider yesterday, PR secretariat member Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad confirmed that the seven-point charter only required some “finishing touches.”

“It will articulate our common objectives and vision at federal and state levels and enshrine the rights guaranteed in the Federal Constitution,” the Pas research chief said, calling it “the last nail” in formalising PR.

The charter appears to deal specifically with concerns on the ground by different ethnic groups fearful of being sidelined by a PR government.

Among the highlights are the safeguarding of Bumiputera rights under Article 153 of the constitution and also religious freedom under Article 11.

Other key areas touch on PR’s political thrust, such as the commitment to transparency and the rule of law, and the Malaysian Economic Agenda that promises to ensure that the marginalised poor of all communities are protected instead of the Bumiputera-affirming New Economic Policy in practice now.

DAP publicity chief Tony Pua told The Malaysian Insider that the charter was finalised last week and it is now simply awaiting approval.

“It will be the basis of a common platform, very much like how an election manifesto governs an electoral alliance, this will be the guidelines for Pakatan Rakyat,” the Petaling Jaya Utara MP said.

Dzulkefly, who is also Kuala Selangor MP, added that the next item on the road map would be increasing the frequency of secretariat meetings leading up towards a January retreat for PR leaders which he described as a “coalition building workshop.”

Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had also touched on this retreat yesterday, which among other things, would firm up policies in the administration of PR-ruled states.

The de facto PKR leader said that PR was progressing steadily and that state-level secretariats are also being formed to ensure better cooperation within the tripartite coalition.

He said this to reporters in Parliament to rebut suggestions that DAP and Pas were still at odds in certain issues.

Yesterday, the Chinese vernacular press reported that Pas Selangor was trying to control sales of alcohol in the state, a move which has irked the secularist DAP.

There have also been flashpoints with regards to Bumiputera quotas, the appointment of a non-Muslim to head the Selangor Development Corporation (PKNS) and protests by the Islamic party against certain concerts deemed immoral.

The Malaysian Insider understands that despite having announced the coalition nearly eight months ago, the three partners have been apprehensive in registering PR as an official organisation, with the lessons of the aborted Barisan Alternatif which was formed in 1999, still fresh in their minds.

Back in 1999, the Barisan Alternatif alliance had been strained by Pas’s commitment to forming an Islamic state which led to DAP withdrawing in Sep 2001.

However, as Pas has softened its stance and presented a more moderate front, the electoral pact for the March 8 general elections has continued beyond that with the formation of five joint state governments and a unified force of 81 MPs in Parliament.

The main obstacle towards registering PR as an official coalition is a legal requirement in the Societies Act, where seven parties are required to form a political coalition.

As of now, PR can in fact, boast of five members as Parti Socialis Malaysia and the Malaysian Democratic Party are nominally under the umbrella of PKR.

This, however, is a mere technicality and the approval of the charter will be the clearest sign yet of the commitment towards a cohesive opposition coalition - The Malaysian Insider.

> Karpal gets 57 signatures for debate on Zaki

KARPAL SINGH (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) today managed to get the signatures of 57 MPs -- a quarter of the total of 222 -- to file a motion under Standing Order 36(8) and Article 127 of the Federal Constitution to debate the conduct of Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi.

At a press conference at the parliament lobby, Karpal said the 57 were made up of Pakatan Rakyat MPs as well as an independent MP from Sepanggar, Datuk Eric Enchin Majimbun.

He said Article 127 of the Federal Constitution allows for the debate on the conduct of a judge with the support of one-fourth of the MPs.

“Such a subjective motion requires 14 days notice, so it will be on the order paper before the house adjourns in December," he said.

“I have given Zaki until today to step down (for his correctional statement clarifying that he was misinterpreted  in a news report on Nov 8). So we have to take it further.

“We now want to debate Zaki as he (allegedly) lied (in his correctional statement) in his capacity as a chief justice.

“The clarification is clearly a lie, bringing the entire judiciary, of which he is the head, into disrepute."

Earlier in the Dewan Rakyat, Karpal had moved an emergency motion to debate the statement made by Zaki on Nov 7 on his alleged “experience” in bribing court officials when he was still a practising lawyer in 1987.

The emergency motion was rejected by Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia on Nov 12 as the house was not allowed to debate the conduct of the judges unless a quarter of the total MPs supported it, as stipulated in the Federal Constitution.

Karpal also urged the prime minister to invoke the provision of Article 125(3) of the Federal Constitution to refer Zaki to a tribunal appointed by the King in accordance with clause 4 to remove him from office.

Asked if he felt that the motion will be read out and debated, Karpal said the speaker cannot reject the motion now.

“We will insist that it will be discussed even after the government business,” he said.

On whether he was in possession of  a recording of Zaki's statement, he said: “We have the recording and since there is no denial from the chief justice, we accepted it as the truth."

Karpal also accused Minister in the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz of "lying again" when Nazri said  a letter by the King to the chief secretary to the government was not made public for 20 years and, therefore, he did not know about the pensions  paid to the sacked judges.

“A story was carried on The Star on Oct 7, 1988 that the King had ordered that pension to be given to the judges,” he said, adding that he will produce the paper cutting of the report tomorrow - the Sun.

> Anwar to bide time?

After a botched bid to oust the government in September, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will likely have to bide his time until elections in 2012-13 before making another bid for power.

From watershed elections in March to his triumphant return to parliament after a decade's absence, Mr Anwar dominated the headlines. Even his arrest and trial on fresh sodomy charges failed to thwart his campaign to topple the government by his self-imposed deadline of Sept 16.

Victory seemed within his grasp when the government apparently felt compelled to ship 40 MPs to Taiwan on a 'study trip' in mid-September to prevent them from defecting to Mr Anwar's camp and thus giving him a majority in parliament.

The deadline passed. Financial turmoil swept the globe, and with an economic slowdown looming, voters in this Asian country of 27 million people suddenly had more immediate worries than Malaysia's chronic political intrigue.

Now the 61-year-old Anwar, whose People's Justice Party holds its annual convention this weekend, has to explain why he is not addressing the meeting as the new prime minister of Malaysia.

'His (Anwar's) strategy of haste that he adopted after March 8 (elections) stopped working after Abdullah was forced to retire,' said Mr Ooi Kee Beng, an analyst at Singapore's Institute of South-east Asian Studies.

'Now, he has to do it the patient way.'

Lacklustre Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi essentially derailed Mr Anwar's express train to power by deciding to hand power to his more assured deputy, Najib Razak, earlier than planned.

Mr Abdullah's National Front coalition, which has ruled uninterrupted for 51 years, stopped being transfixed by Mr Anwar and started making policies to deal with an economy that is expected to grow by only 1.5 per cent next year from 5.4 per cent this year.

Mr Najib, 55, will take office in March when he becomes president of the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in the 13-party National Front.

Mr Najib, who is deputy premier and finance minister, has taken the fight to Mr Anwar by linking him to unpopular measures proposed by the International Monetary Fund when Mr Anwar was finance minister during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, while projecting an aura of economic competence himself.

He has announced some measures to offset lower economic growth, but hasn't raided the treasury to do so, putting US$2 billion (S$3.02 billion) saved from petrol subsidies into pump-priming measures.

Mr Najib even stole some of Mr Anwar's thunder by relaxing a requirement that ethnic Malays have to own 30 per cent of companies - one of the affirmative action programmes that aim to uplift Malays who constitute 60 per cent of the population.

Mr Anwar's opposition coalition had campaigned for abolition of those programmes in the March elections.

Inflation is falling rapidly from a peak of 8.5 per cent in mid-year and the central bank on Monday unexpectedly cut interest rates for the first time in five years.

'There's a widespread acceptance that Anwar will no longer take over the country,' said an investment analyst at a foreign bank in Singapore. 'Being PM is out of the question right now.

'Najib is reinforcing his power base. He's the new face of Malaysia,' he said.

The opposition and some pro-government newspapers have started to push the idea of snap elections soon after Mr Najib takes power in March, saying he would need to win a popular mandate.

But Umno's coalition allies are still in disarray after the electoral debacle eight months ago.

'The risk (for snap polls) is very great. It will be suicidal because of the hangover from the March political tsunami,' said political author Yahaya Ismail.

Other analysts said Mr Najib would likely wait for mandatory re-drawing of electoral boundaries in 2012 before calling for polls. The government's current five-year mandate ends in 2013.

One glimmer of hope for Mr Anwar could be polls in the timber- and petroleum-rich state of Sarawak on Borneo island. Sarawak has been a Barisan stronghold since it joined Malaysia in 1963 and may hold state elections as early as next year.

Provided Mr Anwar can fend off what he says are politically motivated sodomy charges that are a reprise of the court action that got him jailed in the 1990s, and can keep his fractious three-party coalition together, victory in Sarawak could be another lever to apply pressure to government legislators.

Key to that will be how well the opposition runs the five states it controls. There has already been a backlash in the pro-government media over issues ranging from race relations to dual language street signs.

'The next electoral showdown is the Sarawak election, so it is a given goal for (the opposition coalition) to make an impression there,' analyst Ooi Kee Beng said. 'It will try to open the floodgates so that the 'March 8 tsunami' will flow into east Malaysia as well - Reuters.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

> Return subsidy back to people

MCA today urged the government to resume the 30 sen petrol subsidy as promised in June when the price for RON97 petrol shot up to RM2.70.

“The chain reaction from the previous petrol hike is still there and the inflation still stands high at 7 per cent when compared to 2 per cent in 2006,” information chief Lee Wei Kiat said.

In a statement released to the press, Lee said that the subsidy would lessen the burden of inflation on lower and medium income groups.

It was recently revealed that since the beginning of November, the drop in global crude oil prices has effectively allowed the government to collect a tax on the pump price of petrol instead of providing a subsidy.

The price of RON97 now stands at RM2 per litre.

MCA also objected to the proposal to fix a floor price for petrol.

According to Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad, the National Economic Action Council will meet next Monday to decide on whether to set a floor price following the gradual drop of the world crude oil price which has now fallen to US$50 per barrel (RM175) from US$120 in July.

“It does not promote transparency and consistency in government policies. The economic prosperity should be enjoyed by all citizens,” Lee said.

Lee said the MCA instead backed an auto-float mechanism as it would provide an optimum price for motorists based on current oil prices and at the same time allow the government to monitor the mechanism in an open and transparent manner - The Malaysian Insider.

> To London for RM 499

Malaysia's long-haul budget carrier, AirAsia X, today announced that its London Stansted-Kuala Lumpur service will take off on March 11, 2009, with fares starting from as low as 99 pounds(RM499) each way.

AirAsia Group chief executive officer, Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, said AirAsia X's London-KL route was the realisation of a long-held ambition to open up affordable access between Malaysia and Europe for both Asean and European communities.

For the sector AirAsia X will use Airbus A340 for the five times weekly direct flights.

Fernandes said bookings would start at midday London time today until Nov 30 for the travel period of March 11, 2009 to Oct 24, 2009.

London would be AirAsia-X's fifth international destination after Gold Coast, Perth and Melbourne in Australia as well as Hangzhou in China, Fernandes told a news conference in conjunction with the sales launch of the new service at the London County here.

Also present at the event were AirAsia X chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani and chairman Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, as well as Malaysian High Commissioner to UK Datuk Abd Aziz Mohammed and representative from Stansted Airport.

Besides the 99 pounds fare for the economy seats, Fernandes said passengers also had the option to pay 549 pounds (RM1,999) for the XL seats respectively.

When asked on the timing of the launch now with the world facing an economic recession, he said the country needed some positive action and that entrepreneurs and corporations should do their bit in dealing with the situation.

"I am not going to sit there and cut everything and just say we are going to die. We are going to fight and find our way out of this recession," he said, adding that this was the time to "give back to the country."

"I could cut and make a bit more money but this has to be about being stronger after the recession."

Asked on what was next for the airline, Fernandes said he was aiming for daily service to London and possibly two flights a day - Malaysiakini.

> Case should remain in the Magistrates' Court

A My Journal Commentary

A lawyer representing blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin submitted at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court today that it was unconstitutional for the criminal defamation case to be heard there as it should be dealt with at the Magistrates' Court where he was charged.

Manjeet Singh Dhillon, in a preliminary objection before the start of the trial, said the transfer was against Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution regarding equality.

He said the Magistrates’ Court has the jurisdiction to impose a maximum fine of RM10,000 compared to the Sessions Court.

Manjeet said under section 87(1) of the Subordinate Courts Act 1948, a magistrate can pass any sentence allowed by law not exceeding five years' jail, a maximum fine of RM10,000 or whipping up to 12 strokes or any permitted combination of these three options.

"By contrast, Section 64 of the Subordinates Courts Act 1948 permits the Sessions Court to pass any sentence other than the death sentence. There is no cap on the maximum fine that the sessions judge could impose unlike the magistrate.

“Hence, with the case being transferred from to the Sessions Court, my client is now exposed to an ‘unequal' potentially disparate and far harsher punishment in fine by the Sessions Court as opposed if the case remains in the Magistrates’ Court," he said.

Manjeet said the question before the court was whether it could impose a higher fine to those facing a similar charge at the Magistrates' Court.

Two options

Following this, the counsel argued that Sessions judge Mohamad Sekeri Mamat has two options namely to transfer the case back to the Magistrates’ Court or suspend proceedings under the Courts of Judicature Act and transmit the case to the High Court to consider this constitutional question and also the legality in the prosecution transferring it under section 177 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Manjeet (left) earlier submitted that the magistrate’s order to transfer the case on Aug 15, was null, void and contrary to section 177 as there was no ground to transfer the case based on public interests.

He also said that under section 417, of the Criminal Procedure Code only High Court judges could make the transfer order from the lower courts.

As the case, he said, was before the Magistrates’ Court where Raja Petra was charged it should remain there - Malaysiakini.

My Journal views the defence argument of potentially unequal sentence at the two courts to be the over-riding concern for justice to the accused who should be subject to the same sentence as any other man in the country for the same offence. The prosecution's reason of "public interest" for transfer is not good enough as every case is of public interest if brought to the attention of the public. Hence the case should be heard in the court where he was charged. If the prosecution had wanted it, they could have charged RPK in the Sessions Court as it was their liberty to do so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

> Gobind suspended for Principle

Deputy Speaker Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar ruled Tuesday that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz will not be referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee for making an untrue statement in Dewan Rakyat.

Dr Wan Junaidi said Nazri had no intention to mislead the house when he said on Nov 6 that former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges had not been sacked but were asked to retire.

A few days later, Nazri admitted he made a mistake and that the three judges were indeed sacked but the Government had paid them pension on compassionate grounds.

Objecting to the deputy speaker's ruling, Gobind Singh (DAP - Puchong) received a two-day suspension order on Tuesday.

Dr Wan Junaidi delivered his decision at 11.30am and ruled that Nazri had no intention to mislead the house and therefore there was no need for him to be referred to the committee of privileges.

“There is no need for the minister to apologise. My decision is based on point of order. I do not want the Parliament Malaysia to be a mockery,” said Dr Wan Junaidi.

While Karpal Singh (DAP - Bukit Gelugor) was still trying to raise a point that Dr Wan Junaidi’s decision was a mockery of the house amidst protests from the backbenchers, Gobind Singh stood up to defend his father.

It was then that Gobind accused Dr Wan Junaidi of being biased in favour of the minister.

Gobind Singh shouted at Dr Wan Junaidi: “The speaker defends the minister!”

This remark prompted Dr Wan Junaidi to ask him to leave the hall.

To which, Gobind Singh said, “He is the one who made the mistake and I have to go out.”

Refusing to leave the house despite Dr Wan Junaidi ordering the sergeant at arms to escort him out, Gobind Singh pointed at Nazri and said: “The No 1 coward is there. He should stand up to apologise like a man” before leaving the hall.

At the Parliament lobby, Gobind Singh said: “If Nazri is prepared to apologise outside the Dewan, why can’t he do so inside the house.

“I am disappointed with the ruling made by the chair. I stand up for principle, even if it means that I have to be thrown out of the Dewan - The Star.

> RPK to subpoena Azilah and Sirul

Blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin who is accused of defaming Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the deputy prime minister, and two others in a statutory declaration (SD), on Monday asked the Sessions Court here to subpoena two policemen.

His counsel Manjeet Singh Dhillon said the defence had submitted an application to the court on Nov 20 requesting it to issue subpoenas against C/Insp Azilah Hadri and Cpl Sirul Azhar Umar, whom he intended to call as defence witnesses and also for identification purposes in the prosecution's case.

Manjeet said the defence had listed six defence witnesses including Azilah and Sirul Azhar. The duo have been ordered to enter their defence on a charge of murdering Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu at the Shah Alam High Court beginning Jan 15 next year.

Manjeet also asked the court to adjourn Raja Petra's trial pending the decision by the Shah Alam High Court on Azilah and Sirul Azhar's defence testimonies.

Manjeet said if the court decided to continue with the trial, it would subjudice Raja Petra's case as Azilah and Sirul Azhar's testimonies would be similar with the contents of Raja Petra's SD.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Anselm Charles Fernandis opposed Manjeet's application to issue subpoenas against Azilah and Sirul Azhar saying that Manjeet should only make the application after the court had ordered Raja Petra to enter his defence on the charge.

He said at this stage the trial had yet to start.

Judge Mohamad Sekeri Mamat said he would decide on whether to issue subpoenas against Azilah and Sirul Azhar later.

On Aug 15, Raja Petra was charged with committing three offences at Civil High Court 5 on the fourth floor of the Court Complex in Jalan Duta here at 10.25am on June 18.

Besides the defamation charge, Raja Petra is also alleged to have defamed acting colonel Abdul Aziz Buyong and his wife, Kolonel Norhayati Hassan.

If convicted, he faces up to two years in jail or a fine, or both, on each charge under Section 500 of the Penal Code.

Today was fixed for the trial and the prosecution had informed the court that it was ready to call its first witness.

However, at the outset, Manjeet made a preliminary objection seeking the Sessions Court's order to send back Raja Petra's case for trial at the Magistrate's Court on the grounds that the Magistrate's order was illegal, void and contrary to the provisions of Sections 177 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

On Aug 15, Magistrate Nazran Mohd Sham allowed DPP Amir Nasruddin's application to transfer Raja Petra's case to the Sessions Court on the ground that it involved public interest.

Manjeet had contended that under Section 177, there was no grounds of "it involved a public interest case" and therefore the magistrate's order to transfer the case to the Sessions Court was unconstitutional and breached the equality of Article 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution.

DPP Anselm will reply today - Bernama.

> Heritage status at risk!

The Pakatan Rakyat Penang government has come under attack for having approved a previously shelved multi-storey hotel project.

At least one person fears this could be the death knell for Georgetown's world heritage city status.
Penang Gerakan chief Dr Teng Hock Nan pointed out that the 23-storey project was approved within three months of Pakatan wresting power from Barisan Nasional (BN) in the state on March 8.

The BN state government, he said today at a press conference in the Penang Gerakan office, had rejected the original project plan.
"Does this project pose a danger to Georgetown’s heritage status?" asked Teng, the former state executive councillor.

Georgetown was listed as a heritage zone by Unesco on July 7.

In June, however, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's government had approved the project in the heritage buffer zone, to be developed by Low Yat Group’s Bintang Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Teng recalled that the BN administration had been severely criticised by Low Yat Group executive chairperson Low Yow Chuan, when the developer had been advised to reduce the building height from the proposed 24 storeys to eight storeys.
Press reports on June 6, 2006 quoted Low as blaming bureaucratic redtape as the main hindrance to property investment and development in Penang.
"When I asked why, they gave some excuse about heritage. But they have approved a columbarium across the road," Low had said.
However, Teng said the state government had never approved the columbarium project and had shelved Low Yat’s project after Low threatened to pull out when told to reduce the building height.
"But now the new state government has approved the project. Why? We hope the project will not jeopardise the heritage city listing," he said.

Teng also stressed that three other high-rise hotel projects approved by the BN administration will not hamper the city’s listing. 
Two of the projects are in Weld Quay, a core heritage zone - the RM52.7 million Rice Miller Boutique Hotel by Asia Global Business, and the Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel by Boustead Holdings Sdn Bhd.

The third is a 17-storey extension, costing RM84.47 million, of the E&O Hotel in Lebuh Farquhar, which is also part of the buffer zone.

‘Negotiate with developer’

On Saturday, Teng Chang Yeow, the former chairperson of the state preparatory committee for listing of Georgetown, had revealed that Unesco was fully aware of the three high-rise projects.

He said the projects were approved based on new heritage-dominated guidelines, which were submitted to and accepted by Unesco.

Visiting Professor David Lung from the world body had also been briefed about the plans.

However, Teng said the state government should have checked on the heritage-based reasons cited by the BN government in rejecting the original Low Yat plan.

"Unesco was unaware (of this and) neither (was) the visiting professor briefed on the Low Yat project," he claimed, expressing the hope that Georgetown would not lose its hard-earned status.

Pointing out that all is not lost, Teng urged the state government to negotiate with the developer to reduce the building height in line with Unesco specifications.

The new guidelines submitted to Unesco in January were an amended version of the original local authority guidelines enforced in 1996.

The amended guidelines govern, among other aspects, height, environment and aesthetics in core and buffer heritage zones. The guidelines were endorsed by the state planning committee in August last year - Malaysiakini.

Monday, November 24, 2008

> Irene Fernandez freed

The Kuala Lumpur High Court today acquitted migrant workers' activist Irene Fernandez, bringing an end to a 13-year court battle.

The court was to have started hearing her appeal this morning even though documents relating to her appeal case may be incomplete.

High Court judge Mohamad Apandi Ali had initially fixed Oct 28 to 30 to hear her appeal but this morning made his surprise decision to acquit her.

The Tenaganita executive director's first mention date on Jun 11 was postponed to Aug 5, because papers with statements of important prosecution witnesses went missing.

On Aug 5, the case was once again put to a standstill when Fernandez was told a computer virus had wiped out a portion of a specific volume of notes required for the trial.

Fernandez, 62, was sentenced to one-year jail in 2003 after being found guilty by the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate's Court of maliciously publishing false news.

She was allowed bail pending appeal.

In 1995, Fernandez exposed the poor conditions at immigration detention centres in a memorandum entitled ‘Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres'.

She was arrested and charged under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 a year later.

The maximum penalty on conviction is three years' imprisonment or a fine not exceeding RM20,000, or both.

The appeal mention date was postponed three times previously, due to several technical glitches since April, when papers containing her appeal against her imprisonment went missing.

Her case has become the longest-running trial in Malaysian history - Malaysiakini.

> Civil Law vs Syariah Law

The idea to bring civil and Syariah law together has been met with mixed but predictable responses from political and legal bodies.

The idea to merge the two courts was mooted in a speech by the recently retired Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamed early this month and was echoed with a milder stance by his successor, Tan Sri Zaki Azmi, who is looking for a "midway point."

Legal experts are saying that such a merger is impossible as the two systems have irreconcilable conflicts but certain Islamic groups believe that Syariah law will not be discriminatory.

Bar council vice president K Ragunath said a merger could not happen as the two codes would clash in many areas such as gambling and consumption of alcohol.

"But there can be a harmonising in terms of values. In meting out judgments, judges can take into consideration local and Islamic norms, culture and religion," he said.

Professor Dr. Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional law expert from the International Islamic University, believes it is not possible, given the "constitutional constraints which put the Syariah courts under the states."

"Combining would necessarily involve the surrender of control from the rulers (states) to the federal government. Do remember that when it comes to Islam the rulers are allowed by the constitution to act on their own, independent of the government's advice, he noted."

MCA's legal bureau has chastised the idea completely, stating that it will take away the religious freedom of non-Muslims.

"The Federal Constitution is still the supreme law of the country and the suggestion to merge the courts would undermine that position of the civil courts as the administration will inevitably use Syariah principles to interpret civil laws," its chairman Datuk Leong Tang Chong said.

He added that there was no need to merge the two courts to resolve conflicts over jurisdiction of both courts as "the problem arises because civil court judges are currently abdicating their powers and refusing to rule accordingly."

But Syariah Court Judge and Syariah Judicial Department director-general Datuk Ibrahim Lembut said such fears among non-Muslims were unwarranted.

"Islam will defend everybody. The impression that merging the two court systems will override the rights of the non-Muslims is wrong," he said.

Ragunath however, said that the point is simply that Syariah cannot and should not apply to non-Muslims: "It is not a matter of whether Syariah can be fair or unfair but when any party is non-Muslim, the person must be tried in the civil court."

Pas secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar took a more macro view in welcoming the proposals.

He said that the idea needed proper discussions to find a working solution as there have been much controversy in the past over the jurisdictional lines between the two courts.

He added that while he was not an expert on the technical aspects of the law, but felt the proposal would be positive if it liberalised the Syariah courts instead of shackling the civil judiciary.

"Think of it as an opening up of Syariah, not a gobbling up of the Civil court." - The Malaysian Insider.

Let us leave it the way the Federal Constitution is. Civil for non-Muslims and Syariah for Muslims. We have more important problems afflicting our society today such as the burden of unheard cases, incompetent judges, unfair judgements, unwritten judgements, shortage of qualified staff etc.etc. Let's not create more  problems for the judiciary - My Journal.