By Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Setiawangsa MP.
Cities across the United States are continuing to seethe with mass protests over the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This also follows a string of other killings of African Americans such as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others.
These protests are just the latest eruption against America’s systemic racial and socio-economic injustice as well as police brutality.
Matters have been exacerbated by the outright racism and gross incompetence of their President, Donald Trump.
The US, which prides itself in lecturing other countries about freedom, needs to take a good, hard look at itself.
It has no right to pontificate while its ethnic minorities, indigenous citizens, disadvantaged and vulnerable peoples, peaceful protestors and refugees seeking succour in its shores are brutalised by its so-called law enforcement agencies.
This is above and beyond the horrific suffering the foreign policies undertaken by its predatory elite have caused in Palestine and other countries.
Many Malaysians have been angered by the events that led to the George Floyd protests—and rightfully so.
It been pointed out—also correctly—that our own human rights record, especially in relation to policing—is likewise far from ideal.
It is hypocritical for us to condemn what is going on in America, while ignoring our own shortcomings.
Police cannot function effectively without the trust and confidence of the communities they serve. It is a two-way street.
Victims of police brutality and abuse can be found across all ethnic groups, such as the cases of N Dharmendran and Aminulrasyid Amzah.
Even one death—whatever the race or faith of the victims—is too many.
Any wrongdoing, abuse or malpractice by authorities must be exposed, brought to justice and corrected immediately if the rule of law is to have any credibility in our country.
Yes, Malaysia is—thankfully—very different from America. But what is going on there right now is a warning to Malaysia of what could happen if we keep ignoring or kicking the can of these problems down the road.
The Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) deserves the respect and support of all our people.
Their personnel have served honourably and rendered sacrifices in all major national crises our country has faced—including during the on-going Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic and the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.
Making our police more professional, as well as responsive to human rights is in everyone’s interest—especially the PDRM’s personnel.
In 2004 Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Haji Abdullah, the former Chief Justice of Malaysia was appointed by the Yang Dipertuan Agong to chair the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police.
The Commission’s findings, which became known as the “Tun Dzaiddin Report”, was published a year later with more than 600 pages and 125 suggestions to make the PDRM more people-centric.
The report’s Strategic Objective argued that Malaysia’s police:
“…must continue to uphold the law, maintain law and order and combat crime, but must pursue these ends in compliance with human rights, restricting and infringing upon them only when necessary and permissible in law. PDRM must see itself more as a ‘service’ than as a ‘force’ and the guardian of the people’s rights though it will need to retain some of its paramilitary capabilities and characteristics. Finally, PDRM must be more transparent and accountable, especially to independent bodies established by the government and to the people.”
The report talks about democratising the police force to engage all stakeholders in society, thereby capturing the PDRM spirit of “polis dan masyarakat berpisah tiada”. It also talks of a dignified police service, that acts for the national good, not narrow partisan interests and enjoying better working and living conditions.
This brings me to the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) which was one of the 125 suggestions of the Tun Dzaiddin Report.
This proposal—for better or for worse—became the main point of debate arising from the Commission and its Report.
14 years later, a Bill to create it up was finally tabled by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in 2019.
While the Second Reading was postponed in December that year, it was still a step in the right direction.
All stakeholders—including the leadership of the PDRM—have had opportunities to give feedback on it.
Certainly, existing mechanisms like the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) are inadequate in relation to the PDRM. The EAIC’s shortcomings are well known, including the fact that it lacks the ability to independently sanction misconduct.
Any coalition that runs the government – Perikatan Nasional, Muafakat Nasional or PH Plus must take up the IPCMC Bill. This is yet another piece of urgent parliamentary business that it is being neglected.
My colleagues and I will certainly rigorously debate the Bill when it comes before us in Parliament to ensure that the reasonable interests of all stakeholders are protected.
All feedback can be considered. For instance, new names can be considered if “IPCMC” has become too divisive or if it makes the police and their supporters feel overly defensive.
But the key is that the Bill should be passed and the body that the Tun Dzaiddin Report called for comes to life as soon as possible—in letter and spirit.
But improving policing in Malaysia cannot just end with the setting up of the IPCMC.
After all, it was just one of the 125 recommendations of the Tun Dzaiddin Report. A PDRM that is able to keep Malaysians safe, as well as free from corruption and other abuses will require the recommendations of the Report to be implemented in full—including its suggestions regarding recruitment, training, equipping and the improvement of the welfare of personnel.
As the Report noted:
“The Commission is of the view that human resources should be significantly increased in certain sections of PDRM, such as in CID and in the Commercial Crime Investigation Department…The Commission also notes that modern policing is increasingly becoming more complex and sophisticated, requiring diverse professional competencies that are not part of conventional police competencies.”
“The Commission considers remuneration for PDRM personnel as well as promotion prospects relatively satisfactory because they are comparable to the situation in the Malaysian Armed Forces and the general public service. The Commission however recommends a special allowance for all police personnel who are posted to urban areas where the cost of living is higher.”
“…PDRM will need to implement comprehensive and integrated programmes for the effective utilisation of lCT solutions in police operations. Similar IT methods and means are required with respect to asset management including transportation to ensure that available resources are adequate and sustainable. These are vital factors in determining the effectiveness and efficiency of PDRM.”
“…one of the major problems afflicting PDRM is inadequate housing and the poor condition of its housing and work premises, although there are modern and comfortable structures as well…The poor living and working conditions of a significant portion of police personnel cannot but have a negative impact on their morale and self-esteem. The condition also affects their performance. Equally important, the poor condition of a number of police stations, administrative offices and training institutions as well as inadequate facilities create a negative impression of the police among the public. The situation aggravates public perceptions of poor police efficiency and service. This unsatisfactory state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.”
Today, now 15 years after the Tun Dzaiddin Report, Malaysia’s policemen and women are still facing these issues.
Pushing to implement the recommendations of the Tun Dzaiddin Report holistically would help to win over many of those who are resistant to transformation in the police service to make it equipped to face 21st Century Malaysia.
The George Floyd protests have revived global debates about the role and nature of policing.
Clearly change is needed, including in Malaysia.
One gets a sense that not only the public and civil society, but also politicians and the police themselves understand this.
With political will—there is no reason why this cannot be a positive change for stakeholders across the board.
Most of the key issues in KL are all related to the economy and development. The level of development and per capita income in the city can be said to be almost, or on par with developed countries.
However, the issues stem from the fact that the B40 in KL are often overlooked because of their higher income than their counterparts from rural areas and even other towns, while the cost of living in KL is not taken into account.
With regards, to income disparity, there is indeed no easy short-term solution.
The increase in minimum wage is positive. In fact, KL should be the pioneer for a living wage that was proposed by Bank Negara. In addition, programs for interventions in welfare, education and health should be expanded.
There is a lot to be done to improve the environment in PPRs, and I believe it is important to focus on children.
That is why I have innovated on what I learned with the Mentari Project in PJ with the Tunas Mentari football project in PPR Air Panas and the Reading Bus Program in AU3.
In the long term, I believe we should have some form of local council elections. But we must acknowledge there still exists long-held fears of racial dominance, dating to the days of 1960s, which was borne through local council elections as well.
The government should conduct a study on how to implement a system that is inclusive and will dispel any fears. Even if we cannot implement in nationwide, the democratic deficit justifies KL to have an elected local government.
KL is a city with a lot of potential, and really the sky’s the limit. However, we need to move beyond the nitty-gritty issues.
We need to focus on public transport, as it is crucial for the city. There has been a lot of work done by Prasarana, FT Ministry and DBKL in improving this.
Previously the free GoKL bus service was only utilised by tourists and foreigners due to its routes which mainly serves the downtown area of the city.
Now, the expanded and new routes go through residential areas and connect with existing LRT/MRT lines. We should look at restarting MRT3, whether using the original route or an improved route.
Ultimately, the KL City Plan must be viewed holistically for a sustainable development of the city. We can allow development, but work harder in providing new PPR areas to ensure the city remains inclusive.
At the same time, the character of KL must be preserved whether it is about the city’s heritage or green areas.
2019 was a polarising year for Malaysia.
Our “culture war”: Malay against non-Malay, Muslim against non-Muslim – showed no sign of abating and indeed, quite frankly, was exacerbated.
One of the main bugbears has been the proposed introduction of the teaching of Jawi khat as part of the Malay-language curriculum.
This, unfortunately, has caused much controversy.
There have been passionate, even vehement, arguments for and against the move.
Certain irresponsible parties have sought and indeed, gained much political capital from it.
Jawi and our heritage
To be sure, Jawi is an important part of our national history—something that many Malaysians are not aware of.
The Pemasyhuran Kermerdekaan—our Declaration of Independence in 1957—was written exclusively in English and Jawi script for Malay with no romanised Malay version.
Ironically, many Malays today don’t understand it very well. While I can comprehend Jawi, I too do not write or read it fluently.
That’s a shame because major historical documents from our past are found in Jawi.
Most of us have heard about Sejarah Melayu (the Malay Annals) or Hikayat Hang Tuah – all manuscripts written in Jawi.
But there were other works, frequently overlooked by western orientalists as it did not fit the stereotype that all Malay literary works were purely of fantastical myths and legends.
For instance, the Taj-us Salatinmanuscript, which was composed by Bukhara al-Jauhari in 1603 Aceh. It was also known as Mahkota Segala Raja-Rajaand came out half a century before Englishman Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was published.
This was one of the earliest documents in the world that touched on the idea of constitutional law and a social contract that was the focus of Leviathan, talking about the spiritual covenant between God and human beings, as well as relations between a ruler and his or her subjects.
Taj-us Salatin was prized in the Johor and Kedah courts as a reference to the Sultan and nobility.
Another famous work written in Jawi is Bustan-us Salatin by Nuruddin ar-Raniri, focusing on statecraft but also a pioneering book on universal history.
The Jawi issue, like it or not, is just a symptom of how badly skewered our thinking on race and religion has become—especially when one views education and language through these lenses.
The importance of Malay language
There are not a few Malaysians, both Malay and non-Malay, who feel that the national language is unimportant.
But this is a short-sighted view. Malay is not only a national but regional lingua franca.
It plugs us into the Nusantara (ie the wider maritime Southeast Asia) and is relatively easy to learn.
Singaporean government officials and politicians have spoken to me of their regret at how Malay, which is their national language, has become almost totally abandoned in their public life.
Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs: “At home, I spoke English to my parents, Baba Malay – a pidgin Malay adulterated with Chinese words – to my grandparents, and Malay with a smattering of Hokkien to my friends, the fishermen’s children.”
Lee too recalled how in the 1950s, pasarMalay was the best medium to speak in political campaigns as it was the most widely understood language in Singapore.
But today, while their national anthem and military commands are in Malay, the majority of Singaporeans can barely speak it.
This has and is robbing them of a deeper engagement with Malaysia and Indonesia, the latter being Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
The same thing mustn’t happen to us.
But that won’t happen if the market for Malay content doesn’t increase.
And there is no way for that to occur, or for Malay to become richer and less exclusively tied to one race or religion if the non-Malays themselves won’t embrace it.
Moreover, it robs them of insight into the minds of the Malay community, making the task of national integration more difficult.
Let us not forget, the Bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak too, while having their own languages and a huge Christian population, Malay in their interactions as well as worship.
I have made it a point to send my son to a national school, where the medium of instruction is mostly in Malay, which is his heritage.
And he still speaks to his friends in English.
Embracing mother tongue languages
Still, mother tongue education is also important. This applies to not only Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, but also the languages of the other ethnic groups.
Recent studies in southern Thailand have shown that the children there benefitted when they learnt their mother tongue from a young age, in this case, the Pattani Malay dialect.
They not only master academic subjects better, but they even become more fluent with Thai compared to children who were forced to learn everything in the Thai medium from the beginning.
The issue of minority languages weakening the status of Malay does not arise.
The vast majority of our population has at least a basic command of the Malay language, whether in the form of bahasa pasar, or regional dialects.
My point is that it is important that everyone should be able to speak Malay, and indeed, we are getting there, however haphazard the process.
But I find it rather ironic that some of the most virulent voices on this issue, including those taking a racist stance on the Jawi and Malay issues, have children who can’t speak Malay simply because of their elite status.
Upholding the national language – as well as nation-building in general – does not require and indeed, cannot happen, at the price of the humiliation or subjugation of minorities.
Knowing one another
What is needed is trust and goodwill on both sides. We need leaders who have the political will and credibility to bring it about.
My primary education was at the La Salle School of Petaling Jaya. Back then, there was (and still is) a huge cross on one of its buildings – and beneath it, the school’s name was written in Jawi.
In fact, there were crosses in each of our classrooms and no one made a fuss about it.
My father, who comes from a family of Islamic scholars, wanted his children to be able to converse in English fluently, and to mix with different races – so he ended up sending us all to mission schools.
The Islamic injunction of lita’arafu, or getting to know one another is crucial, especially in a multicultural society.
And it doesn’t mean compromising your faith, but simply that you understand the beliefs of others.
In my constituency, Setiawangsa, a surau hosted a Chinese New Year celebration last year.
This year, I hope to hold a multi-faith buka puasa with leaders from all religious communities.
It is important that all schools host more cultural programmes to foster mutual understanding.
The government should work hard to make national schools the school of choice in the medium and long run, but in the meantime encourage cross-cultural exchanges between national, vernacular, religious and even private and international schools.
The government, schools, NGOs and other bodies can play a hand in cultivating it.
If we carry on living in silos, we will end up always living in fear of one another.
I read the news that Merdeka Center claims that Anwar Ibrahim’s support among the Malay community is low.
Indeed, polling is an unexact science. I used to trust Merdeka Center – in fact I appointed them to survey Seri Setia and an early survey in Setiawangsa previously.
But this industry needs credibility and independence. The credibility of Merdeka Center was compromised during GE14 as they played a role to advocate the idea that BN can only be defeated through a PH-PAS collaboration. In fact, one of the reasons BN lost was the existence of three-cornered fights.
As late as January 2018, Merdeka Center was still insisting that BN would obtain a two-thirds majority due to three-cornered fights!
In March 2018, INVOKE predicted PH would obtain more seats in Peninsular Malaysia compared to BN.
INVOKE was widely ridiculed. But INVOKE’s prediction was the most accurate of all.
I recorded this in my book ‘9 May 2018: Notes from the Frontline’.
The full book is available here: https://www.gerakbudaya.com/9-may-2018-notes-from-the-frontline.
‘On 7 May 2018, INVOKE released its final survey, that boldly predicted a Pakatan Harapan victory. Pakatan Harapan would win 111 Parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia while Barisan Nasional would win 54 seats.
Pakatan Harapan was ahead in support among Malay voters in Penang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, but Barisan Nasional had a slim lead in the other states. In the 2013 election, Barisan Nasional had enjoyed a 30-per cent differential over Pakatan Rakyat among Malay voters; this time no state recorded more than a 20-per cent lead for Barisan Nasional.
As Pakatan Harapan enjoyed strong support from the non-Malays, this would enable the coalition to do well in mixed-seats across the Peninsula.
The only glaring misses for INVOKE were Kelantan and Terengganu. It had predicted that the two states would be won by Barisan Nasional but instead were won by PAS.
Rafizi explained after the election:
“Even in the case of Kelantan and Terengganu, it was obvious that fence-sitters resorted to tactical voting in the last week of campaigning; throwing their support behind PAS (instead of Pakatan Harapan) because realistically speaking only PAS was strong enough (as the second party in Kelantan and Terengganu) to defeat Barisan Nasional in those states.
Likewise, the voters knew enough about which party was the strongest to defeat Barisan Nasional in a three-cornered fight elsewhere, that there was a widespread tactical voting (especially among the Malays) throughout the country.”
INVOKE’s optimistic surveys contrasted with other agencies. Barisan Nasional’s private polling was on the other end of the spectrum, having placed them within a few seats of regaining the two-thirds majority in Parliament that had been lost since 2008. This explains the disbelief and paralysis that characterised the response to their election defeat. University academicians prominent in the mainstream media predicted an easy win for Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional.
In January 2018, Merdeka Center announced that Barisan Nasional would win the general election and re-gain the two-thirds majority in Parliament due to three-cornered fights, the redelineation of boundaries and the fractious nature of the Opposition.
‘The opposition’s prospects range from slim to zero as PAS leaders appear keen to prevent a PH victory. PAS seems ready to assist UMNO on the grounds of preserving Malay political hegemony.’
The polling outfit maintained their prediction in April. In their final poll presented on the eve of the election, they recorded the decline in Malay support for Barisan Nasional but concluded it was insufficient for Pakatan Harapan to win Federal power as the lead among Malay voters was still substantial for the ruling coalition.
They forecasted 100 safe seats for Barisan Nasional, 83 for Pakatan Harapan, two for PAS and 37 seats where the margin of error was within three per cent. This included my Setiawangsa Parliamentary seat.’