Foong Li Mei brings to you another edition of REFSA Rojak, a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement.

REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”

[Original REFSA Rojak issue here.]


Democracy: Rest in peace

Peaceful Assembly Bill: Quite ironically, the atmosphere surrounding this was far from tranquil. The proposed Bill attracted scorn and sarcasm from irate Malaysians, and drew much flak from opposition lawmakers and the Malaysian Bar for being “not much different from banning the assemblies as it has stricter and heavier penalties.” Its provisions include discretionary powers granted to the police to impose hefty fines, which gags opposing voices and strips Malaysians of their democratic right to provide a system of checks and balances.

Over 1,000 lawyers and supporters of the Bar Council marched in the oppressive noon heat  to calls of “kill the bill”, prompting the quip “when even lawyers get out of their air-conditioned rooms to protest, something must be really wrong” that spread like wild fire on social networks.

Nonetheless, the Peaceful Assembly Bill , with six amendments, is now in effect.

Perhaps what infuriated Malaysians more than the Bill’s repressiveness was the unusual haste in which it was passed. The Dewan Rakyat passed the controversial Bill with only Barisan Nasional’s votes. The opposition  walked-out from Parliament rather than vote as Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar allowed just three opposition MPs to debate the Bill, all of whom asked for it to be withdrawn and put before a select committee.

An air of numbed hopelessness hovers over the many who mourn the ‘death’ of democracy in Malaysia. Some held a candlelight virgil and ‘memorial service’ in front of Parliament. On the flipside, some BN lawmakers in defending the Bill said it safeguards public interest, helps maintain public order and curbs insanity, because apparently, assemblies make people go crazy.

REFSA shares the views of Malaysian Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee in his open letter to our honourable Members of Parliament.  Lim considers it “outrageous that assemblies in motion are prohibited.” History, including ours, is replete with peaceful assemblies in motion, which were agents of change and of good.

Lim cites the example of Dato’ Onn Jaafar, founding father of UMNO, who on 27 Feb 1946 led a procession of 15,000 people to protest the establishment of the Malayan Union, which disregarded the interests of the Malay Rulers and the Malays. This was the first of a series of processions that successfully opposed the Malayan Union, and later led to our nation’s independence.  More recently, on 27 Feb 2008, the then-Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi led 20,000 people in a one-kilometre procession from the Batu Pahat UMNO office to a stadium to commemorate this rally.

It is frustrating when our YBs put blind obedience to party and partisanship before their duties as  servants of the people.  REFSA wonders why Barisan MPs could not support a call to avoid undue haste, and allow for more time for constructive discussion of such an important law, especially when the Bar had, on its own initiative, constructively published an alternative.

All in the agenda?

REFSA was initially sceptical about the assertion by the Kota Belud MP that people lose their minds in assemblies. That was, however, before we saw the attendees of the Umno Youth assembly directing foul language and insults at the opposition, whom they alleged  had eroded the rights of Malays.

Umno information chief Datuk Ahmad Maslan vehemently defended the Malay agenda, charging opposition party DAP as “agents of Christianisation”.  Umno Deputy President, Muhyiddin Yassin, also sounded a clarion call to party members to unite as “warriors” to defend Putrajaya at all costs, and ensure the sovereignty of the Malays.

UMNO Youth were also told to go all out to defend Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil in the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal, because the minister is their “eldest sister, Wanita chief, who has been in the forefront of defending Umno,” and they have a duty to protect their “family.”

Defending one of your own may be seen as noble; blood- whether running within a race or a party – is, after all, said to be thicker than water. The problem is, of course, that one can hardly ever see clearly through sticky red fluid. The call to “protect at all costs” sends a message that an individual’s interests should be placed before logic and reason.

Picking the public’s pockets

On the subject of costs, NFC was alleged to be mucking about with more public funds. PKR accused the company of using the funds to buy a Mercedes-Benz, land in Putrajaya, and pay for expensive holidays. The money was also disbursed to companies owned by Datuk Seri Shahrizat’s family.

This revelation followed Shahrizat’s stand that she had nothing to do with the NFC scandal. The Umno Wanita chief even launched a counter-attack on PKR Wanita Chief, Zuraida Kamaruddin, who had called for her resignation because of her family’s involvement in NFC.

While taxpayers reel from shock over the NFC’s misuse of public funds, they would be rendered speechless at the RM10,000 per month that the Tourism Ministry pay data-entry staff to monitor the “wall-posts” messages on its six Facebook pages. That is more than what journalists earn, said Rasah MP Anthony Loke, who had revealed the figures.

Aching economy

While some Tourism Ministry personnel earn handsome incomes for merely managing a Facebook wall, Malaysia’s economy is expected to hit more financial walls.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) claims that Malaysia is primed for solid growth until 2016, but other financial experts are less optimistic. One pointed out that the OECD report is outdated when compared to the World Bank’s Malaysian Economic Monitor, and that Malaysia’s growth looks bleak as the global signs are “anything but rosy.” Another said that Malaysia would be fortunate to see even a 5% growth figure for 2011. Most economists project growth of below 4% for next year.

On that note, if the government is seeking to save some money in the sluggish economy, this writer is offering her services to the Tourism Ministry for a mere RM8,000 per month. After all, she has had plenty of practice in most manners of Facebook technicalities, and would even hammer in the occasional 140 characters on Twitter for the ministry, gratis. Just happy to do her bit for the country, you know.


Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak Weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...