Agenda Daily


Technology, in the form of Internet news sites and web blogs, however chastised, will continue to be an alternative source of information to the masses. A good example would be the recent Net murmurings of a rift between the top two most powerful men in the country, which warranted a denial by the Number Two himself. Perhaps, a freer mainstream media would help.


By A Kadir Jasin

Recently, the New Sunday Times (nst) published an article by one of its freelance columnists wherein the businessman-politician told us about a birthday party he and his siblings threw for his net-savvy mother.

What a lucky woman she is! Not only is she computer-literate, but she also received some very expensive birthday presents.

The columnist wrote: ‘First to have its wrapper torn off was a black Bose SoundDock for her to blast the music on her iPod anywhere in the house – loud enough to play out by the pool and small enough to carry downstairs for her dancing classes on Sundays with her buddies.’

Those who know something about audio equipment systems would know that only the most acoustically knowledgeable son or daughter would buy his or her ‘mama’ a Bose sound system.

I can’t say the same for my mother though. She is with absolute certainty no techno whiz-kid. In fact, she is not even literate. She was so busy raising the eight of us in one hulu (remote) corner of Kedah that she had to give the kelas dewasa a miss.

In those early days of independence, the government launched a literacy campaign among the populace, which included the kelas dewasa or adult classes. There, adults – women and men – were taught to read and write.

It was probably one of the most successful educational programmes the nation’s fathers had ever devised for the benefit of the people. The kelas dewasa may now be needed to teach moms and dads IT literacy.

While it did not make teachers and doctors of the illiterate housewives and padi farmers, the adult classes enabled them to acquire basic reading and writing skills. But most of all, these classes motivated them to give priority to the education of their children.

When I was attending the Malay school in Pendang a few years before Merdeka, dropping out of school or staying away from classes during rice growing and harvesting times were common.

By the time I was in Standard Five, almost half of my older classmates had either left to help their families in the rice fields and rubber smallholdings, or (for the girls) to get married.

Of parents and technology … or rather the lack of it.

WE never had a birthday party for our ayah (father) and emak (mother). We couldn’t even if we had wanted to. They did not know when they were born. Their identity cards merely mentioned the year. Even that, I think, was a case of agak-agak (guessing).

Those days, and particularly so in a hulu place like Pendang, births were either not reported or reported late. It was only in 1948, when the British introduced the registration exercise as one of the ways of fighting the insurgency, that birth registration and the identity card became mandatory.

It was customary in those early days for rural Malays to mark the birth of a child with the planting of a tree or palm. The real reason was to protect the place where the birth sack was buried from domestic and wild animals. The tree was planted on the very spot the birth sack was buried. So if you asked how old Mak Minah was, you would be told that she was of the same age as the nangka (jackfruit) tree at the far end of the compound.

My late grandmother had a more unique way of remembering time. Her point of reference was what she called the tahun gelap (the dark year), which was 1883 when the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia caused darkness.

Fortunately, I had no major problem knowing when my birthday was, as I was born less than a year before the 1947 registration exercise came into force, and my father had a good mind to record it.

Not celebrating our mom’s and dad’s birthdays does not mean we love or appreciate them any less. In recent years, we have been remembering their wedding anniversary. They have been married to each other for 65 years now and are still in reasonable health.

Of course, we don’t present them with a Bose sound system, a seven-mega pixel digital camera or the latest wireless-capable laptop computer.

We did, however, buy them a reasonably-priced TV set so that they can spend time watching and listening to ministers and high officials running down the Internet news portals and blogs.

But in recent years, I notice that my politically-active father — he was for many years a member of the Umno divisional committee and a wakil (delegate) to the Umno general assembly in Kuala Lumpur — has not been watching the RTM1 or TV3 news that much anymore.

He told me that he is meluat (fed up) with some of the politicians whom he once adored. He is particularly angry with the rise in food prices and in the price of fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers.

And he bluntly accused the government of lying about the promise to review upward the padi price subsidy.

Technology comes to the ‘kampung’

LET’s now talk about how kampung (village) people like my mom and dad are coping with technology. They may not be as savvy as the mother of the NST columnist, but they are savvy enough to make basic decisions and choices.

They are still watching the drama Melayu (Malay dramas) on RTM and, to a lesser degree, Akademi Fantasia on Astro’s Malay channel Ria. Not that many rural households, for financial reasons, subscribe to Astro.

But I have a sneaky feeling that they are watching less news and current affairs programmes, except when Karam Singh Walia kicks up a storm with his investigative journalism on TV3. They particularly like his pantun.

They still read Utusan Malaysia but for the juicier takes on politics, they visit the kedai kopi (coffee shops) to exchange and discuss the latest gossip they receive via the short messaging system (SMS) from faraway Kuala Lumpur.

It is amazing that the name Khairy Jamaluddin — the Umno Youth Deputy Chief and son-in-law of the Prime Minister — crops up as regularly as his father-in-law’s (Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) in these conversations.

Even the more senior Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak and Umno Youth Chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein are left far behind.

Occasionally, someone would produce printouts of news from the websites or blogs. It would seem that an increasing number of political activists, mostly on the side of the Opposition, are making it a practice to regularly surf the Internet and print out news items that are considered useful in furthering the interest of their political parties.

So, maybe people like Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin and Tourism Minister Tengku Datuk Adnan Tengku Mansor are right after all in declaring the websites and blogs the enemies of the state. People are beginning to be aware of the presence of these alternative sources of information.

Zainuddin, the former editor-in-chief of the Utusan Melayu newspaper group, has advised the mainstream media not to quote from the Internet news sites and blogs.

Tengku Adnan, who preceded Zainuddin, has gone a step further by labelling bloggers liars. He has outdone himself by alleging that 80% of bloggers are women and jobless.

Not surprisingly, he did what a cornered politician would do. He said that he was quoted out of context. He confessed that he meant only one particular blogger — the Indonesian TV journalist Nila Tanzil who wrote in her blog about her unhappy experience in Malaysia.

She had been invited by the Tourism Ministry to do a programme on the Visit Malaysia Year. She complained that she and her crew were unable to film a few interesting locations in Kuala Lumpur.

Even the Internal Security Ministry, of which Abdullah is the minister, joined the fray by formally writing to editors to warn them against quoting ‘unreliable’ reports from Internet news portals and blogs.

In what can be construed as a veiled threat, the ministry reminded them of the conditions contained in the printing permits issued to them.

A number of recent websites and blog reports have caught the officialdom off guard. These include the alleged differences between Abdullah and Najib, the charges of corruption against Anti-Corruption Agency Director-General Datuk Seri Zulkipli Mat Noor and Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Johari Baharum and the purchase (leasing) of a RM200 million Airbus A319 executive jet by the government.

Psst … is there a rift between No 1 & 2?

THE claims by the Internet news portal Malaysia Today that there are serious differences between Abdullah and Najib, and that the latter may no longer by the choice successor is serious enough to warrant a denial by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Of course, the denial did nothing to sway the conspiracy theorists from their belief. In fact, it deepens the suspicion that there are indeed differences between the two men.

But as I have reflected in my blog (kadirjasin.blogspot.com) on March 20, Najib is unlikely to mount any kind of challenge against Abdullah — at least not in the foreseeable future. It would be suicidal to do so.

But in politics, nothing is impossible. Politics, it has often been said, is the art of the possible. Anything can happen, and we do not have to retreat far into history to find a precedent. We need only go back to 1998. Then, nobody expected Abdullah to be anointed the successor of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Prior to the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in October that year, Abdullah was not on the nation’s political radar screen. Conventional wisdom then was that Dr Mahathir would be succeeded by Anwar, and Anwar by Najib.

It didn’t cross anybody’s mind that the love affair between Dr Mahathir and Anwar would end in acrimony, and that Abdullah would be brought back from the brink and Najib sidestepped.

Ironically, takdir (the will of God) that brought back Abdullah and sidelined Najib also hounded Dr Mahathir from Umno and mainstream politics.

The prime ministership of Abdullah is the absolute and unequivocal product of takdir. I dare make this statement because as a man touted to be deeply religious, Abdullah will be the last person to deny the role takdir plays in the life of every Muslim.

But will takdir ordain that Najib would, some day, challenge Abdullah the way Tun Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Anwar had challenged Dr Mahathir?

Better to be nice than nasty

MY personal view (I repeat: my personal view) is that he will not because Najib is not Anwar and Abdullah is not Dr Mahathir. This is, at least, what I believe to be the case for now.

Najib does not possess the character and audacity that are Anwar’s hallmarks. Whatever one may say or think of Anwar, the fact remains that he is determined, unafraid and charismatic.

Anwar, who recently declared his return to active politics and vowed to contest the coming general election come rain or shine, came from the grass roots.

He founded his political career on student and youth activism back in the turbulent 1960s, when going against the rules was the youthful norm. It was his controversial leadership of the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim) that attracted Dr Mahathir, who inducted him into Umno in 1982.

Anwar surrounded himself with loyal supporters who spanned the political, corporate, academic and civil society spheres and, in the final years of his membership of the Mahathir government, rewarded them generously.

Najib, on the other hand, is the product of pedigree, being the eldest son of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the country’s second Prime Minister and a member of the Pahang Royal Court.

In other words, Najib’s rise was shaped by his father’s august position. The emotional outburst that followed his father’s death in 1976 facilitated his entry into politics.

Whereas Anwar proved his worth to his mentor — Dr Mahathir — by wresting the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat from Pas in the 1982 general election, Najib took over his father’s Pekan parliamentary chair uncontested in 1976.

If Anwar built his political career through a series of skirmishes and high-profile contests — like ousting Datuk Suhaimi Kamarudin as Umno Youth chief in 1982 and hounding the late Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba from the post of Deputy President in 1993 — Najib opted for the safer evolutionary route.

Najib’s upward climb was further facilitated by his close connection to the late Tun Hussein Onn, the third Prime Minister, who was his uncle (by marriage), and by Dr Mahathir, who was indebted to his father (Razak). It was Razak who had rehabilitated Dr Mahathir’s political career after his sacking from Umno in 1969 by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.

In fact, Najib is closer in character to Abdullah than Dr Mahathir or Anwar. Both men survive and thrive by being nice and playing it safe.

Najib has his network of supporters and sympathizers whom he cultivated during the days when he was closely associated with Dr Mahathir and Anwar. He inherited much of Anwar’s supporters when he took over as Umno Youth chief from Anwar.

Abdullah, on his part, inherited the supporters of the 1987 ‘Team B’, who are made up of Musa’s and, to a lesser degree, Tengku Razaleigh’s supporters.

Will Najib take on Abdullah?

IT is in this historical context that the potential of a Najib-Abdullah showdown cannot be ruled out altogether. Abdullah’s and Najib’s political bases are not identical. Abdullah’s supporters are not necessarily Najib’s supporters and vice-versa.

Since becoming Prime Minister and Umno President in 2003, Abdullah has been steadily building and broadening his base away from what he had inherited from Dr Mahathir.

Shaping his administration along the US presidential system, he has surrounded himself with a new breed of special officers, assistants and advisers, who are mostly not from the civil service and Umno.

These ‘presidential assistants’ hold sway in the Prime Minister’s Department, key ministries, departments, government-linked companies and corporations (GLCs) and the information and propaganda outfits.

The support for Najib might have eroded somewhat since the clash between Dr Mahathir and Abdullah came out in the open. Najib has no choice but to support Abdullah. This has led to some of his supporters who come from Dr Mahathir’s camp to either withhold their support or campaign against him.

Dr Mahathir himself no longer speaks fondly of Najib, and on occasions, has told people that they should listen to what his former arch enemy and Najib original mentor Tengku Razaleigh has to say and offer. Najib is no longer Dr Mahathir’s singular choice.

Finally, any contender for the Umno President’s post has to bear in mind that Abdullah is not Dr Mahathir. As Umno President and Prime Minister, Abdullah is more powerful than Dr Mahathir politically, administratively and financially.

And it was Dr Mahathir who consciously strengthened the power and position of the Umno President since the 1987 challenge and, again, after the sacking of Anwar a decade later.

Thus, a challenge against Abdullah now would be suicidal for Najib. He stands a better chance of making it to the top by being a loyal and obedient Number Two.

But it will be a different ball game altogether if Umno and the Barisan Nasional fail to defend their 2004 mandate in the coming general election, or if the people get a truer picture of what’s really happening to them and the country from a freer mainstream media.

The former is highly possible, but the later is unlikely to happen. As new sources of information like the Internet news portals and blogs become more widespread and credible, the mainstream media will be less free, as it will be required to mount a more vicious campaign to defend the government of the day.

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