Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a very busy man these days, but the person who awaits him each time he comes home must be reason enough for the opposition leader to get up and keep on going the next day.
DATUK Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail jokes that she has now become a JP – Jaga Pintu.
No matter how late her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim gets back from campaigning, she always makes sure she is the one to open the door for him.
“I just think of how much pahala (merit) I must be getting by waking up to let him in and that motivates me,” says the PKR president who has a full schedule herself during this run-up to the general election.
Last Wednesday, Anwar was in Bandar Baru Uda, Johor, then Batu Pahat before finishing in Segamat. His ceramah only ended after midnight.
He only got home at 4am, grabbed some sleep, then it was off to the PKR headquarters at Merchant Square, Petaling Jaya, for a morning press conference before rushing off to Pahang for another round of ceramah.
Again, he got back to Kuala Lumpur in the wee hours of the morning – this time it was at 2am – but at the crack of dawn, he was up for prayers and off to the airport to catch a morning flight to Sarawak for another packed programme.
Then he was in Sabah for more of the same before heading back to Kuala Lumpur before dashing off to Penang, Putrajaya, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Perak and Kedah for the final leg of campaigning.
Dr Wan Azizah says Anwar is good at pacing himself and getting power naps to re-energise so he can keep up with the gruelling pace.
Since the dissolution of Parliament, she says the PKR leader hasn’t had time to do his usual five-minute exercise on the bicycle.
“So, he does some stretches. And if (second daughter Nurul) Nuha’s one-year-old son, Sulaimaan, is around, he becomes Anwar’s ‘dumbell’.
“He loves it when Anwar lifts him up and down. So Anwar does that 10 to 15 times and that’s his upper arm exercise,” she laughs.
To maintain his health, Anwar has also started taking bird’s nest soup. “Because I know it’s made from birds’ saliva, I can’t drink it,” says Dr Wan Azizah with her usual no-airs charm.
On the campaign trail, Dr Wan Azizah and Anwar split up so they can cover more ground.
“We BBM or whatsapp each other a few times every day and talk at least once a day,” says Dr Wan Azizah.
Wherever he goes, crowds flock to hear Anwar speak.
“If Pakatan Rakyat wins the elections on May 5, we will be sworn in as the new government on May 6, and on May 7 we will bring petrol prices down,” Anwar says at almost every stop.
He promises that a Pakatan-run Federal Government will fully fund Chinese and Tamil schools in the country and abolish the PTPTN student loan scheme to make university education free.
As for the multi-billion ringgit Iskandar project in Gelang Patah, he says if Pakatan takes over the state, it will make sure there is participation of Johoreans in the project and that locals benefit from it – not just Singaporeans and outsiders.
Anwar also accuses Barisan of stealing Pakatan’s ideas in its Janji Ditepati manifesto such as the bringing down of import duty on cars.
Another star attraction at the Opposition leader’s ceramah is the PKR double-decker, 18-seater Jelajah Merdeka Rakyat bus.
“Whenever it stops, people crowd around to take photos and pose in front of the bus,” says Anwar’s press secretary Najwan Halimi, who is a mechanical engineering graduate with political aspirations himself.
“Sometimes if Anwar is in the bus and there is time to spare, he’ll get down and take pictures with the people.” Most of the time, though, Anwar is not on the bus.
Because he has to rush from place to place for the tight ceramah schedule and due to his back problem, Anwar usually moves around in a car and hops onto the bus the last two or three kilometres from the location.
“Sometimes party or division leaders would get on the bus to join the campaign and arrive at the venue together with Anwar,” says Najwan. “People love the bus because it is something different and special.”
Come May 5, voters will decide whether they opt for something different or stay with what’s comfortable and familiar.
The workings of electoral democracy face many challenges that separate the democracy’s virtues from the sordid realities that need to be admitted and rectified.
IN a democracy, the government must be representative of the people and answerable, responsible and accountable to the wishes of society. Elections are one aspect of this accountability.
Unfortunately, the electoral exercise in all democracies is so colossal, involves so many details, so many people (240,000 workers for the forthcoming elections) and so much money (RM400mil) that it is extremely vulnerable to manipulation and malpractices.
Despite democracy’s undoubted virtues, the sordid realities of the electoral exercise need to be noted and rectified.
A genuinely democratic electoral process must possess the following salient features.
First, there must be in existence constitutional provisions for the existence, composition and tenure of legislative assemblies. These are provided for in detail in our federal and state constitutions.
Second, the electoral system must translate votes into parliamentary seats.
Two main types of electoral systems exist – the simple plurality system and the system of proportional representation. In the simple plurality system, the candidate obtaining the most votes is declared elected.
There is no requirement that he must obtain more than 50% of the votes polled. In a three-cornered contest, the “winner” may capture the seat with only a minority of the votes.
In addition to non-representative outcomes in individual constituencies, the simple plurality system permits a massive disparity at the national level between the percentage of votes polled and the percentage of parliamentary seats won.
For example in 2004, Barisan Nasional won 63.9% of the popular vote but 90.4% of the Dewan Rakyat seats. In Britain in the 70s, the victorious Labour party won only 37% of the popular vote but a working majority in Parliament.
In contrast, in the proportional representation system, parliamentary seats are given to parties in proportion to the percentage of popular votes obtained by them.
The positive outcome is that the legislature is truly representative.
But the negative feature of a proportional representation system is that a large number of political parties join the fray and none command a firm majority in the legislature. Instability, frequent change of government and gridlock result.
Third, democracy requires that a fair and impartial machinery for delineating and revising electoral constituencies must be in place.
Every citizen’s vote must carry equal weight. This means that in principle, all constituencies must be approximately equal in population size.
Unfortunately, if this ideal were to be strictly followed, all constituencies in rural areas, in hilly terrains as in Pahang, and in territorially large but thinly populated states as in Sabah and Sarawak will have very few MPs.
The Constitution in 1957, therefore, allowed a measure of weightage to be given to rural constituencies. Unfortunately, how much weightage may be given is no where specified and wide disparities exist.
The largest parliamentary constituency is Kapar, Selangor, with 144,369 voters; the smallest is Putrajaya with 15,355 voters – i.e. 9.4 times smaller. In Perak, the largest is Gopeng with 97,243 electors; the smallest is Padang Rengas with 28,572 – a difference of 3.4.
Fourth, a fair and impartial machinery for drawing up an electoral register is necessary.
In Malaysia, it is the job of the Election Commission to draw up the electoral register impartially, to ensure that no one is denied the right to vote, that there are no phantom voters or persons who have died, that no non-citizens are allowed to register, that voters satisfy the requirement of residence in their constituency and that no one registers in more than one electoral district.
Fifth, the law must permit universal adult franchise (right to vote). Regrettably, our voting age (21 on the date of registration) is very high. Consequently, nearly 55% of the population is rendered ineligible to vote. We need to reduce this proportion. There is also no automatic registration.
Many citizens are apathetic and do not register as voters. Some who do fail to show up on election day because voting is not compulsory.
We have 13.3 million registered voters who constitute only 46% of our population of 28.9 million.
If one were to deduct those who do not show up, this leaves only 34.5% of the population that participates in democracy’s showcase event! We must find ways to increase this proportion.
Sixth, there must be legal rules for the eligibility of candidates and for the nomination of contestants. These exist in detail.
Seventh, there must be rules about the limits on the powers of caretaker governments. In the case of PP v Mohd Amin Razali (2002), the court provided some guidance. We could also emulate conventions from the Commonwealth.
Eighth, legal and conventional rules exist for the conduct of election campaigns, duration of the campaign period and rights of political parties to reach out to the electorate. Ninth, election expenses are controlled so that the electoral exercise does not degenerate into a battle of cheque books.
In Malaysia, the law puts a ceiling on the expenditure by individual candidates (RM100,000 for state and RM200,000 for federal seats) and imposes a duty to maintain a record of contributions and filing of audited statements of expenditure.
However, there is no control on what political parties may spend or receive by way of donation.
Tenth, the Constitution confers safeguards for freedom of speech, assembly and association.
In many democratic countries, there are provisions for equal access to the media for all contestants. In Malaysia, media monopoly is a serious problem.
The Internet is, however, open to everyone and provides an alternative, though not always reliable, source of information.
In sum, though democracy is the best form of government, there can be no denying that behind the folklore of electoral democracy stand many myths and many utilitarian compromises. Every where in the world electoral reform is being called for. Unfortunately, there are no quick-fix, simple solutions.
For this GE, many improvements, like extension of postal votes to those abroad and use of indelible ink, speak well of the recognition of the need for reform. But the challenges are many and, in some cases, fundamental.
What one can hope for is that as in the past our electoral exercise will remain peaceful and that its result will provide a strong and stable government to lead us forward.
How to casting Your Vote?
Check & Print out:
Check on-line first (http://daftarj.spr.gov.my/semakpru13.aspx) and print out your details before going to the voting center. You may be able to by-pass the Barung counter since you have a printout and know where to go and thus short cut your time.
Why should we be afraid of Hudud Law? (Must Watch)?
Anwar Ibrahim at Han Chiang Hig
Dear fellow Malaysians, peace. I am writing this open letter because I am deeply concerned about two trends within the electorate which may have an adverse impact upon the future of our nation. The first is a trend associated with a segment of the Malay electorate, both rural and urban. The second is a trend associated with a segment of the non-Malay communities. If these two trends are en-throned through the 13th General Election on May 5, it could be catastrophic for our people.
The Malay Electorate
Some Malays, disillusioned with elite corruption and the widening gap between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little, regard a hudud-oriented Islamic state as the solution. They should ask themselves the following questions.
One, is there any such state in the contemporary world that serves as a model worthy of emulation? Saudi Arabia? Sudan? Afghanistan?
Two, why is it that the vast majority of Muslim states have not opted for a hudud-oriented administration?
Three, why have the people in the world’s largest Muslim country, namely Indonesia, rejected hudud-oriented parties over and over again in elections?
Four, why has Turkey, whose ruling party has an Islamic root, eschewed hudud and a fiqh-oriented legal system in favour of a democratic, constitutional, secular system of governance?
Five, if the mainstay of the ruling coalition in Malaysia since 1957 was PAS and not Umno, what would be the socio-economic situation of the Malays today?
Would poverty have been reduced from 64% to 1.7%? Would there have been the phenomenal transformation of an entire people, sustained over two generations, which has resulted in a significant Malay role in education, the professions, commerce and industry, compared to what it was at the time of Merdeka?
Would the Malays have emerged as an important component of the Malaysian middle class which has undoubtedly helped to stabilise ethnic relations and politics in the country and allowed democracy to function?
One just has to look at PAS’ 22-year rule in Kelantan to get an idea of what its version of Islam can do to a people. From its dismal failure to provide jobs for tens of thousands of well-qualified Kelantanese to its utter inability to curb rising drug addiction, Kelantan is Malaysia’s first and only failed state. Malaysian voters should have no illusions about the type of Islamic state that PAS seeks.
The Non-Malay Electorate
If some Malays are under an illusion about PAS’ Islam, a lot more non-Malays, especially many middle-class Chinese and some middle-class Indians, are labouring under a huge misconception about what their vote would deliver. They are convinced that it would be able to “eliminate ethnic discrimination” and bring to an end alleged “Malay supremacy”. Since those who have been pedalling these cliches have never really explained in detail what they mean by eliminating ethnic discrimination or Malay supremacy, non-Malays exposed to this rhetoric have drawn different conclusions.
For many, the perception is that Pakatan Rakyat is going to set aside the Special Position of the Malays and the Bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak. This cannot be done. The Articles in the Malaysian Constitution pertaining to places in the public services, licences, scholarships and land reserves (like some other Articles) cannot be amended or abrogated by Parliament even if Pakatan wins 100% of the seats. Special Position is safeguarded by the Conference of Malay Rulers.
Publicly, all three Pakatan parties, including the DAP, have endorsed Special Position. However, at the hustings, some of the DAP and PKR activists give the impression that it is discriminatory and is therefore unacceptable. This is why their leaders should be honest with their members and supporters. Tell the whole truth.
Neither Special Position nor any of the other iron-clad Articles in the Constitution pertaining to citizenship, language and the Rulers will change one iota if Pakatan comes to power.
Since Pakatan cannot do anything about Special Position, what sort of discrimination is it going to eliminate? Will it abolish the NEP? In theory, the NEP does not exist any more. It came to an end in 1990 though one of its twin objectives of restructuring society in order to reduce the identification of ethnicity with economic function continues in certain specific areas. Given the nature of this objective, it would be wrong to view it as ethnic discrimination. Rather, it is an attempt to enhance national integration.
Everything considered, the actual flaws with the NEP are related to its implementation – its excesses and its abuses. These should be rectified. In the last four years, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has made a concerted attempt to do so. Federal scholarships for students are based largely on academic merit; there is a serious endeavour to increase the number of Chinese and Indian public servants; and their mobility in the public services has improved through some high profile appointments.
At the same time, all 1Malaysia ventures – from its retail trade outlets to its affordable housing programme – are non-ethnic. 1Malaysia in its concrete manifestation is an all-embracing, inclusive idea. Najib is also paying close attention to the needs of different ethnic and sub-ethnic communities and engaging them at the social and cultural level as part and parcel of his 1Malaysia drive.
There is a lucid message he is attempting to put across. There must be understanding and empathy among us, whatever our religious or cultural differences. We must respect one another.
Respecting one another means that we should never ever manipulate each other. This is what happened in the recent DAP symbol episode. Though there was no question at all about whether the DAP could use its own rocket symbol, in the high drama that the leadership staged, it opted to use PAS’ symbol rather than the PKR symbol on the peninsula. Wouldn’t it have been more logical for the DAP to use PKR’s symbol since the DAP wants PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim to be the Prime Minister if Pakatan wins the general election? Why did it prefer the symbol of a party whose goal of a hudud-oriented Islamic state it vehemently opposes? Is it because PAS has much more Malay support on the peninsula than PKR and the DAP was hoping to capitalise on its support? Isn’t this rank opportunism?
Isn’t this what the PAS-DAP-PKR grouping is all about? An opportunistic grouping hell-bent on power but opposed to each other. If an illusion on the one hand and a misconception on the other makes the grouping a catastrophe, its opportunism renders it an even greater catastrophe.
Think carefully! Vote wisely!
With warm regards,
Dr Chandra: He will change foreign policy
“Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is considered as only a friend’ of the US, not an ally.
“It is because Najib is consistently forging close ties with the Chinese government,” he said yesterday.
Dr Chandra explained that Najib had always maintained close bilateral ties with China, especially in terms of the country’s foreign policy.
“The conservative lobbyists in the US are not happy with Najib’s attempts to strengthen ties with China,” he said.
Dr Chandra also highlighted that Anwar was among the members of an international delegation, who opposed the Olympics being held in Beijing in 2008.
“Prior to 2008, Anwar joined campaigners from the US and other countries, opposing China from staging the games,” he said.
Meanwhile, at a forum organised by the Majlis Perundingan Melayu (MPM Malay Consultative Council) last Friday, Dr Chandra, urged the Chinese not to allow themselves to be tricked by Anwar who was not honest in fighting for the community.
“If the Chinese are still hoping that Anwar will fight for their cause that would be their biggest mistake.
“Anwar is a US tool, and if he becomes the Prime Minister, the good relationship between Malaysia and China will be over,” he said.
The Star/Asia News Network
Felda scheme with a potent voice
Lurah Bilut stands tall as the nation’s first Felda scheme, pioneered by settlers from all races from different parts of the country.
LURAH BILUT is just about 19km away from Bentong. It is a huge piece of fertile land located near Sungai Bilut and the Kelau forest reserve.
It is safe to say that most Malaysians, especially those staying in the cities, have never heard of this place and have no reason to come here.
But Lurah Bilut is not only the first Felda scheme in the country but one that was pioneered by settlers from all races after independence.
In this 12,920-acre (5,228ha) enclave, located within the Bentong parliamentary constituency, there are Malays, Chinese, Indians and the Orang Asli, and their children can go to either the national school or the national-type schools where the medium is in Chinese or Tamil.
The scheme was opened in 1957 and each settler was given 10 acres (4ha) of land. According to records, the first batch of settlers who entered the scheme on Aug 2, 1959, was from Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur. They were brought into the area by bus and were shocked to find themselves in a jungle.
One Chinese settler, who arrived here in 1959 from Negri Sembilan with just his clothes on his back, was given tools to hack away at the dense growth, according to one report. There is one road here called Jalan Pulau Pinang, because the settlers came from Penang.
As with everything that is new and untested, the settlers had to be imbued with a sense of adventure. Certainly they could not foresee the success that Felda would turn out to be eventually. Thus these early settlers in Lurah Bilut came to be known as the Pioneering Bulls and have become some kind of a legend in this Felda scheme.
Felda was set up to eradicate rural poverty through the use of effective agricultural methods to cultivate cash crops such as rubber and oil palm. In recent years, there has also been special emphasis on diversification to deal with the fluctuations in commodity prices.
On my visit to this Felda scheme, it was clear that many were eager to share their experiences with me. There is a sense of pride over what has taken place here.
A vegetarian meal has been prepared for incumbent MP Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and as he sat down at the table, the MCA deputy president invited those at the table to share his vegetarian dishes.
But many jokingly told him that they would take his share of meat instead, a joke which he has heard many times.
The Bentong parliamentary seat which Liow won with a 12,585 majority when he polled 51,340 votes against his PKR opponent R. Ponusamy’s 12,585 votes is regarded as a safe seat for the Barisan Nasional.
The current electorate of 62,400 voters comprise 43.9% Chinese, 44.6% Malays, 9.4% Indians, 0.5% Orang Asl and the rest, others.
Liow is expected to deliver this seat to the BN but no one is taking any chances this time because of the perception that the Chinese sentiments against the BN are very strong, even in Bentong where they have always been traditionally pro-BN.
Even the Bilut state seat, held by the MCA, is under threat from the Pakatan Rakyat. Liow has to work extra hard to campaign for 36-year-old Leong Kim Soon, who is contesting this seat. Leong’s grand uncle is the late Tan Sri Chan Siang Sun, who was the legendary MP for Bentong.
Leong, who is the political secretary to Liow, is facing DAP’s Chow Yu Hui.
In this rural setting, the two have gone from door to door, under the hot afternoon sun, to shake the hands of every voter.
Said a campaigner: “This is a crucial area as it is racially mixed and we want to cover as much ground as possible.”
Unlike the Felda schemes in Johor, especially, where Pakatan Rakyat candidates are literally chased away by the settlers, the PR workers have been able to put up their flags and banners, an indication that a fight is at hand.
In the Bentong town centre, Liow’s challenger is Wong Tack, who made a name for himself as the anti-Lynas campaigner. In his green T-shirt, Wong was raising environment issues but his credentials have taken a knock after he was exposed as the owner of a 1,000-acre (404ha) oil palm estate in Sabah.
Wong also had to fend off the revelation that he held Canadian permanent residence status, explaining that it was cancelled by the Canadian authorities because he did not go back to the country.
But the BN campaigners have been hammering on that issue, questioning why there was a need for him to collect donations at every ceramah when he is pretty well off financially.
They asked how many of the voters, especially settlers, could even dream of owning 1,000 acres of land and if they knew how much money had been collected so far.
But Wong seems undeterred by these issues, saying he was well-prepared to challenge Liow for Bentong,
and also Mentri Besar Datuk Adnan Yaacob, who is contesting in the Pelangai state seat, under Bentong.
Wong’s campaigners, mostly youngsters, are visibly seen in town, especially at the market, where they aggressively tell voters to go for change.
One Universiti Malaya student said she had volunteered to canvass votes for Wong because she had been actively involved in the anti-Lynas campaign.
“My belief in him remains the same. I will still support him and the DAP, nothing will change my stand,’’ the third-year student said. She said her parents knew that she was campaigning and wholeheartedly supported her.
Her friends, many eager to express their views, said they were using their own expenses to stay in Bentong.
At the Bentong Jaya coffeeshop, the discussions focus on the sentiments of the Chinese, swayed by DAP’s talk that Pakatan Rakyat would take over the Federal Government. Only a few were cautiously warning about the implications of the Chinese voting themselves out of the government.
A businessman from Kuala Lumpur said he had been trying to explain to some Chinese voters that while their sentiments are pro-Pakatan, the majority of Malays would be backing Barisan.
“The huge crowd at DAP ceramah can be deceiving because the Malay style of campaigning, in Felda areas, is to have small get-together sessions, prayers at the suraus and house to house visits. As these are not visible, the Chinese think the huge crowd means PR would take over,” he said.
In Bentong, the local dialect is Kwong Sai, which originates from Guangxi province in southern China. As we continued with our drinks, the locals at the neighbouring tables were listening attentively.
The politicians and campaigners have been doing all the talking so far but come May 5, the voters will be doing the talking via the ballot box. The stand of the majority in Bentong would be known then.
Politics up close and personal in a small town is different even if the candidates are major players at the national stage.
TIADA tingkap RM57.25, ada tingkap RM76.35 (without window it is RM57.25, with window it is RM76.35),” said a Hotel Kristal receptionist over the phone.
The difference was RM19.10. I decided to splurge and go for “ada tingkap”.
Since nomination day I’ve attended political activities in the MP seats of Lembah Pantai, Serdang and Putrajaya and I wanted a change in political scenery.
Bentong was tempting as it is a hot seat. Incumbent MP and MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is facing fiery environmentalist Wong Tack of the DAP, who had threatened to burn the Lynas plant.
I also wanted a taste of politics in a small town and the famous ABC (ais batu campur) in Kow Po Coffee Shop.
Plus, I wanted to contribute to Star Online’s Storify timeline. (Storify users, in the words of Storify.com, tell stories by collecting updates from social networks, amplifying the voices that matter to create a new story format that is interactive, dynamic and social.)
On that day, The Star was covering the campaign trail of Liow and Wong via Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
After an 80-minute, 85km-drive from Subang Jaya, I arrived in the quaint town of Bentong, once a mining town, at around 3.30pm.
Here’s how I judge a town. “Wah, got KFC! Wah, got 7-Eleven! Wah, got Secret Recipe! Wah, got HSBC!,” I told my wife as I drove around the town which was like a big roundabout.
“Wah, no McDonalds!,” I told her. It seemed if you lived in Bentong, you had to drive 37km to Genting Sempat, on the foothill of Genting Highlands (and also part of the Bentong parliamentary constituency), if you had a McAttack.
One of the best hotels in town is Hotel Kristal. I checked in and quickly checked out my “ada tingkap” room. The view was that of a rather narrow Bentong River, the back of KFC and Barisan Nasional flags. It was worth the extra RM19.10.
Across the Bentong River and about a few kilometres from Hotel Kristal is Kampung Baru Perting, a Chinese new village, which is a DAP stronghold. I drove there as a candidate running for the Bentong seat was campaigning door-to-door.
It was drizzling. After a five-minute drive around the village, I spotted two dozen people carrying blue Barisan umbrellas. Must be Liow Tiong Lai, I told myself.
The 52-year-old politician has been the Bentong MP since 1999. Liow was working his way through a row of wooden and concrete houses together with his mentor Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek, a former Bentong MP and MCA deputy president.
I took their photograph and tweeted (when the Internet signal was strong enough) it.
The silver-haired 70-year-old retired politician, according to my colleague T. Avineshwaran, was amazing as he remembered almost all of the residents’ names.
Earlier, at 11am, Liow’s opponent Wong Tack had a press conference at the DAP office in Bentong town. At that time I was still in Petaling Jaya. But, via the Storify timeline curated by Michelle Tam, I felt as if I was in Bentong town covering it.
One of the questions asked of the politician, who made a name for the anti-Lynas campaign, was on the revelation over the Internet that he owned large tract of oil palm plantation in Sabah.
In a video uploaded by Avineshwaran on YouTube immediately after his press conference, Wong said those who questioned his environmental credentials should call Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, to ask about his contribution to environmental conservation in Sabah.
Tashny Sukumaran, my colleague, tweeted: “@wong_tack asked that @liowtionglai call @MasidiM to ask about his contributions to environmental conservation in Sabah. #bentong #ge13” and Masidi replied on Twitter: “let them fight their own battle like a gentleman #ge13”.
That’s the beauty of social media. The response is immediate and public.
Done with the Liow door-to-door campaigning, I decided to follow my rule #72 of covering a campaign trail – patronise a famous eatery in the town you are in.
I drove to Kow Po Coffee Shop. I managed to chat with the 80-year-old Tan Kow Po and his 48-year-old son, Michael. In 1969, Kow Po established the ABC and ice cream parlour at the same premises which it still occupies now.
Kow Po gave me the low-down on the political scenario in his hometown, Bentong.
At first I could not understand which party he was referring to as he used gestures to describe them.
Finally, I understood that when he made a quick stab with his index finger it meant DAP’s rocket and an O-sign represented PAS’ moon.
If I was to understand the nuances of the ice cream maker’s political observations, I think he meant: be careful of voting based on the flavour of the month.
To make things happen for the betterment of our society, we should look into long-term goals instead of short-term achievements. It’s like planting a tree in your garden with a seedling. The tree planted the right way will take time to grow, but its roots will run deep and strong, providing shade for the generations to come.
ONE of the experiments I remember to this day from primary school is the one where we placed green peas on cotton wool in a container and created a number of conditions to observe how plants grow.
The container kept under the most ideal conditions – enough water and exposure to sunlight – had the little bean sprouts shooting up in a matter of days.
I was more amazed at the fact that a little seed could transform into a seedling right before my very eyes.
In my innocence, I even suggested to my father that we should plant a durian seed in our garden and wait for the tree to grow so we do not have to buy durians anymore.
Of course, as we all know, in life, many things do not just happen overnight.
As a dear friend from Ipoh puts it, “the people who labour, whether sowing, planting or tending, rarely get to see the fruits of their own labour.”
All too often, others will be the beneficiaries, just as we too benefit from the labour of others.
Another dear friend, probably one of the longest surviving leukaemia patients in the country, has subjected herself to many clinical trials, both in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
She is told, at the very beginning, that there are no guarantees, but she takes everything in stride in the belief that even if the drug does not work for her now, it may work for others in the future once the shortcomings are put right.
What about us in our daily lives? Don’t you agree that we are sometimes just too impatient with wanting instant results even when we know that we are asking for the impossible?
I believe that the only constant in life is change, but what do we do to make change happen?
I know of many people who quietly labour to make changes, one step at a time, even when they have to go through the despair of wondering if all the hard work put in will ever bear fruit.
They are not the people who are vocal, and are able to articulate their viewpoints through a wide variety of platforms. Instead they are too busy just getting the work done.
The advocates for the disabled, for example, have many battles to fight. I know they cringe in despair each time a step forward is followed by two steps backwards.
But those who stay on are the ones who believe that it is good enough to be faithful to one’s own conscience and convictions, and eventually things do happen. They do not march to the applause of men, but are guided by doing what is right.
Sometimes, I think our politicians have much to learn about long-term goals as compared to short-term achievements. I have been to a number of ceramah already and I do wonder if those seeking to be elected truly understand what the future is really all about.
How do they see this nation of ours move forward? How do they help us become better people, so that together, we become a better nation?
No doubt, those who eventually come to power have the means to make certain things happen for the betterment of our society.
But it is the people themselves who truly make the difference. Our involvement goes beyond the vote. It must be translated into day-to-day action, oftentimes by being sensitive to the needs of others more than our own.
It’s like planting a tree in your garden with a seedling that you can pick up from the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in Kepong rather than just buying a ready tree to place in the garden.
The tree planted the right way will take time to grow, but its roots will run deep and strong. The instant tree will give you instant gratification but it will be the first to collapse in a thunderstorm. But the tree that you gently nurture will surely provide shade for the generations to come.
> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is waiting to join his friend at his durian orchard, a labour of love that is bearing fruit after many years.
A BRIGHT MALAYSIAN POLITICIAN SPEAK
马工作团队 – Love Is In The Air
IT’S now official. Even monkeys can beat the stock market index. Cass Business School researchers in London simulated 10 million portfolios of US stocks selected at random. They found that a US$100 invested at the beginning of 1968 would have yielded US$5,000 by the end of 2011, but half the monkey (computer-simulated) portfolios managed US$8,700, one quarter made more than US$9,100 and 10% made more than US$9,500.
So, does the market beat all the professionals if monkeys beat the market?
There is a real lesson here for investors. I had a great debate with a good friend last month regarding the benefits of investing in a world where fast trading algorithms (using super fast computers to detect market opportunities to buy, sell or short stocks make it hard even for traditional asset managers to compete. So what chance is there for retail investors? My friend decided to get out of trading stocks.
Investing has been such complicated business because there are just too many variables to handle. Gone are the days when you think you can understand how markets perform. The rules of the game changed when policymakers began intervening through unconventional monetary policy and politics become part of the equation.
You would have thought logically that growth economies should produce growth stocks. The BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met in Durban at the end of March. These five countries accounted for over half of total global growth since 2001, but their stock markets have not done that well. Since its peak in 2007, the BRICS index is down 37%.
Chinese retail investors have declined in number, based on the number of accounts closed. The A share index is down 31% since its peak in 2009, and the Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa stock market indices are all in negative territory since the beginning of this year. On the other hand, both the US and Japan are sluggish in growth and their stock markets performed 11.1% and 20% respectively since the beginning of this year.
Despite being overall in crisis and negative growth, even the European stock market performed in positive territory, mainly due to better performance in Germany and France. There are globally diversified companies in these economies that can outperform despite the slowdown in the European economy.
The real problem is that negative real interest rates around the world are truly destroying the ability of investors to judge what is the right asset to invest in. Markets are clearly bubbly when emerging market investors start investing in taxi licenses.
Accordingly to a Bloomberg report, Turkish taxi licenses today trade for US$580,000 each. My Hong Kong taxi driver was complaining to me that a Hong Kong taxi license was trading over HK$7mil (just under US$900,000) and yielding next to nothing.
It made no sense to him as a taxi driver himself to be an owner. This reminded me that in 1996, golf club membership was being touted as the best investment ever, with the 1997 Asian financial crisis wiping out all gains thereafter.
So what should an honest, no-inside information retail investor do? I guess the old-fashioned advice to invest in diversified and value stocks and maintaining ample liquidity is still sound. Global bonds have done well since the financial crisis due to the massive quantitative easing.
Even those who have speculated on Greek bonds when they were yielding more than 20% have done well. But it is difficult to argue that ten year US Treasuries and German Bunds at under 2% per annum represent no risk. Certainly, Japanese 10 year bonds at 0.55% per annum, when the official inflation target is 2% per annum, must carry considerable interest rate risks.
Over the long-term, there is no question that investing in one’s own home has been good investment. This is officially supported leveraged investment, since most mortgages still require not more than 30% down payment for the first home. The fact that there is a growing middle-class in most emerging Asia means that demand for housing is still on the increase, but given such low interest rates, it is hard to imagine how much further can house prices rise relative to the affordability index.
My own inclination is to go for high yield, solid growth companies that are globally diversified. You basically invested in the region that you are most familiar with, and in companies that demonstrate good governance and know what they are doing. The average price/earnings ratio of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand markets are still below those of the US (17.7). China A share has a PE ratio of only 8.1 and a yield of 3.7%.
Of course, the art of investing depends completely on the investor’s risk appetite, age and liquidity requirements. If you are fully invested in illiquid assets or in illiquid markets, you cannot get out even though the returns look good. Property markets are notoriously easy to get into and difficult to cash out, especially in the smaller markets. Bond investments may look good on paper, but when you want to exit, the selling price may be lower than what you think you can get, especially for retail investors.
Knowing that even monkeys can beat the market gives one food for thought. You can do better, but you must invest the time and energy to think through what you are investing in, what risk you are taking and what you want to achieve. My friend in Australia had no formal training in investments, decided that she could outperform the market, relied on her instinct and own research into companies and is now doing pretty well on her own.
Even monkeys know how to survive, so don’t look down on monkeys.
■ Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute. He was recently named by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world.
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