Selamatkan PPSMI.

(This piece was written by my friend, Akram Sofee, who doesn’t know it yet, but will be a contributing writer on this blog, especially regarding his thoughts on Malaysia’s politics of language. This article is reproduced with his permission.)

Saya sebenarnya seronok sampai nak melompat-lompat setelah mendapat tahu pendidikan Sains dan Matematik akan mula diajar semula dalam bahasa Melayu. Tetapi memandangkan ramai yang tidak berapa seronok dengan langkah itu, saya rasa terpanggil untuk mengembalikan senyum riang ke muka-muka mereka.

Oleh itu, di sini saya lampirkan beberapa cadangan untuk memartabatkan kembali bahasa Inggeris. Sudah tentu cadangan ini di luar pengaruh pendidikan Sains dan Matematik.

1. Kita boleh mengesyorkan kerajaan kita mengajar mata pelajaran bahasa Melayu dalam bahasa Inggeris. Atau untuk menjadi tepat siasi (politically correct), semua mata pelajaran bahasa ibunda boleh di ajar dalam bahasa Inggeris. Langkah ini kalis gagal (foolproof) kerana bahasa tersebut sebolehnya dituturkan walaupun tanpa pendidikan formal.

2. Pendidikan jasmani juga harus dijalankan dalam bahasa Inggeris. Langkah ini bertujuan untuk menarik minat kanak-kanak kerana mata pelajaran ini sering menjadi mata pelajaran kegemaran kerana mereka selalu menyangkakan tiada isi akademik dalam pelajaran ini. Mereka salah. Jadi pasukan bola sepak dari sekolah yang berbahasa Tamil tiada kelebihan taktikal dari segi bahasa bila bertarung dengan pasukan dari sekolah yang berbahasa Melayu. Mutu sukan negara bakal maju.

3. Pendidikan Islam, moral, dan sivik harus diajar dalam bahasa Inggeris. Ini kerana kanak-kanak itu masing-masing selalu menerima leteran berbentuk nasihat, ceramah, atau khutbah membina dari ibu bapa dalam bahasa ibunda. Pengajaran agama dan moral dalam bahasa Inggeris akan memantapkan penguasaan bahasa Inggeris mereka, di samping membolehkan mereka berinteraksi dengan lebih berkesan di persada antarabangsa dalam hal ehwal agama dan falsafah. Ini melahirkan warga global.

4. Semua kegiatan kokurikulum wajar diinggeriskan. Dengan itu pelajar perlu mahir dalam gaya bahasa Inggeris yang lebih padatangan (hands on) dan harian, dan bukan setakat boleh membaca komponen sastera bahasa Inggeris. Lord Baden Powell pasti tersenyum simpul di Syurga.

5. Semua pernyataan, papan tanda, pengumuman sekolah wajar dinggeriskan. Dengan ini kanak-kanak ini dapat mengalami nikmat kegemilangan brother schools yang dialami warga Malaysia elit yang lebih emas. Once upon a time.

6. Bagi memperhebat langkah di atas, nama sekolah, cogan kata sekolah, dan lagu sekolah juga wajar diinggeriskan. Sebagai contoh, Sekolah Sultan Sulaiman bolehlah kita jadikan King Solomon Grammar. Dengan itu identiti pelajar sudah terasa inggeris dari asas. Bagi sekolah-sekolah yang merasakan elitis dan terasing dari dunia marhaen yang pincang susunan dan hierarki, boleh juga diadakan cogan kata dalam bahasa Latin seperti ‘Fiat, Sapenta, Virtus’, lagak sekolah-sekolah elit di Eropah.

7. Apa-apa kegiatan sosial yang tidak digalakkan oleh sekolah juga perlu diinggeriskan. Kegiatan merokok, berdua-duaan, gangsterisme, dan sebagainya perlu diinggeriskan agar pelajar-pelajar secara amnya mahu mula berbahasa inggeris kerana terpengaruh dengan kedinginan (cool) aktiviti sebegini. Dengan itu fenomena pengamerikaan demografi sekolah yang sudah kita lihat berlaku di sekolah-sekolah lembah Klang akan merebak dengan pantas ke seluruh pelusuk negara. Anandakrishnan kaya lagi.

8. Di luar sekolah, dunia media khususnya, harus melahirkan lebih banyak program tempatan berbahasa Inggeris. Kerana semenjak dulu, program berbahasa Inggeris tempatan sudah tepu dengan cerita klise percintaan/persahabatan multikaum yang hidup mereka berkisarkan dunia seni dan kemanusiaan di mana soundtrack hampir selalu direka oleh penyanyi/pemuzik rock Kristian, dunia Media perlulah membikin lebih banyak program yang lebih realistik dan dekat pada hati rakyat kebanyakan. Sebagai contoh, filem mengenai ahli politik Melayu yang jujur, bersih, gigih dan bekerja keras; program bersiri TV mengenai seorang Ah Beng yang pemurah, kasih alam, dan tidak berkira; atau filem mengenai seorang profesional Jaffna yang sentiasa waras, cerdas minda, dan hanya menikmati minuman yang baik sekali-sekala.

Saya berharap badan pelaksana negara mempertimbang syor yang telah diberi. Saya juga berharap rakan-rakan yang tidak gembira dengan pengembalian pendidikan Sains dan Matematik kita ke bahasa Melayu lebih ceria dan optimistik di masa yang akan datang.

Saya juga berharap pejuang dan pakar bahasa mula berusaha keras memperkinikan bahasa Melayu agar masalah tidak timbul di masa hadapan.

Blogito, ergo sum.

In an article I can’t retrace, The Age reported that 95% of all flu cases in Victoria (or Australia, I forget which) are likely swine flu. Which makes my household’s sudden descent into sickness an interesting one. My personal theory is that as the likely instigator of the spread, I’ve always been a carrier of some cold virus, but my recent emotional breakdown (from anticipating exam results) weakened my immune system considerably, thus triggering the virus propagation in my system.

Therefore, in order to be healthy, be happy.

This edition of  Teh Tarik will be dedicated to all the news I’ve missed over the past few weeks:

  1. Michael Jackson was sent off in a slightly disturbing fashion. What initially appeared as a huge tribute concert turned out to be an oversized memorial, which just happened to be held in a stadium. Eulogies were read, songs were sung, and family wept as his casket lay on a stage. It was sad, if a bit disjointed. If you were a fan, you’d appreciate the remembrances of the person, with only brief references to his scandals. If you were a critic, you wondered when he became untouchable.
  2. Sarah Palin has prematurely resigned from her gubernatorial seat, an action that has been rife with speculation. Is she going to run for President in 2012? Is she going on a nation-wide book tour, as her former almost-son-in-law claims? And of course, the latter question triggers even more speculation, such as: Can she read/write?
  3. Sonia Sotomayor has been confirmed, as Wikipedia states it, as the US Supreme Court’s ‘111th justice, it’s 1st Hispanic justice, and it’s 3rd female one’. You can go to the Huffington Post for more coverage on her confirmation, but I think nothing speaks better about the moment than this piece.
  4. Closer to home, yet another Selangor representative has been caught trying to make a home out of a palace. This time it’s Dato’ Khir Toyo. Yes, he of the famous plastic surgery claims. Are we surprised that he’s denying involvement in the mansion? No. After all, he’s been denying having had a needle touch his face. I’d like to know who his facial masseuse is.
  5. The Manek Urai elections are in full swing, with the state government declaring the 17th a public holiday. We could all be so lucky. But no, in Australia they conduct elections on the weekends so as not to disrupt regular activities.
  6. On the other hand, vote for BN and get a bridge!
  7. Oh, and PPSMI, i.e. ‘Let’s teach Science and Math to Malaysians in English!’ has been cancelled by Malaysia’s Education Minister and Deputy PM, Dato’ Seri Muhyiddin Yasin. He announced that as of 2012, both subjects will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia, and that English will be reinforced in its own subject. The opposition and the opponents of PPSMI have noted this as a victory. Many middle-class Malaysians have expressed their dismay at not being able to master English in both subjects. As my generation, and the ones before will prove, you don’t need to know all the scientific terms in English to excel in it. You do, however, need to make sure no one, especially the lower classes, gets left behind with actual learning, which the implementation of PPSMI has been found to do. A strong foundation in the language itself would be more than sufficient to ensure that they can communicate science-talk in English AND be understood (points to self).
  8. More deaths of Iran captives are being mentioned on Twitter. Iran is still in a media lockdown, but the protests appear to have died down somewhat. Some observers say MJ’s death stole Iran’s thunder. If the Twitter trending topics is anything to judge by, they’re right. The leftist papers in the US and UK are still reporting arrests and missing students in Tehran. No word from Ahmadinejad on a recount.
  9. China’s military attacked the Uighurs over the weekend. A few days later, the Uighurs retaliated. And now, the Uighurs are under attack once again. I overheard a couple of Muslims mention their surprise over China’s bad treatment of Muslims. Obviously there’s something lacking in our education about China’s political and human right track record. Or maybe, as with Iran, we Muslims assumed that their fighting the status quo was equivalent to them being on ‘our’ side.

In Britain, a GP and a six-year-old dead from swine flu. Post mortems to be conducted to determine whether either had underlying illnesses that caused their susceptibility. Okay. Now I’m a little scared.

Until next time, I leave you with this clip from a recent discovery of mine, The Big Bang Theory, in conjunction with the abolishment of PPSMI and my recent obtainment of a Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne, despite never having studied science or math in English, in high school:

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

It’s a strange thing, waking up on a Friday morning to find that Michael Jackson has passed.

Perhaps even stranger to walk all over Lygon St on a Friday and hearing ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’ in every store, and feeling sad every single time.

The man was a living legend, and his descent into notoriety was sad to watch. I believe I speak for many of my friends when I say I grew up with him always, always there. His songs pervaded every radio station, his image on Pepsi cans and his moonwalk  was still important for each child to mimic at least once. ‘Black/White’ probably better taught racial unity to my generation than anything else ever could manage.

I’m not usually a person for tributes. It’s selfish in a way, that I only care because he was such a great part of my childhood. But despite my alleged intolerance of his hiccupy singing back in high school, I still know most of his songs by heart – every bit and every hiccup.

These few clips represent how I remember Michael Jackson best:



May the world leave him in peace.

Tehran and other romantic tales of the rebel

When writing about politics, I try not to evoke a false sense of history or grandeur as to say, ‘No matter what happens after this, (insert country) will never be the same again…’

It’s the kind of fallacious romanticism about politics that we’re prone to – the idea that a single moment is responsible for changing an entire nation or system. It fails to recognize that any revolution is a collective, long in the making, long in the planning – the cumulative effort of many over a long span of time. True, the outcome may have been explosive and thus, noteworthy in history books, but it was long coming. Anything worth changing always is.

So when I see what’s happening in Iran and exploding over the Twitter-verse, I try not to place false hope where none is deserved. The recent demonstrations –  highlighted mostly in Tehran but allegedly taking place all over the ustans – have evoked, in those who remember and know, Iran’s own Islamic Revolution of ’79, with its scale and length (over a week now). I cannot help but feel cynical about the demonstrations. I do not attest to false expertise about the Islamic Revolution, but I don’t think the Iran election protests hold the same potency or need for massive revolution as did the one in 1979. Westerners (and I use the term with what one may call an almost politically incorrect generality) need to understand that Iranians are asking for democracy, yes, but they’re not seeking to overthrow – they are merely questioning.

Before I continue, allow me to recount the events as I saw it unravel from my laptop.

I got into the Iran election hashtag fest just before my exams ended. Friday mid-morning, as I revised my notes one last time, Iran was still voting. An exam, a dinner and an es teler later, the results were out. An unprecendented voters’ turnout of more than 80% translated to 50-60 million votes. And yet a mere four hours later, Ahmadinejad had proclaimed victory in the official results. At the same time, Mousavi had also prematurely declared his campaign victorious.

An hour later, the Twitter-verse imploded.

My twitterfeed wasn’t so bad until I started following some people that were constantly being retweeted. This covered quite a few ardently pro-Mousavi twitters who started spreading word of protests on rooftops and gatherings. A few feeds were of people in Tehran reporting protest rallies from looking out their windows. One twitterer, Abdul-Azim Mohammed mentioned on Saturday that his police officer uncle just came home after burning ballot boxes at several polling booths, at the order of the government. After signing off to hide his satellite dish (they were being confiscated all over Tehran), he has not come back on twitter. It has been over ten days.

Among the twitterers I followed early on was a female blogger from Tehran, Shahrzaad. She claims in her blog to being apolitical, but felt that during the open debates between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad during the elections, Mousavi appeared as though he had a ‘hidden agenda’, or as she put it, ‘a feeling that he is being pushed forward to safeguard the interests of certain powerful figures’. When I asked her, she told me she had voted for Ahmadinejad, and that people around her had, as well. She mirrors the belief of several parties, supported by the independent pre-election polls conducted by Ballen and Doherty that projected an Ahmadinejad win. The survey revealed that support for Mousavi at the time of the polling was prevalent among ‘university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians’. That would explain the strong vocal support in Tehran, but the survey’s findings also mark that in all other demographics, including 18-24 year-olds, 2 out of 3 were voting for Ahmadinejad.

Since the elections results were announced, Mousavi has reportedly been alternating between calling protestors’ violence and summoning them with a rallying cry. Mousavi and his political supporters are challenging the Guardian Council’s acceptance of the elections results, claiming that the numbers do not tally and that they have evidence of foul play. At the moment, the Guardian Council has acquiesced to a partial vote recount, which Mousavi has rejected, and rightly so — there is no point in fixing something so important by halfways.

I admit to being ill-equipped to give my take on who I think won — I prefer to leave that to the pundits. I do believe that the results were tampered — the speed with which the votes were counted is suspect, as is the fact that the projected number of voters and the final ‘official’ tally do not compute. Unfair elections are not uncommon (*cough*Malaysia*cough*) but the level of protesting that has gone down all over Iran (not just Tehran, as the early reports and the Iranian government claim) has taken everyone by surprise.

Ahmadinejad’s supporters claim that pro-Mousavi protestors over-projected the reach of their candidate and his ability to win the elections. Mousavi himself said in an interview with Newsweek, that while he did not fully expect a win, he looked instead to challenge Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority as he saw presented through Ahmadinejad. Speculation that the protests were enabled by internet social networks are likely — twitter has proven to be the fastest mode of spreading protest updates across Tehran. But perhaps what gave the protests a heightened level of emotion was the fact that almost all communication within Iran was cut off or slowed down — Iranians had started mentioning SMS networks being disabled as well as internet blocked sites and crashing about 36 hours before voting commenced. This censorship played a part in convincing Mousavi’s supporters that they were sabotaged against, and also mounted further suspicion on an authoritarian government.

Yes, the protestors are calling for a change. They are calling for their voices to be heard, as any protest seeks to do. But the West (and global media that take their cue from Western media) must not claim to speak for the Iranians by saying that they are looking to overthrow the system, by trying to place Mousavi in charge. It must not be forgotten that Mousavi is no real change from Ahmadinejad — he was a key player in the Islamic Revolution and is an Islamic conversative who shares many of Ahmadinejad’s policies, even if he projects a moderate political approach with his promotion of transparency and accountability of the government. Putting Mousavi in office is no great departure from the current system, and will only serve to gratify his supporters by placing their man in power. At best, he will challenge the authority of the Council, and could be key in lessening the power wielded by Ayatollahs. But he is a religious man, and he carries with him the support of Mullahs. The media must remember that he is not acting on his own, and as with every leader, should he become President by whatever means, he carries with the influence of the mullahs who support him.

And so, to put it carefully, Iran is not looking to remove itself from the influence of religious leaders. Rather, they want a say in who they elect, especially the Supreme Council (also noted by the pre-election survey stated above).

As I write this, the Tehran elections are huge, true, but they are not yet to the scale of 1979. And the people are not calling to overthrow a system, but merely a person and the people behind him. Even now, left-wing analysts have occasionally questioned the means in which the protests are being held — a notable piece by Robert Fisk asks what change can be brought along by candlelight vigils.The methods are no longer the same, and perhaps what Fisk implies is that they are not as potent as before and thus likely less effective at bringing any real change. Candlelight vigils reminds one of peaceful rallies mired in symbolism and fired speeches that serve to feed indignation and ego, not the life and soul of a revolution. This sea of protestors mostly grew up post-’79, and although the spirit of the Iranian youth has remained, the means are no longer the same.

So I wouldn’t afflict what’s happening in Iran with the false romance the West has embraced at the sight of a sea of people in the streets. Yes, my twitter profile picture is green in solidarity, because I believe that the people’s voice must at all times be heard. The battle is something I share in principle, but it’s not mine to fight. Not today.

My muslim brothers and sisters in Iran will speak. All we – those who claim support – have to do, is amplify that voice and give it justice, and to feed in equal parts idealism and realism to the idea that we can help them be heard.

Pride & Prejudice, and other political tactics.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a politician/political party in need of mojo will resort to pettiness.

We can look to our trans-Atlantic friends in Washington DC, that symbol of democracy and equal rights for all men. Ever since President Obama announced the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice nominee, both sides of the Capitol have been sharpening their knives and tongues. One wonders whether Obama underestimated the socio-political debate he’s unleashed with her nomination, but – from what little knowledge I have of American politics, garnered from many The West Wing marathons – it must be understood that unlike other nations, extensive vetting will be conducted before the nominee is even seriously considered, and the nomination will be subject to the nominee’s own consent. Sotomayor must have known what sort of tactics the Republicans will resort to (they are often nothing beneath the Democrats themselves), but by accepting to be nominated, she indirectly tells the world (or at the very least, Washington) that she is ready to face the symphony.

And the GOP has been unbelievable with their backhanded tactics. Nevermind the conservative papers mocking the nomination, the GOP and their gang has called this move ‘reverse-racism’, recalling the President’s stance during his campaign that race not be an issue. Their claim, most publicly espoused by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative talk show host, is that by nominating a female Hispanic judge to the Supreme Court, the White House is playing the race card.

Sotomayor is a very obvious double-edged sword, being both the first Hispanic nominee and female, at that. And she has suffered attacks on both counts – the more extreme end of the GOP rallying behind Limbaugh’s equating her to a Latina KKK, as well as pressure on her membership at the women-only club, the Belizean Grove, under implied accusations that continuing her membership would surmount to sexism. Her record does include strong vocal defense for the Hispanic community, as well as the domination of ‘old, white men’ in the higher ranks of the justice system, which was probably what brought her into the attention of the White House in the first place. And Obama, even when surrounded by socio-cultural breakthroughs, has always appeared to be secure of his policy on race and his willingness to let the issue evolve.

While the GOP further alienates themselves from the voting people – the generations before and the generation to come, which will, it needs no reminding, be growing up with a black President – by playing bittercakes and trading insults across the mediasphere, every move Sotomayor makes to acquiesce their accusations just deflates the victory of the nomination, bit by bit. Again, I’ve watched enough West Wing to know that the political game as played in DC is a different score, where even rumours bear the weight of accountability. But with a Judiciary Committee of a balanced political spectrum measuring her nomination, I’d have thought that Sotomayor would stand tall for all that she is – Latina, female, American born and bred, and all her principles thus far, which are a product of that combination.

If I were a Republican, I’d worry about my political credibility and keep my trap shut about race, and instead focus on her judiciary record, like her stance on abortion, rather than calling her nomination a suggestion steeped in Obama-style racism by playing the sympathy-for-the-minority card. The argument does make sense, in a twisted, Socratic-method sort of way, but it is a very, very dumb move that one hopes will fail to resonate with the next generation of voters.

Having said my piece on Sotomayor (as a total outsider, mind), I can only really lament the politics of my homeland, where mudslinging is about as common as sneezing. This is going to sound repetitious, but you can never complain enough about government-owned mass media, or underestimate the implications on the public. The way the Malaysian media plays it, it excuses emotional outbursts as legit politicking, and plays catch-the-weasel with logic.

On one end of the spectrum, it blinds entire generations to the faults of their government and eliminates the concept of accountability by hiding those faults, or skimming over them and making them pretty. On the other end of the spectrum, the public gets tired, apathetic, and no longer relies on the media for truthful reporting, preferring to swallow gossip and miscellaneous trash instead.

I expect to rant some other time about a compounding of that already major problem with censorship of alternative media, but Ill save it for a warmer day. For now, though, I’ll leave you with a funny bit in the online version of mStar (does anybody really read this paper for anything other than washed-up URTV-celeb gossip?), where Najib says that his previous interest in a unity government has nothing to do with claims that BN’s stronghold over the public is waning.

I’m quite disappointed in Najib, to be honest. He doesn’t seem to show much of the gung-ho pride his mentor, Tun Mahathir endlessly espouses in his politics. If Tun M still ruled the world (as the song goes), he would never have indicated to BN’s power position, as Najib has unwittingly done, by even considering sharing power with (gasp!) the Other. No way, A-be.

Then again, perhaps Najib was trying to emulate Obama’s moderate-liberal politics by ‘keeping an open mind’.

After you’re done laughing at the headline, it’s time for teh tarik lagi.

Unity in governing? Wah lau eh..

The thing about living in a country where the government basically OWNS the main media is that you despair of getting hold of ACTUAL  journalism.

Perhaps it’s a mark of the maturity of our leaders, or perhaps it’s a greater sign of the maturity of the people, but Malaysian politics, as reported by major newspapers and tv networks, sounds like nothing less than a bunch of overgrown kids teasing each other on the playground.

So the media would have you believe.

There is no depth, no context whatsoever in the reporting of political events, and in the rare moment that they do, the popular i.e. Barisan National viewpoint wins out. Unless, of course, it’s a feature on something REALLY important, like the validity of the American Idol results. Now THAT, the press can go mad with.

Otherwise, it’s the same old, same old.

The March 8th, 2008 election results turned the old game on its head. With the opposition alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) gaining five states and preventing the 2/3 Parliament majority BN had enjoyed for 4 years, you could just sense the buzz in the press rooms.

‘Wait a minute, hold the presses: our audience – mostly educated, working, middle-class, living in the city – actually SUPPORT PR? Huddle up!’

And now you see PR components receiving more coverage than ever, where before they’d be lucky to get a (misquoted) quote in somewhere. Is the coverage fair? No. The Opposition gets more in edgewise, but more often than not, arguments are taken out of context or given a fresh, new, unrelated spin.

Take the press coverage of PAS and their unity government proposal. Fresh on the heels of their first widely-covered muktamar (annual meeting), the old claims of divisions between the ulama’ (religious scholars) and the Erdogans (younger ‘professionals’ with better press skills) have been exacerbated by the apparently public rift between those for a unity government with UMNO, and those against the idea.

Just to backtrack: The unity government idea is meant to include UMNO for the betterment of the Malay-Muslim people, by allowing both parties (or rather, alliances) seats within government.

To be fair, it was a very vague, very controversial concept from the get-go. Supporters of the Opposition felt betrayed – giving PR the vote was meant to reduce the power of the Government, and a unity government reeks of a compromise rather than a revolution.

Like the true gossip mongers that they are, the press pounced and ripped through the story like Paris Hilton on one of her free-shopping raids.

All of a sudden, there was a ‘deep crack’ within the PAS leadership, with the pro-unity govt faction led by Tok Guru Hadi Awang and his protege Ustaz Nasharudin Mat Isa, and the anti-unity govn faction led by the spiritual leader (Mursyidul Am) of PAS, Tok Guru Nik Aziz and roundly supported by Husam Musa. During the recent PAS muktamar, which received an unprecedented press coverage, the main English press rallied around Husam Musa as being the voice of the moderates, and hailed as the hope for the future of PAS, while Nasharudin was seen as the ‘voice of UMNO’, as analyst for The Star, Joceline Tan put it. She rightly summarizes that the majority of the party, at least at membership level, sees UMNO as a separate entity – more like an enemy than a competitor – and are ill-adjusted to the idea of sharing power with them.

But at the same time, measuring the alleged ‘rift’ between the party leaders based on press coverage is also misleading. For one, even the party leaders distrust the local media, claiming that they have been misquoted by the press one too many times, with their words taken out of context to generate some sensational buzz. That’s why I’m less inclined to believe the ‘statement’ given by TG Nik Aziz, where he apparently said: “If it’s true that Nasharuddin is agreeable (to the unity government), then he had better join Umno, resign from his posts as deputy (president of PAS) and in Bachok.”

This statement came following a claim by TGNA that all this unity govt talk came from outside influences, and was not based on a decision made by the party.

I shall not elaborate on the various interpretations of that single sentence by TGNA, much less how it has been translated into English from its original Malay, especially since the local media has conveniently left out the main text of the statement, but for that one proclamation. But I’d like to highlight the decidedly muted and mellow response from the party’s main committee members, with one of PAS’s deputy presidents, Dato’ Mahfuz Omar, likening it to a disagreement between a ‘father and his son’. Assuming he’s not making any cultural references to the soap drama Dynasty, then it sounds like the leadership isn’t particularly worried by the statement.

The official party’s website has been quiet on the matter since, apart from a petition of 10 PAS MP’s stating their support against the unity government, and the main press has surprisingly followed their lead and turned to the swine flu headcount for headlines.

What appears to be their concern, from the decision to hold an emergency meeting between the party’s leadership, is for the faces of PAS to be on the same page. In order to do that, PAS has to determine what their definition of a ‘unity government’ is, and what role PAS will play in the proposed statement by those in support of it. And in keeping with the shura voting system practised within PAS, it is expected that support for the proposal shall be put to a vote, and the winning decision will then represent the party’s official position on the matter.

Something has been surprisingly ignored, however, is our PM, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak and deputy’s obvious support for a unity government. Granted, they are insisting that ‘PAS draw their cards on the table first’, but there is a sense of wheedling, which may be interpreted by some as a sign of deperation. If the results on the last few by-elections (preceded by an alarming number of MP/ADUN deaths) are any indication, it’s that UMNO, if not BN, is no longer the de facto vote of choice. Najib’s insistence that this is not an indication of the Opposition’s popularity speaks of a high self-regard, but even a low voter’s turnout does not indicate favourably for BN – if anything, his assurances to the press hints at a low BN supporter’s turnout. What, have they, too, given up on the fight?

It seems clear that no matter who instigated the idea of a unity government, the next level to this particular issue lies on PAS and their decision. UMNO has seen to it, by handing the ball over to them and letting them set the pace. Hopefully the emergency leadership meeting will see PAS emerge with an understanding, and most importantly, a united voice on what lies next for the country’s discussion of the possibility of a shared government.

Will PAS resort to ‘sleeping with the enemy’, or will they turn around to Najib and say, ‘Gotcha’ ? Stay tuned.

(Note: Wong Chin Huat presents a good case in The Nut Graph about the plausibility of a unity government here. Also, a sensible Harakah reader rationalizes PAS’s division on the issue here (in Bahasa).)

It began over a mug of teh tarik.

A lazy Thursday afternoon. The sun, suprisingly warm and bright, glaring down into my eyes.

A mug of teh tarik and good company.

We had met once before, introduced by mutual friends, before becoming Twitter-buddies. I consider Alex Lobov one of the people who set my path in the twitter-verse into politics, which naturally leaned more towards the politics of my homeland.

The teh tarik was his idea. His familiarity and preference of mamak cuisine spoke to the Malaysian in me, and I had been meaning to question him about his politics, which appeared on the surface to be a moderate, tempered version of the left radicalism I’m used to on campus. I  was also curious about his new political blog, The Zeitgeist Politics, a branching out of his main blog, The Zeitgeist. It has a focus on Middle East politics that reinforced my idea of his views, which lacked the self-righteous, almost voyeuristic punditry one gets used to when reading op-eds on the Middle East by white men, born and raised in the political West.

I had warned him beforehand that this was going to be a grilling, but he said that he was game, so there we were, at Norsiah’s Kitchen, each nursing a mug of good teh tarik.

We mostly discussed politics, at my prodding, and he told of how he got interested in the Middle East, and how his stay in Bahrain educated him about Muslims and gave further insight into the region’s apparent ‘instability’. We talked politics, mostly on the left side of things, and after rambling about the latest Malaysian issues (which I had mistakenly thought he was familiar with), I admitted that I had shared his idea of writing about politics – setting up a new blog for me to rant in, but of a less personal nature.

I admitted I wasn’t very good, and wasn’t schooled in politics.

He shrugged and said, “Well, if I can write, why not you? If Thomas Friedman can write about politics (Note: This was in reference to a smug little piece by the man, on the Lebanon election results in NYT), then you can, too.”

This little mantra, coupled with his advice of ‘Don’t be lazy’, played in my head for the next 24 hours. Why not, why not, why not?

Indeed, why not?

So here we are. An entire day after, and The Teh Tarik Commentary marks its first post.

I cannot promise that this will be as regular as I’d like. My knowledge of politics and political theory is not extensive as I’d like, so I’ll be counting on you, who will read this and hopefully point out where I’ve gotten the facts wrong.

My idea is that this will be an excercise in collective ideas, and I very much welcome factual input from people with the sources to back it up.

Let’s drink to that.