No single treatment for cancer

CANCER is a complex disease with many risk factors involved to form mutations in human genes that control cell growth and death.

These gene mutations can be inherited or acquired through external factors such as environmental exposure or diet. It is thus vital to note that DNA damage exists in our cells all the time.

In most cases, the damage is identified and repaired by cells. If it cannot be repaired, the cell will receive a signal to self-destruct by a pathway called apoptosis.

The dysfunction of DNA repair and apoptosis mechanisms may render accumulations of gene mutations, which may eventually lead to uncontrolled cell growth, and subsequently, cancer development.

When cancer progresses, abnormal growth of the cells may not be confined to the primary site anymore. These cells can continue to spread to other areas of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system, through a process known as metastasis (stage 4 cancer).

Metastatic cancer (or advanced stage cancer) accounts for most cancer mortalities, since it is much more difficult to treat. Early cancer diagnosis (before or after symptoms occur), generally increases the chance for successful treatment and patient survival rates. Additionally, it also reduces the cost of treatment compared to treatment at more advanced stages.

Cancer cells used to be our own cells that lost their self-control mechanism for growth. Therefore, our immune systems may find it difficult to differentiate between cancerous cells and normal cells.

Similarly, it is also challenging for scientists to develop a drug that specifically targets cancer cells without harming normal cells. Drug resistance in cancer treatment is also a clinical hurdle.


In terms of cancer treatment, there is seldom a single solution for this complicated and rebellious disease. Cancer treatment is strategised based on the various types of cancers and their stages. Doctors usually strategise and propose one type of therapy followed by another for cancer treatment (combinatory therapies).

Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy and/or targeted therapy.

The rationale to use combinatory therapy is to enhance treatment efficacy and potentially reduce drug resistance. If the disease is incurable, especially in advanced stages, modern therapy can usually prolong a patient’s life expectancy.

Diet change

Nutritional intervention (as what you usually read on social media) may be complementarily consumed by cancer patients to reduce malnutrition following treatment, thus improving their quality of life.

However, nutritional intervention alone is usually insufficient to stop the growth of cancer cells, hence unable to cure the disease, because cancer is not a purely nutrition-related disease. Dietary adjustment cannot correct the lethal mutation that occurs in cancer cells.

Consult a doctor as early as possible when you notice something unusual about your body or cancer symptoms appear. Regular health checkups can help in early cancer diagnosis as well.

After diagnosis, cancer treatment shouldn’t be delayed because the sooner the disease is treated, the higher the likelihood for successful treatment and better survival.

Dr Ivan Shew Yee Siang is a consultant clinical oncologist at ParkCity Medical Centre.

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Upholding the rights of house buyers

ON Tuesday , the Federal Court ruled that the housing controller has no power to waive or modify provisions of the contracts of sale as prescribed by regulations 11(1) and (2) of the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Regulations, 1989 (1989 Regulations).

The 1989 Regulations were made by the housing minister pursuant to section 24 of the parent Act, namely the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act, 1966 (Act 118).

These contracts of sale are better known in the housing industry as Schedules G, H, I and J, depending on the types of housing accommodation being developed.

The prescribed contracts of sale include provisions stipulating the time for delivery of vacant possession and they have to be strictly followed; failing which the defaulting party can be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or to a jail term not exceeding five years or to both. Further, any person who aids, abets or counsels the commission of the offence will face similar punishment upon conviction.

Hence, regulation 11(3) which came into force on April 1, 1989 and remained unamended since, allowed the controller to waive or modify the provisions of the contract of sale if he was satisfied that there were special circumstances or hardship or necessity; compliance of which with any of the said provisions was impracticable or unnecessary.

Regulation 12 then provides for any person aggrieved by the controller’s decision to appeal to the minister whose decision is final and shall not be questioned in any court.

One common modification sought by the developers to the contract of sale is to apply, before the expiry of the stipulated date fixed for handing over of vacant possession, for an extension of time (EOT) so that the developers will not be sued for late delivery and face a claim for liquidated damages (LAD) by the house buyers.

On May 14, five questions were posed to the five-member panel of the apex court namely, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, Justice Azahar Mohamed, Justice Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin (who has since retired), Justice Idrus Harun and Justice Nallini Pathmanathan. In delivering the unanimous decision of the apex court, Justice Tengku Maimun ruled that:

> the controller has no power to waive or modify any provision in the contract of sale;

> section 24 of Act 118 does not confer power on the minister to make regulations for the purpose of delegating his power to waive or modify the contract of sale to the controller; and

> regulation 11(3) is ultra vires (beyond the powers of) Act 118.

The apex court, however, declined to answer the following two questions posed by the developer, BHL Construction Sdn Bhd because the above ruling effectively meant that there was no decision by the minister:-

> whether the letter granting an extension of time after an appeal pursuant to regulation 12 must be signed personally by the minister and whether the minister could delegate his duties (signing of the letter granting the extension of time) to an officer in his ministry; and

> whether the minister having taken into consideration the interest of the purchaser is obliged to afford the purchasers a hearing prior to the minister granting the extension of time albeit there is no such provision or requirement in Act 118 or the 1989 Regulations.

At the appeal hearing, the learned counsel for the purchasers, Datuk Andy Wong Kok Leong was reported to have submitted as follows: “Regulation 11(3) gives power to the controller to grant this extension of time. So we are saying that the controller cannot be given this power because it should be exercisable by the minister.” (“Apex court reserves judgment in house buyers vs developer case”, The Star, May 14, 2019)

The Chief Justice agreed, adding that when Parliament conferred the power and discretion on the minister to make regulations under section 24(2)(e) of Act 118 to regulate and prohibit the terms and conditions of the contract of sale, Parliament did not intend this power or discretion to be exercised by any authority other than by the minister himself.

Justice Tengku Maimun also gave the following grounds in arriving at the decision:

> As Act 118 is a social legislation to protect the house buyers, the interests of the purchasers shall be the paramount consideration against the developer. There is nothing in Act 118 to show that the minister’s duty to safeguard the interests of the purchasers may be delegated to other authority as this will “militate the intention of Parliament”.

> If the minister has delegated his decision making power to the controller under regulation 11(3), then there should not even be an appeal process from the decision of the controller to the minister under regulation 12 as this is as good as an appeal to the minister against his own decision.

> There is no merit in the developer’s argument that the purchasers would suffer greater hardship if the project is not completed because if the developer fails to obtain an EOT, this would not mean that the developer has failed to complete or has abandoned the project as an EOT only determines the payment of LAD.

> Even though sub-sections 4(3) and 4(4) expressly allowed for the delegation of the controller’s powers and functions under Act 118 to persons such as deputy controllers, inspectors and any public officer or officer of a local authority, there is no such express provision for the minister to delegate his powers to the controller to regulate the terms and conditions of a contract of sale. It is, therefore, not open to the court to read into section 24 an implied power enabling the minister to delegate his powers to the controller.

It is now apposite to make a clarification as regards the statement by the learned Chief Justice in paragraph 23 of the judgment that the Bar Council supported the position taken by the developer. With all due respect, the Bar Council did not. If at all, counsel for the Bar Council was only reiterating the principles laid down in the case of Carltona, Ltd v Commissioners of Works and Others, 1943 which also formed the submission of the senior federal counsel who appeared for the minister and controller that the minister has the implied power to delegate and the minister’s functions can be performed either personally or on his behalf by his officers.

To quote Lord Greene, M.R. in the Carltona case: “It cannot be supposed that this regulation meant that, in each case, the minister in person should direct his mind to the matter. The duties imposed upon ministers and the powers given to ministers are normally exercised under the authority of the ministers by responsible officials of the department. Public business could not be carried on if that were not the case. Constitutionally, the decision of such an official is, of course, the decision of the minister.”

Even though this submission did not persuade the court, counsel for Bar Council did agree with the purchasers’ argument that the minister’s decision to allow the appeal from the developer BHL Construction Sdn Bhd was invalid because the letter signed by his officer did not comply with Section 17 of the Delegation Of Powers Act 1956.

A fortiori, the Bar Council had also emphasised that modifications to contracts of sale did not just involve EOTs. They could involve multi-farious modifications as the standard prescribed contracts of sale are incapable of catering for every eventually. In fact, some modifications such as by extending the time for progressive payments or amending the amounts of progressive payments by home buyers, for example, in government projects for affordable housing, work in the interest of home buyers. In other words, whilst one group of the purchasers would benefit when EOTs are invalidated, another group of purchasers may suffer if modifications which are to their advantage are now extinguished as a result of this decision.

The reason being, in my humble opinion, this decision of the apex court will have retrospective effect on all other modifications made before this. After all, if regulation 11(3) has been declared void, it has to be void ab initio (from the beginning).

In Public Prosecutor v Mohd Radzi bin Abu Bakar, 2005, the Federal Court held that it is a fundamental principle of adjudicative jurisprudence that all judgments of a court are retrospective in effect. This principle not only applies to constitutionality of statutes but also to decisions in other areas of law unless a specific direction of prospectivity is expressed in the decision. There is none in Justice Tengku Maimun’s judgment unlike in other cases such as Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd v Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat and Anor, 2017.

It is my considered view that if henceforth no modification is allowed due to special circumstances, hardship or necessity, the housing industry may just grind to a standstill. But this problem is not altogether insurmountable. Whilst it may take time for Parliament to amend section 24 to empower the minister to delegate his powers to the controller, the 1989 Regulations can, however, be amended by the minister any time.

In this respect, the minister can always insert a new regulation 11(3A) to allow parties from now on to apply to him for a waiver or modification to the provisions of the contract of sale. At the same time, the minister has to repeal the appeal provision in regulation 12. Administratively, the applications will still be processed by ministry officials but if any letter conveying the minister’s decision is not signed by him personally but signed by his officer on his behalf, then strict adherence must be had to the procedures set out in section 17 Delegation Of Powers Act, 1956 such as authorising such officer by way of a certificate.

Having said that, if this approach is taken by the ministry, then it is indeed a matter of regret that the apex court had declined to deal with the issue of affording the purchasers a right to be heard prior to the minister approving any waiver or modification notwithstanding that Act 118 does not expressly provide for such a requirement. Otherwise, it will greatly strengthen the rights of the purchasers.

This is of particular concern because according to the data collected by the House Buyers Association, 536 EOTs were actually granted since 2014. It follows that if the right to be heard is now not expressly provided in Act 118 or the 1989 Regulations, the powers of the minister can be easily abused and are also susceptible to corrupt practice. The purchasers will ultimately be at the mercy of the developers, especially those who have strong political and personal links to the powers that be.

I now recall when I was helping the housing ministry pro bono to revamp Act 118 in 2002 and 2007, the then housing minister actually requested for regulation 12 to be removed so that he would not be harassed by the developers. In those days, granting an EOT was almost unheard of.

In any event, the apex court has now made it abundantly clear to the government that it is duty bound under Act 118 to safeguard the interests of home buyers whose interests must always prevail over that of the developers. Otherwise, the court will remain steadfastly the purchasers’ rampart against such encroachment.

Datuk Roger Tan is the chairman of the Conveyancing Practice Committee of the Bar Council. His views herein do not constitute legal advice, and are entirely his own.

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Malaysia’s lost strength

YES, Malaysia has lost strength.

But what was once lost can be found again – if we are willing to rise to the challenge.

Reports emerged earlier this week of a student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah who performed a Nazi salute at his convocation ceremony.

Many predictably jumped to condemn the action and rightfully pointed out the insanity of idolising a monster like Adolf Hitler.

Tearing down someone who openly supports Nazism is easy. What we really need to do as a nation, however, is to understand why neo-Nazis exist at all in Malaysia.

The key to understanding the rise of neo-Nazis is understanding the rise of the first Nazis.

One of the most relevant factors that allowed Hitler to rise to power was the weakness Germany felt as a nation after World War I.

Germans were crippled after losing the war, and humiliated by the victors. The leadership of the post-war Weimar Republic was weak and unable to cope effectively with turmoil in the country, and Germans became severely divided politically.

Does any of that sound familiar?

What happened next? The fictional Dr Abraham Erskine from Captain America offers an accurate summary: “So many people forget that the first country that the Nazis invaded was their own. You know, after the last war … my people struggled. They felt weak. They felt small. And then Hitler comes along with the marching and the big show and the flags.”

That young man stood up on the stage in Sabah and performed an archaic gestured reviled around the world for its association with genocide and mass murder. Is he the only Nazi sympathiser in the country? No. Is this the first time

elements of neo-Nazism and idolising Hitler are emerging in Malaysia? No.

I believe this phenomenon – so strange seeming to so many of us – has perfectly logical roots in a simple fact: deep down, many Malay-sians today are also feeling weak and small. Can we blame them?

The government of the day seems weak and unable to cope with the forces that are tearing us apart. Political division and aimlessness is possibly the worst the country has ever seen. Our most senior leaders are too busy fighting one another to lead the nation anywhere.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Feeling weak, small, and aimless. In this debilitating vacuum is the emergence of neo-Nazism as strange as it first seems? Or is it stranger yet that a Malaysian Hitler has yet to burst upon the scene?

Hitler arose because post-WWI Germany had lost its way. In times like that, people will follow almost any display of strength – no matter how dark or twisted.

Malaysia too, has lost its way. And it is only a matter of time before this vacuum inevitably produces someone to lead us one way or another.

The only question is: Will we get a Hitler or will we get a Gandhi?

Hitler took the shortcut to power. He told Germans that they were weak because others were holding them down: Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and so on. The solution was simple, he argued: Get rid of them and you can be strong again.

Donald Trump told Americans they are weak because Mexicans and other immigrants are holding them down. Get rid of them, he said, and you can make America great again.

Here in Malaysia, we are told that we are weak because the other races are holding us down or stealing all our money. Get rid of them, send them home, or keep them down, and you can make Malaysia yours again.

People all over the world, all throughout history, use this tactic. They use it because it is simple, and more importantly, it is effective. It is easy; but God knows, it is not right.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela – just as famous and impactful as the likes of Hitler and Trump.

What differentiates the heroes from the villains?

These men abandoned hate as the shortcut to motivation in favour of values and principles. They inspired millions because they found a belief and a set of core values, and they kept faith with those values – right to the end, come what may. It wasn’t easy, but by God, it was right.

Malaysia will never rediscover its strength following the lead of dead, defeated Nazis with odd moustaches or orange-haired men with a loose relationship with the truth.

Malaysia will only ever be strong if we understand that true strength exists only inside us and comes only from being strongly principled – because a nation with strong principles can achieve anything.

We will only ever be strong if we start redefining our nation’s core by asking: “What are our shared principles as a people?”

This was the original function of the Rukunegara, which many now love to refer to. Tragically, the manner of reference often seems hollow – the way we might admire a pretty box from afar without truly feeling the relevance of its function or contents.

Maybe the time has come for a more relevant redefinition. An articulation of core values that speak straight to the heart of what ails us as a nation.

Perhaps we need to talk about integrity and keeping faith as an alternative to the endless money politics and corruption that is bankrupting our nation.

Perhaps we need to talk about compassion and empathy as an alternative to the divisive politics that constantly seek to turn Malaysian against Malaysian.

Perhaps we need to talk about a spirit of uniting in service to family and nation as an alternative to always being led by those who put themselves before others.

If our politicians will not have these conversations and lead us to true strength, then let 2020 be the year civil society shows the way.

When Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, King George VI gave a speech to the Common-wealth, in which he said: “For we are called … to meet the challenge of a principle which … stripped of all disguise, is surely the mere primitive doctrine that ‘might is right’…. For the sake of all that we ourselves hold dear … it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the challenge.

“But we can only do the right as we see the right, and … If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then, with God’s help, we shall prevail.”

Yes, Malaysia has lost its strength; but it also has lost strength that can be rediscovered.

I maintain the faith, in my very heart of hearts, that deeply embedded inside every Malaysian is a burning potential for true strength and for mighty greatness. To realise that potential, the first step is to recognise that it is right that makes might. To be all we can be – as a nation and a people – we need only remember the true foundation of a nation’s strength is the strength of character within each and every one of us.

Nathaniel Tan is working with friends on walking the talk, and believes 2020 is going to be a momentous year. Anyone interested in making the above a reality is welcome to reach out to

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Wishy-washy silence is not golden

THEY say that if you don’t come out strongly against something, it means you’re for it. Silence means acquiescence. It’s an affliction that particularly affects politicians who, ever wary of potential controversies, stay clear of taking unequivocal stands on most subjects.

So you have, to give an international example, a Jeremy Corbyn who won’t say he’s against Brexit. Which leaves us to speculate what he really thinks about it or whether he simply doesn’t want to agitate his pro-Brexit supporters.

Nearer home, we get the same sort of wishy-washyness from some of our politicians.

We thought the new Malaysia would be a dynamic and energetic one but yet there still is so much ambivalence in so many policies.

We thought a crowd pleaser would be major reforms of our education system but so far the so-called reforms have been superficial, involving shoes, writing and irrelevant languages.

So we’re still waiting on that one.

We have had people who have disappeared. This is by no means normal for our country.

Isn’t it a horrible thing for the families who are left wondering where their loved ones could be, whether in fact they’re still alive?

Why is there so little empathy for a wife who is suddenly husbandless, with no clue where he’s gone but only some suspicion that somebody took him.

Is it so hard to sympathise with that predicament, even when you can’t give any good news?

Are our tongues so heavy that we can’t express any solidarity with people who are suffering?

Even if it’s not from illness or loss, is it not possible to try and give some comforting words to people who have less?

Just the cost of living these days can bring enough misery for families, who are often left with nothing at the end of the month.

Can’t there be reassuring words, to be followed by actions of course, about lowering the cost of food, or of transportation. Talking about transportation, I was listening to a radio programme about the Malaysian so-called reluctance to use public transport. Apparently, we like the privacy of our own cars, to gather our thoughts, listen to news and music and therefore we’re not very inclined to use public transport because we have to share space with other people.

I understand all that although I was shocked to hear that Malaysians apparently have the most number of cars per capita in the world. Headphones though are a marvellous invention for use in public places. But place those individual luxuries against the cost of running a car, enduring traffic jams and looking for parking, and I think public transport becomes a viable alternative, just as it does in more advanced countries.

Funny that we have no qualms about using the Tube or buses in London, say, but not in KL. The reasons though are plenty.

Public transport over there is clean, efficient and well-organised. If you miss one train or bus, you know another one will arrive shortly. You can even track the arrival of the next bus.

What’s more, public transport there is not a class issue. It’s used by everybody regardless of their station in life, because it works.

But here, while cars still remain a symbol of upward mobility, there’ll always be a separation of people in our transport environment.

Ride-hailing cars evens it out somewhat but they still put cars on the roads. We need a more positive campaign to promote public transport and use technology to build a more efficient system.

So some sympathy for the average working person who has to spend a lot of money on transportation to work wouldn’t go amiss.

I also read somewhere that good public transport benefits poor people mostly because they often can’t afford to buy cars and all that goes with them, especially petrol.

So if you want to be a good government working for the poorest people, you’d have to invest in the best public transport system, because that’s the best way to get people to their workplaces.

If they can’t get to work, they can’t earn much money. If they can’t earn much, they’re forced to live far from their workplaces because that’s all they can afford.

But without good public transportation, they’ll spend most of their money and time trying to get to work. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

But back to silence about issues potentially signalling agreement.

I am puzzled by the lack of will on eliminating child marriage.

Using the excuse of state reluctance to raise the age of marriage may be an excuse although a pretty poor one. But why can’t public figures make a stand about what they think of child marriage? Do they really think it’s OK?

Or it’s not OK but they cannot deal with bureaucracy? It’s really shameful to see the sheer reluctance to say outright that child marriage is wrong and harmful for our children. And I don’t even buy the excuse that it would lead to a high number of pregnancies and abandoned babies.

Marrying them young would still lead to pregnancies and not necessarily better care for those children because after all they’re being brought up by children.

There is a principle of allowing lesser harm if it averts a bigger one.

In this case, not allowing a child to get married is better than the long term harm of early marriage and early pregnancies.

But where our politicians are reluctant, the people are not.

It’s heartening to see a social media campaign begun by ordinary citizens calling on the states who have not raised the age of marriage to do so.

It should shame the states that are still recalcitrant unless they don’t want to listen to the people who voted them in. In which case they risk facing more Tanjung Piais.

Marina Mahathir sometimes wonders why people are so eager to marry children off, and yet when people do get married, still penalise them for having babies too soon after their weddings and label them illegitimate. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the official stand of Sunday Star.

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Mari Ponteng for MP

MOST of our Members of Parliament wax eloquent about transparency and accountability, and their speeches are always filled with never-ending promises, likely as a display of devotion to their constituents.

And yet, none of us have been able to get full disclosure on the many absent MPs.

So much for transparency and accountability then.

Why can’t Parliament management reveal the attendance of MPs to us, instead of protecting them as if they were top secret officials who could undermine the nation’s security?

Ironically, we are also expected to swallow the bureaucracy of constituents from the 222 areas having to report their attendance to Parliament.

Deputy Speaker Datuk Rashid Hasnon was quoted saying that constituents could write to the Parliament management to have an MP’s attendance checked.

He also said it’s not appropriate for Parliament to publicly reveal the attendance of MPs.

“We can get their names, but it isn’t proper for us to spread their names. Whoever wants to know (about MPs attendance), they can meet the Parliament management,” he said.

It appears that the Parliament management is just avoiding embarrassing these lawmakers and making it much harder than need be for the media to snag that list.

As taxpayers footing MPs’ allowances, we surely have the right to know their attendance record, and the Parliament management’s salaries.

We must be privy to the identities of these recalcitrants, who are either too busy with their own businesses or simply indifferent to the affairs of the Dewan Rakyat to attend proceedings.

Honestly, they just find sittings unimportant and unnecessary for themselves.

Such indifference wasn’t the case during the election campaign, though, when they passionately rallied their audience, convincing them they would be the voice of the people.

Well, many haven’t showed up since, and that clutch who projected themselves as daring, and vocal politicians, have turned timid lately as they look up to their political masters while enjoying the power and perks of being in government.

It’s unbelievable that Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said it was a tall order for MPs to remain in the Dewan for long hours because of the temperature.

“It’s not easy for us to stay for a long time. It’s very cold sometimes,” said the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who added that such occurrences were normal.

“I think everywhere in the world, you cannot expect MPs to stay in there all the time,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby on Wednesday.

“That’s why we have a bell for the Speaker to ring. For me, it’s a small matter,” he said, adding that he isn’t worried about the poor attendance of Pakatan Harapan MPs in Parliament.

Well, YB, I don’t think Malaysians will find that reason acceptable at all! Come up with a better excuse, please!

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has pledged that MPs who failed to attend enough Dewan Rakyat sittings would get a dressing-down.

The Prime Minister said Parliament attendance would figure in his decision-making for dropping MPs when he reshuffles his Cabinet.

“We will have to have a talk with the parliamentarians, as they were very anxious to be candidates.

“But after being elected, they are behaving as if they are not serious about serving the people,” Dr Mahathir lamented.

But there’s little room for him to affect a change. Politicians have thick hides and can even smile when being reprimanded, and that’s just about all Dr Mahathir can do.

After all, the absentees also include the front benches comprising ministers and deputies. What can the PM do to them? Precious little.

Recently, only 24 of 222 MPs were present; a quorum requires a minimum of 26 MPs. The Dewan Rakyat sitting was delayed by the Speaker under Dewan Rakyat Meeting Standing Order Number 13 (1). The same thing happened in October, too.

In fact, in July, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Arrif Md Yusof had to order the House to stand down when Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi (PBB-Kapit) noted that the number of MPs present was insufficient.

“There are no ministers or deputy ministers in the House, so can we proceed as there is a lack of quorum?” Alexander asked when the House resumed at 2.30pm following lunch break.

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong weighed in, saying it was the government’s duty to ensure they have enough MPs present to endorse the Budget.

“Out of 127 government lawmakers, why can’t you get 40 to 60 MPs at any one time in the House if you don’t want the Opposition to ambush you?” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby on Wednesday.

He said it was the duty of Opposition MPs to keep the government on its toes.

“It is our duty to teach them a lesson, and I hope they have learned it,” he added.

Dr Wee, who is Ayer Hitam MP, also condemned the reasons bandied to justify Pakatan MPs’ absence during voting on the budget.

“There is no excuse for them to say they are new and have no experience, or they are fatigued. To me, this is rubbish and nonsense.

“Don’t find excuses for your weaknesses,” he asserted.

It’s not difficult for most MPs and reporters to pinpoint serial absentees, but unfortunately, they don’t have the stats to corroborate visual findings.

The only effective way to curb this malaise is for Dewan Rakyat to provide the attendance list of MPs, as appropriately suggested by Subang MP Wong Chen.

He also pointed out that a typical daily attendance rate is an abysmal 20% to 30%, while the minimum requirement for proceedings to progress is 26 MPs, or 12% of the entire Dewan Rakyat.

“Bottomline is, Parliament should publish a list of daily attendance. There is no greater cure to tak apa and sluggishness, than some transparency. Then let the absent MPs explain why they couldn’t be there. Sick leave and those overseas on official business/conferences can be excused,” he was quoted.

And if any of us truly believes that attendance is likely to improve soon, then we will believe in everything these MPs have promised us, too.

We can only hope our MPs don’t earn a rep for Mari Ponteng because of their notorious record for truancy.

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Azmin group plans ‘parallel congress’

MANY in PKR are still hoping against hope for a last-minute reconciliation between their president and deputy president with only a week before the party’s national congress in Melaka.But the window of opportunity is closing as the group loyal to PKR No. 2 Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is planning to hold their own gathering – or a parallel congress as some call it – on the same day as the party congress on Dec 6.

The group is aware that the parallel congress will not be recognised by the party but they want to show that they have the numbers, especially at the supreme council level and even among divisions in the country.

It is understood that there is still a narrow chance of reconciliation because a supreme council member who enjoys the respect of the top two will be meeting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to seek an 11th hour solution.

Anwar had tweeted on Friday evening for all leaders and delegates to attend the congress and to reignite the flame of reformasi and idealism.

Both sides understand how embarrassing it will be to have two congresses going on at the same time. It would be akin to publicly announcing that the party has been carved into two.

Moreover, Selangor, a vital state for PKR, has opted not to hold a state convention.

The party’s Selangor chairman and Azmin acolyte Datuk Amiruddin Shari has apparently refused to call for a state convention and it will be the only state not to do so.

In the meantime, Deputy Youth chief Hilman Idham confirmed that his faction will be turning out in full force at the joint opening of the Wanita and Youth wings, which will be officiated by Azmin.

Wanita chief Haniza Talha has obtained approval from the supreme council to invite Azmin to officiate at their event on the evening of Dec 5.

However, the Youth faction aligned to Youth chief Akmal Nasir has invited Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to open their gathering on Dec 6.

The messy chain of events erupted after Akmal’s faction decided to break the tradition of inviting the deputy president to officiate at the opening of the two wings.

The move angered the Azmin group and a series of accusations and counter-accusations ensued.

The situation was further inflamed by the removal of the Youth wing’s permanent chairman and his deputy, both of whom are aligned to Azmin.

The reason for their removal was that they are above 35 years old. It was quite obvious that Akmal wanted them out so that a new permanent chairman who is on the same page as him can be appointed.

The party congress has become a battleground for the rival factions.

“I am very disappointed with this open defiance against our president. Many members are angry and they want Anwar to take action,” said vice-president Chang Lih Kang.

There is speculation that delegates who support Anwar may vent their frustration at Azmin – regardless of whether he is present.

His repeated declaration of devotion to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is viewed as a betrayal to the party.

There are bound to be calls for Anwar to come down hard on the rebel group.

However, Chang, who is also Tanjung Malim MP, dismissed speculation that the Azmin faction would be subjected to criticism and humiliation if they attended the congress.

“The cartel (the nickname for Azmin’s group) has put our party in a bad light but we don’t want the congress to be overshadowed by the split and quarrels. We want the debates to touch on issues that matter to the rakyat,” said Chang.

The current state of affairs has damaged the image of the party’s top two although Anwar has more to lose.

His inability to strike a compromise with his deputy or to contain the rebellion in his party does not bode well for his aspirations to become prime minister next year.

“The congress is in shambles. It will be terrible if only half the central leadership is there.

“For the sake of our grassroots, I would prefer for us to be one happy family. Nobody wants to see their parents divorced or a publicly divided house,” said vice-president Tian Chua, who claimed that he has not decided whether to attend.

The current round of warfare has been described as a tussle between the power of incumbency (Anwar) versus the power of numbers (Azmin).

The Azmin group, which triumphed in the party polls last year, controls a total of 20 elected positions in the central leadership compared to 10 by Anwar.

Azmin also has a daring and outspoken woman on his side in the form of vice-president Zuraida Kamaruddin. The Local Government and Housing Minister is a driving force in Azmin’s group.

More importantly, Azmin will take with him 15 MPs if he is sacked, which would leave a big hole in the party.

That is something which Anwar prefers to avoid for now.

PKR information chief Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar said the party’s top duo go back a long way.

“None of us can claim to understand the dynamics between them. But we cannot have such a prolonged period of indiscipline in the party. It needs to be resolved,” said Shamsul, who is also Deputy Primary Industries Minister.

Will the year-long discord between Anwar and Azmin come to a head next weekend and the rebel group’s parallel congress be the final straw for Anwar?

PKR politics is about to reach a critical crossroads.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star.

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Javanese: Of language and unity

MORE people speak Javanese than Malay, Burmese or even Thai. Indeed, 95 million people, or fully 40% of Indonesia’s 265 million strong population, are Javanese speakers.

However, Javanese is not the national language of the Republic. That is Bahasa Indonesia, which is a variation of the Malay language. The two are very different and should never, ever be confused for each other.

Moreover, Javanese is very much alive – both in terms of popular culture and politics. For example, one of the Republic’s most famous popstars, Via Vallen’s song Sayang (Love) has surpassed over 186 million views on YouTube. She was also chosen to sing the theme song Meraih Bintang (Reach for the Stars) for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

Even the 52-year-old Didi Kempot (dubbed the “Godfather of Broken Hearts”) and a quintessential old-school Javanese troubadour has recently developed a huge millennial fanbase.

Separately, all seven of Indonesia’s presidents have Javanese blood – including the recently deceased Sulawesi-born BJ Habibie who was half-Javanese.

But how did this happen? How did Javanese, the language of Indonesia’s largest ethnic group, fail to become the national language?

We have to look at history for the reasons why.

Indonesia’s national awakening (and, hence, its struggle for independence) really took root with the Youth Congress of October 1928, when nationalist youth leaders from across what was the Dutch East Indies converged on Jakarta.

The main outcome of the meeting was the so-called “Sumpah Pemuda” (Youth Pledge). It basically committed Indonesia’s nationalists to fight for one motherland and one people (ie Indonesia) as well as acknowledge one national language: Bahasa Indonesia.

The attendees at the 1928 Congress came from a dizzying array of ethnicities: Javanese, Minangs, Malays, Bataks as well as Banjarese, Bugis, Ambonese, Balinese and Minahassans.

There were two main reasons for the selection of Bahasa Indonesia.

The first was that while the Javanese were the largest ethnicity (47% according to the 1930 population census), they were not an overwhelming majority. Hence, had it been selected it would not have been a unifying force for the fledging national movement. If anything, it would have underlined the unhappiness that many non-Javanese felt about the centralising forces of the Dutch colonial administration based in Jakarta.

The second reason was the feeling that the language was far too complex and feudal for a modern state.

This view was shared by many prominent Javanese thinkers and leaders. Even Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno (who hailed from Biltar, East Java, but was not present at the Congress) was to write later on: “The different variations of Javanese would make it difficult for people to interact freely. [It is] especially hard for those who are not from Central Java or East Java. Should we use ngoko, krama, or krama inggil, for everyone to speak, regardless of their social status?”.

Simply put, there are three “levels” of Javanese based on their formality: ngoko which is the lowest level and the most common form; madya or krama madya, which is the middle-level; and the highest, referred to as krama.

Further adding to the confusion is that each level has its own subcategories based on the status of the person being addressed.

Krama itself is divided into two forms, krama inggil (high krama) and krama andhap (humble krama). Krama inggil is used at formal events or by people of higher status and krama andhap is used to show respect to others of a higher status by demeaning oneself.

For example, the word “you” in ngoko would be “kowe” but in krama madya it would be “sampeyan”, while in krama inggil one would say “panjenengan.”

This means that communicating in Javanese requires the speaker to be constantly conscious of his or her status as well as the interlocutors’.

The default for strangers would be to use the krama, but even native speakers find using krama challenging.

Given the complexity, Indonesia’s nationalists with their commitment to egalitarianism were concerned about the intrinsic feudalism of Javanese.

By way of comparison, Bahasa Indonesia or Malay (which was the language of the numerically tiny Sumatran Malay community) was the lingua franca of the entire archipelago. In essence, it belonged to all Indonesians. Moreover, it was relatively easy to learn and use.

Indeed, the republic’s Father of Education, the activist Ki Hadjar Dewantara (who later became the country’s first Education Minister), had as early as 1916 advocated that Malay be taught to children rather than Bahasa Jawa. It is significant that Hadjar, who was born a Javanese priyayi nobleman with the name of “Raden Mas Soewardi Soerjaningrat” later dropped his title in a rejection of feudalism.

Bahasa Indonesia has been an incredible success in many ways.

In 2010, around 92% of the population claimed proficiency in Bahasa Indonesia, compared with 40% in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, given the dominance of the Javanese in politics and public life, a grasp of the language and its cultural nuances is critical for anyone hoping to understand the Republic.

Of course, for many, Javanese is seen as having an incomparably rich literary tradition stretching back many centuries to the writings of Mpu Prapanca, Mpu Tantular as well as Ronggowarsito, the royal poet, and the more racy Serat Centhini.

So while Bahasa Indonesian appears to be completely dominant, Javanese remains a powerful and influential undercurrent, infusing public discourse and popular culture with its rich and complex presence, a shadow that often yields far more meaning than one would expect.

As such, one would be well-advised to bear in mind the Javanese proverb: “Ojo kagetan, ojo dumeh” or “Dont be too easily surprised and don’t be arrogant”.

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Looking back at Tanjung Piai: What exactly did the people say with their votes?

Before the Tanjung Piai by-election in Johor on Nov 16, I was asked who would win. My answer was: “More Malays to vote for Barisan Nasional and fewer Chinese to vote for Pakatan Harapan. Barisan will win.”

My prediction was derived from chats with locals during the first week of campaigning in the Parliamentary constituency with 57% Malays, 42% Chinese and 1% Indians and others. On the ground in the Johor seat, the sentiment was against the ruling coalition.

Closer to polling, I quoted the forecast of Ilham Centre and the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap). The two think tanks predicted that Barisan would retain Tanjung Piai which it lost by 524 votes in GE14 in 2018.

On election night, Barisan’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng, as expected, won. The shocker was the MCA candidate’s 15,086 majority.

Last week I received an invitation from Senator Khairul Azwan Harun, who founded the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS), to attend a discussion about the Tanjung Piai by-election. I accepted, as the panellists were pollsters who got their forecasts right.

“The forum was a showcase of grounded facts. We had pollsters, some of the best in Malaysia, to share the stage because we wanted to ensure that moving forward, everyone would leave with key learning points, ones derived from actual empirical backing,” Khairul Azwan, who is popularly known as Azwan Bro, told me later.

Two days before polling, the Ilham Centre stated that Barisan would win comfortably and the Chinese votes would go to it. What it didn’t tell the public was it predicted a 16,000 vote majority. On the eve of polling, Insap forecasted a 7,000 majority win for Barisan.

During the Cent-GPS forum, Insap director Johnny Yuen told me that the think tank’s prediction was higher. However, it decided to project a more conservative forecast. “Insap’s initial forecast was an 11,000 plus majority but this was reduced to 7,000 arising from internal conservatism. Insap also reduced its forecast turnout from 75% to 70%, and trimmed its forecast support rate for Chinese and Malay voters,” he said.

What insight have you gleaned from the forum, I asked Khairul Azwan of Umno later.

“The biggest theme I saw was the discussion of whether the MCA candidate was the biggest factor or whether it was really a frustration and protest vote against the federal government,” he said.

“Some argued that the voters were mad about unfulfilled promises, another audience member and panellist argued that it was simply the familiarity of the candidate that won over the voters.”

All in all, Khairul Azwan said, for Pakatan, it was a huge wake-up call. Issues of the economy, frustration with the cost of living need to be addressed fast, he said. “The economy needs to feel strong to the common man,” he said.

For Barisan, Khairul Azwan said the win should be taken with a grain of salt. The candidate was well known, he argued and by-elections are not an indicator of how general elections could go. “If anything, people’s focus during by-elections could be more local, more interest-based while general elections, as GE14 showed, are more focused on the national image and who the people wanted to represent them internationally,” he said.

Insap head of research Dr Choong Pui Yee said Wee was well known among Tanjung Piai voters not merely because he served two terms as an MP previously but also because he was a candidate who “turun padang” (went to the ground) and has done his job well.

Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, according to Choong, paled in comparison. “There was also a lack of effort to truly explain why the voters should vote for Karmaine,” she said.

The mood was also not favourable to Pakatan, according Choong. In general, she said, the coalition of hope failed to enchant voters enough to garner support. “There was simply a lot of frustration over Pakatan’s unfulfilled promises and people are not receptive to their message,” she said.

Choong said the ruling coalition’s constant appealing for more time did not resonate with voters who were struggling with their livelihood. “People are hungry and angry and they are reluctant to give more time,” she said.

Conversely, she said Barisan capitalised on Wee’s track record and it went well with the voters. “The voters may not like Barisan but they like Wee Jeck Seng, so this helped the campaign,” she said.

If politicians were to ask me how to win an election, I’d tell them what I learnt from her points: Have a clear message to tell the voters; and in a close fight, make sure your candidate has a good track record and is known to the constituents.

The significant insight Ilham Centre’s Prof Hamidin Abdul Hamid gave about the by-election is that there’s a place for moderation and centralism in Malaysian politics.

“It is not that we want to deny the politics of accommodation in Malaysia. The issue is how are you going to put the discourse right. Umno and PAS, which are siding to the right with penyatuan ummah (Muslim unity), put up an MCA candidate,” he pointed out.

Barisan’s victory is a reality bite that said moderation works, Hamidin said. “You need everyone to win. Even if the Malay voters are united, you need the other races to win,” he said.

Just say PAS and Umno got 90% of the Malay votes in GE15, it could only win about 87 seats out of 222, he said. The Muafakat Nasional would be the main block but it would need others to form the government.

Was “Bossku” Datuk Seri Najib Razak a factor in Tanjung Piai? The former prime minister had made an appearance there during the campaign period.

According to Hamidin, Najib was not a plus factor for Barisan or a minus factor that Pakatan could use.

“When we did the survey, for the Malays, they have already erased Najib Razak politically. He’s popular but popularity-wise, it is different,” he said.

“But for Pakatan, when they keep on barking about Najib, people say move on and do your work. Najib is no longer a good model for Pakatan to use against Barisan.”

Hamidin said Bossku is a liability for Barisan leading up to GE15. “It can be a big leadership weapon against Umno. They have to think twice about Najib and (Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) in the dock. Umno needs fresh blood,” he said.

There’ll be more by-elections before GE15. The results will give an indication of political trends in Malaysia.

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