Author Archives: wcw

Tipsy turvy tales

Not all about the booze: The gun salute is one of the customs of the ‘Oktoberfest’ beer festival in Munich. — AP

Like how many other things that were acceptable before have inexplicably run afoul now, the harmless Oktoberfest is also finding itself criminalised. 

WHILE growing up a school boy in Penang, Oktoberfest was celebrated every year.

And when I was old enough to drink, entering adulthood and working life, I joined in beer drinking sessions with my friends and colleagues.

We’d like to think we held our drinks well then. The same can’t be said about holding our bladders well now though.

I don’t recall inviting my Muslim friends to join us, and I don’t think they would have wanted to either. We respect their faith and culture, as they do ours.

But at no time did they stop us or these events. In fact, on many occasions, they joined us for late night suppers, waiting for us to be done outside the pubs in Penang Road.

That was the way it was. In many night spots, the band members often comprised Muslims, and likewise the staff.

When I moved to Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s, there was no such thing of anyone trying to stop Oktoberfest festivals.

There was no controversy and it was just accepted that this was an annual commercial affair.

Of course, the festival doesn’t just serve beers, but also sausages called bratwurst and frankfurter wurstchen, meat, burgers, pastries and cakes, and of course, plenty of Bavarian dancing and merrymaking.

Perhaps, politicians didn’t need to play the religious card then because they felt comfortable and secure in how common sense usually prevailed. But over the last few years, the scenario seems to have changed dramatically.

If it wasn’t for the politicians, we’d have to contend with terror groups, according to the police, that is, who pulled the plug on last year’s Oktoberfest.

Last September, the Better Beer Festival was cancelled because the police had “security concerns” involving the usual suspects, of course, who were planning to sabotage the event.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the police caught wind of militants and some unknown group’s plan to disrupt the event.

“A security concern was raised following the information received by our intelligence, and to avoid any untoward incident, the police has to step up.

“The people’s safety is our utmost concern,” Mohamad Fuzi said in a statement then.

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) said it had rejected the organiser’s application to hold the event, which was received on Aug 28.

But the DBKL announcement came a week after PAS central committee member Dr Riduan Mohd Nor condemned the event, calling it a “vice party” and claimed that it would turn Kuala Lumpur into the “largest vice centre in Asia”, which raised suspicions of DBKL caving in to pressure.

A year later, and PAS is still using that same scratched record. However, we must admit that the Islamist party is consistent, although when it comes to political expediency, it can be flexible, and bends rules to its liking. Once upon a time, Umno was kafir and a sworn enemy, but at the moment, they are BFF, and their once-ally, DAP, is now an adversary. And PKR has been dealt the same fate, too.

Last week, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan said the party would never support beer festivals, vowing religious retribution if the events “cause public unrest” and affect the sensitivities of Muslims.

He said his earlier comments on Oktoberfest, on the sidelines of the Dewan Rakyat sitting recently, had been taken out of context and were not published in full in the media.

He didn’t specify the part of his comments which went askew or reveal the identity of the media outlet which ran his remarks.

But Takiyuddin said the PAS-led Kelantan government had never banned the consumption or sale of alcohol, for and by non-Muslims.

Joining in the debate, Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah expressed incredulity at how the Oktoberfest has raised red flags.

He said the state had no reservations with the festival, which he described as a cultural event.

“I am just surprised it has become an issue here. In Sarawak, you can see it organised all over in the shopping malls.

“It is not an issue in Sarawak at all. It is only here (in Peninsular Malaysia), where you have many people who are not right in their heads,” he said after unveiling the Visit Sarawak logo at a hotel.

He said Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Sarawak since the 1970s, when German hotel manager, Peter Mueller, introduced it.

“I was still in secondary school at the time, but I already knew all about Oktoberfest,” he said.

Karim said Oktoberfest is only contentious when it is promoted merely as a beer or alcohol festival.

“If that happens, then I believe it is not just Sarawak, but the whole of West Malaysia that must ban it. We are not supposed to be promoting alcohol.

“All religions, I believe, do not promote drinking excessively. For Islam, it is totally forbidden,” he said.

Karim revealed the festival originated in the province of Bavaria, Germany, and that during Oktoberfest, it isn’t just about drinking, likening it to the Gawai festival in Sarawak.

I can understand if the PAS-controlled states of Kelantan and Terengganu ban such an event, but not anywhere else. But thinking about it now, given the demography of the two states, it would be silly of anyone to throw an Oktoberfest party there because it won’t be ringing the cash registers.

But I can’t fathom the Pakatan Harapan-led Johor state government also banning the festival. It defies logic, and politicians whom we expect to speak up had strangely remained silent.

It’s fair and reasonable of DBKL to decide that it would allow Oktoberfest to be held, with the organisers requiring to follow the stipulated rules and regulations.

KL has many entertainment spots, especially in the Bukit Bintang area, so, banning the consumption of alcohol would be futile. Regardless of day, people still drink.

It’s the same in Johor. People will not stop drinking in Johor Baru just because the state government illegalises an Oktoberfest. The night spots will just brand it differently, that’s all.

Now that I am 57-years-old, I have given up drinking completely because it has taken its toll on my sugar level and liver. But will I try to stop anyone from indulging? Of course not! It’s anyone’s right to do so, whether it’s January, October or December.

In search of the rare and elusive Durian Kura Kura

I knew I had to see the kura kura durian as soon as I learned of the medium-sized, wild fruit’s near-extinct status.

After all, it has already been placed on the red list of threatened species by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Although endemic to Borneo, most Sabahans and Sarawakians I’ve met don’t know about these “tortoise durians” or, durio testudinarum. Likewise, the cluelessness on the Indonesian side of the island, Kalimantan.

Unlike regular durian, the kura kura durian hangs just about ground level from its tree when it fruits. It’s presumed that the fruit’s low-lying position gives credence to its name – even a tortoise can reach it.

Whenever I’ve shown friends pictures of these durians, they’ve always been fascinated by the existence of such a species. Of course, their enthusiasm couldn’t mirror my obsession, and soon, I was itching to “meet” this special durian tree.

Although I regard myself a durian lover, my elevated sugar levels have kept me away from this super delicious king of fruits the past two years.

A Borneo Post report indicated that I could find some kura kura durian trees in Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti, about 60km from Miri, Sarawak.

Thanks to my colleague, Stephen Then, who is based in this lovely and famous oil-producing city, the trip was made a little easier since he had mapped out our route into this village.

kura kura

You don’t see many signboards like these in the city. Photo: Florence Teh

The two-hour drive wasn’t exactly scenic, but more monotonous with the endless oil palm plantations, although a few “beware of crocodiles” signboards at some river banks immediately caught the attention of this city dude.

Upon reaching the village, we had to stop several times to ask villagers if they knew where these special durian trees were located.

One makcik told me she had tasted the kura kura durian but wasn’t certain if it came from the top of the hill. The hill? Now that was certainly not encouraging.

Continuing our drive along the dusty trail, we once again resorted to stopping to ask for directions, this time from a group of teenagers who swore that no such durians existed in the village. Only regular durians, they said.

The intrepid durian hunter that I am, I wasn’t going to give up, especially since I had flown all the way from Kuala Lumpur to realise this “mission”. If I had to spend the night in a mosquito-infested village, then that’s what I was willing to do.

By this point in the day, Then began to look a little worried as daylight was fast fading, so we needed to find the trees soon.

Finally, we met someone who knew about the trees, and this kind soul was even prepared to lead us to them. We made a pitstop at the village head’s home for a courtesy call since he was the owner of these trees that had grown on his land.

We drove deeper into the jungle until we finally had to stop and continue the journey on foot. As we got closer, I began to feel more optimistic that we’d find these incredible trees, which may just disappear from the face of the Earth soon.

Amazingly, no other villages in Miri has this species of durian.

Kura kura durian grows at the base of its tree, very close to the ground. Photo: Cikgu Yus

According to a Borneo Post report, Kampung Selanyau JKKK deputy chairman Johnny Mungkil revealed, “visitors from Peninsular Malaysia and overseas come here to get a glimpse of the trees and fruit.”

He said villagers who own the kura kura durian trees include Taib Mawang (three), Sayah Mawan (two), Aspa Yahya (two big trees) and Midah Japar (three).

Apparently, some of the trees are over 50 years old. The tree is unique because it flowers and bears fruit at the lower portion of the trunk. This feature draws visitors in droves to Kampung Selanyau.

kura kura

A rare kura kura durian tree at Kampung Selanyau, Bekenu Sibuti in Miri, Sarawak.

Thanks to Cikgu Yus, a teacher whose father owns a piece of land on which a few of these jungle trees stand, I finally saw what the kura kura durian trees looked like.

The trees were not cultivated – they just happened to grow on their land.

Unfortunately for me, by the time I saw them, the season was already almost over, and the fruits left hanging on the trees were still unripe. It was a classic case of so near, yet so far – I found these fruits but had no chance to taste them.

Cikgy Yus could sense my disappointment so, to cheer me up, she showed me some photographs of durians clustered like balls around the base of a tree.

One villager shared that this yellow-flesh durian isn’t as sweet as regular durian and is an acquired taste.

Durian expert Lindsay Gasik has a better description. She wrote: “… this durian has more in common, texture-wise, with a crunchy jackfruit than with durian. It’s brown-sugar sweet, almost like a chico sapote, and each rubbery sec of flesh peels away cleanly from the seed. And it has almost no aroma.”

Like me, she too had travelled to Borneo in search of the fabled fruit, narrating that “a few years ago, I rode a bus over 36 hours, slept on the floor without a mosquito net, contracted both intestinal parasites and some form of dengue, and got held hostage by a tribe upriver, just to find Durian Kura Kura.”

Eventually, she found them at a market in Limbang, a small town in Sarawak adjacent to Brunei.

“Finding durian kura kura in Limbang was annoyingly easy. It almost made me mad. It was just there, at the daily market, sold in a pile like every other random and equally rare fruit.

“Hey, it’s a special durian. So darn worth it because durian kura kura doesn’t taste like durian. It’s weird, and really unique, and finding it was one of the highlights of my durian life so far.”

Gasik, an American, who writes extensively on durians at yearofthedurian.com wrote: “I had never seen them being sold at a market before. Yet, there they were, just chilling like they’re not one of the most difficult to find durians. Locals have always told me they don’t like them, so they’re not worth going into the jungle to pick them.”

She blogged that her husband, Rob, and her, were lucky to find the kura kura durians twice in Borneo “as it is one of the rarest edible durian species. Many people don’t consider it edible because of the strong, musky odour it has when ripe.

“Yet, the flavour is sweet and juicy, a contrast to the usually heavy durian. That’s reason enough to appreciate this jungle durian.

“Where it gets its fame is that, instead of growing on the branches, these durians sprout from the trunk and roots of the tree.”

Yes, I desperately wanted to taste the fruits, but I wasn’t entirely let down. I was just thrilled that I managed to locate these jungle durian trees. I’ve had my fair share of adventures, but this must be one of the most unusual durian trails.

Say you will, say you won’t

MORE than three decades into my journalistic career, and I have learned one thing for certain – most politicians will never change, and they can be chameleons, too. It would be naïve of me to expect to meet an honest, God-fearing politician who doesn’t lie, because that would be like hoping to see a unicorn.

It is standard operating procedure for them to blame the media when they fumble with their words or learn their comments have backfired, which typically generate angry responses from their constituents.

Their escape route is to deny or claim they have been misquoted, even though in this digital age, one only needs to Google to trace the pattern and train of thought of someone on a given subject through their sound bites.

When things go pear-shaped though, most politicians develop amnesia, or become linguistic acrobats to get themselves out of a tight spot.

Of course, some media will happily play the game – to put down the competitor – and unwittingly give the politician a free ride to wriggle out of a fix and justify his denial.

In the 1980s, a colleague told me about how a news article of his was refuted by a minister. He was so incensed he confronted the politician and played the recording of the interview to prove he had his facts right.

After listening to the entire tape intently, the minister remained silent but finally told the reporter: “Well, I may have said it, but I didn’t mean it.”

Similarly, I have also challenged politicians from both sides of the divide on what they said, and later denied.

One even said this: “I said it, but I expected you not to use it. Now that you have reported it, I have to deny it to protect myself.”

Then, there was a minister who was fond of leaving his sentences hanging. It was always uncompleted, and when reporters misinterpreted his comment, he would reprimand the media, saying, “I expect you to know what I was saying.”

Also, there was a Prime Minister who denied he was going to dissolve Parliament to make way for a general election. His denial was widely reportedly by the media, but not long later, he carried out the dissolution.

Media personnel find it tiring to pursue contentious issues with politicians. We’d rather let it slide because we have all developed a love-hate relationship with some of them.

It doesn’t matter what political parties they belong to because they are largely cut from the same cloth. Otherwise, it would be difficult for them to swim with the sharks, metaphorically speaking.

So, we have learned to accept such denials as hazards of the job, and that there is little point in losing sleep over it because the average news reader could care less for a dispute between a politician and the media.

Law professor at George Mason University, Ilya Somin, once wrote in an article that Hillary Clinton had admitted she sometimes takes “public” positions that are at odds with her “private” position.

“In other words, she sometimes lies to the public about her true views. Only the most naive observers find it surprising that politicians try to deceive people in this way, or believe that Hillary Clinton is an unusual exception.”

Another commentator, Jonathan Rauch, describes why such deceptions are common, and may even be beneficial in many cases:

“In politics, hypocrisy and doublespeak are tools. They can be used nefariously, illegally or for personal gain, as when President Richard M. Nixon denied Watergate complicity, but they can also be used for legitimate public purposes, such as trying to prevent a civil war, as in Lincoln’s case, or trying to protect American prestige and security, as when President Dwight D. Eisenhower denied that the Soviet Union had shot down a United States spy plane.

“Often, the only way to get something done is to have separate private and public truths. Behind closed doors, nothing is settled until everything is settled. Until the deal is done, everyone can pretend not to have decided anything.

“But the moment the conversation becomes public, plausible deniability ceases. Everyone knows I’ve made an offer. Angry interest groups, adversaries in the other party, and even purists in my own party, start cutting attack ads and lining up challengers to prevent a deal and defeat me.”

By such logic, it is as if to say, lying or offering half-truths is acceptable if it’s done for national interest.

So, what Rauch, an academician, argues is that political duplicity is sometimes a necessary tool to facilitate deals, negotiations and diplomatic manoeuvring.

But what usually happens is, when politicians lie, it often involves capitalisation on public ignorance and their self-preservation.

Any politician who has superlative amounts of ringgit in his personal bank account, or in an apartment, will likely always have an alibi.

The ones caught with their pants down have vehemently and angrily denied their involvement in those lurid videos or pictures, insisting the “actors” and “models” are mere lookalikes.

Maybe because most of us are just ordinary mortals, no generous soul has deposited billions in our name, and neither have we chanced upon anyone who resembles us, our siblings apart, perhaps.

In the case of sex videos, the rule of thumb is to deny, deny and deny. Go ahead and laugh, but that tactic has proven to be effective, because after a while, news turns into archival material.

Voters accept that they are supposed to choose capable and effective leaders to lead them, and not high-moral religious figures, but politicians can be persuasive in influencing the rakyat to get what they want.

It’s par for the course for politicians to be criticised, but when their personal lives come under scrutiny and draw flack, that’s taking things too far. As democracy matures, voters find such tactics offensive and distasteful.

In the same article by Somin, he quoted MIT economist Jonathan Gruber saying deception has proven to be an effective political tool and that laws have been passed with politicians “exploiting the stupidity of the American voter.”

In Malaysia, cynical journalists have a similar saying. We like to describe it as “rakyat diperbodohkan lagi”, or the people have been made to look stupid again or, have been exploited again.

I have seen dyed in the wool supporters using their time and resources to back certain politicians. And sometimes, when disputes arise and emotions flare, they lose all common sense and end up cutting friendships and even family relationship for the sake of the politician.

But how stupid they must feel when parties make pacts, or when sworn enemies close ranks and then hug each other, especially when there are political interests to serve? Unfortunately, this is a repeated scenario time and again.

Of course, leave it to them to come up with the best reasons to justify new political allegiances. The best part? They claim they are slogging for the interest of the rakyat and country. Apparently, it’s never about themselves. Yes, funnier jokes have been told.

It doesn’t really matter if this is the Old or New Malaysia, the harder the politicians try, the more things stay the same, because ultimately, a leopard cannot change its spots.

Swimming against the tide

IF there’s one thing the Umno leadership needs to accept – no matter how painful – is that it’s now in the opposition. They got kicked out, and that’s life.

So, for God’s sake, please start acting and thinking like an opposition party. It may be hard after 60 years being at the helm, since the party has enjoyed the privileges of power, which can be intoxicating.

Suddenly, the motorcades are gone, invitations to events have trickled, telephones are not going off the hook, and the formal suits have stayed in the closet.

Umno leaders should forget about “doing deals”. That was precisely what got the party into trouble – those dubious deals.

Some Umno leaders find it hard to be “out of power”. They need to be in power – even if it means playing second fiddle, or even placing third or fourth in the pecking order. But here’s the bad news – Pakatan Harapan doesn’t need Umno.

They need to stop leveraging on the spin that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad needs them to keep Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at bay. It sounds good for them, but the danger is that Umno MPs may start believing in their inflated sense of self-worth.

The PH government has the numbers. They have formed government and are running the country.

Governments in other countries, such as the Kuomintang party, which founded Taiwan, is now in the opposition but was the ruling party for decades, amassing huge assets. And like Umno, it also got embroiled in corruption.

The KMT maybe be broken now, but it still has plenty of assets. When the party fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the communists in 1949, it took millions in gold, bonds and antiques, all of which became part of the foundations of the party’s fortunes.

It also inherited assets left by the Japanese during their 50 years ruling Taiwan, but the KMT has come under investigation for public and private assets it seized after arriving in the country.

With its assets recently frozen, it had to cut staff from 800 to under 400 personnel because of insufficient funds. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Then, there is the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, and which ruled India for 60 years, yet today, is in the opposition and struggling to remain relevant.

In Britain, the Conservative and Labour parties have been voted in and out of government. Amazingly, in all circumstances, even when alliances were made with smaller parties, the loser ended up accepting the people’s verdict and simply worked towards getting re-elected.

So, it is terribly embarrassing to see how Umno leaders crawled to Dr Mahathir, seeking advice on how to keep his former party alive. I mean, why would he even want to see Umno remain intact?

If that’s not enough, Umno had to use its usual trump cards of race and religion as reasons for the formation of a unity government, comprising mainly Malays and Muslims, to safeguard the interests of the community – after billions of ringgit vanished!

It’s also incomprehensible to be telling Umno leaders in Kelantan and Terengganu, who have fought against PAS since Umno’s formation, that they now must work with the Islamist party.

And in the same breath, try to persuade what’s left of the Barisan Nasional component parties that it is merely trying to reach an understanding with the fellow opposition party.

Umno and PAS are supposed to represent different things. Umno is Malay and Muslim, but is supposed to be moderate, inclusive and has shared power with the MCA and MIC, even in Malay-dominated constituencies.

Of course, these Barisan component parties don’t understand what’s going on because Umno members themselves are clueless about this purported deal with PAS.

And why should PAS want to share power with Umno? It has control of two states. It has exuberantly introduced whipping and gender segregation at public events again, making the two states look like some extremist Middle East country.

The party is happy to equate liberalism with open sex, hedonism, LGBT and everything else it deems sins. And can we be blamed if we feel that Umno is happily singing the same tune and sharing the same ignorance of what liberalism means? And now, we even have a new term – super liberalism. Go figure.

And why shouldn’t non-Muslims feel resentment for PAS when its president questioned Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for attending gatherings involving other faiths, or for the PKR president-elect to contest in a multi-racial constituency?

If Umno chooses to work with a party like PAS, then it’s heading down a slippery slope, if it’s purely about retaining or winning the Malay votes, because the party is bound to be grilled for what it stands for. Surely, it can’t be the same as PAS.

The DAP and PKR had been in the opposition for years, even decades, with their leaders paying a heavy price for their political convictions, but they continued with their struggles. We don’t have to agree with their politics and what they stand for, but credit where it’s due for their convictions.

And here we are – Umno suffers one defeat, and it’s running around like a headless chicken, which is how the party is being described now.

If it wants to get its house back in order, Umno first needs to reform itself. It is a flawed product, but not entirely a rejected or expired item.

It must appear an alternative. The voters are testing the PH government to see if it’s any good. Why not? After all, they gave the Alliance and Barisan a good 60 years, and they became arrogant and corrupt.

The voters are basically the customers, but Umno forgot that detail and expected the customers to be grateful, which is ironic. But that was exactly how Umno treated its customers.

Malaysians would like to see Umno leaders stop acting like big shots (which they no longer are), admit their mistakes and excesses of the past and, step down from their pedestal and be ordinary Malaysians.

Surely, we want leaders who can speak the languages of the people, understand their needs and sentiments, and just be one of us.

They ought to know that we are tired of having to address them by their titles and being expected to line up to kiss their hands. And for some bizarre reason, we wonder, too, why their identity cards need to carry their fathers’ titles!

So, we now have Tan Sri Awang Ibrahim bin Tan Sri Osman Tengah. If you don’t believe me, check the Mykads of most Umno members.

That’s how ridiculously far we have allowed this scheme of grandiosity to go with our obsession with titles. Now, it’s refreshing to see Cabinet ministers with no fancy titles.

We are watching all these newbies, so, don’t try to con us with pictures of them flying economy class, especially during the first year, and then subsequently, and quietly, enjoying the perks of power.

It’s obvious that the corrupt show their greedy selves in the second term of office.

But all is not lost for Umno. It has 49 MPs and that’s a substantial number. It must come across as an opposition worthy of being voted back into power, or it can continue to use the faces of political minnows, with their aggressive and irrational behaviour that is incongruous with the New Malaysia. It looks like Umno hasn’t learnt yet.

If the leaders can’t think well, then, it has to set up a really good think-tank capable of drafting the best papers and sound bites for Barisan leaders, and even produce policy papers that will put the party in good light.

Unlike the other component parties, Umno is still able to retain some very good youth leaders who can articulate their thoughts well, and with good command of Bahasa Malaysia and English. These fresh faces must surely be in the forefront.

If the warlords who run the divisions continue to have their way – now that the easily available funds are drying up quickly – then the demise of Umno will be near, and if they are still looking for deals, then it will be even closer.

Swimming with jellyfishes on Kakaban Island

Photos and videos by: RICKY MOSIEWA

The idea of diving into a lake to swim with thousands of jellyfishes (of the harmless variety) had never crossed my mind. It was never even on my bucket list, in fact, until I recently read about the famous jellyfish lake on the tiny Pacific island of Palau being shut down.

The lake, which was home to over two million non-stinging jellyfishes, has been closed to visitors because several years of dry weather killed them all.

Toxic sunscreen, used by tourists, was also blamed for the decimation of the fascinating creatures there.

As diplomatic ties between Palau and China took a dip over the former’s refusal to sever relations with Taiwan, things got worse. The Chinese government retaliated by forbidding its citizens from travelling to the island.

Tourism is Palau’s largest revenue source, but visitor numbers have dropped drastically following China’s ban. Chinese tourists have made up 13% of Palau’s tourists so far this year, compared with 48% in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Palau government said it wants to push for “high quality, low volume tourism” amid concerns of the island’s overcrowding and pollution by unmanageable numbers of tourists – a euphemism for the Chinese tourists.

And there were even not-so-subtle allegations that the huge number of suntan-covered mainland tourists were responsible for killing the jellyfishes with the use of their lotions containing toxic chemicals.

Chinese tourists have earned a worldwide reputation for not wanting their pale skin to be tanned, and often even fully cover themselves up at tropical beaches. That was enough to fire up my passion for swimming with these invertebrates, and I knew I had to do it – before they disappear from the face of the Earth forever.

A quick search on the Internet showed that I had a few options, including the Raja Ampat archipelago, off the Indonesian province of West Papua. It’s home to thousands of giant golden medusa jellyfish, but it’s also near impossible to get to.

Then, there is the more accessible Cruz Island in Zamboanga, Philippines, except that the territory is known for kidnapping and terrorist activity. I wasn’t convinced anyone would want to pay ransom to kidnappers for a fool who travelled there in search of jellyfishes.

But the good news was that Kakaban Island, in East Kalimantan, Indonesia offered the best and nearest option. I just needed to fly to Tawau in Sabah, and then catch a connecting hour-long flight to Tarakan in East Kalimantan.

The writer and his wife at Kakaban Lake, home of thousands of jellyfishes.

From Tarakan, I had to take a three-hour speed boat ride to Maratua Island, which meant I had to mute nature’s call the entire non-stop trip!

After a night on Maratua, I began my island-hopping to Kakaban, a 774-hectare limestone island. In the local dialect, Kakaban means “hug” as it looks as if it is hugging the lake away from the sea, I was told.

Once we arrived at the jetty, we disembarked and followed the path made up of huge wooden stairs and long walkways through the rainforest, right through to the jellyfish lake.

Following a short 10-minute trek, the walkway opened onto a platform on the picturesque lake, which was once part of the ocean but separated a long time ago.

It is said that the jellyfish had no predators in the lake, and so, eventually evolved to lose their stingers. Other reports suggest they still have stinging cells but have evolved to become harmless to humans.

The four kinds of jellyfishes found in the lake are the aurelia aurita (with its transparent body), the tripedalia cystophora (which only measures the size of a fingertip) and the mastigias papua, with its green-brown bulb, and seen in abundance. Then, there is the cassiopea ornate, which is oriented upside down while their tentacles are upright.

In fact, what made Kakaban different from the rest is that it is the only lake with four types of jellyfish, and a huge number of fish and crustaceans beneath.

 

Having done my research before the trip, I was explicitly aware that the number of jellyfishes in Kakaban could not match the huge numbers in Palau.

The water at Kakaban was also not as crystal clear as that of Palau’s, at least from the videos and pictures I had seen.

The former was a little murky as the bottom was covered with marine green algae. The lake’s water is a mixture of salt water and fresh water from rain.

Obviously, the lack of visibility didn’t help in the videography, but my wife and I couldn’t contain our excitement when we jumped into the lake. She was lucky as she managed to hold a jellyfish by its transparent body.

We didn’t find the jellyfishes intimidating as we knew they were harmless.

There was really no need to stray too far from the platform as there were enough jellyfishes swimming, dancing and bouncing around, just a short distance away.

I was a little concerned because I had read that there was a steep wall which drops 190m, and currents can be strong with upwelling, down current and reversing direction. Another report revealed that the deepest part was 17m (56 ft), with poor visibility.

The beautiful Kakaban, which is recognised as a world heritage site, is still generally difficult to access. That means less commercialisation, but it also pained me that trash, such as plastic bottles, was left uncollected.

The writer’s guide Ricky Mosiewa with thousands of jellyfishes surrounding him in the waters off the island.

What a shame, because CNN Travel rated Kakaban third on the list of 10 best dive sites in Asia.

It was the same sad sight on the nearby islands of Maratua and Sangalaki, where uncollected litter was strewn everywhere.

Strangely, many of these culprits are the local villagers who don’t realise that they stand to gain the most from a clean environment since they depend on tourism.

Maintenance, preservation and cleanliness are obviously absent from the minds of the Indonesian authorities, and that’s alarming.

From my chalet at Maratua, it was a joy to see four turtles and even a stingray swimming nearby, along with hundreds of fishes.

Over the past couple of years, I have developed a strong emotional attachment to the ocean and jungles, with the sea creatures and animals, so much so I have almost lost interest in big cities and their artificial malls and structures, including the rude and selfish city folk.

The swim with thousands of jellyfishes has made me marvel even more at God’s amazing creations and ponder how insignificant we are in the big picture.

New Malaysia, Old Politics

WE may have heralded a New Malaysia, with the euphoria still lingering, but more than three months have passed since the general election which saw the Barisan Nasional government crushed.

A new social landscape, perhaps, but Old Politics still haven’t faded away. As much as most of us loathe the politics of race and religion, the practice is a numbers game.

The politicians who have mastered the game understand the stakes, and they skilfully manoeuvre into positions to ensure their audience is convinced that their interest is protected.

The figures speak for themselves – about 95% of Chinese voters chose Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the May 9 general election and more than 85% supported the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat coalition in 2013, revealed a report. About 70-75% of Indians voted for PH.

However, only 25-30% of Malays voted for PH, the report added, citing figures from Merdeka Center. It said 35-40% of Malays voted for Barisan Nasional while 30-33% supported PAS.

Although a higher percentage of Malays voted for PH in Johor and in west coast states including Melaka and Negri Sembilan, PH’s overall Malay support dwindled because of its weak performance in Kelantan and Terengganu.

The report, quoting analysts, said the split Malay vote means PH leaders must tread carefully when framing issues deemed sensitive to the Malays, if they expect to gain their trust.

And Umno and PAS will try even harder to woo the Malays by using the familiar baits of race and religion, they said.

Explicitly aware of the apprehension of many Malays, especially over the appointments of non-Malays in key government positions, and the notion that the DAP has an upper hand in the PH government, the Prime Minister and other leaders had to convene for a special bumiputra meeting.

They read the ground sentiment well – that only 25-30% of Malays voted for PH, but which was enough to kick out Barisan, and if this tiny fraction switches allegiance from PH, there’s bound to be trouble ahead.

Barisan, particularly Umno, also understands this figure’s significance, and has been quick to align itself with PAS in the name of race and religion. That’s simply because there is a huge Malay electoral market that buys into such a line of politics.

So, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had to provide the assurance that the Government was not out to persecute bumiputras, but instead, wants to ensure that a fair and equitable solution is in place for the betterment of the community.

He reminded the Malays that in the past, many business opportunities had been given to bumiputras under the New Economic Policy, but many sold their contracts and approved permits (APs) for healthy profits.

“As long as we look for shortcuts, we will not succeed,” he said at the Future of the Bumiputra and Nation Congress 2018 earlier this month.

He said such handicaps didn’t help them in the end because they continued to be paupers after spending all the money instead of investing, while those who retained their contracts and APs became successful.

Last week, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim made a clarion call on the importance of Bahasa Malaysia and reaffirmed the position of the national language at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the government body responsible for regulating the use of the Malay language and Malay-language literature.

The incoming PKR president urged all leaders and MPs to buck up on their Bahasa Malaysia, chiding those who had not made the effort to master the national language.

“Whether you like it or not, parliamentary proceedings are in BM. Proficiency in the language is crucial.”

But he also said that emphasising BM did not “mean that other languages such as English and Chinese were marginalised but must be mastered as second languages.”

This was a master politician at work, making sure to cover his bases.

Also, he warned of the existence of a so-called “super liberal” group in the country, which he said strongly expressed its demands and pushed for their implementation.

Without making specific references, he said the people from this super liberal group also denounced the views of those opposed to it.

“When we criticise them, we are attacked as if this country belongs to them. I tell them that we represent the majority in the country and we argue that in this country, we are also entitled to voice our views.

“They think that we must accept their views. If I touch a little on Islam and the Malays, they will raise an argument.”

Certainly, Anwar’s words would earn him brownie points among the conservative Malays, who aren’t necessarily rural voters. In fact, they are urban Malay professionals who aren’t happy with what they perceive as radical changes to the status quo in the name of New Malaysia.

Even the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, voiced his annoyance after an official letter by an Iskandar Puteri City Council (MBIP) member written in Chinese and English went viral.

Sultan Ibrahim decreed that any official letter involving the state government or local authorities in Johor must be written in the national language.

“If the councillor does not know how to do his or her job, just resign. This is my warning do not make this mistake again.

“All official letters involving the state government or local councils that use the official letterhead must be written in BM.”

It was later clarified that what appeared on social media “did not paint the full picture” as the councillors had, in fact, written in three languages – English, Malay, and Chinese.

Dr Mahathir has also found it necessary to do a balancing act. First, he issued a statement saying the Cabinet felt the caning of the two women convicted of lesbian sex in Terengganu gives a bad impression of Islam, and that it “did not reflect the quality of justice and sympathy in Islam”.

But he was also quick to follow up with an assurance, especially to the Malays, that Malaysia doesn’t accept LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) practices and same-sex marriages as the country eschews these Western values.

He said even though the government respects the recommendations made by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), it would not accept “everything”.

Both Anwar and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail have also made their stand clear, although their critics have attempted to put them in conflicting positions.

The LBGT issue is a big “no” within the Malay community, likewise with many Malaysians of other faiths. It is tolerated but not to be advocated – that is the line.

And Malay PH politicians walking on the fine line of 30% votes understand that they need to retain this support, and likely, increase it, which will hopefully take shape in the form of new voters turning 18 years old by the next GE.

The New Malaysia has given rise to new hopes, new expectations and new ways of doing things, but in the end, some things will just never change – at least, not overnight – and until then, our countrymen and women must learn to handle all of this more tactfully to pave the way ahead.

Believe it or not

Raising eyebrows: Both Hishammuddin and Dr Ahmad Zahid have met up with Dr Mahathir since GE14.

Stranger things have happened post-general elections, but losers seeking the winning party’s advice is certainly curious. 

POLITICS in Malaysia gets stranger with each passing day. As the adage goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and it seems to apply well here.

That saying simply means sometimes what happens in real life is more bizarre than anything that could have been imagined.

Shortly after the general election in May, where the Barisan Nasional was trounced and consigned to the scrap heap, then acting Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi raised eyebrows when he called on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed for advice.

His party had just been hammered, yet he decided to consult the new Prime Minister and leader of Pakatan Harapan. It was so peculiar for him to do that.

Dr Mahathir revealed that Zahid “wanted to know how to manage Umno. So, I was frank and said Umno had betrayed the Malays.”

Yes, at least, that’s what the man said. Zahid wanted advice on how to manage Umno and he got it from the best man possible.

“I reminded him that we formed Umno to help the Malays, but that Umno had changed and prioritised self-wealth.

“Because of that, Umno is now hated. It’ll be hard for Umno to recover. Once seen as noble, now viewed with disgust,” Dr Mahathir apparently said.

Incredibly, Zahid was not the only loser who queued up to acquire Dr Mahathir’s wisdom. He was, in fact, the third opposition party leader, believe it or not.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu president Datuk Abang Johari Abang Openg made their moves earlier.

Forgive our naivety in politics, but are we missing something here? These guys had just lost the elections, leaving their parties in disarray (at least Umno), and the first thing they do is run to the man who defeated them for advice on how to run their houses?

Are we reading this right? But then, this is Bolehland, and what is regarded strange can easily be real.

Last week, another top Umno name – Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein Onn – also scooted off to see the nation’s foremost nonagenarian.

It’s uncertain if the purpose of his visit was, likewise, to learn how to save Umno and run the party.

Honestly, why would Dr Mahathir, even as former president, want to save Umno?

No one would have known better had Datuk Kadir Jasin, the media adviser to the Prime Minister, not let the cat out of the bag about the meeting.

“Assalamuailaikum Datuk Seri Hishammuddin, nak tanya, semalam pergi Putrajaya jumpa siapa? (I wish to ask, who did you meet in Putrajaya yesterday?)” Kadir wrote.

Presumably caught off guard by the revelation, Hishammuddin, who is also a former Umno vice-president, however said the meeting was only to listen to Dr Mahathir’s plans for the country’s future.

And last week, Perlis Umno deputy chairman Zahidi Zainul Abidin claimed Umno and Barisan Nasional MPs had met Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia leaders to discuss the possibility of a union.

Zahidi, who is Padang Besar MP, said the purpose of the discussions was to seek the “best option to save the Malays”.

“We are trying to discuss with PPBM to save the Malays. We want PAS, but PAS is not ready, so we are looking for the best option because we want the best for the Malays,” he said at Umno’s headquarters.

According to him, Barisan MPs met PPBM leaders two to three months ago, but he refused to disclose details. However, he said: “We are planning to merge with PPBM but we do not want to quit Umno.

“Some of the MPs agreed to discuss with PPBM while some agreed to discuss with PKR. So, we will see which one is best. We have met PPBM.”

Dispensing with the bravado and hyperbole, what Zahidi is trying to convey is simply that Umno is in trouble and going nowhere. We want PPBM or PKR to hold us, we can’t just quit Umno, but without the two parties, we are dead.

And of course, the narrative must be about saving the Malays – not saving ourselves politically!

Meanwhile, in Bolehland, the Chinese and Indians are upset that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is said to be drumming up support by doing a devil’s deal with some Umno MPs to overthrow Dr Mahathir by November in a despicable and devious plot.

Why November? Well, that’s when Parliament meets, but that’s what a friend of a friend told me. I didn’t ask why November either because that seemed like an insignificant detail.

So, here’s when many of us become confused: who is cosying up to Umno? Is it Dr Mahathir to checkmate the ever-impatient Anwar, or is it really Anwar himself? Now, this is when the truth gets stranger than fiction, or so it seems.

But dig deeper, and it sounds more like a group of Umno MPs – who find the gravy train now derailed, and without benefit in sight – cooking up a juicy story to let the various insecure factions in Pakatan Harapan fight over them, for what they are still worth as MPs.

And if nothing is offered, what can be more pleasing to the egos than be heralded as the saviour of the race and religion at the party assembly for their undying proclamation to the party, race and religion?

But don’t be too quick to dismiss the story. It’s only a story, so far, and it hasn’t ended. Whether it’s fiction or otherwise, it will always be strange because this is Malaysia.

It’s only in Malaysia where one runs off to his enemy for advice! Malaysia Truly Amazing.

A question of faith

THE Port Dickson by-election has unexpectedly become a controversy for some PKR leaders and the party’s supporters.

Suddenly, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has found himself being openly challenged by some of the top brass for his purported failure to consult them on the selection of the coastal town for a by-election, and why his wife or daughter weren’t asked to vacate their seats, instead.

For sure, this is unfamiliar ground to any leader – to be openly challenged. Call it democracy, but it looks more like an open rebellion.

Anwar is now being accused of nepotism and those who have defiantly questioned this move include prominent lawyer S. Ambiga, who is closely linked to Pakatan Harapan.

Even the issue of race has cropped up in social media, with some, hiding behind anonymity, demanding why an Indian MP had to be sacrificed for the PKR president.

Others have suggested that Anwar is an impatient man, and that he should wait until the next general election in five years’ time for his turn. Perhaps he could be named senator, first, and save the big bucks needed for a by-election.

However, some of these politicians have suddenly developed amnesia, it seems, now that they hold positions in government.

They seem to have forgotten the pledge made to Malaysians was for Anwar to be pardoned and released from his incarceration.

In fact, that’s the basis of the PKR struggle – to free Anwar, who had to live with the unofficial title of de facto PKR leader. He was the party boss, even while languishing behind bars for 11 years.

Love him or loathe him, only Anwar can glue the PH government in Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s absence.

Not any PH leader, including Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Mohamed Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, or, for the time being, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, could manage it.

It’s not about competence or ability, but about holding a government together. All his harshest critics, including those who questioned his trustworthiness, would admit it, even if reluctantly.

Anwar is also the only one who can man the fort against opponents like Umno, PAS and the right wingers who wield race and religion like weapons.

He was the man who issued press statements from jail, as we wondered how he did it.

And, of course, we remember all those street protests under different names and colours, all essentially for a singular purpose – to free him. So, it must be surprising to Anwar, who would probably feel slighted, to learn about the rebellious remarks made by some self-important key personalities for his need to first earn their approval and then consult them to contest in a by-election.

Suggestions of deceit abound, and no wonder, what with decisions shrouded in secrecy and lacking transparency.

And there we were thinking it was clear that Anwar would contest a by-election, get into Parliament and wait for his turn to be Prime Minister. Even premier Dr Mahathir has proclaimed unequivocally that he would hand the torch to Anwar and honour the agreement by the four partners of the Pakatan Harapan alliance to step down after two years.

So, the question is, how can Anwar be the successor if he is not an MP?

It’s pointless being the PM-in-waiting if one isn’t elected. We could not give two hoots about the charade and antics of politicians, who have the audacity to tell us they dislike politicking. We want certainty, stability and succession planning.

Dr Mahathir is already 93 years old, and it is just biologically and physically impossible to expect him to be PM until the next general election. We can’t allow the rigours of the job to take their toll on him.

A video of him walking wobbly recently circulated, so surely, we want him to remain healthy. However, he is still a mere mortal.

Anwar being named successor and elected into Parliament will provide better comfort because otherwise, an ugly scramble for power is bound to ensue, which we have no wish to see.

We don’t really care if Anwar chooses Port Dickson, Puncak Borneo or Timbuktu, because we are all suffering from the fatigue of election fever, which never seems to cease in Malaysia as they come in all forms and temperatures.

A by-election costs money. Also, it is in poor taste to ask a serving MP to step down to make way for Anwar. Most of us might hate the idea, but progression needs to take place.

Let’s be openly ignorant about this, because up until last week, most of us had never heard of Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, with due respect. Of course, we didn’t even know he was a retired first admiral. But those who attended his ceramah during GE14 said he never failed to remind them he served in the navy for 38 years.

Danyal has been recognised as the “voice” of the navy, and for them, his loss means no one will champion their cause.

Once Anwar is elected MP and eventually becomes Prime Minister, the full breadth of his ability will be on display, courtesy of his authority and power as a leader. Every constituency would want the serving PM as their MP, so the same can be said for PD. Surely, they can see the preferential treatment accorded to Langkawi and Pekan.

Then there is the issue of family dynasty, but let’s not get into this because the Lim brood has two MPs and a senator, the Karpal clan has an MP and two state assemblymen, and, of course, there’s the PM and his Mentri Besar son.

Malaysians are familiar with this situation, and how most of these individuals got elected is proof that it has never been an issue.

But we should create a racket if Anwar is PM and Nurul Izzah becomes a Minister while Dr Wan Azizah still remains Deputy Prime Minister.

You can count on your bottom ringgit, though, that’s neither going to happen, nor be allowed to happen.

A husky lover’s guide to Bangkok, Thailand

TrueLove at Neverland in Bangkok is a cafe that allows patrons to play with its huskies for a fee. Photos: The Nation

The routine holiday to Bangkok, Thailand, for seasoned Malaysian tourists (like me) will probably include eating, massages and shopping. We have visited most of the tourist spots, and they are no longer appealing.

Yes, we’ve been there, done that … you know the drill.

It’s become obvious to us that there are no tigers in the strangely named “tiger shows” as the performers are more acrobats than animal trainers, and it takes little for most of us to distinguish Lady Boys.

Then, there’s only so much spicy tom yam soup and spicy som tam salad one can take before setting their belly on fire.

Not on the list of the most exciting things to do, though, is twiddling with our phones while the wives take forever to shop in Pratunam Market, the largest retail market in the city.

Also on that “list” is how some friends are forever asking the favour of paying respects – which they call vows and blessings – at the famous Erawan Shrine, or more famously known as the Four-Faced Buddha, located at the busy Ratchaprasong intersection.

That’s what average Crazy Middle Class Malaysians do when they are in Bangkok – the same thing again and again.

On a recent trip there, though, I decided to try something else. It’s already on the tourist map, but not mainstream yet, and it was important that I saw it before China tourists discover it and squeeze me out of the “dog house”.

Being the owner of two lovely huskies, I was advised to check out TrueLove at Neverland dog café, located at a leafy, quiet neighbourhood in Bangkok.

It was a challenge getting there because most Thai taxi drivers don’t speak English well. It was a struggle telling them I wanted to visit a husky café – because they had no idea what I was describing.

To get the best photos, wait for the huskies to calm down and get used to you first.

For some weird reason, the taxi driver kept saying “dog no good, sir, tiger better, very cheap. I take you to Soi Cowboy, very near only. No see dog, see tiger.”

At this point, I began to get worried that our linguistic problem would lead him to selling me a show of feline persuasion, his interpretation, of course.

Thank God for Google, as we finally reached the location of the address – No. 153, Soi Ari Samphan 2, Phaya Thai, Khet Phaya Thai, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10400. And now you know why it isn’t the best-known address.

But it was a worthwhile trip despite the initial hiccup and having to fend off the attempts of the taxi driver to take me to see furry animals of a different variety.

What sets TrueLove apart from the pack is its unique skew: The café is specifically a husky café.

There are dogs and then there are dogs, and I love these wolf-like animals for their appearance and beautiful coat of fur.

They are known to be stubborn, even stoic at times, and can be near impossible to command. Despite their intimidating appearance and strength, huskies are gentle, friendly and affable to humans. For whatever reason, they are a misunderstood canine species.

I was curious to find out how many of these dogs would be on parade to justify the entrance fee, and if the owner had provided adequate air-conditioning and fans to keep them cool and comfortable.

With their Siberian and Alaskan lineage, these huskies can’t bear the heat – even if they are born in Thailand or most places in Malaysia.

When they are young, some have the trademark piercing, deep blue eyes, but as they grow older, those peepers turn grey or brown. Being a formerly-ignorant owner, I always blamed our lousy hot climate for the loss of those striking blue eyes.

In answering my primary curiosity, yes, there are enough dogs there to make one feel satisfied with the investment, but what was most heartening was the owner’s attention to hygiene.

The enclosure was free of dog odour, poo or urine stains because attendants keep the place spick and span. The dogs are in view from the side of the café. For those wishing to enter the play area, they must adhere to some strict rules.

Visitors can interact with cute huskies at the cafe.

I had to take my shoes off and wear plastic covers for my feet provided by the café. I also had to wash my hands and use bacterial lotion – before and after entering the play area. The strict hygiene practice is commendable.

Eager not to miss a thing, I arrived at the café early for the “parade”, which was essentially the grand entrance of the 25 or so dogs that comprised Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes. This was them coming out of their air-conditioned “homes”.

Visitors are then allowed to join the “play and touch” session with these lovely huskies, as they energetically jump around, or just laze about, waiting to be patted and hugged.

Accustomed to the adoration of visitors, these dogs are at ease and readily interact with people. As much as I’ve described them as stubborn, they’ll happily pose for photographs, too.

The dogs seem healthy and well looked after, as is apparent from their physique, behaviour and mood, which pleases me tremendously as a visitor and dog lover.

Treats aren’t required for the obligatory “bribe”, proof that these very endearing dogs are comfortable and sociable. These pooches sure enjoy being touched and hugged.

On the flip side, I had the misfortune of seeing sad-looking bears at a small zoo in Hokkaido, Japan, begging for food from visitors from their smelly enclosures. It was a sight which made my blood boil, and made me want to do something completely reckless, like freeing them into the nearby forest. That’s a sinful place and should be shut down.

Closer to home, it’s a no-brainer that no one goes to the husky café for the food – entrance tickets come with a complimentary cake and drink each – but rather to experience the joy of playing with these lovely and beautiful dogs.

The huskies are very friendly with guests. There’s no need to offer them any ‘bribes’ of food as they will automatically come to you.

These hair-shedding dogs are not the easiest pets to take care of and many dog homes are aware of owners abandoning them after realising the difficulties in caring for these big canines. So, the café offers a unique experience for us to be near them without the hassle.

There are enough dogs and time for visitors to have their fill, although in typical kiasu (afraid to lose) fashion, there was the predictable rush to hug the nicer-looking animals for pictures when the play area was opened.

What you really need to do is just chill and laze around, because these huskies will come to you. The best photographs are had when the excitement has died down and the animals are calmer.

This is an experience highly recommended for families, especially for children who have never interacted with dogs or had the opportunity of owning one because they either live in a tiny apartment or in an environment prohibiting dogs.

Be there early to avoid the crowd and check the latest operating times on the café’s Facebook page. It is also better to call and place a booking, if one is in a group, to enable the staff to organise visits.


To get to TrueLove at Neverland by public transport, take the BTS (train) to Ari Station. Leave the station via Exit 2, then hop on a tuk-tuk and ask for Soi Ari Samphan 2, a trip which should cost you about 40 baht (RM5) each way. The staff at the café are helpful and ready to assist visitors in calling for a taxi or tuk tuk, so they can find their way out of this dog haven.

Waiting in the wings

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim

THE acrimonious relationship between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – when they were Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister back in the day – is well-documented, and as a reporter covering the feud, I had a ring-side seat of the fight.

I remember joining Dr Mahathir and his entourage on a trade mission to South America in September 1997.

Malaysia was grappling with a financial crisis, the stock market had plunged, its currency was under attack and the skies were shrouded in haze.

It seemed like things couldn’t get any darker.

But worse it got when the relationship between its two leaders went terribly sour over how the country should tackle the financial crisis.

The South American visit was the longest official overseas engagement during Dr Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister.

And the knives which had been drawn by then made the assign­ment feel even longer.

During the trip, a few ministers obviously wanted to “apple polish” the PM by doing their best to run Anwar down – all within earshot of reporters, amazingly.

One Umno leader waved a copy of the now-defunct Asiaweek magazine – which pictured Anwar riding a jet ski on the cover – and loudly complained that Anwar was a man in a hurry, and even promised to gather supporters to turn up at the airport for Dr Mahathir’s arrival.

My good friend, Johan Jaafar, now Tan Sri, was most uncomfortable when the air on board the chartered flight became toxic.

He was editor of Utusan Malaysia, which at the time was probably the most influential newspaper in the country.

In his own words, “I was famously fired three months before Anwar got the axe. I was guilty by association.”

Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister on Sept 2, 1998 and as deputy Umno president the following day.

I was at the Putra World Trade Centre with other reporters from every media on Sept 3.

And that marked the beginning of the reformasi movement.

Along with my journalist brothers and sisters, I literally camped outside his home, soaked to the bone in the rain.

It’s funny now to recall how we predicted a short lifespan for the uprising.

How wrong we were.

Anwar is a born fighter and he’s probably the most charismatic Malaysian leader I’ve ever known.

He mobilised thousands onto the streets and had powerful international leaders on his side.

He has gone through the “black eye” episode, beatings, jail sentence, sex video scandal and sordid sodomy trials – not once, but twice – and survived it all. (Anwar was assaulted after his arrest on Sept 20, 1998, causing him to appear in court with a black eye. Former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor was eventually charged with the assault and received a two-month jail sentence. He later apologised to Anwar and his family.)

More incredibly, his wife – Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – stood by him, defended him and filled in for him as party president.

That’s another astonishing story by itself.

Fast forward to 2018. Dr Mahathir is surely the glue that binds for the ruling coalition.

Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible for Pakatan Harapan to win the general election and, without PKR and DAP, Dr Mahathir wouldn’t have had the structure and machinery to do likewise.

He held the key to reach many rural areas, including the Felda seats, which tipped the balance.

It was the massive historic win which led to Anwar being released from prison and subsequently pardoned.

Basically, the unimaginable happened and now, another stranger-than-fiction scenario is about to play out.

And again, there is plenty of cynicism and disbelief.

So, what Dr Mahathir said last week is important.

On record, for the first time, he said he would honour an agree­ment by the four parties of the Pakatan Harapan for him to step down after two years, and hand the country’s leadership to Anwar.

I am told there is a written agreement, but what’s more significant is that he has said so very clearly and in no uncertain terms, that it is going to be passed on to Anwar.

“I am confident that he is now more mature and much more experienced,” Dr Mahathir said at a gathering in a hotel with Malaysians living in Brunei.

He was responding to a question from a guest who voiced concern about history repeating itself on the choice of successor.

This should put an end to the conspiracy theories that PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali was his preferred choice as successor, or that Dr Mahathir intended to stay longer than two years and wouldn’t honour the agreement.

Even after Dr Mahathir’s open endorsement of Anwar as his replacement, there were still lingering doubts for some.

Former Umno MP Datuk Tawfik Tun Ismail said he was expe­riencing a déjà vu moment with the current political landscape, and with the banter between government and party leaders.

Referring to statements made by both Dr Mahathir and Anwar, Tawfik said the current back and forth was reminiscent of the time leading up to when Anwar was ousted from the government.

“Listening to what is said and what is denied, it’s almost like listening to what Anwar and Dr Mahathir said many, many years ago.

“I support you, you support me, and next day, you know one is killed,” he said, referring to Anwar’s sacking by Dr Mahathir in 1998.

In politics, a week can be a long time, what more two years.

However, age is not on Dr Mahathir’s side.

After all, he is already 93, so the punishing demands of the top job will take its toll on him.

He is truly doing a tremendous national service for Malaysia and we must be indebted to this incredible man for his tenacity. But he is also only human.

He needn’t take on this back-breaking job of cleaning up the government and economy when it will be easier for Anwar to do so when he takes over the reins instead.

Anwar has certainly grown much wiser and has mellowed, demonstrating patience and constraint, particularly with his constant urging for Dr Mahathir to be given room to decide.

But Anwar is not getting any younger either. He has waited long enough. He must get himself elected as a Member of Parliament soon.

To be known as a PM-in-waiting means nothing really, so he needs to be an MP before he can be appointed prime minister by the ruling coalition.

Let’s not picture this, but should something unfortunate happen to Dr Mahathir, Anwar cannot assume any role or position unless he is an MP.

There is nothing unusual because there is a process of succession planning, even at company level, and as the president of the party with the largest number of seats within the PH alliance, it’s only rightful Anwar succeed Dr Mahathir.

In just three months, the year will come to an end. The motion of succession will begin soon, and while fate decides everything, as early as next month, Anwar will take his earliest steps to fulfilling his destiny.


 

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