[nasional_list] [ppiindia] The changing face of Malaysian politics

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**http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/4841580.stm

Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 12:49 GMT  


      The changing face of Malaysian politics  
            By Jonathan Kent 
            BBC, Kuala Lumpur  


      Recently the daughter of a former prime minister of Malaysia compared the 
fate of Muslim women to black South Africans under apartheid. And senior police 
officers received a public dressing-down by their chief for a lack of awareness 
of human rights. But Jonathan Kent is keen to put on record that, behind the 
headlines, lurks another, different, Malaysia. 

             
            Nik Aziz Nik Mat has controversial views about women 
      On a good day I reckon I have the best job in the world. 

      It gives me an excuse to talk to people from every walk of life in 
Malaysia. 

      I have interviewed prime ministers and religious leaders and businessmen, 
but that also means spending inordinate amounts of time in smart residencies 
and marble dressed hotels and that is not the Malaysia I love. 

      There is a modest wooden house next to the mosque in Kampung Melaka. 

      The green paint is peeling and the door hinges could use a spot of oil. 
But it is home to Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the elderly chief minister of the state of 
Kelantan and the spiritual leader of Malaysia's conservative Islamic opposition 
party PAS. 

      Nik Aziz studied at the same religious school as all but one of the 
leaders of Afghanistan's Taleban. 

      In the past he has declared that wearing make-up can invite rape, that 
the state should offer jobs to ugly women because pretty ones can find 
husbands, and that TV sport shows featuring skimpily clad women should be 
banned. 

      But if you are picturing an irascible boggle-eyed firebrand think again. 

            He [Nik Aziz] may believe that I am going to burn in hell but he is 
always charming and welcoming, and there is always a mischievous sparkle in his 
eye 
           

      Nik Aziz embodies the deep-rooted gentility that is one of the defining 
characteristics of Malay culture. 

      He may believe that I am going to burn in hell but he is always charming 
and welcoming, and there is always a mischievous sparkle in his eye. 

      And however uncompromising his pronouncements, he always ends them by 
saying: "But that is just what I, an old man, believe. You must decide for 
yourselves." 

      It is a humility he shares with Malaysia's Prime Minister, Abdullah 
Badawi, a man whose heart belongs to the country's small towns and villages 
where decency can still prevail. 

      'Quiet dignity' 


      Halfway up the Cameron Highlands road, down a blink-and-you-miss-it 
turning, through a ramshackle village, across a river and through the forest, 
is another small home. 

      It belongs to Zaini, a member of one of Malaysia's indigenous communities 
collectively known as the orang asli. 

      It is a hut made of bamboo and thatched with palm leaves. The air flows 
though the slatted floor and it is perfectly cool even in the tropical heat. 

      Zaini brings pineapple from the field outside and you have never tasted 
fruit so sweet. 

      The orang alsi are defined by the land. Their relationship with it is 
spiritual as well as material. 

      And though nearly 50 years after independence Malaysia is yet to give 
most of its indigenous people ownership of their ancestral land, they struggle 
on with quiet dignity. 

      Indeed dignity is a quality I associate with many of the poorest 
Malaysians. 

      The rubber tappers, the farmers, the tea pickers, the hunter gatherers. 
They raise their families, put food on their tables, eke out the little money 
they have with great stoicism and hope for a better future. 

      'Extraordinary' food 

             
            Some dishes are more exotic than others at the kopitiam 
      In Pulau Tikus on Penang Island there is a coffee shop - I forget its 
name - what locals call a kopitiam, in the hokkien Chinese dialect. 

      It is old and not particularly clean, its tables and chairs are plastic 
and the food is extraordinary only in the way that much of the food in Malaysia 
is extraordinary. 

      They do a few dishes and they do them well. This is the kind of place I 
meet up with friend or interviewees and where they ask the key Malaysian 
questions. 

      "Can you take spicy ah?" They push small bowls of hot chillies towards me 
and look coy. 

      "Spicy, no problem," I'll say and pop a chilli padi in my mouth. 

      "You can take belacan [dried shrimp paste]?" they ask. 

      "Belecan oso," I reply, "and petai." 

      Petai are crunchy beans with a metallic flavour whose essence comes back 
to haunt one hours or even days after they have been eaten. 

      They look impressed. 

            These last two years the quiet Malaysians have started to speak up 
           

      "What about durian?" Durian is a fruit the taste of which has been 
described as like eating cheese off a dead body. 

      "Aiyoh," I say "durian cannot," and screw up my face. 

      At this point everyone will laugh. 

      Political awakening 

      This kopitiam is the favourite of Lim Kean Chye. The doyen of Penang 
lawyers, 86-years-old and sharp as a pin. 

      I ask him what has changed here during his lifetime. 

      "Nothing," he says. And of course it has not. 

      The noodles are the same, the local coffee, the chatter as people meet 
friends and eat. 

             
            Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister in October 2003 
      But then he tells me of the old days when doors were left unlocked, 
bullock carts were parked on Northam Road and there was always a free cup of 
tea for the rickshaw pullers. 

      There is a nation of quiet Malaysians out there. 

      Recently I recorded five from very different ethnic, religious and 
political backgrounds debating police reform, something I think they may have 
been too scared to do under the old premier, Mahathir Mohamad. 

      But these last two years the quiet Malaysians have started to speak up. 

      And though the braying benches of parliamentarians who call one another 
monkeys or racists warn that public debate will lead to race war, disorder and 
strife, the Malaysians I meet can thrash out the issues and get along with one 
another just fine. 

      And with a quiet Malaysian like Abdullah Badawi at the helm perhaps their 
time has come. 

      From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 25 March, 2006 at 
1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service 
transmission times. 



     


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]



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