Sunday, February 24, 2008

'Tis the silly season alright

The silly season of politics is here again. No, I’m not referring to Obama’s retort to Hillary Clinton when she decided to bash him for “plagiarizing speeches” – whatever that means. I thought politics is all about speeches, and making promises – albeit, some of them empty – and there is no “trademark” or “copyright” to ideas for speeches.

But I digress. What I am referring to is the coming Malaysian General election. Unless you’ve just made your way out of the jungle, after being lost for the last two weeks, you would’ve known that the 12th General Election is looming.

The silly season of Malaysian politics is all-year round, if you ask me. But it started in earnest, and began its full swing today when election candidates were nominated by their respective parties.

What better way to spend your Sunday morning than to slouch yourselves on the couch and watch the antics of the politicians who are up for nomination grinning broadly from ear to ear, waving frantically to supporters and potential voters.

Yes, they are all ever so anxious to project a nice and “ready to serve” image. Never mind if they have never been known to visit their constituencies and offer their service, let alone offer a smile to the very people that elected them in the first place!

But that’s all part of politics. The most important thing to bear in mind is that we voters have the choice. So, we’d better use our rights wisely.

Vote intelligently.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Turkey lifts the headscarf ban

After being subject to headscarf ban in universities since 1997, Turkish female university students are now free again to practice their religious rights.

But not after some fierce debates and street protests which even forced a general election to be held.

In the ensuing election, last August, the former Turkey Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was elected as the country's new president. That brought some hope (see blog earlier).

But it was only yesterday that Turkish President Abdullah Gul could sign into law constitutional amendments, which allow women to wear Islamic headscarves at universities.

It has been a long time coming. But better late then never. And it’s only the beginning. For headscarfs are still banned in state institution buildings, including the parliament.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Towards a livable and vibrant Putrajaya

What makes a city livable and vibrant? Or, more to the point, what does it take to make Putrajaya, the new Federal Government Administrative Centre, more livable and vibrant?

These were the key issues deliberated upon by participants to the Putrajaya Planning Seminar 2008 last Wednesday (wrote about it earlier here).

Planners like to think that they have all the answers. After all, didn't they plan the city in the first place?

But an interesting point which came out of the seminar is that, if anything, "livable" and "vibrant" are two very wide and subjective concepts. What planners believe would make Putrajaya livable and vibrant might just not fit in with what the stakeholders have in mind (in fact, even planners in the seminar hall could not agree amongst themselves what really constitute a "livable" and "vibrant" city).

We are not operating within the context of an authoritarian government, unfortunately. Otherwise we can impose policies willy-nilly from the top down. So, whether they like it or not, town planners would just have to swallow their pride and listen to the wishes of people. Feel the pulse of the city.

I am not advocating anarchy, of course. For planning by definition, and as a profession, is about getting some semblence of orderliness and organization of land use and activities in a city.

As regards Putrajaya, lest one forgets, the reason for its coming into being is to function as the Federal Government Administrative Centre. It is not like any other city in Malaysia. Never meant to be. Therefore a dignified presentation and an air of authority and orderliness is to be expected.

That being said, I also strongly believe that a town planner will have failed if the city he/she plans is lifeless. So the planners in Putrajaya really have their work cut out for them. They have to strike a delicate balance somewhere. And that could be their greatest challenge yet.

The proof of the planning is in the living. What good is a beautiful city if it has got no life and soul.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Barack Obama for President

I don't quite understand the American system of choosing candidates for presidential election. And, come to think of it, why should I care who the Americans want to have as their next president?

But this time around one hopeful candidate has managed to pique my interest. He is the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

To be sure, this graduate of the Harvard Law School is not the first African American to have come up this path of taking a shot at the American presidency. But his is so far the most realistic yet. For someone who can give Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, now that certainly is worth watching. Especially so when Hillary is fiercely supported by none other than 'Minder-in-Chief-cum-hubby, Bill Clinton himself.

Who ever gets nominated by the Democrats, and whether he or she eventually gets to be the next president, is up to the Americans to decide. And it wouldn't make much difference to us foreigners in terms of US international policy given the strong presence of the same old lobby groups hovering in the corridors of Capital Hill. For example, one can expect a blind and unconditional support for the regime in Israel to continue.

But at least if Obama does come into office, we can expect a breath of fresh air about Washington. I think we can look forward to a new angle of looking at things, and with it, some new approaches to handling matters - even with regards to international policies.

So, Barack Hussein Obama, you get my vote - for better or for worse.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Putrajaya Planning Seminar 2008

Seminar pamphlet

Last Friday, the 1st of February, was FT Day.

For the uninitiated, FT Day stands for Federal Territories Day. So it has been for the last 34 years when Kuala Lumpur was handed over by the Government of Selangor to the Federal Government on February 1, 1974.

Since then, KL has been joined by Labuan (1984) and Putrajaya (2001) to become Federal Territories.

In recent years, FT Day celebration has gone from strength to strength in terms of scale and grandiosity.

The kick-off for this year’s celebration was held yesterday 2nd February, at the Cheras football stadium. It was launched by the PM, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the celebration will run for one whole month, culminating in a closing ceremony to be held in Labuan at the end of February.

There is a long list of events lined up for the one month. Most will be in the form of entertainment-cum-community events such as a Royal Gala Concert, Pesta Sukan Rakyat, and fisihing competition. Others will include a Kite Festival and a Nature Photography expedition.

One event which stands out quite different in its nature and “entertainment value” is a seminar to be held in Putrajaya.

Yes, in conjunction with the FT Day celebration the authority in charge of Putrajaya is organizing a seminar entitled “Creating a Livable and Vibrant Putrajaya”.

The seminar, to be held on 13 and 14 February, is the clearest indication yet that, after slightly over ten years in existence, the city authority is dead serious in making sure that the city they have planned and developed really does work.

And the vibrancy and degree of livability of a city is the surest measure of a city’s success – especially for a newly-planned and developed one, like Putrajaya.

This seminar is therefore very timely. It could bring forth valuable input to the authority, as well as, developers involved in Putrajaya to set the new city on the road to further glory.