July 4, 2010

World Cup Project: Gol?

Posted in Malaysia, Outside Malaysia, Tricia's Writings at 4:39 pm by egalitaria

Amir Muhammad and team always seem to have some project or other up their sleeve. I appreciate their creativity in a Malaysian society that is just too willing to go with the flow, without any initiative on new and fresh ideas. So their project Gol? is yet another addition, a breath of fresh air to the stale rot, I mean, political condition, of Malaysia. They’ve gathered authors to write on their experiences and thoughts whilst watching the 2010 World Cup being staged in South Africa, from local mamak stalls and such. It’s been interesting to observe the variety of writing styles and content of each author.

I was invited to contribute a piece on the last Quarter Final match, between Paraguay and Spain. Yes, Spain won. And yes, my piece lacks football punditry (I am not a football pundit), and is bone-dry as it analyses history and policy somewhat. But here it is for your consumption.

Paraguay vs. Spain

by Tricia Yeoh

The world is flat, and so is the football field. But the international flavour of any World Cup offers other historical sub-themes that are unseen at face value. Here you have the gathering of once-upon-a-time colonisers and their former colonies, put together in the spirit of apparent sporting unity and brotherhood. Never mind that their forefathers once had you under their thumb for centuries, putting you in a position of subordination. No, the World Cup erases all national memory. Come to the pitch and think about the game. Nothing else matters.

Or does it?

This psychological love-hate relationship of coloniser-colony is something Malaysians have equally struggled with. The British left us with infrastructure, schools, language, and a legal and constitutional framework of governance, which were positive contributions. But they also initiated a divide-and-rule system, conveniently classifying our wide variety of ethnicities into categories of ‘race’, which we have inherited today, causing us to think of Malaysians as largely homogeneous definitions of “Malay, Chinese, Indian”. We have not been able to rise above this particular negative effect the British left behind. In fact, this tragedy and its political consequences may be the singular cause for all other problems faced, including Malaysia’s inability to shine in international football.

This quarter-finals pitted Spain against its former colony, Paraguay. Although Paraguay achieved its independence relatively early compared to other Spanish conquests in South America, almost 300 years of authoritarian Spanish rule had a detrimental effect on their people, in terms of poverty, lack of access to education and undemocratic practices. Paraguay would thereafter succumb to dictatorship and civil unrest, leading it to a struggling economy which still exists today, with about 60% of its people living in poverty.

But their fighting spirit at Ellis Park tonight bore no resemblance to these conditions. Although the first half ended with no goals on either side, Paraguay showed its brute confidence and bravado in pushing forward, never giving up despite their disadvantaged position. They were, after all, up against the team that topped the bookmakers’ odds in winning the World Cup (that is, before Spain’s first game).

Read the rest of this entry »

November 19, 2008

What is a Nation?

Posted in Malaysia, Outside Malaysia, Tricia's Writings at 3:20 pm by egalitaria

Today’s column at the Nut Graph:

What is a nation?
19 Nov 08 : 9.00AM

By Tricia Yeoh

MY recent trip to the US was to primarily observe their historic presidential election, but it triggered a deeper question about what a nation really is. A Polish immigrant to the States shared an intriguing anecdote with me, saying, “America is the only country where you can convert a new migrant into a full patriot within five years.”

Is there some secret ingredient that gives such deep meaning to the concept of citizenship in some countries, while in others migrant communities exist for hundreds of years but are still rejected? Both America and Malaysia are multiracial countries — what makes national identity so strong in one yet so weak in the other?

Malaysia is a multiplicity of factors, and to comprehend it one must be a careful purveyor of religion, ethnicity, culture, language, history and economics. The same goes in analysing any reactions, verbal or otherwise, to events taking place away from our shores.

African American voters rejoice at the result of the
US presidential election (Pic by Tricia Yeoh)

For example, there has been a flurry of responses to Barack Obama’s victory as the first African American president-elect of the US. While some lamented the impossibility of Malaysia ever selecting a racial minority as prime minister, others were criticised for getting carried away by American fervour.

In addition, Dr Chandra Muzaffar said it was precisely because Obama had assimilated into American society that he could succeed, not because he genuinely represented the typical African American citizen. He said a Malaysian equivalent would be one who assimilates into Malay culture, implying that only this would make such an individual suited for the top position in the country.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad then said that anyone who is “bangsa Malaysia” could be prime minister — what characterises bangsa Malaysia was not elaborated upon.

Other recent events include attacks against Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s comments about the need to discard ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), and the appointment of a non-Malay to head the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). Both issues dealt with ethnicity.

In sum, these reactions belie a nation that does not quite understand what it means to be a nation.

Read more here.

November 5, 2008

Obama Wins! Democrats in Tulsa

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 3:41 pm by egalitaria

Jubilation at the Democratic Party Watch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after Barack Obama is officially announced as the 44th Elected President of the United States of America 2008.

Democrats in Tulsa Celebrate

Democrats in Tulsa Celebrate


Minority in Republican Oklahoma

Unadulterated Joy. Democrats: Minority in Republican Oklahoma

The Republican and Democratic Party Watch environments were completely different. Republicans had suits on, women with pearl necklaces, whilst Democrats had people of all sorts – green hair, playing with balloons.

Obama’s unprecented win, 2008 🙂 More to come..

November 4, 2008

US Voting Step-by-Step

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 4:57 pm by egalitaria

Election Station in Creek County

Election Station in Creek County

Early voting in small little Creek County is in full gear. Their polling stations are a far cry from the schools that we use. Instead, it is housed in a cozy little office of the County Creek Election Board. Oklahoma has the advantage of having a unified voting system, which means all 77 counties use the same method. The next series of photos shows how a person actually votes in this particular State.

Voter Registration

Voter Registration

Voter Registration can run all the way up to 24 days before the election.

Signing up, Collecting Ballot and Pencil

Signing up, Collecting Ballot and Pencil

They bring their voter cards, sign up at the desk to collect their respective ballots and pencils.

Voters can opt for Straight Voting

Voters can opt for Straight VotingIn some States, they have the option of voting "straight" Republican or Democrat. But if they decide to Vote Straight Democrat but a Republican individual candidate elsewhere, the individual vote supercedes the Straight Vote. (Don't ask me why the Republicans have an eagle and Democrats a rooster - apparently they've always had these logos since 1907 in Oklahoma).Filling out Ballots

They then fill out their long ballot sheets in little booths like these.

Inserting Ballots into Machines to be read

Inserting Ballots into Machines to be read

Oklahoma uses a machine that will read the ballots immediately. If there is a mistake in the ballot, the machine will shoot it out to be redone, or for the voter to take a fresh ballot. Mistakes in other candidates does not mean the correctly filled out items will be disregarded. The information is captured in a data pack, which is uploaded onto a computer, and sent to the State Election Board, the coordinating body of all County Election Boards.

Again, important to note that all States have their respective Election Boards. There is a Federal Election Commission, but they play a minimal role. In the past they have ensured that the principle of non-discrimination is lived up to, within the State Election Boards (especially in the Southern states where blacks were not allowed to be registered in the 1970s).

One problem that needs to be resolved is the inconsistency of voting rules across the country. There would be major resistance to the introduction of a consolidated methodology, however, since states value their jurisdictions and changing would symbolise greater Federal power. Laws also stipulate that Social Security numbers cannot be used in conjunction with electoral rolls – Social Security is controlled Federally, whereas electoral rolls are held by the State. As a result, there may be some confusion, even in this election.

As a result of the 2000 Florida confusion, it is even more imperative that systems are better sorted, especially in important swing states. Important swing states to look out for: Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Indiana, Minnesota. Coming up tomorrow..

Operating in Hostile Territory: Democrats in Oklahoma

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 4:18 pm by egalitaria

Coalitions for Obama

Coalitions for Obama

Being in Tulsa, Oklahoma means being in Republican-territory. Which made the trip to the Democratic Headquarters of Tulsa all the more interesting, as we explored the strategies employed by them in convincing citizens to go Blue.

Strangely enough, Oklahoma – officially becoming a city in 1907 – was originally a populist state, without political leanings on either end. It then became a straight Democrat state, although these were still conservative. It was only in the late 1960’s that the socially conservative message was claimed by the Republicans. Some rather strange features of Oklahoma are that it has more registered Democrats than Republicans, Democrats tend to vote Republicans for the top ticket but Democratic in the lower tickets. The biggest battle to watch here is whether the Democrats can regain control of the State Senate. Being one of the most conservative States in America, this will be a fair indication of the country’s political leanings.

Jed Green, Oklahoma State Director, Democratic Party

Jed Green, Oklahoma State Director, Democratic Party

Jed Green, Oklahoma State Director of the Democratic Party, spoke to us in what I considered one of the most impassioned mini-speeches I had heard on the trip. The Democrats have had a fair share to deal with in Oklahoma, with yardsigns being burned, torn up, the words “Anti-Christ” painted on them. He spoke with deep conviction about how some consider themselves to be part of a moral majority, many Republicans genuinely believing (without necessarily stating it) they are part of a holy war. An extremely down to earth guy on the street, he had well-developed views, asking questions of us and perceptions of the Middle East towards the States.

Operating in hostile territory, they had to adopt a strategy of visibility. The more signs the better. The “Pick The Winner” effect: the escalation of Obama supporters based on their belief that others are also voting him in.

The last time Oklahoma voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate was in 1964. It is highly doubtful they’ll do so this time, but analysing its popular vote after tomorrow will be interesting. Republicans don’t even have an office in the entire Oklahoma State, which shows how confident they are of winning.

I’ll be stationed first at the Republican Party Watch, and then proceeding to the Democratic Watch during Election Night! Watch out for a Radio interview I’m doing in KL, probably around the time the results are out. Wednesday morning Malaysian Time, at 89.9FM.

Final Pre-Election Electoral Map

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 2:40 pm by egalitaria

This is the latest pre-election electoral map, and it looks like a certain Obama win, unless the polling is seriously wrong, as Nate Silver says in the video below. Things are going to be picking up tomorrow morning. These are excellent sites to visit for changing Electoral Maps:

Each website regularly updates its map. This is what the maps looked like at 1000 GMT on Monday 3 November.

November 3, 2008

US Foreign Policy if Obama Wins

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 4:30 pm by egalitaria

David Ignatius, author of Body of Lies
David Ignatius, author of Body of Lies

Granted, foreign policy has not been focused upon very much in the later throes of the Presidential Campaign since the Economic Crisis hit. Although people assumed that Iraq and Afghanistan would feature strongly in the campaign, this held true only in its initial stages.

David Ignatius, Associate Editor of The Washington Post, spoke to us last week to comment on how US foreign policy may shift should Obama win on Tuesday. (Ignatius is also the author of 6 novels, the latest of which being Body of Lies, which became a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe).
Although it sounds very much like the sloganeering Obama has utilised to the highest degree, Ignatius agrees that should Obama take the highest office, “The World Will Change”.
He was however fair to McCain, who has stood up to Bush on the issue of torture amongst others.
Staffing itself will not change significantly, but if there is a theme that can be attached to foreign policy, it would be talking with the enemy, especially with Syria and Iran. Second, there will be increased cooperation with China, and third, greater bilateral relations will be established with Russia.
Although it is true that either President would value the worth of better US-China ties, it is unclear which would be the better outcome for China per se. Speaking to one of the delegates from China here, it seems that should the Democratic party adopt greater protectionist policies on behalf of its own country, there will be more restrictive measures within the free trade agreement vis-a-vis China. In order to shield local markets and reverse unemployment trends across the country, policies may shift outsourcing labour away from China.
On a whole, Southeast Asia will not feature prominently in either Presidency, since they will be spending most of their time grappling with Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea (nuclear weapons), Iraq, Russia (Putin), Mexico (the impending financial crisis that will ripple through the States as well), negotiating the Middle East Peace Process, and the Six Party Talks. The US will need to reach domestic consensus on the issue of International Climate Change before December 2009, which will keep them busy.
Personally, it is foreign positioning rather than strict foreign policy that will change the way the world looks at the United States of America. During one of our conversations, a Tunisian colleague said that Obama’s win may even validate all that the US of A has been droning on about all this while, about democracy and its ability to champion freedoms all across the world. If anything, it is his psychological stance that may influence the way the rest of Government will operate.
However, it is wise to remember that the President of the US is merely the Head of the Executive, and will still need to function with Congress and the rest of American mechanics and agencies (many of whose heads are likely to be maintained). If Congress gets a landslide Democrat win along with Obama’s victory, perhaps then there may be a sliver of opportunity for some policy shifts.
If America is able to articulate its position as a friend, a collaborator, a joint-worker-for-a-better-world, as opposed to its presently perceived position of superior saviour of the world, Big Brother with lots of money, enemy of anyone who disagrees with them, and so on (you get the idea), this will augur well for its future relations with the rest of the world.
Someone asked today, why is there so much interest in the US Elections?
I answered, because every decision America makes has a profound yet direct impact on the rest of us… whether we like it or not.
That is true, and that is why I am here.

Oklahoma: Republican Heartland

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 3:58 pm by egalitaria

Tulsa, the 2nd largest city in Oklahoma

Tulsa, the 2nd largest city in Oklahoma

Moving farther away from large cosmopolitan cities, I arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma this afternoon. It is practically summer here! Ditching winter coats and scarves, donning sunglasses, we were greeted by a friendly shuttle driver with whom I had an immediate political conversation. This man was particularly impressive because he was an avid reader and thinker. He had very strong political bias against Obama, saying that he was worried “Obama wouldn’t have had the international experience necessary, nor the international outlook” taken for Presidency. I proffered an alternative views, asking whether Obama’s early years abroad (Indonesia) would have an effect on his international outlook. His strong Republican stance replied that McCain would be the best man for the job.

At the Obama rally in Pueblo, Colorado yesterday, I asked some young high school kids what they thought of Obama. This is their reply below. (they also say hi to Malaysia here)

The two videos are typical of each party campaign’s criticisms of each other. The Democrats criticise the Republicans for the following reasons:

  • Republicans are myopic and insular;
  • Republicans are conservative;
  • Republicans are traditional and cater to the older people

Likewise, there are severe criticisms on the other end. Republicans criticise Democrats for the following:

  • Democrats are too young and unable to reason or analyse properly;
  • Democrats are too liberal and open;
  • Democrats are willing to think about leaving Iraq and adopting open border policies, dialogue without pre-conditions.

This was an appropriate introduction to South-Central/South American political leanings. Oklahoma, which means “red people” because it has the largest Native American population of any state, has gone for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1968 and has one of the most conservative congressional delegations in the country. In Oklahoma’s Republican primary McCain secured most of the state’s 38 delegates. At the end of September, polls showed McCain holding a 2-to-1 lead over Obama. Interestingly, McCain has 95% of Republican support, and 41% of Democratic support in Oklahoma.

Aside from the Presidential candidates, the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives will be up for election, and half of the State Senate, currently evenly divided between the Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps one thing I can look out for is whether the State Senate can swing back to the Democrats.

Over the next few days I will be meeting with local churches, campaign offices and of course – finally – the polling booths themselves on Tuesday 4th November!

Democrat & Republican HQs, Colorado

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 1:47 pm by egalitaria

We were brought to both the Democrat and Republican Campaign Headquarters of Denver, Colorado.

Democratic Headquarters Colorado

Democratic Headquarters Colorado

At the Democrat HQ, we were briefed by Pat Waak, Chair of the Colorado Democratic Party. Experienced in advising on campaigns, during her tenure Colorado maintained its Democratic majorities in the State House and Senate, and added a US House of Reps seat, plus electing a Democratic Governor and state treasurer. The state has increasingly become more pro-Democrat over recent years.

Democratic Campaigners Working Hard

Democratic Campaigners Working Hard

This was the strategy adopted by the Democrat party in the state of Colorado:

  1. Just as Obama’s national campaign of “every State counts”, ensuring 50 (+1) different campaigns for all its states, it adopted an “every County counts” approach, targeting all 64 counties in Colorado.
  2. Targeted the population all along the north-south highway.
  3. Get the young people involved!
  4. Take advantage of the fact that the Republicans themselves have been unhappy about their own party over Iraq, the Federal Deficit, and the extreme position of Republicans “taking their party away from them”.
  5. Focus on the 4 key issues of the state: healthcare, education, economy and the environment.
  6. Use unique “GOTV” (Get Out The Vote) techniques.
  7. Technology: Tracking responses to opponent messaging, tracking reports, have a team to do opposition research.
  8. Get lawyers out on Election Day to monitor any possible voter fraud. They have 3000 lawyers to do the job.
  9. Use coalitions: labour union, disabled groups, ethnic specific (African American, Latin American), gay-lesbian.
Republican Headquarters Colorado

Republican Headquarters Colorado

Political Director Ryan Call of the Colorado Republican Party met with us. He is also campaign manager for Bob Schaffer, running for Senator seat. The discussion centred mainly around Schaffer’s messaging strategy, which in all likelihood will be influenced by national-level McCain messaging. During the Mid-Term elections (this is in between Presidential elections where Americans vote for Congressmen or State level reps), local issues usually drive how people vote. However, national issues become more of a priority during Presidential elections and particularly so this time.

Some quick reactions to the differences between the two campaign headquarters of Denver:

  1. Party workers/volunteers at the Democrat HQ were of mixed ages and ethnicities (black, Asians) whereas those at the Republican HQ were all white.
  2. All volunteers at the Democrat HQ had a laptop each, working furiously on them. I spotted perhaps only two laptops in the Republican HQ.
  3. The volunteers at the Democrat HQ practically swamped us with enthusiastic greetings and chucked dozens of stickers and badges to us; the Republican HQ had these on the tables which we picked up ourselves and were warm and friendly but only when spoken to.
Republicans Making Phonecalls to "Get Out The Vote"

Republicans Making Phonecalls to "Get Out The Vote"

November 2, 2008

US Election Ballots: Confusing!

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged , at 11:49 pm by egalitaria

Connect the Lines

Ballots in Colorado: Connect the Lines

Ballots all over the US are different, because State laws have different laws. In fact, in the state of Colorado itself there are about 9 different kinds of voting. The one displayed above, for example, is one where you need to connect the arrows together for the candidate of your choice.

We were astonished at how complicated a ballot actually is. This one is two pages long, because not only are they voting for President, they are voting for the State Senator (this elections, one third of the Senate is up for election), State Congressman, plus their State Legislature (the equivalent of the Congress but at State level). Aside from candidates, they also vote on initiatives – this year there are 10 on the ballot. This includes voting on amendments to the State constitution (on abolishing affirmative action policy on the basis of race, gender etc, amongst others).

The way you get to select what goes into the ballot to be voted on, is this: There must be sufficient signatories to a particular cause, which goes up then to the Secretary of State. If there are enough signatures, the initiative gets to be on the ballot. This is a perfect example of bottoms up participatory democracy, in which citizens themselves truly decide on what they desire. Some argue though, that it is a complete waste of time because this is why they elect their representatives (they also elect their School Board members here, who determine education policy).

To make matters worse, this ballot was two pages long and involves legal jargon that is completely difficult to understand, unless you have a “voter’s guide” (which the League of Women Voters thankfully prepares for people all across the States). This guide tells you the history and background of each initiative voters have the power to change.

Long and Complicated Ballot Sheets

Long and Complicated Ballot Sheets

 There is also the issue of who chooses which name comes first on the ballot. If you see this one, John McCain and Palin’s names are first, followed by Obama and Biden. Again, this varies from state to state but in this particular case the Commission would decide – then bringing into question whether there should be actually equal numbers of ballots with either name preceding the other, or not. A former State election commissioner spoke to us about the concept of neutrality when in office.

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