March 9, 2016
Mahathir-Pakatan Harapan Deal: Bordering on Political Naivety
by Cmdr (Rtd) S. Thayaparan
“If an offence come out of the truth, better is it that the offence come than that the truth be concealed.” – Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles
COMMENT: Opposition Leader Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail made a rather queer proposal recently. She said, “I proposed a truth and reconciliation commission be set up. This is because in order for the country to move forward, we must reach reconciliation. This is a small price to pay compared to a heavier one if the country refuses to change its course.”
Normally, such commissions are proposed after the fact and one of the by-products of such commissions is amnesty. I suppose it is more carrot than the stick approach. Public mea culpas apparently do wondrous things for the souls of those who were part of the system but very little for those abused by the system.
Furthermore the goals of such commissions is (seeking) the truth and make no mistake: truth in this instance is not a soothing balm but has a cauterising effect. While the Opposition leader may feel that it is “small price” to pay, this entirely depends on who is paying the price.
In a piece about deaths in custody, I explained my scepticism of these so-called commissions. “I’m sceptical of truth and reconciliation commissions for reasons which are beyond the scope of this piece, but I often wonder how a commission like this would play out in this context.
“What would they reveal? Malaysians are prone to conspiracy theories and who could blame us? A muzzled press and the constant shadow plays that are a part of our lives are conducive to a particular mindset that sees tendrils of connections where none exist.
“How would we as a nation react to the banal evil that confronts us in these proceedings? How would certain communities react when the truth of racial profiling as standard operating procedure is exposed to the harsh glare of the truth?”
In addition, what is there to discover or reconcile with the 1MDB scandal? The scandal has ruptured the Malay polity. The Najib refuseniks led by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad have decalred war on the UMNO Baru establishment he created and has joined forces with the so-called progressive forces of this country to dethrone (Prime Minister) Najib (Abdul Razak).
There is hardly any need for Najib to acknowledge his guilt or repentance or even the need for amnesty because, if Najib is dethroned, Umno exacts its own retribution. There is nothing anyone can do about it except control the narrative or make wide-ranging systemic changes if there is a realignment of power in Putrajaya and the political will to carry out such changes.
Shameful ‘Operation Lalang’
However, there are other shameful, forgotten incidents in our history that need reconciliation, especially considering the political personalities involved and the reality that UMNO has been a somewhat legitimately elected government.
An example of this would be the shameful ‘Operation Lalang’. To recap with acknowledgement to Aliran: “The more serious event involving the direct abuse of human rights occurred in 1987. Just the year before there was yet another patent abuse of human rights in the form of the Memali incident. The Oct 27 political crackdown on opposition leaders and social activists known by its police code name, ‘Operation Lalang’ (weeding operation) saw the infamous arrest of 106 persons under the ISA and the revoking of the publishing licences of two dailies, The Star and the Sin Chew Jit Poh and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan.
“As this event is possibly the most significant in Malaysian political history since the May 13, 1969 ethnic riots, it bears some recounting.
“The political developments which brought this second largest ISA swoop in Malaysian history (exceeded only by the number detained during the May 13 riots) were sparked ostensibly by mounting political tensions having strong racial overtones.
“According to the White Paper explaining the arrests, various groups who had played up ‘sensitive issues’ and thus created ‘racial tension’ in the country had exploited the government’s liberal and tolerant attitude. This racial tension made the arrests necessary and further, forced the government to act ‘swiftly and firmly’ to contain the situation (as cited in AI, 1988: 10).”
Please keep in mind that the Mahathir regime used this incident to further erode human rights in Malaysia, tightened existing restrictive laws and demonised a community who, by his own admission, had saved his political career.
Dr. Kua Kia Soong’s piece on the so-called Citizens’ Decalration got a frosty reception. Kua (pic), who was detained under the operation, has always been a passionate advocate for social and political reform. He has never been afraid to speak the truth to the powers-that-be, which is why he ended doing a stint under the ISA.
Of patriotism, Kua wrote: “Patriotism is indeed a ‘terrible’ thing – when the Irish use the adjective ‘terrible’ they mean something equivalent to ‘awesome’ rather than ‘contemptible’. While under detention his patriotism is tangible when he relates – ‘while in detention, my wife and I made the decision to change our six-year-old son’s British passport to a Malaysian one since otherwise, he would have to leave the country with his mother every two months to have it stamped.
When some of my camp inmates heard about this they exclaimed: ‘What! You mad ah? As soon as we’re released, we’ll be leaving this country! You crazy lah, giving up his British passport for a Malaysian one!’
“Several of these Operation Lalang jailbirds have flown and good luck to them. Patriotism is not something that you can foist on people. People make choices according to what they have experienced, especially in today’s globalised world. They certainly love the country where they were born and grew up but alas, the country does not seem to love them in return but instead robbed them of their precious freedom.”
But is there really any need to revisit these historical incidents or are they not part of the whole truth and reconciliation package? Have we moved on and those left behind are those unlucky few who have felt the wrath of the state?
The reality is, those same opposition leaders and activists who were detained under the ISA are now leading the charge to reform the system and this is a good thing. However, the truth doesn’t care about what we do now, only how we do it and what we did.
During the run-up to the Kajang election, the role of Anwar Ibrahim in this despicable operation was brought up by UMNO and its propaganda divisions. Indeed even Mahathir claimed that Anwar had played a “key role” in the operation.
However, as reported by the Malay Mail under the headline ‘Guan Eng absolves Anwar of Ops Lalang role’, the Chief Minister of Penang was reported to have said: “My detention order, like those for DAP leaders such as Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang, was signed by Tun Dr Mahathir. Among the reasons for my detention without trial under the ISA was that I had defended Chinese education” and that Anwar was repentant.
I have no idea how to reconcile such sentiments. We should be careful when opening doors to our past. Who knows what will spill out? Being Malaysian is being guilty of something. We are all touched.
The best way to reconcile is by dismantling those mechanism that define us as the “Other” such as Article 153 (of the federal constitution) and policies that promote the idea of Malay-Muslim hegemony.
That is true reformasi and the way forward that acknowledges the past.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.