Mahathir-Pakatan Harapan Deal: Bordering on Political Naivety

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.”

Malay-Muslim Hegemony

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.

Prompt and Concrete Measures Needed, says Malaysian Bar

May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya and Bangladeshi Boat People Crisis: Call for Prompt Action


The Malaysian Bar is appalled by the ongoing saga of the fate be- falling boatloads of thousands of people heading for our shores. It is a humanitarian catastrophe. The tragedy of suffering and even loss of life — through drowning and fights for survival on board boats left to drift on the high seas — is heart-rending.

 Boat People 1Regardless of the identity and status of the people on board these many boats, the first order of priority must be to prevent further suffering and loss of human life, bearing in mind that there are pregnant women, women who are nursing infants, and children, on board the boats. This means the Malaysian Government must allow these boats to land, set up reception centres to receive the people on board, document them, and provide them with basic amenities. There is a precedent for doing this, in the way Malaysia treated the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s.

The Malaysian Bar acknowledges that some of the people on the boats may well be nationals of Bangladesh looking for better economic prospects than those available in their home country. They will have to be identified and, if necessary, repatriated. There are proper channels for dealing with the recruitment of foreign labour and other forms of legitimate migration from Bangladesh.

Be that as it may, there are also allegations that some of these nationals of Bangladesh on the boats have actually paid human traffickers to assist them to leave.This must be investigated and, if confirmed, the human traffickers must be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law. Moreover, these victims of human trafficking should be accorded proper protection under our laws, including under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007. However, many amongst the people on the boats are from the Rohingya community, fleeing from Myanmar due to religious persecution.

While it may seem unneighbourly to accuse a fellow ASEAN Government of wrongful conduct, it cannot be disputed that the Rohingyas have not been granted citizenship in Myanmar, thereby rendering them stateless.  Further, they have been deprived of all political rights and systematically displaced from their traditional places of abode.

Regrettably, Malaysia has indirectly contributed to the exacerbation of this problem involving the Rohingyas, by repeatedly ignoring the matter for many years. The misguided and undue respect for the hallowed principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a fellow ASEAN member state has meant that Myanmar has been allowed to pursue a domestic policy of persecution of the Rohingyas, and even to dispute the historical evidence of their presence in areas in present-day Myanmar. Malaysia and other ASEAN nations have the responsibility to protect the Rohingyas so as not to compound the issue of ethnic cleansing that is being allegedly carried out by Myanmar.

The Malaysian Bar welcomes the fact that the Malaysian Government has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with the Governments of Indonesia and Thailand to discuss the situation.  However, the Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to do more than just convene discussions, and to do it quickly. It is critical to address this issue head-on, and Malaysia as the Chair of ASEAN must take the lead and show the way forward.  The fact that Myanmar is reported as not being willing to attend tomorrow’s meeting with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia means that the process already begins with a huge handicap, namely the refusal of the country of origin to participate in a process of finding a solution.

Boat People 2

Ironically, 2015 is the onset of the much-touted ASEAN Economic Community.  ASEAN cannot only be about the rich and well-off, the educated and the employed.  An ASEAN community that has no room for, and which says nothing about, the poor and the downtrodden is a sad shadow of a caring community.  The manner in which this crisis is dealt with will define ASEAN, and a failure to satisfactorily address the problem will jeopardise the very integrity of ASEAN.

Malaysians are, by nature, a generous people.  Blessed with relative peace and prosperity, we have reached out in the past and organised flotillas to assist the Palestinians, and have taken in Acehnese and Bosnian refugees fleeing persecution in their homeland. It is therefore somewhat perplexing that the same humanitarian spirit appears to be absent in the Malaysian Government’s response to the boatloads of Rohingyas coming to our shores.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to immediately engage with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here in Kuala Lumpur to put into place a system of receiving and registering this latest wave of boat people, and to find a place of transition where they can land and their claims for refugee status documented and determined, followed by either repatriation or resettlement.

As Malaysia is a member of the UN Security Council, we also call upon the Malaysian Government to move a resolution for intervention in this crisis of alleged ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas from Myanmar.  In the past, the UN Security Council had passed specific resolutions for intervention regarding Mali, Sudan and South Sudan.  It is timely as well for the Malaysian Government to consider enacting legislation that will grant recognition for refugees in Malaysia and give them legally-mandated protection and provision in line with international standards.  Further, Malaysia should also accede to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Myanmar Government to put an end to the stigma of “statelessness” and recognise the Rohingyas’ long-overdue right to citizenship.  This lies at the core of this crisis and unless it is addressed by Myanmar, the exodus of the Rohingyas is likely to continue unabated.

Finally, it is time for ASEAN to do away with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of an ASEAN member state.  What this crisis clearly shows is that what happens in a neighbouring country can, and often does, have cross-border implications.  Whether it is about the haze or human rights, it is plain for all to see that ASEAN’s aim to “prosper thy neighbour” must include intervening in situations in neighbouring countries that have the potential of affecting, even destabilising, the region as a whole.  It is myopic to pursue economic progress in ASEAN without seriously considering social and political reforms.

The Malaysian Bar recognises that this humanitarian crisis requires prompt and concrete legal solutions. The pain, suffering and loss of life off our shores must end.  It is time to stop the pretense and the piecemeal measures in this catastrophe, and to put in place a comprehensive and lasting solution. The Malaysian Bar stands ready to provide advice and assistance.

 Steven Thiru
President, Malaysian Bar
19 May 2015   

Time for ASEAN and the United Nations to act

May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh


Merhrom :Time for ASEAN and the United Nations to act

by Zafar Ahmad Abdul

The Rohingya ExodusThe Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) is deeply sad over the recent tragedy of thousands of boat people involving ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis.

This is proof that ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar are facing continuous systematic prosecutions from the Myanmar government. We face gross human rights violations by the state, we have become victims of genocide for generations and are left to die in horrible makeshift camps in our own homeland without food, water and medical supplies from the government.

Boat People 1 Due to horrible situation we face in our homeland, we take risks to flee the country to seek refuge in other countries. We feel very sad to hear that thousands of boat people are turned back to sea as the neighbouring countries are refusing to give protection to new asylum seekers.

Currently, an estimated 8,000 boat people are abandoned in the ocean and have nowhere to go. How long they can survive with little food, water and medicine? What will happen to them in the uncertain ocean? Death is on their way. They have already been more than two months in the ocean. They are starving and dehydrated and sick. There are large numbers of women and children in the boats.

From January to March 2015, an estimated 25,000 ethnic Rohingya and Bangladeshi became boat people. Thousands more ethnic Rohingyas will flee the country if Myanmar does not stop the prosecution on ethnic Rohingyas and recognise Rohingyas as citizens by law.

If ASEAN and the United Nations fail to resolve the Rohingya plight with Myanmar, the world will continue to see Rohingya boat people who risk their lives to seek refuge in other countries. It will become a catastrophe that the world cannot forget.

Boat People 2 We are very frustrated with the UN Human Rights Commissioner (UNHCR) as they are keeping quiet at this very critical time. Human lives are at risk but UNHCR remains quiet. We are talking about asylum seekers who are persons of concerns to UNHCR but what are they doing?UNHCR must play a vital role in the whole issue of Rohingya. We cannot see the role of UNHCR except renewing the UNHCR cards held by refugees as they are no longer registering newly-arrived Rohingya asylum seekers.

Boat People 3 Don’t we have the feeling to make a search and rescue first and later decide on how to resolve the issue? Don’t we have the feeling that lives must be saved first before we decide on the rest? Do we feel these boat people lives are very cheap and valueless? Don’t we have the feeling to see babies, children, women and elderly suffers along their way to seek refuge in other place? Don’t we realise how dangerous the way that they had gone through for the sake of their lives?We thank very much the Kelab Putra Satu Malaysia who have come forward to help the newly-arrived Rohingya asylum seekers. We really appreciate what you have done to help us since the conflict in 2012 in our country. We continuously look for your love and support for us.

We heard some people suggesting that aid be sent to the boat people in the ocean. This is a temporary help to them, but we cannot be sending food and water to them every day, for how long? A solution must be found.

Do we wait to search for dead bodies?

We do not know if these boats still have petrol. If the petrol is finished we do not know where they will arrive and how far they can go. Can we just wait and see what will happen to them? Do we wait to search for their dead bodies after their boats have sunk in the ocean? We appeal to ASEAN and other countries such as Australia to initiate search and rescue mission.

Boat People 4 Some ASEAN countries including Malaysia have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These two conventions apply regardless of nationality and immigration status. Therefore we urge the Malaysia and other ASEAN countries to give immediate protection to asylum seekers, especially women and children, as they are vulnerable.

We urge the ASEAN governments to ensure that that the boat people are rescued and be given treatment first before they die. Meanwhile, the ASEAN governments and the United Nations must meet immediately to find solutions to the Rohingya plight. The United Nations and the UNHCR specifically must intervene urgently as this involves the lives of asylum seekers who require international protection.

We hope very much that the Malaysian government will play its role as much as possible as chair of ASEAN  and member of the UN Security Council to help us.

We urge the United States government and other countries to give urgent protection and immediate documentation and resettlement to these victims of human trafficking under the Trafficking in Persons Act.

We urge UNHCR to step in and have a meeting with Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian government for the documentation process by both UNHCR and the respective governments.

We urge the United Nations to play a vital role to stop genocide towards ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar. Economic and political sanctions must be made on Myanmar in order to compel Myanmar to stop the genocide towards ethnic Rohingya who are the most prosecuted ethnic group in the world.

We urge the Myanmar government to come forward and attend the meeting in Bangkok to address the whole longstanding Rohingya plight.

We urge the ASEAN governments to crack down on human trafficking networks. All Agencies in ASEAN must work in a comprehensive framework to stop human trafficking. Stern action must be taken on human traffickers and their networks. In lights of this new development, a comprehensive action plan needs to be developed to curb human trafficking starting from the host country, transit and destination countries.

All ASEAN countries must be involved

We urge Malaysia as the chair of ASEAN to seek a specific meeting to discuss the issue. The meeting must involve all ASEAN countries as Rohingya boat people will arrive not only in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia but also in other ASEAN countries in future. Previously Rohingyas had arrived in Cambodia and Singapore.

We urge ASEAN and the United Nations to continuously pressure the Myanmar government to stop continuous persecution on ethnic Rohingya and recognise Rohingya as citizens under the 1982 Citizenship Law.

The Besieged Malaysia EmperorIn this very critical situation, Merhrom urges the United Nations Security Council, US government, British government, European Union, world leaders, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), ASEAN and other international communities to help.

We hope very much the meeting in Bangkok will find immediate and long-term solutions to the Rohingya plight.

ZAFAR AHMAD ABDUL GHANI is president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom).