Abandon immature rhetoric of our past

Press Clipping

I REFER to “A delicate balance” (Conversations, July 8) and was interested in what Tan Sri Yuen Yuet Leng had to say about the current issues faced by our country, having worked with his predecessor, the late Tan Sri “Jimmy” Khoo Chong Kong, who was assassinated by communists in Ipoh. I worked with Khoo in Kuching where I was the resident naval officer and a member of the State Executive Security Committee. My comments here are that of a concerned voter.

Who are these outside “interferers” with different “intentions” that Yuen referred to? Component parties of the Barisan National have made it clear that they believe Bersih 2.0 is in collusion with the Opposition. Any objective voting member of the public is probably aware of this, since the Opposition has brought up these issues before in their ceramah and in parliament. The only organisation that has made threats or provocative statements is that headed by Ibrahim Ali and his ilk who have maliciously threatened one community. Sadly, it was even claimed that the Bersih 2.0 chairman is a threat to Islam. As for the claim that certain Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members were wearing T-shirts with pictures of communist leaders, there are T-shirts freely available of Che Gueverra, Osama bin Laden and myriad other controversial figures who are used as political (ill-informed in my opinion) symbols to reflect whatever dissatisfaction some feel towards the system, but who mostly reject the use of violence of their so-called idols. Are we now saying that wearing T-shirts stamped with pictures of controversial figures is illegal?

Yuen then goes on to claim that PSM does not understand the parameters of the peace accord signed with Communist Party of Malaya secretary-general Chin Peng. Firstly Dr Jeyakumar, one of those who were detained, has made it clear that his cause is socialism and not communism. This is a difference which is often deliberately confused. The PSM has demonstrated before on issues such as labour laws, health reform, minimum wage, the neglect of estate workers, etc. and they have never been harassed to the extent they have been now. Jeyakumar's speeches in parliament are translated into Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil and are freely available (with special attention given to those who have donated money to his party). Are we to seriously believe that overnight he and the PSM have suddenly turned into violent communists ready to wage war on the king? Or could a more plausible explanation be that that this opposition party and its leader are being conveniently demonised since the threat of communism and anti-Islam has always been a convenient weapon in the arsenal of political mischief in this country?

Furthermore, I don’t think the Malaysian public is as trusting as the Tan Sri believes. As a community, we are firmly entrenched in our belief in capitalism. The CPM or what remains of it is confined to the fringes of the political scene (if that) with barely a whisper coming out of them. These days, it’s the fundamentalist elements of religion which are the bigger threat to our stable society. The communist may be used as a convenient bogeyman, but the reality is that religious extremism is the main cause of disunity. It has also been coupled with ethnocentric grievances that make it a clear and present danger, not like the so-called "communist threat" which has been dragged out whenever one community wants to demonise the other.

I also agree that we were united against the communist threat but disagree with the idea that each retreated “into his own racial cocoon”. We were forced into our cocoons by the ethnocentric nature of our political parties and by the way any political or social problem is approached by way of race. We were divided into racial categories because it was convenient to play up racial sentiments instead of dealing with the issues in an egalitarian manner. The irony is that these days, there are many who reject this “racialist” view of our country and efforts are being made by certain quarters who feel a common ideological platform which rejects the notion of race is far more suitable to sustain stability than the old notions which seem to be failing us as a country.

While I agree with Yuen that the police have to act on both sides that flagrantly break the law, I reject his contention that the police “usually back the efforts of the incumbent government of the day so long as it acts by the rule of law”. The police in any democratic context should back the efforts of any individual or group so long as it acts by the rule of law. The problem in Malaysia is that the police seem to act as the extension of certain political parties that make up the government, instead of owing allegiance to the concept of government and the rule of law. We can see the disparity of treatment in cases such as the cow head protest and candle light vigils.

As a former member of the armed forces, I am extremely hesitant whenever the armed forces are used as a preventive measure against the civilian population. I understand and support this need especially in the context of the May 13 riots, but it should always be a last resort. The fact is that the present administration handled the situation badly from the start. Declaring Bersih 2.0 an illegal organisation left the administration very little room to manoeuver. The situation was compounded by the contradictory statements of government officials. The meeting with His Majesty and the offer for use of the stadium should have ended the matter, but the administration blundered and the rhetoric used against Bersih doomed any form of honourable compromise. What the police should have done was sanction any group with violent intentions. Instead these groups were coddled, further tarnishing the reputation of the police. Thankfully the army was never called in because it would have made a bad situation worse and the army’s reputation would have been damaged in the process.

Yuen’s comments on the situation of race-based parties and their failure to meet the needs of the community are interesting, but ultimately fall into the same trap of racial polarisation that has always affected the stability of this country. The fact is that Malay leaders should not have to look into the grievances of the Chinese and Indian communities. All leaders be they Malay, Chinese, Indian the Orang Asli or the indigenous people of Sarawak and Sabah should look after the interests of their fellow Malaysians regardless of race. Of course our education system has ensured the discourse be defined along ethnic lines – the distortions of the history syllabus for instance is a major culprit in this problem. What is needed is a systemic effort to ensure that the concept of being Malaysian moves away for ethnic lines and this should start with the dismantling of race-based parties in favour of parties based on ideologies.

I am puzzled as to why Yuen thinks the Opposition is not strong and only appears to be. They did, after all, win five states. If the ruling government is weak because of racial polarisation and corruption, than logically the Opposition is strong. In such circumstances, naturally one is in a weak or strong position depending on the support one receives. I also disagree that our prime minister is trying very hard to make changes. Bersih 2.0 would have been a perfect opportunity for him to actually join in and give a speech about the changes he intends to make or make his case for the current electoral system within the confines of Stadium Merdeka. Instead, he chose to demonise the organisation and its de facto leader and continued the ethnocentric narrative that is causing problems in this country.

I think it's rather ironic that Yuen bemoans the racial polarisation of the current political system, but it seems that a trend is emerging of Malaysians of different races, creeds and religious afflictions seeking shelter under a common ideological umbrella. I think this is something that should be nurtured and perhaps we will all move away from the racial politics that divide this country. Finally we will have politicians who are cognisant that their ability to do their jobs competently is the issue and not the colour of their skin.

Lastly, I end with this rather telling quote from Tan Sri. “The timing is such that there appears to be a united front against the government, and this frightens them.” Firstly, there seems to be a united front against the Barisan Nasional. I think this difference is very important. For far to long, this refrain of being “anti-government” has been labelled against the “opposition”. The Opposition is not anti-government. It may be anti-BN, but this is par for the course in any mature democracy, and I think we are indeed a maturing democracy and that we should abandon the immature rhetoric of our past.

Commander (Rtd) S. Thayaparan
Royal Malaysian Navy