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Fwd MGG 3 issues: Suqui, AbuSayaf, MultiRacial Club
By web aNtu

19/9/2000 5:11 pm Tue

[MGG] The Prime Minister Discusses Chinese Issues Without Chinese

THE PRIME MINISTER'S weekend meeting (16 September 00) with the Chinese organisations' elections committee, Suqui, removed the tattered figleaf of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) negotiating Chinese issues and demands as part of its political compact with UMNO. It undermined the MCA's and the Gerakan's standing within the community, with the clear signal to Chinese organisations that the two parties, which UMNO insists represents them, can be safely sidelined. The MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, was not allowed to resign from the cabinet when he wanted to after a political quarrel with his party officials because the Prime Minister would not let him.

The Gerakan president, Dato' Seri Lim Kheng Yaik, cannot decide if his party is fish or fowl, its sole political activity, in the eyes of the Chinese community, to retain power in Penang by not allowing the MCA to unseat it: when more basic problems trouble its members, it believes it can best be resolved by a firm commitment to Information Technology! The leaden leadership, in which personal pique represents policy, is now confirmed in the Suqui controversy.

The MCA and the Gerakan gave up the ghost when they accepted, in front of the November elections, Suqui's 17 electoral demands, and tried to repudiate them afterwards. The National Front, too, did: the Chinese votes too important for it to remain in power, as the results proved. The MCA's ill-thought out attempt to force UMNO to back it for the chief ministership of Penang backfired, the Gerakan's response pathetic -- it ensures its demise by insisting that the chief minister of the past decade continue in office -- and both became, willy nilly, political pawns of the Prime Minister. The MCA and Gerakan have become toothless warlords in a crumbling empire. So far as Suqui is concerned, any promises from these warlords can be safely ignored. After all, they could not, as Chinese representatives in the government, persuade a fellow cabinet minister from mounting an unruly UMNO demonstration against it at the Chinese Assembly Hall, demonstrating its ability to articulate Chinese demands within the National Front.

But the meeting itself is important. The Prime Minister had to call for this meeting after likening Suqui to groups like the communists and the Al-Maunah in his contested National Day speech on 31 August 00. The National Front and the Prime Minister overreacted. The expected Malay support, which flowed to the National Front, when it cracked down on opposition figures in Operation Lallang thirteen years ago, is not there: it is still angry with UMNO for its humiliation of its former deputy prime minister. The Prime Minister's ill-judged speech made matters worse.

Now both the Chinese and Malay ground forces him and his administration to tremble on the knife's edge. Bringing in the MCA and the Gerakan into this discussion would have made the knife wobbly as well. So, he had to speak to Suqui alone. His Chinese representatives, he realised, could not deliver.

Twentyeight years ago, the then deputy prime minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, described the Malaysian Chinese Association as "neither dead nor alive", with the future deputy prime minister, Tun Ghafar Baba, made the effective head of the party. That dispute reduced MCA's primus role of representing the Chinese community in the then Allian coalition, and had to accept the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, the rump a breakway from the MCA, as another Chinese party in the coalition which challenged the MCA's right to represent it. (The Indian community is marginalised for the same reasons, but the heavy cross it bears for its neglect, Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu, is more astute than the Chinese community representatives.)

The Suqui affair reduces them to political irrelevance. Its leaders raised not a whimper when the Prime Minister usurped their traditional role, and ensures their high profile role of total irrelevance. The Chinese organisations are, in effect, told that they must deal with UMNO and its president if it wants its issues settled. As for Indian issues, that is already standard practice. It is the Prime Minister who takes the decisions for the Indian community the MIC president ought to be taking.

More worrying though is why the meeting had to be held. Suqui was accused of challenging the constitutionally-entrenched Malay special position, which it did not. But UMNO, struggling to retain the Malay cultural support which slips away from it, throw its weight behind the allegations, with the Youth demonstrations and the Prime Minister's accusations of treachery against Suqui raising the ante. UMNO, and certainly the Prime Minister, would not eat humble pie in high profile political confrontations like this, if its political position was secure.

There would be more of this, if only because the children of the post-independence generation now reach adulthood, with little understanding of the independence compact that led to the formation of the UMNO-MCA-MIC Alliance that remains in power to this day. The New Economic Policy generation head for retirement in less than five years. Amongst the Malays, Indians, Chinese and the native groups of Sabah and Sarawak.

But the government insists that only its views, however flawed, should be believed. The Prime Minister's characterising of Suqui as communist or traitors backfired. Behind Suqui is an army of volunteers, well-educated Chinese youths with a worldview of national unity that makes the Prime Minister's allegations laughable. Tarring them as communists and religious fanatics unnecessarily raised the ante. The 20 leaders who saw the Prime Minister is the public face of a movement that has got incredible support, one which the MCA and Gerakan ignored, but which has much support within the Chinese community. The Gerakan and MCA must explain its stand on the Prime Minister's unfortunate labelling of them.

Or face more trouble when the next elections come along. Especially, if the same faces control the parties with the singular aim of destroying their political rivals. They cannot hide behind the UMNO sarong and leave it to the Prime Minister to dress them up as Chinese representatives. Non-Malay representation is not to ensure their leaders are glued to their cabinet seats. The Prime Minister reflected that when he decided to talk to Suqui himself.

M.G.G. Pillai

[MGG] The Abu Sayyaf Kidnap and Malaysia's submarine base in Sabah

The Malaysian cabinet, we are told, orders the armed forces to patrol the seas off the coast of Sabah, deploy troops in all resort islands, and have the Abu Sayyaf rebels shiver in their pants should it kidnap Malaysians ever again. Why did the defence minister, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, take a national security operational matter to the cabinet?

Should not the armed forces be deployed not because the cabinet wants it to, but to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country? Does it require cabinet approval to do that? Why was not the cabinet -- if indeed it is this price-fixing body which should approve armed forces' movements -- then depoloyed in April when the larger crisis broke out? And would the cabinet tell us whether Sipadan Island, which with neighbouring Litigan, has resorts operated by the Prime Ministerial son? And if they are Malaysia's, why did Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta refer their contending claims to ownership of these two islands to the International Court of Justice at the Hague?

The defence minister now says the three Malaysians kidnapped from Pandanan resort in Semporna Island in Sabah is to be left to the mercy of whoever kidnapped them and the Philippines Air Force bombing on suspected rebel positions in Jolo Island, where they are believed to be. He now says it is Manila's internal matter and Malaysia would not matter. This suggests that Malaysia did interfere when the foreigners were among the hostages from Sipadan Island. So, what is what? What is Malaysia's position about the kidnap? What diplomatic measures has it taken to rescue the three hostages? Or is he telling us that the previous lot of Malaysians kidnapped were rescued, with at least US$1 million paid for each release, because foreign tourists were kidnapped with them?

Or is this yet another sandiwara in which security concerns in the Sabah seas are highlighted to force through Malaysia's plan for a submarine base at Sepanga Bay in Sabah? What the Malaysian armed forces need is not more weaponry or technical toys, like fighter aircraft and submarines, but more professionalism and better training. Turning the soldiers into actors, and allowing actors to hoodwink the soldiers, as in the Grik arms heist, does not make for a professional army others would not dare to tread on. When Malaysia decided five years to buy a submarine, it led to an arms race. Singapore bought a submarine, from Sweden, which it has commissioned, with another due to join the fleet soon. Before the first arrived, two crews were in Sweden for training, and further crews would be sent for the next.

The island republic pointed to Malaysia's purchases to justify its submarine purchases. Malaysia, as usual, went into submarine buying without thought or relevance, and the need for submarines affirmed not for its operational needs, but because this expensive bauble would spread the largesse around and make regional navies frightened of Malaysian fire power. For some strange reason, Malaysian armed forces operational policies assume that when its soldiers, airmen and sailors take to battle they would be as professional as the Al-Maunah lot were when they spread fear into the bowels of its professionalism.

So, the question arises if the kidnappings off the coast of Sabah in April and this month has yet another agenda: the return to national attention to the Sepanga Bay submarine base. The unusual interest the Malaysian government made in that kidnap, the widespread belief in Sabah that there was more than meets the eye over that kidnap, and the presence of the deputy minister of education, Dato' Aziz Shamsuddin, and the the former chief minister of Sabah, Tan Sri Yong Teck Lee, with sundry others, who insisted on interfering in the negotiations as Dato' Seri Najib now says Malaysia would not, all points to differing groups with a vested interest in either or both kidnappings. We do not have the soldiers or the sailors to guard the isolated islands in an area infested with pirates. The seas off Sabah is not the Straits of Malacca. But the deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is certain security forces guarding Sabah's east coast would "deal" with rebels fleeing the fighting. There is no way it could, not even if all of Malaysia's men in uniform, policy and armed forces, are sent there to deal with it.

Is this sudden interest then in the armed forces' well-touted but unproven capability an orchestrated smokescreen to tell the Malaysian public that the armed forces cannot operate effectively without a submarine base in Sabah and those involved in its purchase get commissions that would come in handy for their next holiday in Ougadougou. How much does this base cost? Figures of up to RM2,000 million is bandied about, the technical specifications changed to ensure the most modern equipment is installed, and the figures keeping changing as more irrelevant instrumentation is added. Which is why the cabinet rises from its stupor to order the armed forces to prove its ineffectiveness off the coast of Sabah.

M.G.G. Pillai

[MGG] The Politics of Racial, Religious And Communal Harmony

THE MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT, which would not unravel its political separateness of racial political parties, wants the country to form multiracial clubs to ensure national unity. The MCA, quick off the mark, believes it a brilliant idea, while taking every step to ensure it would not work. The other component parties in the National Front would vie with each other who could be the most sycophantic of them all. As usual, the issue is not thought out, is in response to Malaysians retreating into the cultural, racial or religious shells as a defence against an inevitable breakdown of the systems and institutions of government.

When political parties are formed on racial grounds, and when multiracial parties, such as they are -- believe it or not, the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia is in the administration not as the multiracial party it claims it is but as a Chinese party which represents views the MCA does not, and it takes little to rile the UMNO Malay who believes only he and his ilk decides what multiracialism is all about, the battle is all but over. Like in 1969, the political scene is fractured with racial and communal doubts and fears, calling for multiracialism in a narrow, irrelevant context, ensures not multiracialism but a parodoxical fear of it.

Especially when this commitment is made after the Prime Minister dismisses an important Chinese group as communist or worse, and UMNO Youth proves its multiracial commitment by demonstrating against this body at the Chinese Assembly Hall. When issues of national interest can only be discussed in public under threat of imprisonmen and worse, all one can expect is a hopelessly divided society based on fear and doubt.

So the University of Malaya challenges the government's intentions by refusing the Chinese to have their Lantern Festival. Malaysia, after all, is pristine Malay country, the government and UMNO believe, and other religious and racial festivals should not be encouraged, except when they come in handy to prove to foreign tourists of Malaysia's cultural and multiracial diversity. So, while the culture and tourism ministry espouses this diversity, the education ministry would rather hoist the red flag of division. That people seek comfort in their own hind is a sign of fear in today's Malaysia. This exacerbate when the government rather than tell the truth would rather tell fables. Fiction, in the official view, is more reliable than truth. The Malaysians are mollycoddled with the good news, that the KLSE fundamentals are such that it is cushioned against falls, as it heads for its extended summer holidays in Australia and the South Pole. We are so awash with cash that Petronas has to come in to pay salaries, build the Malaysian government's "administrative centre" in Putra Jaya. That the government must build the East Coast Highway, without explaining why: the private sector has found it uneconomic, the traffic projections picked out of thin air, but not building it would reduce cronies, siblings and courtiers of the administration short of funds.

A flurry of contracts have been announced, few of which would ever be completed. There is no money in the kitty. But it does give the impression that Malaysia does well, so well that the others are jealous of its success. The cronies given more than a billion ringgit worth of contracts prove their loyalty by not building them, even with government subventions. One wellknown hanger-on has the contract for both the monorail and the linear city, neither of which ever see fruition under him. This gentleman's privatisation of the sewage industry was so successful that the government had to take it back, or so we are told.

Success in such matters, in the government's views, is what you and I would see as failure. It is fiction that dominates. So truth must take a back seat. When euphemism and fiction rules, combined with imagined political correctness, it is form more than substance that takes precedence. Sandiwara is more important than policy. And so it is with multiracialism and racial harmony. When both are used for a political objective, something must give. Especially, when the racial communities today have each gone beyond the Merdeka imperatives to a different level of racial harmony and politics which are not those of the founding fathers. To then insist narrowly -- and possible with constitutional provisions to buttress that -- that compacts taken out of context prevents any rational discussion of racial and communal issues defeats the very concept of a multiracial and multireligious society.

What is needed is not to discuss what must be discussed within narrow political agendas -- and every community is guilty of this -- but in closed door sessions, for a start, with its members not selected by the government, as is now the case, but by the communities. It is not the Tuns and Tan Sris, Datos and Dato Seris, cabinet ministers and civil servants, privileged as they already are, who should discuss this, but the leaders selected from the ground which can articulate the views which the government does not now get. It is not a discussion which veers towards the dominating UMNO view that we want, but a thousand flowers of disparate views which should bloom. Only in this atmosphere of debate can something so importat for the continuance of Malaysia as a multiracial, multireligious society can survive. Threatening any who has a disparate view to jail is not one to encourage debate. Nor is an official fiat without discussion and in pursance of a particular political ideology any better. But the National Front, for reasons of its own, abhore debate.

Which is why racial harmony and religious unity is so far away from what it was at the onset of independence. Racial harmony and cultural diversity is dictated by fratricidal struggle of Napolean and Snowball. When George Orwell died, Malaysia did not exist.

M.G.G. Pillai