Thursday, October 16, 2008

K. Thanabalasingam: A cry for my beloved country

By K. Thanabalasingam
Rear Admiral (Rtd)
Chief of Navy, Malaysia

I am a concerned citizen extremely worried and fearful for the immediate future of our country. It makes me wonder where we, as a nation, are headed.

I am a septuagenarian in my twilight years having witnessed Malaya under the British protectorate; the Communist terrorist insurgency and the declaration of Emergency by the British in 1948; our Independence on Aug. 31, 1957 with Tunku Abdul Rahman becoming Prime Minister; the end of the Emergency and the introduction of the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1960; the formation of Malaysia on Sept. 16, 1963 and the start and end of the Indonesian Confrontation; the unfortunate May 13, 1969 racial riots and the formation of the National Operational Council; the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970; and all the political changes up to and including Mahathir Mohamad handing over power to current PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2003.

Let me begin by stating that I have never ever been politically inclined or belonged to any political party. Even when PM Abdul Razak suggested that I enter politics in 1974, I respectfully declined stating that I was not cut out to be a politician. My stand today is still the same. I am neither with a non-governmental organization nor an activist.

During the Japanese occupation I saw with my own eyes a few atrocities committed by some Japanese soldiers which left a lasting impression on me. I served in uniform during the Emergency which officially ended in 1960, with the ISA replaced the Emergency regulations. I also actively served at sea during the Indonesian Confrontation. I served in various appointments in the Navy.

It was during my long tenure as Chief of Navy that May 13, 1969 incident occurred and being at the Defence HQ in Kuala Lumpur, I knew exactly what had happened and what we had to do to restore public order.

The Armed Forces had to be brought in to complement the police. Those below the age of 40 today were not born or were babies when May 13 occurred. It was the black mark in our nation’s history and that is why I am so concerned of the course our nation is to take henceforth under the prevailing racial and political tensions and the economic uncertainty.

The May 13 incident was triggered by politicians and the current racial tensions in the country are again being fanned by some politicians on both sides of the political divide. My plea to all politicians is please control your emotions and think of our country and our children’s future. We cannot afford another May 13 or anything similar.

Foreign investment is already affected and foreign businessmen and government officials are asking what is happening in Malaysia.

Even our Chief of Defence Forces was concerned enough recently to make a rare public statement which I fully endorse because I was personally involved with my fellow comrades-in-arms from the Army, Navy, Air Force and the police in 1969 in the restoration of public order and know the chaos that prevailed then and the damage inflicted on the nation.

The recent arrests under the ISA of a reporter, a politician and a blogger have not helped. There has been a lot written recently on the ISA but let me make my piece.

The ISA’s original intention was for the sole purpose of dealing with the communist terrorist insurgency and armed struggle conceived to overthrow the duly elected government or to organize violence. The recent arrests and some conflicting statements made by the authorities have amazed me. The New Sunday Times on Sept. 21 quoted a minister as saying that the police can invoke the ISA even without informing him.

I wonder how a powerful Act like the ISA can be left entirely to the discretion of the police. I have the highest respect and trust for the police force and am not inferring anything ulterior. Surely the ISA is a very serious piece of legislation which the government must use extremely carefully and wisely and therefore exercise complete control over it at all times.

I believe that with no communist threat in the country anymore, the ISA has outlived its usefulness and become irrelevant and should be abolished or revised. When the ISA was first introduced it was an absolute necessity because we were fighting armed communist terrorists in the country.

If the government decides to do away with the ISA, an “Anti-Terrorism Act” should be enacted to check the world-wide terrorism threat. This Act should be very specific and clear in its intent and should be used only for this purpose. The ISA has mutated in its use over the past 30 years or so and is now being used for what it was never intended. We are quick to blame others like the Americans for their Guantanamo Bay detainees but our own ISA is worse in some ways.

At least the American detainees are all foreigners (not that that is right) but ours are all our own citizens.

In Kalimullah Hassan’s New Sunday Times article on Sept. 21, he wrote about immigrants and how all our five Prime Ministers have at least some migrant heritage. I also read an article which was an extract from a book written by a Singapore professor on the anthropological history of the peoples of South East Asia, especially Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines wherein it states that even our Orang Asli are descendants from African migration and our Dayaks and Kadazans are actually descendants from migrants from Vietnam and southern China.

This is also attested to in a program on the National Geographic channel.
So what are we really? In my own family I have Chinese in-laws, Caucasian in-laws, a nephew married to a Kadazan, another nephew’s wife’s mother is a Portuguese and so on. To me our origin is immaterial — we are simply Malaysians. During difficult times like our communist terrorist insurgency and “Confrontation,” our armed forces and police comprising all races fought side-by-side as Malaysians and many died in the defence of our nation.

I find it embarrassing that 51 years after independence, we still have racially based political parties. To an extent this is what has kept us apart. In my 70-odd years I have never seen us more divided than we are today, except perhaps immediately after May 13.

Malaysia’s National Economic Policy was born out of the May 13 incident to correct the economic imbalance between the races and to eradicate poverty for all. When it was implemented in 1970 it was meant to be for 20-year duration. It is 38 years since and I understand that the target has not been achieved.

K. Thanabalasingam was the first Malaysian chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy. He currently lives in Kuala Lumpur.

A tumultous decade
Here is a chronology of recent political events in Malaysia;
Sept. 1998: Anwar Ibrahim, then deputy to prime minister Mahathir
Mohamad, is sacked and slapped with sodomy and corruption charges that he said were politically motivated.
April 1999: Found guilty of corruption and sentenced to six years in jail.
Aug. 2000: Found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Sept 2004: Released after Malaysia’s highest court overturns sodomy conviction.
March 2008: Leads a resurgent opposition to stunning victories in general elections, seizing five states and a third of parliamentary seats.
April 2008: Ban on holding public office, relating to his corruption
conviction, expires.
June 2008: Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old who was a volunteer at his office, lodges a police report claiming Anwar sodomized him.
July 16: Anwar arrested amid a tussle over fixing a date for police interrogation, and spends night in custody before being released.
July 31: Announces he will contest parliamentary by-election for the
Permatang Pauh constituency in his home state of Penang, after his wife resigns the seat to make way for him.
Aug. 7: Anwar is charged with sodomy, an offence that carries a penalty of 20 years imprisonment.
Aug. 26: Anwar wins a landslide by-election victory.
Sept. 5: Abdullah vows to thwart Anwar’s plan to seize power.
Sept. 10: In a sign of cracks in the ruling coalition, Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urges Abdullah to consider stepping down before mid-2010.
Sept. 12: An opposition politician, a prominent blogger and a journalist are arrested under draconian internal security laws, triggering widespread criticism even from within the cabinet.
By K. Thanabalasingam
Rear Admiral (Rtd)
Chief of Navy, Malaysia

source: A cry for my beloved country
The Asian Pacific Post, Canada