“Kua Kia Soong has compiled a book with his frank and courageous views, comments and writings on a wide range of political, social and economic issues which have exercised the minds of all concerned Malaysians. He asks if the Barisan Nasional is capable of reform…”
- Dr Ronald McCoy, President of Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
“Activist and historian Howard Zinn said that neutrality is not a viable option when events are already moving in certain deadly directions. Nothing about Kua Kia Soong’s latest book is neutral. He makes a compelling argument against neutrality and apathy in Malaysian politics. This book is essential reading for all citizens who care about the country and its future.”
- Jacqueline Ann Surin, The Nut Graph editor
THE END OF BARISAN NASIONAL?
These recent writings by Dr Kua Kia Soong reveal one stark reality, namely, that the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since Independence in 1957 seems incapable of reform. In its 54-year rule, it has destroyed many of the democratic institutions that existed at Independence in 1957. Other institutions such as Royal Commissions of Inquiry have been systematically debased. Malaysia was in fact freer at independence than it is today.
Since the Prime Minister Najib Razak came into office in 2009 he has been following the advice of his spin doctors, including apparently, Tony Blair’s own Alastair Campbell of the Iraq “dodgy dossier” fame by promising reforms. Somehow, the promised reforms have all turned out worse than the original oppressive laws.
On the eve of Malaysia Day 2011, Najib promised reforms by undertaking to abolish the ISA and the other Emergency related laws and to review other laws relating to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Barely two months later, the BN government made new arrests under the ISA on the grounds of anti-terrorism.
As at end 2011, there were still over 50 detainees held under the ISA and more than 1000 being detained under the Emergency Ordinance and Dangerous Drugs Act. In 2011, the Najib government still used the crude old BN method of demonizing socialists when they arrested and detained several leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia under the Emergency Ordinance. By doing so, the BN government merely exposed their habitual use of detention without trial against dissidents and opposition leaders and their wanton abuse of the emergency laws.
The BN government has said that the ISA will be replaced by a Race Relations Act and an Anti-Terrorism Act. The author examines the BN record and asks if the BN is serious about improved race relations. Likewise, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act looks like new packaging for the old poison, i.e. detention without trial.
There were ninety five deaths at the Simpang Rengam detention centre from 2000 to March 2007 and 635 deaths by police shootings from 1999 to 2009. These are unacceptable figures for the number of deaths in police custody and deaths by police shootings and only an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Committee can put this right. The BN government seems incapable of implementing this reform which was called for by the Royal Police Commission more than five years ago. One wonders if the police have any files on the BN leaders that are making them such untouchables!
Race, or to be more specific, “bumiputera-ism” has been the populist ideology of the ruling UMNO party since the ascendance of the UMNO capitalist class after May 13, 1969. It is unlikely that they will let go of this obsession with race to attract the Malay vote despite the vain attempt at putting on a “1Malaysia” front. This UMNO “conceptual trick” of pitting “bumiputeras” against the non-Malay “immigrants” is exposed in #7. Equally amusing is the attempt by BN apologists to rehabilitate the obnoxious concept, “ketuanan Melayu”, or “Malay dominance” and trying to justify it within “1Malaysia”. They merely end up looking rather foolish.
As in Papan and Bukit Merah in the eighties, the BN government prioritises profits before peoples’ health. The Lynas rare earth plant at Kuantan is but the latest multi-million project which is being opposed by the people of Kuantan and it is giving rise, for the first time, to a vibrant green movement in Malaysia.
While the mainstream media raises indignation over PAS’ commitment to the hudud laws, the writer points out their hypocrisy in not similarly raising any trenchant opposition to the BN government’s commitment to the death penalty since the latter is equally barbaric.
Sarawak and Sabah are regarded as safe “fixed deposits” of the BN. These two states are so richly endowed with natural resources, especially their forests and oil & gas deposits but have ended up as the poorest states after 48 years in the federation. This is the result of systematic pillage by their state elites in league with the federal elites over misconceived projects such as the Bakun dam and rampant logging activities. It is only a matter of time before the peoples of East Malaysia rise to stake their own destiny.
Arms’ spending is an area in which the BN government literally gets away with murder. Military procurements amounting to billions of ringgit are justified by appeal to “national security” sans transparency. To date, the two Scorpene submarines have been the most expensive (more than RM7 billion) but their link to the murder of the Mongolian translator Altantuya through alleged multi-million commissions remain an unsolved puzzle of BN rule.
The purchase of six Offshore Patrol Vessels at a cost of RM6 billion (the Defence Minister has since revealed that the real cost is RM9 billion!) is likewise presented to the Malaysian people as a fait accompli. It is unclear whether this fabulous defence equipment is acquired in the national interest or merely to fill the construction orders of another vested interest, namely our local military industrial complex.
Mismanagement and bad choices have led to the recurring crises in the energy industry. As a result of the 1992 energy crisis during Mahathir’s term in office, Independent Power Producers (IPPs) were foisted on TNB and the country as a fait accompli. These well-connected IPPs have managed to secure a pretty good deal out of the power purchase agreements with TNB. This has exacerbated the problems and contradictions within TNB and affected TNB’s share market performance through the years. Twenty years later, we are still counting the costs and bearing the burden of the BN government’s cosy relationship with these IPPs as reflected in the power purchase agreements contracted and the increase in electricity tariffs.
Is it surprising that the BN is prone to historical revisionism? Our professorial apologists for the BN got their intellectual knickers in a twist when they maintained that we were never colonized by the British. It was certainly a novel interpretation but intensely “Ah Q” as I have argued in #16. Theirs was a vain attempt to show that our gallant men at Bukit Kepong were not defending British colonialism and thus, chastise Mat Sabu for suggesting that the insurgents during the Emergency were fighting British colonialism.
Another attempt at historical revisionism was the rehabilitation of Dato Onn (bin Jaffar) as one of UMNO’s “honourable” leaders. In fact, Dato Onn’s questionable record on race relations and civil rights has made the author compare him to a latter-day ‘Perkasa’ as he abandoned multi-ethnicity for Malay-centrism to suit his political fortunes during the run-up to Independence. Today, as we put up with the racist garbage of the far right, Dato Onn’s record sounds familiar and reads like a cautionary tale for what reformist Malaysians should avoid.
Recently, the former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir has tried to use his memoirs to warp history. The assault on the Malaysian judiciary in 1988 was one of Dr Mahathir’s crudest attempts to cling to power when he was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh and showed that he does not respect, nor understands the meaning of ‘the rule of law’. But he cannot run away from that responsibility nor can he erase that history. This dark episode in Malaysian modern history has been meticulously recorded by Tun Salleh Abas and K. Das in “May Day for Justice”.
Dr Mahathir has also tried to claim that Operation Lalang was not his doing but that of the police. This is not surprising since Operation Lalang was Mahathir’s worst abuse of power during his 23-year rule. The White Paper on Operation Lalang published in 1988 was itself one of the worst examples of official whitewash to justify the arrests and detentions. We know that 1987 was a time during his term when he was faced with the biggest threat to his rule, with Team B under Tengku Razaleigh challenging the results of the UMNO elections. A court decision in Team B’s favour would have meant the end of Mahathir’s grasp on power.
The Tunku said when Ops Lalang happened: “Overnight Malaysia has become a police state.”
In a police state run by the BN, there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive. Such a situation is facilitated by the existence of laws that allow detention without trial. People in a police state experience restrictions on their freedoms of expression, assembly and association, while a secret police force operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.
At the next (13th) general elections, among the demands for civil rights by the Chinese community in Malaysia, there will be one demand that asks for the return of Malaysian citizenship to Lim Lian Geok, the “Soul of the Malaysian Chinese”. The former leader of the Chinese education movement had his citizenship and teaching licence taken away in 1961 as explained in #20. The revocation of Lim Lian Geok’s citizenship is inextricably linked to UMNO’s Malay-centric language policy.
The acrimonious debates and controversies over the BN’s National Culture Policy (NCP) during the 1980s such as the ban on lion dances and other non-Malay cultural forms and developments since then are re-examined in #21. To date, UMNO’s education policy remains committed to the “ultimate objective” of the Razak Report 1956 and that is why the problems confronting the Chinese and Tamil schools remain unresolved. At the same time, the controversies surrounding conversions and Islamisation policy continue to erupt.
In the imbroglio created by UMNO’s flip-flopping policy on teaching Math and Science in English, the author argues that our education system should look at broadening the choices for students to receive mother tongue instruction not only for the Chinese and Tamils but also for the English-speaking families, our indigenous people and others, plus special education provisions for slow learners, autistic and disabled children.
The urgent need for reform in our country risks being undermined by populism on both sides of the political divide as they jostle for votes in the coming general elections. Besides BN’s cash handouts to civil servants, senior citizens, school children, Pakatan Rakyat has also indulged in populism since they came into power. The Selangor state government gives away free water without any form of means testing and without thought for “demand management” which is crucial to water conservation. More recently, to the call for reform of the civil service, PR says that while this makes economic sense, it is “politically foolhardy”. One wonders if their promised rescindment of the New Economic Policy will later be similarly jettisoned because of “political consideration”.
Politicians on both sides of the political divide need to be educated not only about human rights but also the rights of animals and trees. The reverence for all living things is common to the animist beliefs of all our ancient forefathers for whom the human-nature relationship is not to be treated on the basis of control, but on the basis of mutual respect. The discourse on human rights has now been extended to cover ecological concerns, i.e. the need to respect not only other human beings but also future generations as well as other species. Thus, the author asks Malaysian politicians if they have ever considered why the caged bird sings!
In “Fighting racism with solidarity”, the author calls on the Hindraf leaders to stay faithful to their just cause and correctly identify the primary role of capitalism and the state in causing racial oppression suffered by the Indian masses. The struggle against the Malaysian state can only succeed if it is anti-racist and the best non-racist approach to progress is still affirmative action based on need, class or sector. All progressive Malaysians are called upon to unite around the struggles of the marginalized communities and stop flinging the ‘racist’ label loosely at those who are fighting back at the Umnoputras who control the racist state. At the same time, it is vital that Hindraf works alongside other campaigns for justice, democracy and human rights.
After the downfall of BN, the struggle against neo-liberal capitalism will certainly go on as we fight for the rights and interests of the people. Pakatan Rakyat has not renounced neo-liberal policies which have allowed multi-national corporations and the big companies to plunder the country’s resources and buy up privatized resources at rock bottom prices. Powerful capitalist interests control our resources and markets and thrive on the cheap labour of Malaysian workers and migrant labour. The price has been paid by workers and the poor whose living standards and conditions continue to be pushed downwards.
Popular democratic participation is not only necessary in economic but also political institutions. There is a need for state intervention in the unfettered capital transfers by speculators and finance capitalists and nationalization of basic resources such as oil and gas; utilities such as water, energy; health, education and social services. Real democracy will never be attained merely through periodic general elections and relying on parliament alone but through direct action and popular participation.
Kua concludes this collection with the concrete reforms expected by Malaysian civil society of all parties and candidates in the 13th Malaysian general election. These reflect the aspirations of the Malaysian peoples at this juncture of Malaysian history and provide a new agenda for real change long overdue.