Chinese see Psy, Malays see May-13 film

Najib is playing a dangerous game in using ‘Tanda Putera’ to try to swing support for Umno. The similarities between 1969 and 2013 are uncanny.

Mariam Mokhtar, FMT

As we approach the 13th general election (GE13), Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s interpretation of “1Malaysia” gets more bizarre.

To herald in the Year of the Snake, Najib made the surprise announcement that the Chinese would be treated to a special performance by the Korean entertainer Psy. Earlier this week, after much delay and heavy censorship, the Indians were finally allowed to view the film, “Vishwaroopam”.

The Malay masses, always on the wrong end of the stick when it comes to Umno’s largesse, were forced to view the Umno propaganda film “Tanda Putera”.

Psy’s performance allegedly cost RM3 million for a mere 12 minutes. The ban on Vishwaroopam caused promoters to suffer significant financial losses. Much of the box-office takings were diverted to pirated DVDs which were openly sold throughout Malaysia.

“Tanda Putera” cost RM4.8 million and is funded by the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) and the Multimedia Development Corporation (Mdec) – in other words, the taxpayer.

We are told that “Tanda Putera” uses the May 13 racial clashes as a backdrop to the relationship between the deputy prime minister of the time, Abdul Razak Hussein, and the former home affairs minister, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. For health reasons, Ismail had retired from politics but Razak managed to persuade him to come out of retirement to help resolve the crisis.

The screening of “Tanda Putera” was deferred twice, last year. On Sept 13, it was claimed that there was insufficient promotion for the film, then on Nov 15, the Cabinet decided that certain scenes were “inappropriate”.

Were the bans designed to create more hype around the film and so increase the curiosity of some members of the public?

Last Monday, around 3,000 Felda settlers who were in Kuala Lumpur to hear Umno leaders including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, received an unexpected addition to their programme. Najib ordered that “Tanda Putera” be screened and journalists were asked to leave the hall.

It is outrageous that Najib uses racial sentiments to scare the voters into voting for Umno. How can the wounds from May 13 heal, if they are continually being re-opened?

The film was shown after Mahathir had told the Felda settlers that they were beholden to Umno. He said, “The comfort today is due to hard work as well as the government’s help, can’t people be a little grateful and appreciative?”

Lessons from history ignored

The greatest tragedy of the May 13 riots is that Umno ministers have not learned any lessons from history. The legacy of Mahathir means that his loathsome influence still continues after he resigned as prime minister.

In the book, “The Reluctant Politician” about Ismail, by Ooi Kee Beng, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah claimed that Ismail was the one who wanted Mahathir expelled from Umno and twice prevented Mahathir from being re-admitted into Umno.

The book also states that Ismail banned offending documents criticising the Tunku from being circulated because law and order was breaking down, and he was adamant that there would be “no coup in the country and no coups in the party”.

Ismail was known for fair play and correctness, and the book claimed that “every Malay colleague… including Mahathir, feared Ismail”. Ismail was always ready to debate and he was highly principled.

Malaysia is still haunted by the May 13 riots and each one of us has to bear our share of shame and guilt. How many of us can truly call ourselves Malaysian?

Some of us demand that vernacular or religious schools be kept. Universities have special quotas to meet. Particular jobs, contracts or positions are given to certain sections of the community. Are we prepared to dispense with all these racial policies?

Najib is playing a dangerous game in using “Tanda Putera” to try to swing support for Umno. The similarities between 1969 and 2013 are uncanny.

In 1969, it was believed that there were two factions in Umno – the “ultras” who included the young Mahathir; and the “old guard” or the moderates who were led by Tunku. Today, a power struggle exists in Umno between the old Mahathir and Najib.

The communists were made a convenient scapegoat for the May 13 disturbances. In the past few years, the communist element is again being blamed for troubles in Malaysia.

Even PAS leader Mat Sabu was accused of being a communist sympathiser when he alluded to Malay freedom fighters who used communist ideals to fight for independence of Malaya.

Bersih marchers were not spared when former Inspector-General of Police Hanif Omar claimed he recognised communist elements from video footage of people on the march.

In 1969, the ruling Alliance party suffered a significant decline in support. In an echo of the past, the loss of support that BN suffered in 2008 is predicted to continue to GE13.

The opposition took control of Kelantan and Penang in 1969 and states like Selangor and Perak did not have a clear majority. In 2008, Kelantan, Penang, Kedah, Selangor and Perak fell to the opposition although Najib later grabbed back power in Perak.

In the 1960s, the Malays were suffering economically. Despite various programmes to help Malays in the lower income bracket, most of the benefits have been abused by Umno Malays to help themselves, and not their poorer cousins.