The events of September 1998 tests Malaysian nationhood as no event
since the May 13 riots of 1969. The government the Prime Minister leads
insists its view is the only acceptable, those who disagree anti-national
and worse, It would not allow Malaysians to function as citizens, especially
in politics. The restrictions upon the opposition, the onerous legal impediments
for permits to publish and hold meetings, the restrictions on political
campaigning, the refusal to allow other than the officially sanctioned
view in the mainstream media are but a few reasons why the citizens, deciding
enough is enough, take to the streets. If Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim had
been treated not as an enemy of the state but as a political leader with
a different point of view, this general public belief that they must stand
up and be counted could possibly never be tested. But the Prime Minister
could not stomach a deputy who challenged his grandoise vision centred
not on the confidence of its people but of the megastructures that now
bring us to the brink of bankruptcy. Malay polity discovered, with his
dismissal, its power. Government panic showed when the first gatherings
in support of Dato' Seri Anwar after his dismissal. The Malay heartland
realised their leaders in UMNO and the government had feet of clay. And
petty actions like the difficulty Keadilan has had to hold a dinner this
the hotels and dates are changed so frequently that one does not know where and when it would be eventually held -- reinforces it.
The Prime Minister's threats yesterday (April 09) over the Temerloh
assault last Friday only
accentuates that. That, with Dato' Seri Abdullah's, underscores the Malay dilemma. It is the Malay dilemma, since the non-Malays are but shivering bystanders in the epic battle that is about to erupt and not necessarily on the streets. It is UMNO that puts on the pressure, not the National Front, which should have taken the lead. It has to be UMNO since without it the National Front would flounder like a fish out of water. And UMNO pressure rise in tandem with declining Malay support. The Prime Minister's response is to oligarchically coccoon himself as UMNO president, rewriting the rules to prevent challenge, as the Hermit of 31 Langgak Golf finds out. But that reflects not strength but weakness. Political quarrels like the Temerloh incident should only be expected when UMNO and the National Front look upon links with the Opposition as treacherous. The Malacca chief minister, Dato' Ali Rastam's hostility towards professionals and banks whose staff backed Opposition parties and candidates is yet proof that the National Front and UMNO are on the defensive. To suggest now that laws must be tightened, and to threaten that Malaysia would go the way of other countries where street demonstrations and riots are the norm is to sidestep the problem.
The government should accept that governance cannot be in isolation, that opposition and differing views must be allowed to be heard, and accept that in a democracy the opposition should have as much an opportunity as the government to spread their wings and views.
The government faced a determined Chinese left-wing opposition in the
1950s and 1960s. That was easy to destroy. The 1969 racial riots affirmed
it, the political implications of which now haunts UMNO, whose role in
that riots is not what the government insists it is. The Chinese community,
to counterbalance the oligarchial power of the MCA, backed the Democratic
Action Party in the opposition to look after their interests. The Malay
community remained solidly with UMNO, with a small percentage with PAS.
Not any more. The questionable 1987 UMNO presidential elections, which
led to a divsion of UMNO, began the chain of events to Dato' Seri Anwar's
arrest, assault and jailing that shook the Malay community's belief in
UMNO's invincible leadership. UMNO split again with the Anwar backers forming
the Parti Keadilan Negara (Keadilan). PAS, which had quietly burrowed itself
into the Malay heartland, reaped the benefit of UMNO's deliberate destruction
Keadilan. The November 29 general elections brought that divide into the the ballot box. Which is why the Prime Minister and UMNO are on tenterhooks about a minor fracas at a mosque in Temerloh last Friday.