Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen
Sometimes, I wonder if Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad deliberately talks of “the rule of law” or the need to “do away with draconian laws by the previous administration” just to provoke writers like me to condemn him.
In case you don’t already know, the word ‘draconian’ traces its origins to the word ‘Draco’, an Athenian law scribe under which people who committed small offences were heavily punished.
This actually happened here in Malaysia back in the eighties and the nineties.
Back then, Mahathir would severely punish those who dared oppose his leadership and twisted the arms of judiciary and police to get what he wanted.
There was no such thing as freedom of press.
Today, even though it seems as if the media is free, there have constantly been “orders from the top” delivered to head honchos to ignore press invites and activities by certain NGO’s and (or) political parties.
On the 15thof Spetember 2017, I wrote:
Back in the eighties and throughout the better part of the nineties, there was no internet or alternate “news portals” for people to get their scoops from. The only source of information available was that published by the mainstream media and the occasional publications by Harakah, The Rocket and Aliran Monthly.
Suffice to say, information that made its way to newsrooms was heavily scrutinized and somewhat tailored to suit Mahathir’s bigoted slants. His manipulative ways caused Malaysians to lose their faith in local dailies, such that the Najib administration is having a tough time convincing Malaysians that the government no longer advocates stylized reporting or shoddy journalism.
Nonetheless, it was through these manipulations that Mahathir got Malaysians to forget the contributions of the late Tun Abdul Razak, the first Malaysian leader to moot “the Neutralisation of Southeast Asia,” a proposal that ended with the ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) declaration signed by Foreign Ministers of ASEAN member states in 1971 Kuala Lumpur.
But that is not all.
Razak was also the first ASEAN leader to have the guts to normalize relations between Malaysia and China. He had the foresight and wisdom to realise that China would one day emerge a world economic superpower and a force to be reckoned with. But the move served only to raise eyebrows in the West.
Mahathir was accused by the West of stifling press freedom in Malaysia. One of Mahathir’s loudest critics was John Berthelsen, a onetime a correspondent with the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ). In 1986, the former premier censured AWSJ for posting a series of articles authored by Berthelsen and a Raphael Pura that accused his administration of fraud.
The publications cost Berthelsen and Raphael their work permits and prompted the New York Times (NYT) to censure Mahathir for attempting to conceal his crimes. In a 30th of September 1986 release, the paper quoted a Leonard R. Sussman as saying that the climate for press freedom in the whole region had deteriorated because of Mahathir’s dictatorial and oppressive ways.
Even after leaving office, Mahathir deliberately held up copies of an authoritative biography that was critical of his 22 years in office. The biography, the Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, was conceived through a book that was written by the late Barry Wain, a former correspondent with the AWSJ who was himself based in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.
Yes, the Western civilization recognized Mahathir as a dictator and an oppressor in all but name. The US, in particular, considered his administration to be fundamentalist and accused him of fanning anti-Sematic fears. But instead of quashing that perception, the former premier fuelled it further by telling reporters in 2001 that Malaysia was not just an Islamic state, but a “fundamentalist one.”
Then, we had Ops Lalang.
On the 27thof October 1987, Mahathir ordered the police to conduct a major crackdown and detained almost 120 people without trial under the now defunct Internal Security Act (ISA).
The ISA was a draconian law both Mahathir and the late Tun Hussein Onn heavily abused to incarcerate their detractors and critics.
The 1987 swoop was the second largest in Malaysian history (since the 13 May riots) and involved the revoking of publishing licenses belonging to two dailies, namely, The Star and the Sin Chew Jit Poh, as well as two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan.
The crackdown happened against the backdrop of a split in UMNO, brought about by two opposing factions, namely, the Mahathir-led Team A and the Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tun Musa Hitam led Team B.
In a nutshell, Mahathir was challenged for the leadership of UMNO and narrowly won but ended up facing a legal challenge on his win.
The DAP wasted very little time in capitalising on the split and began fuelling race and religion related polemics.
Its leaders began riling up NGOs to censure government policies and questioned the switch to Malay language as a medium of instruction for optional courses in the departments of Chinese and Tamil studies in University of Malaya.
The MCA’s Lee Kim Sai took advantage of the situation and began leaning towards the DAP. He questioned the use of the term pendatang and rumours of forced conversion to Islam which the DAP constantly spoke about.
Then, there was the Ministry of Education’s decision to appoint some 100 senior assistants and supervisors to Chinese-medium primary schools.
Concerns were raised by Chinese politicians and organizations that the appointees were not Chinese-educated Chinese, implying that students and parents might be forced to use English or Malay to communicate with the school personnel.
Chinese educationalist groups were quick to jump onto the MCA-DAP hate-bandwagon by contending that the move would limit the usage of Chinese in Chinese vernacular schools.
As if things weren’t bad enough, on the 11th of October 1987, Dong Jiao Zong organised a 2,000-strong gathering at the Hainanese Association Building beside the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur.
The MCA and Gerakan openly teamed up with the DAP during the event and shared a stage to call for a three-day boycott in Chinese schools if the government did not settle the appointment issue.
What was so ironical about the whole affair was the fact that the MCA and Gerakan were both part of government but chose to stand alongside the DAP to call for policy reviews.
Why am I telling you all this?
First of all, I want you to see how Dong Zong, Lim Kit Siang, the DAP and the MCA teamed up to to weaken the Malay-Muslims by taking advantage of the split in UMNO.
Secondly, not only has the MCA yet to repent, prior to the 14th general election, its leadership always took sides with the DAP whenever it concerned the rights of the Malay-Muslims and (or) Islam.
So you see, I do understand why Mahathir resorted to using the ISA back in 1987 and will agree if he decides to bring the law back, albeit in a revised and fine-tuned form.
In Malaysia, as long as you have the MCA, the DAP and Dong Zong, you will always have race and religious related issues being played up.
However, I condemn Mahathir for fueling the split in UMNO by inflicting the party with a culture of crony-capitalism and corporatism.
Had he not caused the split, none of what happened in 1987 would have happened.
I also condemn him for stifling the freedom of press, twisting the arms of judiciary and turning PDRM into his “dragnet free-for-all club.”
That said, have you noticed how similar the issues that culminated with Ops Lalang in 1987 are with the issues we’re faced with today?
That’s vintage Mahathir playing his game, “fuelling a repeat of 1987” to show the youth that “all the stories you heard about me in the eighties are not true.”
To be honest, I’m fine with that and have no qualms with him trying to “spray perfume onto his name,” as every other Prime Minister who has stepped into office had done so one way or the other.
But don’t go round town telling people that “the previous administration was draconian,” because, if anything, not only was Mahathir the leader of a party that ran the previous administration, he was the country’s greatest dictator and among the most oppressive of leaders in South East Asia.