Time for Malaysia to move forward
SEPT 20 — You would think that politics does not figure very highly during the Hari Raya celebrations. But this is Malaysia, and politics, for better or for worse, permeates every bit of our life.
PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu’s statement on the Bukit Kepong incident and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech on the eve of Malaysia Day dominated this year’s Syawal.
Regarding Mat Sabu’s comments, it has to be said that historiography aside, it is only just to argue that all those who fought for our independence should be acknowledged. This ought to be so regardless if they stood on the right or left, and whether they were from Umno or Putera, AMCJA or the MCA.
It is historical fact that the left first envisioned an independent Malaya through the People’s Constitution put forward by the Putera-AMCJA coalition.
It is also historical fact that Putera-AMCJA was suppressed by the British. What was lost in the controversy was that the left chose various means to respond to the suppression.
Take the case of three AWAS leaders (which was part of Putera) — Aishah Ghani, Khatijah Sidek and Shamsiah Fakeh after 1948. Aishah joined Umno, becoming a Cabinet minister and head of Wanita Umno.
Khatijah also joined Umno and became head of Pergerakan Kaum Ibu Umno (the forerunner to Wanita Umno). She was outspoken and passionate about women’s issues and was hence sacked from the party.
She joined PAS, led Kaum Ibu PAS (the forerunner to Muslimat PAS) and became MP for Dungun — an amazing feat in the ‘50s when a woman MP was still a controversial idea in Umno.
Shamsiah Fakeh chose to join the Malay regiment of the Communist Party of Malaya. After the regiment was forced to retreat to the Malaya-Thai border, she went to China to work with the communist propaganda machinery. What people may not know is that she broke from Chin Peng due to factional struggles within CPM. Unable to return to Malaysia, Shamsiah and her family settled down as ordinary workers in China until they were allowed to return to Malaysia in 1994.
Who are we to judge these courageous Ibu-Ibu Kemerdekaan who chose different paths after their stint with AWAS? Without the convenient benefit of hindsight, how would they have known which party would lead Malaya after Merdeka and who would remain true to their ideals and aspirations? We must understand their decisions from the context of their times, not ours.
At the same time, we cannot belittle those in the right wing either. This was after all the original Umno, not today’s Umno Baru.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, a prince and the country’s Bapa Kemerdekaan, died without much wealth to his name. He sacrificed his property for the struggle and did not enrich himself like some people in power today.
Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, the deputy prime minister to Tun Razak Hussein, was home minister during May 13, 1969, but his principled handling of the incident earned him the respect of both the Malays and the non-Malays.
When the country was about to embark on the NEP, he spoke passionately in its favour yet insisted that it was to be but a temporary measure. Indeed, he feared that regarding the policy as permanent would be disastrous for the Malays.
My grandfather Nik Hassan Nik Mat was an ustaz attached to the police, then under British control. Surely, my grandfather was not a British stooge but a creature of his time and circumstance?
Of course, a broader reading of our country’s history is needed as our younger generation may fall prey to biased accounts in schools, universities, Biro Tata Negara camps and the mainstream media. Historical revisionism is natural and we should welcome it.
But that should be left to the historians. Politicians should focus on the present and the future. Malaysia is facing enormous challenges in an uncertain time. Surely we ought to be working on how we are to face these challenges instead of debating historical technicalities?
Najib’s Malaysia Day eve announcement is a case in point. It is refreshing that after more than 50 years of independence, the PM acknowledged that the rakyat’s quest to abolish detention without trial and liberalise media laws is actually right.
We would like to think that the PM is being sincere in his proposals. Unfortunately ordinary Malaysians have had their hearts broken too many times by half-hearted or aborted reforms.
One of the first acts that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad did when he became PM in 1981 was to release 21 ISA detainees. Mahathir would later however be remembered for arresting hundreds under the ISA during Operasi Lalang in 1987 and Reformasi beginning in 1998. He also essentially strangled Malaysia’s media.
Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also won a resounding victory in 2004 by promising reform and ironically, distancing himself from Mahathir. While Abdullah clearly had good intentions and overcame some of Mahathir’s excesses, most of the reforms did not get anywhere. This contributed to the major reversal of BN’s fortunes four years later.
It is quite likely that the PM will have a tough time justifying the changes to his party’s right wing. Umno-BN is basically addicted to the draconian laws, arguing against reason that they were necessary for the security of the country. Some have even argued that these laws are necessary to ensure Malay domination continues unchallenged.
Hence many genuine initiatives or reforms were squelched because they infringed upon the party’s vested interests.
Malaysia cannot move forward on doublespeak and chicanery. Instead, it requires leadership that is governed by a courageous heart and a clear mind. Policy ought not to be dictated by fluctuating poll numbers.
Can Najib be that leader?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.