An incident that ‘should not have happened’

MARCH 21 — Excerpt from Memali incident chapter.

Tunku Muszaffar Shah Tunku Ibrahim’s book, Memali: A Policeman Remembers is a first-hand account of the tragedy. It is an emotional book, written by a man with deep regrets. It may have served as a cathartic tool for the writer, but nevertheless has mythologised Ibrahim Mahmood nee Libya, and Memali as a martyr and a victim of a political bung-up.

On page 49, he wrote, “… the instruction given by those higher up that under no circumstances were the police to use force. Instead, they were to withdraw if there was retaliation.” This sentence was published, in bold. On page 71, he and the Director of Internal Security and Public Order entered Libya’s home, after the fracas, and Tunku found a woman and a child hiding under a bed. No weapons were found in the house.

“It would have been more appropriate for the Special Branch to arrest (Libya) when he was on his way to give political talks in Selama Kedah/Perak,” instead of attacking the man and his people in his stronghold (Page 79).

The book also included the infamous White Paper which tabled out 79 points of facts and dates leading up to the Memali Tragedy. It was signed by the then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia of 1986, then Datuk (now Tun) Musa Hitam.


Tun Musa HitamTun Musa HitamIbrahim Hussein paintings line the spacious walls which reach up to a skylight in the roof. This is a mark of success: the higher one is in his station in life, the higher the office is, and the ceiling.  The waiting room is spacious, and the chairs luxuriously comfortable. One could just sit, and be forgotten for as long as he liked. Hardly anyone passed by the office.

It was through Tan Sri Datuk Ahmad Fuzi Razak, the Secretary General of the World Islamic Economic Forum, that an appointment had been arranged. Tun Musa would be pleased to talk about Ibrahim Libya.

Tun Musa hasn’t aged. He is a spry corporate man these days, and still consults on various organisations and boards on politics and trade. There is an old world charm to his mannerisms, a refinement that one sees only in the gentlemen politicians of the old. Men like Tun have been immortalised in books, such as Kam Raslan’s Confessions of An Old Boy, and talked about by very senior and genteel civil servants when they reminisce about a Malaysia that is non-existent today.

Seeing the man, who once was so much a part of Malaysian politics, glorified and also heckled in the media once upon a time, smiling and very contented with his life, sitting down with you, to talk about Memali, is surreal. At the same time, this man emanates joie de vivre. In short, he is a jolly man.

“I am not a rich man, but I have many experiences and I have a clear conscience. I may not be the most religious man, but I sleep well, because I have ethics. Come, let’s talk, and tell me a little bit about yourself,” he beams.

But first, even before we talk Memali, he says, he must tell me about one of his accomplishments. One that he is very proud of. And that too, happened in Baling.

He was the Minister of Primary Industries from 1974 to 1978, and around 1976, the rubber crisis happened; inflation was high and Anwar Ibrahim was actively demonstrating in Kuala Lumpur.  He was called by Tun Razak to go to Baling, to avert the crisis as the rubber price was low. He studied, analysed the situation, and went to Baling to face a demonstration.

“This Baling affair is little known to people! I had to take a helicopter there, to face a huge demonstration. Baling at that time was exciting — there were Communists still living in the area… they were shouting ‘Musa Hitam tak dengar cakap dengan kita!’ “ He laughs, and elaborates on his Baling mediation.

“When I became Minister of Home Affairs, I had to deal with security. I was also the Deputy Prime Minister.  My Ibrahim Libya story is very short. We can perhaps have another session. Now in Majlis Tinggi Umno, the only man who is accepted with authority by Umno, who had knowledge about PAS was Wan Mokhtar, the former MB of Terengganu. Very respected man, Al Azhar educated.

“As Minister of Home Affairs, I was also getting reports from the police about this man in Baling, Kedah. The crowd he attracted was blocking roads, people were getting agitated. There was a report by an OCPD, there were some incidents which had the police involved. No violence. To me, it’s very simple. I didn’t know Ibrahim Libya from Adam. Later on, I found out he had been recruited by Jabatan Penerangan, but there were hundreds of men like him employed by the Jabatan.

“Only later, during that incident, did I learn of him. No details about him, nothing operational, all we did was to ensure security. If he went against the law, we would take action against him, but no violence would happen. I brought this matter to the Supreme Council. I briefed them on the situation, and nobody was interested except Wan Mokhtar. He knew about PAS, he knew of the activities. My instructions were to ensure orderliness, and only if something happened would we take action. That was the only involvement I had.”

One fine morning, he was in the office, and the Inspector General of Police called him to say something serious had happened. Tun then called then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.  They were told of the casualties in Dr Mahathir’s office. Two days later, Dr Mahathir had to go to China. Musa advised him not to go. “But it’s a state visit, I have to go,” Dr. Mahathir said.

“It is not extraordinary for a head of government to cancel because of an important issue.” Musa told him why. “One. This is happening in Kedah, and that is your constituency. Two. The Malays are killing each other. Three. If you don’t go (to China), it shows that you take this very seriously. He said he would think about it.”

In the meantime he prepared for a press briefing, and requested for them to give him 24 hours.  He briefed Parliament, and called for a Cabinet meeting. “That was why when I was in court and suing a writer, who had accused me of pocketing money... a lawyer raised the issue of Memali. ‘Tan Sri, when Memali took place, you were the Acting Prime Minister yes?’’ No, my Lord’, I said. ‘Are you sure Tan Sri?’ ‘Yes, my Lord.’ ‘Then where was the Prime Minister then?’ ‘The Prime Minister was in his office, my Lord.’ ‘But the newspaper report said…’ ‘No. That was hearsay.’”

“The point is that the public thought I was the acting Prime Minister. Dr Mahathir was the Prime Minister. When it all happened, I went to the police station… as far as I was concerned that was the role I played. I was absolutely not involved in the operations. Ministers don’t do that, we don’t micromanage. But if people blame me, I am accountable. As Minister of Home Affairs. Do I know Ibrahim Libya? No. I only found out later. Fiery orator. Educated. You know, budak Melayu when they go to Sekolah Arab, public speaking was a subject.

“What can I do (for being maligned for the tragedy)? When I am innocent, people twist the truth. They say that Musa killed, some people actually twisted up to that point. What can I do? Sue them? If you bring this to court, I will not win. So I let it be.”

He is pensive. He tells me he is writing a memoir, and that incident, which he will touch on,  “… should not have happened.”


I am back to square one. I read the last chapter of the book, an afterword written by Tunku Abdul Aziz.  “Musa Hitam, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs responsible for internal security and public order, had made it clear that he did not want any spilling of blood.”

Ibrahim Libya is a martyr. The less we know of him, the more he is immortalised.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


Please refrain from nicknames or comments of a racist, sexist, personal, vulgar or derogatory nature, or you may risk being blocked from commenting in our website. We encourage commenters to use their real names as their username. As comments are moderated, they may not appear immediately or even on the same day you posted them. We also reserve the right to delete off-topic comments