In the defence of our realm by Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN, formerly of the Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
"As the society's needs evolve, the police force must also evolve to
meet new needs and assure the public of their safety." - Prime Minister
Najib Abdul Razak (Bernama) COMMENT
All this Umno ‘war talk' of late naturally leads to the question of the
role of the Malaysian Armed Forces in the event of the repeat of a ‘May
13' scenario, which Umno foresees will occur if BN loses federal power. The most common question people who read my Malaysiakini comment pieces ask is, "Which side will the armed forces take?"
answer is, "No side, hopefully". But this rather glib response masks
some very real concerns on my part (and of many other retired military
and police personnel as well) about the negative perception of the armed
forces by the general public. This would, no doubt, have been cultivated by the atrocious partisan posturing of the military powers-that-be.
Pro-opposition (good friend and comrade-in-arms for a better Malaysia) blogger Zorrounmasked in his blog post 'Think out of your tanks, think-tanks'asks,
nay demands, that the military top brass reaffirm in a very public
manner their impartiality (no matter the outcome) during the coming
general election. In his words: "This is no time for pundits and
know-alls to expound their feel-good or doomsday wares. This is the
time the rakyat wants assurance that whichever way they exercise their
vote, the outcome is for a better Malaysia through a smooth transition
into Putrajaya! And this assurance can only come out from the mouths of
the generals and the inspector-general of police as per the oath they
I will end this piece with why I think this is a futile
demand, but as a retired military officer, I am sympathetic to those who
need this assurance and am mortified (for my former profession) that it
needs to be given in the first place. 'Coyness' of the PM
To be honest, this question, or fear if you like, has been on my mind
for some time now. The coyness of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in
not coming out and directly stating that there will be a smooth
transition of power is alarming. Surely, such a basic
reassurance of the most mundane of democratic practices would not be an
issue for a regime that aims to be the "best democracy in the world"? Instead, what we have been ‘promised', by no less a person than former
prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is that the opposition will "take to
the streets" if they lose this election.
There were constant
references to Egypt and other populist revolutions across the globe.
Malaysians were ‘warned' to be grateful for the peace and stability that
Umno offers and the war song coming from Putrajaya is that opposition
rule will lead to chaos and anarchy is a forgone conclusion. This fear of ‘military intervention' is not unfounded. Or rather, this
fear of the possible collusion of Umno and the military is the unspoken
fear of many opposition supporters, especially of late when Putrajaya is
seen as a mission that can be possibly accomplished. A recent
example of this is when the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) lodged a police
report against Perak Opposition Leader Nizar Jamaluddin for saying that
Najib met with senior military officials and asked them to do
"something" if BN loses the coming general election.
reported to have claimed that these "senior military officers refused"
to do so, saying "they would side with the people, leading to an
Let us examine the response of MAF chief General Zulkefli Mohd Zin, as reported by Bernama:
"Of late, some irresponsible quarters with vested political interests
have been trying to poison the minds of the people with the aim of
eroding public confidence in the MAF and ruling government."
nowhere in his response does he reaffirm the impartiality of the MAF
but instead chose to engage in politics by addressing BN talking points.
A proper response to Nizar's allegations would be a denial and a very
public affirmation that the military is apolitical.
It would up
to Najib (and the relevant authorities) to address this very serious
question of ‘sedition', and not the MAF through its police report.
But let us look at it another way. In 2010, Azhar Ibrahim was suspended for six months from the Penang state assembly for making
"references to the May 13 incident and inviting the armed forces to
take over the government", not to mention his threat that "Malay triad
organisation ‘Tiga Line' would be called in to teach the state
government a lesson." So, why no report against Umno assemblyperson? Umno distanced itself from these inflammatory remarks but my question
is, why didn't MAF chief Gen Zulkefli lodge a police report alleging
sedition against Umno's Azhar Ibrahim?
Of course, there was a
retraction, besides "parliamentary privilege" called into play. However,
there was not a word from the general, who seemed more concerned that
the reputation of Umno has been besmirched, rather than that of the MAF
that was mentioned in the same breath as a "Malay triad organisation",
not to say anything of the fact that what Azhar was advocating was a
military coup d'etat. Malaysia's Stockholm syndrome
But this is not the first time the top brass of the MAF has been silent when dragged into the political scene. Whether it is a question of vote-rigging or the sale of arms or the
Bersih demonstration (about which the MAF has no jurisdiction to
comment), the powers-that-be in the MAF have been quick to issue
statements normally echoing the partisan rhetoric of the ruling BN
coalition. As we have witnessed, Umno is quick to conjure the
ghosts of May 13 and to allude to the fact that the MAF is unquestioning
loyal to the government. Sometimes though, principled retried armed
forces personnel respond to these provocations, as Lt-Kol (Rtd) Mohd
Idris Hassan did when confronted by an Umno politician who summoned the
spectre of May 13 on national television.
In his an opinion piece in The Star in 2008 under the heading 'Bury the ghost of May 13 once and for all',
Idris wrote: "I am shocked and saddened that some politicians are still
making threatening reference to the May 13 racial riots of 1969. "One seasoned politician was on national TV Channel 101 on March 15
making reference to the May 13 racial riots, saying that if the
opposition parties continue to fan communal sentiments, another May 13
will happen, adding with a raised index finger, "Dan jangan salahkan
kami." (Then don't blame us.)
Idris goes on to describe what he
witnessed on May 13, 1969 and suggested a possible solution to all this
May 13 provocations: "On that fateful day, I was a young officer serving
in the army. I witnessed firsthand the carnage as it unfolded. People
were attacked because they were of the wrong race, at the wrong place at
the wrong time. Everyone suffered. "It is thus my fervent hope
that our new, revamped government will pass specific laws making it an
offence to raise threats of another May 13 racial riots. "No one should be allowed to hijack peace and stability in our country."
Another retired military officer who is quick to respond to
provocations from Putrajaya concerning issues involving the military is
Major (Rtd) D Swami, whose blog '7thRangers' is a veritable treasure trove of military lore. The major, who was part of the Malaysian contingent in the UN
peacekeeping force in Somalia, is perhaps the foremost chronicler of the
roles played by non-Malays in the armed forces. More
importantly, Swami's blog is a testament to the historical, multiracial
composition of the MAF and contemporary efforts to downplay the role of
minorities in the service.
It would seem that Malaysians, or at
least a certain section of the electorate, has been suffering under some
kind of Stockholm syndrome when it comes to Umno and the state's
security apparatus. Waking up the very real concerns of military
involvement in the electoral process has resulted in renewed calls for
Umno political leaders and the Malaysian Armed Forces to unambiguously
declare that there will be a peaceful transition of power and that the
impartiality of the MAF will remain sacrosanct.
concluding part of this piece tomorrow, I will draw upon the writings of
a retired general in an attempt to briefly contextualise the problems
this ‘fear' involves and explain why I think, in the current Malaysian
political atmosphere, such calls are exercises in futility. Malaysiakini