Monday, 10-Dec-2001 8:56 AM
RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 4
By Dr Syed Husin Ali
5. Operasi Lalang Arrests
Internal conflicts within the UMNO leadership continued, but with
different actors. At the beginning of the eighties, Malaysia was
undergoing a serious recession, which badly affected the prices
of agricultural commodities and the incomes of their rural producers.
Owing to the economic downturn, there was not enough "cake" to go
around; it was divided mainly among those close to the government
top leadership. A lot of discontent was voiced through leaders of
a certain faction of the UMNO leadership who were deprived of any
share of the cake.
The economic downturn also gave rise to dissatisfactions that were
racial in nature. It was easy for the Malays to blame the Chinese
for the difficult economic conditions because of the latter's perceived
economic control, just as it was not difficult for the Chinese to
blame the Malays, whom they saw as being responsible for government
and its discriminatory policies.
The inter-ethnic tensions became exacerbated by the growing controversy
on Chinese educational rights, and the apparent attempt by the government,
which was perceived as being pro-Malay, to control the administration
of Chinese schools. At the same time, as the government became more
repressive by introducing new acts, like the Official Secrets Act
(OSA) and Society's Act, many NGOs became openly critical of government.
The situation became very uncertain when his Finance Minister, Tengku
Razaleigh, challenged PM Mahathir as President in an election held
during an UMNO General Assembly in 1986. Mahathir won with a small
margin of 37 votes. But, following a suit that was brought up owing
to the presence of
unqualified branches in the assembly, the court took the decision
to close down UMNO. Mahathir quickly moved to form a new UMNO to
replace the old one. Internal conflicts finally led to the split
In order to perpetrate itself, the government again resorted to
the ISA by launching "Operasi Lalang" in 1987 to arrest not only
some politicians from the government and opposition, but also educational,
social and religious (particularly Christian) activists. The faction
in UMNO that split later formed a party and established a new opposition
coalition to face the elections in 1990. Interestingly, for the
first time, this provided a good opportunity for developing a "two
front" system, which was multi-ethnic. But unfortunately the opposition
front cracked, partly under the strain of ethnic politics. Finally,
the splinter UMNO group rejoined its parent organisation.
6. The Anwar Saga
In the middle of 1997, the Asian economic crisis began to be felt
in Malaysia and affected the ruling party. Mahathir saw his Deputy
Anwar Ibrahim, who had different ideas from him on how to overcome
the economic downturn, as mounting a challenge against him. On the
bases of allegations for corruption and sexual misdemeanour, Anwar
was brought to court. At the same time Mahathir took the opportunity
of removing Anwar from government as well as the party.
Mahathir of conspiracy. Mahathir acted entirely on the basis of
allegations made against Anwar by a woman of doubtful repute and
repeated in a book that did not provide any shred of evidence. The
affidavits against Anwar were made public by the police even before
they reached the court. The judge blatantly showed his own bias,
by accepting prosecution evidence even when the time and place relating
to Anwar's alleged sodomy was changed three times. Now Anwar is
suffering under a 15-year jail sentence.
About two weeks after his dismissal, Anwar launched a series of
public campaign all over the country, which drew enormous number
of people. He accused Mahathir of cronyism, nepotism and corruption,
and launched the Reformasi movement, quite similar to the one in
Indonesia. On the night of
20th September 1999 the police arrested Anwar for alleged criminal
acts. That same night he was beaten almost to death by the head
of the police force.
The law required him to be brought to court within 24 hours, but
because of his serious injury, the police used their power to detain
him under the ISA, so that he could be held initially for up to
sixty days without trial. Two coalitions of opposition political
parties together with some NGOs, called
GAGASAN and GERAK, were formed to oppose the draconian ISA and the
unjust treatment meted out to Anwar. Within the next few days a
number of Anwar's lieutenants and supporters were also detained
under the ISA. But almost all of them were released within the first
Owing largely to the strong campaign mounted especially by GERAK,
Anwar's ISA detention was revoked after a week, and he was brought
to court to face criminal charges. But Anwar's black eye was very
clear for the world to see. This created uproar among the people.
For a number of weeks peaceful demonstrations were held by thousands
of people who had spontaneously continued the reform movement that
was begun by Anwar. The police suppressed them by resorting brutal
means and thus provoked some violence. Hundreds of people were arrested.
Anwar's followers initially formed an NGO called ADIL, and later
established a political party known as the National Justice Party
(KeADILan) in 1999. Soon it took the initiative of calling a meeting
of the main opposition parties to form a coalition to be known as
the Alternative Front (BA) consisting of PAS, Keadilan, DAP and
PRM. This front was multi-ethnic and multi-religious in composition.
Again there was an opportunity of establishing a two-front system
in Malaysian politics.
The BA produced a common manifesto entitled "Towards a Just Malaysia"
and stood united against the ruling coalition (BN) in the 1999 general
elections. It failed to deny BN two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Now, owing to differences between the DAP (Democratic Action Party)
and PAS over
the issue of Islamic State, the DAP has decided to leave the BA,
and thus weakened it and at the same time strengthened the BN government.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 1
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 2
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 3
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 5