aliran logo
   Aliran Monthly    Statements   Human Rights    NGOs   Links   Join Us   About Us   Bahasa    

Suqiu and Malay Rights

What is the fuss about?

by P Ramakrishnan

Those of you who have been following the controversy surrounding the 17-point memorandum may rightly wonder what the fuss is all about. The fact is, this memorandum was drawn up by 13 Chinese associations and endorsed by 2,095 other Chinese associations in August 1999.

This memorandum, among other things, called for promotion of national unity, advancing democracy, upholding human rights and justice, curbing corruption, having a fair and equitable economic policy and restoring confidence in the police force.

This memorandum was accepted unconditionally and without reservation by the MCA, the Gerakan, the SUPP and the Cabinet. The Barisan Alternative also accepted this fully. Nobody questioned or berated the Malaysian Chinese Organisations Election Committee, commonly referred to as Suqiu, for formulating this document; nobody chided it for the timing.

ling In commenting on the contents of the memorandum as reported in The Star of 23 September 1999, two months before the General Elections, Dr Ling Liong Sik said, “None of the issues had caused any controversy or were rejected by the Cabinet outright.”

He added, “We feel that the principles are universal and can be accepted by all ... ”

The print and electronic media gave great publicity creating the impression that the 17-point election appeals were non -controversial and acceptable to the Cabinet and the BN, as was meant.

The implicit implication was that there were no objections whatsoever to any of the 17 points in the memorandum from any of the parties in the BN including UMNO. It meant that questions raised in the memorandum would be addressed honestly and will eventually be implemented.

When you publicly and voluntarily accept, you pledge your word of honour. Your integrity is at stake when you give your word of honour and it must not be breached -- it cannot be broken. That is the hallmark of honour and morality.

Gandhi observed, “Morality is the basis of all things and truth is the substance of morality”.

And truth was sadly lacking when the BN accepted the 17-point election demands just before the 10th General Elections.

Mahathir confirmed this when he revealed in Parliament on 11 December that the social contract made among the races would have come undone if all 17 points in Suqiu’s memorandum were accepted by the government. He also said that bowing to Suqiu’s requests would have also meant that the Constitution would have to be set aside.

If that was the case, why did the BN accept these demands in the first place? It is a legitimate question to ask.

Mahathir’s answer was both baffling and revealing. He said that the Cabinet was forced to accept “in principle” Suqiu’s 17-point memorandum as the general election was approaching!

According to him if the Barisan were to turn down Suqiu’s memorandum then, the party would have lost in the general election.

Shamelessly he said, “We had to refrain from taking a strong position against Suqiu’s demands then as this would have meant our defeat.”

In other words the BN is ever ready to mislead and lie to the electorate to remain in power. They have no qualms about lying or pledging promises that they do not intend to keep. Apparently ethics can be thrown to the winds to win votes -- winning is all that matters to the BN.

If “the principles (in the memorandum) are universal and can be accepted by all” as claimed by Ling last year, why does Mahathir now insist that “Suqiu is defying the country’s social contract in an attempt to seize everything for the benefit of one race alone through so-called meritocracy and equal rights -- all of which were renounced by the Malays 50 years ago. ”

Are these two leaders contradicting themselves deliberately or telling different tales.

As if to further confound the truth, Ling was quoted by The Sun only on 16 December as saying that Suqiu had chosen the wrong time to raise the issue of special rights and privileges of the Malays.

This is utter rubbish and a damnable lie!

On 12 December (The Star) Mahathir had “admitted Suqiu had never explicitly stated that it was demanding for the Malays to be stripped of their special status ...”

I have gone through the memorandum many times because one tends to become confused when the question of special rights and privileges keep on cropping up in connection with the memorandum. I can categorically say, this was never mentioned in the document.

But only honourable men will respect truth -- others will pay scant respect for it.

Suddenly deafening communal howls were heard. Everybody seemed intend in shattering our fragile unity.

Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia got into the act and took Suqiu to task and questioned their motives.

The Malaysian Youth Council, the Islamic Consumers Association and UMNO Youth started to beat the war drums to drum up support for special rights of the Malays as if they were under siege.

The National Silat Federation of Malaysia screamed that three million exponents of silat were ready to fight for the cause.

The Federation of Peninsular Malay Students or GPMS after breaking fast with the Prime Minister at Putra Jaya on 13 December submitted 100 demands on behalf of the Malays. Some of the demands reportedly included 70 per cent Malay intake into local universities and 60 per cent into private colleges and a call to amend the constitution so that only a Malay can be the PM of Malaysia.

This student body has threatened to call a rally of 100,000 people to protest against Suqiu’s demands. They have warned that if Suqiu's demands are not withdrawn within a month, then GPMS will go on a roadshow to every state to agitate against this issue.

All this is aimed, no doubt, at rousing the baser feelings of insanity that will plunge this country into the doldrums of fear and terror and create chaos.

But the special position of the Malays were never questioned or threatened by Suqiu’s demands.

While other parties and personalities in the BN were too scared to tick off these communal agitators, Dr Toh Kin Woon of Gerakan, apparently the only honest BN politician in this episode was decent enough to point out rationally that the GPMS’ reasons for its plan to submit a counter memorandum championing Malay interests and to hold nationwide demonstrations were clearly wrong.

He observed that Suqiu’s request’s were made on behalf of all Malaysians including Bumiputras so as to eradicate poverty irrespective of race which is the first objective of the New Economic Policy.

He added that Suqiu’s demands are, hence, demands of all Malaysians by Malaysians for Malaysians. Given that these demands are just, there is no reason for Suqiu to withdraw them.

He bravely and truthfully stated that Suqiu’s demands did not touch on the abolition of the special privileges of bumiputras as alleged by some quarters but were made in the larger Malaysian interest.

Deep S***

If so, why then have these chauvinists twisted the truth and concocted a lie?

Why is it that a year after this 17-point memorandum was accepted by the BN, it has now become a bitter document. Why are lies concocted to condemn Suqiu for something that it is not guilty of?

umno flag The answer is simple. UMNO is as the Americans would say, in deep s***. UMNO is under siege. Its support is fast eroding and it is no longer seen as the sole saviour of the Malays. It is in a terrible and desperate situation.

According to Dr Shamsul Anwar the UMNO Youth Exco member, “If you go around Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh or even the kampungs, it is difficult to find one or two persons in a group of 10-20 people who support the government.”

He continued, “If we do not act now and put things right, UMNO’s future will be bleak”.

The recent Lunas by-election revealed how bleak that future is. It was a devastating setback and a humilating defeat for UMNO.

In less than a year the BN’s 4,700 majority victory had evaporated into thin air. On the other hand, the opposition garnered more than 5,000 new votes as its support soared in Lunas. The BN lost in all 7 Malay majority areas; it was rejected in all 6 Chinese majority areas. The opposition captured 3 out of 5 ethnically mixed areas. Only the Indian support for the BN was intact and indeed increased by 168 votes. However, that wasn’t sufficient enough to persuade Samy Vellu to stay on in Lunas. He bolted to KL inspite of his promise.

For the BN it was not a mere loss of a seat. Its significance is far greater than that. It lost its 2/3 majority in the Kedah State Assembly as a result of that loss. That was a totally devastating psychological defeat that was very hard to accept for the BN and especially for UMNO. It is hard to swallow that this defeat was inflicted in Mahathir’s state. The result was crushing and damaging.

For Mahathir the blow was even more painful and personal. Many interpret this as Anwar’s victory over Mahathir. Anwar’s presence was all over the place with posters of his black eye looming over everybody to remind people of the rot in the system and the judiciary.

Mahathir is largely perceived as having contributed to BN’s defeat in Lunas. The things he said about Suqiu in his Merdeka day remarks, equating them to the communists, hurt and angered the Chinese. So did his views on Vision Schools which was seen as a threat to Chinese education. The BN was no longer perceived as a benevolent party by the Chinese community.

Bogey

Lunas exposed UMNO’s weakness and Mahathir’s liability. And there are rumblings about the characteristics of the leadership which will not be an asset in the next election.

This is why the bogey of the Malay special rights and privileges is being played up to deflect criticism from Mahathir and divert attention from the mess UMNO is in, desperately hoping that the Malays will rally around UMNO.

This is why the Malay press is playing up the Suqiu issue. Is this why the Federation of Malay Students after breaking fast with Mahathir have indicated that they will submit 100 demands to safeguard the interests of Malays. They have threatened to hold a huge gatheirng of 100,000 people to urge the Malay community to rise and defend their rights.

Obviously, we are living in dangerous times and unscrupulous politicians are taking us to the brink of national disaster in order to safeguard their power and position. They will stoop to any level to maintain their position and they will stop at nothing to tighten their grip on the reins of power.

You will recall how, out of the blue, 14 bus loads of Barisan supporters suddenly descended on Lunas in the early hours on polling day. The Barisan Alternatif was alerted and were waiting in ambush when they arrived. They claimed that these were phantom voters brought in by the BN to win in Lunas. But Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob the Secretary-General of UMNO insisted that these supporters were there to provide assistance.

However, Mohd Azmin, Anwar’s former personal secretary reportedly told him in front of the OCPD, "Tan Sri kita semua datang dari lubang yang sama. Kita tahu”. With that the BN supporters were escorted out of Lunas.

We know on the day of polling there can be no canvasing or campaigning. If these supporters had come one or two days earlier, then we could buy the BN’s argument that they were there to help. But under the circumstances the whole thing stinks!

We wonder is this how Dr Chen Man Hin was defeated in Seremban; how Lim Kit Siang was removed; how Karpal was silenced; how Chandra Muzaffar was marginalised; how Ezam was robbed of his victory?

How can we as concerned and caring citizens not be upset enough to do something to correct the wrong and heal the wound? This is what we should focus on.