Relentless Master

by Juan L. Mercado

Next-door Malaysia dashed into the future this September by back-pedaling into the past. Its government has clamped back the 1948 Anti-Sedition Law.

This is “the broadest crackdown … since the era of strongman leader Mahathir Mohamad,” now 89, Reuters news agency reported. Yet, “two years ago the multiethnic former British colony appeared set on a path of greater openness.”

Malays today make up 51 percent of the population. Chinese constitute 24 percent, and Indians 7 percent.

Cops arrested Malaysiakini reporter Susan Loone, then released her on bail. Malay groups lodged a police report about Loone quoting an arrested opposition politician as saying that he was treated like “a criminal” while in custody.

University of Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom was detained for commentary on Kuala Lumpur’s 2009 political crisis. Eight opposition politicians were charged with sedition for certain statements, some uttered two years back.

“Seditious tendency” is the legal club. In 1987, under the Mahathir regime’s Operation Lalang, over a hundred intellectuals, students, artists and scientists were arrested. The recycled Internal Security Act permits detention without trial.

Today’s three-party opposition eroded the ruling coalition’s majority in the last two elections. Now, the Anti-Sedition Law selectively clubs its members and activists to undermine the alliance, it’s said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is being pressed by conservatives in the ruling United Malays National Organization (Umno) to take a tougher line. Mahathir withdrew support for Najib for “being weak.” The crackdown is “a strong signal” Najib is sending to say that he’s “not weak,” notes opposition parliamentarian Ong Kian Ming.

Sapped by embedded scandals, Umno seeks to silence the opposition, John Berthelsen wrote in Asia Sentinel. Najib pledged to scrap the Anti-Sedition Law in 2012, “only to shepherd a bill through Parliament that retained many of its provisions.”

Today’s issues include the reorganization of Malaysian Airlines. Two crashes cost 500 lives and racked up huge losses. A proposed bill on goods and services tax is unpopular. And there’s a festering scandal under the 1MDB sovereign fund that Najib helped to create.

Sources told Asia Sentinel that party rebels will go after Najib’s allies with anonymous charges of corruption. Umno’s annual general meeting, to be held later this year, is expected to focus on the squabble. Gagged by a yearly licensing law, the press is silent.

How does all these impact the lives of ordinary Malaysians? Mariam Mokhtar explains on the Internet:

“When my house needs new electrical wiring, the electrician is Chinese or Indian. Both provided long-term services to our family. The plumber who fixed our leaking tank was an Indian. He was my parents’ plumber, too.

“Once I needed the services of a lawyer—an Indian. The person who supplies me with stationery is a Chinese woman married to an Indian. She once supplied my father’s business office his stationery.

“When I was hospitalized, the surgeon who operated on me was Indian. The nurses were either Chinese or Indian. My general practitioner for the usual cough and cold is Chinese. My gynecologist is Indian and my dentist Chinese. They served my parents and I simply carried on with them. No complaints. Good service. Reasonable fee.

“I did go to a Malay doctor once, but he was more interested in ‘tackling’ my younger sister. I dismissed his lack of professionalism as testosterone-driven. He was a bachelor then. On the second visit, years later, he fished for information about other family members.

“One personal question might be excusable. But twice is too much of a coincidence. I never returned. His intrusions compromised professional conduct. I shouldn’t generalize, but this was my personal experience.

“Before the [Hari] Raya feast, I go to my Chinese tailor to make my baju kurung. My hair is cut by a Chinese woman. As before, these people once supplied my mother all her tailoring and hair-grooming requirements. My father’s barber is an Indian.

“Again, before Raya, my mother’s Chinese friends at work would send tins of ‘love letters,’ kueh kapit, for us to enjoy. And on the day itself, plates of pie tee would arrive and my father’s Indian colleagues would send a big pot of chicken curry and putu mayam.

“The dining table groans from contributions of friends, of all races and religions. Until my parents were too old to receive guests, we’d have an open house that was a riot of people sporting various national costumes.

“A real melting pot—a true reflection of Malaysia.

“These people provided my grandparents and my parents essential services. Or they were colleagues at work, or friends from their younger days. They have grown old alongside them.

“Now, people tell me these non-Malays, with whom I grew up and remained friends, through thick and thin, are second-class citizens? That they do not deserve to be Malaysians? That they are inferior to me?

“Am I to believe that if my neighbor’s Chinese husband makes the ultimate sacrifice in line of duty, his life is not as valuable as that of a Malay policeman? Who are these bigots kidding?”

“History is a relentless master,” John F. Kennedy once said. “It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.”



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