Wednesday, 31 October 2007

FLASHBACK: 1988 - The Tunku Had Warned: "Should We Now be Stooges of UMNO?"

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July 1988

Vol. 141, No. 29, 21 Jul 1988, 16


Malaysian Judiciary:
Having Avoided Being Scum, Should We (the People) Now Be Stooges?


Tunku Abdul Rahman
(Tunku Abdul Rahman, who led the then Malaya to independence in 1957, retired as prime minister in 1970)

"... I would like to remind the people of one thing: that if they (the people) allow themselves to be used as stooges by this new party (UMNO Baru) , they will lose their identity as independent, free people and will revert to their old status as backward hangers-on, while the new Umno will have complete control of Malaysia and be able to do as it likes.

...Now, the government is moving to take over the Judiciary.

Yet now, the present government is frightening people with warnings that the violence of 13 May 1969 will be repeated if those in opposition are not stopped in time.

These stories reveal the Government's single purpose -- to hold onto power at ALL costs and for ALL time. ..."

-The late Tunku Abdul Rahman, former Prime Minister of Malaysia (1988)

A by-election is due on 25 August in the constituency of Johor Baru. It is being called because of the battle between the two local Umno camps, one headed by the incumbent MP, Datuk Shahrir Samad, the other by Abu Bakar Dewa. It came to a head when Shahrir, who has refused to join the new Umno -- Umno (Baru), the hastily formed successor to the original Umno -- resigned his seat and challenged Bakar, one of his most vocal critics, to contest the by-election. This thus gives an opportunity for people to decide which faction they support.

I hope that other political parties will stay out of this by-election. Any other party would gain no credit if it were to win because of the divided Umno vote. If they are sporting enough to stay out of the fight -- as I beg them to do -- they can contest the next general election with a clear conscience.

My plea that the people should be allowed to make their choice in the intra-Umno dispute stems from the party's origins on 11 May 1946. The Malays spelled out what they stood for in the party's name: the United Malays National Organisation, a grouping determined to fight for the unity of Malays and the restoration of their rights.

The post-World War II plan of the British for a new Malaya would have turned the country into a colony and brought an end to whatever rights the Malays had in their homeland.

Under the original treaty, the country was divided into three categories:
  • Non-Federated Malay States, which enjoyed a high degree of autonomy under their rulers with British advisers to help the administration;

  • Federated Malay States, with the rulers as figureheads and with nominal powers (mainly dealing with Malay traditions, customs and religious matters), and

  • other British colonies -- Singapore, Penang, Province Wellesley and Malacca.

    When the British scrapped these treaties after World War II, it meant to the Malays the end of their rights.

    Our experience had shown that in the states run by the British, the Malays had no place: their rights were ignored and disregarded. Even their schools were relegated to the lowest rung of the educational ladder, giving "vernacular" education over three or four years -- at the end of which all they could do was to eke out a hand-to-mouth living. A few rich Malays could afford to send their children abroad for higher education, but the huge majority were looked down upon by everybody.

    The plan would have reduced all Malays to the level of human scum. That is why Malays throughout the peninsula answered the call of their first national leader, Datuk Sir Onn Jaafar, to fight the British plan for the Malayan Union.

    In its place the British agreed to set up the Federation of Malaya government and the rulers would be recognised as symbolic heads of state with a bigger say in matters of customs and religion. A few Malays were appointed members of the executive Council; a few others were made members of the Malayan Civil Service. The rest remained as they were.

    Before this new government was formed, Umno appointed three leaders to go to London to put the Malay case to the British Government: Onn, Datuk Bukit Gantang and myself.

    But before we left, London met the rulers. Onn agreed that the matter could be settled within Malaya, with the British high commissioner given the power to agree to any terms he found necessary for the peace and well-being of the country. So we agreed to settle the issue at home.
    But the best we got from the British was an agreement to change the name, from the Malayan Union to the Federation of Malaya Government. The administration still lay almost completely in British hands. The Malays were not satisfied, but gave themselves time to see how the changes would affect them.

    Then one day, Onn sprang a surprise by proposing to open the doors of Umno to non-Malays. Its members were totally opposed so Onn left to launch a new party. He had not expected his loyal Umno colleagues to oppose him.

    Umno found itself without a leader, so they offered the post to me. I accepted on one condition: that Umno must go all out for independence without any terms or conditions which would leave the British any semblance of power in Malaya after independence.

    So it was that we changed the party slogan from "Hidup Melayu" (Long Live the Malays) to "Merdeka" (Independence). With that battle cry Umno swept the country. In the end the British agreed to give Malaya self-determination through popular elections but they wished to retain the right to appoint the majority of Legislative Council members, with the British high commissioner reserving the right to nominate an extra nine members. We knew what this meant. With the majority in their hands, the British would continue to control the government. So we refused to accept their terms.

    I thereupon gave orders to all council members -- federal, state, city and town -- to walk out of the councils and threaten to withdraw their cooperation.

    From our headquarters in Johor Baru we carried out the fight relentlessly. In the end, the British gave in to our demands, and in the 1955 election, the Alliance Party (Umno in coalition with the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress) swept to victory, with the loss of only one seat to Parti Islam (Pas).

    This success bought us self-government and on 31 August 1957 I had the privilege to declare Malaya independent.

    The Malays were united.

    We had to coax, cajole and persuade the non-Malays to join us.

    The Chinese in particular were divided (into the Straits-born, who knew no other country; those who supported the Kuomintang, which held that every Chinese, wherever he was, remained a subject of China, and the communists who were still fighting a bloody battle to take over the country).

    The non-communist Chinese were in a quandary. They hated communism and so agreed to join our independence movement in return for our promises to extend the same rights and freedoms to live and do business as they had enjoyed before.

    So it was that we joined hands and fought for and won independence. For the first time we were able to walk with our heads high as a free and independent people.

    The Malays required help in raising their standard of living, so in the first five-year development plan we agreed on extensive rural development because the people of the kampungs (villages) had been completely neglected by the British.

    To be fair, however, an equal area of land was given to other communities, with the government providing funds and facilities. Next, it provided economic help and business facilities for the Malays, though the government had to subsidise them as the Malays needed time to learn commerce and business.

    All went well. Our economy was good, we were the most developed of all developing countries, and the great majority were satisfied and happy. Development affected religion, social welfare, health, sport and, of course, the countryside.

    Universities were built, taking students from English as well as Malay and Chinese schools.

    I have said before and I repeat now that Malaya had never had it so good. Everybody went about his business to the best of his ability. We were proud and happy with what we were doing.

    But the communists were still at work underground. Their subversive activities were aimed at the opposition parties who thought that the time had come for them to overthrow the Alliance and jointly take over the country. Their efforts came to a head in 1969, perhaps unwittingly aided by some of our men who had similar ambitions. These people, after the race riots of 13 May, openly criticised me. The government had allowed the communists, for the first time, to mount a public funeral procession for an agitator shot by the police. This spiteful decision caused me untold agony and misery, though it did not take the authorities more than two days to put down the rioting.

    Yet now, the present government is frightening people with warnings that the violence of 13 May 1969 will be repeated if those in opposition are not stopped in time. These stories reveal the government's single purpose -- to hold onto power at all costs and for all time.

    The leaders of Umno (Baru) go round the country telling the people that their policies will benefit them, that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

    They choose to forget what the Alliance government did for the kampung people -- the rural development, the aid, subsidies, amenities -- all of which means that today the sons and daughters of the village people can go to university and many people from such origins hold top positions in government and society.

    I would like to remind the people of one thing: that if they allow themselves to be used as stooges by this new party, they will lose their identity as independent, free people and will revert to their old status as backward hangers-on, while the new Umno will have complete control of Malaysia and be able to do as it likes. It is very convenient to hold office without opposition.

    Now, the government is moving to take over the judiciary.

    Five judges of the Supreme Court have been suspended for reasons connected mainly with the Lord President of the Supreme Court, Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas. On 2 July, these judges sat to hear an application on the lord president's behalf. Salleh's application to the High Court that a tribunal sitting in judgment of him be restrained from making any recommendations until his suit be heard had been turned down. So the Supreme Court judges heard the application and gave the restraining order. They were suspended for their pains.

    In a statement, the five judges said they:
    "...owe a public duty to state the correct facts regarding the circumstances under which we sat on Saturday, 2 July, and had to act as we did, and this was primarily on the basis and in view of the fact that the Acting Lord President as the first respondent to the proceedings [Salleh's application] was wholly disqualified from having anything to do with the convening of the session of the Supreme Court that morning. If we had refused to sit on the urgent representation made to us we would have failed in our duty as judges and in our oath to uphold the constitution and administer justice."
    And now the High Court's Justice Datuk Ajaib Singh has dismissed Salleh's claim that the tribunal was unconstitutionally formed.

    The country is in a state of shock. The share market has tumbled. It is feared that the economic situation might worsen, in which case there would be no more funds available to help improve the lot of the kampung folk. That would be disastrous for everyone.
    -Tunku Abdul Rahman
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