“That’s why he said this, ‘There are things I have done that you disagreed with. But let’s do this first, and if you think action will be required, I am willing to be called to account.’”
– Lim Guan Eng on Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s response to Ops Lalang
COMMENT | On the 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang, I keep reading all these articles by former detainees about what they went through, how they coped but most importantly, how they moved on. There is a commonality in their stories, the security apparatus knocking on their doors in the dead of night, the sundering from their loved ones, the interrogations, the camaraderie between political detainees but most important of all, the bewilderment that their deeds warranted such a harsh response from the state.
I always wonder as someone who had served in the state security apparatus, the other side of the story. What is the story of the guards, the interrogators, the personnel who paid late night visits and carted off innocent people from their homes? How do they feel about this aspect of their duties? I have been asked the same questions before.
Now, of course, the architect of the event is the de facto leader of the opposition. Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed has been embraced by the opposition and now leads the insurrection against the Umno state. Those who were detained are high-ranking political operatives in the opposition and have since joined forces with the man they called dictator or worse in the hopes of overthrowing the current Umno grand poobah.
On an emotional level, I don’t think anyone can blame politicians for their ‘forgive if not forget’ strategy. After all, they were the ones detained. They were the ones who lost time. Those social activists who are not on the same boat politically are often times vilified for not getting with the programme. They are told it is a new day and it is time we move on from the past.
There was a time when social activism and political opposition were closely aligned but these days when mainstream politics is defined not by ideology or principles but rather the realpolitik of Mahathir, anyone bringing up uncomfortable truths is shouted down or vilified as attempting to “destroy” the opposition.
Last year, social activist Kua Kia Soong wrote a powerful piece on why Mahathir should apologise for Operation Lallang. The article highlighted not only the democratic abuses that went on his watch but also the financial scandals that for some reason did not make Malaysia a land of thieves.
While the laws enacted after the operation further eroded our civil liberties, the ones enacted by the current Umno grand poobah are even more disastrous for our country. So while I cannot make the case that the financial scandals under the Najib administration are worse than under the former prime minister turned de facto opposition leader, I can argue that the clear and present danger to our liberties is the Najib administration.
Indeed, the Najib administration did not even need an Ops Lalang to enact these new laws. Last year when I wrote about the National Security Council Act – “However, this new law is perhaps the most audacious play of tyranthood by a sitting Umno prime minister. Not only has he militarised Umno, he has done it with very little resistance from the Malaysian polity.” – nobody, certainly not the opposition, was very interested in taking it to the streets...