A decade of unity and reconciliation

(Speech by the Parliamentary Leader, DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the debate on Royal Address on March 18, 1980)

I rise to support the Motion of Thanks to His Majesty for His Gracious Address to both Houses of Parliament yesterday.

His Majesty, at the outset of His Gracious Address, rightly reminded us that this session takes place during a historically significant period. We are entering the decade of the Eighties. This year is also the last year of the Third Malaysia Plan and the mid-way mark of the 20-year Perspective New Economic Policy of the Government.

In closing, His Majesty exhorted Malaysians to give their fullest support to all the efforts to forge “a society that is united, strong, peaceful and prosperous governed by a clean Government.”

National unity, without doubt, holds the key to Malaysia’s future, for without national unity, Malaysia can neither be strong nor peaceful, nor can any prosperity of the country long endure.

Over the years, a lot of lip-service had been paid to the objective of national unity, but no serious attempt has been made by the Government to assess or ensure that government policies enhance and not undermine national unity.

It is no use the Government Ministers claiming that all government policies and measures are guided by the objective of creating national unity. These are empty words. The New Economic Policy, with its two prong approach of restructuring society and elimination of poverty, also proclaimed that its overriding objective is to achieve national unity. But any objective and impartial person must admit that certain aspects of the New Economic Policy had the effect of promoting national disunity and between the races, but also between the classes.

What is clearly needed is a separate to monitor and evaluate the national unity aspect of government policies and measures.

When the New Economic Policy was proclaimed in 1970, there was much talk about national unity. In fact, an entire Ministry of National Unity was created, but subsequently this was reduced to a National Unity Board, and today, nobody knows whether the National Unity Board still exists or has died of natural causes. Not that much good would come from the appointment of a Chairman of the National Unity Board, as the Board in all its years had completely failed to make any contribution in identifying the causes of national unity, of pin-pointing policies and measures which create disunity, or in any way make an impact in the most important subject in the country.

Regional and international developments have shown that we live in a dangerous world. The Soviet-backed Vietnamese aggression in Kampuchea and the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, so close to our homeland, should be strong reminders that there are predatory nations who would violate the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of other nations for their big-power interests.

Malaysia, like other ASEAN countries, has reacted to these developments with increased military spending. But no amount of military spending will benefit Malaysia unless the people are united and one.

Entering the Eighties, we should be frank with ourselves and search out the causes and areas of national disunity, and devise new strategies to repair such national divisions. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that nation building in terms of making Malaysian citizens identify themselves as citizens first and their racial affiliations subsidiary had been a great success.

As a complex plural society, such national divisions could stem from class differences, or racial, religious or cultural grounds.

The recent demonstration by the padi farmers in Kedah on January 23, which is reminiscent of the Baling demonstrations by the rubber tappers in 1974, is symptomatic of a New Economic Policy which could not bring the fruits of development to primarily benefit the farmers. Despite the multi-million dollar development expenditures, the inequitable’ structural land system where absentee landlords gain more from public development expenditures than tenant-operators on uneconomic-sized holdings, government maladministration and corrupt practices, combine to deny the peasants their rightful due.

I do not speak for PAS, but on a matter of principle, the government’s use of the Internal Security Act to detain PAS officials and others for being allegedly behind the Kedah demonstrations by padi farmers must be condemned as another abuse of power by the political party in power. If the PAS officials and others had committed any offences under the ordinary laws of the land, then they should be charged in court and tried. The Internal Security Act was enacted to deal with extraordinary situations with grave security implications for the country, and not meant to deal with ordinary dissent or demonstration which could amply be dealt with by the ordinary laws.

In this connection, the indiscriminate use of the Internal Security Act in a wide variety of circumstances which do not remotely affect security must be viewed with concern by Malaysians.

In February last year the Internal Security Act was used against trade union officials and workers.

In Johore, a PSRM member who entered a caveat against the transfer of the BBC land in Plentong, Johore from being sold to a private company was detained under the ISA after the entry.

At the rate the government is misusing the ISA, it will not be long before the government begin to consider using the ISA against those who should choose to stand against key Ministers in general elections.

The human rights record in Malaysia is a disgrace to Malaysians. The Amnesty International, in a Report on the Human Rights situation in Malaysia, submitted eleven recommendations for the Malaysian Government to rectify long-standing human rights violations, whether in arbitrary detention of political opponents or critics under the ISA or detention conditions.

The Amnesty International Report was banned by the Malaysian Government, which can only confirm in national and international eyes, the truth of the indictment of human rights violations as set out in the Amnesty International Report.

Last week, the authorities executed three persons convicted of offences under the Internal Security Act and whose appeal for clemency had been rejected by the Rulers concerned.

I understand that there are some 34 condemned prisoners in the death rows on conviction under the Internal Security Act and sentenced mandatorily to death and whose pleas for clemency had been rejected. I further understand that the authorities concerned propose to carry out executions of these 34 condemned in batches every Friday. In virtually all these 34 cases, their offence is for possession of firearm. To execute persons convicted on possession of firearms, but who have not been guilty persons convicted on possession of firearms, but who have not been guilty of violence of any nature is too inhumane and uncivilized for Malaysia, and will be an eternal blot on Malaysia’s conscience and irreparably tarnish Malaysia’s international image and reputation.

I had last week sent an urgent telegram to the Prime Minister to appeal for a stay of execution, as an Orgy of Execution of 34 condemned prisoners in batches every Friday will create national and international revulsion, and is completely indefensible. I wish here to renew my plea to the Prime Minister to give another opportunity to the condemned and to commute the death sentences imposed mandatorily into life imprisonment.

I believe men and women of decency of all races, faiths and classes will appreciate the commutation of the mandatory death penalty into life sentences.

The Government has assumed authoritarian powers under the Internal Security Act, under the cover of Emergency Proclamations although the situations giving rise to such proclamations, have long ceased to exist. The Government should heed the voice of reason and decency inside and outside the country for greater respect for human rights, and I call on the government to establish a Royal Commission on Human Rights, to survey the extent human rights in Malaysia had been respected or violated in Malaysia in the 23 years since Merdeka, and also to prepare a finding on the Amnesty International Report.

A national debate on the state of human rights in Malaysia is needed if the drift towards indiscriminate use of the ISA against any critic or dissenter is to be halted. Further, the use of the ISA to silence the sufferings and deprivations of workers and farmers can only accentuate class differences, and lead to greater national disunity.

I call on the Prime Minister to seriously consider the proposal of a royal commission comprising an independent panel of eminent Malaysians of all races and cross sections to examine the human rights situation in Malaysia, for no one, not even the Prime Minister or the Minister of Home Affairs, has the sole wisdom or monopoly of knowing what is good for Malaysia.

Malaysians, particularly non-Malays, are heartened by the speech of His Majesty warning against the activities of “those who believe that Islam is intolerant and so they engage in negative activities which tarnish an image of Islam.”

In the last two years, the manifestation of religious intolerance in some Islamic groups had caused grave disquiet and concern in the country. If unchecked, this could prove to be a powerful factor for disunity in Malaysia in the 1980s, bringing to Malaysia religious discord which we had so far been mercifully spared.

This intolerance towards other religions has manifested itself in several forms. The most conspicuous had been the spate of desecration of Hindu and a few Chinese temples. Another manifestation had been the objection to the construction of the Kuan Yin Buddhist statue in Kek Lok Si in Ayer Itam in Penang on the ground that it was too high.

In Malaysia, the constitution provides Islam as the official religion and guarantees freedom of worship. We find in Malaysia the great religions of the world – Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. The attitude we should inculcate in Malaysians should be one of open-mindedness and tolerance, rather than one which is narrow, intolerant and bigoted.

An open-minded and tolerant attitude would welcome the flourishing of the various religions in Malaysia, in a state of inter-religious harmony and co-existence, and which will rejoice at the building of the biggest mosque, the biggest temple, the biggest church, and the highest Buddhist statue in South East Asia or this part of Asia in Malaysia.

A narrow, intolerant and bigoted attitude would regard the restriction of the activities of other faiths and religions as a pre-condition for the promotion of one’s own, and would be ever ready to consider the promotion of other religions as an insult to one’s own.

It is public knowledge and record that non-Muslims in Malaysia contributed generously to the building of the National Mosque and other state mosques. Such activities which cut across religions promote inter-religious understanding and harmony, should be encouraged, for religious intolerance may prove to be the bane of Malaysian nation building.

The narrow, intolerant and bigoted attitude, which regards the diminution of activities or rights of others as a pre-condition of the promotion of one’s own, can be seen in many areas of public life. This explains the recent change in broadcasting policy with regard to Thaipusam past practice on the ground that programmes, which departed from Thaipusam is not a national festival.

This is most regrettable, for it shows that in many public areas, administrative decisions are taken to interpret restrictively the freedom of worship guaranteed in the Constitution.

National unity in Malaysia can only be predicated on continued inter-religious harmony and co-existence. The time has probably come for the various religions in Malaysia to establish some machinery for promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding, and I would urge the Prime Minister to take steps to establish an Inter-Religious Council where representatives of the various religions could meet regularly to exchange views and take steps to promote inter-religious understanding.

The Cabinet Committee Report on Education has recommended that when Muslim students study Islamic Knowledge, non-Muslim students would study a new subject – Morals and Ethics; and that Islamic knowledge would be compulsory for Muslim students and Morals and Ethics would compulsory for non-Muslim students. In keeping with the spirit of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of worship, instead of the new subject Morals and Ethics for non-Muslim students, non-Muslim students should taught the religion they profess thus Christian pupils Christianity, Buddhist pupils taught Buddhism and Hindu pupils taught Hinduism. I would commend this proposal for the serious consideration the Government, and would also hope for public reactions to this taught proposal.

I have sought briefly to outline some of the various potent divisive factors retarding national unity arising from class, human rights, religious, cultural and racial angles.

These problems can be ignored at the price of national disunity, will become a grave problem in the face of external pressures and/or economic depression.

Malaysia is very fortunate economically in that our commodities fetched very high international prices. But if we imagine a scenario where there is a collapse of the price of our commodities, and a nation faced with external threats and challenges, I shudder to think of the national resilience and unity available to tide the country through national crisis.

This is why it is all the more essential that we should strenuously build up national unity and resilience among the people which would be to withstand any type of crisis or challenge whatever the eventuality.

This is why I would call on the national leaders to exert themselves national concerted effort to make the 1980s a Decade of Unity and Reconciliation which would unite the people of diverse origins into one people through according respect and rightful place to the people’s legitimate aspirations.

Malaysia is living on borrowed time. We must turn the borrowed time good use, so that the people of Malaysia become masters of their own through the discovery of a common national consciousness and identity.

In this regard, I would call on the Government to introduce national service, not so much for the military reasons, but because it is a crucible put all young Malaysians together to mould them into becoming a closer model to a Malaysian citizen instead of merely Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans.