Malaysia in the dangerous 80s: Prologue

This collection of parliamentary speeches, including one made in the Malacca State Assembly, from October 1978 to March 1982 is a record of the political developments in the country during the last four years.

Its publication is aimed at informing Malaysians of what the DAP had been saying and fighting for in Parliament, as the ‘free and democratic’ press in Malaysia had consistently blacked out DAP speeches in Parliament.

Since 1978, the nebulous ‘press freedom’ in Malaysia had come under a serious onslaught from a new direction, with more and more local newspapers falling under the ownership and control of one or other of the Barisan Nasional component parties.

These Barisan Nasional component parties bought up local newspapers not because they want to uphold ‘freedom of the press, information and expression’, but to deny the people and country such freedom. These Barisan Nasional component parties buy up local newspaper in the way their corporate arms raided the share market, to serve their own narrow sectarian interests.

These Barisan owned and controlled newspapers operate with painstaking subtlety on normal occasions to build up circulation and credibility. But at times of great political import, as during an election campaign which will determine the fate of their political masters, such Barisan owned and controlled newspapers would show their true colours, thinking of nothing to stoop to the basest of distortions and lies to wreck the Opposition.

This happened in the 1978 general elections, and ever since the announcement by the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, on 21.3.82of the date of Parliamentary and State Assembly dissolutions, we are seeing it happening again, where Barisan owned and controlled newspapers are becoming more and more like party propaganda broadsheet.

It is indeed a most sorry spectacle to see proud journalists who defend their journalistic honours, independence and ethics suddenly being converted, against their will, into party hacks.

Recently, the 2M leadership of Dr. Mahathir and Datuk Musa Hitam boasted that they had ‘taken the winds out of the DAP sail’. This is firstly a backhand compliment and admission that the DAP had been talking sense all these years, in standing up for a clean, efficient and dedicated government service committed to the removal of social and economic inequalities and injustice, and the creation of a tolerant, multi-racial, multi-cultural nation.

It is however premature for the 2M leadership to claim that they had denuded the DAP of issues. The fact that the 2M leadership continued to band public rallies during the elections campaign is a virtual admission that the DAP has issues which capture the imagination of the public and provide a challenge to the present nation building policies of the government.

The life of an Opposition MP or Assemblyman is always under intense pressure. While writing this prologue, I received an anonymous telephone call abusing me with obscenities, clearly inspired by some MCA polls strategist to try to upset my peace of mind on the eve of general elections. This is one of our occupational hazards.

The road of an Opposition is a hard and stony one, interspersed with great pressures and temptations.

The Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, once described how easy it was to exercise political control in Malaysia. He wrote that “As Malaysians are generally accustomed to a soft life, small pressures and sufficient to keep people in line.”

The Opposition are people who had forsaken an easy life, and must be prepared to face more than ‘small pressures’ to keep them in line. Two of our leaders, Sdr. Chian Heng Kai and Sdr. Chan Kok Kit, had just regained their freedom in July last year after four years and nine months of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act since 1976, not because of any crime against the country of people, but because they exercised their constitutional and political right to speak their mind.

DAP leaders have become no strangers to the courtroom, which has become another arena to apply “small pressures to keep people in line”.

Many had broken, especially when tempted by the glitter of gold and glint of Mammon. Just as two thousand years ago Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver, it should be no wonder that two thousand years later, there are modern-day Judas Iscariots who betray the Party and people for thirty acres of housing land.

The wonder is not that so many had betrayed, but that despite such intense pressures and great temptations, so many had stood firm by their convictions and remain wedded to the commitment to struggle for a democratic socialist, genuinely multi-racial Malaysian Malaysia.

The lot of an Opposition MP or State Assemblymen is a frustrating one.

I had been accused of all sorts of things in Parliament for speaking up for the people. Only two weeks ago, I was accused in Parliament by the Deputy Defence Minister, Abang Abu Bakar, of serving the communist cause in raising the issue of military indiscipline in Mengkarak, on February 26, where soldiers had assaulted tappers, including women and a 13-year old boy, with their rifles, slapping and kicking them, even demanding that they strip themselves. One was so seriously injured as to have to be hospitalised at the Mentakab General Hospital.

Abang Abu Bakar and other government officials do not seem to understand that it is precisely such governmental indifference to military indiscipline, treating victims assaulted by soldiers as pro-communists out to defame the armed forces, who are in fact the best friends of the communists in greatly alienating the people from the government and the military.

I was accused by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, in 1979 as the biggest stumbling block to national unity. As I said in reply, if I am the biggest stumbling block to national unity, then the problem could easily be resolved: arrest me and hey presto, national unity in Malaysia is established! But who would be so naive as to believe this?

My parliamentary colleagues and I in the DAP had often been told in Parliament that if we did not like the way things were run in Malaysia, we could leave the country. Let me repeat here that DAP MPs, like other Malaysians, are full-blooded citizens who have the inalienable right to help decide Malaysia’s political future and speak our mind. If there are people who do not like what we do and hear what we say, then they are at liberty to leave Malaysia themselves!

What adds to the frustration of an Opposition MP or Assemblyman is the ‘tyranny of the majority’ where the Barisan Used their brutal majority in utter disregard of well-established parliamentary practices and connections to score some party political advantage.

A good example is the clumsy attempt by the Malacca Barisan Nasional to declare my State Assembly seat of Kubu vacant on the spurious ground that I had been absent from the Malacca Assembly for six months without leave, when I had not been so absent.

Even the late Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, Tan Sri Syed Nasir was amazed by such blatant politicking and contempt for parliamentary practices, as he told me later that he had advised the Chief Minister of Malacca, Adib Adam, that the Malacca Assembly would be the ‘laughing stock’ of the world if they blew up the issue.

But what really held back the Malacca Barisan Nasional from proceeding with their original intention to declare the Kubu seat vacant and force a by-election, was the fear that the Barisan Nasional would get a scrubbing in Kubu.

Thus, the Star of 17th November 1980, with the front-page headline “ADIB: WE WANT TO REMOVE KIT SIANG”, reported:

“The Barisan Nasional is serious in its move to declare the Kubu seat held by DAP leader, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, vacant, said Malacca Chief Minister Encik Mohamed Adib bin Haji Adam yesterday”

“He said that the motion would be tabled at the next seating of the State Legislative Assembly on November 25”

“Encik Adib was speaking to reporters after closing a Civics and Political Course in Alor Gajah”

“He said the Barisan Nasional had the power to declare the seat vacant under Article 17 of the Malacca Constitution.”

On 26th November 1980, in another front-page story headlines “KIT SIANG TO LOSE HIS SEAT”, the Star reported:

“The Barisan Nasional is going ahead with its plant to unseat Mr. Lim Kit Siang in the Malacca State Assembly tomorrow, Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said today.”

When the Barisan Nasional realised that they were not assured of a victory in Kubu should they use their brute majority to declare a by-election, the Kubu episode dragged out for over a year for them to find a face-saving way out.

The Malacca Assembly Privileges Committee came out with a most fantastic report on the Kubu episode which is reproduced here as an appendix to give it permanent record as to the type of illogic and nonsense that could be produced when legal, constitutional and parliamentary principles and practices are subordinated to justify an untenable political position

My suspension for a day from the Malacca Assembly on December 10 last year ended the Kubu episode, although the one-day suspension was designed to enable the Malacca Barisan Nasional to find a face-saving device out of the KGB fiasco in the Malacca Assembly.

The KGB episode is another sorry record of the Malacca State Assembly.

On October 1, 1981, the DAP turncoat, Chan Teck Chan, repeated the allegation in he Malacca Assembly that I was a KGB agent.

In the motion to establish a Special Select Committee to investigate Chan Teck Chan’s serious allegation, the Chief Minister, Adib Adam, said that Chan Teck Chan must produce solid proof for his allegations as he should know the consequences if they were found to be untrue.

He also said that if the allegations were found to be true, it would be amount to treason, which attracts the capital punishment of death penalty.

I welcomed the investigations as the best way to get to the truth of the matter.

The Select Committee comprised the Chief Minister, Adib Adam, the Speaker, Datuk Aziz Tapa, State Exco Member, Ahmad Nordin Mohamed Amin, DAP Assemblyman for Bandar Hilir, Sdr. Bernard Sta Maria, and State Legal Adviser, Ariffin Zakaria.

I was most anxious that the Select Committee complete its investigations with a sense of urgency, because of the gravity of the allegation, the security implication and slur on my reputation.

But the Select Committee appeared to be completely indifferent to its duties, and when week after week, the Select committee did nothing. I sought a meeting with both the Chief Minister and Speaker urging on them the gravity of the investigations, especially as there was great likelihood that the Assembly would be dissolved in the first half of 1982 for general elections.

On November 30, 1981, I wrote an urgent letter to the Chief Minister, which I reproduce below:

“YAB Adib Adam,
Chief Minister,

Select Committee Investigations into allegations that a member is a KGB Agent

I refer to the press report in the Nanyang Siang Pao on November 25 and Star on November 26, quoting you as saying that the Select committee to investigate into allegations from the Member for Tranquerah (Chan Teck Chan) that I am a KGB agent had met only once, and would not be able to complete its report in time for the next Malacca State Assembly meeting beginning on December 8.

You will recall that I specifically asked for an appointment with you on November 12 where I expressed to you my great concern with the Select Committee investigations into the Member for Tranquerah’s allegations re KGB agent should be completed and presented to the next State Assembly meeting because of the seriousness of the matter.

I said I was not concerned at that stage in what finding the Select Committee was going to come to, whether there was truth or completely no basis for the Member for Tranquerah’s allegations but that in all fairness to the accused and to the gravity of the matter, which if true, would affect the security of the country, the finding must be completed with the greatest despatch and in time for the next Assembly meeting.

It would either do me or the country’s security a grave injustice for such a serious allegation to be allowed to hang in the air and the State Assembly Select Committee would be open to accusation of not taking the security of the country or the dignity of the Malacca Legislative Assembly seriously if it does not conclude its work with the urgency it warranted.

I have, in a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the Speaker, Datuk Aziz Tapa, dated November 15, made myself available to the Select Committee on any day or time of the day, given one day’s notice, to help the Select Committee in its work. I had also stated that I am prepared to cancel all my previous engagements to enable the Select Committee to complete its work and make a final report to the Assembly on December 8.

I cannot in all frankness understand thy the Select Committee should have difficulty in concluding its work in time for making a final report to the State Assembly, for I believe that the Member for Tranquerah, having made such a serious allegation in the Assembly, would be too ready to furnish whatever evidence of substantiation he had, if any, to the Select Committee and to assist the Select Committee in coming to a final conclusion in time for reporting to the Malacca Assembly on December 8.

The matter in hand concerns not only the dignity of the Malacca Assembly and the security of the country, but also my reputation as there is no more heinous crime than to be accused of high treason in acting as a KGB agent.

Even at this date, I do not see why the Select Committee could not complete its finding in time for the December 8 meeting of the Malacca Assembly, and I write this letter to express my hope that the Select committee could still present its final report at the forthcoming meeting of the Malacca Assembly.”

In my letter to the Speaker, I stressed that there must be a sense of urgency to resolve the matter because “a day’s delay in concluding the investigations into the allegations is a day of injustice and wrong to the accused, as it perpetuates a lie and slander: while if the allegation is true, a day’s delay is a day’s negligence in allowing an agent of a foreign power to operate with impunity.”

The Select Committee was apparently unmoved and uninterested, and continued to drag its feet.

At the Malacca Assembly meeting on December 10, the Government gave notice to move a motion to provide for a quorum for the Select Committee.

This confirmed my worst fears, for I had heard that the MCA President, Datuk Lee San Choon, was applying pressure on the Select Committee to drag its feet so that it would lapse with the expected Assembly dissolution sometime in April, leaving the matter in an inconclusive state.

I had intended to participate in the debate on the motion on the Malacca Select Committee, but was prevented from doing so, as the Government proposed to suspend me for the rest of that day’s session over the Kubu issue.

When I protested against the whole process and asked whether it was not true that Datuk Lee San Choon had applied pressure on the Select Committee to delay its investigations, the Chief Minister, Adib Adam, staged a magnificent show of outrage, banging the table and declaring that he would resign as Chief Minister if the Select Committee was ever influenced by a third party.

I sought for a clear-cut promise that as general elections were expected in early 1982, that the Select committee would definitely complete its finding before any such dissolutions, and that the Assembly would be summoned, as an emergency session if necessary, to deal with the Select Committee’s report.

Both the Chief Minister and Speaker gave this solemn undertaking that they will not allow the Select committee to lapse without conclusion, and all this is all recorded in the Assembly Hansard.

Both the Chief Minister and the Speaker have now reneged on their promises, for the Malacca Assembly will be dissolved on March 29 without the Select Committee having done anything, not even having met once since the December 10 Assembly meeting.

Dr. Mahathir has said that the Barisan Nasional 1982 election manifesto theme is ‘a clean, efficient and trustworthy government’.

Can the Malacca Barisan Nasional Government claim to be an ‘efficient and trustworthy’ government in the way they had handled such a serious allegation that a Member of the Assembly is a KGB agent?

Can a government, which formed a Special Select Committee to investigate into the KGB allegation about an Assemblyman, on the ground that it is very serious, and the decided deliberately to do nothing for six months despite my repeated prodding, to be regarded as ‘efficient’ and ‘trustworthy’?

Is Adib Adam going to resign from public life for events have proved that Datuk Lee San Choon had successfully pressured the Select committee to delay investigations until the Assembly dissolution caused the matter to lapse?

Four days ago, I had telephoned Adib Adam and asked him to summon an emergency meeting of the Assembly before the dissolution on March 29 to dispose of the KGB matter, but the Chief Minister said there was no more time and the matter would be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

I am shocked that the Malacca Chief Minister seems to be completely ignorant that he had no authority to refer the matter to the Ministry of Home Affairs, as it was the Malacca Assembly which set up the Select Committee, whose task is to complete its findings and report back to the Malacca Assembly. If the Chief Minister of Malacca does not know that what he had said and done were unconstitutional and a breach of privilege of the Malacca Assembly, it is no wonder that in many Assemblies in the country, there is so much chaos.

The reason for the Select Committee’s feet-dragging is obvious to all. The Barisan Nasional would not be so ‘tender hearted’ to protect me if there is any truth in the KGB allegation, for the Barisan had never hesitated to take action against me on the flimsiest of excuses.

The Select Committee, under pressure from Datuk Lee San Choon, was seeking to protect the accuser, for he had absolutely no proof or basis for such an allegation. In fact, he dared not accept my challenge to repeat his KGB allegation against me outside the privilege of the Assembly, so that I Could seek legal redress.

This is why DAP Assemblyman, Sdr. Bernard Sta Maria, resigned from the Select Committee in protest against its gross failure to uphold the dignity and integrity of the Assembly.

Sdr. Karpal Singh’s removal from the Penang Assembly sittings is another shameful episode of the tyranny of the Barisan majority, which cannot be trusted with too much power.

The Penang State Speaker and the Penang Chief Minister, Dr. Lim Chong Eu, had in fact hit on the unprecedented device of attaching the maximum penalty on a most minor matter.

Firstly, the suspension of a member where the time period is not specified operates during the duration of the Assembly meeting, and not to last as the life of the Assembly. The Penang Assembly is setting parliamentary history in giving such a construction to the suspension of a member.

Secondly, in requiring Sdr. Karpal Singh to apologise or he would not be allowed to return to the Assembly, the Penang Assembly has made itself another laughing stock, for this conditional penalty is unheard of in parliamentary annals.

The very fact that Sdr. Karpal Singh could apologise and dispose of the matter shows that it is the most minor matter, for otherwise, an apology alone would not be adequate. If Sdr. Karpal Singh refuses to apologise, because he had done no wrong having been misled by the Penang Speaker, who had not kept his promise, then the Assembly could impose a one-day suspension or two-day suspension.

Instead, the Penang Barisan Nasional had converted the smallest matter into a maximum penalty, by imposing the condition that unless Sdr. Karpal apologises he would not be readmitted to the Assembly.

If this is permissible, one day some other Barisan Nasional Assembly majority would impose the condition that unless an Assemblyman crawls around a padang ten times, he would not be readmitted to the Assembly.

It is indeed horrifying how the people could entrust their fate and future in the hands of those who have no notion of restraint of power or any sense of proportion.

This is where the call by Dr. Mahathir at the Bar Council dinner in February for more support in the general elections so that there will be a stronger government must be resisted.

The Barisan Nasional governments whether at Federal or State levels, are strong enough. What is needed is to strengthen the Opposition to keep the governments on their toes, to rein them in from resorting to the tyranny of the majority.