Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary- General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the ‘Political Forum on our Economic Future’ at the Sixth Malaysian Economic Convention at the Orchard Sun Hotel, Penang on Saturday, 21.9.1985 at 2p.m.
Barisan Nasional unlikely torepeat the landslide victory of the 1982 general elections in the next general elections
A fortnight ago, a Hong Kong consultancy firm reported a deterioration in the risk rating of Malaysia over the near and medium term. According to this firm’s assessmentin its latest quarterly risk report on Malaysia economic risks arising from external factors have increased sharply since the survey for the second quarter.
Among the contributing factors are dismal export performance of the traditional commodity produce and manufactured goods due to problems of market access and depressed external demand, and the heavy external debt burden.
Socio—political risks have changed appreciably arising from growing political uncertainties revolving around the MCA crisis, dissatisfaction within UMNO, party feuds in Sarawak and power struggles in Sabah. The report’s asessment is that the overall situation may be fluid but is certainly not out of control.
I will not refer further to this report. The Malaysian Economic Convention spent 2 1/2 days on the deteriorating economic situation in the country, and I presume that this forum is to give the participants an opportunity to break away from the’ dismal science’ and see whether they could find relief in the equally complex political situation.
I will start off by hazarding a guess about the next general elections — not when, but that I think it is most unlikely that the Barisan Nasional will repeat the landslide victory of the 1982 general elections in the next general elections, whenever it is held, whether by before April next year not too far away from Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir’s China trip, or on the completion of the government’s full term in 1987.
We can seek support for this view from the pendulum theory, which postulates that Malaysia’s general elections swings like a pendulum, alternating between the ruling parties and the Opposition. Thus in 1959, it was an Opposition year, followed by the 1964 year for the ruling parties. In 1969, the pendulum swung back to the Opposition, followed by the 1974 year for the ruling parties.
In 1978, it was another Opposition year, the pendulum swinging back again in 1982. The stage is therefore set for the siring—back of the pendulum to the Opposition in the next general elections.
Of course, we do not have to rely on such an esoteric theory to ex-lain the vastly changed political situation in the past 4 months since the overwhelming landslide victory of the Barisan Nasional in the April 1982 general elections.
No government has suffered a greater loss of public confidence and credihility because of broken promises and pledges in the general elections as the present 2M government.
The 2M leadership promised Malaysians a ‘Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy’ government, but the man in the street does not see any end to government inefficiency, rampant corruption, broach of trust and abuse of power.
Under the 2M government, the greatest financial scandal erupted, arid the S2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal stands as a daily mockery of its pledge of a ‘Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy’ Government.
Although technically, the &F scnda1 has its roots in the pre— 2M administration (both cannot disclaim responsibility as they were also top government leaders then) , an equally great scandal was the way the government tried to cover it up away from public view.
The public are convinced that if Tun Hussein Onn had remained as Prime Minister when the BMF scandal erupted, he wou1r have ordered a full public inquiry in the form of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, as he hid given a full pulic accourtigg of the $150 million Bank Rakyat scandal.
The public are entitled to ask why a government, which by its election slogan promises a cleaner, more efficient and trustworthy government than previous governments, had done worse in the biggest financial scandal in Malaysian history?
Government spokesmen can give any amount of reasons and excuses why it is not possible to have the Royal Commission of Inquiry, how the government’s seriousness in ‘getting to the bottom’ of the BMF scandal is proved by the estab1ishment of the Ahmad Nordin BMF Inquiry Committee, and its co—operation with the Hong Kong authorities, but all those are unacceptable.
It is now more than four years since the BMF scandal came to the notice of the 2M leadership, but the public are still completely in the dark about the basic questions which they have the right to answers: like whether top political loaders have been involved in the BMF scandal whether political parties had been beneficiaries and how many other such BMFs or mini—BMFs are to be found in other government companies or agencies. Was the BMF scandal the symbolic beginning of the Politics of Money in UMNO?
With the government’s credibility destroyed by the BF scandal and its handling of it, how could the government expect its pleas to the government employees to moderate their wage demands or its stonewalling of demands by the kampong folks, the new villagers and estate workers for more funds to improve their infrastructure facilities or the general public demand for more universities, colleges, hospitals, to be seriously heeded.
In Penang in the last month or so, there was great fanfare about the opening of the Penang Bridge, blissfully ignoring the fact that the National Front government had thrown away the equivalent of 2 ½ Penang Bridges in Hong Kong in the BMF scandal!
The 2M government promised an ‘open liberal and democratic, society, but the arrest and prosecution of the Malaysian Bar’s Vice President and Chairman of the Bar’s Human Rights Committee, Param Cumaraswamy on charges of sedition raises the question whether we are entering a new era of less ‘open, liberal and democratic’ Malaysia?
In this connection, it is pertinent to note Tun Hussein Onn’s advice on Thursday that the government’s credibility could suffer if it does not exercise caution in using the sedition law against those whose utterances do not conform with the extablished view.
The Sim Kie Chon case also raises the question whether the 2M government is more sensitive and responsive to the people’s view and society’s needs than previous governments. In 1967, Tunka Abdul Rahman responded to the nation- wide appeals for the reprice of the Penang 14- year- old boy sentenced to death for illegal possession of firearms. The people are still waiting for the 2M government’s response to the nation- wide appeal for mercy for Sim Kie Chon.
The 2M government has also shown itself to be insensitive and unresponsive to the people’s griebances and outrage at the spectacle of ostantatiois and wasterful expenditure, like the $313 million Dayabumi Complex when it could have cost $60 million less if built by local contractors; the scrable for wealth and riches by the UMNO- putras in the name of NEP while the gap between the rich and poor widens whether inter or intra community; the insolence and arrogance of power as illustrated by the illegal take- over of the Bank Bumiputra and the BMF’s bad loans by Petronas; and the reduction of Parliament to be a rubber- stamp of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The long unrestrained influx of illegal Indonesian immigrants, rich has become a menace to the peace and security to all Malaysians regardless of race, which and posed a threat to the economic, political aid national well—being of Malaysia is another good example of the insensitivity and irresponsiveness of the 2M government.
Datuk Musa Hitam recently announced the revamping of the Task Force VII established to deal with the Vietnamese boat people in 1979 to cover all illegal foreigners.
While this is welcomed by the people, the people have to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude as to whether this is to be another one of the 2M Government’s broken p1edges.
The other component parties of the Barisan Nasional have also distinguished themselves in the past 41 months in unfulfilled pledges and broken promises.
The MCA of course takes pride of place. MCA candidatcs wore swept into office on the party’s promise of a Chinese political breakthrough, hut the result is the unprecedented erosion of the community’s political, economic, educational, cultural and ever relisious position and rights.
These wide—ranging erosions could be seen by the promulgation of a ‘One Language, One Culture’ Policy, the acce1arated implementation of the National Culture Policy of issirni1ation; the redelineation of Parliamentary and State Assembly constituencies; the establishment of University Islam while the rejection of the proposal for a University Merdeka; the Islamisation process which was never heard of before 1982 general elections; the attempt by the Malacca state Government to demolish Bukit China, the most ancient Chinese cemetery in Malaysia, etc.
As big a scandal to the Chinese community as these erosion of their positions and rights is the MCA Crisis itself.
Started as a power struggle between the two MCA factions of Neo Yee Pan and Tan Koon Swan, it has spawned a new mutation with the emergence or the Nak Hon Kam faction to create a ‘Three Kingdom’ situation.
The last 19 months of the MCA crisis has taken strange twists and turns. When it started, the Tan Koon Swan faction raised the banner of Chinese rights, self—respect and dignity accusing the Neo Yee Pan faction, and in particular the four MCA Ministers, of being subservient to UMNO ‘Big Brother’ in Cabinet and Parliament, resulting in the wide—ranging loss of the rights and future of the community. The phantom membership question was raised as a fundamental issue which could not be compromised involving the inherent dignity and self—respect of the Chinese community.
When the MCA crisis dragged on month after month, and the Tan Koon Swan faction could not achieve a speedy success to top1e the Neo faction, the Tan faction expenses began to take their toll and the first twist and turn took place.
The Tan faction gave open arid public support to the Malacca Chief Minister’s plan to excavate the graves on Bukit China in Malacca, demolish the hill, dump the earth in the sea for land reclamation, and develop the hill site for commercial purposes.
The Tan faction’s Bukit China stand was clearly motivated by its desire to secure UMNO support in the MCA power struggle. This gave the Neo faction the opportunity to accuse the Tan faction of sell-out of the rights, dignity and future of the Chinese community.
Then in August, in the abortive coup d’etat, which clearly had the prior knowledge and blessing of the UMNO leadership, Mak Hon Kam illegally claimed the position of Acting President (and this was the capacity Mak gave a message in the official Barisan Nasional souvenir publication for the Barisan Nasional Youth Rally in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month) and Neo Yee Pan was sacked from the Cabinet.
Neo Yee Pan is now barn—storming the country warning against MCA leaders becoming puppet leaders manipulated by outsiders. The MCA power struggle seemed to have turned full circle with the chief villain at the beginning of the play assuming the mantle as the foremost defender of the rights, dignity, self respect and future of the Chinese community. Suddenly, even the phantom membership issue in the MCA which according to the Tan Koon Swan faction was fundamental to the restoration of Chinese dignity, rights and self—respect, disappeared as a controversial issue.
What really concerned Malaysians, and in particular the Chinese community, is not about the twists and turns of the three factions or whose is going to emerge the winner in the ‘Three Kingdom’ battle, but the issues involved in the Barisan Nasional and UMNO intervention in the MCA crisis.
The issue which emerged clearly is the confirmation that the ‘Barisan Nasional is not a coalition of equals, but more of a relationship between a Master Party and a of other subservient parties. Although Barisan Nasional Secretary—General Ghaffar Baba claimed that all the Barisan Nasional component parties are equal, and whether UMNO or PPP have three representation on the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council, the public know that the PPP’s three representatives on the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council have even less voice, weight or influence than any UMNO leader who is not represented on the Council.
Despite Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s explanation that the Barisan Nasional has the right to intervene in MCA’s power straggle when it threatened to jeopardise the stability of the Barisan Nasional, it is significant that he did not concede the same right to other component parties to intervene in UMNO’ power struggle if anyone of them should feel that it would threaten to jeopardise the stability of Barisan.
Although Barisan Nasional ‘Supreme Council is supposed to be the highest political policy—making body in the land, it is public knowledge that it had never met to discuss any matter of policy or national importance, but only to do UMNO’s bidding, as in the expulsion of PAS or UMNO from the Barisan.
The sacking of Neo Yee Pan form the Cabinet, although he is still the recognised MCA leader legally, sets the clear precedent that the UMNO President as Prime Minister could arrogate to himself the right to decide who is to be the MCA leader. If this is not UMNO interference in MCA affairs, I do not know what is.
The widespread disenchantment of the Malaysian Chinese with the MCA is therefore understandable, for far from the political breakthrough it promised in the 1982 general elections, the MCA had even lost the right to determine who is to be its own leader!
The Gerakan’s support for the Barisan’s intervention in the MCA power struggle is also understandable, for as Gerakan President, Dr.Lim Keng Yaik said the day after the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting laying down the ultimatum to MCA, the Gerakan was ever—ready to take over the MCA’s role in the Barisan. Dr.Lim could only be thinking of MCA’s Ministerial, sub-Ministerial and other posts which would become available should MCA be out of Barisan.
There is considerable political ferment in the country, whether in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak. But it. would be wrong to regard these political ferment as indications of political instability. On the contrary, these attempts at political articulation of the people’s grievances arid aspirations and for their rectification or fulfilment is a search for a new political stability in any society, and it is only their suppression which would create instability and unrest.
If Malaysia still believes in a parliamentary democracy, then the ruling parties should not be afraid of the expression of the people’s grievances and aspirations, but should welcome them so that they could be redressed or fulfilled, and establish new basis for unity, harmony and stability in Malaysia.
It is only when we fultil the people’s aspiration for a united Malaysian nation, where every citizen regardless of race, can find a place under the Malaysian sun, where there is no discrimination on grounds of race, religion class or culture, and where the basic needs of every Malaysian is provided for, where human rights are respected, with a clean, dedicated and efficient public service, that we can have the basis to fully mobilise the tremendous talents and resources available in the Malaysian people, and make our country a great nation.