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by Lim Guan Eng
(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday
): ¡°Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.¡± Spanish philsopher George Santayana
For this reason I applaud the effort made by the organizers and host to shine some light upon this dark episode of our history where 106 leaders of, NGOs, religious groups and opposition parties were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act on 27 October 1987.
Operation Lallang is a significant historical event not only due to the range of detainees previously thought by the public to be outside the scope of the ISA. Operation Lallang brought the ISA out in the open as the fearsome beast of crude human rights violations and a harbinger for the subsequent removal of judicial independence and concentration of powers of the Executive, particularly in the person of the Prime Minister.
19 years ago, the ISA came to the consciousness of ordinary Malaysians when what was once thought as a weapon designed exclusively to fight the communist insurgency and its militants were used extensively, arbitrarily and indiscriminately against leaders of civil society, who were peace-loving, idealistic and well-learned with a penchant of being outspoken critics of injustices prevalent in government policies.
No Malaysian thought that these well-respected members of civil society would be detained under the ISA which was reserved only for communist insurgents and some DAP leaders. There was public outcry but it was muted under the heavy-handed tactics of then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who also closed down three newspapers, The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan. There was a real climate a fear when every government critic was waiting for that knock on the door.
Then the most popular song was by the band Police and their hit, ¡°Every breath you take¡±.
How apt then their lyrics,
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you
A brief background of the events leading up to the arrest is necessary to see how Mahathir effectively created the conditions for ¡°Operasi Lallang¡± and abused his powers under the ISA to ensure his political survival as Prime Minister and UMNO President. Despite failing to repeat his 1982 election landslide in the 1986 general elections where DAP won a record 24 seats, Mahathir¡¯s real challenge was internal.
In 1987 Mahathir survived the challenge of Tengku Razaleigh and Datuk Musa Hitam with a 43-vote majority for the UMNO Presidency. Mahathir¡¯s victory did not end the underlying tension which spilled over with sackings of Ministers supporting Razaleigh Razaleigh supporters retaliated. On 25 June 1987, an appeal was filed by 12 of the UMNO delegates (one of whom, Hussain bin Manap, withdrew unexpectedly in August) to have the assembly and the election of April 1987 declared null.
The build-up and political vendetta within UMNO spilled over to racial grand-standing to garner support. UMNO leaders ratcheted up the racial tension with ¡°ketuanan Melayu¡±, refused to assume full responsibility for the Co-operative Finance scandals involving the MCA leadership, Parliamentary Opposition Leaeder Lim Kit Siang success in obtaining an injunction against United Engineers Malaysia(UEM) where UMNO gave itself the North-South Highway project where the trustees of the UMNO company included Mahathir and then Finance Minister Daim Zainudin as well as implemented inflammatory policies such as sending teachers unversed in Mandarin to Chinese primary schools.
Racial temperature was heightened when Tan Sri Sanusi Junid organised a million man UMNO rally intended for 1 November 1987, provocative speeches by Najib Tun Razak attending a TPCA stadium rally by UMNO Youth leaders with placards urging that the Malay kris be bathed with Chinese blood and Chinese reporters covering events by UMNO leaders being assaulted by UMNO members.
Finally a soldier armed with stolen army weaponry nicknamed ¡°Rambo¡± ran riot in Chow Kit road killing two Malays causing panic that a repeat of the May 13 racial riots had recurred. Mahathir immediately used this as a pretext for launching Operasi Lallang.
Operasi Lallang gave Mahathir breathing space to launch his coup de¡¯tat against the Federal Constitution by emasculating the powers of the Judiciary. In 1988, UMNO was declared illegal by Datuk Harun in the suit by the 12 UMNO delegates allowing Mahathir to set up his own political party which excluded Razaleigh¡¯s supporters. Troubled that the judges may try to subvert this decision, Mahathir launched a pre-emptive strike with the removal of Lord President Tun Salleh and two Supreme court judges.
Under any circumstances the 1988 judiciary crisis and its attack of judicial independence would have been resisted vigorously and I believe successfully were the people not cowed by Operasi Lallang. There were no mass public demonstrations because many of the civil society leaders were still detained or under restrictions.
* Lim Guan Eng, Secretary-General of DAP