Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ops Lalang and me (originally posted on 27 October 2017)

I know most of you will be discussing the budget that will be presented later this afternoon. And from the stories appearing on my timeline, now is the 30th anniversary of OpsLalang, when many (political) people were detained without trial under the old (now repealed) Internal Security Act. The Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1987 was Dr. Mahathir Mohamed (now generally referred to as "Tun M").

Let me tell you my story. Maybe you'll find it interesting. At the very least, I commit it to paper before I forget, or become unable to so do.

I was in Standard 5 when it happened. I knew about it because the teachers at school were talking about it. A classmate's father had been detained. All I knew at the time was that he was a DAP member and a lawyer. That was it. After that, my family started reading the NST instead of The Star. Other than that, save for some noticeable tension in the adults, life went on as usual.

That lawyer who was detained I eventually realised was a senior lawyer in Malacca. He left politics after that, I think. Before he died, I was fortunate enough to assist him in one of his cases. His office was filled with books, a library cum office actually. He challenged the law, prodded it. I was actually proud to say I was from Melaka when we learnt about the case of Allied Bank v. YJH (his case) in Evidence at CLP. I smile every time I remember how we had to use carbon paper to sign letters of demand (lawyers will remember this period fondly, or not). I was also glad I was able to organise his reference (a ceremony at the High Court where lawyers remember their deceased brothers and sisters who passed away while in active practice).

Fast forward many years.

Through a series of funny and painful happenstance, I found myself the head of the defence team at Tun M's Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal. Some called it a kangaroo court, the less charitable ones called it a mock trial. Whatever it was, that was how I got to know Tun M and Tun Siti. The fun part about them knowing me was that I was then able to organise a public forum in 2015 for the Malacca Bar where Tun M was the keynote speaker.

Now, if this does not trigger you yet, let me explain. After Ops Lalang and the judicial crisis of 1988, the Malaysian Bar had had a falling out (to put it charitably) with Tun M. Do correct me if I'm wrong, but from 1988 until the Malacca Bar's forum in 2015, Tun M was never invited to any Bar function. We (lawyers generally, and obviously, not all lawyers) pretty much didn't like what he did. So it was a big gamble, for me and for the Malacca Bar, to organise that forum. There were so many reasons why it could have gone wrong. Happily, it went on smoothly. And I was glad I helped make it happen. Wounds need to be healed. What can be bygones should be bygones.
And now I come to the meat of this piece.

Ever since Tun M reinserted himself into Malaysian politics, I was uneasy. I cannot speak to his motives, but I have my suspicions. What I do know is this: Although he is the strongest 92-year-old I know (heck, he's even stronger than some 50-year-olds) with a mind to match, Malaysia does not need a nonagenarian leading it (should Pakatan Harapan win). Malaysia is not a two-bit dictatorship. Some would argue it is. Some would even argue that he was the one who made us qualify (or be considered) for that title.

What I know, for sure, is that PR/PH was attractive before they joined forces with him. I know that many of the leaders of PR/PH had actually suffered during his time as Prime Minister of Malaysia; and in contrast, I just have a cute story to tell about what had happened to me when I was in Standard 5.

Malaysian politics has been defined, shaped, and has grown into what it is today by what he did in his 22 years as PM. And he has much to atone for. Maybe he will, maybe he won't.

What I can do, with my one vote, is to make a point. And I still don't know what is the point I wish to make at the next general election, GE14. Do I support his former coalition which is the devil I know, or do I support his current coalition which is the deep blue sea of uncertainty?

Malaysia, I weep for us. We are asked to choose the lesser of two evils, not the better of two angels. But at least we have a choice — For that, I am thankful. I never thought I would live to see a 2-party system in our country. But I saw its birth in 2008, and its maturity (and degeneration) in 2013 thereabouts.

Is there hope? Yes, of course there is. Either BN or PH is better than Trump. That small grace has been granted to us by God. If only we would put our noses to the grindstone, and not bother Him so much, maybe, just maybe, we can be a great nation that we were destined to be.

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