Sunday, August 9, 2009

Off The Edge: What happened after May 13?

I bought this month's 'Off The Edge' magazine cause the cover really caught my eye. A simple rendering of the classic Chinese calendar of 13 May 1969. I think most Malaysians are aware of the date but seriously, may not have the same factual understanding of what really happened. Go get it. If not for your own curiosity, at least for a better understanding of your own citizenship (and so that you don't look so bad in front of your children/grandchildren).

However, what really caught my attention was this interview excerpt between Farish Noor and Datuk Abdul Rahman Hamidon (the then NOC's (National Operations Council) secretary - NOC was set up after the ethnic riots of May 1969 to take over the Malaysian Parliament and the Cabinet's ruling, headed by reluctant dictator Tun Razak Hussein to reinstall peace and progress in the country). Check this out:

***excerpt from The Meaning of May 13, Off The Edge, pg 41***

FN: This period (1969-1970) reminds me of the book 'Founding Brothers', about the creation of America during the war against the British. America was created by a coterie of 40 men who agreed on how to create their new nation. Everything then was ad hoc like you described of the NOC; decisions were written on paper, decisions made early in the morning. But then over time, these gain a sense of permanence. The period of the NOC remains as one of the foundational pillars of our contemporary history. And yet everything you’ve described to us about it makes me feel that it had so many contingent elements. Now, God forbid, if there was ever another Emergency and another NOC, would we be able to cope? We don’t have a Tun Razak today, who understood that democracy had to be restored. We don’t have a Tun Ismail today, who understood that the military should not be allowed to enter politics. We have what you, Datuk, called ‘deadwood’ (laughter) that may run a NOC. Is that something that we should be worried about?

Well, because of the National Operations Council, now there is a basic policy on how to deal with an emergency, and the police and the army now know what to do in the event. We now have a National Security Council that is not run by the police of the army, but by civilians. They have plans for [different scenarios] if anything were to happen to this country.
During my time, there was no plan. It was just decided by a few people then that ‘this was the best way to do things’. But now it is very professional.

You must also remember that the army now is more intelligent than those days. When I was in the NOC, a lot of young people ended up running the army, and they were all clamouring for power. They rang me up, and said, When are we going to move in? The country should be run by us. I said no, you cannot do it; we haven’t come to the stage when you can take over. They were young people in the command asking for power. I told them: it cannot be done.

FN: When you look back at how things were so contingent then, do you think it was just a case of sheer luck or fate that saved us from becoming like Philippines under Marcos, or Indonesia under Suharto or, worst still, Uganda under Idi Amin?

No, no, I don’t think it was luck. I think it was due very much to the maturity of the people who ran the country at that time: the politicians, headed by Tun Razak, Tun Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin. These people, compared to what you have now… These people were solid people – you could not bribe them. Tun Razak had only three bush jackets – three. That’s what he used to wear… Now, every day is like Bollywood: morning, different shirt; afternoon, different shirt. Tun Razak wore one.

DKL: I sometimes used to help carry Tun Razak’s bag. Now they’ve got people to carry minister’s wives’ bags, hairdresses, make-up…

I’ll tell you about one incident. One day Tun Razak had to make a trip to Kelantan. Tun Rahah had wanted to follow him but ministers could not take their wives with them [on official trips]; the government would not pay for it.

So that morning Tun Razak called me and said, ‘I’m going to Kelantan and Rahah wants to go too but I cannot take her because government won’t pay for this’.

I said to him, ‘Tun, this is NOC, and I am the controlling officer. I have the right to approve and you are the number one man. You take her, I’ll pay for it and no one will query it. You are the Director of Operations.’ He said, ‘No, no, no people will talk, people will talk. Rahman, I don’t want people to talk about this.’ In the end, Tun Rahah had to go to Kelantan by herself, by car.

And that’s the type of man we had running the country at that time. Let alone now, going overseas and taking their wives and children…

***end of excerpt (underline mine)***

You know. These days I've been reading a hell lot of books and articles on Malaysian history. And speaking of 1Malaysia, so far to what shallow knowledge I have about my own country (I am shameless), I think we've seen two occurrences where multi races rose up to national unity. The first was during the Japanese Occupation period in the 40s, where races and tribes came together to form the MPAJA (Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army) to resist the Japanese invasion. Although MPAJA together with the British were not able to fend off the aggression but at least, they did make it short and as hellish as possible for the Japs. But sadly, after the Japs surrendered, the party broke up and we were back to square one of small explosion of civil wars due to power contention. The second incidence of 1Malaysia was the formation of the NOC (as shared above), where the country was forwardly and justly governed by a few extraordinary individuals from different races, namely Tun Razak, Tun Tan Siew Sin, and Tun VT Sambanthan. And Malaysia, very quickly, got out of the state of emergency caused by the throes of ethnic riots. But now? History tells us that Malaysia needs 'a state of emergency' in order to spur unity. So let's hope that the common enemy in this modern times, is this economic downturn that we're facing or the threat of human extinction that's caused by global warming and NOT anything similar to what our ancestors have had experienced.

I've made a commitment today to unlearn my history and learn it all over again within the next two years. Join me here if you're interested and I'll share what I've learned (and what should be unlearned from our school days). I hope to share with you the truth behind the fable of Hang Tuah being a Chinese and was subsequently expelled from our school history books, someday. That for me, is just pure curiosity.

By the way. In addition to the above interview excerpt, I thought this is also a very important piece on Tun Razak which you should know:

(pg 37)

He (Tun Razak) restored peace to the country which figuratively was on the brink of collapse, and the speed with which this was done was extraordinary, thanks to the active cooperation of all the ethnic groups. A shy, reticent and exceptionally able administrator cum politician, he was a rare combination of qualities. He was very dedicated to his work, to the extent of being a workaholic and, above all, he was incorruptible. When he died, he left behind only two modest houses - one in Kuala Lumpur, and the other, a rumah kampung in his constituency of Pekan, Pahang. He had accumulated savings of RM100,000. He also left behind a wife (Tun Rahah Haji Noah), five boys and an adopted daughter. Two of the boys are Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib and Dato Seri Nazir (the youngest), the tsar of CIMB.

Few thoughts in summary:

1) I disagree with Datuk. I think the politicians THEN were MORE professional
2) I've got a new role model(s) and a new hope. A just Malaysian politician EXISTS or at least, existed.
3) Tun Razak's wife took the car to Kelantan on her own, but his son's wife...

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