Just like May 13, 1969, Ops Lallang on Oct 27, 1987 was a dark blotch on Malaysian history. But, if we could move on from the racial tensions of May 13, we can do the same from the political injuries of Ops Lallang.
I was aghast at the use of the draconian Internal Security Act law to pick up citizens and slam them behind bars “for the sake of public peace and order”. In retrospect, however, I can understand the reason for such an authoritarian action; I understand but still disagree that citizens should have been treated like communist guerrillas.
The political climate then was hostile and adversarial. The Malays, represented by Umno, having acquired political power after Merdeka, were still entrenching themselves politically and saw the extremely belligerent and unyielding opposition which, at that time, was non-Malay, as a threat to Malay sovereignty. The opposition viewed the BN-led government as ensuring Malay rights — which some people saw as Malay dominance at the expense of others — at all cost by “stretching” laws without checks and balances.
It was a time when both sides failed to see the realities of the sides they represented and the result was confrontational, at best, and oppressive, at worst, with Ops Lallang as an example of the latter. Added to that was a police force who apparently wasn’t sufficiently skilled in crowd control and, haunted by the spectre of another May 13, would have preferred to slam dissenters behind bars to maintain the peace.
Like I said I may understand the reasoning for such an authoritarian use of the law but I won’t legitimize it.
Opps Lallang happened, embittering and causing a great deal of pain to many. Yet, 30 years later, these same people are sitting down with their nemesis, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — prime minister and home minister during Ops Lallang — to carve out a new future in the hope the excesses of the past and present will not repeat.
It is said that it was Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali who reached out to Tun after he left Umno — BN’s leading Malay-based party — to start his own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). Azmin, deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), acting in consensus with partners in the opposition alliance, Pakatan Harapan (PH) sent out feelers to bring PPBM into PH.
Now, Tun shares the opposition stage with his former “arch” enemy, DAP leader Lim Kit Siang. It would appear odd if not for the political realities of current times. PKR and PPBM are Malay-based parties, which means PH now has a large Malay following.
It was a strategic move by Azmin and it wasn’t surprising that Tun responded in kind. The aim is to swing more Malays over to their side so that PH has majority Malay support which is their hope in the coming general elections. If that support comes forward, PH will win the elections and prove it has majority Malay support, without which no alliance can legitimately rule in Malaysia.
That is the reality because Malays are the dominant ethnic community in Malaysia and the opposition has finally come to terms with it.
It really are the opposition leaders who are the bigger people in being willing to let bygones be gone, and sit down with former “enemies” to negotiate to create a new politically inclusive culture where majority and minority rights will be addressed.
These same opposition leaders have learnt that it is negotiation and not the beating down of dissent which is the new politics of the future and they put it in practice. It does not matter if “enemies” are now working together; it is proof they have matured and are able to negotiate for common objectives, which demonstrates the confidence of the secure.
When the Berlin Wall fell, west Germans were willing to work with their “enemies” and we now have Angela Merkel, an east German woman leading the united Germany and she is one of the world’s best leaders.
The skill is not in showing your might by beating or shouting down your opponents but in engaging, negotiating and arriving at a resolution. It’s a controlled approach and very powerful because it empowers, respects and dignifies the other and allows for equals to work together.
That is what we hope to expect from the new political reality being engineered by the PH. We should work together to make it happen.