Malaysiakini : “There comes an hour when protest no
longer suffices; after philosophy there must be action; the strong hand
finishes what the idea has sketched.” ― Victor Hugo, ‘Les Misérables’
COMMENT | You have to give credit
to the old maverick, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Pakatan Harapan designate
for the top job if the coalition comes into power. Not only is he
comfortable slaying sacred Malay cows, he has no problems baiting the
Najib regime as he does when he extols the virtues of street protest if
PM Najib Razak dares to declare an emergency in lieu of elections.
Would Najib declare an emergency? This is doubtful. The regime may be
in a precarious position but the Umno regime still has the tools to
successfully ensure electoral success and with the opposition in
disarray, the longer it takes to hold an election, the better the
chances for the Umno establishment to narcotise a weary electorate.
If the opposition was a cohesive force, then time would not be on
Najib’s side but as it is, the longer he holds off, the more the
opposition embroils itself in stupid “friendly fire” fiascos that only
serves the Umno hegemon and makes the fence-sitting voters more
convinced that they should vote for stability.
But let us say for whatever reason, Najib does decide to use the
emergency option. He really does not need the consent of the Agong to
play that card. The National Security Council (NSC) law gives him the
power to declare certain areas as security risk (and people should
understand that "security" in this instance is widely defined) and he
could stall an election for years, if need be.
If memory serves, the inspector-general of police and the chief of
defence forces have a seat at the council. This way, in theory, that he
could bypass the consent of the Agong is within the confines of the law,
and he has the heads of the various security apparatus at his side.
Scary stuff. I have written about this law numerous times and people should really familiarise themselves with what it could have in store for Malaysians.
Or you could read the cliff notes version with the scary highlights, courtesy of Amnesty International
– “One provision, Section 18, allows the prime minister to arbitrarily
designate any area in the country a ‘security area’, if he deems it a
potential source of ‘harm’. ‘There is good reason to fear that the Act
will be yet another tool in the hands of the government to crack down on
peaceful protests under the guise of national security,’ said Josef
“The special status given to ‘security areas’ could worsen Malaysia’s
track record of custodial deaths and police brutality. Under Section
35, magistrates and coroners will no longer have to carry out inquests
into deaths resulting from operations mounted by security forces within
these areas. The National Security Council Act also allows security
forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised
safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless
Of course, there are claims made that the Harapan leadership has
plans if the Najib regime uses racial-religious tensions to suspend
elections, and it is the duty of Malaysians to support (Harapan)
politicians. And by support, I guess it means that normally timid
Malaysians will have to go on the streets. Well, let us see how this
The DAP is demonised as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, so by encouraging
its supporters to go on the streets, the leadership, not to mention the
entire Chinese community, would be labelled by the government as
subversive and part of the reason for the security crackdown. This, of
course, would necessitate the entire (probably) DAP leadership being
carted away in Black Marias. PAS, if it is not firmly in bed with Umno, will probably say that
street protest is not the “proper” way to engage with Umno and probably
make some sort of deal with the Umno hegemon in the name of Malay/Muslim
Amanah, of course, will attempt to make a stand. But since clearly it
is the weakest of the opposition coalition in terms of influence and
voter base, it will have to rely on the other component parties to make a
stand. Who knows if Bersatu, which is in reality a cut-out of some
kind, can stir up support from an oppositional voting base which has
within it a deep distrust of the old maverick. And not forgetting PKR,
which of late has demonstrated it could not organize so much as an orgy
in a brothel.
And let us not forget Sabah and Sarawak. Who knows how things will
play out there since the populations of both states have a deep mistrust
of Peninsular politics and would probably sit this one out.
So, this leaves a spontaneous outpouring of support fuelled by social
media against the ruling Umno hegemon mainly in the urban areas. Urban
areas are in many ways easier to control, and it does contribute to the
narrative that people in these areas are purposely stirring up trouble
for the country, and want to usurp the position of a particular race and
Young people could possibly go out into the streets and wage a
protest against the Umno establishment but does anyone really see this
happening in Malaysia? If young people were truly engaged with the
system and let’s face facts, if young people were brought up in a
culture where protest and political involvement were encouraged, then
maybe this could happen.
However, for the moment the hegemon provides a comfortable
environment for the breeding of apathy. And let us not forget that many
young people are not voting, and if they are not voting, which is the
easiest thing in the world to do, what makes anyone think that they
would brave the state security apparatus and demand that the Najib
regime hold elections just so they could exercise their right not to
Besides, nobody wants another May 13, certainly not the non-Malays.
This would be the narrative of course. No matter what the hegemon
engineers, it will be about race and religion. Then, of course, there is the other side of the coin. Calling for an
emergency or engineering a situation in which areas are declared
security risks, is a move that demands cojones. It is a move in which
the state security apparatus has to essentially wage a war against their
own. Tyranny is a bloody business. Can the regime expect that the state
security apparatus, and by this, I mean the foot soldiers, would
actually turn their guns against their own?
During my military career and after, I have had the unfortunate life
experience of meeting those men who do the bloody work for tyrants. Men
and women who have been in deaths squad and other paramilitary outfits
used to suppress dissent. Men who have turned on their own for the
benefice provided by tyrants.
I do not see this in Malaysia. Not the banal evil of other
kleptocratic countries. Let us not go there. If the Najib regime does
call some kind of emergency using the tools available to him, I wonder
if Malaysians - and by this I mean everyone from protesters, the
security apparatus and politicians - would be able to turn on each
As someone who has been to nearly every one of these protests of
diminishing returns, I know a few old timers - patriots even - who would
have no problem being cannon fodder for the "cause". After all, we
started this problem, so we may as well contribute in finishing it or it
finishes us. But large-scale protests as we have seen in other countries, I am
skeptical, not when the opposition is in disarray and young people are
marginalised from the mainstream oppositional process. I am more
inclined to find it useful to look at other Muslim-majority countries
rather than countries closer to home.
Because of our political system, Malaysia is due a reckoning. I do
not think that the opposition at this time would be the harbinger of the
shape of things to come, but I do know that when it does come, everyone
will be touched.