Malaysian Armed Forces officers corps has disappointedly directly and indirectly failed to keep the Malaysian Armed Forces clear of being apolitical By Dzirhan Mahadzir
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Via WhatsApp : In the last two years, it has to be noted that a portion of the Malaysian Armed Forces officers corps has disappointedly directly and indirectly failed to keep the Malaysian Armed Forces clear of being apolitical and above being a tool used to promote the ruling political party, particularly in the run up to the elections. At the same time, the conduct of numerous MAF official and personal twitter accounts and their postings fell way below the standards to professionalism and too often smacked of sycophancy towards then Prime Minister Dato Sri Najib Tun Razak and then Defence Minister Dato Sri Hishammuddin Hussein.
As it is, the Armed Forces have not shot themselves in the foot but have literally shot themselves in the head with this, as for one, they have now undermined their credibility with the incoming government, who used to be the political opposition by doing and saying things that all indicate strong support of Barisan National and as a result now will not be trusted by the Pakatan party who now are the government and two, the Pakatan government knows that the Armed Forces will just blindly obey whoever is in charge of the government and hence they can disregard the opinions and concerns of the military officers and leadership and tell them just to obey orders given to them.
Of course some may argue the “Kami menurut perintah”, or we are subject to orders but I’ll point out that such a line of defence is not entirely valid, and if I have to give an example for that, look at the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes trials to see how well that defence works, of course it is an extreme example, but the essential fact is that while orders, in theory, have to be obeyed, there are times on ethical or principle grounds, when they should not be obeyed and in my opinion, while the Malaysian Armed Forces do have to support the government of the day, that does not mean that they should go beyond a certain level that goes clearly into partisanship and at the same time, common sense should have told some officers not to make fools of themselves in doing so on social media.
I will say however that all was not bad, a number of armed forces official and personal social media accounts did conduct themselves professionally throughout the tenure of Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin but unfortunately if I named them, there might be consequences, after all one officer was warned in 2015 by a mainstream media journalist that the Ministry of Defence will take action against any armed forces officer associating with me, whether that journalist was telling the truth or not remains to be seen but since he was known to be at the beck and call of a certain political office, certain assumptions have to be made.
To some extent there is a parallel in what occurred in a portion of the officer corps a similar lack of judgment and common sense in what happened in the U.S Navy during the Fat Leonard scandal, in our case, no officer acted corruptly but like many U.S Navy officers caught up in that incident, there was a lack of judgment and common sense, in which officers should have known better and acted more properly but since it was the norm, and everyone senior doing it so carry on.
The Malaysian Armed Forces could have told the Prime Minister and Defence Minister that the armed forces cannot be seen carrying out certain activities during the election, such as having the defence minister tour all the major armed forces bases in the run up to the general elections and making speeches promising benefits to armed forces personnel, that already was bad enough without the tweets coming out from personal and official MAF social media accounts all thanking the Minister and saying he the best, blah, blah, blah, do you see the official and personal social media accounts of militaries like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Singapore etc doing so or hashtagging the national leader or Defence Minister in every tweet.
MAF Officers at certain levels should realize that tagging the Prime Minister and Defence Minister in all your tweets gives the impression that you are calling for a politician to pay attention to you and give the impression you are seeking patronage and promotion at the same time not to mention that all this is seen by the citizens of Malaysia who then associate the armed forces with supporting a particular politician or political party.
And I will point out none of this occurred beyond acceptable bounds when Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was the Defence Minister but a number of the MAF leadership and officer corps seem to have shown exceptionally poor judgment during the tenure of Hishammuddin.
Other examples were the air power display at Kota Belud and visit at Sepanggar just a few weeks before the GE, both of which were indirectly to boost the image of the BN candidates for both constituencies who in the end lost anyhow. I’m not against airpower displays but I would rather they be carried out over the Spratly islands, Luconia Breakers, James Shoal or wherever the Kirams or Abu Sayyaf etc reside and in the case of the Kirams and Abu Sayyaf, we should use live ordnance for the display and lots of it too.
Then of course was the dinner with the then Prime Minister close to the election, the Malaysian Armed Forces should have told the then Prime Minister that they would gladly hold the dinner after he wins the election but not at that time as it was too close to elections and the optics would be bad, which of course as it turns out was bad. In any event, it was also foolish on whoever it was who was responsible to invite the media to it.
Of course to be fair, sometimes the senior leadership have no choice as they can end up being exiled to become the 4 star officer heading Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia which is actually a 3 star rank post.
So why is this all bad, well, for one, have you noticed that every time troops and vehicles go on exercise, move around the county or are in Kuala Lumpur or even when there are not, there are images and messages among the public that the military is mounting an operation to repress the citizens in favor of the Barisan National, such things of course are pure nonsense, the men and women of the Malaysian Armed Forces, particularly the rank and file and junior officers as a whole are apolitical, I once was with a 10 man section of paratroopers grumbling about their lack of body armor (not forgetting the shitty Kulitkraf Combat boot- edit) compared to the US marines they were exercising with and they had to fork out their own money for some gears such as gloves and the conclusion was that the politicians, irrespective of party, don’t care about the armed forces and only know how to criticize them and like soldiers anywhere around the world conclude, the politicians are mostly useless, no matter what their political affiliation.
Similarly the same lies with the senior officers of the MAF but the problem is that, their lack of judgment or inability to say no to the Barisan National results in the armed forces getting entangled or participating in events clearly intended to promote the Barisan National’s electoral prospect and indirectly to tell the people of Malaysia that the Armed Forces are solely behind Barisan National. As such it is not surprising that the many of the people of Malaysia are willing to believe nonsensical claims and fake news about the Malaysian Army securing Putrajaya during the election because the credibility of the MAF has been lost by what the MAF has been doing prior to it.
For instance, there is no need to thank the Prime Minister and Defence Minister on twitter for giving you the budget for military equipment when actually they should have done so ten years before anyhow though some are telling me these are all directed or ordered, I have no power or authority to conduct an independent official investigation to verify so there has to be the benefit of the doubt on this. In any event, if you’re going to thank anybody for these allocations, it should be to the people of Malaysia, who pay the taxes that finance your allocations and the representatives of the people, namely the members of both houses of Parliament, who approve the allocations during the budget.
During the tenure of Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, there was a clear effort by him to address accusations by the political opposition and at the same time invitation to opposition politicians to go to events, such as the Defence Services Asia exhibition to get a better understanding of defence, going on the RMN submarine Tun Razak so they can see it could clearly dive and was operational in contrast to the claims they were making and so forth. All this helped built bipartisan understanding of the importance of national defence and defence spending to all party, and at the same time allowed both the armed forces and Pakatan politicians to see that each other was not the ogres they perceived as being.
Yet all these fell by the wayside when Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi left the post which was a pity as it would have allowed then opposition politicians to see and understand as to what the Malaysian Armed Forces are doing and how they spend the money allocated to them. As representatives of the people, all Members of Parliament, irrespective of political affiliation, should be given, within reason, access to the Malaysian Armed Forces and allowed to see what they are doing, something which is done in other countries on a formalized basis and such access is given objectively and because the MP belongs to the Defence Minister’s party and is a political ally of the Minister.
The other thing that should be stop is the nonsensical practice of Defence Ministers wearing military uniform at every occasion along with whatever honorary insignia, berets etc given. Similarly the practice of Chief Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants and ministerial aides all being given honorary reservist ranks and wearing uniforms should stop. There has to a clear separation of the military and civil authorities, something a lot of people in the Malaysian Armed Forces seem to forget, it’s fine if we want to give honorary status and rank to sports personalities etc, but such rank should not be given to those involved in the national and state government and politicians as well unless they are actually serving as reservists properly, attend the mandatory training and qualifications and start at the lowest rank of enlisted personnel or junior officer and no accelerated promotion either in such case.
There is no need for civil servants and state government officials to wear military uniform at any event unless they are actual reservists who are mobilized and on duty. Note before anyone starts any insinuations, the Royalty is an exemption to my arguments, given many of them carry dual roles with the military and earned the right to wear the uniform with actual service and they are in a different category anyhow.
The Malaysian Armed Forces should also curb the use of operational assets such as the EC725 and A400Ms to transport the Minister or other politicians around particularly when the event is geared towards political purpose rather than actual necessity, there’s no need for the minister to go around making speeches and visiting the troops when an election is due in less than a year’s time.
As it is also the Malaysian Armed Forces has the VIP dedicated planes and helicopters of No. 2 Squadron so if the Minister needs to use transport, he can use those rather than operational assets such as the A400M, EC725 and C-130s especially with the latter fleet being pressed a bit since for whatever reason there has been around two C-130s deployed rotationally in Saudi Arabia for the past two years or more. At the same time also, military assets shouldn’t be deployed for some politician’s constituency event or carnival. Something that seems to be regularly practiced for the past few years but only for those politicians from Barisan Nasional.
Now here’s another thing that the Malaysian Armed Forces officer corps and leadership should keep in mind when on social media, Malaysia’s partners, allies and enemies all watch these social media feeds so when senior officers have pictures of them posing around doing nonsensical things like fistbumps, acting like juveniles with the Minister or watching what appears to be male strippers (the context for this is the photo in which MAF personnel pulled opened their shirts to show the T-shirts with the stupid Perkasa Perwira logo), it just undermines our credibility with our partners, allies and enemies. Image projection is everything, particularly the higher your rank is and at the same time it is also hard for the people of Malaysia along with the troops under your command to take you seriously when your twitter feed is fairly sycophantic to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister and count on you to be objective or stay neutral in a political crisis.
In fact the Malaysian Armed Forces should institute formal social media rules that apply to everyone, with more restrictions and sanctions the higher you are in rank with no exceptions, even if you are the Chief to avoid such situations in the future.
Now here’s the thing, we now have a government consisting of MPs who all used to be on the opposition side and many of them are unfamiliar with the Malaysian Armed Forces and who have little cause to view the Malaysian Armed Forces positively thanks to the way the Malaysian Armed Forces has allowed itself to be used.
Now here’s how it can be fixed, the Malaysian Armed Forces should hold an introduction program and capability display for the members of Parliament being focused upon inviting MPs, Senators and state parliamentarians, irrespective of party affiliations, to be part of this program, particularly those who are unfamiliar with the military and first time MPs, those who are former military, former defence minister or reservists no need to invite as they already suppose to know what the military is all about.
This will show the MAF is apolitical by not discriminating on political affiliation, at the same time the members of parliament and senate, who vote on the allocations of the MAF, do need and deserve to see what the taxpayers are paying for while the state governments do need to have an understanding of what the military can and cannot do in a crisis that occurs in their state. For the MAF also it is beneficial for Parliamentarians of both houses to talk to the troops on the ground and are probably more accepting when a junior officer or enlisted serviceman or servicewoman tell them what they need rather than a General or Admiral.
The fact is that the role of the Malaysian Armed Forces is to defend and protect the sovereignty of the people and territory of the nation, I’ll add also to destroy all external enemies who threaten Malaysia and its people but everyone will call me a warmonger for saying so. It is not the tool for the aggrandizement of politicians from any political party, and whoever holds the position of Prime Minister or Defence Minister or any other political post. We are in a time when the people are able to see things very clearly, no matter how one tries to conceal it or pretend otherwise.
Some have mention to me the need to move on in regard to how the Malaysian Armed Forces officers conducted themselves but that’s not the point, these have to be pointed out so that the same mistakes will not be made again. The Malaysian Armed Forces need to really look to ensure that no similar mistakes or bad judgment is made again in the future. The Malaysian Armed Forces made the mistake of indirectly but openly associating itself with a political party that the majority of the Malaysian public did not care for when it should have been above the fray and stayed neutral.
It is hoped that the Malaysian Armed Forces officers will do some serious soul-searching on this and how they conducted themselves. Oh, and I probably expect there’ll be another court-martial in absentia for me again on this but alea iacta est, you have to cross the Rubicon at some point anyhow.