Why is the security apparatus backing down in the face of threat? - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Saturday, December 08, 2018
Malaysiakini : "We have many excellent ministers. But they are getting too
easily spooked by rallies! Our police are good and have no problem
dealing with two peaceful rallies held at different times and at
different places." – Ambiga Sreenevasan
COMMENT | The postponement of the
Suhakam festival – I loathe to call it a rally because it is not in
form or substance – has grave implication for rational freedom-loving
Malaysians, who are becoming an endangered species. I do not think most
Malaysians understand the gravity of the situation. This festival has
absolutely nothing to with the anti-Icerd rally, unless you consider
irony a provocation.
What we have is two opposition political parties –Umno and PAS –
dictating what Suhakam (an instrument of the state) can and cannot do.
Taking cold comfort in the fact that the festival is still on albeit on a
different day, is something right-thinking Malaysians will have to
swallow since the government of the day is capitulating to bullies.
Mostly though, the far right has established the fact that it
controls the discourse in this country. The far right answers to nobody,
certainly not the government of the day. This has implications far
beyond the anti-Icerd rally. What do you think would happen if any
“progressive” organisation wishes to hold a rally, post-Dec 8?
Suppose Bersih decides (for whatever reasons) to hold a rally, to
hold the government accountable and the Malay far right decides to hold a
counter rally in the name of race and religion? What do you think would
happen? Bersish which used to have the logistical and political support
of (then) opposition politicians would now have to rely on its own
devices, bereft of not only the political support it used to have but
also a state which now views the threats of the far right as something
it cannot handle.
The former Umno state always warned that rallies were a national
security threat. State- sponsored thugs always made threats against
those rallies. The state security apparatus always warned people not to
attend those rallies. Yet some how, Old Malaysia survived. Why is it
that the state security apparatus cannot handle the threats posed by far
right opposition parties, now?
The quote that opens this piece by Ambiga is important. This new
political terrain demands that the state security apparatus ensure that
our democratic spaces are not open to abuse. While Umno and PAS have
every right to hold its rally, the government has every right to hold
its festival. More importantly, the state security apparatus has to
reassure the Malay and non-Malay communities that they are safe
operating in the democratic spaces of this country.
Multiple events like these are needed because the state security
apparatus can assess how it trade craft – intelligence, response time,
logistical, tactical , crowd control etc – functions in this New
Malaysia. More than that, it dispels the perception that the state
security apparatus is weak and unable to confront the challenges thrown
its way by elements foreign and domestic which threaten the security of
When Suhakam chairperson Razali Ismail claims the police have
informed the prime minister’s office and Suhakam of security risks
bordering on national security risks, do people realise what this means?
It means that the security threat of the anti-Icerd rally borders on
domestic terrorism. If this is the case, why hasn’t the state security
apparatus contained the threat by informing the organisers of the
anti-Icerd rally , to cancel the event? Surely the Suhakam festival does
not pose a threat?
If the anti-Icerd rally poses a threat to Suhakam, this essentially
means that the rally poses a threat to the government. We are not
talking about two opposing NGOs having a rally on the same day as
counter-narratives. We are talking about a political rally coordinated
by two political parties which poses a threat – bordering on national
security – against a festival by an instrument of the government.
If the Suhakam festival really does pose a risk to the safety of
Malaysians, then they should not only cancel the festival but the
government should disband it. But does this make sense? The Suhakam
event is a possible national security risk on Saturday but not on
Sunday? All this demonstrates is that the anti-Icerd rally is the real
threat and the state security apparatus does not want to deal with the
provocations of the anti-Icerd rally. Why?
In other words, what should be sanctioned is not the target of those
who pose a risk but rather the perpetrators who pose a threat to
national security. This should be the goal of the state security
apparatus. Mind you, I am not saying that the anti-Icerd forces do not
have a right to demonstrate but if the state security apparatus thinks
they pose a risk bordering on national security, then why doesn't the
state security apparatus intervene?
From a public relations perspective, this does not look good. What
the state security apparatus is saying is that they cannot handle the
risks posed by the anti-Icerd rally. More than that, if the anti-Icerd
rally poses a risk which borders on national security, the state
security apparatus will not take action against those organising it but
instead, inform the prime minister and an instrument of the state that
they have to back down against a threat that borders on national
What message does this send to the Malay far right? More importantly,
what message does this send to foreign religious extremists who have
made it clear that Southeast Asia is their new theatre of operations?
What message does it send to these people when the prime minster of a
country has to back down from an event organised by an instrument of the
state because the far right - racial and religious – in his country
poses a risk bordering on national security, but the Establishment event
has to be postponed and the rally which poses that threat gets to carry
This should not make sense to rational-thinking Malaysians. Mind you,
it may make sense to partisans but the reality is that situations like
these determine the political landscape of the country. It determines
the way how the state security apparatus operates and it determines how
policy is enacted not by the will of the people who voted in this
government but by the far-right elements who are not in power.
To be fair to PAS, having interviewed security personnel who work
these rallies and having friends in the various schisms of the party, I
do not think that PAS poses a security threat when it comes to Suhakam
festival. I do think that the bellicose statements of Umno and its
proxies, do pose a problem for the state security apparatus.
Having said, that, these days, PAS has demonstrated that it is
willing to sacrifice its principles and work with kleptocratic elements
because its leadership, for whatever reasons, has determined that this
is the best course to federal power. Hence whatever risk the rally poses
also falls on PAS.
This really is a dark turn for civil society and rational Malaysians in this country.