State should not cavalierly normalise military presence - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, March 23, 2020
Malaysiakini : “Emergencies have always been used to expand authoritarian powers.
Pay attention to history. We cannot afford to suspend critical thinking
in these dangerous times.” - Fadiah Nadwa Fikri
| Before I begin, I would like to remind readers that I am one of those
military types who are on record despising the propagandisation of the
military. When I was serving the state, my primary concerns were the
objectives of the mission and the welfare of the men under my command.
have very little patience for “civilians” who fetishise patriotism and
militarism as if the military operates in a vacuum without political or
commercial interests or interference. To understand where I am coming
from, read my article here.
received many texts, emails and phone calls about the government’s use
of the army to assist the police in enforcing the movement control order
(MCO), all I can say that this is a question of trust more than
anything else. Let me be very clear. A certain segment of the polity
does not trust this government. This segment is partisan in nature. They
are not wrong to believe as they do.
The military establishment,
when I was a part of it, was different then it is now. I have witnessed
firsthand the kind of expansion of authoritarian rule – in neighbouring
countries and here – which Fadiah alludes to in her Facebook post.
this government has done, instead of bringing political camps together,
is carrying out a partisan agenda, the most infamous of which was not
including “opposition” states in a high-level meeting on the pandemic
virus. Furthermore, the prime minister is, at this moment, in a
protracted conflict with his own party. There have been sub rosa moves
by the state to carry out agendas, which had nothing to with fighting
the pandemic but rather to spread toxic religiosity.
aborted suspension of the Talian Kasih hotline is a case in point. As
reported in the press – “The 24-hour hotline was to have halted
operations along with other non-essential government services during the
restriction of movement order to contain the coronavirus disease from
today until March 31. After taking into consideration the needs of the
women, children, disabled, and the senior citizens, the government has
agreed that the existing Talian Kasih, coordinated by the Ministry of
Women, Family and Community development, will remain open as usual. “
It is in this environment of mistrust that activists like Fadiah (photo, above) are rightly worried
that the state has a sinister motive. State players have been busy
attempting to convince the rakyat that this is not a prelude to an
emergency but the fact remains when you usurp the democratic process,
you cast suspicion on your motives.
Patriot’s Mohamed Arshad Raji,
who knows a thing or two about exigent circumstances, is right to call
the decision to include the army “hasty”. Liew Chin Tong in his
informative piece correctly argues that there is more the army could do
than merely patrolling.
Furthermore, if you read the uses of the
military in other democratic countries, they go far beyond “patrolling”
and engage in the kind of primary and ancillary logistic and medical
help that Liew, in his informative article, describes.
this situation, who does the army report to? Are they under the
authority of the police or do they report to someone else? Remember
there are legal provisions to these types of strategies and the military
has its code of conduct and operational doctrines. The army had to
refute the news that its personnel would beat up any who refused to
comply with the MCO. What are the parameters of the use of force?
the state has done is to take advantage of the fact that some
Malaysians are not taking this pandemic seriously. Police officers have
related to me their amazement that many people are unconcerned about the
pandemic and acting as if there is no MCO. Truth be told. There
is a need for stricter enforcement and the police and the various units
affiliated with them, are more than capable of handling this crisis.
State security personnel have been sending me photos and videos of the
unconcerned citizens flocking restaurants and markets and acting as if
everything was normal.
This, of course, has to change. The
fact that state governments are toughening the MCO and modifying the MCO
to better suit their communities is a step in the right direction. This
is also a fine example of one long-cherished conservative principle of
“state rights” and perhaps a bright spot in this horrendous pandemic,
because what this does is reinforces the idea that one size does not fit
all and individual communities have to resort to measures which best
suit them in combating this pandemic.
Police personnel have sent
me videos and pictures of the army carrying out their “duties” and the
main question they keep asking is, why do politicians need the army to
do this? They tell me, that they have the capabilities of crowd control
and dispersion and are more than capable of handling this situation.
there should be a show of force and the branch of the government which
should be doing this is the PDRM and their affiliated trained units.
Defence Minister Ismail Sabri (photo)
said something rather queer. He said: "The army will be mobilised this
Sunday and we are confident that with the army's help, stricter
enforcement can be carried out." This is a rather ominous statement
because the army is put in a position as “enforcer” as in “stricter”
enforcement, which does nothing to mitigate the anxiety of an already
frazzled rakyat. This is not or should not be the use of the military
and displays ignorance on the various instruments of a supposedlydemocratic state in ensuring compliance from a diverse - religious and
racial - polity.
The use of the army in this situation seems more
symbolic than anything else. The state wants to project a forceful
presence and they believe the presence of the army does this. While
police personnel patrolling the streets and dispersing crowds is
something within the bounds of normalcy, a military presence implies
The fact is that the PDRM and its units have
handled anti-government rallies, anti-government crackdowns,
anti-terrorist takedowns, immigration raids, religious raids, drug
raids and a host of other urban and rural operations which make them
ideally suited for the task.
The police have received criticisms
for the way they have handled these situations (including from this
writer), which merely means that they can project a show of force and
ensure compliance when needed. In this situation, ensuring compliance
from a public slowly realising the gravity of the situation would be
manageable for the PDRM and not something that the army should be
Is anyone seriously making the argument that the
PDRM cannot handle the MCO and Perikatan Nasional needs the army, which
as Liew correctly points out, would have utilitarian value in other
aspects of this pandemic?
The last thing the state should do is normalise the presence of the army in civilian centres.
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