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Aliran: The Old Man Blows His Fuse
5/9/2001 8:00 am Wed
The Old Man Blows His Fuse
5/9/2001 6:45 am Wed
I'm waxing poetic these days. When all else fails in these trying days and
frustration gets the better of one's social aspirations, poetry (even bad
poetry at that!) provides great solace. String the headings together and you
may get something of a poem sans rhyme. Invoking poetic licence further,
I've used the headings liberally to include all manner of commentaries and
stories directly or obliquely connected to their subjects. For actual rhymes, do
read the politically 'incorrect' ditties, which follow.
The Old Man Blows His Fuse
The PM has again put his foot in his not-so-proverbial mouth. I refer to the
fire which razed the Dewan Tuanku Canselor (DTC) in Universiti Malaya
(UM). Before the Fire and Rescue Department could ascertain the cause of
the DTC fire, he was already proffering his two-bit opinion that students
were behind the fire. The smoke is now smothering his face after the
department suggested that 40-year-old faulty wires in the building were the
likely cause of the fire. Of course thickness of face which comes with the
years may save the day for the PM together with some future deft work by
the police and SB who are now doing their own investigations of the fire.
Whatever these latter findings, many won't believe that university students
are today politically attuned to acts of terrorism, let alone have the technical
capability of a Timothy McVeigh. This was exactly the opinion of a UM
professor who on hearing about the DTC fire straightaway deduced that it
had nothing to do with the students nor the fact that the UMNO Puteri
leader Azalina Othman and former youth chief Rahim Tamby Chik were about
to stage a forum on forging 'idealism, blah, blah, blah' among students in
the 21st century. Surprise, surprise, they were inviting the PM for the
opening ceremony at DTC. The fact that the fire occurred a day before the
staging of the event was mere coincidence, averred the professor, or was it
an act of God?
Nowhere in campus history has there been a hint that militant tactics were
countenanced by student groups. Consider the fact now that the rising
number of students being harassed and pilloried by various authorities have
had the flimsiest of charges foisted on them. But the regime clearly wants to
make a point. Two were detained under the ISA (though one was freed later
after the release of the fire department's report). Somehow their mere
detention under this repugnant law, in the eyes of some, makes their
purported offence grievous. But this time, the tactic won't work as overuse
of the ISA makes it lose its stigma. The reverse is probably true for Reformasi
activists - ISA arrests have become signatures of heroism.
Khairul Anuar Ahmad, the IKM student, makes history as the first student to
be taken in under the ISA since promulgation of the Universities and
University Colleges Act (UUCA). His alleged crime: being vocal against the
ISA. An ironic twist!
Mohamad Fuad Mohd Ikhwan, the UM student, who was a vocal supporter of
the VC when UMNO hacks demanded his resignation because of the DTC
fire, was put in for being allegedly 'involved in a Reformasi motivational
workshop intended to spur reformists and carry out plans to overthrow the
government through street demonstrations.' ( Malaysiakini, 7/7/2001).
The case of the two USM students facing disciplinary action is even more
ludicrous, although less serious because the UUCA is used, not the ISA.
Selling a few anti-ISA stickers on campus was the ostensible reason for the
potential dismissal of the students. Come on!! More insidious was the manner
in which one of the students was nabbed. A plainclothes campus security
officer posing as a student purchased the stickers from him and this
constituted the case for the student's offence. Talk about a police state on
campus! It has long been known that informers and SB officers have
routinely listened in on lectures to suss out lecturers but when the
university's own campus guards take on the job of nabbing politically
'incorrect' students, we are sliding into a new world of surveillance
I think that the regime must be getting really desperate to pick on students
this way. But there's method behind the madness, so to speak. Students
who since the mid-1970s have not been a significant factor in politics could
be said to be the backbone behind Reformasi today. They also represent new
or future voters. Herein lies the rub. Nip the movement in the bud before it
grows. According to Malaysiakini, the pro-government National Malaysian
Youth Association identified 10 student bodies with anti-government
leanings, including Gamis (Peninsular Islamic Students Coalition) and GMMI
(Abolish ISA Student Movement).
There is also the off-campus 'Universiti Bandar Utama' (UBU) movement,
which stages dramas. Film director Hisha-muddin Rais, now in Kamunting, is
the alleged inspirer of the UBU.
It's most heartening to see the blossoming of multi-ethnic student
movements of all sorts which are socially engaged. But that's not how the
BN regime sees it. My guess is that the very actions of the government to
douse student activism will galvanise the students to even more protests.
Such are the ironies of life and politics.
Ironies I can take but plain vulgarity and sheer bad taste, please spare me!
How can anyone with an iota of culture think of celebrating 20 years of reign
of our officially uncrowned monarch. (Remember the joke that in the United
Kingdom they change their premiers every five years or so and keep their
monarchs forever; in Malaysia, we change our monarchs every five years and
keep our PM forever!) This sort of sycophantic behaviour has made the old
man wax philosophic about 'not regretting' his actions of the past. Even
prophets and saints regret that they have committed some errors in their
lifetimes and for that matter computers and automatons also can get glitches,
but not Doctor M. The only glitch he will get is the itch to rule for another 20
Puteri Wears the Pants
We return to Puteri UMNO and its brawny leader Ms Azalina. Apparently, the
sprouting of a Puteri section of UMNO was to resuscitate the flagging
support of youth for the party. True to UMNO double standards, while
students have been asked to lay off politics by the authorities, Puteri UMNO
was given free reign to sign up members on campus. No doubt the campus
authorities will be ever so cooperative.
Azalina's foray into UM to stage the aborted forum on student idealism was
part of its campaign to penetrate university students. But to what avail? Few
believe UMNO with its archaic philosophy and racial politics can capture
Students these days are fired up by two things (besides job prospects, that
is): moral outrage and reformasi. It's encouraging that non-Malay students
have often been active in pointing out the economic excesses of the ruling
groups. Islamic groups, for their part, tend to gain support for their criticism
of the government's unethical behaviour.
Thus, Puteri UMNO's thrust into the campuses, including its call for the UM
VC to step down, and its attempt to steal the limelight (or the pants') from
UMNO Youth will probably yield poor results. Which leads us to what the
boys in UMNO may want to do - sing lullabies?
Pemuda Sings Its Lullaby
In one of his rare Freudian moments of creativity, UMNO Youth chief
Hishamuddin Hussein proposed a remarkable idea. Members should use the
UMNO anthem to sing their children to sleep. That way, the love for UMNO
will percolate into the subconscious of a new generation of UMNO
supporters. Brilliant, Hisham! Was all of this something straight out from
Psychology 101 during university days? If so, the psychology professor
would have given you an 'F' for such an infantile idea. However, we'll be
more generous here in Malaysia, given that UMNOcrats are given special
grading dispensation, and pass you with a 'D'.
Actually, the idea will be good for Reformasi in the long run. Reverse
psychology teaches us that if you keep telling your children to do certain
things again and again, they will react against them. Eventually they will reject
both the exhortation and the exhorter himself or herself.
This seems to symbolise the problem with UMNO Youth, loss of political
imagination (mind you, this could have happened even eons ago before
Hisham). In their desperation they have turned over their pants to Puteri
UMNO and now, to make matters worse, want to take on the role of singing
By the way, the strategy misfired and hit a most unlikely target, the former
Daim Goes to Sleep
The redoubtable erstwhile, second-time finance minister has taken flight and,
with all the soothing UMNO lullabies lilting the air, has conveniently retreated
into deep slumber in a nowhere land. Where is the man? Now that the
economy is tailspinning, with only a 2 percent growth and Renong is being
rescued yet again, this time from a RM13 billion debt, where are you Daim?
I find it unconscionable that finance ministers can come and go as they please
without a proper accounting of what they have been able to do or not do for
the nation during their term. Usually, a finance minister resigns when his ideas
and programmes to activate or uplift the economy fails or he has serious
policy disagreements with the government of the day. Daim's reasons for
resignation remain opaque and inexplicable. Worse, he has left us with several
hot potatoes: MAS, Renong, Time dotcom and a declining economy.
The real Houdini in Malaysia is this man, who seems to be able to make himself
disappear at the most opportune of times.
The MCA Cradle All But Falls
One thing that won't disappear is the MCA and its problems. President Ling
is still weathering the storm of the takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China
Press. Most accounts have it that tycoon Quek, who owned the papers
before, was somehow arm-twisted into giving away these politically
significant economic footholds within the Chinese community. It is also no
secret that the hand that rocked this cradle is the same that rules the roost, if
you'd allow my mixing of metaphors.
The MCA leadership's split over the takeover speaks volumes for this
unpopular move and now that Nanyang Siang Pau sales have plummeted
some 20 percent after the takeover, the papers are likely to become economic
albatrosses for Huaren, the MCA holding company, rather than cash cows. It
would be interesting if MCA, like its political partner, UMNO, ends up in the
same predicament of holding on to a string of unprofitable economic
undertakings. We have just seen what has happened with Renong. Will
Huaren go the same route' And, will this route lead to political collapse' I
dream, as always?.
Meanwhile, Ling announced that MCA would get a university - UTAR . This
came as no surprise, really. Most people knew that TAR College effectively
functioned as a sort of university with twinning programmes but the
so-called political coup was a good ploy to disarm Ling's detractors in the
My concern is less with the fact that we don't have enough national
universities to cater for the thousands of eligible Malaysians hungering for
knowledge (or is it a paper qualification), but the fact that by most accounts,
our national universities continue to slip academically, professionally and
socially. Adding to their numbers merely compounds the problems when we
don't address fundamental issue of a university's autonomy to make
academic decisions and to maintain political independence.
Two newly announced policies, which will ensure the downslide are the proposed differential grading system for Bumiputeras and the political screening of students and lecturers. The former policy will surely turn our universities into pariah institutions of higher learning world-wide. Worse still, it is the most insulting thing yet that could happen to Bumiputeras, namely, a virtual admission of their innate academic inferiority. Affirmative action in providing places for Bumiputeras can always be defended in that once they get in, they are subjected to the same universal academic standards. But when academic standards are adjusted for students for no other reason than the fact they belong to an ethnic group, we are digging ourselves deeper into the bottomless pit of racist policies.