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Aliran: The Old Man Blows His Fuse
By Aliran

5/9/2001 8:00 am Wed

Thinking Allowed

The Old Man Blows His Fuse

By Aliran

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 altogether.

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 years!

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 youthful imaginations.

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 lullabies!

By the way, the strategy misfired and hit a most unlikely target, the former UMNO treasurer!

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 party.

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.

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