Laman Webantu (M)   KM2: 5471 File Size: 10.7 Kb

| KM2 Index |

AWSJ: Malaysians Skeptical of Plot To Overthrow Prime Minister
By Barry Wain

18/9/2001 6:10 pm Tue

The Asian Wall Street Journal

17th September 2001

Malaysians Skeptical of Plot To Overthrow Prime Minister



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- The Malaysian government's claim to have uncovered a militant Islamic group planning to topple Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad by force is being treated skeptically by many Malaysians.

Police last month arrested 10 people under the Internal Security Act -- which provides for detention without trial -- alleging that they are linked to the murder of a politician in Malaysia and a shopping center bombing in Indonesia. Among those detained are members of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or PAS, including the son of a senior PAS leader, who police say led a previously unknown group seeking to violently overthrow Dr. Mahathir.

[See excerpts of an interview with Abdul Hadi Awang, a Muslim cleric and chief minister of Terengganu.]

But while officials warn of a threat to national security, many Malaysians suggest the arrests are an attempt by the ruling National Front coalition to discredit its political rivals, especially the increasingly popular PAS, a conservative party that advocates incorporating Islamic precepts in Malaysian law.

Although the Malaysian arrests preceded last week's U.S. terrorist attacks by suspected Islamic militants, those attacks are likely to intensify debate over whether radical Islamic groups pose a genuine threat to governments of predominately Muslim Asian countries such as Malaysia.

"After everything that has happened, the public is waiting for concrete evidence of militant networks," says Farish Noor, a political scientist who is researching a book on PAS. "Until we see such evidence, it is impossible to say what is true and what is mere speculation."

The controversy has erupted as the government tries to halt eroding support after the jailing of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim in 1998. Although the National Front easily won a general election in 1999, many Muslim ethnic Malays -- who represent about 60% of Malaysia's population -- have deserted Dr. Mahathir's United Malays National Organization, the core of the coalition.

PAS has been the major beneficiary of Malay disenchantment, as the party exploits Datuk Seri Anwar's perceived mistreatment and allegations that Malaysia under Dr. Mahathir has seen the spread of corruption and cronyism.

In July, the government extended a ban on political rallies to include small gatherings, which PAS has used to spread its message. It also banned sales of audio and videocassettes and discs carrying political speeches, another method favored by PAS to circumvent the near monopoly enjoyed by Malaysia's pro-government newspapers and television stations.

The government first suggested the opposition was turning to violence when it arrested 10 prominent political and social activists under the Internal Security Act in April, all but one of them members of Parti Keadilan, or Justice Party, the party formed by Datuk Seri Anwar's wife. Police indirectly accused the detainees of trying to buy weapons and instigate riots to topple the government.

But only last month did Kuala Lumpur announce the existence of "Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia," supposedly formed by Malaysians who studied in Pakistan and supported the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Police alleged that KMM members attacked a Malaysian police station earlier this year and botched a bank robbery in which two of them died. Another was involved in the death of a politician, police alleged.

Eight of the 10 alleged KMM members held incommunicado under the Internal Security Act are PAS members, officials say. Among them are teacher Nik Adli Nik Abdul Aziz, the 34-year-old son of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, chief minister of opposition-controlled Kelantan state and the spiritual leader of PAS. Mr. Nik Adli was elected leader of the KMM in 1999, government officials say. Police also say they found a rifle, pistol, revolver and ammunition, as well as several partly assembled homemade bombs, among the detainees' possessions.

Datuk Seri Nik Aziz denies that his son, who did fight with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, was involved in anything illegal in Malaysia. And the government hasn't answered an opposition challenge to produce evidence to support its allegation of an armed plot. Dr. Mahathir says the alleged KMM plotters will have their day in court eventually, but says that any further public explanation of their activities before then would prejudice the hearing.

But many Malaysians question the government's case, because it is weakened by apparent contradictions in official statements. For instance, police say a Malaysian, arrested in Jakarta last month after a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely, is a KMM member. But the man, Taufik Abdul Halim, while admitting he was proposing to plant the bomb, denied in an interview with the Star, a Malaysian daily, that he had even heard of the KMM.

Malaysia's senior police officer, Norian Mai, said last month that the KMM doesn't have any connections with Islamic militants in the southern Philippines or southern Thailand, though it cooperates with similar groups in Indonesia. Less than two weeks later, Dr. Mahathir, apparently referring to the KMM, said it has "formed a league that spans" the three countries, with the idea of creating "a so-called Islamic country, which is a union of all these three."

Even the extent of the danger posed by the KMM and other Islamic radicals appears to be disputed in the top ranks of the government. While Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar has been quoted as saying that the existence of small groups of militants doesn't affect the image of the country, Deputy Premier and Home Affairs Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rates the problem as "extremely serious."

In fact, Malaysian authorities aren't seriously concerned with security threats at all, according to the testimony of the activists picked up in the April swoop aimed primarily at Keadilan, six of whom remain in jail. All 10 have signed affidavits, accepted by the Federal Court, in which they say their police interrogators virtually ignored the allegations that were the basis of their arrests. Instead, the police concentrated on questioning the activists about the internal operations of the legal opposition parties and the alternative coalition they have formed, the affidavits allege.

"With every arrest and detention, the government's reputation plunges," says Karim Raslan, a Malaysian lawyer and political columnist. "If those detained are truly terrorists, charge them in open court and try them fairly."

Many people think it is possible that a few extremists are operating outside Malaysia's democratic framework, but they doubt that they are highly organized or heavily armed. Last year, a sect calling itself Al-Ma'unah was implicated in an arms heist against two army camps and a shootout with security forces in which two hostages and a gang member were killed. And at least a few dozen Malaysians -- including the arrested Mr. Taufik -- have gone to Maluku in Indonesia in recent years to fight alongside fellow Muslims against Christians.

Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist who is deputy president of Keadilan, says that "It's not inconceivable that some people in Malaysia may be getting a bit desperate. The opposition parties are finding it increasingly difficult to operate."

As Kuala Lumpur hammers away at PAS's alleged support for the KMM and other extremists, PAS charges that the government is trying to demonize the party to frighten Malays into supporting Dr. Mahathir. That argument is widely accepted in the international community. "It fits into a pattern of politics that has emerged in Malaysia," says one Western diplomat in Kuala Lumpur.

Write to Barry Wain at


Denial of Overthrow Plot

Abdul Hadi Awang, a Muslim cleric and chief minister of Terengganu -- one of two Malaysian states controlled by the opposition -- is among the senior leaders of Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which Kuala Lumpur accuses of supporting violence. Mr. Hadi denied that allegation in an interview with staff reporter Barry Wain.

Q: Has PAS, or its members, been involved in violence?

A: It's totally untrue. PAS has been through the democratic process since 1955. But if we look historically, UMNO [Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's United Malays National Organization] hasn't accepted the democratic process. Whenever they have lost the support of the Ma-lay majority they create tension in society. In 1987, if you remember Operation Lalang and the mass arrests [more than 100 Malaysians were arrested for alleged involvement in fomenting ethnic and religious tension], we were accused.

Q: Why is the government trying to link PAS with violence through the Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia?

A: They feel that they are losing the support of the Malays, especially rural Malays. ... They are trying to link us to [violence] to solve their own internal problems. No. 1 is to put fear into the non-Malays. No. 2 is their aim to maintain the support of the Chinese or non-Malays for the next general election.

Q: Do you believe the KMM exists?

A: No, I don't believe it. [Recently], the government confiscated an airgun. How can you overthrow a government with just an airgun? It's a joke.

Have you come across cases where PAS members think the democratic process is too slow and turn to violence to achieve their ends?

It's just a very small number. And most of these are outside of PAS. They don't belong to PAS anymore. They renounce PAS. So we don't have any relationship with these people who work outside the norms of democratic process in the country.

Q: If you encounter members now who advocate violence, would you expel them?

A: Yes. We will sack them immediately, because we believe that, in the democratic system in this country, we can win.

KM2 Main Index