|Laman Webantu (M) KM2: 5471 File Size: 10.7 Kb|
AWSJ: Malaysians Skeptical of Plot To Overthrow Prime Minister
By Barry Wain
18/9/2001 6:10 pm Tue
17th September 2001
By BARRY WAIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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
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
"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
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
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 email@example.com
WSJ INTERVIEW WITH ABDUL HADI
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.
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
A: Yes. We will sack them immediately, because we believe that, in the
democratic system in this country, we can win.