OPERATION LALANGOperation Lalang or also known as Ops Lalang (Weeding Operation) was launched on October27, 1987 by the Malaysian police and the Home Ministry at that time was led by our formerPrime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to prevent the occurrence of racial riots due to theprovocation from DAP leaders and press. This operation aims to arrest those who disturb thepolitical situation of Malaysia.In this Operation Lalang, 106 opposition politicians was arrested under the Internal Security Act(ISA) and the revoking of the publishing license of two dailies newspaper, The Star and the SinChew Jit Poh and two weeklies newspaper, The Sunday Star and Watan.The controversy began when the Government sends principal and the senior assistant teacher tovernacular Chinese schools (Chinese-medium primary school which the government providesfunding and personnel as well as setting the school curriculum, while school assets belong tolocal Chinese communities represented by boards of trustees). They were learnt that those whoappointed were Chinese who were not Chinese-educated, thinking that students and parentsmight be forced to use Malay or English to communicate during school hour.On September 1987, a delegation known as the Dong Jiao Zong (UCSCAM, the association ofChinese school teachers and trustees) has met with Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Woon SeeChin to convey their intention to withdrawn the appointment of the Principal and Assistantteachers.On October 1m the Ministry of Education announced that Principal and Deputy Heads will begiven a six-month trial period. However, this decision was not agreed by the associations. TheMCA, at the same time also urged the Ministry of Education to review the previous decision andwant the Chinese feature is maintained.On October 4th, the Minister of Education announced that the Ministry of Education will stick tothe early decision and will not succumb to any political pressure.On the same day, the Dong Jiao Zong and several other organizations held a meeting at theSelangor Chinese Assembly Hall and decided to protest if the issue is not resolved within twoweeks. At the same time, a Memorandum about Non-Qualified Personnel Administrators
Chinese to Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SRJKC) was sent by Dong Jiao Zong to theMinistry of Education. This memorandum slammed the Ministry on the negligence in dealingwith Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SRJKC) problems.On October 11, 1987, a 2,000-strong gathering was held by the United Chinese SchoolCommittees Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM, the association of Chinese school teachers andtrustees, Dong Jiao Zong) at the Hainan‟s Association Building, beside the Thean Hou Temple inKuala Lumpur, which was joined by politicians from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA),the Democratic Action Party (DAP), GERAKAN and other Chinese-based parties. The meetingreached a resolution that if the unqualified teacher is not removed by the next Wednesday, theywill launch a strike for three days. The boycott was called off later, albeit at the eleventh hourOn 19th October, Anwar Ibrahim announced his ministry would not budge from its decision andissued a stern warning that action will be taken against teachers who agreed to strike the class.In the event, even though the boycott was cancelled, the stage was set for a mirror response fromthe Malays, led by UMNO Youth. A mass rally of 10,000 was held at the TPCA Stadium inKuala Lumpur and, by then, UMNO politicians had begun to condemn MCA leaders (bothUMNO and MCA are component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition) for theircollusion with the Dong Jiao Zong and the opposition DAP. Amidst calls from both sides for theresignations of MCA Deputy President and Labour Minister Lee Kim Sai and UMNO EducationMinister Anwar Ibrahim, UMNO announced the holding of a mammoth rally in KL to celebrateits 41st Anniversary, which it was claimed would see the attendance of half a million members.The proposed UMNO rally was the ostensible reason for the Inspector General of Police toprecipitate the 27 October crackdown. Had the rally been held it was not improbable that racialriots could be sparked by the incendiary speeches of UMNO politicians. To make matters worse,a tinder box situation was already created by the rampage of a Malay soldier who killed a Malayand two Chinese with an M16 rifle in the Chow Kit area, straddling two large Chinese and Malaycommunities.Najib Tun Razak, then chairman of the UMNO Youth wing, had led a massive Malay rally inKampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. The Chinese community was gripped with fear of the possibility
of May 13 repeating, and many Chinese businesses around the city was closed for a few days toavoid any potential attacks from the Malay ultra-nationalistsThe controversy, however, ended when the Prime Minister launched a sudden arrest, known asOperation Lalang on 27th October 1987.In this Ops Lalang, 106 opposition politicians was arrested under ISA, among those arrestedwere;Lim Kit Siang - Opposition Leader and DAP Secretary-GeneralChandra Muzaffar – ALIRAN PresidentKarpal Singh – DAP Deputy ChairmanChan Kit Chee – MCA Vice President and Perak ChiefHalim Arshat – PAS Youth ChiefIbrahim Ali – UMNO MP for Pasir MasMohamed Fahmi Ibrahim – UMNO Youth Education ChairmanLim Fong Seng – Chairman of Dong Jiao ZhongKua Kia Soong – Publicity Chief of the Civil Rights CommitteeIrene Xavier – WAO memberBesides that, there was also another detainee called Hilmy Noor, a Malay Christian, who wasaccused for "disrupting the Malay culture by being a Christian", while the Federal Constitutionof Malaysia defines a Malay as someone who is a Muslim, speaks Malay, and practices Malayculture. The detainees were kept at the usual place used for ISA detainees, at KamuntingDetention Center.Although most of the detainees were released either conditionally or unconditionally, 40 wereissued detention order of two years. Included were Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh plus five
other party colleagues, a number of PAS members and many social activists. A categorization ofthe initially named detainees, numbering 97, gives the following breakdown:Political parties: 37Social movements: 23Individuals: 37Operation Lalang was controversial because the „guilty‟ are miss. On the other hand, theopposition leaders who are „on the edge‟ was arrested and imprisoned at Kem Tahan Kamuntingfor 2 years or more.Political prisoners are detained under the ISA which allows detention without trial, whether theperson is guilty or not.Malaysia at that time has received an international criticism. Many believe ISA is against HumanRights, the Organizations of the United Nations and the Holy Quran itself.Ironically, the United States has also created the Patriot Act that resembled ISA and holddetainees at Camp Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.April 1987 is a tough competition between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh whereMahathir appeared as the winner. Karpal, the opposition claimed that Ops Lalang is a trick todivert the real issues.
IMPLICATIONSOperasi Lalang creates a culture of fear to people to speak at least for two decades. Like May 13,1969, it was a Malaysian tragedy and after all these years we have yet to recover from it. Themissing three papers would stay missing, technically four newspaper:The Sunday Star had aseparate KDN Permit. Seven senior journalists were placed by UMNO on a black list and told toget out.The elder statesman of journalism, A Samad Ismail, sent an emissary from Balai Berita to breakthe news quietly, not officially. UMNO‟s order but in effect the same as government ordersbecause government people put them into effect. Seven, or more than 30 other who left the paperon their own, they went on to successful careers in journalism overseas or turned somewhere elseor to something else.The incident let Mahathir‟s government with the excuse to tighten the executive stranglehold onpolitics. He amended the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to keep newspaper undertighter control.He amended the Police Act to restrict our right to free assembly, making a police permitmandatory for public gatherings. In 1988, as a result of his unhappiness over a few courtjudgments that favored natural justice over his administration‟s convenience, he amended theFederal Constitution to remove the independence of the judiciary.The leading Malaysian English language daily, The Star, was closed down for a few months. Inthe weeks prior to Operation Lalang, The Star had continuously provided transparent newscoverage about the Oppositions point of view. This constituted treason as far as the governmentwas concerned, and they were shut down under Malaysias repressive sedition laws. The Starresumed publication months later under new management that was installed by UMNO. Most ofthe previous staff were laid off or otherwise threatened with prison and ISA.From that point onwards, The Star, as well as many other media outlets in Malaysia, becamegovernment-controlled mouthpieces with an obvious pro-government slant. These media outletswere also noticeably whitewashing all of the UMNO governments wrongdoings and corruption.All the cover-up and whitewashing by the mass media became more obvious towards the late-
90s, when another power struggle within UMNO (the Mahathir vs Anwar episode) revealed theextent of corruption and crimes among the UMNO executive that have never been revealed orreported.Operasi Lalang is a tragedy that needs to be told and re-told so that those who don‟t know aboutits ramifications may understand why Malaysia is in the mess it‟s in.
OUR OPINIONOn October 27, 2012 it has been 25 years since the black date in our country. There are lots ofperspective, views and comments about this Operation Lalang.As we believe, Ops Lalang is a racial riots due to the provocation from DAP leaders and also thepress. Effectively, Operasi Lalang heralded the culture of fear that strangulated Malaysians for atleast two decades. It also provided the environment for Mahathir to rule in an even moreauthoritarian manner. He had scared off his opponents and silenced his critics, so now he wasfree to do what he wished.He amended the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to keep newspapers under tightercontrol and also amended the Police Act to restrict our right to free assembly, making a policepermit mandatory for public gatherings.According to the book Malaysian Maverick by Barry Wain, Mahathir said his amendments wereaimed at those who abused the Government‟s “liberal attitude”.“Being liberal to them is like offering a flower to a monkey,” Mahathir said, disdainfully. “Themonkeys would rather tear the flower apart than appreciate its beauty.”In 1988, as a result of his unhappiness over a few court judgements that favoured natural justiceover his administration‟s convenience, he amended the Federal Constitution to remove theindependence of the judiciary. There is much more to say about how Mahathir tampered with oursacred institutions in the years after Operasi Lalang, but it would take a book to cover it all.Some people think another tragedy like Operasi Lalang could happen again, and maybe not toofar in the future. Especially when, as journalist Charles Chan who lived through the dark days ofThe Star‟s suspension puts it, “desperate politicians face loss of power that opens the doors toprosecution for their abuses of power, corruption, etc”.To prepare ourselves for such a contingency, we need to ask ourselves how we would respond ifit should happen. Should we be docile like we were in 1987 or should we stand up for our rights?What‟s paramount is that we should find ways of preventing such tragedies in future.
First, we should not allow a despot to rise again. At the first sign of such a creature emerging, weshould vote him out instead of supporting him for more than two decades. Concomitant withthat, we should not allow any ruling party the luxury of a two-thirds majority in Parliament sothat they can amend the Constitution anyhow they like. We should also be vigilant in notallowing any of the despot‟s proxies to climb to the top.Second, we must ensure that checks and balances are firmly in place, like a strong civil society –and, certainly, the reinstatement of the separation of powers among the executive, the legislativeand the judiciary engraved in our Constitution. This means independence must be returned to thejudiciary.Third, we must repeal all laws that are against the spirit of democracy, like the PPPA, theOfficial Secrets Act, the Sedition Act (soon to be called the sweet-sounding National HarmonyAct) and the Universities and University Colleges Act. There is no ISA now but in its place is theSecurity Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. This has to go. We have enough laws to takecare of terrorist threats.Fourth, we must get rid of our feudal mentality. This perpetuates a culture of blind subservienceto the leader and a culture of sycophancy, both of which empower the leader even more.Furthermore, ascent to leadership should be based on merit, not on an individual‟s ability to suckup to the boss.Fifth, Operasi Lalang is a tragedy that needs to be told and re-told so that those who don‟t knowabout its ramifications may understand why Malaysia is in the mess it‟s in. Those who have livedthrough that terrible day and its aftermath need to tell their children and grandchildren the realstory about what happened and condemn the abuse of power and dictatorial rule.The real story of Operasi Lalang is not about a potential racial war erupting. It is about a despotwho wanted to hang on to power, shut out all opposition, and run the country to his ownadvantage.
CONCLUSION25 years of Ops Lalang, Malaysia had become more independent country with an open mindedpeople. We are no longer stuck in a 90‟s closed minded. People can accept the changes and thinkwisely. There is no racism act occur in Malaysia anymore.But, did we progress so well?The Government Transformation Programme of Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak haspromised to make Malaysia “the best democracy of the world”, but after more than 42 months ofhis premiership, Malaysia falls far short of the conditions to be a “normal democracy” let alonethe “world‟s best democracy”, as illustrated by the refusal by the Prime Minister and the rulingUMNO/BN coalition to make a public commitment that they would fully accept the verdict ofthe voters in the 13th General Election and would peacefully and smoothly transfer Federalpower to Pakatan Rakyat if this is the verdict of the Malaysian electorate in the ballot box.It is clear that a change of government at the national level, for the first time in 55 years, isneeded to undo all the ravages and adverse effects of the 25-year Operation Lalang ondemocracy, human rights and the national institutions – whether it be the restoration of a trulyindependent judiciary and a just rule of law; the unshackling of Executive usurpation of powersof Parliament and the Judiciary; the flourishing of a free and responsible media and thefundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression and information; proper check-and-balancemechanisms to end corruption and abuses of power; and the restoration to all national institutionstheir impartiality, independence and professionalism.On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Operation Lalang, let all Malaysians reaffirm theirresolve to undo all the ravages of the Operation Lalang catastrophe in 1987 by a united effort tostrengthen democracy, human rights and national institutions so that there could be no recurrenceof a Operation Lalang in future by voting solidly for a national change of government in thecoming general election.
REFERRENCESBarry Wain . (2010). Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times.Plate, T. (2011). Doctor M: Operation Malaysia – Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad. Giants of Asia.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Lalang