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GERAKAN REFORMASI RAKYAT
 

Has Suqiu Controversy Ended?

Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, met a delegation of twenty persons from Suqiu. Earlier, certain Malay newspapers had accused Suqiu of challenging the Malay special positions, as entrenched the Federation Constitution. Following that, UMNO Youth demonstrated against Suqiu. The culmination came when the Prime Minister, in his Merdeka message, accused Suqiu of acting like the communists and the Al-Ma’unah.

It was unfair to accuse Suqiu of demanding the abolition of Malay special positions, because it never did so, although it touched on certain aspects of those special positions, like the quota system. The UMNO Youth has the right to demonstrate, so long as it is done peacefully, but it must be criticised for assaulting some people, including a member of the press, and threatening to burn down the Chinese Assembly Hall. Of course it was extremely illogical for the Prime Minister to compare Suqiu with the communists and Al-Ma’unah, because it does not believe in resorting to arms, and was merely appealing and not even making any demand. (Suqiu actually means appeal).

The meeting between Dr Mahathir and Suqiu is most welcome. I hope a fruitful dialogue, not monologue, did indeed take place between them. Dialogues are lacking in this country, in fact, there are some leaders who think that they are waste time. On the contrary, they are very useful to resolve problems and to reduce tension, especially in a plural society that has social problems and cultural complications. If we do not allow these to be discussed in the open, then they will simmer under the surface, and can become very explosive time bombs, which, if not properly controlled can cause disastrous consequences.

It is therefore a mistake to believe that appeals, requests or demands of various communities should be suppressed. It is wrong to assume that they will cause ethnic tensions and conflicts, for they can be presented in unemotional, rational and responsible manner. The trouble is that in a multi-ethnic society like ours, appeals, request and demands coming from one ethnic group is often viewed as a challenge to another group. The problem becomes more serious when some irresponsible newspapers and politicians take advantage of the situation by politicising the issues ethnically, in order to gain political support for the government.

There was no doubt that some press and politicians questioning Suqiu’s intentions were deliberately fuelling Malay fears, suspicions and anger by suggesting that Suqiu was challenging the entrenched Malay special positions. They were clearly trying to mobilise Malay support for the government, and in trying to do did not appear to be concerned at all about the possible undesirable consequences on ethnic relations in the country. They realised that following the Anwar saga, the government parties have been increasingly losing Malay support, and they desperately wanted to regain it.

But in trying to achieve this, even Dr Mahathir himself has committed a big blunder. By equating Suqiu with the communists and Al-Ma’unah, he has aroused Chinese despair and anger. Unfortunately for Dr Mahathir, in the process he has not gained any more support from Malays, but instead lost much of the Chinese support that he had consolidated during the last elections.

The lesson to be learnt here is that genuine and reasonable appeals, requests and demands must be given proper hearing and discussed by government. People making them should not be cowed into silence by fear, threats, intimidation and repression. Freedom of expression, like freedom of assembly and organisation, is one of the fundamental ingredients of democracy. The government must learn to respect it.

It’s the duty of the government to listen to the grievances as well as visions of the people from various ethnic communities and social levels. It must encourage dialogues and discussions, and finally try to formulate rational and reasonable decisions that will be good for the future of the county and people.

Dr Syed Husin Ali
President PRM
16th September 2000