Former Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Tun Musa Hitam, laid bare one of the nation’s longest-kept secrets when he revealed that the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, was in Malaysia during the bloody Memali incident on Nov. 19, 1985 when police forces killed Ibrahim Libya and his followers in a clash which resulted in 18 casualties, including four policemen.
Musa’s revelation at a public discussion organised by Kelantan State Government held in Kota Bahru three nights ago came as a shocker as close to three decades, it was reported and believed that Musa took charge of the operations as Home Minister in 1985 because Mahathir was in China for a visit.
However, Musa said in Kota Bahru that Mahathir was in Kuala Lumpur when the bloodshed took place, adding: “In fact, two three days after that he was still in KL.”
In his response, Mahathir said he could not remember if he was in the country during the Memali incident and that he would have to check into his records to verify if Musa’s claim was true.
It is just incredulous and completely unbelievable that a person credited with an elephantine memory could not remember such an important detail in an incident, which together with two other incidents, must rank as his three “blackest and darkest” episodes in his 22-year premiership, especially as the Memali tragedy claimed 18 lives, which included four policemen.
The second “blackest and darkest” episode of the 22-year Mahathir regime was the infamous Operation Lalang in 1987 where 108 persons were detained under the draconian detention-without-trial Internal Security Act for him to consolidate his political control and power in government, Umno and Barisan Nasional.
Strangely enough, in an exclusive interview with Nanyang Siang Pao in February this year, Mahathir denied responsibility for Operation Lalang and made the preposterous claim that at the time of Ops Lalang, he was in China and the Home Minister was one “Musa”.
As I immediately pointed out in response, Mahathir was talking “rubbish” and was again guilty of selective amnesia as Mahathir was not only not in China, but was categorically in the country during the Operation Lalang dragnet and he was definitely the Home Minister at the time. Musa was the first Home Minister in Mahathir’s premiership, serving from 1981-1986, until he broke ranks with Mahathir resigning as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister.
Again strangely enough, Mahathir’s “selective amnesia” was also displayed conspicuously in his third “blackest and darkest” episode under his premiership – his single-handed destruction of the professionalism, independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary starting with the first judicial crisis in the country with his arbitrary and unconstitutional sacking of the then Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges, Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah in 1998.
Malaysians will never forget the sorry spectacle of the former Prime Minister appearing before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam VideoTape scandal in January 2008 virtually pleading “selective amnesia” when he had to say “I cannot remember” or its equivalent 14 times during his 90-minute testimony about incidents related to the fixing of judicial appointments.
For the past 29 years, Mahathir had absolved himself of the deaths of 18 people, including four policemen, in the deadly 400-strong police assault on Memali on 19th November 1985 – purportedly because he was away on a foreign visit to China.
If Musa is right, that Mahathir was in fact in Kuala Lumpur, was the latter in fact master-minding the Memali attacks and even overruled Musa’s earlier directive to the police not to use force when arresting Ibrahim Libya and to withdraw should they encounter resistance?
Clearly, a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 29-year Memali incident is warranted by the fact that the protagonists like Mahathir and Musa Hitam are still alive and can testify on the tragedy which cost the lives of 18 people (including four policemen).
Other protagonists who are still alive today and can throw light on the Memali tragedy will include the former Inspector-General of Police, Tun Hanif Omar, former Acting Inspector-General of Police,Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Amin bin Osman, the then Information Minister Datuk Rais Yatim, Deputy Home Minister at the time, Tan Sri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, the then UMNO Secretary-General Tan Sri Sanusi Junid, the OCPD Baling during the Memali incident, Tunku Muszaffar Shah and a follower of Ibrahim Libya who is now Senator Muhamad Yusof Husin from Baling, Kedah.
I had in fact made the call for an independent commission of inquiry into the Memali tragedy more than 29 years ago on the ground that the Kampong Memali Incident was neither a Muslim or Malay problem nor an UMNO or Pas problem but a Malaysian problem which must be dealt with on a non-partisan Malaysian basis.
The terms of reference of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Kampong Memali Incident should include an inquiry whether there was no other way for the police to handle the situation without provoking the loss of 18 lives; the causes as to why children and women could be worked into a frenzy in support of Ibrahim Libya, whether UMNO’s discriminatory policies against PAS supporters could have been an contributing factor; to present an independent and unbiased report on the course of events on Nov. 19 and to make recommendations as to the lessons to be learnt to prevent recurrence of the Kampong Memali Tragedy.
With the revelation of the 29-year secret that Mahathir was in Malaysia during the Memali Incident, an independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of the tragedy which caused the loss of 18 lives including four policemen has become most imperative.
As Parliament will be in session for another two weeks before reconvening on 9th June, it would be most appropriate that all MPs, regardless of whether Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional, should unite and support the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 1985 Memali Incident to establish the true circumstances leading to the tragedy and the lessons to be drawn by all concerned to avoid any repetition of such a tragedy.