By P Gunasegaram
Jul 15, 2015
QUESTION TIME For the past few months, the country has been gripped by the 1MDB scandal and mesmerised by all the stories and the allegations made. Meantime, the self-styled strategic development fund, with accumulated debts and payables of as high as RM46 billion, shows no tangible way out of the morass it is in.
Questions were raised as to why it should raise so much of borrowed money mainly to invest in dubious portfolios which it has not properly disclosed in its accounts or anywhere else. Combined with allegations made of money being siphoned off into accounts of businessman Jho Low, which have not been properly rebutted, it provided for a series of unsettling stories.
Even rating agencies’ ratings on Malaysia had to depend on how serious the problem at 1MDB was. To help stem the long slide in the ringgit, the central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, had to come out publicly to state, although somewhat obliquely, that 1MDB did not pose a systemic risk to Malaysian banks, although some banks’ profitability could be affected.
And then came The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) shock report alleging that US$700 million (RM2.67 billion) were moved into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s bank accounts at AmIslamic Bank. No such allegation had ever been made against a Malaysian prime minister before.
Najib’s response was weak – the prime minister’s office only said that the prime minister has never taken any money for personal gain without specifically denying the allegations made in the journal. A letter by his lawyers to Dow Jones, the owners of the WSJ, confused rather than elucidated when it asked WSJ to clarify the report to say if it implied that the money came from 1MDB. The WSJ did not say that.
As the nation reeled from this shock announcement and the lack of zeal and specificity in refuting it, the riot at Low Yat happened. The authorities can cry out until they are blue in the face that the incident was not racial but they cannot deny in the face of video evidence that it had very strong racial overtones.
Such an incident happening in the heart of the city, the Golden Triangle area, barely a few hundred metres from the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters, is a severe indictment of the safety standards of our streets and public places which already have a bad reputation in terms of snatch and street crime.
KL residents are asking what this means for the future and what kind of precautions they should take when visiting public places while overseas visitors are querying if Kuala Lumpur is a safe place to visit.
These introduce a new dimension to uncertainty in the country, raising it to new levels with the potential to further affect public and investment confidence unless stiff, stern measures are taken to restore public order and ensure that incidents such as these do not happen again.
The inspector-general of police’s version of the events, as reported in The Star, was basically as follows.
A theft of a mobile phone happened at Low Yat Plaza on July 11. The two persons who stole it were apprehended with the help of attendants at another shop called Oppo and handed over to the police. One tested positive for drugs and was held but the other released inexplicably without the investigating officer consulting his superior.
The released person claims to his friends that he was cheated, he and his friends seek revenge against those in the Oppo store, there is a brawl and goods worth RM70,000 are damaged. The men are chased away.
The next day, July 12, some 100 people, incited by posts online, gather at Low Yat Plaza at around 6.30pm, and want to seek justice. The crowd is dispersed by the police but start rioting at 12.45am July 13, and at 4.45am they assault an unmarried couple near Low Yat Plaza. Seven people were injured, including three members of the media.
Police arrested 19 people, one of whom is a mobile shop retailer involved in the riot. The IGP debunked the story of a fake phone being sold, saying it was cooked up by the suspect.
Instigation and encouragement?
How did a theft of a mobile phone become twisted into a racial issue? Surely there has to be instigation and encouragement by various parties. Videos on the Internet clearly show that racial epithets were hurled and chants made, making the incident clearly a racial one.
There were reports of involvement of Malay NGOs and extremist groups such as Isma, on whose website there was an article uploaded today titled ‘Low Yat is only a gentle reminder’.
Thus while the riot – which is what it was – was sparked off by a theft and nothing more or less than that, it had become twisted into a racial issue by the intervention of outsiders and extremists. Video clips on the Internet showed intimidation and violence.
Police officers watched without intervening as a group of rioters vandalised a car and roughed up some people. Why were reinforcements not called in to control and apprehend the rioters, especially when the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters is nearby?
By the IGP’s own accounts, people started gathering in Low Yat Plaza at around 6.30pm on July 12 but rioting occurred some six hours later at 12.45am on July 13. That would have given more than ample time for the police to have obtained reinforcements and controlled the situation.
After all, the police have much experience dealing with hugely bigger crowds numbering in the tens of thousands and have on many occasions responded very forcefully, sometimes unreasonably so, against mainly peaceful demonstrators. Why did they have to treat these trouble makers, who were violent and attacked innocent people, so gently?
With the resources at their command, the police could have nipped this event in the bud and prevented it from turning this ugly.
The way to stop racism is to be tough on racists – develop an intolerance for all extremists on any side of the various divides and schisms we have in this diverse country of ours. That must be shown not only in terms of words but in terms of action.
The police must act in a manner which is beyond reproach and be completely fair and impartial at all times. Nobody, but nobody, should be allowed to take the law into their own hands with self-defence the only justification for violence.
It may be too much to believe that this incident was created to divert attention from the more important issues facing the country but the fact that many can think along those lines indicates that there is a lack of confidence in the system. Can we blame Malaysians for thinking that when generations of politicians themselves have repeatedly played the race card and made themselves out to be champions of their own race when what we badly needed were Malaysian champions.
It is only when the rights of all people in the country are equally well-protected and unequivocal action taken against those who are racist and discriminatory, no matter who, that we will see a fall in racism. In other words, racism has to be punished.
Until then, we are going to be held to ransom, as we were by the Low Yat riots, to extremists who at the slightest pretext organise their people to react, threaten, intimidate and even resort to violence in their severely misguided view that this is the way to keep minorities in check. They are an affront to all those who are truly Malaysian.
P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KINIBIZ which produces an online business news portal and a fortnightly print magazine.