Rebranding Rela into BN’s vanguard

— Bob Teoh
The Malaysian Insider
Jan 31, 2012

JAN 31 — Under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP), Rela is to be rebranded as part of a police “omnipresence.” But its massive build-up has raised suspicions that it may instead become Barisan Nasional’s (BN) vanguard or even an additional vote bank.

“When the chips are down, Rela will be with this government to defend the country. Do not cause havoc in this country because the 2.8 million Rela members will not stand idly by and watch the country descend into chaos,” he thundered to the noisy approval from a crowd of 30,000 Rela members gathered in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.

Najib Razak seems at variance with his minister in charge of the GTP, Idris Jala. The GTP roadmap for combating crime requires Rela to help police keep “omnipresence” in 50 identified crime hot spots in the Kuala Lumur, Selangor, Johor and Penang.

But Najib talks about using Rela as a vanguard or vigilante when Umno or BN’s chips are down, and he wants Rela to contain demonstrators out to create public disorder.

How do we expect a rag-tag army of volunteers to rein in demonstrators when even the specially-trained, red-helmeted FRU could not handle the peaceful Bersih 2.0 Rally last year without resorting to brutality? And Bersih 2.0 was not even out to create public disorder, at that.

There is hardly any time or resource to train a volunteer army. According to the GTP roadmap, fewer than 400 Rela/JPAM personnel were trained and deployed in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in August and September 2009; about 280 personnel were trained and were deployed in Penang and Johor in October and November 2009. That’s a tiny drop in the ocean of 2.8 million Rela volunteers. If it takes just ten hours to train one Rela member, it would take 3,240 man-years to train all of them round the clock! What we likely to get is a largely untrained vigilante force sanctioned by BN.

The recruitment of volunteers for this auxiliary security force shot up almost five-fold, from 600,000 to the current 2.8 million, within two years. It is the biggest peace time civilian mobilisation and is 25 times bigger than the country’s standing army as well as that of the police force.

The bulk of the new Rela recruits are from frontline states. Selangor has half a million, Penang (220,328), Kelantan (222,910), Perak (271,396), Sabah (258,162) and Sarawak (199,991) as at July 31, 2011. This works out to be two-thirds of Rela’s total membership. Given that in the 2008 general election, some marginal seats were won or lost by less than 50 votes, the extraordinary Rela presence in these states is more than a concern.

This massive build-up seems extraordinarily strange especially when Malaysia already has a better police personnel-to-population ratio than even industrial countries. For every 100,000 citizens, Malaysia has 301 policemen. According to UN criminal justice statistics, this is higher than Denmark (196), Canada (200), South Korea (202), Japan (203), Sweden (206), US (229) and Australia (247).

On top this, the country also has its civil defence force of 67,000 as well as the Police Volunteer Corp, both of which are much more disciplined and experienced than Rela.

Rela has a bad reputation, having drawn flak from foreign observers for its alleged human rights abuses when nabbing aliens without valid entry permits for a bounty of RM80 per head.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch called for Rela to be disbanded.

“The government has set up what’s little more than a vigilante force to target foreigners. Given Rela’s repeated abuses, it should be disbanded right away “said Brad Adams, its director for Asia.

In that same year, the Malaysian Bar Council passed a resolution at its annual general meeting, calling for the repeal of the legislation that established Rela and extended the powers of the corps’ officers to, amongst other things, enforce immigration law.

Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (Rela) or the Peoples’ Volunteer Alliance was established on January 11, 1972 under the (Essential Powers) Emergency Act 1964 – Essential Rules (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) (Amendment) 2005.

This law presumably will be defunct within six months after the repeal of the emergency declarations by Parliament last September and is to be replaced by what Najib calls a new Rela Act, presumably in March. But he gave no details.

Another worrisome sign is that the Home Ministry has recently installed a RM6.65 million high-tech virtual shooting range for Rela youth cadets or teenagers to handle simulation firearms. The centre at the Rakan Muda Complex in Kuala Lumpur can cater to up to 14,400 trainees a year. The virtual firing range will run on South Korea’s Intelligent Marksmanship Training Simulation System (IMTS) for its police force.

Adding to this is the claim by Perkasa, the extreme Malay right wing group, that a Rela subgroup called Briged Setia Negara had been established by Selangor Perkasa chief, Abdullah Mansor, in December last year. This was later denied by Rela.

Rela is also a strain on the Home Ministry budget as it would cost millions to maintain such a big and superfluous outfit. Najib has also proposed to increase Rela allowance by RM2 per hour. This will effectively double the full time volunteer allowance for non-officers to between RM800 and RM900 a month, which is more than what a ketua kampung or longhouse tuai rumah gets.

  1. #1 by k1980 on Wednesday, 1 February 2012 - 1:50 pm

    President O’bama is scared stiff of this 2.8 million Rela army, the 2nd largest army in the world after China’s. What if this 2.8 million-strong army is sent to attack NATO? Worse still, will this 2.8 million-strong army be used to attack Israel? The jews will run for their lives the moment they see malaysia’s 2.8 million strong army

  2. #2 by PoliticoKat on Wednesday, 1 February 2012 - 1:58 pm

    Is RELA really that big?

    2.8 million RELA members? Given that the Malaysian population is around 30 million, it means that 1 in 10 Malaysian are RELA members.

    Is Malaysia mobilizing for war or something?

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 1 February 2012 - 2:21 pm

    I tell you Najib DON’T have the guts to deploy Rela even in the event of civil disobedience. NOT if its his decision to make. WHAT this is really about is a number, 2.8 million member that will be used to justify an election result that will be full of inconsistencies and glaring disparities.

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Thursday, 2 February 2012 - 3:52 am

    NR n UmnoB/BN READY 4 election WAR n 2 WIN it: oredi got 2.8 million votes fr Rela kaki, 1.2 million votes fr civil servants, >3 million votes fr UmnoB/BN members, + ?? million votes fr polis n armed forces (postal votes)

    WHERE got chance 2 lose 1 lah? SURE WIN 1 lor

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