A meeting of minds among ex-military officers

S Thayaparan
May 16, 2013

“Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”

– Mark Twain

COMMENT The Retired Armed Forces Officers’ Association (Rafoc) recently held an informal post-election talk where I was invited to be panel member. The rest of the panel were as follows and the moderator was Mej-Jen Dr Nordin Yusof (Rtd).

Lt-Jen Mohd Salleh Ismail (Rtd)
Laksdya Mat Rabi Abu Samah (Rtd)
Mej-Jen Abd Malek Shahar Harun (Rtd)
Mej-Jen Mohd Yunus Long (Rtd)
Laksma Imran Abd Hamid (Rtd)
Lt-Kdr Phua Hean Sim (Rtd)

It must be stressed that Rafoc is a non-partisan, independent organisation. The purpose of this talk from Rafoc’s own notice board is as follows:

“The ‘Get-Together Talk – GE13′ is to provide the occasion for our members to get together and talk on the recently concluded 13th general election in Malaysia – the scenario, the causes, the players and the future of the country, etc.

“We may not have to come up with resolutions or DS solutions (military jargon for ‘the correct answer to a problem’) as such. The event is also to instill to our members that we, the retired Armed Forces officers’ community must continue to be concerned on what has happened, what is happening and what will happen to our country.”

I was impressed that Rafoc offered a plurality of voices to express their opinions in these contentious times to an audience of retired officers, who were concerned of the path this country is on.

Two contending narratives

Two narratives emerged from this talk. The first, as propagated by some panel members and members of the floor, was that the so-called Chinese tsunami was an indication of the impending clash between the Malay and Chinese communities.

The second narrative and perhaps the more mainstream one, was a rejection of the first narrative and received popular support, was that it was not a Chinese tsunami but rather a Malaysian tsunami, which was based on the common ground of good governance and a rejection of systemic corruption.

Proponents of the first narrative raised the spectere of May 13 and the usual sabre rattling or should I say keris brandishing rhetoric. It occurred to me that partisans, whether Malay or non-Malay, who caution the citizens of this country of that shameful event, do so with an almost bizarre relish.

When reminded of the fact that the recent Kelana Jaya rally comprised of Malaysians of various races, they dismissed such facts, with the usual, “it was a Chinese-dominated rally” spiel. When reminded of the fact that the Himpunan Bangkit rally was a Malay-dominated affair, which was evidence of a re-emerging polychromatic Malay polity, it was dismissed with the usual, “The opposition is splitting the Malay community” spiel.

For proponents of the first narrative, only Umno could maintain peace and stability and by rejecting Umno, you are rejecting peace and stability. Some argued that the Chinese communities’ rejection of the MCA was tantamount to rejecting peace and stability.

‘If it ain’t broke, then why fix it’

Pro-establishment panel members and members of the floor put forward the rather disingenuous arguments, on the lines of “if it ain’t broke, then why fix it” but chose to ignore the very real flaws in every government institution which was brought up by other panel members and speakers from the floor.

It should surprise no one that the issue of corruption was the underlying theme of most of the discussion. Speakers from the floor brought up the various corruption scandals, especially those concerning the armed forces.

It was obvious for all those who attended that most people wanted to engage the system and correct the existing flaws in a non-partisan manner but more importantly in a non-racial approach. Talk amongst participants of the conference in and out of the hall, centred not on the racial prophets of doom, but how the various institutions of the state have been compromised over the years.

One retired officer who is now with Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M), said his door was always open to anyone who wanted information or clarification on the numerous cases of mismanagement that plague the nation and the Armed Forces in particular.

And this is the problem with pro-establishment partisans or those sympathetic to the racial power-sharing social contract of BN and Umno. They assume that people who support the opposition are race blind.

Now, the reality is, that unless you have drunk the kool aid, most right-thinking opposition supporters are not blind to the fact that racial politics will always be with us however of paramount importance and the ideals that we find common ground in, is that good governance, accountability and transparency, will lead to a more egalitarian Malaysian polity.

Stocking the gravy train

It is pointless playing the racial card and demonising the Chinese community, because the reality is, the reason that there is class struggle within the Malay community is because for decades, the self-appointed guardians of the Malay community, with the aid of their non-Malay cronies, were more interested in stocking the gravy train than in forging a national identity which all could subscribe to.

The consensus was that Rafoc is ever ready to contribute to national interest in a bipartisan way, to avail their expertise and wealth of experience to any organisation interested in engaging with them.

The perception of the armed forces, like many government institutions, is mired in controversy and the public is perhaps unaware of how committed retired service personnel are to the national well-being.

On a personal level, I would like to encourage more retired officers to come forth and engage in the ongoing discourse. I would like Rafoc to organise more talks like this and to invite MPs from BN and Pakatan Rakyat to debate the issues of the day.

If there were a need for reconciliation, a good start would be that the opposition be allowed to engage with the various branches of government and not be portrayed as enemies of the state.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

  1. #1 by Winston on Friday, 17 May 2013 - 8:32 am

    It all boils down to two things:
    1. that the ruling party wants its gravy train.
    2. be free from any prosecutions for their crimes
    over the decades.

  2. #2 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 17 May 2013 - 8:47 am

    Loyalty? Mark Twain was absolutely correct with his remark. But clearly it does not apply to umno. You see, umno’s demand is errrr…. different. Umno wants gratefulness.

    Damnit. If only I could revive Mark Twain from his grave, I would surely consult him for a view.

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