A More Balanced Perspective On The ATM And Non-Malay Participation

Lately, the question of racial discrimination and the recruitment of non-Malays to the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) has re-emerged.
In fact, debates over race and the military are not something unique to Malaysia.
For instance, in June 2021 the senior leadership of the US military had a sharp exchange with Republican congressmen over whether the military was studying “critical race theory”, i.e., academic theories about racial supremacy and privilege. In Singapore, the issue of the longstanding discrimination against Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces has received widespread coverage.
The ATM, like all human institutions, is probably not free from the flaws of human nature, including prejudice.
But it is wrong to assume that no progress at all has been made.
For instance, recently we had the achievements of Lieutenant General Datuk Stephen Mundaw, Lieutenant General Datuk Dr William Rangit Stevenson and Major General Datuk Toh Choon Siang.
Also, in addressing the issue of race and recruitment to the ATM, its chief General Tan Sri Affendi Buang has disclosed that non-Malay recruitment to the Navy increased to 18 percent of the intake over 2016—2020. For the Air Force, the figure rose from 19.5 percent in 2019 to 24 percent in 2020. Overall, non-Malay intakes into the Army has stood at 20—25 percent from 2017—2020.
Of course, more could have and must be done to encourage non-Malay participation in the ATM.
It is important that our military must not only be able to defend the rakyat but also be representative of it as much as possible.
The key is to listen to actual former, current, and future ATM personnel on their lived experiences as well as how they, rather than just politicians, think the country can move forward together on this.
As an MP who has a large community of military voters and veterans in my constituency, Setiawangsa, as well as via my work with the youth, I am compelled to observe that combatting prejudice and other social barriers to entry, while necessary and laudable in and of itself, is only part of the solution to a large problem.
The Armed Forces too face a problem in recruiting graduates and those from the middle class – Malays included. Therefore, we cannot reduce this to a racial issue alone.
In short, there are other factors as well that are not encouraging non-Malays to join the ATM.
For one thing, and again, I speak from my constituency work in an area with many military families and veterans, pay for ATM personnel, whether officers or NCOs leaves much to be desired.
And that’s just pay—the retirement situation isn’t also that better. As an MP, I’ve come across many Malaysian veterans who struggle to survive despite giving years of their lives to defending the country.
Some are not able to earn pensions for various reasons. Others—and this is a particular problem for the NCOs – struggle to get jobs in the civilian world.
Such shortcomings will make it difficult to recruit Malaysian youth—Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera alike—to the ATM, including those with elite qualifications.
Moreover, demographic realities must be considered. In 2017, the UN reported that Malaysia would become an aged nation by 2030 and that our family sizes would shrink. The Department of Statistics that year found that average family sizes dropped to 4.06 from 4.09 the year before. In urban areas, the figure was 3.89 and in rural, 4.68.
This means that the ATM will also have a smaller pool of talent and manpower to work with.
This again highlights the need to address the livelihood issues mentioned above, to say nothing of the greater cultural and familial resistance which may ensue as parents become more reluctant to let their children join the military—particularly if conflict flares in the Indo-Pacific in the years to come. This problem is more apparent in non-Malay families which have smaller number of children compared to the Malays.

Utilising The Memorandum To Achieve Reform And Stability

KEADILAN and our Pakatan Harapan partners acceptance of the government’s Memorandum was driven by our concern for the rakyat particularly on the need for institutional reforms and overcoming the socio-economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government must now promptly and comprehensively undertake the reforms it has promised.

It must redouble its efforts to fight Covid-19 in an inclusive, science-drive fashion, revive the economy as well as the livelihoods of all impacted Malaysians and decisively abandon the failed policies of the past with a bigger economic intervention.

There must be no more excuses or delays given that the current administration has accepted the Memorandum as well.

Responsibility for its success or failure lies in the words and deeds of the Prime Minister and his government.

The Memorandum is by no means a free pass or a carte blanche for them to do what they like.

The Opposition will continue to remain vigilant in its role as a watchdog to the government and the guardian of the national interest.

For its part, KEADILAN and PH will continue to discharge our duty as an active Opposition. This is not a Unity Government. We cannot and will not hesitate to call out or vote in Parliament against any move that hurts the welfare of the rakyat.

For instance, we will closely scrutinise the upcoming 2022 Budget to ensure that it not only benefits the rakyat, but also that it implements the highest standards of good governance and transparency in all spending.

If the government wishes our support to pass the Budget, it must live up to the spirit of the Memorandum and comprehensively negotiate all aspects of it to the satisfaction of PH before tabling it in Parliament.

The negotiations must also be done with the maximum amount of transparency possible and also involve related stakeholders where appropriate.

The Memorandum is hence not an end or suspension of Malaysia’s democratic and political process but an act of patriotism for the national interest on the part of KEADILAN and PH.

This same spirit will drive us to ramp up our work as a check-and-balance to the government with the goal of ensuring the country’s recovery as well as the upliftment of the rakyat.


Vaccinating Legislators: No More Excuse For Emergency And Parliament Suspension

The Prime Minister has announced that Members of Parliament are eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19 during the first stage later this month.

As an MP, I am grateful for this. Personally, I would have preferred for other frontliners like healthcare workers, police officers and teachers to receive the vaccine first but I also understand that we have a responsibility to persuade sceptics amongst the public in order to increase uptake.

Vaccinating our MPs also means the government do not have any excuse to continue with the Emergency and suspension of Parliament. After all, almost all sectors of the economy have been opened.

The same principle should be applied to Parliament, where we can meet to discuss matters of the Rakyat whilst adhering to the strict SOPs as we did before.

The most important part of our duties as elected representatives is to represent our constituents in Parliament by bringing up the issues they are facing on the ground and ensuring that legislation is appropriately debated and passed.


Police Investigation Against Anwar Unjustified

The police investigation against Anwar Ibrahim for his call for an end to the current Emergency is unjustified and unwarranted.

It should be noted that Anwar has sought a judicial review to challenge, not the actions of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, but rather the advice that was tendered by the current government.

The lawsuit is hence against the government and not the institution of the monarchy.

Several other public figures have also filed lawsuits in regard to the current Emergency.

It should furthermore be noted that Anwar’s judicial review attempt mirrors a the challenge PAS had pursued in relation to the 1977 Emergency Declaration in Kelantan.

As such, the courts should be allowed to determine the merit of his legal arguments without interference from any other party.

As a citizen of Malaysia, Anwar has a right to seek legal redress for any wrongs that he believes has occurred in the public sphere.

Using the police force to investigate and intimidate a serving MP and Leader of the Opposition exercising his duty as check and balance of the government runs counter to the principles of democracy.

This remains even during a state of emergency.

As such, the investigation towards him cannot in any way be justified and ought to be dropped.


MCO 2.0: Proposals For The Education Ministry

Yesterday I raised the issues that the Ministry of Education must deal with following the 2nd Movement Control Order.

These are some proposals for the Government to consider.

The Ministry should announce the exam dates for both exam batches—especially the batch of 2021 – so students and their schools can prepare accordingly.

For the 2021 batch : will the November date for SPM be postponed to give students and teachers more time? Remember the latter will now have to teach 2 batches of exam classes this year.

Under the circumstances, the Ministry must set the number of school days for the year for exam and non-exam students where holidays may be trimmed.

This will also be an opportunity for the Ministry to consider focusing on simply teaching a trimmed down syllabus and centralised online testing for key subjects only.

If JPA can already do online testing for candidates applying for the civil service, why not the Ministry of Education?

As for states under CMCO and RCMO, keeping the SOPs—and hence the students, teachers and their respective families safe—can be facilitated through a staggered approach in bringing students back to school.

For instance, for primary school, only Standard 4—6 students—should be allowed to return to school as they will have exams to prepare for and are old enough to understand and follow the SOPs. It is extremely difficult for teachers to help Year 1 students especially to follow SOPs.

For secondary schools, perhaps keeping Forms 1 and 2 at home will help towards this end.

Of course, staggering returns to face-to-face learning may compel parents who are working in essential industries to have to arrange day-care for their school-going children and hence increase their financial burdens.

The government must look into the mental health of teachers and students, which have been adversely affected due to Covid-19. When the time comes to open schools, teachers and students must be reassured to prevent schools from becoming pandemic clusters.

As it is, schools often act as “day care centres” even for parents who are working from home, as having children in school—especially the younger ones—will help improve productivity. Perhaps the government can subsidise the cost of day care in these cases.

Besides this, the Ministry must obviously ensure that there will be enough bandwidth and data in schools and in the Matriculation Colleges for teachers to prepare and conduct online classes.

The Ministry must also announce what actions they have taken in supporting teachers and schools in providing good quality online teaching and learning as well as ensuring the tracking of student attendance for online classes.

As I have also said before, perhaps it is about time we review our whole education system in terms of its philosophy, goals and objectives so we can prepare our children to live in a world threatened by disease, climate change and weakened institutional structures and values.

The sad fact is that successive governments keep trying to fit the current education system into a structure that no longer exists thanks to Covid-19 and other dislocations.

Bold action is needed. But the government has instead chosen to undertake another hard MCO lockdown and a divisive Emergency.

This is clearly not the actions of an administration that has the interests of its people at heart. But it is not too late for it to change tack and help ensure that the “Generation Covid” does not become a lost one.


Should KeADILan Join The Proposed Grand Coalition?

Lately, there have been calls for the creation of “grand coalitions”, both for the parties that support the current government and separately, for the parties which are now in Opposition.

On the Opposition side, there have been calls for the revival of the “PH Plus” formula.

Broadly, this basically involves Pakatan Harapan – KEADILAN, DAP and AMANAH—getting back together with Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his camp (his PEJUANG party remains unregistered), as well as presumably other parties like WARISAN and MUDA (the latter also still unregistered).

Many good and honourable PH members or supporters—as well as those in civil society—think this is a good idea.

But is it necessarily so?

What will recreating PH Plus entail?

In June 2020 Dr Mahathir was quoted in the media as saying that: “I want to be PM for a third time to rectify the corruption of Najib and Muhyiddin administrations…I’ll back down after six months. I won’t be PM any more.”

In October 2020 too, PEJUANG nominated him to be Prime Minister again.

Also, in his recent 14 December press conference, while he reportedly stated that he had “no suggestion” whether he would be candidate for Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, he said that: “If the government falls, then there will be a need for a new government. At this moment, unless we have a general election, the only way to form a new government is for the 222 MPs to begin to choose the government, perhaps beginning with the prime minister…And then to form a government that is dedicated to serving the people. I hope there are enough MPs who want to see this country recover and develop like before”.

This strongly suggests—although I stand to be corrected—that recreating “PH Plus” will involve either accepting Dr Mahathir’s leadership again, or someone acceptable to him.

As I and may others have argued previously, this is unfortunately not a viable option—at least for KEADILAN.

The sad fact is that Dr Mahathir has proven time and time again that he is unwilling and unable to set in motion the reforms that Malaysia desperately needs, whether economic, political, or social.

Working with Dr Mahathir under PH was not an easy decision. Many suffered tremendously during his first tenure as PM as he destroyed the country’s institutions while the gap between the rich and poor grew.

But it was a judgment call made by PH to defeat Najib Razak and UMNO-BN in the 2018 election.

Dr Mahathir had 22 months and enormous political capital to rectify our country’s problems—but could not or would not. And as the record will show, he repeatedly denigrated our Buku Harapan manifesto.

Much of it was arguably achievable, but his unfortunate comments hurt PH’s credibility and strengthened the hands of our foes.

At the end of his tenure, he resigned unilaterally without consultation as a tactic to not have to fulfil his promise of handing over the leadership to Anwar Ibrahim. Instead, the entire PH government, which came to power carrying the hopes of many Malaysians, collapsed.

He has undoubtedly reached his limits when it comes to leading PH and our country to where both need to go, especially in this rapidly changing, tumultuous Covid-19 era.

If our component parties and well-wishers still want PH or an enlarged coalition to be a reformist entity—then it cannot be led by Dr Mahathir.

The prospect of a divided Opposition will naturally be painful for many. But this simply is a case of differing, irreconcilable visions of what Malaysia’s future ought to be like.

There’s no guarantee that “PH Plus” is even Dr Mahathir’s preferred political vehicle moving forward.

In a September 2020 interview, he was quoted as saying that: “If we can get just 30 seats, we will be in a position to join either (coalitions). But if we want to join, we must insist on certain conditions. If they accept our conditions, then we will join.”

To be fair though, the “PH Plus” proposal—as currently conceived—is problematic for reasons that go beyond the Anwar—Mahathir dynamic.

Malaysia’s political culture tends to see coalitions as “pre-election coalitions” as opposed to “post-election coalitions”. Parties agree on a common manifesto, with a common leader (or PM candidate) and a single candidate for each seat.

But is this a natural state of affairs, really?

Could it be that we are just so used to the Alliance and BN “model” that our country was ruled under until 2018 that we cannot think of any alternative?

The Opposition tried to respond with the Socialist Front (1950s-1960s), Gagasan Rakyat and Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (early 1990s), Barisan Alternatif (1999-2008), Pakatan Rakyat (2008-2015), PH (established in 2015) and Gagasan Sejahtera (2018).

But we should remember that Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) cooperated with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) in the Federal BN but competed against each other at the state level from 1987-1992.

The DAP-KEADILAN cooperation in the 2008 elections was a broad understanding to avoid overlaps in seats and coordinate their campaigns, without a joint-manifesto. Similarly, WARISAN adopted a PH-friendly understanding without joining it in 2018.

PN and BN both contested against each other in the September 2020 Sabah State Elections but formed the subsequent State Government together.

Let us be honest.

Given our current political realities and the terribly distorted way our parliamentary constituencies have been drawn, any grand pre-election coalition will struggle with seat negotiations.

It has always been a fraught process even when parties are united and have the best feelings towards each other.

Indeed, this is a problem that will continue to confront, if not metastasize, for any future grand coalition: whether its “PH Plus” and whatever shape the pro-Muhyiddin alliance takes.

Even Dr Mahathir, in his September 2020 remarks, seems to acknowledge that post-election coalitions will become the norm.

Perhaps we must stop expecting our coalitions to be permanent entities but more fluid, depending on what the nation needs, to be formalised as a governing coalition after elections.

This is not unusual in Europe. In fact, the “Grand Coalition” is a phrase used in Germany to describe a coalition formed by the CDU and SPD that happened a few times in history, albeit after elections.

In Britain, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government from 2010-2015.

This is probably why talk of a PH-UMNO tie-up in Perak generated so much public attention—although it did not materialise in the end.

Malaysian voters, one suspects, may increasingly be curious about—if not open to—new political possibilities previously unthinkable.

Still, our politics does not have to be at the mercy of expediency—and this is where KEADILAN needs to hold fast to its core ideal of building a fairer Malaysia for all.

Yes, forming coalitions must be a flexible process moving forward. But the parameters need to be rooted in reforming Malaysia for the better.

Whatever happens, KEADILAN must continue to serve the people and fight for a fairer economy as well as reforming our country’s public institutions.

KEADILAN is the only party with divisions in each of our country’s 222 Parliamentary constituencies, whether in the Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak. It has a membership exceeding 1 million, behind only two much older parties–UMNO and PAS.

As a big-tent party that has encompassed various ideological strands, that has emerged as Malaysia’s most successful multiracial political platform, KEADILAN is well-placed to do so.