Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974
Malaysia Special — "Intimidation is a Way of Life"
"Intimidation is a Way of Life"
"Tharunka" University of New South Wales Student newspaper recently interviewed Hishamuddin Rais, the secretary general of the University of Malaya Students' Union while he was attending the Asian Student's Association Conference, held in Melbourne. In the interview, Hisham gave a very clear picture of what was happening in Malaysia after the so-called Independence since 1963.
First can you outline the current political situation in Malaysia?
The current political situation in Malaysia is that the Alliance Government has managed to gain control of the other political parties which in the 1969 elections were the opposition but now with the formation of the National Front there is no effective opposition. All that is left is three political parties: the Democratic Action Party which I consider is the outburst of the People's Action Party of Singapore and racialist in nature; the Pekemas which is inefficient and which was formed for the sake of the election; the third is the Partai Sosialis Ra'yat with its main leaders in detention. I can give a very clear example of this: in the 1969 state election two of its members were elected. Immediately one week after they had won their seats both were sent to detention camp. This is the situation in Malaysia now where there is no vocal opposition in the coming election which may be held sometime in August. I can foresee that the National Front will win with a large majority.
Do you think this election will go on or do you think that there will be a repeat of the '69 riots and the result in the suspension of parliamentary rule?
I don't think the racial problem will come up this time but it will inevitably. The Government has been giving the Bumiputras (Malays) a false hope that by 1990 the Malays will control 30% of the economy but right now what they are doing is to call for more foreign investment. Malaysia is a neo-colony of Britain at which 60-70% of the economy is controlled by Anglo-American investment so that it can never be possible for the people of Malaysia, be it the Malays or non-Malays, to control their own economy. Huge amounts of money are pouring into Malaysia because it provides a cheap source of labour, the existence of the incentive of pioneer status and tax exemptions. It is important to realize that because of the neo-colonial structure of Malaysia decisions are taken not by the people of Malaysia but by foreigners with vested interests in the country.
What has been the response of students to this situation in Malaysia?
So as I have told you the only one left is student organisation which is still vocal in nature and calling for change in the government. But in 1971 the University and Colleges Act was bulldozed through Parliament. This act is aimed at abolishing all students' organisations.
In the University they are atempting to appoint four students to, represent the entire student body. These representatives are responsible to the Vice-Chancellor and not to the students. This we consider to be utterly ridiculous. Twenty two students and youth organisations have combined to oppose this notorious act. At present a lot of students' organisations like my students body are constitutionally operating illegally. Under the act we are not supposed to have our own student representatives elections. In fact under the Act the basic democratic rights of students to organise themselves were abolished under the "University Colleges Act 1974"
What has been the response of the government to student resistance in regard to the University politics and to the state of neo-colonialism in Malaysia?
The Government realises that the students in South-East Asia are different to students in Australia and New Zealand, that students are well regarded by the people from the kampongs (villages). In this respect the Government has been worried about the students' vocal criticism of them. This was a clear example when we exposed the corruption of the Mentri Besar (Chief Minister) Dato Harun of Selangor, state of the capital city, a very corrupted man. This has shaken the foundation of the Alliance Government and we understand this. They are really worried about this and, in fact, what they are really doing is (i.e. their programme) is to divide the students on racial lines by projecting certain issues which are racist in nature so that students will be divided and quarrel among themselves (with the Malays, Chinese, Indians and the others) so that we can never get to sit at the same table to discuss the real issue which is neo-colonialism. One of my short-term plans is to make everyone aware of the structure of the country and the common enemy. After seeing these two things I think we will become very united.
What sort of issues are the government raising to divide the students on racial lines?
Well, in almost all their policies they portray the image that they are supporting the Malays but in the real sense, in the name of all the Malays, they are helping only a few. Because the economy is capitalistic in nature obviously you can't expect all the Malays in my country to become tycoons or businessmen. Only a certain group of Malays will become businessmen and this will at the same time anger the non-Malays who think that the Malays also have political power when in fact the economy is controlled by foreign powers. As such the political power will also be in the hands of the foreigners. This is what leads us to be divided among ourselves. They have managed for so many years to confuse the people and projected the image that the problem is one of racialism which must be looked into first. They have projected the theme of racial differences and claimed that they will correct the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots but, in fact, this is impossible. According to them by 1990 30% of the economy will be controlled by the bumiputras. Well, fair and square if they can do it. 60-70% of the economy will be foreign controlled, 30% of the economy may be controlled by the bumiputras but two or three bumiputras can control that 30%: this does not settle the issue. This is what we are questioning. As it is now we are seeing only the 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 Malay families who have been controlling the Malay sector of the economy and enjoying the privileges of the Second Malaysian Plan. This is what has been criticised by the Malay students.
What was the reaction of students in Malaysia to the event of October 14, 1973. in Thailand? That is, the success of the Thai students in defeating corruption?
[unclear: A]: On the 13th we ourselves had an anti-American demonstration outside the American embassy during the Arab-Israeli war. The Government was really taken aback by the overthrow of the Kittikachorn regime and the 500-strong demonstration. On the 16th we came back with an even greater number of 10,000 which the Government couldn't really control. The Minister of Home Affairs, Ghazali Shafi, went to pacify the students. He was exposed during the demonstration, was booed and left. After that the students left and the leaders were called to a small briefing. Prior to this the American Embassy was bombed (this is my own analysis of the situation) and a placard was left behind. It was following that that the students were called to be convinced that the demonstration was being exploited. The Minister then went on to say that his Government supported the Arabs but somebody has been exploiting the situation and therefore to call off the demonstration. To our own analysis that was just a part of the Government propaganda to pacify the students.
In the case of the intimidation of students one well known case is that of Khoo Ee Liam. Do you know of any other cases in Malaysia?
So far as my campus is concerned this kind of intimidation is a way of life. There are students working in connexion with the Special Branch (Secret Police). These informers look into the minutes of meetings to keep an eye on activities, the student meetings and union activities. Suppose we are having a meeting at the speakers corner and decide on a demonstration immediately the police in town will know and roads to the city are blocked in a matter of minutes. Recently the Minister of Home Affairs mode a statement that police officers will be sent for further University training. We are not at all against anybody getting a university education but not people with 'extra jobs'. Lately an expensive radio set was installed in the Uni and with each security guard with a walkie-talkie the 600 acres of our campus is controlled like a police state. What concerns us is that during any discussion, political forums, in the speakers coiner or open debate they may just switch on the walkie talkie, on to the main radio and direct to the police station in the city which is not very far from the Uni. In this we have the support of and co-operation of the academic staff because they know that this is part of the infringement of their academic rights.
The case of Khoo Ee Liam was of course one of the intimidation of students while they are overseas. What do you think the Malaysian students in Australia can do to prevent such an incident from being [unclear: rejected].
First of all I appeal to them to the [unclear: Maray] students not to fall into the trap of the regime, that is to fall into the trap of racialism and to understand the structure of neo-colonialism in our country — [unclear: to] understand the common enemy, i.e. neo-colonialism and imperialism. After that I hope they will co-operate with the Aust. students and the N.Z. to form a United Front because the struggle of the students wherever you are whether you are in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea Thailand, is the same thing. So if one student leader is suppressed, it means also the ideal of student has also been suppressed, so I appeal to you all to unite under this broad issue. You can come to a united front and to fight for your own right. If the victory of the Australian students will be seen as the victory the Thai students, as the victory of the Vietnam students as the victory of the Indonesian students. I hope they can see in this context, an internationalist context.
Hisham will be visiting New Zealand as a guest of the NZUSA for a tour of New Zealand campuses beginning at Victoria on Friday, August 30. His visit will show that the growing movement among Malaysians in New Zealand is part of a struggle among students in Malaysia for democracy and justice. All students are urged to take the opportunity to hear him. He is a powerful and courageous speaker and is in a position to speak with some knowledge about the problems of progressive students in Malaysia.