By POOK AH LEK
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
We celebrated our 59th Independence Day yesterday, and in another half a month's time, we will be celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of Malaysia.
A diplomat from a neighboring country sent in a text message to wish Malaysia Happy National Day. He added this: Malaysians have much to be proud of.
Indeed, we have been so much used to venting our frustration that we have for so long overlooked things that will deliver us positive energy.
59 years ago, if not for Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan fighting for our independence from the British, we would not have possibly seen the birth of this new nation called Malaysia.
Of course, protruding such positive energy doesn't mean we are going to sweep all of our corruption, decadence, power abuse, racial and religious problems under the carpet. We must continue to exert pressure on the authorities to seriously look into these issues while at the same time transmitting some positive messages to our readers.
On October 31, 2003, we bade adieu Mahathir's 22 years of autocratic rule. Thanks to his tramping of human rights, intervention of the judiciary, and outright cronyism, today our children have to pay the price to some extent for his iniquities.
And suddenly, Mahathir apologized. He apologized for amending the Federal Constitution to curtail the powers of the Malay Rulers, later allowing Najib's NSC Bill to automatically become law after 30 days without the King's expressed consent.
As a matter of fact, there are a lot more things Mahathir needs to apologize besides this one. He must apologize for the 1987 Ops Lalang, the sacking of Supreme Court president and judges in 1988 which has since dealt a fatal blow on the country's judicial independence.
He closed down three newspapers during Ops Lalang, including Sin Chew Daily. Should he also apologize to the Chinese community and millions of readers?
I still could recall that fateful morning on October 27, 1987, when I reported to work as usual at eight. I customarily went through Bernama's press notices, and found one emergency notice of a press conference by IGP Haniff Omar at 9.00a.m. No other details were given in the notice and due to the short notice, I couldn't inform the reporters and had to rush to Bukit Aman myself.
It happened at a time when tension ran high. Umno was suffering a split and was divided into Camp A and Camp B. 12 Umno members filed a court application to declare the just concluded Umno general assembly and party elections illegal. To strengthen his own position, Mahathir tried to divert the public attention by ordering the Ops Lalang in the name of taming racial tension. A total of 119 individuals were detained, including political leaders from the ruling and opposition parties, Chinese educationists, and leaders from human rights and non-government organizations.
Also present at the brief press conference was then Special Branch director Rahim Noor (later IGP). Haniff only provided the additional names of people arrested under Ops Lalang and answered a few simple questions before rounding up the press conference.
Awaiting me back at the office was a sinister notice from the home ministry that Sin Chew Daily would be closed down. The reason: for cooking up racial issues.
The formal letter was sent to the office at 11.00a.m. Also suspended were The Star and Watan. All our 481 employees nationwide were totally at sea as to what to do next.
481 employees if multiplied by an average of four members in the household, would mean the livelihood of 1,924 people affected by Mahathir's decision. And I have not included the employees of The Star and Watan as well as their families.
For the days that followed, I was stationed at the HQ along with two other colleagues on rotation to wait for the good news while answering enquiries from the readers. We waited for a total of five months and 11 days before Sin Chew Daily was allowed a rebirth on April 8, 1988.