Has Suqiu Controversy Ended?
Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, met a delegation
of twenty persons from Suqiu.  Earlier, certain Malay newspapers had accused
Suqiu of challenging the Malay special positions, as entrenched the
Federation Constitution. Following that, UMNO Youth demonstrated against
Suqiu. The culmination came when the Prime Minister, in his Merdeka message,
accused Suqiu of acting like the communists and the Al-Ma’unah.
It was unfair to accuse Suqiu of demanding the abolition of Malay special
positions, because it never did so, although it touched on certain aspects
of those special positions, like the quota system. The UMNO Youth has the
right to demonstrate, so long as it is done peacefully, but it must be
criticised for assaulting some people, including a member of the press, and
threatening to burn down the Chinese Assembly Hall. Of course it was
extremely illogical for the Prime Minister to compare Suqiu with the
communists and Al-Ma’unah, because it does not believe in resorting to arms,
and was merely appealing and  not even making any demand. (Suqiu actually
means appeal).
The meeting between Dr Mahathir and Suqiu is most welcome. I hope a fruitful
dialogue, not monologue, did indeed take place between them. Dialogues are
lacking in this country, in fact, there are some leaders who think that they
are waste time. On the contrary, they are very useful to resolve problems
and to reduce tension, especially in a plural society that has social
problems and cultural complications. If we do not allow these to be
discussed in the open, then they will simmer under the surface, and can
become very explosive time bombs, which, if not properly controlled can
cause disastrous consequences.
It is therefore a mistake to believe that appeals, requests or demands of
various communities should be suppressed. It is wrong to assume that they
will cause ethnic tensions and conflicts, for they can be presented in
unemotional, rational and responsible manner.  The trouble is that in a
multi-ethnic society like ours, appeals, request and demands coming from one
ethnic group is often viewed as a challenge to another group.  The problem
becomes more serious when some irresponsible newspapers and politicians take
advantage of the situation by politicising the issues ethnically, in order
to gain political support for the government.
There was no doubt that some press and politicians questioning Suqiu’s
intentions were deliberately fuelling Malay fears, suspicions and anger by
suggesting that Suqiu was  challenging the entrenched Malay special
positions. They were clearly trying to mobilise Malay support for the
government, and in trying to do did not appear to be concerned at all about
the possible undesirable consequences on ethnic relations in the country.
They realised that following the Anwar saga, the government parties have
been increasingly losing Malay support, and they desperately wanted to
regain it.
But in trying to achieve this, even Dr Mahathir himself has committed a big
blunder. By  equating  Suqiu with the communists and Al-Mu’anah, he has
aroused Chinese despair and anger. Unfortunately for Dr Mahathir, in the
process he has not gained any more support from Malays, but instead lost
much of the Chinese support that he had consolidated during the last
The lesson to be learnt here is that genuine and reasonable appeals,
requests and demands  must be given proper hearing and discussed by
government. People making them should not be cowed into silence by fear,
threats, intimidation and repression. Freedom of expression, like freedom of
assembly and organisation, is one of the fundamental ingredients of
democracy. The government must learn to respect it.
It’s the duty of the government to listen to the grievances as well as
visions of the people from various ethnic communities and social levels. It
must encourage dialogues and discussions, and finally try to formulate
rational and reasonable decisions that will be good for the future of the
county and people.
Dr Syed Husin Ali
President PRM
16th September 2000