Ops Lalang detainees not as bad as I made them out to be, says Dr Mahathir

Amin Iskandar

Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad says he has become close to his colleagues in the opposition coalition, many of whom were caught in the 1987 dragnet. – The Malaysian Insight pic, October 22, 2017.

AS the country marks the 30th anniversary of Operasi Lalang, the leader who oversaw the detention of 106 activists and politicians reiterates that he was an unwilling party in the massive police crackdown.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad will concede this: many of those detained were good people and he had demonised them to win elections.

“When I was in the government, I vilified them because I wanted to win the elections. But they’re not as bad as I had made them out to be then.

“Now I am together with them. And I have become close to them,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Dr Mahathir, however, has given no indication that he will apologise to the very people he is close to now, despite the issue being brought up many times in the past.

The latest to demand an apology is Ops Lalang detainee Kua Kia Soong, a former activist, author, educationist and former DAP lawmaker. In a recent Facebook post, Kua said Dr Mahathir has simply refused to apologise.

The former prime minister’s contention was that he was not responsible for the operation.

Dr Mahathir said he had told the police not to arrest the political leaders and activists, but his requests were denied.

“I didn’t agree with it. I asked the police to accept that we must abolish the ISA (Internal Security Act).

“The police didn’t agree. I, bound to the security advice from the police, cannot go against the police,” the chairman of the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition told The Malaysian Insight.

Among the 40 people who were eventually jailed without trial in 1987 are Dr Mahathir’s PH colleagues Mohamad Sabu, Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and many more.

Yunus Ali, the husband of Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, social activist, was also detained.

“I was not involved in all of that. They (police) just arrested, I had to sign. When it came to releasing them, I signed whatever. That’s why they weren’t detained for long. Most of them were released after two months.

“Because I didn’t like the ISA. I wanted to abolish ISA. But the police said the ISA was needed. I have on record about Hanif (then Inspector-General of Police Hanif Omar) saying he was my security advisor.”

Dr Mahathir said that Hanif told him that the prime minister needed to listen to his advice on issues of national security.

“He said that. And in truth, I did not fight against the police because I depend on them. Security is the work of the police.

“So if he says we need to catch this person, then go ahead. But as long as I can release them as soon as possible,” he said.

In an interview with online news portal Malaysiakini, Hanif had said that Dr Mahathir did not instruct him to detain the political leaders and social activists.

“You can’t blame him. He is speaking the truth… in truth, it was fully a police decision. It was not his (Dr Mahathir) decision.”

The following are excerpts of Dr Mahathir’s interview with The Malaysian Insight:

TMI: In commemoration of Ops Lalang 1987, we would like to ask the reason for the crackdown.

Dr Mahathir: I gave instructions to the police, don’t detain these people. But at the time, the police were free to act. They were arrested for a reason. Because I didn’t like the ISA. I wanted to abolish the ISA. But the police said the ISA was necessary.
TMI: Many of those you arrested during Ops Lalang are now working with you. How do you feel about that?

Dr Mahathir: When I was in office, I vilified them because I wanted to win the elections. But they’re not as bad as I had made them out to be.

Now I am together with them. I came with them. Firstly, for the sake of the People’s Declaration. At the time, they supported it. It is my initiative to start this People’s Declaration, a non-governmental organisation, and all the opposition parties supported it.

That was why I became close to them. After the People’s Declaration failed, we discussed ways to topple Najib (Prime Minister Najib Razak). And they agree with me that Najib must be made to step down.

This is a much larger issue compared to our disagreements in the past. Because of this issue, to topple Najib, we are all in agreement. We no longer talk about the past. In the past, we fought among ourselves. It is not a strange thing for someone to switch from one party to another. 

For me, I just can no longer stand Najib. Because he has a record of stealing money. Using money to buy support. This is what I cannot agree with. During my time, I didn’t give money to people.

So these people (opposition leaders) oppose Najib, I oppose Najib. So we are working together. – October 22, 2017.

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