Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Fearing censorship, ‘sensitive’ letters by Tun Dr Ismail kept in Singapore, says son

Fearing incompetence and censorship, the son of the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman said he handed over his father's private documents to a Singapore-based think-tank for safekeeping. Tawfik Ismail said he was confident that the personal and candid writings by his father, the deputy prime minister from 1970 to 1973, about his policies and his experiences with other leaders while in office, would have been deemed too "sensitive and revealing" for Malaysian authorities. "I handed my father's private documents to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) in 2004, and was seen to have acted against the interest of the country," Tawfik told a small but packed room of historians and political analysts at the official launch of Tun Dr Ismail's unfinished autobiography in Singapore on Monday. "The reason I did it was that I don't think our National Archives are up to the task of preserving these documents. There is a policy deficiency," he said. "The government can also stamp anything under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), and it'll never see the time of day." Under OSA the government can prohibit the dissemination of any information that is classified as an official secret. "Ironically, even though Singapore is seen as a more iron-fisted government, it did a better job of preserving Malaysian archives than Malaysia would have," he said. Tawfik said his earlier experience of tracking down recordings of his father's speeches had left him frustrated and disappointed. "My father delivered a speech in University Sains Malaysia in 1973, and it embodied his vision for the nation. It's a very important speech and I asked the National Archives department if they had a recording of it and they said 'no'. "Then I asked USM if they kept any recording of it, and the answer was also 'no'. Unfortunately, that's the state of history-keeping in Malaysia, which is really a pity," he said. The book "Drifting into Politics: The Unfinished Memoirs of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman" is a collection of personal letters and notes written by the former leader which were meant to be compiled into an autobiography. However, the work was never finished as Tun Dr Ismail died suddenly of a heart attack in 1973. Iseas had also published two earlier books about Tun Dr Ismail, drawing from the private documents in their possession, but the launch of the memoir was seen to be the "most timely" in the backdrop of what many in Malaysia see as a leadership crisis. "The book is about leadership; consistent and principled leadership. It's a topic that weighs heavily on many Malaysians today," said co-author and Iseas deputy director, Ooi Kee Beng. Tawfik said the book highlighted the many missed opportunities in Malaysia, but said the country was not beyond redemption. "There are people in politics now who are principled, but because of the way Umno is set up, they won't be able to rise to the top. "Because of the way Umno is, this kind of leaders cannot emerge. That's why a lot of the best and brightest are out in the opposition." Tawfik said his father would have been "very disappointed" by the state of the nation today, citing racial divisions, use of religion to control the majority Malays, and the continued use of the New Economic Policy, as some of the main issues that went against what Tun Dr Ismail believed in. Tun Dr Ismail was instrumental in formulating the New Economic Policy (NEP) after the ethnic riots erupted in Kuala Lumpur on May 13, 1969. Tawfik said NEP was meant to address the assumed root cause of the violence – unequal distribution of wealth and social inequality among the races. But he insisted his late father had never meant for the policy to continue indefinitely. "My father saw NEP as a game of golf. You need a handicap to let people catch up, but after that, you have to do away with the handicap. "He was a sportsman, so he understood it well." He said former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on the other hand, had very differing views on the weakness of the Malay race and their need for long term assistance. "Mahathir was not a sportsman. He doesn't understand what a handicap is. He thinks that handicaps are meant to be forever. "He thinks the Malays are meant to be dependent on the party and the system forever," said Tawfik. "But we, the Malays, need to break out of that thinking, to find a new paradigm, to remake history." – February 17, 2016.]]>

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