Putting May 13 ghosts to rest
January 24, 2014
Will we ever be rid of the spectre of May 13? The riots and killings associated with that date happened 45 years ago, when many of us had not even been born. And yet the ghosts from that tragic time have kept coming back to haunt us, most noticeably when Umno’s interests are threatened. They haunted us during the run-up to the last general election, when popular sentiment seemed to favour the opposition. And they were back again recently, when some people felt slighted by criticism directed at the Prime Minister, who is Umno’s president.
The disturbing thing about the banner displayed during the Jan 18 Umno protest in Penang is that it was a direct threat of bloodshed against non-Malays—and over an issue that had nothing to do with race. And no significant figure from Putrajaya immediately condemned it as a threat to national security. That is even more disturbing. Will the world pity us or laugh at us if this country is brought to ruin over a vegetable?
In recent years, there have been several calls for a royal inquiry aimed at discovering the truth behind May 13. The government has ignored these calls. But neither have political activists or the blogging public given the idea much support, perhaps because of disappointment with the conduct and findings of past inquiries into other matters of public interest.
Those inquiries came about after much public pressure, but the trouble was the commissioners who conducted them were appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, who cannot be expected to be impartial since he also heads a political party with vested interests in the issues inquired into.
It wouldn’t take much argument to convince anyone—at least anyone worried that we are coming close to another bloody episode of our history—that an inquiry into the causes and aftermath of May 13 is more worthy of a royal commission of inquiry than the issue of whether a lawyer corruptly influenced judicial decisions. But for the inquiry to be credible and effective in establishing the authoritative truth,civil society must be involved in the appointment of the people conducting it.
It’s time to let the ghosts of May 13 rest.
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