- Malaysia since the independence adopted a highly regulated form of ethnic relations
- the Sri Lankan authorities are yet to speak out about the disturbing findings in Malaysia
During the weekend, Malaysia’s Special Counter-terrorism Unit arrested 12 suspects, including two lawmakers of the ruling coalition over alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Subsequent investigations have uncovered a trail of financial transactions among the suspects, allegedly to fund the LTTE related activities, according to the Malaysian Police.
Assemblymen G. Saminathan and P. Gunasekaran who are currently held in detention are members of Democratic Action Party (DAP) which relied primarily on the Chinese and Indian constituency. DAP is a constituent party of ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed. Dr Mahathir heads a splinter group of the UNMO, the main Malay party which dominated Malaysian politics since independence until it was beaten by a motley group of disgruntled ethnic Malay, Chinese and ethnic Indian political parties. However, true to the political convention that Mr Mahathir himself inculcated during his long years as the prime minister during the previous tenure, his Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU), which represents the ethnic Malay interests kept the lion share of political control.
Last week’s arrests have resurfaced usual racial divisions as the ethnic Indian political leaders of the DAP have alleged foul play and ethnic discrimination. They have pointed out that in contrast to the LTTE suspects who are detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), which grants additional powers to the investigating agencies, the Islamic State returnees are tried in the regular courts.
Police have also launched an investigation into the deputy chief minister of Penang, P. Ramasamy, one- time advisor of the LTTE over his alleged links to the LTTE. Prof Ramasamy was previously investigated over his role in the LTTE constitutional affairs committee during the peace process.
Malaysia since the independence adopted a highly regulated form of ethnic relations where there was an unwritten convention that the ethnic Malays, considered as Boomiputra, ruled the roost in politics- while the economically better off Chinese were free to indulge in business.
Irrespective of the lack of democratic niceties that arrangement was at the heart of political stability and ethnic peace that in turn turbocharged Malaysian economy during its high growth decades. However, the defeat of UNMO upset the status quo; Malaysia itself is in a state of flux. Some observers -and conspiracy theorists- have viewed the recent arrests as a ploy to dampen the influence of DAP- Prime Minister Mahathir had denied the claim.
Strange enough, the Sri Lankan authorities are yet to speak out about the disturbing findings in Malaysia. Probably the government might be thinking that it is inopportune to make a definite statement during the height of the election campaign. That is a bad idea, and potentially a dangerous one.
Political calculations that overlooked security imperatives were partly responsible for the making of Islamic extremism and the serial carnage on Easter Sunday. (Also, during the last week, the security forces arrested a former LTTE cadre with a cache of weapons and memorabilia of the LTTE.)
While the enthusiasm among the local Tamils for the revival of the LTTE is minimum, that should not necessarily deter its many sympathizers from giving it a try. They could well succeed in recruiting willing foot soldiers, including many who have sophisticated weapon training.
Such a possibility is obviously not an excuse to erect checkpoints at every nook and corner. Sri Lankan intelligence agencies have capability to monitor the Tamil nationalist activism without being overly intrusive. And follow up actions should be taken based on intelligence findings.
After the failed insurgency in 1971, the JVP was defeated and its leadership was locked up. Yet, 15 years on, it made a brutal come back, terrorizing the nation and decimating another generation of youth.
If history is any guide, it is more likely that Tamil separatism would follow the same pattern. The catalyst is not so much the unaddressed grievances as the liberal literati keep preaching, but the opportunity - the freely available space for mobilization and radicalization.
Why Tamil separatism, which is more of an extension of Tamil exceptionalism of Dravidian cultural, political and civilizational dynamic, took its most virulent form in Sri Lanka – and not in Singapore or Malaysia- was because that free space enabled by Sri Lanka’s free wielding and equally polarized ethnic discord.
To make matters worse, successive governments were reactive- rather than being proactive to these evolving challenges. That absence of initiative and politically calculated vacillation in effect handed over the initiative to destabilizing elements. Partially helped by those factors, terrorist attacks on the Easter Sunday wreaked havoc and undermined the ethnic trust; The government should not let another avoidable tragedy to happen.