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The day of the dictator – Oct 27, 1987

Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 07:18:43 am

The Day of the Dictator

by uppercaise

Twenty-five years ago today, the first Umno Malay Civil War caused the arrests of at least 106 civilians in the infamous Operation Lallang (Operasi Lalang, in Malay) when the beleaguered Mahathir Mohamad government used the political turmoil that had been festering through the year to detain opposition politicians (and a few from Umno), Chinese educationists, academicians and activists, priests and a Malay Christian convert.

It was clear then, as it is now, that the detentions and the subsequent climate of fear were aimed at ensuring Mahathir’s survival. The events of 1987 would subsequently lead to the judiciary’s loss of independence, tighter restriction on the media, and a free hand for Mahathir and his political and business cronies. The Constitution was ripped apart, with one of the three Estates left in limbo.

The country has still to recover from that grievous wound.

The challengerThings had come to a head earlier in the year, when Mahathir Mohamad was challenged for the leadership of Umno, for the first time since he took power 12 years before. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had teamed up with Musa Hitam (“Team B”) to take on Mahathir and his gang.

At the Umno general assembly on April 24, Mahathir narrowly survived, by 43 votes, against Tengku Razaleigh, whose Team B managed only to win a third of the seats on the Umno supreme council.

Tensions had been growing in Umno in the three years after Tengku Razaleigh had been replaced as finance minister by Mahathir’s partner Daim Zainuddin. Malaysia had just come through two years of a global economic recession in 1984-85, but there was growing discontent about Mahathir’s privatisation policies to selected cronies, as well as his authoritarian style.

After the party election, a suit was filed on June 25 by “the Umno 11” — a group of Umno members (one had dropped out) who sought a court declaration to have the Umno elections overturned, on the ground that 78 illegal members were among the delegates at the Umno general assembly, and that documents had been tampered with.

On Sept 30, the High Court gave the two sides a fortnight to settle it between themselves. There was a standoff: Razaleigh’s side wanted new elections, Mahathir’s camp offered a “face-saving solution” if they accepted the results. On Oct 19, the Umno 11 said the suit would proceed.

Operation Spectrum: young professional social activists rounded up, accused of a Marxist plot

Tensions had been further heightened when on May 21, the Singapore government carried out a security crackdown, alleging a Marxist conspiracy “to subvert the existing social and political system … to establish a Marxist state”. They were 16 mostly English-educated people comprising a mix of church workers, social workers, graduates and professionals. It prompted fears of repercussions in Malaysia.

In the midst of all that, Chinese educationists had been unhappy with the posting of non-Mandarin-speaking heads of Chinese schools by the Education Ministry (then headed by Anwar Ibrahim).

Political temperatures had been rising.

As the Barisan Nasional’s Chinese-based parties added their voices to the ruckus raised by Dong Xiao Zong and the DAP, a rally was called on Oct 11 next to Thean Hou temple.

Umno Youth, headed by Najib Razak, reacted by calling a counter-rally for Oct 17 at TPCA Stadium in Jalan Raja Muda, with Najib threatening to call out 500,000 into the streets. A year earlier, in November 1986, Umno Youth had held a demonstration at Putra World Trade Centre to protest against a statement by Lee Kim Sai that all three major races in Malaysia had arrived through immigration and only the Orang Asli were pribumi.

The TPCA stadium rally was a heated affair with cries for blood. Najib Razak was reputed to have drawn a keris and threatened to bathe it in blood, and there were other blood-curling statements made, including cries of “another May 13”.

The very next day, Kuala Lumpur and the metropolitan area went into curfew shutdown mode when a Malay Regiment soldier from an Ipoh camp, private Adam Jaffar, allegedly went amok in the Chow Kit area, loosing off his M16 automatic assault rifle: an elderly Chinese man died after being hit by a ricochet, and several others were wounded.

Rumours of shootings and deaths in Chow Kit, and memories of the 1969 race riots spread throughout the city, heightening the tension, which worsened through the hours of a 30-hour siege when Pvt Adam refused to surrender to the police, demanding to see his unit commander. He was finally taken into custody by the military before being put on trial.

A day later, the Umno 11 raised the ante against Mahathir. They rejected making a deal with Mahathir and announced the suit would proceed.

It was against that fast-moving backdrop of intense Umno Malay rivalry and racial and political tension, that the police began their swoop in the early hours on Oct 26. They called it an act of national security. But it was all for Umno’s security, and for the job security of Mahathir Mohamad.

The day of the dictator

Who paid the price for Mahathir’s greed and ambition? Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Chandra Muzaffar, Kua Kia Soong, Chan Kit Chee, Lim Fung Seng, Halim Arshat (PAS Youth), Ibrahim Ali (MP for Pasir Mas), Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim (Umno Youth), academicians, a Catholic brother and a Christian pastor, and a Malay Christian convert — there were 37 from political parties; 23 from social movements; 37 individuals before the police told the New Straits Times to stop providing a breakdown of the arrests.

The Star, Sunday Star, Sin Chew, and Watan were shut down: their publishing licences withdrawn.

Malaysia had come to another watershed, the second after May 13, 1969.

It was the day autocracy gained the upper hand over democracy.


  1. Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 08:31:21 am 08:31

    The above chronicle events are just proof of what the grand son of the pariah from Kerala would do to stay in power. As though the above events were insufficient to stay on as P.M. of Malaysia he was also the creator of many other frauds and deceits are now being revealed just like the ‘importation’ of million of muslims from southern Philippines and Indonesia with no regards to the ability of the nation infrastructures to cater for them.
    Also he allowed millions of illegals to come into the country as though there isn’t an immigration department to enforce and supervise the entry into the country. Or was and is there an immigration department in Malaysia ?
    True, every nation has illegal immigrants but tell me which nation on earth has a few million illegal immigrants like that in Malaysia ? The number of these million of illegal immigrants would only suggest that this shenanigan as P.M. was right behind directing the whole shamble. Who else other than the P.M. would have the right and authority to do so ?The shenanigan knows very well that multitude of problems would surface sooner or later and for that, as one of the real reasons, behind his resignation as P.M.. Also to avoid being indicted for the gross abuse of power as P.M. and that was the main reason for the choice of Abdullah as his successor. A man he thought was going to be his puppet to continue the atrocities he committed thus also avoiding being indicted as a criminal as a civilian.
    The shenanigan has proven to the world he has not retired, far from it, he is even just as active in politics now to ensure his indictment and the seizure of the fortunes he stole from the nation from taking place when the opposition becomes the watchdog.

  2. fairijus permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 08:39:58 am 08:39

    I got on the train to go to Serdang, yesterday to watch Tiger Woods play golf at the Mines. I was surprised! Almost all the passengers on the coach was a foreigner! Were they going to watch Tiger?

  3. rom nain permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 09:09:54 am 09:09

    A necessary reminder. Thank you.

  4. KTWong87 permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 10:59:17 am 10:59

    I think you have erred about “Catholic priests” being arrested.

    Pastor James Lai of First Baptist Church (in Petaling Jaya) was arrested during the infamous Ops Lallang. Do not recall any Catholic priest being arrested.

    An indelible legacy which will forever stand to remind Malaysians, and open the eyes of any remaining “We LURVE You Tun” groupies, just what sort of despotic tyrant Mahathir was, and likely will still be if he (or his proxy) is ever given the chance to officially wield the power of the premiership.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 11:48:42 am 11:48

      It was Bro Anthony Rogers, who was arrested for his work among the Orang Asli. Some others not mentioned: Lim Guan Eng, the late P. Patto, the late V. David, Khalid Samad, Dr Poh Boon Sing, Jamaluddin Othman, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Chin Chin, Cecilia Ng.

  5. Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 11:27:35 am 11:27

    Mahathir was from Kerala? Please accept my apologies. We live in fear that something very similar is happening in India right now.

  6. KTWong87 permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 11:27:41 am 11:27

    Hoi… the Net Hantu somehow caused one paragraph of my comments to go AWOL (I composed on a text document then cut & paste to your comments box).

    This should have been before the “Indelible legacy” part:

    Your article is timely and important lest the “Malaysians Mudah Lupa” malady erodes the memory of Acton’s “absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” in action..

  7. Kee Thuan Chye permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 11:43:50 am 11:43

    This is a story that needs to be told and re-told. Because it’s a Malaysian tragedy. We have yet to recover from it. Perhaps we will when Mahathir has been brought to justice for all the ills he has inflicted on our country. If only he had lost to Tengku Razaleigh, Thank you for marking this 25th anniversary of our tragic day.

    • andre das permalink
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 13:01:21 pm 13:01

      A bigger lesson to learn is that GE13 results may not be respected or even held and a state of emergency called if results do not suit the powers that be. From privilege info, I believe that Pte Adam was a planned distraction that went wrong with unwanted results of a death. He was a top marksman from the army and could hit any target he wanted. The aim of this distraction is anybody’s guess but history repeats what worked in the past as Sodomy 2 shows but (un)fortunately carried out by incompetent players. The most important person to hold this nation together in Fairness, Justice and Righteousness is our.YDP Agong and I pray for his fortitude and steadfastness to do the right thing when it is required.

  8. Ramli Abu permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 12:05:21 pm 12:05

    Mahather ONLY YOU are solely responsible for what state my/our Malaysia is in today. YOU single handedly destroyed whatever our fore fathers had envisioned for this beautiful and was prospering country with your dubious vision(s) that only enriched you and your selected cronies.


    • uppercaise permalink*
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 12:08:16 pm 12:08

      Final comment edited.

  9. KTWong87 permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 13:07:22 pm 13:07

    Thousand apologies! My mistake; Brother Anthony Rogers had somehow not lodged in my memory.

  10. Wave33 permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 13:15:16 pm 13:15

    I hope reporters whom had the opportunity to ask PM during any press conference to ask about what the PM said in TPCA stadium on Oct 17th 1987. Please hog the PM on every press conference.

    Let hear our PM responds on it.

  11. s.sseelan permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 16:26:37 pm 16:26

    Dear Sir,
    What can i say. I was then in my forties and twenty years later, memories of that day of infamy when Malaysia’s No.1 Malay Wannabe emasculated the entire nation.remains indelibly etched in my mind. What a tragedy it must have been for the families of those arrested by the regime of M. The greater tragedy is, almost 30 years later, he has expressed no remorse ( remember how he passed the buck to the then IGP Hanif and how the latter valliantly came to his defence?) and continues to spew venom to drive a wedge between the Malays and the non-Malays. I can only pray that he will seek penance before it is too late.
    PS: by the way, was Lim Kim Sai wrong when he said we all came through immigration except of the Orang Asli who are pribumi? The mind boggles. / credentials can be used.

    • Kee Thuan Chye permalink
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 19:50:57 pm 19:50

      Sseelan, that’s common knowledge.

  12. Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 17:41:46 pm 17:41

    I remember that infamous day.

  13. Jeff Roughneck permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 17:41:57 pm 17:41

    Mahatir put malaysia on the map ….. sometimes you need to piss on a big tree to hang out with the big dogs ….. if you know what i mean.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 21:19:22 pm 21:19

      I take it he didn’t piss on you. But he pissed on a few hundred journalists, many of them friends and colleagues.

    • rom nain permalink
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 21:53:48 pm 21:53

      `Jeff Roughneck’ – Mahathir may have put Malaysia on the map’ then, but for all the wrong reasons. And that wasn’t a damn `tree’ he pissed on but many decent Malaysians, human beings who lost their liberty because of one man’s ambition and greed.

  14. kam permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 21:09:24 pm 21:09

    This article came about because of this coming election. You need to be on the hot seat before you are qualified to call anybody dictator. You probably will be worst than him. At least he put us on the map and brought us modernization…ungreatful people. Don’t ask what a country can do for you, instead ask what you can do for your country.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 21:11:33 pm 21:11

      This article came about because I lived through those years, with my friends and colleagues affected by what that man did to us and our families, to me and my family personally, and to this bloody country.

    • KTWong87 permalink
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 21:51:16 pm 21:51

      “You need to be on the hot seat before you are qualified to call anybody dictator”, ‘kam’ ???

      Such an amazing argument!

      I guess the thousands of Jews and their kin who suffered at the hands of Hitler had no right to call him anything negative either.

      And while it may well be true that someone who criticises Mahathir may carry out even worse atrocities if he himself sat on the hot seat, that same person has not carried out the same wrongdoings yet. It is still “may”, not “has”.

      That possibility of someone performing worse does not detract from the fact that Mahathir is a despotic dictator.

      And borrowing from JFK (without attribution) to say “Don’t ask what a country can do for you, instead ask what you can do for your country” is simply a futile attempt to add some gloss by association to a whole load of bovine excreta.

      And now you have me pondering if you are just an infantile minded “We LURVE You Tun” groupie or just another BN/MCA/UMNO New Media Unit cybertrooper “heroically” trying to justify the lovely moolah which some suggest may have come from creative allocations of public funds.

    • Kee Thuan Chye permalink
      Sun 2012-Oct-28 @ +08 12:58:11 pm 12:58


      You show no sense of logic. And you seem blind to what has been happening to this bloody country for the last 25 years (actually more).

      Many Malaysians have suffered because of what Mahathir did — not just his Operation Lalang scheme. Open your eyes and mind and learn what ills he has done to this bloody country and its people.

      I don’t know what your intentions are for saying what you did here. I just hope they stemmed from nothing more than ignorance.

  15. kam permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 22:33:21 pm 22:33

    KYWong87 I know someone who had never voted and never complained of any problems but will vote when the choice given includes ” none of the above”. I’m not an infantile groupie, not BN/MCA/UMNO/PKR/DAP or what other craps. Speak no evil, do no evil, see no evil, feel no evil….borrowed from Abraham Lincoln junior.

    • rom nain permalink
      Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 22:38:40 pm 22:38

      You may not be any of those, Kam, but your latest response is, still, crap.

  16. kam permalink
    Sat 2012-Oct-27 @ +08 22:44:36 pm 22:44

    Speak no crap, do no crap, see no crap, feel no crap….borrowed from my non-voting friend who says there’s as much crap on the internet as there is in politics.

    • Kee Thuan Chye permalink
      Sun 2012-Oct-28 @ +08 13:00:17 pm 13:00

      Yes, you sound like those people who did not speak up, pretended they did not see, felt nothing and did nothing when the Nazis came to power and did what they did afterwards.

  17. Sun 2012-Oct-28 @ +08 04:30:10 am 04:30

    Thank you, uppercaise. I was mulling a post to commemorate that dark and dire day the ship of state was steered into the twilight zone of state-sponsored cognitive dissonance, cruelty, tinpot despotism and doublethink by Captain Mahamamak – but your piece sums it all up so eloquently. Just recalling the events that led to Malaysia’s massive fall from grace gets me so upset that when I read inane comments like the ones by “Jeff Roughneck” and “kam” I have to count to 20 to restrain myself from running amok with a tanker full of insecticide against these pestiliential life-forms. “Putting Malaysia on the map” my arse. Waste of breath to argue with such debased and degenerate entities.

  18. Isma permalink
    Sun 2012-Oct-28 @ +08 08:45:56 am 08:45

    In islam hypocrites are identified as the worse kind of people there are. Such people are not hard to recognise and the kerela descendant who rose to power in Malaysia is one of them. Why don’t more people recognise him as one?

  19. Hamilton Bacon permalink
    Sun 2012-Oct-28 @ +08 14:23:23 pm 14:23

    It would have been okay if the dictator had helped to make the country a better nation. But unfortunately, this dictator only brought the country down the path of national mediocrity.

  20. Rapido permalink
    Tue 2012-Oct-30 @ +08 13:15:36 pm 13:15

    Those were momentous days. And yes, so many good, hard working and upright people had to suffer terribly because the greedy and corrupt ruling elite wanted to hang on to power. Sort of reminds me of the Stalinist purges of old… so very, very sad. I was still in university in a foreign land at the time, and I followed the news (a bit more difficult before the Internet age) with a heavy and worried heart. But I did end up working with some of the press gentlemen who have contributed their thoughts here. I have nothing but respect for ALL of them. Whatever said and done, if we do not rid our beautiful country of these people running the country…people who are still driven by the same value systems of the terrible dictator, we will remain a banana republic..


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  2. Tunku’s lament, then off in search of jobs « uppercaise
  3. Those black days when the Star was shut down « uppercaise
  4. Learning the price of journalism, at great Risk « uppercaise
  5. A different Star newsroom culture after Ops Lallang « uppercaise
  6. After Ops Lallang: the voice of silence. . . « uppercaise
  7. Dreading the late-night knock on the door « uppercaise
  8. Wedding bells and tears – then turning to screws and hinges « uppercaise
  9. Hidden hands in the blackest day « uppercaise
  10. When the Sunday Star almost defied KDN « uppercaise
  11. Rookie reporter sees end of an era « uppercaise
  12. Return to an empty shell at the silenced Star « uppercaise
  13. My father, the Special Branch cop « uppercaise

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