Ultimately military loyalty is to the people of M’sia By Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN Royal Malaysian Navy
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Malaysiakini : “If you feel that strongly about something, you have an obligation to try and change my mind.”
- Aaron Sorkin
COMMENT | While some armed forces personnel - active and retired - have nothing but vitriol for my writings for Malaysiakini,
I am glad to report on an anecdotal level at least, there has been far
more support - most often qualified - for what I write amongst serving
and retired members of our security services.
Anecdotal levels are of course cold comfort when the reality is that
most people would rather not say anything unless cloaked in anonymity
and people often confuse the echo chambers they live in as the “real
world”, which is unfortunately far more complicated and diverse than
what they read online.
I have always disliked the propagandising of the security services
and while I believe that there are many people who do the hard work of
keeping our country safe, they are hampered by the petty fiefdoms of
their immediate superiors and hobbled by a self-serving political
apparatus. The latter is more interested in maintaining political
hegemony than by ensuring that these institutions are independent and
serve the people of Malaysia.
The former meanwhile hampers the legitimacy of these institutions by
eroding public confidence by its official statements, but more
damagingly by engaging in practices that apes the accepted political
culture that has resulted in our country being categorised as a
Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association (PVATM) deputy president Sharuddin Omar’s rejoinder
to old soldiers, or in my case old sailors, “to the principle that we
are always loyal to the current government” misses the point about
loyalty, obligation and serving the country. On a professional level, while I have always observed the chain of
command, truth be told my duty - however, you define it - was always to
the men and women under my charge. This of course is old school military
thinking but one shared by many old timers who put the welfare of the
men and women under their charge ahead of politics, racial or religious.
Times have changed, of course.
While many would dismiss this veteran’s association as just another government appendage, I was impressed that they disavowed
former soldier Mohd Ali Baharom’s (aka Ali Tinju) racist actions in the
strongest possible terms. As reported in the media - “His actions are
contradictory and incompatible with the principles and practices of all
armed forces veterans in the country. "In the future, we also hope that the media will only relate the
actions of Ali Tinju as that of an individual and a Malaysian civilian,
and not that of a Malaysian armed forces veteran," said the association.
Quoting the Malay proverb "kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga”
(one bad apple spoils the whole barrel), the association expressed hope
that its reputation and that of all armed forces veterans would not be
ruined by the actions of one man.
Many retired armed forces veterans make a distinction between loyalty
to the institution and the people who make up those institutions. While
I get that principle, I have never been unable to separate the office
from the individual. To me, if the person in the office is corrupt then
why bother defending the institution? I would much rather channel my
energies in advocating change rather than spend my time defending the
Honestly, what really bothers me is not that the “gomen is corrupt”
but rather that our security apparatus is riddled with the kind of
scandals that should make every retired armed forces personnel hang
their heads in shame. To list the numerous corruption scandals
perpetrated by service people is disheartening and we cannot solely
blame the hegemon for that. But what does loyalty to the government mean?
Does it extend to postal vote fraud? Remember in 2011, when four
retired military personnel admitted they were marking postal ballots on
order from higher up? To recap
- "The four - Major (Rtd) Risman Mastor, Kamarulzaman Ibrahim, Mohamed
Nasir Ahmad and Mohd Kamil Omar - said they were ordered by their
commanding officers to mark postal votes for the hundreds and thousands
of personnel who were out in the field.
“Their expose today is the second after an ex-army man came forward
earlier this month, making a similar claim that he was ordered to mark
postal votes for other personnel.”
The problem with advocating loyalty to compromised institutions is
that armed forces personnel who have served with distinction and honour
are tarnished by those who would dishonour the codes they claim to hold
in service of their political masters. Besides the existential threat
that a certain religion poses, this has been one of my main themes that I
have revisited - unfortunately - over the years. I wrote
about how the armed forces was sinking in Umno’s quagmire - “(Navy
chief) Abdul Aziz (Jaafar), if you remember was one of the service
chiefs lined up behind (looking rather sheepish) Armed Forces chief
General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin when he made an emotional appeal, which also
included subtle threats and comments which were unacceptable, not to
mention unprofessional, for an officer holding the highest rank in the
military to make. He made this appeal when confronted with accusations
by retired service personnel of vote/voter manipulation in the armed
Another example is when the current prime minister had a sit down with retired personnel to discuss the Lahad Datu incident. As reported
to me by concerned retired service personnel - “The whole atmosphere
seemed surreal to some who attended. When the prime minister walked in,
‘Negaraku' was sung and the armed forces marching song ‘Barisan Kita'
(which one general quipped ‘Has the song been annexed by Barisan
National?’) also got an airing. Apparently, it got quite comical when
one retired air force general was frothing at the mouth that stern
disciplinary action should be taken against generals who showed support
for the opposition, the PM was chuffed up of and reminded those who
attended that ‘spirit of this general’ was what was needed.”
These days many young people are speaking up. I am not talking about
mainstream oppositional politics. I am talking about young people who
rightly feel that current establishment politics is nothing but the same
manure but with a different shovel.
What veterans should be doing, and this applies to anyone who has
worked in the civil or security services, is to encourage these young
people in their efforts to change the paradigm. We had it our way and we
should encourage and support those people who truly believe in what
this country could be.
Ultimately when we pledged to serve this country, our oath goes far
beyond loyalty to the government. We are really serving the people of
this country and our loyalty is with them. It does not matter if you
support the establishment or the opposition, your loyalty should be with
the people and not with political elites, especially when they
dishonour the institutions you pledged to serve and protect.