Former CPM chairperson Abdullah CD
arriving at the commemorative
ceremony for the 20th anniversary of
the peace accords
THE issue of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) is definitely one that is framed according to the racial lines that divide us as a nation. For example, the prevailing myth is that the CPM was an all-Chinese illegal organisation even though there is enough literature about the party’s Malay members and leaders.
At the same time, there is also the perception of selective racial treatment . Former CPM members who are Malay enjoy the right to return to Malaysia, as guaranteed under the 1989 Haadyai Peace Agreements. But the same right is not extended to former CPM secretary-general Chin Peng.
Interestingly enough, despite the Malays being “favoured”, not every Malay communist has chosen to return. Not only that, while they are made near invisible by official history and hence not vilified in the same way that Chin Peng is, these former CPM Malay members still have reason to be critical of the Malaysian government.
Abdullah (right) receiving an old friend and comrade, Wang
Hai Zhi, at his hotel room in Haadyai during the interview
Former CPM chairperson Abdullah CD is one of them. At 86, he is likely the highest-ranking ex-CPM Malay cadre left alive. He was a signatory to the 1989 peace agreements. But he tells The Nut Graph that soon after signing the treaty, he was not convinced that the Malaysian authorities were sincere about letting senior leaders like him return.
Abdullah was given Thai citizenship and has been living in Kampung Chulaborn 12, Sukhirin, one of the four “peace villages” in southern Thailand where former CPM cadres have resettled after the 1989 peace treaty. He is allowed to enter Malaysia, and has visited Parit, his birthplace in Perak, and Kuala Lumpur.
Abdullah says the Malaysian officers tasked with facilitating the return of ex-guerrillas imposed conditions on their return home.
“Saya kata, kalau soal syarat ini, saya tak mahu lah. Ramai lagi yang balik. Saya tak bersetuju syarat,” Abdullah says in an interview in Haadyai on 30 Nov 2009 where he was attending the peace accord’s 20th anniversary commemoration.
“Apa syarat yang tak setuju?” The Nut Graph asks him.
“Syarat dia Akta Keselamatan. Saya tak mahu. Apa-apa syarat, saya tak mahu. Syarat-syarat tak ikut perjanjian. Kalau ikut perjanjian, takde soal syarat.”
His answers seem to corroborate Chin Peng’s own recollection of attempts to make the resettlement process difficult. In Chin Peng’s memoirs, Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History, he wrote that the CPM suspended the returnee programme until then Special Branch chief, Tan Sri Norian Mai, agreed that asking the ex-guerrillas to sign confessions was unfair.
Additionally, under the peace treaty, the Malaysian government was not to apply the Internal Security Act, or the Akta Keselamatan Abdullah was referring to which allows for indefinite state detention without trial, against former CPM members for past activities.
Malay, Muslim, and communist
Book cover of The Memoirs of
Shamsiah Fakeh: From AWAS to
History about Abdullah’s left-winged beginnings with many prominent Malay leaders before he joined CPM is well-documented in his memoirs which includes his experiences leading the CPM’s 10th Regiment. The 10th regiment mainly comprised Malay-Muslim cadres. But even before the Emergency was announced in 1948, many Malays already supported the leftist struggle against the British and Japanese occupations.
“Banyak jugak orang Melayu dalam CPM. Dulu pun dah ramai dalam KMM,” Abdullah says in the interview, referring to the Kesatuan Melayu Muda nationalist group.
Other prominent Malay CPM leaders included Abu Samah Mohamad Kassim, another 10th Regiment leader and CPM central committee member, and Rashid Maidin. Rashid, also a central committee member, was on the negotiating team with Chin Peng at the 1955 Baling peace talks. He was also a signatory to the Haadyai peace accords along with Chin Peng and Abdullah.
Cover for The Finest Hour
Dr Collin Abraham, in his book The Finest Hour: The Malaysian-MCP Peace Accord in Perspective, cites these as examples of how the Chinese-dominated party did take pains to give Malay members important roles to deal with perceptions of racial discrimination in the CPM’s rank-and-file.
Abraham also notes how the British used Islam as propaganda to prevent Malays from joining the CPM, when actually, the party viewed religion as a personal choice. When The Nut Graph asks Abdullah how he could be Muslim and a communist, he declares: “Pertama, saya orang Melayu. Bermula di KMM. Kemudian parti komunis. Takde soal, takde soal.”
A “false independence”
A relatively unknown CPM story is that of Syed Hamid Ali, 66, the younger brother of Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali. An active student leader at Universiti Malaya in the late 1960s, he became a guerrilla to avoid arrest.
“Because of my activities, my passport was confiscated while I was travelling. There was the threat of the Internal Security Act. I joined the CPM because I had nowhere else to turn to.
“I took up arms first, before officially joining CPM in 1976. I never wanted to be a communist. But there was nowhere else to go at the time,” says Syed Hamid who resettled in Malaysia in 1991 and now lives in Batu Pahat. He, too, spoke to The Nut Graph in Haadyai.
Syed Hamid was in the 10th Regiment before being transferred to other units. He says even though Malaysia had already been independent for 19 years when he joined, the CPM considered it a “false independence”.
(source: rmp.gov.my)Syed Hamid disagrees with the argument, still used against the CPM today, that they continued armed resistance against a sovereign state even after the British left.
“After Merdeka, we continued to rely on British defence and police. Our own police and army worked for and were paid by the British. We inherited their repressive laws like the ISA. The first Inspector-General of Police until 1966 was British, Claude Fenner. Umno continued the policies of the British. What sort of independence is that?”
From the perspective of these former CPM members, denying Chin Peng’s return is not the Malaysian government’s only broken promise according to the 1989 peace treaty. Syed Hamid says the continuing demonisation of CPM by government officials and the media also contravenes the spirit of the peace accords where both Malaysia and CPM agreed not to vilify each other.
It was on this basis that Chin Peng sued the government for defamation in 2005 but lost.
Chin PengIn contrast, the Thai government not only ensured that the CPM’s image was not tarnished, it also provided land and resources for former CPM members to resettle in southern Thailand.
With that as a comparison, and considering all that the Malaysian government has done and continues to do, it is clear that if we only understand the CPM issue along racial lines, we would be fooling ourselves. Not only were there Malay Muslim communists in the CPM, these former communists have as much to be discontented about with the Malaysian government as does Chin Peng.
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