Dr Habibie, would you like to meet this Malay army officer?
Feb 10, 1999

MR President, let us introduce you to Lieutenant-Colonel Ishak Ismail.

Lt-Col Ishak is a Singaporean in his mid-30s.

He is a high-ranking Singapore Armed Forces officer.

And he is Malay.

Yes, Dr B J Habibie, despite what you say, there are Malay military
officers in Singapore.

In fact, there have been Malay officers in the SAF for a long time now.

We don’t know where you get your information from but anyone who has read
our newspapers or watched our TV would know about Lt-Col Ishak.

After all, he was the parade commander in our 1997 National Day Parade –
seen by the masses live and on the TV screens.

Now, let one of our Members of Parliament give you the correct picture
about Malays in the SAF.

Said Mr Ahmad Magad, MP for Pasir Ris GRC: “I know a Colonel Syed Ibrahim,
who is now retired. I remember that in one year, there was a Malay
commanding officer in the National Day.

“And I know for a fact that there are officers who are Malay and in the
air force.”

So Mr Ahmad is puzzled by the Indonesian President’s remarks in an
interview with the Taiwanese media on Saturday.

He was interviewed by The China Times and Chinese Television Network of
Taiwan at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.

Asked whether there was discrimination against ethnic Chinese in
Indonesia, Dr Habibie sprang a surprise: “In fact, the situation in
Singapore is worse.

“In Singapore, if you are a Malay, you can never become a military
officer. They are the real racists, not here. You can go and check it out.”

But Mr President, listen to what Mr Ahmad has to say: “He should come to
check it out for himself, before making such a statement. It is a statement
without basis.”

The fact is that more and more Malays are becoming military officers in

For example, the Malay air force officer Mr Ahmad referred to. Captain
Mohd Zakir Hamid earned his pilot’s “wings” in 1992, making him the first
Malay pilot in the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Asked why Dr Habibie would say that Singapore was racist, Mr Ahmad
replied: “Maybe he wants to distract his country from its problems.”

And how would he advise his constituents to react to the remarks? “I think
we should not succumb to any proposition by foreign elements who will try
time and again to test our style of democracy.”

Mr Ahmad said that the Malay community is well-represented in political
leadership too.

He pointed out that there are 11 Malay MPs and office-holders and one Malay
Nominated MP in Singapore.

“We have representation from all the races in Singapore in Parliament and
leadership positions.

“If we were racist, then all our office-bearers would be Chinese,” he added.


CAPTAIN Mohd Zakir Hamid is an example of the many young successful Malays
in Singapore.

The first Malay RSAF pilot was cited by Mr Loh Meng See, MP for Kampong
Glam, to counter Dr Habibie’s remarks about Singapore being racist.

Added Mr Loh: “The New Paper has featured quite a few of them. They
succeeded on their own steam and that’s double credit to them. They did not
need special help.

“There’s no difference between Chinese, Indians and Malays here.”

Dr Habibie’s remarks will come back to haunt him, said Mr Loh. “Such
statements are not credible.”

Dr Teo Ho Pin, MP for Sembawang GRC, also voiced disappointment with Dr
Habibie’s remarks: “This is not true, based on what we can see for

“The international community can observe. The best testimony is to find
out from the citizens.

“There are Malay officers in the armed forces. The principle of
meritocracy applies throughout the whole system,” added Dr Teo

So was Dr Habibie’s statement a “political gimmick” to win the Muslim
votes for the Indonesian elections in June? Or, was he using Singapore as a
“whipping boy” to distract the Indonesians from the problems at home?

Said Mr Loh: “Maybe. But correct statements should be made. We don’t mix
religion and race in our politics. The consequences would be terrible.”

Then again, Dr Habibie may be concerned about whether he would continue as

After all, the leaders of the ruling Golkar party have not yet decided if
they would nominate Dr Habibie as the presidential candidate for the
November election.

Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung said several ministers, along with Dr
Habibie, were potential nominees. But he said the party would name its
candidate only before the June polls.

There are concerns in Golkar that Dr Habibie would not be a popular choice
because he is still seen as a Suharto crony.

But another view, said an Indonesian minister, is this: “One of Habibie’s
strengths now is, what’s the real alternative to him?”

Meanwhile, an editor of The Jakarta Post has downplayed Dr Habibie’s

He said: “The Indonesian people do not take President Habibie too
seriously. What he says is consistent with the way he personally feels
about Singapore.”

But Dr Habibie’s views on Singapore do not reflect the government’s, added
the editor.

“Most Indonesians have no problem with Singapore, although they recognise
Singapore as a Chinese-majority nation.”

The editor pointed out: “Interestingly enough, Golkar has not nominated
Habibie as a presidential candidate.

“If he or Golkar goes on the anti-Singapore platform, they are not going
to bring in the Muslim votes. So I doubt the anti-Singapore sentiment will
be a big issue.”

Mr President, we hope it is not…

OBVIOUSLY there is something about Singapore that irks Dr Habibie.

How else do you explain his latest outburst against Singapore?

Remember that he was not provoked to talk about Singapore. Remember also
that the interview was done by Taiwanese journalists. And remember that the
question was a direct one about Chinese Indonesians in the military and
civil service.

There was no need to drag Singapore in.

We hope it is not personal.

He was upset with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s comments last February
which implied that the market would not take to a man like Dr Habibie as

Six months later, the Indonesian President had not forgotten those
remarks. He told the Asian Wall Street Journal in August: “I would never
character assassinate my friend… even my enemy I would never character

In the same interview, he complained that Singapore was late in
congratulating him after he became President on May 21.

We hope it is not envy
or anger.

With all his plans to push Indonesia into the high-tech world scuttled,
with his desire to use Batam to give Singapore a fight now on the back
burner, with no visible light appearing at the end of the economic tunnel,
Dr Habibie must be wondering why his closest neighbour is relatively

Wondering about it is okay. Talking about it is also okay. But to be upset
or green-eyed about it? Well, we hope it is not that.

We hope it is not the race factor.

The rush among the well-off Chinese Indonesians to get their dear ones and
money out of Indonesia during the riots and rapes must have worried
concerned Indonesians.

But parking their money in a Chinese-majority country like Singapore? Even
worse, is Singapore deliberately using this as an opportunity to get
Chinese Indonesians to bring their money here?

We hope such questions are not being asked. Even if they are being asked,
we hope rational answers will be found.

We hope it is not politics.

With general elections and presidential elections casting a dark shadow on
the political players in Indonesia, Singapore can always be used as the
convenient whipping boy.

We are reassured by what an editor of Jakarta Post told our reporter. That
most Indonesians have no problem with Singapore.

We hope that he is right.


IN 1990, Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong, then the Second Minister
for Defence (Services), talked about how more Malays had qualified to
become infantry section leaders and SAF officers.

He said more Malays were qualifying to go to the Safincos – the Singapore
Armed Forces Infantry Non-
Commissioned Officers School – and the Officer Cadet School (OCS).

Those who went to Safincos were trained to become infantry section leaders,
and those in OCS became officers.

In Safincos, there were 87 Malay national servicemen in 1984, and the
figure nearly doubled to 169 in 1988.

In 1984, there were 13 in the OCS, and in 1988 there were 50 – nearly four
times more.

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