History Politics

Our new gomen might not have a PM. Here’s how that worked in 1969.

[This article was originally published on June 2021, and had since been updated to reflect current events.]

 

With the Muhyiddin/Mahiaddin cabinet resigning recently, the Malaysian government is once again in a Schrödinger situation. As of the time of writing, there’s still no clear idea of who might have enough support to become the next Prime Minister, so people have been discussing several different possibilities of what might happen next: an interim government, a unity government, a minority government, or even a Mageran.

If that last one sounds weird-but-familiar, it’s probably because there was a controversy surrounding it some time back. In June, Tun Dr Mahathir had suggested to the Agong for a Mageran to be established, to sort out the problems that plagued Malaysia: the pandemic, the economy, chaotic politics, and education problems. Tun M had said that this Mageran will be an avenue for Pejuang (his current party) to voice out the solutions they’ve came up with regarding the problems.

“We have ideas but being outside of the government, it will be difficult to implement them. Perhaps these ideas can be taken to the government to implement, but there is a difference between proposing and executing the ideas. Ideas can be suggested but if they cannot be acted upon, they won’t work,” – Tun Dr Mahathir, as reported by The Star.

But what the heck is this Mageran?

No, you’re thinking of mergerun. Original img from Malaysian Bakery.

If you’re younger than 50, don’t feel bad for not knowing, because it hadn’t been a thing for a while already. Mageran is short for Majlis Gerakan Negara/National Operations Council (NOC), and it existed in the years between 1969 to 1971. As you’ve probably gathered from those years, the Mageran was the government’s response to the 13 May 1969 incident, and it was disbanded once the crisis was handled.

So it’s like a committee of some sort, but unlike the tons of government committees we’ve seen so far, Mageran is a bit different…

 

The chairman of the Mageran can do literally whatever he wants

As the story goes, on 14 May 1969, the Agong then declared an Emergency. As most people would know, the 13 May incident came right after an election, so a lot of crap were dropping all over the place, and nobody was sworn in to sweep those up. Due to the seriousness of the situation, a temporary body called the Mageran was formed on 16 May, and it was hardcore. Well, as hardcore as a bunch of Ministers can get, anyway.

Oh, sorry. Were you expecting the cast of Expendables? Img from Wikipedia.

A crew was assembled, led by Tun Abdul Razak, then the Deputy Prime Minister (because Tunku Abdul Rahman was too old at 66, and don’t have much energy). His minions were mostly Ministers from the previous Cabinet, with some exceptions:

  • Internal Affairs Minister, Tun Dr Ismail
  • Information and Broadcasting Minister, Datuk Hamzah bin Abu Samah
  • Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie
  • Public Service Director, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir
  • Chief of Staff of Military, General Tunku Osman Jiwa
  • Inspector General of the Police, Tan Sri Mohammad Salleh
  • Finance Minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin
  • Works Minister, V.T. Sambanthan

Besides sweeping up the mess and stopping people from rioting further after the initial incident, the Mageran was also tasked with handling the issues behind the incident – racial unity and the economic disparity among the races – to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The only superpower they had was absolute power, which some described as ‘far-reaching powers over life and liberty‘.

Essentially, Tun Razak could’ve ordered soldiers to perform an interpretive dance tour preaching about racial harmony, and nobody could question him or the Mageran. What they did, though, were less cultural. Besides using the police as intel and sending them to raid subversive groups, they’ve used those powers to ban all political activity and heavily restrict press.

To be fair, Malaysia probably wasn’t ready for the musical idea. Gif from Gfycat.

After a while, things cooled down a little, and the Mageran realized that they can’t keep doing this forever. They did some research on why these riots were happening, and discovered that it’s because of long-standing tensions within Malaysia’s society, and not because of communists stirring up people as previously thought. They’ve also realized that the current economic and political system weren’t the best for racial harmony, so they set about trying to fix things.

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They did too many things to be listed here, but some of the things we have today, like amendments to the Sedition Act, the National Security Council (MKN), the Rukun Negara, and the New Economic Policy, can all be traced back to the Mageran. While all this was happening, the government had been trying to return to a parliamentary democracy, and they finally got the Parliament running again on 23 Feb 1971.

That was also the day that the Mageran was abolished. We simplified the story a fair bit, but you can check out the links in this sentence for further reading. Anyways, now that you know what a Mageran is…

 

Mahathir’s proposed Mageran is a bit different from the 1969 version

What is a Mageran, if not a response template persevering? Gif from Wifflegif.

Tun M had since revealed more details on the proposed council, and it was a bit different from the 1969 Mageran. For neutrality, it would be named the National Rehabilitation Council, and there will be no politics involved in it: it will only touch on four issues – the pandemic, the economy, chaotic politics, and education problems – and nothing else. The council will not replace the government, but it will still allow for action without much bureaucracy involved.

This new council will only be around until herd immunity is reached, and there will be no more than 20 qualified council members, unpaid except for necessary allowances.

“Council members will consist of medical experts including psychiatrists, non-partisan economists and experienced in helping the country overcome the crisis, experienced investment experts, social mobilisers who have proven ability to help the people during pandemics, figures [sic] non-partisan legislation and some political figures who did not act on behalf of the party.” – Tun Dr Mahathir, as reported by Malay Mail.

Right now, the closest thing we have to the proposed ‘new Mageran’ would be the Independent Special Committee on Emergency 2021, although the only known function of that one is to advise the Agong on when it’s okay to end the Emergency… and not much else. The multi-purposed Mageran, if established, would replace this committee. However…

 

Practically nobody wanted Mahathir’s Mageran then, but is it a possibility now?

Despite the Shark Tank-worthy pitch, people didn’t seem to think that we need a Mageran then. For one thing, they said that the circumstances are different: we’re facing a health emergency instead of riots now. And while we needed a Mageran in 1969 because Malaysia had no working Cabinet to handle the chaos, we now have more Ministers and Deputies than there are people in Perlis.

Still no working Cabinet though. no sedition pls. Img from Sinar Harian.

Others, like those in the Pakatan presidential council, had pointed out that ending the Emergency and restoring the Parliament should take priority over forming another council.

Following Tun M’s proposal, the Agong had advised that the proposal for a Mageran must come from the government. But since the government (and most other MPs) aren’t keen on the idea, it seems that the Mageran will stay a suggestion.

“At the moment, I don’t think Mageran will happen at all. The secretary to Muhyiddin gave a nine-minute talk, dismissing the idea of Mageran. According to him, everything is going fine amid the pandemic, economic issues and other problems we are facing,” – Tun Dr Mahathir, as reported by The Edge Markets.

However, that was two months ago. With the current political situation, a Mageran or something similar is now an option again, according to the president of the National Council of Professors (MPN). Should there be no single MP with enough support to become the Prime Minister, His Majesty the Agong has the option to order an Emergency and establish a Mageran to handle the current problems temporarily until a democratic parliamentary government can be established.

“If there is no single MP with majority support to become Prime Minister… the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may declare an Emergency and establish a Majlis Gerakan Negara (Mageran) that can be chaired by a leader of his choosing.

 

“It is hoped that the leader is an individual with an extensive experience in leading, well-respected, and well-received by all quarters as well as having no ambition to become Prime Minister through the coming GE15,” – Prof Datuk Dr Raduan Che Rose, President of the MPN, translated from Harian Metro.

So if the majority drama drags on for too long, a Mageran isn’t totally impossible after all. Anyways, we started this poll back in June, but feel free to vote and see the results if you want.

 

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