KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad took responsibility today for Ops Lalang, the 1987 security crackdown that saw a number of opposition politicians and government dissenters detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
For years, government critics have pressed for the former prime minister, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, to accept accountability for the operation that saw over 100 opposition leaders and social activists rounded up and detained without trial at Kamunting, under the now-defunct ISA, purportedly to prevent a racial riot from breaking out in the national capital here.
“Even if the decision was made by somebody else, it is in the Cabinet and I accept responsibility.
“What we did was to ensure stability and peace in this country,” Dr Mahathir told reporters after officiating the Global Peace Foundation Chair for Global Peace at the International Islamic University Malaysia in Gombak.
Last Sunday, Dr Mahathir’s old foe and DAP adviser, Lim Kit Siang, accused the country’s longest-serving prime minister of trying to disavow his role in the 1987 security crackdown.
Referring to a report in Chinese vernacular newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau in which Dr Mahathir denied he was home minister or even in the country at the material time, the Gelang Patah MP said the former was again displaying “selective amnesia”.
Lim also disputed Dr Mahathir’s assertion that he was in China at the time of Ops Lalang, saying the latter had been in Canada for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) prior to the crackdown.
The 1987 edition of CHOGM was held in Vancouver from October 13 to 17, while Ops Lalang began on October 27.
Today, Dr Mahathir blamed old age for being mistaken about the dates.
“If I made a mistake, I made a mistake.
“As you know, I'm an old man, 89 years old, prone to forgetting and I forget my dates,” said the Kedah-born who will be celebrating his 89th birthday on July 10 this year.
Ops Lalang is again in the spotlight after the issue was resurrected in apparent attempts to link Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to the event ahead of the Kajang by-election, where four in every 10 voters in the state seat are Chinese.
The Ops Lalang crackdown took place after Chinese discontent over alleged interference in vernacular schools culminated in a 2,000-strong public demonstration involving both DAP and MCA. Over 100 mainly-opposition figures were detained.
On Saturday, Dr Mahathir also said at a forum that Anwar played a “key role” in Ops Lalang by dint of his position as deputy prime minister then.