Dressed in battle fatigues and armed with assault rifles, the soldiers invoke memories of martial law and war among the older folk. For the young, more recent imagery of military coups and ethnic cleansing in nearby countries come to mind.
While it is a good move for the armed forces to help out, it can be further improved by getting them to dress in Battle Dress No.3 or office attire and come unarmed or at most with a pistol.
Since Malaysia has a very strict gun control regulation, the main point in being armed is for self-defence. Assault rifles like M-16s, M-4s and AUG Steyrs are instruments of war and overkill in the context of local population policing.
Some countries subscribe to the philosophy of posse comitatus, whereby civilians are called on to do local policing and laws are set in place to minimise the involvement of the armed forces. In the United States, the National Guard, which is made up of civilians, is brought in when the local law enforcement authorities are overwhelmed. In the Malaysian context, we have Rela and the Territorial Army.
I find this philosophy rather enlightened and wise. Soldiers are trained to kill and have no place in law enforcement. One wrong move, a misunderstanding or a misfire could find a civilian shot by an assault rifle wielded by a soldier.
Some years ago, the government mooted the Blue Ocean strategy whereby armed forces personnel patrolled the streets with police personnel in the lead.
I remember meeting a few groups. The soldiers wore office attire and were either unarmed or carried a baton or pistol. This move was well received.
It raised the reputation of our uniformed forces, gave them much needed exposure and garnered the respect and appreciation of the rakyat. I see the same upside for the armed forces in this crisis, too.
Therefore, I appeal to the government to refine the manner by which armed forces personnel assist in local law enforcement. The optics are important not only to the citizens but also to the world at large, as this affects our stock market, FDI and general standing among the nations.
It is important for the government to portray an image of calm and stability in times of crisis. A soldier in full battle dress armed with an M-16 on a street does not a feeling of safety invoke.
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