Forces: December 17, 2003

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It's unusual in this day and age for a country to introduce conscription, but this has just happened in Malaysia. Some of the key reasons given by the Malaysian government about the implementation of National Service is the worrying fact that the youths of disparate ethnicity in Malaysian society tend to not mix cross-culturally, and have been considered by some, including Malaysia's former Prime Minister, as not being very patriotic. Malaysia has a population of approximately 23 million, 58 percent of which are Malay, 24 percent Chinese, 8 percent Indian, and 10 percent others.

A universal conscription scheme has therefore been introduced, which the hopes of fostering national pride, patriotism, and most importantly, cultural tolerance and ethnic integration. Malaysia's National Service Scheme will be for a short three months; with four weeks of physical training, including some military training and some weapons handling; five weeks of character and nation building courses; and three weeks of community services. Three different uniforms have been unveiled, including a fashionable blue urban pattern camouflage uniform. There will be 42 training camps set up across Malaysia. Some observers are already calling the scheme "a scout camp with a bit of karate thrown in."

Malaysia's National Service will be universal for both genders, with half the initial selection of 85,000 draftees (out of 480,000 eligible 17-18 year old) being female. Selection was by random computer ballot for initial service beginning in February. The computer balloting was set to fulfill specific racial quotas, which is about 70 percent Malay, 20 percent Chinese and 8 percent Indian. Those who avoid the draft face a fine of approximately $600, up to six months in jail, or both.

Things have already started to go awry. Thousands of candidates who logged on to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense website, or called a hotline to confirm their selection quickly caused both to be swamped with inquires (probably because the hotlines initially had only five lines and six trained operators). Issues have also been raised about educational deferment, service periods clashing with school semesters, and a lack of volunteer trainers. The National Service scheme called for 8,000 volunteers with military and police background to attend a two week training course prior to the first conscript intake. Currently there are less then 5,000 volunteers, and 90 percent of them are from the Malay ethnic majority.

In general, press reports have indicated that most Malaysian parents and youths interviewed find the scheme a good idea, although they naturally have concerns over the type of training and scheduling. Once the bugs are ironed out, Malaysia's National Service Scheme may end up being successful in achieving its goals. - Shawn Chung

 


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