Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bersih 2.0 1MALAYSIA in action

My friend Bobby send this interesting read to me.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train. We are slowly but surely emerging from the dark hole we have been in for well nigh forty years.
I am once again confident of our country’s future; the recent events have convinced me of it. I would be the first to admit that I had often doubted Malaysians’ resolve in the face of the repression and abuse of power by the authorities.

I look at Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and even Myammar and wonder at the courage of their citizens in fighting for change often against almost insurmountable odds.

Then I look at ourselves and wonder why we seem so useless. Perhaps we are not really useless, perhaps we are a little more patient but forty years of misuse of power will wear away even the patience of a saint. Today that patience has evaporated. No one seems to know what was going on. One minute it was reported that the police had given permit for a rally at Merdeka Stadium and an hour later the news is that no permit has been given. That’s the problem when you have to rely on the internet, SMSes and emails the only alternatives to the main stream media which people trust less and less.

Ringing round my contacts, I was put in touch with someone who told me to meet at a restaurant in Brickfields at 11.30. The police presence was already noticeable in Little India by that time. As I entered the restaurant a familiar voice called out my name. In the dimness, I could only make out a set of flashing teeth. When my eyes finally adjusted, it was Kulasegaran the MP for my constituency, Ipoh Barat. Present were also the ex-speaker of Perak, Charles Santiago the Selangor State Ex-Co and other opposition assemblymen and mps.

From the restaurant we moved to Fatima Church round the corner. It was decided that the church offered safer sanctuary. Those who know the terrain planned the route to take to Stadium Merdeka. We were to take the side streets and lanes as the main roads were blocked. On the way we stopped at the Temple of Fine Arts a vegetarian restaurant of some repute apparently. The management was not exactly welcoming.

The police followed us – plain clothes and uniformed. They waited on the other side of the road. It was suggested that we move off in twos and threes towards our destination. Some decided to have lunch at the Temple before the main event. Kula decided that he could protest louder on a full stomach. I preferred an empty tummy in case I had to run; besides, the restaurant would not admit me because I was inappropriately attired. (What’s new?) A stranger from out of town, I followed the general flow of pedestrian traffic. By this time I was on my own, safe in the knowledge that I do not constitute an illegal assembly and therefore should not attract unwanted attention.

In Malaysia a gathering of five or more constitutes an illegal gathering.

As I got nearer the stadium the flow of people got larger. It was now not only Indians (which I had followed from Brickfields) but also Chinese and Malays. Before long the trickle of people turned into a flood and the crowd swelled to thousands. There were the young – well prepared with scarves, bottles of water and salt. And there were the old – less prepared but equally determined. Then there were middle-aged women and men and young college kids. I was particularly impressed by a phalanx of Malay girls in full tudong and masks. They were well drilled and marched as a disciplined group to the front of the demonstration. There were also Red Crescent girls who stood by to offer first aid if needed. We marched as one, shouting ‘Hidup Bersih’, ‘Hidup Rakyat’ clenched fists pistoning up and down. A white haired Chinese lady confessed to me that she did not really understand what was being shouted but she made her quota of noise anyway.

The stragglers were encouraged to catch up by a diminutive old man with a haji hat who was blowing his whistle and waving everyone forward. They swept to the front compacting the already dense sea of angry protestors. Someone sang ‘Negara Ku’ and this was taken up by the crowd. I have never been so proud as I stood erect with my fellow Malaysians rededicating ourselves to “hidup bersatu dan maju”.

The tear gas and water cannons have not started but there were many teary eyes, mine included. From a stand still we moved forward again after the national anthem.

The police were now in sight, rows and rows of them backed by a red water cannon truck. Thirty meters of asphalt separated them and us. They were silent and menacing, we chanting ‘Reformasi’, ‘Hidup Bersih’ and ‘Hidup Rakyat’, fists punching air in defiance.

Then the water cannon advanced and the crowd surged back, many running helter-skelter. I decided that it was not a problem as long as we stood out of range and encouraged others to stand their ground – out of range. The others seeing that we were not drenched came back. Before long the water cannons ran out of water and the crowd surged forward again, now much braver, taunting the police. After reloading the water cannon came back again and we moved back out of range. This cat and mouse went on for a while; then the police fired tear gas into the crowd. We ran but could not escape the tear gas. It stung our eyes and we choked. Out came the salt and wet towels. People were passing salt and hand towels round to those who had none but there weren’t enough to go round. I failed chemistry so don’t ask me about sodium chloride’s reaction with the tear gas; but it helped.

After the pandemonium we regrouped again and once again sang the national anthem as if telling the police that we are patriotic and loyal citizens who should not be subjected to such treatment. From the crowd a voice cried “hujan” beseeching God to rain on us and this was taken up by some. Believe it or not in the next half hour it poured down cats and dogs. Rain was what we needed for then the water cannon and tear gas would have little effect. God had smiled on us; nothing could go wrong we felt. The rain did more than stop the tear gas and water cannon. It cooled down tempers on both sides.

There was a stalemate and both sides were content to stare at each other from thirty meters, not doing anything to provoke further reaction. News went round that there have been arrests with other groups – hundreds of them, including the head of Bersih as well as national politicians. It was apparent that the rally at the stadium was not to be.

Najib’s promise to let the rally be held in a stadium was not worth the breath he uttered it with. The crowd was angry but resigned to it. A half-day’s protest has served notice to the government about the people’s mood. Ours was only one group, there were other groups which converged from other parts of KL.

To my knowledge no one was arrested on our side but news filtered through that over six hundred have been arrested – must be from other groups. There were no Malays, Chinese or Indians at the demonstration, only Malaysians united by a common cause.

This was the true 1Malaysia and not the sham espoused by the government. If this is a glimpse of the future of our country then there’s ground for optimism. I have always maintained that it is UMNO-BN which has divided the people to serve their own interests, the Malays, Chinese and Indians have no quarrel with each other. I am proud of my fellow Malaysians who when it counted overcame race and religion to come together as one. Hidup Malaysia!

Yin Note: The final official figure of arrests was more than 1600. Al Jazeera estimated that in all there were around 100,000 demonstrators. (It could have been more had the government issued permits for buses to enter KL. Even so, there were many from as far south as JB and as far north as Alor Star who came by private transport)

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