Hooray for light in the darkness! :)
Hooray for light in the darkness! :)
Firstly, thanks all of you who had kind wishes re: the smash theft of my Macbook Air – appreciate it!
Am publishing here (belated sorry!) an article written by an overseas visitor regarding the Bersih 2.0 rally, debunking many government myths about the rally jeopardising tourism etc. Happy reading!
Malaysia, Bersih 2.0 – A visitor’s view
When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon, July 2nd 2011 for a business trip on behalf of my London based university I had never heard of Bersih, the coalition of Non Government Organisations that seeks reform of Malaysia’s voting procedures. That was soon to change and very quickly.
My impression of Malaysia from a trip three years ago was that it was a prosperous and stable ‘Asian Tiger’ country, eager to make its way in the world, with a very interesting racial mix of people that seemed to be a real cultural, economic, political and spiritual strength. There had been the unfortunate brouhaha in the late 1990s around the arrest and imprisonment of the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on what appeared, from outside eyes, to be politically motivated charges concerning sexual probity. The international furore this incident caused died down upon his release, the international media circus moved on and I assumed that politics in Malaysia had done likewise. Smearing opposition politicians of whatever opinion with such charges tends to create a poor impression internationally that detracts from the attractiveness of the business environment. It generates an impression that the underlying political environment is unstable, that change cannot happen peacefully and that those at the top are clinging to power.
On Sunday morning I attended the 11.00 service at St Mary’s cathedral in Dataran Merdeka. The Dean, Jason Selvaraj, gave an impassioned sermon to a large multi-racial congregation that expressed deep concern about the current political and social environment in Malaysia. He deplored racism and its use for political goals and preached tolerance, compassion and equality for all.
Jason’s sermon stimulated my interest in what was currently happening in Malaysia so on my return to the hotel I immediately read the two English language newspapers available at the Sheraton, The Star and The New Straits Times. They were full of articles and news stories about a group called Bersih 2.0. The authors clearly regarded this Bersih as very dangerous, a threat to society as we know it, akin to terrorism etc. There was little information about what Bersih actually was, or what it stood for, though I did discern that it was trying to hold some sort of rally in KL on the following Saturday, July 9th and it seemed to be about fairness in regards to Malaysian elections. For the rest of my trip I followed the events as they unfolded in the newspapers and on television with increasing concern.
As the week proceeded the tone in the newspapers, in particular, became increasingly strident. Academics and various luminaries wrote judicious columns critical of the notion of street demonstrations as somehow ‘unmalaysian’. Newspaper editorial sections were equally vociferous about the threat to democracy and business. Taxi drivers were questioned about loss of trade and Sultans and leaders of various provinces added their voices to the din. I did not see one article that put any kind of opposing view apart from selected quotes in the news sections from various opposition politicians, and the Bersih leader, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, a former President of Malaysian Bar Council. The net effect of this one-sided onslaught in the newspapers was that people I talked to, in the hotel at least, said it made them curious about Bersih and what it was about. This biased coverage seemed to be having the opposite effect to what was intended was a definite own goal by the government supporting newspapers.
And what of the role of the police? Malaysian law requires a permit for demonstrations, much the same as in Britain. Bersih had applied for a permit but it was rejected on grounds of public safety, interference with traffic etc. Bersih said the rally would go ahead and the police stated that they were determined to stop it. A standoff, it seemed.
On Sunday, July 3rd the Malaysian king, Sultan Mizan Zainul Abidin, intervened, advising against street demonstrations and urging the government and Bersih to compromise on a stadium rally. Dato’ Ambiga successfully requested an audience with the king much to the chagrin of the Perkasa leader Datuk Ibrahim Ali who was clearly very put out by the recognition of Bersih that the audience with the king conferred. On Tuesday, after a frenzied media scrum (big headlines for Bersih yet again) , Ambiga and two other Bersih leaders announced that following their discussions with Sultan Mizan Zainul Abidin and in deference to his advice the street rally would be changed into a stadium rally at the downtown Merdeka stadium.
All seemed resolved as the government had appeared to acquiesce to the king’s wishes also. By Friday, when I had to leave KL, it was all up in the air again Merdeka stadium became ‘unavailable’, the government had appeared to retract on its promise, Bersih were back to a street march to the Merdeka stadium and the police were gearing up for a fight. The newspapers resumed their frenzy interviewing anyone who had a word to say against the march. One article in the NST did make me smile. A journalist was dispatched to find ‘terrified’ foreign tourists but couldn’t come up with any. ‘It’s normal’ said a Norwegian woman, it’s just part of society. I’m not worried, said another tourist from Australia, ‘I’ll still be doing my shopping’.
And so I left KL for Malacca with the city preparing for police lockdown in the biggest overreaction to a demonstration imaginable. As I sat on the train I wondered what would happen and would chaos really ensue. I wasn’t to find out the answer until I landed back in the UK on Sunday September 10th.
Malacca is a fascinating city for tourists to visit – I swapped my business hat for a tourist one. I enjoyed the sights, sounds and many attractions and became very absorbed by its history and culture. I had been warned by local people that getting to the airport on Saturday evening could be tricky as the police were reportedly ‘blockading’ KL. I wanted to ask locals what they thought of the situation but the political atmosphere seemed intimidating and I didn’t want to compromise anyone. It is a universal law, however, that if you want to know what’s happening in a place, ask a taxi driver. So I did just that, in the privacy of his cab.
He said that Bersih was very important because elections should be ‘fair’ and that all Malaysians were entitled to ‘a proper vote’. Malaysians were ‘very proud’ of their country but unfair elections were wrong and politicians should ‘listen’ and sort this out. I then asked him about Dato’ Ambiga and he said that she was a ‘very good woman’ who ‘told the truth to the Malaysian people’ and ‘they knew it’. He described her as ‘brave’ and said that she could ‘be trusted’ and this ‘is important for the country’. I asked him if Bersih had much support and he said that he thought so but some people might be ‘afraid’ to speak out.
I leaned on Sunday that Bersih had attempted to march to the Merdeka stadium. The police in full riot gear tried to stop them using tear gas and chemically laced water cannons. Dato’ Ambiga and many others were arrested and held, though subsequently released.
My overriding impression of Malaysia and its people is very positive. I like them, their culture, and their country very much and it is a great place to do business. I believe that all peoples should be entitled to free and fair elections, to change their leaders and governments peacefully, and to have freedom of expression and assembly. The Malaysian constitution gives this guarantee to its people so it seems to this visitor that it is time that the government, legal establishment, civil service all interested and relevant parties ensured that it is so.
I was driving along Jalan Bukit Bintang, about 730pm at night. Jammed as usual.
Some work had come in, and I had (perhaps foolishly) taken out my computer to tend to it (must complete assignments promptly).
Wish I could describe the next part in slow-mo.
- I closed my computer, happy work was done.
- I reached across to take laptop bag from passenger seat.
- I put computer back into bag.
- I zipped up bag.
- I placed bag back on passenger seat.
What felt like barely 3 seconds later, I thought someone had slammed into my car on the left.
After the initial shock (if you’ll pardon the profanity, I believe my exact words upon impact were ‘holy fuck’), I slowly realised I had fell victim to what is fast become an altogether common hit: two riders on a bike wait for a car with something valuable sitting on the passenger seat, the ride up, smash the window with a hammer, grab the bag/thing, and speed off.
Goodbye (RM6k) Macbook Air…. :_(
I named it the Great A’Tuin… and I did not get to say goodbye to it.
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard it a 1000 times, but don’t put valuable things on the passenger seat.
I admit I was extremely impressed by the speed and efficacy of the criminals. They watched me, they waited for the right moment, then executed their plan perfectly. If law enforcement and/or crime prevention was as efficient, perhaps many of us would be spared such fates.
Thank you Constable (?) Linda of the TTDI balai polis for processing my report fairly painlessly.
I am a little too deflated to go on at length with the usual tirade about how better management of police would cut down crime (but it would… Me? I’m inclined to increased police presence and patrols, as an effective deterrent), compare to Bersih, etc etc…
Oklah, too drained and exhausted. Don’t put stuff you know where. Will leave it here for now. Thank you fates, for only monetary losses and no serious injury, I guess.
For the first time in his nationwide tour, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and entourage boarded a bus plying to attend programmes in Perak.
“It used to be by car but this time we board the bus to meet the people. I want to feel what its like to do away with protocol.
“There must be no barrier to separate leaders and the people,” he said at his first event
Great!! I’m sure there’s a photo out there somewhere showing our beloved PM experiencing what everyday rakyat experience, having to take public transport…..
Sigh. Najib old boy, if you wanted to ‘do away with protocol’ and experience what the rakyat experience, the photo would have been more like this:
Haihz. (And I mention this only because it came up in the google image searches), maybe we should just be thankful he’s not going around on buses doing this:
A big thank you to all who came for the Bersih book launch on Sunday – it truly meant a lot to me and to us to see you there :D
Special thanks to my sister Bel and Rahul who helped carry very heavy books (as did Amito on the way back), handle sales, and provide pivotal support. Thanks to Beat and Joon who kept me company most of the evening. Thanks to mum and dad who came and bought me lunch :)
Thanks to our special guests Dato’ Ambiga, Pak Samad and Chin Huat, who shared really fun insight and stories :) Thank you as well to all the others (like Aunty Bersih!) who shared their own Bersih stories that day :)
Thank you Pang, Lee Kwang and their gallant team for the professionalism we’ve come to rely on at the Annexe.
Thank you all of you who were kind enough to buy a copy of the book :)
Final thanks once again to the great team that helped put together the book :) I think special mention must be made of Pandi and AL, who did much of the work towards the end. For an even longer list of acknowledgements, do pick up the book! :)
Many have been kind enough to enquire as to availability. The very first batch of books arrived only the day before, and are slowly trickling in. We may need at least a week or so to get our distribution networks in place, so we thank your for your indulgent patience – all availability details will be updated on the Bersih book page, and I’ll be sure to send updates on Twitter & FB as well :)
Selamat Hari Malaysia :)
This post is mostly about attitudes. In light of Najib’s 2011 Malaysia Day announcements, we come face to face with the question of how we should react.
Indubitably, we have witnessed the full spectrum – from unbridled jubilation to the most bitter cynicism and disbelief.
Unoriginally, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I do not share the sentiment of those who feel that Najib is now God’s gift to Malaysia, nor do I share the sentiment that this announcement is an insignificant move by a political enemy that must be hated at all costs.
(I also will, unsurprisingly, not be changing my vote to BN, but will be interested to hear if you may be planning to do so?)
My view is basically centers around the following:
- That this is a significant step
- That credit goes to all those who have fought against the government for so long to achieve this
- That this is still just an announcement, and much much much remains to be seen before we consider objectives realised.
So I will not begrudge the Prime Minister some credit, but fully agree with those that state that full credit can only be given when the promised reforms are actually carried out according to the principles we believe in (no detention without trial, protection of basic human rights, and so on).
In general, I believe in being generous with credit – it’s seldom that important. In this case however, I feel that being grateful to the government for these reforms is like being grateful to the British for granting Malaya independence.
Like colonisation, these laws should never have existed/survived in the first place, and this is but one of many things that need to be put right.
Most importantly, we should recognise the stark reality that these reforms would never, ever have taken place if not for pressure from the rakyat.
Only because so many before us have pressed for it for so long have we achieved this milestone. We will never forget their sacrifices, or the unimaginable suffering so many have gone through.
It has been said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and I feel that vigilance is indeed what is required now. I feel that the following are some of the most pressing things to look out for:
- Will the reforms actually happen before the next general election? (Or is this an insincere election gimmick that will fail to realise after the elections?)
- Will we see the closing of all centers for detention without trial, with all current detainees released or brought to court? (I wonder especially about Selvach, who never seems to be far from my mind)
- Will the new laws, alongside old ones like the very vaguely worded and easily abused Sedition Act (of which no mention was made), allow the government to abuse its powers in the same way?
Some questions related to reforms regarding the power of the authorities over citizens also include:
- As no mention was made of the IPCMC, will the police continue to abuse its powers in ways that it has done in the past? (Kugan, Aminulrasyid, Gunasegaran, Chia Buang Hin, etc)
- Will there be any meaningful findings in the deaths of Teoh Beng Hock or Ahmad Sarbani?
Lastly, as we cross this hump, let us take some time to think of what other major problems that plague our country. We welcome these reforms, but let them not be a distraction from other cancers still running rampant in our nation:
- These reforms should not be a distraction from Bersih’s 8 demands. They are not a replacement for the electoral reform Malaysia so badly needs in order to be a genuine, clean democracy.
- Corruption in the order of billions of ringgits continues to burn a hole of immense proportions in the coffers of our nation. Our top leaders should not be allowed to paint reform with one hand, and continue stealing from the rakyat with the other.
- Ethnic polarisation continues to gnaw away at our national fabric. In order to work towards true unity, we need to continue pushing for the depoliticisation of race, and the removal of race based parties from the center of political life.
These are the things I find myself thinking about on the heels of our historic victory. Many still suffer among us, so let us cheer for a while for what we have achieved here, but then continue on with the mountains of work that lay ahead of us.
ps- it seems I may be able to grow my hair back out a little earlier than expected :P
Eid Mubarak kepada anda sekeluarga! :)