I attended the #BantahTPP rally that took place last Saturday in Kuala Lumpur because I wanted to see how many people were really against Malaysia signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The TPPA is something that I am particularly interested in and have read a lot about, as well as sitting down for a one hour interview with Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industries.
Surprisingly, the turnout for the rally was much bigger than I had expected. The event’s Wikipedia page said they expected 20,000 people to attend. But my rough estimate would be less than 10,000.
The protesters were not allowed to gather at Dataran Merdeka, which was their initial proposed location, and the city council granted them the use of Padang Merbok instead.
There was heavy police and city council presence at Dataran Merdeka on the day, but the protesters were very well-behaved and marched past them towards Padang Merbok in a very orderly manner.
Once they arrived at the approved Padang, the politicians and NGO leaders were already there speaking rhetorics, which were mostly about how we are selling the country off to Western powers.
And this is where I have a problem with the reasons for this group wanting to protest against the TPPA – there didn’t state any solid and valid reasons that the TPPA is detrimental to the country.
I spoke to a few protesters who were there because I really wanted to know what their understanding of the 6,300 page TPPA document is. And the answers I got were quite vague.
Zainab Abdul Rani, who hails from Klang, said that she was worried no one would help to save the next generation. Not understanding what she said, I pressed further by asking for more details.
“There are a lot of negatives aspects of the TPPA. Firstly, our national resources. There are more bad than good when it comes to the TPPA. We need to defend our country’s integrity and economy,” she said.
Not really the kind of answer I was looking for, but it was her answer and I didn’t want to put words into her mouth. So I moved on looking for others who could explain things better to me.
Basir Saad, who came all the way from Taiping to protest against the TPPA, had a little it of a clearer explanation for me when I asked him for his reasons for being there.
“The prices of goods and products might increase such as medicine. And there might be an import of food stuff such as rice that might be cheaper but would mean taking away the income of our locals,” he said.
KL-ite, Siti Rubiah, said that it is a responsibility she had because of the bad economic situation the country is in. The rakyat has the right to oppose this during such dire times.
“With the economy in such a state, we don’t need outsiders meddling in our business. We can manage our own country. They just want to control our economy,” she explained.
Adam Mohd Farid, a student who comes from Sabah, said that he thinks it is fishy that the whole TPPA discussion is blanketed in secrecy.
“There is the possibility that we are actually selling our country away. Foreign corporations will come into the country and our local companies will have to compete with them,” he complained.
If I may be honest, I didn’t feel that the answers given by those who I spoke to to actually show an adequate understanding of the free trade agreement.
Wouldn’t it actually be a good thing if it means that Malaysia will have to adhere to international standards if they want to be included in the group? It would mean improving ourselves, wouldn’t it?
And if they are so afraid of international corporations coming into Malaysia (who says they aren’t already here), why can’t they look at the perspective of Malaysian companies having the opportunities to go out?
But then, if I may continue to be honest, even I do not have enough understanding of the TPPA to decide whether I am in support or I am against it.
It’s 6,300 pages long and although it is released for the public to see, I doubt that the lay person would have the ability to understand it comprehensively.
Also, if negotiations of the TPPA began 5 years ago, how come the government only started to release information about it to the public and the members of Parliament less than a year ago?
Now, they are debating in Parliament. By the time you read this article, a decision would have already been made. Was there adequate time for everyone to actually study and understand everything there is to know?
If there is one thing the protesters got right was the fact that there was so much secrecy throughout the TPPA negotiations. And when it came down to making a decision, not enough time was given to digest it.
And hence, that should be the main reason why they were protesting.