Like it or not, street demonstrations are a part of Malaysian history



Like it or not, street demonstrations are a part of Malaysian history
By Zan Azlee

AS November approaches, Malaysia begins to anticipate what could be one the largest public demonstration in its history.

Bersih 5, organised by the Bersih 2.0 non-governmental organisation (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections), will be happening Nov 19.

As the name suggests, this will be the fifth demonstration, with the previous ones happening in 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2015. The crowd, based on previous estimates reached 100,000 people. A couple of these demonstrations even turned violent, mainly owing to the authorities leaning slightly on the heavy-handed side.

Which brings attention to how the ruling party in the government views public demonstrations and protests. Basically, they don’t like it and they constantly try to convince the people that it is wrong to do so and do their very best to make it as difficult as possible to organise.

Last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Abdul Rahman Dahlan was reported in the news saying that any government-linked company found to be funding the Bersih 5 rally will be blacklisted with immediate effect. All these companies will now be scrutinised.

This has always been the norm. Ministers, ruling party politicians and even the enforcement arms of the government have always denounced public demonstrations as illegal attempts to topple the government, saying the only way to change the government should be through elections.

They claim that since these demonstrations call for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, and for the government to ensure that elections happen freely and cleanly, they are illegal attempts to topple the government. You can see the absurdity, can’t you?

By that logic, anyone who expresses that he feels the ruling party isn’t right and needs to be replaced would be committing a crime. In fact, any campaigning done by the opposition would be deemed so too since it would be natural for them to try and convince the public to vote for them.

Basically, you can say and express nothing against the ruling party publicly since that would mean an attempt to topple the government. What they expect the public to do is just go to the polls during elections without any knowledge at all (since any form of expression is disallowed) and vote blindly.

Another favourite method of bogeymanning public demonstrations and protests is to accuse it of disrupting daily life. The authorities say it affects travel, business and even the economy because it shows to the world that there is instability in the country.

But that’s what these demonstrations are supposed to do – disrupt everyday life to bring attention to more important and pressing issues – but peacefully and without violence, of course. It’s a part of a healthy and thriving democracy.

And if the government doesn’t want the world to perceive Malaysia as being unstable, then fix the problems that caused the people to come out and protest in the first place. If it is corruption that people are unhappy about, then fix that. If it is unfair elections, then fix that.

These demonstrations does not happen just because. There has to be a very pressing reason for tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people to actually want to organise themselves and come out at the same time with a shared belief and in solidarity.

What the ruling party fails to realise (or more likely, they actually do realise it but are just knowingly being hypocrites) is that their very existence, and the very existence of Malaysia as a sovereign nation, is all based on street demonstrations and protest.

Way back in the pre-independence era when the Malay states were colonies of the British empire, our forefathers constantly protested and demonstrated against the colonial powers. They called for independence and expressed their desire to see the British leaving.

Their struggle, which mainly happened in the 1940s and 1950s, paid off and they won independence in 1957. Many of the parties that organised the public demonstrations and protests, like Umno (United Malays National Organisation), are the same parties that eventually became the government.

They hold power till today, 59 years after independence.

And now, when they say that public demonstrations are not in the culture of Malaysians, it only shows they have forgotten their own history, their own culture. This has, in turn, only succeeded in making them come off as desperate – desperate to hold on to power, no matter what the cost.

[This article originally appeared at]

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