M. Bakri Musa
While UMNO apologists and sycophants in academia, blogosphere, and mainstream media quibbled over such minutia as the number of participants at last Saturday’s massive KL112 (January 12, 2013) rally, two facts are indisputable. First, that peaceful and largely Malay demonstration, the largest the nation had ever witnessed, forever shattered the myth that UMNO is Melayu, and Melayu, UMNO. Second, given a modicum of respect by and without provocation from the authorities, Malaysians are quite capable of partaking in peaceful rallies.
On this second point the authorities, specifically the police under its new leadership, are finally learning that water tankers, personnel with anti-riot gears or tear gas canisters, and other crude displays of power often precipitate rather than prevent violence. BERSIH 3.0 demonstrated that very clearly.
The size and orderliness of the rally, together with the bravery and determination of the participants, was reminiscent of the transformative event of over 66 years earlier, the opposition to the Malayan Union Treaty. That altered the course of our history. Insha’ Allah (God willing), last Saturday’s rally too, will.
The power imbalance between those demanding change and those in power back in 1946 was enormous. Then it was mostly illiterate and unsophisticated Malay peasants facing the much superior and more formidable colonial authorities. Yet in the end, right won over might, and justice prevailed!
Today, while the UMNO Government is detested to the same degree as the old colonials, it is nowhere as sophisticated wielder of power as the British. Meanwhile, those clamoring for change are far more worldly, more committed, and in far greater numbers than their adversary, UMNO and its supporters. More importantly, unlike the colonials, today’s UMNO government is crippled with corruption and incompetence while also being crude wielders of power. All the more we should expect that right and the truth, as well as justice, will again prevail.
National Laureate Pak Samad’s stirring reading of his poetry “Di Atas Padang Sejarah” (On This Field of History) last Saturday at Merdeka Stadium prompted me to make that comparison with the anti-Malayan Union Movement. He is old enough to remember and may have even participated in that historic protest.
“Di atas padang sejarah,” Pak Samad asserted in his poetry, “pantang kita mungkiri janji.” (We must not renege on our promises.). Today, the successors to those who brought us merdeka over 55 years ago have betrayed that great promise.
While Pak Samad’s gray hair and rousing poetry lent an air of history and gravity to the moment, the Blue Gang’s Ito Mohammad and his “Ubah Sekarang” (Change Now!), specifically composed for the occasion, gave the gathering a certain hip! There was no mistaking however, the seriousness of his message.
“Ubah sekarang,” Ito belted out in his trademark rhythm and blues beat to the cheers of thousands, “Kita cari kebenaran! (We seek the truth!) Ubah sekarang/Teggakkan Keadilan (Institute justice!)” Then to the roar of the crowd, he added, “Ubah Sekarang / Send-off Barisan!”
Ito is a talented performer and a committed crusader with a definite mission, in the mold of Bono. Ito is for truth and justice, to give meaning to merdeka, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. One thing is certain: Ito is no carma (cari makan – hired hand) artist!
The anti-Malayan Union Movement was led by the charismatic, farsighted and savvy Datuk Onn; so too KL112 in the person of Anwar Ibrahim. In many substantive ways Anwar is a far more formidable and superior leader. Onn meekly obeyed the commands of his sultan in the sycophantic manner of Hang Tuah, and was banished to Singapore; Anwar in the chivalrous tradition of Hang Jebat had the courage to take on a man far more powerful (at least then) than the sultans or King – Mahathir. Anwar paid greatly, physically and in many other ways, for his defiance but in the end, unlike Jebat, Anwar prevailed. Last Saturday was proof of that victory. Meanwhile his old nemesis Mahathir was left to rant in his blog.
Far more important than leaders are the commitments of their followers. UMNO could not have organized a rally a fraction of the size of KL112 without resorting to bribes, outright giveaways, or having their carma artists, academics and journalists singing high praises for its leaders.
There was a pathetic attempt, no doubt by a bumbling UMNO operative, at a Facebook posting calling those rally participants to collect their fees! That posting bombed as it was immediately exposed for the hoax that it was. Those UMNO hired hands were not even sophisticated enough to pull a cyberstunt!
Anwar commits to ten goals, the top being free and fair elections. Elections must not only be fair and free but more importantly, be seen as such. Our Elections Commission lacks credibility, both on conducting elections as well as maintaining the integrity of the electoral rolls.
It is too late to change the personnel at EC. Besides, that would not make any difference. They have been indoctrinated to believe that their agency is just another electoral instrument of Barisan instead of an independent agency answerable to the King and thus the citizens. The only credible way to ensure fair and free elections would be to invite external observers.
Free and fair elections should be the priority. The responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the electoral process extends beyond the EC and Election Day.
We must never let or tolerate the 2008 post-election fiascoes of Perak and Selangor to recur. In Selangor, the hooliganism and vandalism of the staff of and condoned by its outgoing UMNO Chief Minister Khir Toyo stood in marked contrast to the civility and orderliness in the transfer of power between Gerakan and DAP in Penang. This being Malaysia, the races of the main protagonists at both events did not escape notice. In Perak, the permanent establishment including the sultan which should have been the stabilizing and buffering elements were themselves hopelessly entangled in the mess. They did not shine; they were the problem. Khir Toyo, now convicted of corruption, epitomizes UMNO’s rotten core.
We must also never allow the prostituting of government agencies and departments into Barisan election machinery. I have no problem with The New Straits Times and Utusan continuing as UMNO newsletters and their “journalists” as UMNO propagandists; after all both are owned by UMNO. I take issue when taxpayer-financed agencies like Bernama, Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), and Biro Tata Negara (National Civic Bureau) doing the same.
Ito’s rhythmic ubah sekarang is not, as UMNO leaders would like us to believe, changing horse midstream rather letting an old lame and tired one to pasture. Our culture is kind; we do not send old horses to the glue factory.
A second into midnight on August 31, 1957, at the same Merdeka Stadium, Tunku Abdul Rahman declared merdeka for our new nation. He brought home from England our Declaration of Independence. More importantly, he gave us hope to all the promises implied with our new sovereignty. Today, Tunku’s successors in UMNO Baru (New UMNO), through their venality have betrayed that solemn covenant. They have, in Samad Said’s poetry, mungkiri janji. It is time we reclaim that promise and our dream.
Last Saturday, when Anwar repeated “Merdeka” seven times in the manner of the late Tunku, he had begun that process of reclaiming. Tunku brought the document of declaration of Merdeka; Anwar will give meaning to its words in our everyday lives.
Ubah sekarang! Tolak mereka yang memungkiri janji! Change now! Remove those who have betrayed us!