By Kee Thuan Chye
21 Jan 2014
It’s disturbing, to say the least. Street protests staged by Umno and/or groups affiliated to or inspired by it invariably espouse the threat of violence and express racial venom. The most recent ones, held on January 18 and 19 in Penang, are further indications of this trend.
These were staged to protest against Lee Khai Loon, the PKR state assemblyman of Machang Bubok, for publicly mocking Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement about the drop in price of kangkung. But the proceedings turned ugly when race was made into an issue when it was never one in the first place.
To begin with, Lee’s satirical flashmob on January 16, which culminated in his stuffing kangkung into the mouth of an effigy of Najib, was not a racial act. It was instead an act that summed up public disgust for the prime minister’s apparent failure to empathise with the rakyat, who are struggling with the problem of rising costs. Many Malaysians indeed blame the Government for contributing to the rise because it cut petrol and sugar subsidies and raised electricity tariffs.
On top of that, Najib made the extra howler of saying that although the price of kangkung has come down, the people do not praise the Government for it, but when prices go up, they are quick to blame the Government. For that, he was widely condemned. And on social media, he was satirised as well. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) picked up the story.
But the criticisms and satire came from people of all races. After all, Malays and non-Malays are equally affected by the higher cost of living. So there was no cause whatsoever for the two protests in Penang to turn the kangkung issue into a racial one.
Worse, the protest at the Sunway Carnival Mall on January 18 ran a banner that screamed, “Kerana mulut pemimpin DAP, 13 Mei 1969 terjadi … Mau lagi kaa!!!” (Because of what came from the mouths of DAP leaders, May 13 happened … Want some more!!!”) This was totally uncalled-for, totally irrelevant. It came across like a thundering threat.
More than that, it made no sense hitting out at the DAP when Lee, the object of the protest, is from PKR.
I applaud what my friend Imraz Ikhbal commented on Malaysiakini about this May 13 threat: “Should ever another May 13 tragedy erupt, I am one Malay Muslim who shall blame it squarely on Umno and all other ultra-bigots of its like for their foul-mouthed and inflammatory provocation. If ever a May 13 face-off were to recur, Umno will be surprised that it will no longer be between Malays and Chinese, it will instead be between bigots from their own fold against a united rakyat consisting of Malays, Chinese, Indians and every other race who detest racism and bigotry.”
He’s right. Umno has been using this May 13 threat for the longest time. Even Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil used it two Umno general assemblies ago. It looks like the party has nothing else to latch on to but race. It wants to keep drumming into the minds of the Malays that the other races are a threat – even though that’s a lie. They want to condition the Malay mind. The more they say it, the more real it becomes. The more the Malays believe their fiction.
But here, I would add a caveat – it works only on the feeble-minded and less-educated Malays, not on those who can think for themselves and know what the reality is. Certainly not on my friend Imraz and others like him.
So, why is Umno always threatening May 13? Who is going to start it? Not the ordinary Malays, that’s for sure. It would have to be orchestrated. So who’s going to do that? Are these protestors implying they will start it? By the way, who orchestrated the one in 1969?
Going by what is implied in that protest banner, commentor Relak Aje observes on Malaysiakini: “So now we know, by their own admission, who the culprits behind May 13 are.”
Political commentator K.J. John goes one step further: “Are these Umno leaders actually admitting that their elders knowingly started May 13? Then we need to adjust the history books to state the truth.”
An Umno Supreme Council member has, however, denied that the Penang protests were organised by his party. Nonetheless, The Star reported on January 19 that it was led by him! Reezal Merican Naina Merican, who is also Kepala Batas MP, even made a reportedly fiery speech.
Since then, he has come out to say that the protest reflected the feelings of the Malay community which found Lee’s flashmob “despicable”. But why so specifically the Malay community? Why did he have to get so racial? Did he mean it was Umno instead? But then, can you imagine a group of ordinary Malays getting together and organising themselves into such a frenzy all because the prime minister got mocked? Rather far-fetched, don’t you think?
Besides, also present at the January 18 protest were Penang Umno Liaison Committee secretary Musa Sheikh Fadzir, Permatang Pauh Umno division chief Mohd Zaidi Mohd Said and Tasek Gelugor Umno division chief Shabudin Yahaya.
Reezal also said Lee’s flashmob was “disproportionate” because he got participants to stuff kangkung into the mouth of the Najib effigy. It was insulting and lacking in decorum. But at the January 19 protest, the protestors burnt a mannequin which bore Lee’s photograph and they spat, stomped and mooned over it. Is that not “despicable” and “disproportionate” too?
But most despicable and disproportionate are the racial slurs of the protestors. And it’s most unbecoming that Musa Sheikh Fadzir egged them on. He greeted them with “1Melayu”. Then he accused Lee and the DAP of insulting the Malays. What insult? When did they insult the Malays?
The protestors claim, “Insulting the PM, a Malay leader, is akin to insulting the Malays.” Where is the logic in that? This is worse than Third World mentality!
“We will defend (our race) with every drop of blood,” Musa boasted. Why say that? Why provoke?
What are the police going to do about this? What are the police going to do about the fact that both protests transgressed Section 9 of the Public Assembly Act, which requires protest organisers to inform them of any public gathering 10 days before the event?
The police have been quick to take action when a protest is staged by the Opposition or people’s movements expressing disagreement with the Government’s actions or policies. Even though these protests have invariably been peaceful and certainly not racial. Will it now take action against these Umno or Umno-inspired protestors?
Shouldn’t Reezal and Musa be the first to be hauled up? Shouldn’t those who provoke racial violence be once and for all punished for their dangerous habit so that we can once and for all be free of future threats?
Meanwhile, for the sake of the whole country, shouldn’t Umno take a lesson from history and note that the first ever protest organised by its party – against the Malayan Union proposed by the British in 1946 – did not threaten violence? In fact, it adopted the method of passive resistance. So why has the party become so belligerent after nearly six decades? Is that progress or regression?
Above all, is Umno worthy of governing Malaysia when it is hell-bent on causing havoc?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.