by Zurairi AR
Malay Mail Online
September 17, 2015
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 ― Thousands of Malays painted the city red yesterday, purportedly to show solidarity with Malay government leaders who are allegedly under siege from the ethnic Chinese community.
The event was originally planned as at least three separate rallies held by different organisers: martial arts group Pesaka who hosted the official gathering, a coalition of 250 Malay groups, and Felda settlers.
As the day went on, however, it was clear that there was only one event in town, the pro-Malay rally informally dubbed #Merah169, held as a reaction towards the electoral reform rally Bersih 4 that was attended by tens of thousands last month and deemed to be Chinese-driven.
Here are three things we learned about the event:
1. Umno not officially behind #Merah169, but Umno leaders were
Umno officially disassociated itself from the rally after its Supreme Council meeting last week, but stopped short of restricting its members from joining it.
The tacit nod has also been construed as endorsement for the event, especially with rare police approval for the street rally when none was available for Bersih 4.
Further links were drawn when the major players behind the rally — former Malacca chief minister Tan Sri Ali Rustam as well as former ministers Datuk Noh Omar and Tan Sri Annuar Musa — all hail from Umno.
As did unofficial frontman Datuk Jamal Md Yunos, whose Coalition of Malay NGOs was behind the “Red Shirt” aspect and which triggered concerns of possible racial unrest over rally; he is the Sungai Besar Umno division chief.
It was also obvious that there was major funding for the event, with thousands of supporters bussed in from the across the country, plus the banners and placards as well as food and drinks supplied to the rally-goers.
Annuar also claimed that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his deputy, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, were delighted by the turnout, although Najib later criticised a run-in between rally-goers and riot police.
No other political party was mentioned glowingly in the rally save for Umno, while organisers profusely thanked Umno divisions along the day.
While it may not be officially the organisers, Umno is inextricably linked to the rally and, more importantly, any bouquets and brickbats that will follow.
2. Racism by any other name…
Pesaka, the official rally organisers, sought to disavow the “Himpunan Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Rally)” name that Jamal’s group gave to the event, insisting that it was a show of Malaysian unity.
What transpired before and during #Merah169, however, left little doubt that it was catered specifically to Malays.
The rally was filled with racially-charged placards calling for Malays and Islam to be respected, for vernacular schools to be closed, and warnings to federal opposition party DAP not to tempt a repeat of the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969.
Annuar outright admitted to racism both personally and at the rally, but said this was permitted so long as other races were not harmed.
When pressed to identify the specific insult perpetrated by the Chinese community, however, none appeared able to provide a clear answer.
Why, then, did the Malays feel so insulted by the Chinese that they felt compelled to rally in defence of their honour?
Two ethnic Chinese journalists were removed by the police after protesters reacted angrily to them repeatedly asking the very question, but they were right to be curious.
Asked the same question by Malay reporters and attendees gave a different answer: They are not mad with the Chinese per se, only the so-called “DAP Chinese” and Bersih 4.
The question was asked many times by Malay Mail Online, but the sole argument for many was one incident where two Chinese protesters stomped on a picture with Najib and PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang during Bersih 4.
How two protesters became the surrogate for the entire Chinese community and two rival politicians represented all the Malays, none could say.
And while many were vague about the reason for their anger, the object of their ire was demonstrably less so.
Protesters repeatedly sought to force their way into Bukit Bintang and the Chinatown in Petaling Street, due to the perceived Chinese links in both areas, leading to riot police firing water cannons when they persisted with trying to enter the latter zone.
Why? Maybe it was to send a message, even if only to say that there is no stopping the Malays in their own land.
3. One step forward, two steps back for demonstrations
Despite all the concerns that surrounded the #Merah169 rally, one positive message was the reinforcement of the view that Malaysians were mature enough to demonstrate publicly without violence.
After Bersih 4 went off without any clashes — unlike its three predecessors — Malaysians took it as evidence that public protests could take place peacefully as long as authorities do not crack down hard on them.
But while Bersih 4 displayed what was possible when police and protesters choose to co-operate, yesterday’s events showed inklings of the dangers when one or the other does not.
During Bersih 4, organisers and attendees stayed vigilant to ensure that nobody would breach zones such as Dataran Merdeka that were made off limits by authorities, but it was a different matter yesterday.
Protesters repeatedly pushed past police lines meant to prevent them from entering Jalan Bukit Bintang, in an attempt to reach parts of the Golden Triangle that both authorities and rally organisers agreed were prohibited.
The same transpired at Petaling Street, forcing organisers to plead repeatedly with protesters to stop trying to force their way into the tourist spot, to no avail as it would later turn out when police were forced to turn their water cannons on the crowd.
While Bersih 4 protesters picked up their trash afterwards ― and still got billed by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall ― Padang Merbok yesterday was left with trash strewn all over the park and Jalan Parlimen beside it.
The police, in particular, showed remarkable restraint in the face of the over-exuberance of some #Merah169 protesters.
Had either the authorities or protesters been less accommodating, #Merah169 could easily have become another example for Putrajaya to use when saying that Malaysians just are not ready for demonstrations.