Merdeka when I was six, true democracy at 60?

Allen Lopez
Jul 12, 11


When the Tunku raised his hand to the cries of “Merdeka”, I was on the cusp of turning six.

On 9 July 2011, as I approach 60, I was among those who rallied at the Bersih 2.0 carnival. Yes, it was a carnival. And what a carnival! The atmosphere couldn’t have been more convivial and peaceable.

The gathering was diverse, emblematic of the Malaysian identity – Indian, Malay and Chinese; young, middle-aged and old; priest and laity; rich and the not-so-rich; politicians, NGOs and the ordinary voters.

A truer representation of what Malaysia represents would be hard to replicate. We came because we wanted to – for love of our country.

It was as simple as that.

I was initially hesitant about joining – ever the armchair critic, preferring to bemoan and criticise from the air-con comfort of my home while watching drama unfold on my flat-screen.

Impelled by conscience

This time it was different. Conscience impelled me to go. It was partly because my daughter was among the Bar Council “permerhati” (observers) for the rally. But even otherwise, I would have gone. I just had to.

My wife was keen to go as well. But getting into town was the problem. One of us had to drive the other to the LRT station. So she was the driver. (And she was so sad to have had to miss out).

I took the Putra LRT from Bangsar to Masjid Jamek at about 12 noon. From Masjid Jamek I had planned to take the Star LRT to Hang Tuah.

But that station was closed. The plan was to meet a group of friends coming from Puchong at the Hang Tuah station.

So I decided to walk. We agreed to meet at Jalan Sultan (outside the old Rex cinema, now a budget hotel).

Just as I approached the meeting point, a seemingly endless procession of people came marching and chanting. Cries of “Bersih, Bersih” filled the noon air.

I thanked God I had come.

The faces were of the Malaysia I know and love – the Malaysia I grew up in, way back in the dim and distant 60s.

The atmosphere was celebratory, the heavy police presence notwithstanding.

Since my friends were delayed, I decided to join the procession and meet them at another location.

After chanting and mingling for a about 20 or so minutes at the Menara Maybank, the crowd moved in an orderly fashion down Jalan Pudu heading toward the Merdeka Stadium. The jovial atmosphere prevailed.

My friends joined me at Jalan Pudu in front of the Tung Shin hospital. We took pictures and had some biscuits.

Then the FRU personnel, moved in and formed a human barricade, three or more deep and in full riot gear, across Jalan Pudu near Jalan Robertson junction (the road which turns into St Anthony’s church) The procession was stalled. With another FRU barricade at Puduraya, we were caught in the police “pincer”.

Now things began to get a bit nervy. Soon, the skies opened and rain began to fall. We hailed it as a good omen.

Showers of blessing

To the priest in our group, we said it was God sending showers of blessing to cool us in the afternoon heat, not to mention soak up the tear-gas and dilute the chemical-laced water cannons that were to come.

True to script, and with no provocation or warning, the FRU then turned their water cannons from the Puduraya end. The tear-gas followed soon after. The crowd dashed for the Tung Shin Hospital compound.

We clambered up about five feet of slippery muddy slope to reach the compound. The ones already up, me included, gave a hand to those who were behind.

The sight of Malaysians of diverse backgrounds reaching out, in pouring rain, to literally pull their fellow Malaysian away from the tear gas was, pardon the pun, enough to bring tears to the eyes. It is a sight I shall forever cherish. Who needs the empty 1Malaysia rhetoric?

We waited in the porch of Tung Shin as the rain pelted down. We thought we were safe in a hospital compound. Wrong.

Within minutes the tear-gas was shot into the compound – yes right into the compound. One landed within five feet of me.

We scampered to toward the light belukar to try to escape in the Menara Maybank direction. We had to negotiate another slippery muddy slope, down this time, hanging on the tree vines. I slipped and fell despite holding on to the vines. Not hurt though, thank God.

Then police appeared in the opposite direction chasing some who had made their way down earlier.

We backtracked up the slope. It was not easy – but we made it back to the Tung Shin compound. The crowd had begun to thin. Our point had been made. So I decided to call it a day.

Hard fall

I trudged down the slope from the Tung Shin compound toward Jalan Pudu holding on to a young Malay lad. I slipped and took a hard fall. The young man called out with concern, “Uncle, ok? Uncle, ok?” I was touched. I said, “I’m ok. Terima kasih”.

I walked toward the Masjid Jamek station, hoping to take the LRT back to Bangsar, but Putra had stopped services.

So I took a leisurely walk in muddied wet clothes along Tun Perak, toward the Royal Selangor Club, over the Jln Kuching flyover toward Masjid Negara, past Muzium Negara, KL Sentral and on to Bangsar LRT station.

On my long trek home, other than for the large clusters of police personnel and their trucks at various points, I was the about only living soul around. It was eerily like something out of the twilight zone.

I stopped twice to ask the police if it was okay for me to take the route I did. They very politely told me it was fine. The police had a job to do.

At the Bangsar LRT my dear wife picked me up and drove me home. I must have looked a state – soaked to my skin and slacks all muddied.

I was very tired; but very exhilarated. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My wife envied me.

On the verge of turning 60, my prayer is that this beloved land of my birth has come of age.

ALLEN LOPEZ’s story is the first in this series focusing on eyewitness accounts of the Bersih July 9 rally in Kuala Lumpur, demanding for free and fair elections.

  1. #1 by tanjong8 on Tuesday, 12 July 2011 - 9:41 pm

    truly malaysian

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