Why do we participate in rallies?

— Alfian Zohri
The Malaysian Insider
Jan 14, 2013

JAN 14 — I was too young to remember the 1998 reformasi demonstration in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. There was no Facebook or Twitter or any social media tools for live updates and the only mobile phones available were those huge solid ones, resembling a piece of brick! However, I do remember reading about the event on Utusan Malaysia. Yes, I used to read Utusan Malaysia. Anyhow, I was too callow to understand the politics and reasons behind those events.

As time has progressed, everything has changed. From September 11, 2001 to the recent Arab Spring (Arab Awakening as put by Robert Fisk) a new chapter of human struggle has been created. If in the 60s, Americans were protesting against the Vietnam War, today not just the Americans but the whole world is protesting against war, any war. We have anti ‘gitmo’ demonstration in New York or London; and we also have anti Internal Security Act (ISA) demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur. Anti nuclear power in Japan for instance, also happened in Australia, France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Public rallies or street protests, civil disobedience or whatever you want to call it, are a manifestation of the rejection of an unpopular regime in a particular country. It can be a single-man protest, a hundred, one thousand or a million it doesn’t matter. When you are oppressed, you stand up and fight for your rights. As simple as that.

Not too long ago, we witnessed a classic of domino effect in the Arab world. From one country to another, each one of those ruthless regimes responsible for numerous atrocities and human rights abuses collapsed due to the people’s uprising. But does it solve the problem? No! Does it create more problems? Yes! The problem is yet to be solved and as a matter of fact the problems only get worsen. Arbitrary killings, executions, violence against women, minorities and children and in fact a humanitarian crisis ensued at a rather alarming rate. Civil conflicts become our daily feed. Still the question remains: why is discontent met with further violence?

It is very important for us to be fair and to assess this matter wisely. If we were those young Egyptians, are we going to march on the street screaming “Enough is enough” or we rather watch it live on TV? Mubarak’s oppressive regime is no secret to the world. Political opponents and progressive thinkers were often sentenced to jail and subjected to torture, while minority groups, such as women’s groups and students’ movements, were not allowed to voice their concerns. The most important issue that triggered the Uprising in Egypt is that only the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. By knowing all of these injustices happening for the last 30 years, as a young liberal-minded Egyptian, what would you choose next? Demanding an uncompromising and democratic change in the governing system or sit back, spend fat cheques, raise a family, occasionally change hobbies, get sick and watch your government continue to oppress people even if they are your own family?

It is the same saga in Syria, Tunisia and Libya. Corrupt governments, fat wealthy leaders with expensive champagnes puffing Havana-branded cigars while the people had to fight for a loaf of bread and steal just to buy a bottle of water. Yet, all we do is, condemn those people who took to the streets. We portrayed them as thugs, branding them as uncivilised or ungrateful. If we were those people in Libya or Syria, what do we have as an option? Do we send letters to Gaddafi saying, “Dear Honourable Colonel Gaddafi, me and my kids have not eaten for three days. Would you mind sending us a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken?” in the hope that Gaddafi will say this in return: “To my loyal citizen, I will not send you one bucket but instead I will send you five buckets of KFC so you and your kids can eat for a week. But remember do not join any street rallies!” Do we really believe that this is the option that we have? And do we really believe that Gaddafi will eventually read those letters?

We argue, “In Malaysia, we are much better than those Arab or African countries”; “the word ‘democracy’ is always muttered by our leaders”; “we managed to have elections without missing a single ballot paper”; “we have lived peacefully for more than 50 years, why do we need to change? Why can’t we just live normally”?

Yes, we are living in a logical sense of harmony. No doubt about that. But does that mean our ruling system is corruption-free? And puts humanity and the rule of law into practice? I believe no. Let’s all be honest with ourselves. We are living in a corrupt system, from the judicial institution to the election commission and most governments departments. Corruption is endemic but it’s almost tolerable! Will this corrupt system disappear when Pakatan Rakyat takes over Putrajaya? NO! Will Pakatan Rakyat be able to remove and replace it with a more transparent system within 100 days after they have ‘seized’ Putrajaya? The answer is again NO! It would take them years and years and years to repair the whole system. This is the PROCESS that we, Malaysians, are about to go through right now. This is the ‘moment of transition’ that we are trying to walk through and this period will not be easy. In fact, this is the hardest part for us Malaysians and we need to realise that we are making a huge change in our life. A change that is irreversible.

It is also important for all Malaysians to realise another matter. We are calling for a better system. A system that can guarantee our rights and a system that is based on the rule of law and people-oriented. We are not calling for Pakatan Rakyat to replace Barisan Nasional just because we hate BN. Pakatan Rakyat can be as corrupt as Barisan Nasional as soon as they take over Putrajaya. This is not an impossibility. All we want is Pakatan Rakyat to guarantee the people’s rights, improve the judicial system, promote transparency and accountability within the governing bodies, shut ISA Detention Centres completely, try those who committed human rights violation in a fair people’s court, demand openness and accuracy on information related to government spending i.e. military budget, overseas trips and individual assets, improve the education system for all Malaysians and the list goes on.

January 12, 2013 was a crucial date for both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. There is no turning back. The people are moving forward. You can put barricades up, but those barricades will surely be toppled by the people. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

And for those of you who are against public rallies in Malaysia, I have a question for you: are you against public rallies because you believe there is another solution to the problem i.e. (writing letters and hoping your leaders will read them) or because you prefer to pass on your “talk to the hand” mantra to your offspring so that they too can suffer like you? Oh wait; will you go onto the streets now that PR is bullish?

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