Malaysians reclaimed the spirit of Merdeka

– Anura Bird
The Malaysian Insider
31 August 2015

There is a legend surrounding the significance of the mooncake in Chinese history. Apparently, during the Yuan Dynasty (a Mongol dynasty founded by Kublai Khan), resistance was growing in pocket across the vast lands.

A rebel leader trying to send messages to his followers cleverly hid them in pieces of paper concealed in mooncakes usually distributed among the local Chinese during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

These messages eventually reached the intended masses and the story goes that it led to the uprising that eventually forced out the Mongol invaders and heralded the coming of the celebrated Ming Dynasty.

I cannot help but draw parallels between the mooncake of those times, and the social media of today. The advent of the Internet… and the more recent social media has connected Malaysians in ways that was unimaginable just a decade ago.
Despite the vilifying of Bersih, despite the thinly veiled threats against the public, they still turned out by the tens of thousands over the weekend to participate in the 34-hour Bersih 4 rally.

It could be that the many protest rallies over the years have emboldened a significant number of Malaysians. It could be the troubled economy, the plunging ringgit, the can of worms that is 1MDB, or the brazen lack of accountability among Malaysia’s leaders.

What is obvious now is that the official narrative no longer holds water in the eyes of the public. Fifty-eight years after Merdeka, a sizeable number of Malaysians from all walks of life decided that the official celebration of Malaya’s independence matters less to them than a people’s party.

Jalan Tun Perak, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and the areas around Dataran Merdeka were turned into a curious spectacle that is part-protest, part-party.

Acid humour was all around as frustrated Malaysians expressed themselves with creative placards.

Ambang Merdeka, the pre-Merdeka Day concert, had to be shifted to Bukit Jalil because whatever it is that it was intended for, the rally goers had other ideas.

Disruption? Indeed. Here’s a chapter in civil disobedience.

The Malaysians who turned out in yellow decided that hey, we’re going to gather for what we feel is a legitimate cause and you, the government, do not have the sole say in how Merdeka should be celebrated. There is much empowerment in that thought.

It is true that rally after rally will not be enough to make this government more accountable, more transparent or more honest. There is much more to be done.

But then it should be noted that for the largely docile, “mind-my-own business”, peaceful populace to turn up for a protest in huge numbers itself is a significant step. It augurs well for Malaysia’s future, I’d like to think.

The police had also done a great job by taking a more restrained approach, so there were no untoward incidents marring the weekend Bersih 4 rally, except the isolated firecracker thrown at the crowd after Merdeka countdown.

However, the most important paradigm shift this writer observed was the volunteer rubbish and recycle brigade that combed the grounds and picked up the rubbish.

It was remarked repeatedly on Facebook and elsewhere that the rally grounds were surprisingly devoid of rubbish, since it has been a ubiquitous part of any large Malaysian gathering.

Here’s heartfelt thanks to all those who dirtied their hands to clean up Kuala Lumpur. May those hands be blessed.

Selamat Hari Merdeka to all! – August 31, 2015.

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