Once again, yellow fever has struck our beloved nation, particularly in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya and their neighbouring areas, observes Mustafa K Anuar.
This fear of the colour yellow (xanthophobia – yes, there is such a phobia!) was most prominent among the ruling BN leadership, top civil servants and sections of the intelligentsia after the Bersih 2. committee announced their plan to organise a massive rally, dubbed Bersih 4, on 29-30 August in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching as well as in other major cities across the world.
As usual, ruling politicians, the police and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) discouraged people from joining Bersih 4. Businesses, they said, would be disrupted, and so would the daily routine of ordinary city folk. As it turned out, some restaurants and other business outlets did brisk business. And the rally was carried out in an orderly fashion.
The much coveted Dataran Merdeka was declared off limits because, they insisted, the venue was needed for rehearsals for Merdeka Day (31 August). A convenient explanation.
Declaring Bersih 4 illegal, the authorities claimed that the intended rally could create chaos and disorder – so much so that the leadership in the armed forces announced publicly that they might have to intervene should there be a declaration of emergency as a result. That was supposed to be an unnerving proposition.
Then a ruling politician even mischievously proposed that the rally could get unruly because there would be anarchists in their midst who were supposedly bent on compelling the police to use force against the crowd.
But true to form, the BN government did what it does best (or worst): the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) blocked websites that were perceived to have promoted the Bersih 4 cause. Even news portals were not left off the hook.
Civil servants and students in public universities, often considered captive audiences by the government, were warned of severe punishments if any among them decided to participate in Bersih 4. Promoting Bersih 4 in those sections of society was certainly deemed not kosher.
And, lo and behold, on the eve of the rally, the Home Minister hurriedly signed a government gazette to ban the use of yellow with the words Bersih 4 in whatever form under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) (No. 22) Order 2015. Desperate situations demand desperate measures.
This ban sparked political and artistic creativity among Malaysians. Some of them amended their t-shirts, from Bersih 4 to Bersih 4.0; others used their old Bersih 2 and Bersih 3 T-shirts; a few others wore any other yellow T-shirts. But many also stood their ground and wore the Bersih 4 T-shirts.
This fear of the colour yellow reverberated even after the Bersih 4 rally.
As if not to be outdone by government ministers and politicians, the supposedly well-informed National Professors’ Council came to the dire conclusion that Bersih 4 was dominated by the DAP, given that the rally was predominantly attended by Chinese Malaysians.
The fact that not all the Chinese Malaysians and, to a lesser extent, the Malay and Indian Malaysians who participated, may not necessarily be members of the DAP seemed to have been lost on them.
It also appeared that the Council was not enlightened by the legitimate demands of Bersih 4, which include free and fair elections and the right to dissent.
Apart from the mischievous responses, there was also the hilarious. A prominent businessman insisted that Bersih 4 was organised because the organisers were jealous of Najib’s purported achievement to bring the opposing factions of the Palestinian struggle, Fatah and Hamas, together. The usual suspects of Jews, Christians and aliens seemed to have been roped into this blame game.
The unfortunate stomping on a picture of Najib Razak and Hadi Awang by a few Bersih 4 protesters was highlighted by the authorities and sections of the media to such an extent that it suggests a deliberate attempt to distract people from critical issues such as the 1MDB scandal. We should note that past cases of those stomping on pictures of opposition leaders somehow did not cause any political tremors at all.
Finally, we turn to the so-called “red shirts rally” on 16 September, Malaysia Day, in response to the Bersih 4 rally that was purportedly dominated by the DAP. While one can defend their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, their physical preparations that hint of violence is cause for concern to many Malaysians who cherish freedom, peace and harmony in this blessed country of ours. In other words, a rally that is laced with violence cannot and should not be tolerated as it goes against democratic principles.
A rally, which was promised, by a section of its proponents, to harm a particular ethnic community in their warped idea of defending the honour of their own ethnic community, should be of great concern to the prime minister, who has paraded himself on the world stage as a promoter of moderation.
Obviously, this planned red shirts rally, organised by a silat group called Pesaka and led by former Umno Baru vice-president Ali Rustam, is different from Bersih 4, which was peaceful and had clear objectives of forging a better Malaysia.
Such were the antics of the ruling politicians, the authorities, sections of the intelligentsia and some extremist elements in responding to the Bersih 4 rally. All this points to a regime that lacks confidence, is out of touch with social and political reality, and is increasingly losing political legitimacy.
To deem participants of Bersih 4 rally as “shallow-minded”, “demo-crazy” and unpatriotic, as Najib did, is to miss a crucial point. Civil society and Malaysians in general want government leaders who are accountable to the people they supposedly represent. This would ensure that the people’s needs and aspirations run parallel with those of ruling politicians.
It is the patriotic duty of conscientious citizens to help the country move forward in terms of government transparency and accountability, socio-economic progress, human rights and democracy. They’re expected to rise to the occasion when things go the opposite direction in the country.
Happy Malaysia Day!
Mustafa K Anuar
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
15 September 2015