Despite the BN’s best efforts, the demonstration actually caught the nation’s attention: many could see there are still thousands of Malaysians who want the ISA abolished, observes CY.
The Star on 2 August 2009 carried a banner headline: “Lockdown in the city” followed by a tag-line: “Street protest a senseless move, says Prime Minister.” The news denounced as “unnecessary” the 1 August anti-ISA demonstration in Kuala Lumpur. How was the demonstration portrayed? First of all, under the rubric of people’s welfare, the demonstration apparently caused traffic jams that impaired the normal life of the people. Shops were closed, streets were blocked by FRUs trucks and police personnel, and thus Kuala Lumpur was “locked-down”. People’s normal livelihoods were affected.
According to the government, it was an “unnecessary” move because the (BN) government had promised to review the ISA in due course (i.e. in the next session of Parliament). The MCA echoed the review and suggested that it would propose to enact new legislation to replace the ISA (The Star, 2 August 2009). Umno’s Nazri Aziz, also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, stated that the government would consider halving the 60-day detention period. He, however, continued to reiterate that the ISA is a “necessary law” to ensure kestabilan negara (national security) (The Star, 2 August 2009).
Such selection of words like “necessity” was propagated on television (RTM 1) even a few days before the demonstration. Common citizens or the rakyat were interviewed to seek their opinion on the ISA. More precisely, they were asked if they thought the ISA is necessary. Unsurprisingly, almost all those interviewed felt the ISA remains necessary. Why? To maintain kestabilan negara and keamanan hidup rakyat. (people’s stable’s livelihood).
The demonstration was also pictured as “chaotic” and caused by opposition leaders. Reporting focused on the number of people arrested, especially the opposition leaders; the manner and the methods used by the police force and FRU to clamp down on the demonstration. Eventually, the demonstration was portrayed as a failure for the protesters were not able to submit a memorandum to the Istana. In a nutshell, the anti-ISA demonstration was portrayed as an ‘illegal’ and ‘unnecessary’ action.
We are not surprised that the mainstream media such as The Star and RTM1 propagated the state’s rhetoric in the name of kestabilan and the rakyat. But we must not forget that despite the 2008 election and several by-elections, the campaign for the BN’s political comeback is still ongoing. The clampdown on the anti-ISA rally was just another sign that indicates the BN is still engaging in its old politics – a politics to determine what is “necessary” and what is not “necessary” in the life of this country. The strategy is through the construction of a sense of unitary one-ness and uniformity of purpose: One nation, one people, and one Malaysia. To achieve this, it is thus “necessary” to crack down on all the “unnecessary” alternative voices of the people. The ISA is the precise political tool that allows it do so.
Still, despite the BN’s best efforts, the demonstration actually caught the nation’s attention: many could see there are still thousands of Malaysians who want the ISA abolished. Hence, whether the memorandum was successfully sent to the Istana is now not anymore the issue. Instead, the gathering of thousands of people to show their desire that the ISA be abolished is all that matters. It is going to be a tough and long fight, but it is a necessary fight for those wanting to build a new Malaysia free from authoritarian government and repressive laws.