Ch’ng Teng Liang looks at the motive of those who demonstrated against the Penang state governent on 5 February, ostensibly in defence of Malay illegal hawkers.
I am amused but also feel worried to witness the recent demonstration carried out by a group of angry protestors, mostly youngsters in yellow T-shirts, who set fire to a huge cardboard effigy of the Penang Chief Minister on Friday, 5 February 2010.
The protestors, gathered under the name of Gabungan Melayu Sedaq, said to comprise more than 30 NGOs, had wanted to hand to the CM a memorandum highlighting perceived discrimination and oppression of Malays by the state government. The memo demanded that the Penang state government should cease all action against illegal Malay stalls and pay compensation to the affected stall owners instead. It further called on the Penang government to develop a blueprint to solve the problems of Malays in other sectors who have allegedly been side-lined. When the demonstrators failed to meet the CM in person, they turned angry and hurled racist accusations, before burning the effigy of the CM.
This scene reminded me of a similar episode which occurred at the same place, a week after the 8 March 2008 General Election. It was also on a Friday afternoon that the state Umon leaders led hundreds of their supporters to gather at the Komtar state administration centre to protest against the newly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government that had allegedly shown “disrespect to the Malays” and “attempted to abolish the NEP”.
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But the people knew well that it was a political ploy. For the BN had been soundly defeated in the 8 March general election. Consequently, the vested interest and privileges that the BN leaders had enjoyed for half a century were being threatened. Their motive was clear: they were out to destabilise the new PR state government. Hence they resorted to disseminating all kinds of misleading information to instigate their supporters to create social disorder, perhaps hoping that they could thereby overthrow the elected PR coalition government.
It is no surprise that the racist and arrogant leaders of the former BN state government are resorting to the same old tricks and tactics today, except that the demonstration is being conducted under a different banner. But the abusive language, the racist remarks, the seditious slogans and the extremist behaviour of the demonstrators must have created fear and confusion among the common folk. Yet it was portrayed in some Malay printed and electronic media as a ‘peaceful demonstration’, purportedly to highlight the oppression of the Malays by the PR state government. But we know who controls this mainstream media anyway.
The PR Penang state government has responded with a statement denying that they have victimised Malay illegal hawkers. The information they provided clarified that the enforcement officers had also acted against non-Malay illegal hawkers; in fact, most of those affected were non-Malays. However, by bothering to clarify the matter in this manner, the PR state government is in danger of falling into a racist trap propagated by the Sedaq group. The issue, I suggest, should have first been addressed as a ‘law and order’ one. If Sedaq is truly sincere in fighting for the rights of the poor Malay petty traders and hawkers, it should have pursued the matter through the proper channels, armed with facts and figures, and argued their case legitimately. In fact, if they are truly concerned about the plight of the downtrodden, how come they did not speak on behalf of all hawkers, regardless of ethnic background.
Finally, it is regretful to note that although the demonstrators resorted to abusive and racist language, burned an effigy of the chief minister and generally resorted to unlawful behaviour, we do not know whether the enforcement authorities have acted to charge them for breaking the law!.
In the event, the eyes and minds of voters are clear. Sound-minded people can feel worried but cannot be threatened. The wicked and crooked can create fear but cannot cow the people.
Ch’ng Teng Liang is an Aliran executive member