If ever there was a clear case of overreaction, it was the official and media responses to the Janji Demokrasi gathering, observes Zaharom Nain.
At the rate this regime is going about dealing with its citizens, it could quite easily turn out to be the most despised one for a long, long time. There’s just no finesse, no class, in the way it handles things.
Granted, it is arguably an extension of previous regimes, but, at least with the one led for a long time by that doctor, there was no pretence at being a democracy.
With this Najib Abdul Razak pack, there’s constant bleating, especially by its media apparatchiks, about rakyat didahulukan (people first) and the accompanying mantra of ‘transparency’, ‘transformation’ and, of course, ‘reform’.
But, as we have seen, time and time again the regime does the exact opposite, riding roughshod over the requests of its citizens, bludgeoning many aside in a desperate attempt to cling on to power without integrity, without dignity.
The recent eve of Merdeka ‘celebrations’, such that it was, and the ongoing aftermath, provide us with a clear illustration of this.
Right from the get-go, it was quite clear that the regime was going to (ab)use the occasion. Government resources were utilised for endless idiotic logos, tired slogans and seemingly copycat songs that for many did not celebrate the spirit of Merdeka but merely served up crass propaganda for the BN regime.
Propaganda that was being paid for from public funds.
And when Malaysian civil society opted to organise its own celebrations – which essentially is what Janji Demokrasi was about, an invitation to celebrate Malaya’s independence while reminding the regime of its responsibilities – sadly and ironically, it was not provided that independence.
What, indeed, is the point of ‘enjoying’ 55 years of independence and apparent freedom if the rakyat is not allowed to freely gather and celebrate it? Unless, of course, they ‘apply for permission’ first to hold such a ‘freedom’ gathering or go along with the ‘officially-sanctioned’ celebrations.
Surely there’s a major contradiction there somewhere? A contradiction which I’m sure the so-called liberals in the regime, like Saifuddin Abdullah, Gan Ping Sieu and Khairy Jamaluddin are well aware of.
But, evidently, after being ‘advised’ about the need and wisdom of the amendments to the Evidence Act, this trio, and their less valiant colleagues in the BN corner, appear to have very little to say. The phrase, ‘cat got your tongue’ comes to mind.
Be that as it may, since that eve-of-independence celebration on the evening of Thursday, 30 August, the way that the mainstream media has been harping on about a couple of incidents, you would think that all hell had broken loose and that an attempted revolution had taken place.
If ever there was a clear case of overreaction, it was the official and media responses to Janji Demokrasi.
Catalogue of complaints
Let’s look at the catalogue of complaints, the list of transgressions. Yes, indeed, let’s see what the fuss is about.
Top of the list so far has been the silly mooning of photographs of the PM, his wife, and a couple of others by an exuberant young man.
Sure, it was rude. Granted, it was in very poor taste. But did he deserve being expelled from his college for this act of, at worst, tomfoolery?
It is reported that the higher education minister (no less) said that the decision was “appropriate since the action by the individual had tarnished the good name of the institute of higher learning”.
But, really, how serious was his indiscretion, as compared to the real crime of the rapist Noor Afizal Azizan who was recently released because, according to the judge, among other things, he has a ‘bright future’ ahead of him?
For heaven’s sake, the lad mooned a few photographs; he didn’t exactly attempt to physically sit on their faces.
Talk about getting our bearings, our priorities, all wrong.
Next was what seemed like an immediate nationwide hunt for a number of individuals allegedly caught on camera stomping on, yet again, the poor PM’s photo – and, I’m told, his beloved wife’s as well.
A young girl all the way in Johor was then arrested, cuffed like a common criminal, and driven all the way to KL to be charged, reportedly under the Sedition Act.
It would serve us well to remember that on 11 July this year, the PM had announced the repeal of the Sedition Act, to be replaced (but, of course) with the orchestra-sounding National Harmony Act.
Perhaps some people weren’t listening to the PM’s speeches, because, left and right, it would seem, Malaysian citizens – young and old – with no criminal record to speak of, are now being threatened with charges of sedition for stomping on photos, for flying flags and for reciting poetry.
No nationwide manhunt then
To take a step back, it would also serve us – and those who are supposed to represent us in making laws in Parliament – well to remember, that previously there were widely reported cases of groups of people urinating on Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s photograph, stomping on Lim Guan Eng’s portrait, and, I believe, doing equally despicable things to the photo of the BN’s Koh Tsu Koon.
And do you remember a nationwide manhunt being launched then? No, I didn’t think so.
But now, flying a different flag from the Jalur Gemilang, is being deemed seditious. And those who did this dastardly act are now being hunted down and condemned by, among others, officially approved ‘historians’.
Frankly, looking at the flag the authorities are now labelling a ‘threat’ to our way of life, it does look very much like the Umno flag. Perhaps the authorities are right, after all.
But, seriously, folks, one mooning incident? A few revellers stomping (accidentally perchance?) on some photographs? Some kids flying a flag that looks oddly familiar? And a 77-year-old national laureate reciting his gentle poem to a boisterous and noisy crowd that would have hardly heard him?
And you want to lock them all up, hoping to silence them?
At a time when you’ve got rapists walking free on our streets? Gangsters disrupting peaceful gatherings? Bags being snatched? Drug dealers offering home delivery service? Corrupt politicians openly fleecing the rakyat?
As the tennis great, John McEnroe, would put it: You cannot be serious.
Zaharom Nain, a long-time Aliran member, is an academic and media analyst based in Kuala Lumpur. This piece first appeared in Malaysiakini.