The Asian Voice

Disquiet over Malay rally: The Star

Supporters of pro-democracy group "Bersih" (Clean) shout slogans during a rally near Dataran Merdeka in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug 30, 2015.
Supporters of pro-democracy group "Bersih" (Clean) shout slogans during a rally near Dataran Merdeka in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug 30, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

The controversial 'Himpunan Maruah Melayu' being planned in the heart of Kuala Lumpur has, like the Bersih demonstration, gives rise to unease and anxiety among Malaysians.

Joceline Tan

The Star/Asia News Network

Terengganu personality Datuk Wan Albakri Mohd Noor will not be joining the Malay rally in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 16.

He claims he is too old and besides, he is against street demonstrations whether of the red or yellow kind.

"That is not the way to do things. It is not our culture," he said.

At the same time, he is of the view that the Himpunan Maruah Melayu (Malay dignity gathering) cannot be stopped after what happened during the Bersih 4 rally.

Like many Umno members, Wan Albakri, who is active in the Umno Veterans group, was furious after seeing images of protesters stepping on pictures of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang during the Bersih 4 demonstration.

He is not alone as many Malays who want to take part in the Sept 16 rally have singled out this particular incident as biadap (disrespectful), angkuh (arrogant) and other terms best not repeated here.

A picture, as they say, speaks a thousand words but this one appears to have angered thousands of Malays.

Stepping on images of political leaders is one thing but the symbolism of Chinese protesters stepping on pictures of two Malay leaders, one of whom is an ulama, was not lost on the Malays.

Photographs of some of the antics of the Bersih 4 protesters have been making the rounds in Malay chat groups on social media.

The debate has been fiery and everything is about to converge at the Malay rally.

The police have not given the green light but supporters of the event say that there should be no double standards.

The Bersih supporters have set a precedent on illegal rallies and the Malay groups intend to go ahead.

It will be another controversial event on yet another notable date in our national calender - Bersih 4 was staged on the eve of our National Day, while the Malay rally is happening on Malaysia Day.

Tit for tat is rarely a pleasant thing but it happens.

There is definitely a great deal of apprehension about the event. For a start, it is an overtly Malay gathering that will be marching through Bukit Bintang and Petaling Street, a commercial district largely populated by Chinese-owned businesses.

Critics of the rally have questioned why it is being held in an area associated with Chinese commerce, a move they claim to be clearly provocative and aimed to intimidate.

They say it will cause losses to businesses and fear among the community.

They ask why the rally is not being held in the Malay enclave of Kampung Baru.

Many shops are planning to close for the day.

One Chinese entrepreneur who owns two restaurants in downtown Kuala Lumpur is expecting another loss-making weekend.

His takings dropped by about RM70,000 (S$23,045) during the Bersih 4 weekend.

"The focus of Hari Malaysia should not be on race and the focus of the rally is race," said the businessman.

MCA president Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, who recently met with the trading community in Petaling Street, has voiced his opposition to the event.

"MCA's stand is clear. We disagree with a gathering that can only create chaos," he said, citing the Low Yat incident where a handphone theft became a racial issue.

To put it more bluntly, all it needs is one idiot doing something stupid for things to go wrong.

But defenders of the rally are unapologetic.

"One Bersih demo after another, we have been patient. The last Bersih protest was no longer about free and fair elections. They were out to topple the government, they brought brooms to sweep us out.

"I saw the slogans, pictures of them holding funeral rites for our president (Najib). What do you call that? Is that not provocation? I was angry," said Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.

He also slammed the "hypocrites" demanding that the Malay rally be held in Kampung Baru.

"Every Bersih rally has been in Kuala Lumpur. Why not Penang or Shah Alam where they are in power? They want to disrupt other places except their own states. They accuse us of not respecting Malaysia Day but they disrupted our Merdeka celebration. Please wait till the general election. If you win, you take over. If you lose, we stay on," said Faizal.

No single individual or group has come out to claim responsibility for organising the rally.

That has been the more mysterious side of the event although many fingers are pointed at Pesaka, the Malay martial arts or silat organisation headed by former Malacca Chief Minister Tan Sri Mohd Ali Rustam, as one of the prime movers.

There is no denying that Umno members will make up the bulk of the numbers on Sept 16. No one wants to says it out loud but the party is helping out in terms of funds and logistics.

Red t-shirts carrying the rally slogan and logo - a silhouette of a man in a silat pose with a songkok and keris - have been selling like hotcakes in the vicinity of the Umno PWTC headquarters.

Not all Umno leaders are for the rally. Several senior supreme council members are said to be troubled about its impact on the local economy and national image.

They are worried that something may go wrong and it will be blown up in the international media. At the same time, they can sense the dissatisfaction on the ground and they know that the rally can help defuse the pressure.

Several top Umno leaders have indicated party members will not be stopped from attending and that has been taken as the go-ahead.

Former Umno think-tank head Dr Azmi Omar said: "I don't feel the motivation. What are they trying to prove?"

Zakhir Mohamed, the Malay right-wing blogger also known as "Bigdog", is also against the rally.

"Umno is the ruling party. It does not need this mob mentality. A weekend of shouting, littering and causing inconvenience is not the answer to the future," he said.

Former Bukit Bintang Umno Youth chief Datuk Tengku Azman Zainal Abidin was initially in two minds about the rally.

But he said Umno members down the line are convinced that Bersih has evolved into a movement to overthrow the Umno-led government.

"Our members want to voice their frustration and defend their place in politics," he said.

Pasir Salak Umno Youth chief Dr Faizal Tajuddin was also in a dilemma about the rally.

"Some of my friends think it is a knee-jerk response but politics is a game of numbers. There is a need to show our strength, to show the other side that we can assemble our supporters. But I am appealing to everyone to observe the law and not to go overboard," he said.

Like the Bersih crowd, the Red Shirts, as the Malay rally supporters are known, will be going because of a mixed bag of reasons and objectives.

Many will be there to show that the Malays are united. Size matters in politics and it will be a Malay show of force for them. The battle cry in Malay social media groups is that they must come out to defend their religion and their race.

For the ultra Malays, the rally is about Malay rights and pride.

The Umno crowd will be there to defend their hold on power.

They realised that when the protesters at Bersih 4 went for Najib, it was also a strike at Umno.

The political parties that support Bersih know that they need to bring down Umno if they want to take over Putrajaya.

Thus, if Umno members turn up in a big way, it is to send the message that they have numbers and will still be the government after the next general election.

The Malay psychology is such that they are more inclined towards the party that is likely to be in power.

In that sense, the rally is also about telling the average Malay all over the country: "You'd better stick with us, we are going to win the next general election."

According to a Malay intellectual from Kota Baru, it is quite tragic that Malaysian politics has come to this.

"I flex my muscles, you flex your muscles. When is it going to end? What happened to the politics of hope?" he said.

Can the Malay rally organisers produce the numbers given that PAS has declared that it will not be participating?

Everyone saw what happened when PAS boycotted Bersih 4.

It became a Chinese-dominated show, although a DAP leader declared that he saw 20 per cent Malays on the first day of Bersih 4 and 40 per cent Malays on the second day.

He not only needs to check his eyes, he needs to have his head examined as well.

So will the Malay rally be a case of big talk and small numbers?

There have been more than a few occasions when Malay groups have pledged to bring out the crowd but failed to deliver. For instance, Perkasa boasted it would hold a one million-strong rally after one of the Bersih affairs but could hardly muster 5,000 people.

A lot is at stake, especially for Umno. A poor turnout on Sept 16 would be a major loss of face and damage Umno.

Will the red shirts have the staying power of the yellow shirts? Can they brave the heat to stay on the streets from noon till midnight or will they wilt after a few hours?

Will it be a red sea flowing through downtown Kuala Lumpur or will it be a red trickle?