The Asian Voice

Protest not for protest's sake: The Star

A protester waving a Malaysian flag during the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 30.
A protester waving a Malaysian flag during the Bersih 4 rally in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 30. PHOTO: EPA

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) On Aug 29, Malaysians proved something very important - that it is possible to come together in common cause and do it peacefully. No more can we believe anyone who says that any gathering of more than five people is bound to be disorderly and violent.

Bersih 4 proved that people can be disciplined and orderly in big crowds. They obeyed instructions not to breach the barriers at Dataran Merdeka and they cleaned up afterwards.

In between they marched, they put up posters to express their feelings about current issues, they made and listened to speeches, they sang, they camped out and they ate. And they did all this peacefully, in great camaraderie with one another.

This time, I could not be in the country to join my fellow citizens in protest. Instead, I joined some 1,000 Malaysians in London on the same day to demonstrate for the same cause.

We started off in front of our High Commission where people held up banners and posters and listened to a few speeches, waved at High Commission officials and then walked to Whitehall where we stopped near Downing Street, before ending up at Trafalgar Square where we sang NegaraKu in the rain.

There were only two policemen watching over us, which again proved that we don't need a big police presence to ensure that we behaved.

In some 40 cities all over the world, Malaysians gathered for Bersih, all without incident. It just goes to show that violence at protests are not caused by protesters but by the use of tear gas and water cannons. We have to commend the police for realising this simple fact this time.

Now, there is talk of a counter-rally, which has already been declared illegal but which insists, like Bersih, to carry on anyway. I am all for freedom of speech so generally, no matter how despicable, I would not stop anyone from expressing their opinions.

The trouble is I have a problem trying to figure out what the so-called Red Shirts stand for. They seem to want to protest for the sake of protesting against protesters, specifically Bersih protesters. But while we are clear about the issues that Bersih espouses, we don't really know what the Red Shirts are spoiling for a fight for.

I suppose it's fair to assume that since the Red Shirt rally is anti-Bersih, then they must want all the opposite of whatever Bersih's 200,000 participants want. Let's look at what these are:

Bersih wants free and fair elections. I suppose the Red Shirts must therefore want unfree and unfair elections, possibly the only way any of them can hold any public position. If they were fluent in English, I would recommend their slogan be "Stack the Deck".

Secondly, Bersih 4 is demanding for a clean government. It must therefore mean that the Red Shirts are demanding for a dirty government, one in which money decides everything from whoever gets to govern to what policies and laws are made. I wonder how many Reds actually think they will have a say in any government policies, given that few of them are likely to be millionaires. Millionaires don't need BR1M (1Malaysia People's Aid programme).

Speaking of which, Bersih 4's third demand is for action to save our economy. As our ringgit plummets to depths never seen before and everything becomes extremely expensive for us, obviously we need to see concrete moves being taken to ensure that we don't become relegated to "least developed country" status.

But since the Red Shirts are taking issue with Bersih, I must assume that they won't mind if our country descends to a level at par with some of the poorest countries in the world. Maybe they hope to go abroad to find work like some of our neighbours.

Fourthly, Bersih 4 is demanding for the right to dissent. This means the right to disagree, respectfully, with anyone, including the Government. Since the Red Shirts are already exercising their right to disagree with Bersih, they really should not have any problems with this demand. However, I do think that the right to dissent means having a vocabulary that contains more than one word - "stupid" - to describe those you don't like.

So, on Sept 16, the Red Shirts would like to emulate Bersih by having their own "illegal" rally on a day meant to celebrate our unity in diversity. I don't know how the Reds intend to express diversity since thus far they have looked monoracial and monogendered. And unity with yourself doesn't really count for much.

Perhaps on Malaysia Day, we should all just stay home and watch the breaking-bricks-with-your-head display from afar. Or attend other fun events elsewhere. They can bring their own food and drink from home. And let's see if they'll clean up afterwards.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.