Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mass Rallies and Roadblocks

It is disturbing to see the recent turn of events, mass rallies under different banners and different causes, happening in the modern capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Scenes glimpsed on Al-Jazeera showed congregation of people (mostly Indians) under the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers today and of Masjid Jamek a few weeks ago. While I do not subscribe to the philosophies that brought about these two events, it is a point to ruminate what has caused such popular protests to occur after nearly decades of peace and tranquility, not since May 13 has such occurrences been recorded and that was way before I was even born. Is this a spontaneous and freak event that only represent a minority of the populace of the 20 odd million Malaysians or it is symptomatic of far deadlier undercurrents that has been seething and boiling under the collective Malaysian population only to manifest at present?

What was far more innocuous and ominous was how the government decided to react to such popular discontent. The government practically took Kuala Lumpur hostage by restricting movement into the city center via a network of roadblocks that effectively brought KL to a standstill. Statements have been given that this was to ensure troublemakers were kept out and for the general safety of the public but unspoken was the point that this stance was to show that the government has the power to effectively curtail popular discontent and has no qualms to use tough measures to chastise and strong arm any opposition. Most of the majority of people not affiliated to both rallies were practically caught in jams, businesses were unable to function and the city halted to a standstill. I was caught for 2 hours along the Puchong - Sunway stretch of the LDP in what amounted to only a 2km stretch during the BERSIH rally. Its a strong message to equate the sort of punishment that the local populace can expect if other rallies were to occur and to blame the inconveniences to the illegal organisers rather than governmental sanction to carry out roadblocks and checks. It was scary to have seen targeted roadblocks even as far as Sg Pelek near Bagan Lalang yesterday in the estate areas where Indians were stopped and questioned.

More disconcerting was the use of chemical agents, water cannons and tear gases to disperse the crowds. KL towers literally turned into a battlefield I once thought would only happen in countries outside Malaysia and the picture is a grim one. It lead me to think how can so many people be so disenchanted with the current government lead by Badawi to the point that they would openly defy police orders and risk bodily harm and arrests for a belief that they hold? We all know that no permits would be given out and that mass gatherings are not allowed but as there are no other forums and outlets to voice minority discontent and to show displeasure at policies, is there any other form of protest other than illegal rallies? Using the Federal Reserve Units and crowd control measures would only strengthen the resolve of those gathering and leads to even rasher actions by people who already feel that they have been pushed to a corner.

Thus I do not know who is to blame for the events of this month, is the government doing enough to address the issues facing a multinational and multiracial population in the wake of a strengthening of a Malay domination or is it the 'troublemakers' who cause 'loss of income', 'disruption of harmony' and 'scare off investors'? I believe the Barisan government lead by UMNO will have to reevaluate the current situation to work out a new formula to ensure parity and equality to all irregardless of race or religion instead of harping on the agreement ironed out by our founding fathers as the situation at present is far different from 50 years ago and would require different approaches to resolve the grouses and problems. I pray that KL will see a return to normalcy soon and that cooler heads and more rational thoughts prevail for the good of all Malaysians.

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