18 January 2013
AS I was sitting in Merdeka Stadium on Saturday with a couple of friends, watching the venerable old lady of independence fill up with people, I playfully wondered if photographers from the mainstream media had been there earlier to take a photo of an empty stadium to be used as “evidence” that no one turned up.
Well, they did not do that, but the spinning of the event was only slightly less repulsive than my imagination.
Amongst the English language papers, the most generous coverage reported on how it was a peaceful rally. Little or nothing was said about the implications of this rally and much was said about how wonderful the police were.
Let me talk about the second point first.
A question that struck me is this: what was the difference between the Jan 12 rally and the ones before? Well, the answer I came up with is that in the past, trouble only occurred when the police did not allow people to gather peacefully.
In other words, I do not think that Malaysians are inclined to riot and do damaging things. It is only when heavy-handed tactics are used that things get out of hand. If you can call people running for their lives choking on tear gas “out of hand”.
January 12 has shown up the government to be the paranoid bully boy that it is. Cooking up excuses to prevent peaceful gatherings and then taking such drastic measures that it appears that their self-fulfilling prophecies have come true.
The people of this country are by and large peace loving and when left to their own devices are not going to get up to mischief.
And please spare me the smug comments about how Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s wonderful Peaceful Assembly Act is the reason the rally went so well. The Act was in place when the participants of Bersih 3 got gassed and beaten.
The reason why the rally was peaceful is because the police was peaceful.
The other point that was not covered by the mainstream press is the implications of this rally.
The one theme that I gathered from the speeches of the majority of non-political party speakers was that the time for taking a neutral stance is over.
The clarion call was very clear, from the labour movement, the student movement, the orang asli network, the socially marginalised, the mother tongue educationists; it is time to change government if things are to improve.
And judging by the size of the crowd, only the most delusional will come to the conclusion that this rally is not a clear sign that this call for change has very broad support.
The time for such mega rallies is now surely over; at least for the moment. People have lives to lead and it does take a lot of time, resources and energy for the organisers as well as the participants for such things. It is now time to do the talking via the ballot box.
If Pakatan Rakyat has any sense they will build on the momentum of this gathering, get their act together and go all out in pushing forward their vision of the future of this country and how they are the best people not to just defeat BN; but to lead.