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Archive for May 6th, 2012

On the eve of Bersih 3.0, my husband and I took the LRT to Masjid Jamek, near Dataran Merdeka, the venue for the sit-in protest. We arrived there around 10.05 p.m. Even from the station we could see a huge crowd of people already at Jalan Tun Perak for the countdown to the biggest rally in the history of modern Malaysia.

About two to three thousand people were on that street that night. Some were standing around; others were sitting on the roadside. Occasionally they broke into “Negaraku” and “Rasa Sayang” followed by shouting of “Bersih, Bersih” and “Hidup Rakyat.” The famous Uncle Saw was seen busy reciting patriotic poems to the delights of those present. He got rounds and rounds of applause from the appreciative crowd that milled around him.

Scores of vehicles driving past that stretch of road honked loudly in support. The atmosphere was simply electrifying – people of all races, ages and sizes came together simply for one cause – to demand a clean and fair election. It was like a carnival, a happy gathering of sorts. Everyone was having a good time.

“I think Bersih 3.0 had already started,” my husband said excitedly as he began clicking away with his camera. Yes, he was right. Bersih 3.0 had indeed started that night itself. The people were impatient and restless. They could not wait any longer. You could feel the pulsating mood on the ground. You have to be there to feel it – their anger and frustrations with the authorities; their hopes and dreams for this country.

We pushed and shoved our way towards the iconic square only to find it was completely barricaded by barbed wires and hundreds of policemen guarded the place with stone faces. Many people took pictures of the barricaded square; some were seen pointing at the wires with comical expressions and also at the policemen while posing for the camera, a gesture to show how absurd things had come to.

While my husband was busy taking photos of the crowd, I strolled to the pavement near the LRT station to chat up with my fellow Malaysians to find out what brought them out into the streets.

I saw a Malay family – an old man in his seventies, his wife, their three grown up children and two elderly female relatives sitting closely together on a straw mat and eating prawn crackers. They looked friendly and humble but tired. They conversed in a dialect which I could not understand much but luckily the old man’s son could speak in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language, and it was through him that I managed to communicate with his aged father.

Me: Pakcik (uncle), where are you and your family from?

He: From the state of Kelantan (he gave me a toothless grin and offered me a piece of the snack which I accepted).

Me: When did you arrive in Kuala Lumpur?

He: This evening. We took a bus from Kota Baru but it was blocked several times, that’s why we arrived here late.

Me: Are you all going to spend the night here at this pavement?

He: Yes, it’s expensive to stay in the hotel. There are seven of us and we’ll need two rooms. We’ve already spent a few hundred of ringgit on the bus fare and food, so I thought we should save on the accommodation, anyway it’s only for one night.

Me: What do you do for a livelihood?

He: Oh, I’m just a fisherman and my wife is a vegetable seller (pointing to his wife who nodded and smiled shyly at me).

Me: How about the rest – who are they?                               

He: They are my children and my wife’s sisters.

Me: What makes you and your family came all the way from Kelantan to Kuala Lumpur to take part in Bersih 3.0?

He: Last year we checked and found out that my wife’s name was missing from the voter’s list, later we were told that her name was transferred to Gombak constituency in Selangor. We complained but until today, nothing was done to correct the mistake. So, we all came to show our displeasure (his tone getting angry now).

Me: How about the rest of your family, are they affected too?

He: Yes, her sister’s name was gone and until today, it could not be located. So she came along.

Me: Is this the first time for you all? Aren’t you afraid of the tear gas and water cannon?

He: Yes, this is our first Bersih and no, we’re not afraid. If they want to shoot us with tear gas and water cannon, shoot lah! (he pointed angrily at the policemen).

This family was from a rural village, yet they are very protective of their voting rights. To them, their votes are not just a piece of blank paper but their voices of approval or disapproval of how the country was run. Bravo Pakcik and family!

Next, I spoke to a middle-aged Malay couple who were sitting under a tree just in front of the barbed wire with the policemen staring hard at them. Both were wearing the yellow Bersih T-shirts completed with head bands. They were even holding yellow colored Angry Bird balloons.

Me: Encik (mister), where are you both from?

She: Kajang (smiling and showing me their yellow balloons)

Me: Are you going home tonight or are you going to sit here until day-break?

He: We’ll stay here. We’re afraid we could not get any public transport tomorrow to come here again.

Me: What inspired you both to come for this rally?

She: We wanted a clean and fair election; it’s for our country and our grandchildren.

Me: Are you both still working?

She: No, we’ve both retired recently. Our pension is very little. It’s very difficult to survive now – the prices of things had gone up. It is hard even to pay the utility bills. We eat simple meals every day and here, our first lady went overseas shopping for luxury items. This is not fair! (by now she looked very angry indeed).

Me: Is this your first Bersih?

He: No, our second. We came out last year for Bersih 2.0.

Me: Are you afraid of being gassed, beaten or arrested?

He: Of course we feared being hurt but no choice, we still have to come out (his wife smiled and nodded in agreement).

This couple came out because they are not satisfied with their daily life, struggling on a mere pension while the elite and powerful lead lavish lifestyles. Can you blame her for being so angry? She finds it hard to pay her utility bills while the wife of the present prime minister shops like a queen or billionaire.

However, two days after Bersih 3.0, I meet two persons with different sets of mentality.

Eugene was a dental student at the university hospital where I was getting a dental treatment.

Me: Eugene, did you go for Bersih 3.0?

He: No, I’m not interested in such things (smiled innocently at me).

Me: Where were you on 28th April 2012?

He: I’m at my hostel in Kampung Baru, near Dataran Merdeka and I dare not go out on that day.

Me: So where did you read or heard about this rally?

He: I read the Star and listen to news from TV3. The protesters are real hooligans, they started the violence first, that’s what the news said (my heart goes out to him. He got news from the wrong sources!)

Me: Eugene, you should go, and then you will know who is telling the truth and who is lying. By the way, have you registered as a voter yet?

He: No, not yet, I’m 24 only! One person less makes no difference.

Me: You should register once you reached 21and take part in determining your future in this country! (he laughed but did not speak anymore. He looked very ignorant to me).

He: My parents vote. That’s enough.

Me: Did you take the PTPTN loan?

He: Yes, and I have to repay with 1% interest, I think it’s fair.

Me: Fair? Malaysia is an oil-producing country. We are so rich in black gold and just like Brunei; we should get free education from kindergarten to university level!

He: Really? Is that possible?

Me: Of course, if we plan and spend wisely. Do you mind paying so much for your tertiary education?

He: No. My parents are both secondary school teachers and they could easily afford it.

Me: How about the rest of your course mates, they are paying higher interest if their parents are not government servants, right?

He: Yes, but I don’t care. It’s their business.

Eugene is 24 and going to graduate as a trainee dentist soon but he was so naïve about his rights. Sadder still, he was perfectly happy with the way things were, unlike those young people on the streets on 28th April 2012.

Later in the evening I met another Malaysian. He was a Malay taxi driver, waiting for his son to be dismissed from class. Sometimes I chatted with him as his son and my daughter were school-mates.

Me: Encik (mister), did you take part in Bersih 3.0

He: No, it is stupid and foolish to do so! (looking irritated)

Me: Why did you think like that?

He: I have enough to eat. I can easily earn about RM45 a day. I stayed in a government flat. My son can go to school. So what’s more should I ask for?

So, he was satisfied with life, it seems. Earning RM1, 350 a month, staying in a cramped government flat and seeing his son got a basic education is enough for him. When you demand very little, you will get very little; when you demand more, you will get more. No wonder he does not want to come out to demand more because he was truly satisfied with what little that he already has.

Back to our fourth prime minister, according to the media, he accused this rally was organized by Anwar Ibrahim, the country’s top opposition leader. MM was at his most Machiavellian self, denying the truth again. No, we are not doing it for Anwar or anybody else. Why 250,000 people should come out to the streets under the hot sun for hours and got gassed and sprayed for one man’s sake? Some even got beaten up and arrested. We have better things to do than this. It is for us, the country and the future generation. Why is it so hard to understand? He was a medical doctor and a seasoned politician, not a mental retard, so he better soak up the message, whether he like it or not. Even his own daughter Marina came out too, surely she did not do it for her dad’s worst enemy, did she?

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