Dataran Merdeka is symbolic. It is our metaphorical Berlin Wall and its significance cannot be exaggerated.
Umno Baru leaders and the police have refused to allow the use of Dataran Merdeka for the ‘Black 505’ rally in Kuala Lumpur on June 15.
Etched in the memories of older Malaysians is the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the Malayan flag at midnight, at the Selangor Club padang as Dataran Merdeka was then known. The younger generation would have learnt about its historical role.
When the 154.5km Berlin Wall – a concrete structure built by the East Germans to divide the east from the west – came down, the city of Berlin was reunited, communist rule in eastern Europe fell and the process of re-unification of East and West Germany started.
If the opposition coalition were to hold this rally at Dataran Merdeka, it would score a great moral victory, just as Bersih did. The violence during the Bersih 3.0 rally was perpetrated by the police. A weak regime is one which does not know how to use arguments and discussion as weapons, but resorts to violence.
If the place that is connected with Merdeka and the Tunku were to become the focal point for the ‘Black 505’ rally, attention would be focused on the reasons for the rally, and Umno-Baru would be forever linked with cheating in elections. Umno-Baru is desperate to deny the opposition the publicity.
A common tactic of Umno-Baru is to give the rally organisers the runaround. Even when Umno-Baru lies, it fails to do it with a concerted effort. When the opposition coalition applied to use Padang Merbok as an alternative venue, the Dang Wangi district police chief Zainuddin Ahmad claimed that another event was scheduled to take place there.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar claimed that the opposition’s application was incomplete, while Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor claimed that indoor venues and closed spaces, like stadiums, would be more suitable.
He said: “…..But to me, Padang Merbok is an open space… when it comes to open spaces, we will not give (our permission) because we know the law and abide by it.”
If Tengku Adnan claims to be well-versed with the law and would happily abide by it, what explanations can he give for alleged widespread electoral fraud and cheating during GE13?
How does he explain the money politics which is synonymous with his party Umno-Baru? Can he account for the increasing acts of police brutality which suggest that police personnel are breaking the law and getting away with murder?
Don’t expect reform
Some of you may disagree with street protests but only the naïve would think that GE14 could be the solution. The electoral boundaries are being skewed in Umno Baru’s favour by the Election Commission (EC), even as you read this. Umno Baru and the EC will never negotiate or reform.
How much longer have the marginalised Indians to suffer? How many more election promises will their self-appointed leaders be taken in by? This minority government promised that they would implement many reforms before GE13 if elected; but after the election, they say the implementation will take five years.
In GE11, the EC made a last minute claim that the indelible ink would prevent Muslims from performing their prayers.
In GE12, the EC claimed that there was a national security scare and certain parties were planning to sabotage the elections by marking the fingers of people before they could vote. It was claimed that several people had been arrested while trying to smuggle election ink into Malaysia.
In GE13, the EC diluted the ink, saying it could be harmful.
In GE14, the EC will be just as creative.
It is ironic that, in 2010, Najib Abdul Razak had warned delegates at the BN convention, held in Wisma MCA, that the opposition coalition was attempting to take over Putrajaya and that the federal government had to be protected from the greedy and the power crazy.
He said: “BN is a responsible coalition. You can place your hopes and trust in us. The people can trust us to do not only what is right, but what is in their best interests.”
Around the world, repressive regimes have been toppled by non-violent civil resistance movements – Chile, Poland, South Africa, the Philippines. Armed resistance is not the answer, as military training and the supply of weapons is expensive. Nor should we expect foreign countries to intervene; they have to protect their own interests.
Only we can help ourselves. This sham Malaysian democracy can expect more marches and more resistance from the rakyat.
If Najib continues to exploit the rakyat, it is possible that even the police and security personnel will shift their allegiance and loyalty, as happened in Egypt.
In the current economic climate, the rakyat is forced to tighten its belt further. Graduates are finding it more difficult to get jobs, unlike politicians’ children who are given choice appointments or who become directors of companies with a paid-up capital of RM2, which receive multi-million ringgit government contracts.
Young adults cannot afford to live away from home. Skilled workers are refused employment, as foreign workers, both legal and illegal, are cheaper.
Symbols of oppression
As living conditions become more intolerable, NGOs, human rights activists, students, opposition politicians, religious organisations and the rakyat will unite as one movement against oppression.
Najib can arrest a few such as Adam Adli, Haris Ibrahim, Tian Chua, Safwan Anang or Tamrin Ghafar, but more leaders will emerge.
Thirty-nine years ago, the education minister who gagged our academia and students with the Universities and University Colleges Act was Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Today, Najib will attempt to do the same.
In the Tunisian uprising, Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself, when the police stopped him from making a living as a street pedlar to feed his family. He became the symbol of the Jasmine revolution.
In the recent protests in Turkey, ‘The Woman in Red’ whose face was sprayed with tear-gas has become a global symbol of police brutality and oppression. The demonstrations, which began as a protest against the redevelopment of a park, have escalated into public fury against the creeping Islamicisation and the increasing authoritarian rule of the government.
In Malaysia, we are not short of symbols of oppression. Two National Union of Bank Employee (Nube) officials, vice-president Abdul Jamil Jalaludeen from Pulau Tikus, Penang and general treasurer Chen Ka Fatt, from Ipoh Garden in Ipoh, were sacked from Maybank because they made a stand against its treatment of workers.
In the late 1970s, as Minister for Trade and Industry, Mahathir clipped the power of unions.
Today, Najib honours Abdul Wahid Omar, who was CEO of Maybank, by making him a minister in the PM’s Department.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may order a crackdown on activists and opposition leaders. In doing so, he will only unleash a more determined rakyat who will retaliate with more marches, boycotts and strikes.
Najib may try to prevent the rakyat and the ‘Black 505′ rally from entering Dataran Merdeka, but he cannot curb our resolve to fight oppression. Perhaps, we should occupy Dataran Merdeka, our metaphorical Berlin Wall.
Najib may surround Dataran Merdeka with razor wire, but he cannot imprison our minds.
By Mariam Mokhtar.