Today is Malaysia’s national day. I posted about Singapore’s national day in my previous post so today I shall post about Malaysia’s national day. Technically Malaysia celebrates 2 national days. Merdeka day which is the day that peninsular Malaysia obtained its independence from the British in 1957. This “country” was known as the Federation of Malaya, or simply Malaya, made up of the 11 states on the peninsular. Later on the 6th anniversary of Merdeka day in 1961, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore were to form into a new country, the Federation of Malaysia. This was postponed to 16 September due to Indonesia and Philippines opposing the Federation. Since then Malaysia Day is celebrated on 16 September 1961.
Hence the 2 national days, one for independence from British rule and one for the formation of Malaysia with North Boreno (now know as Sabah) and Sarawak. Singapore was kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 and is the only country in the world to obtain independence against their will.
In Singapore, on their national day, people are out celebrating, going to the parade and enjoying the national holiday. In Malaysia this year it is entirely different, people go out and protest, occupy the streets and demonstrate, a stark contrast indeed.
This Merdeka Day, saw protesters rallying and demonstrating as part of Bersih 4. Bersih in Malay means “clean”. It is a coalition of non governmental organisations which seek to reform the electoral system to ensure a free, clean and fair elections.
The first rally was held on 10 November 2007. Participants were encouraged to wear yellow as a sign of protest and join the demonstration in KL around Dataran Medeka (Independence Square) and the Istana Negara (The National Palace). It was declared illegal by the Malaysian police and they refused to issue a permit for the rally. Tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons were used to disperse the rally by riot police and 245 people were arrested.
In mind of the upcoming 13th Malaysia general elections due in 2012, Bersih 2.0 rally was held on 9 July 2011. It was held in many countries overseas as well. I remember I was in London when my friends asked me to join them in protesting outside the Malaysian embassy and wearing yellow. Again this was deemed illegal (in Malaysia, the London protest was uneventful) and the riot police were deployed using tear gas and water cannons again to break up the protest and this time arresting 1,667 people. In response, the Malaysian government set up a committee to recommend changes to improve the electoral system.
The committee released their report in April 2012. Bersih was unsatisfied with the committee’s recommendations and on 28 April 2012 Bersih 3.0 was held. It was a sit down protest with protesters occupying the roads in Kuala Lumpur, Bersih 3.0 was also again held around the world (I was there in London also). The same tactics were used again by the police and the courts deeming it illegal and water cannons and tear gas were used again. This time 512 people were arrested.
The elections were held in 2013 and the ruling party again won the elections, but this time without their usual 2/3rd majority. There were again the same accusations by the opposition and non-governmental organisations that the incumbent government had cheated its way to another election victory. Accusations such as the government granting citizenship to foreign workers for them to vote the incumbent back into power, the government flying in and chartering buses for these workers to go to the polling stations to vote and bribing locals to vote for them. There were a series of rallies held but not considered a Bersih rally.
This year Malaysia government is engulfed in a corruption scandal where the prime minister is accused of appropriating funds from a governmental fund (1Malaysia Development Board) for his own personal use. The governmental fund reported huge losses and RM2.6 billion ringgit was found in his own personal bank account. When pressed, the Malaysian Prime Minister stated that this RM2.6 billion was a donation to him from a private Saudi individual.
I kid you not, this is the best excuse the PM could come up with, as someone who works in finance and a “World Class Bank”, I can tell you that if money magically appears in your bank account, especially such a large sum, it would trigger Anti Money Laundering flags and reports would have to be written by the receiving bank, the national Bank (Bank Negara) would have to be alerted and there would be a long paper trail to identify the reason for the transfer. All this would have to be disclosed and everything would have to be above board. Magically, none of this occurred for this “donation” and the national Bank has kept silent about this and left it to the governmental committee set up to investigate this.
During the governmental committee’s investigation, the Prime minister fired the attorney general and many other workers who are involved in this investigation, he also fired the deputy prime minister and reshuffled the cabinet. One must wonder what on earth he is actually thinking.
This then brings me to Bersih 4.0. Held over this weekend before Merdeka Day. Prior to this, as Bersih 4.0 was announced and details made public, a new group calling themselves Anti-Bersih sporting red shirts (reminiscent of the yellow-shirt red-shirt conflicts in Thailand) held public demonstrations. They claim to be against Bersih and were readily themselves to counter protest and clash with Bersih. They were not afraid to use violence and had practiced with weapons. Thankfully they decided at the last minute not to clash with Bersih 4.0 and instead hold their own rally at another time.
Since Bersih is a rally for clean and fair elections in Malaysia, one must really wonder what these Anti-Bersih protestors are protesting about. It is also very stark in the racial makeup of these two camps. The yellow shirt Bersih tends to be made up predominantly of Chinese while the red shirt Anti-Bersih are made up of Malays. The ruling party is known widely to pander to the Malays who make up 60% of the population. There are policies which cater exclusively to Malays such as a Malay quota for jobs, universities and even housing. Many businesses in Malaysia have token Malays on the board to fulfill the quota and many businesses are entirely owned by Malays in name while being run by the Chinese due to the many policies by the government.
Bersih 4.0 came and passed this time being mostly peaceful, the police were on standby but did not use their normal tactics of water cannons and tear gas but instead were watching it closely. However some 13 people were poisoned as cartons of drinks were left in the rally area with a sign telling people to take one “in support of Bersih”. However these cartons had puncture marks on them and people who drank were subject to stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea.
Other than this, Bersih 4.0 was uneventful, with no tear gas or water cannons, despite being once again declared illegal. Even wearing the Bersih 4 shirts was declared to be illegal as it was deemed offensive, this time the police did not move against the protester for wearing the shirts. Bersih 4 was supposed to be walking protest however the police however set up road blocks and stopped people from carrying out the route in mind.
Never a dull moment in Malaysia politics!