- Published on Saturday, 12 January 2013 19:09
KUALA LUMPUR: So it truly is possible to have a peaceful rally in Malaysia.This was proven at the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat, dubbed HKR112, held at the historic Stadium Merdeka in the heart of the city today.
Anxiety was admittedly sky high among all quarters when the rally was first announced. Fears of a repeat of last year’s disastrous Bersih 3.0 street demonstration - complete with water cannon and tear gas incidents - were still fresh in the minds of Malaysians.
Neutral observers were also apprehensive when the rally organizers announced that Pakatan and NGO leaders would march to the stadium from eight different locations, with many believing that this was purely an exercise aimed at milking publicity by having a 'parade' throughout the city.
Some argued that this could lead to open confrontation between 'government moles' among the participants, who could stir up trouble by instigating others and spark violent reactions.
Such fears proved unfounded. Despite the heaving masses of people, rally participants filed into the stadium in an orderly fashion, no damage of public property was reported, and the event ended on schedule.
This begs the question: Why was the outcome of Bersih 3.0 so different? Why did that one result in an all-out urban war between protesters and the Federal Reserve Unit, resulting in injuries and even loss of life?
The simple answer is: This time, all parties, be it the Opposition or the federal government, cooperated towards making this a 'safe event'. Police and local authorities exercised considerable restraint and went the extra mile to ensure that order was maintained. Participants, for the most part, cooperated with instructions from the organizers to follow the specific dos' and don'ts.
This simply shows that, had Bersih 3.0 leaders and Opposition lawmakers, under the leadership of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, cooperated with the government and not insisted on a glorified street demo leading to Dataran Merdeka, the outcome of Bersih 3.0 could have been drastically different.
Accusations that holding a rally within a stadium setting could lead to a 'trap' is ludicrous, at best. Today's events proved that.
Today, Pakatan leaders got what they wanted. A parade through KL, as well as a stadium-full of people to listen to their speeches.
It truly is possible to have your cake and eat it too. This, unfortunately, is something they should have realized when the menu was presented to them last year.
Rules Are Made To Be Broken
While both the police and Opposition can offer themselves a pat on the back for a job well-done at avoiding any confrontation or bloodshed, there are still several glaring failures which did not go unnoticed at HKR112.
Among the conditions that the government had imposed on rally organizers was that, under no circumstances should children be brought to political rallies.
Social Welfare Department director-general, Datuk Noraini Mohd Hashim was yesterday quoted as saying that anyone who does so can be prosecuted under the Child Act 2001.
The punishment includes a fine of no more than RM20,000 or imprisonment of no more than 10 years, or both upon conviction.
Yet, a quick glance among the crowd in Stadium Merdeka today offers evidence that the instruction went unheeded. Photographs are also aplenty of parents bringing their kids along for the rally, with many dressing their kids in pro-HKR112 headbands or similar garb.
While some would maintain that the event turned out well, and the assembly began and ended under peaceful conditions, unfortunately that still isn't a valid excuse for bringing minors into a potentially-volatile situation.
The ingredients are there. Thousands of demonstrators, armed with a single political ideology and geared up for an adrenaline-charged afternoon of fiery speeches and pledges, always represent a powder keg for trouble. All it takes is for one incident to light a spark for the incident to blow out of hand.
Granted, the event was peaceful. However, the host of possibilities for something to go wrong is endless. A child has difficulty breathing within a packed atmosphere; a kid gets separated from his or her parents and ends up in the clutches of a less-than savoury character, eliciting yet another Nurin Jazlin Jazimin episode; the potential for trouble remains.
There is no excuse for risking a child's life, even less so when it involves a political cause. A political rally isn't the same as a trip to the zoo, as even under the best-controlled conditions, something can always go wrong.
The fact is that irresponsible parents who bring their children along should have been stopped at the stadium gates and prevented from entering.
The question now is, will the authorities act on parents and guardians who flouted the rule? Will the authorities have the courage or willpower to commit to what would be a potentially unpopular move by charging those responsible?
Chances are, if the brazen act of flouting the rules aren't nipped in the bud, it will happen again. And when tragedy finally strikes, whatever action that comes after will be too little, too late.
A Nod To The Tunku, Or A Pretender To The Throne?
One man stands ramrod straight, facing the sea of humanity gathered in front of him. He has just delivered a stirring speech, and now, with his right arm aloft, yells the rousing cry, "Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!"
The crowd, caught up in the moment, echo his rallying call with equal enthusiasm, shaking Stadium Merdeka to its foundations with their thunderous voices.
No, that wasn't Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. It was Anwar Ibrahim, ending his speech at the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat today.
The iconic image of the Tunku, Malaysia's own 'Bapa Kemerdekaan' shouting his emotional affirmation of freedom is etched in the memory of every Malaysian. It is ingrained in the mind of anyone aware of the nation's struggle for independence from British rule.
It is a powerful image which stirs feelings of patriotism, and elicits a sense of pride at the sacrifices our forefather made to earn our freedom from our past colonial masters.
Was this the same feelings that Anwar was trying to evoke among the crowd? Is he attempting to project himself as the 'saviour' of Malaysia, the 'chosen one' who will free Malaysians from the alleged tyranny of the Barisan Nasional administration?
Anwar is no fool. The seasoned politician is a veteran of many campaigns, and it is his intelligence and sheer force of will that has seen him survive this long. He knows how to play the game, and is a canny operator when it comes to psychological battles.
To channel the Tunku, within the same historic arena where Malaysia gained its independence, is no doubt an exercise in symbolism. However, while the estimated 80,000 crowd were on their feet echoing Anwar's call, there were others, the 'silent majority', who shifted uncomfortably at his actions.
A former PKR leader, who requested anonymity, said the move could backfire for Anwar. He believes that while Anwar's hardcore fan base have already made up their minds on their leader, the action could leave a sour taste among the fence-sitters.
"There are those who do not fully believe in Barisan Nasional's policies, but do not feel that they are so affected by them that it impacts their daily lives. These are also people who, while they do not mind the Opposition, also believe that perhaps Anwar should be given a chance at helming the country, just to see what he can do.
"However, some of these people would consider it sacrilege to play around with the imagery. To cry 'Merdeka' during the August 31 celebrations is one thing, but to subconsciously assume the mantle of the Tunku on the eve of a general election is another thing altogether," he said.