The Yellow T-shirts have gone home and so what are the results of its rally?
Kuala Lumpur was awash with a sea of yellow on August 29, 2015. That early Saturday morning saw groups of people in yellow T-shirts walking down streets in small groups while some others were having breakfast in mamak stalls and restaurants. Bus and lorry drivers honked loudly in support while ordinary Malaysians gaped at those ready to take part in the rally.
The Bersih organisers had called for a 36-hour vigil, in spite of the police declaring it to be illegal. There were dire calls of civil unrest, unruly crowds and disruption of business. Well except for a few isolated cases, such as the stomping of banners of PM Najib and PAS leader Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, and someone vandalizing a Bersih supporter’s car, police did not arrest anyone and traders reported a roaring trade. Ali Kuti who set up a temporary stall of selling mineral water said, “I ran out of stock three times and had to get my brother go for more.” One restaurant owner informed he had brisk business all day and night long.
Attendance figures flew back and forth, with city officials claiming anywhere from just 5,000 to 10,000 attending. Bersih gave out figures that touched up to 250,000. Perhaps a more realistic figure would be about 100,000 people. They demanded that Najib’s resign plus free and fair elections be reinstalled.
So where does the country stand after Bersih 4?
The most vociferous sound that emerged was the absence of Malays at the rally. Yes, there were some Malays, except that some of them did not wear the Yellow T-shirt. Still it cannot be denied they were in the minority with the Chinese making up 80% of the gathering. The Indians could be countered on the fingers.
Prof Dr Samsul Adabi Mamat, a political science lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) believed,”The majority of Malays do not agree with Bersih 4 and want the PM to stay.”
A major reason for the lack of Malay support could be the fact that PAS and UMNO, at least at grassroots level, did not participate. However he cautioned,”Remember that in a democratic country, the majority will be the deciding factor, but where parliamentary seats are concerned, the Chinese make up the majority of the voters, especially in the city.”
Which is why, he along with other analysts felt the lack of Malay support at Bersih 4 would not mean that Barisan Nasional would win a bigger majority in the next elections as many parliamentary seats are in urban areas where the Chinese are the majority.
One of the reasons, Centre for Policy Initiatives Director, Dr Lim Teck Ghee strongly felt that UMNO will go all out to retain rural votes. This is the strategy it had played in the past and highlighting the bogey man of Malaysian politics - Chinese dominance over the country.
It would then be wise if Bersih’s follow up activities bring to the forefront which ever Malay leaders they have and have them play a more prominent and substantive role. It will mean for the non-Malay elements to take on a low profile, at least for now.
General feeling is that UMNO has the rural Malays strongly in its grasp and can count on their votes come election time. But the 1MDB scandal, controversies over Felda, the bloated purchases of property in Australia by Mara and the lean times the lower class Malays are facing may just tip the balance in the opposition’s favour.
Changes can be observed in the urban scenario. The most telling is the numbers of Malays who have joined DAP. It now has some 2,000 Malay members. Those Malays who join know they have to climb up the party ladder purely on merit. One who has proved her mettle is Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud who is now Lim Kit Siang's new political secretary.
To get to the hinterland, PKR, DAP and Parti Amanah Negeri would have to actively woo the rural Malays with matters close to their hearts and not drown them with urban issues and rhetoric. It could just make rural voters drop their votes into the opposition’s voting booth this time around...
But does the absence of Malays at Bersih 4 indicate full support for Najib. Ibrahim Suffian, Director of the Merdeka Centre told Malay Mail Online, “The lack of Malay presence does not necessarily reflect the support for Najib and UMNO as a whole.
I think the situation from the Bersih rally is that there is a stalemate between the people supporting and not supporting the government. It’s quite clear that groups like Bersih can mobilise a mass of people to come out, but they need more work and alliance to get Malay voters to come out as well. But having said that, it’s not clear whether the event last weekend strengthened Najib’s hold on the Malay vote bank.”
Think tank, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs founding chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan cautioned, ”it cannot be assumed that everyone who did not turn out at the rally supports Najib. The PM is in a position where it is
not about retaining the Malay vote bank but having to rely only on the remaining votes from the Malays who do not support the opposition. Not a very nice situation for a politician to be in.”
The Malaysian government now has an image problem. The PM is in the unenviable position of having everything bad being laid at his feet. Whether this is applicable or not is up for conjecture and argument. Something which is going on at coffeeshops and stalls.
While the scandal of 1MDB and RM700 million turning up in Najib’s account always comes up, there are more pressing needs – such as the economy faltering, the ringgit sliding to all-time lows, Foreign Direct Investments taking flight, Bursa Malaysia having the dubious honour of being the worst performer of this region or the Goods and Services Tax pinching the people very tightly.
These are situations that really affect the common man and issues that really matter to them. Najib has to address them and come up with plausible solutions fast, very fast!
But are there cracks appearing in UMNO? Deputy PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, has been dropped because he had called for a thorough investigation of the 1MDB scandal. In the background, Langkawi UMNO member Anina Saadudin filed an injunction against Najib to account for the RM2.6 billion donation he received into his personal accounts. She was sacked from the party.
Then two veteran Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) members called on the party's seven Chinese MPs to consider whether it is still tenable to support the prime minister...Tan Foong Luen, a Negri Sembilan MCA leader who heads the party's Seremban division legal bureau, said MCA's lawmakers should place the people and the nation above Najib.
The latest is from the women's wing head at the Gopeng UMNO division. Datuk Hamidah Osman is not fazed by talks of being sacked from the party for calling Najib to step down. Hamidah strongly felt that the 1MDB scandal had compromised the people's trust in UMNO.
It was ironic that at this time Malaysia was playing host of all conferences, one aptly called the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference. Najib was supposed to deliver key the keynote address but was advised not to by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Paul Low.
Those speakers attending the conference were almost unanimous in stating that in their country, it was the norm for the person facing such charges to first resign before facing the charges.
Amid the dust storm that sprung up with calls for the PM to resign, a telling sign that really bespoke of the mood of the country went by mostly unnoticed. This year, very few cars and other vehicles carried the Malaysian flag. Buses and lorries used to carry large Malaysian flags for previous Merdekas, but this year only a few cars could be seen carrying the flag.
So too buildings – offices, shophouses, tower blocks, corporate headquarters – the flag was conspicuously undraped. Perhaps with this, without realising it, the people were sending out a message – Give our Country Back to Us!