So true story ugaiz… When this writer came back from a weeklong trip last Friday, the first thing my dad said to me wasn’t a welcome but a “Eh, make sure you stay away from KL. Got racial demonstration.” This was on Friday night, BTW, like 5 days before the actual rally was about to take place.
So why are people like my dad getting so kancheong over a rally held on a national holiday? After all, no one was really issuing warnings that were as dire during the other rally held during the other national holiday two weeks ago.
So what’s with all the fuss now? After all, aren’t they the same thing?
Really, there seems to be as many similarities between the RedShirt Rally and Bersih as there are differences. But just in case you’ve been overseas the past week or so, here’s a brief summary to get you up to speed (more details at Says.com):
Bersih hold rally. Very very many yellow. Some people no agree with Bersih, have anti-Bersih rally. Is wear red. Is beat each other with stick and brick. Say will be at Bersih 4.0 rally, but later say no go because organize own rally. Redshirt rally schedule for Malaysia day Sept 16. Very many people afraid incite racial tension. Is scared.
So what makes these two rallies same-same yet different? Well, let’s start with the fact that the RedShirt Rally isn’t really organized by the RedShirts.
DIFFERENCE 1: There’s no clear organizer for the RedShirt Rally (till recently)
If you’ve been following the news on the Malaysia Day rally, you might have seen it referred to by different names, such as RedShirt Rally (obviously), Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu, Kebangkitan Maruah Melayu, and Himpunan Maruah Melayu. Not just that, the leader of the movement has been variously named as Sg. Besar UMNO divisional chief leader Jamal Md Yunos and National Silat Federation (Pesaka) chief Mohd. Ali Rustam. The final brick on the head here is Jamal’s claim that the show of the RedShirts beating each other off in public was a Silat demonstration and not a threat – which was later denounced by Pesaka, who called it a misrepresentation of the art.
SO WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING??! WHY SO CONFLICTING MESSAGE WAN???
Well, the actual answer is quite simple: There are actually TWO groups who are organizing a rally this September 16th with different objectives:
- Gabungan NGO-NGO Malaysia (aka RedShirts) – “Himpunan Maruah Melayu” / “Kebangkitan Maruah Melayu” for Malay solidarity and supporting Malay leaders, Islam, and Malay and Bumiputra rights.
- Pesaka – “Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu” to spread awareness for upholding the sanctity of the Federal Constitution and the democratically-elected government.
And this is why you have totally conflicting messages depending on which article you happened to read. In fact, it was only over the past weekend (September 12th) that Pesaka was named as the “main organizer” with their supporters in black, and the RedShirts will be joining them under the Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu name to prevent confusion.
However for the purposes of clarity, we’ll be referring to the rally as the “Padang Merbok Rally” from this point onwards. Harap maklum.
In comparison Bersih, although still involving various political groups and NGOs, represents itself through a unified mouthpiece – confusingly called Bersih 2.0 – so the odds of contradicting statements are way less. However, they also had about an 8-year head start to figure everything out la. But hey, at least they’re both open to all races!
SIMILARITY 1: The Padang Merbok Rally and Bersih are open to all races
So initially we read that the rally organizers were advising non-Muslims to avoid KL in order to not provoke the rally participants, but then later they say that the rally is open to Malaysians of all races, not just Malay groups, as long as they share similar sentiments of upholding the Federal Constitution. The first thing that comes to mind is:
But of course, we now know that there are two separate groups making statements, and the official stand from Pesaka’s Mohd. Ali Rustam is that, yea, participation is not limited to Malays and/or Muslims and the dude has gone out of his way to distance Pesaka from the RedShirts:
“It is not restricted to red. You can wear black, any colour … If [the RedShirts] want to sell t-shirts. That’s up to them. If they want to walk around and march from certain location it’s their call. As far as I know Pesaka is only going to be at Padang Merbok” – Mohd. Ali Rustam, Pesaka Chief, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
He also added that “Those who want to cause trouble and racists do not need to come“.
The RedShirts (along with other NGOs and political parties) were invited to the Padang Merbok rally and are said to be following Pesaka’s lead, so we figure that they’d abide by the same rules as well. But despite the open invitation, we know we won’t be spotting a PAS member there since…
Difference 2: PAS banned their members from participating in the Padang Merbok Rally
While PAS was pretty ambivalent about its members attending the Bersih 4.0 rally – neither encouraging nor discouraging them from doing so – they were very clear about their stance on Padang Merbok:
“We are disappointed with the actions of certain irresponsible groups that are distributing our flags and party symbol in trying to link PAS to the September 16 gathering … We wish to reiterate that we are not involved and forbid our members from participating.” – Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, PAS Deputy President, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
The major reasons for the skip was that the rally was planned along racial lines which will not benefit the country and in fact weaken national unity; and that September 16th is supposed to be a day to celebrate diversity among Malaysians – so a rally that is exclusive for one group seemed “inappropriate“.
Similarly, Perkasa has also decided to skip Padang Merbok although they did mention that members were free to join as individuals (rather than as a representative) if they wanted to. But hey, at least PAS sent representatives to Bersih 4.0 😀
Speaking of political parties getting involved…
Similarity 2: They are both accused of siding with a particular party
It’s no secret that Bersih has always received the brunt of it’s political support from the Opposition parties, but with that support comes the possibility that Bersih’s neutral stance for electoral and political reform becomes muddled with those of the parties that support them. For example, one of the major criticisms of Bersih 3.0 was that the rally was “hijacked” by Opposition leaders – notably Anwar Ibrahim – to further their own political agendas.
In fact, the RedShirts claim that they were compelled to take action as a response to the Chinese who were “brainwashed by DAP“, citing the high Chinese turnout at Bersih 4.0 a sign that participants had been indoctrinated to turn against Malays.
On the other hand, there has been some suspiscion that Padang Merbok, or at least the RedShirts in particular, are sponsored or at least unofficially supported by UMNO due to their cause of defending Malay leadership, the labelling of those who questioned the government’s credibility as “traitors,” and that Jamal Mohd. Yunos is a senior UMNO leader.
We’ll discuss this in the next point, which is…
Difference 3: UMNO didn’t ban members from attending the Padang Merbok Rally
Just to put it out there, PM Najib has denied any sponsorship or support of the Padang Merbok or RedShirt rally, though he did add that certain NGOs which are affiliated to UMNO leaders might be compelled to support and attend the rally:
“Umno is not involved with the event’s sponsor but I admit there are Umno leaders, through NGOs, that feel they would be involved in this people’s rally” – PM Najib, as quoted by Malaysiakini.
PM Najib also added that UMNO would not forbid its members from attending the rally just as long as it doesn’t disturb the peace and security in the country or turn into a racist platform. While there was similarly no direct ban on BN members attending Bersih 4.0 (that we could find anyway), the statements concerning the two rallies were very different:
Padang Merbok –
“This is a free country. So anyone who wants to participate in any rally, we have to obey the law” – PM Najib, as quoted by The Rakyat Post.
Bersih 4.0 –
“We want to celebrate independence, there are some people who want to show their feelings at the historic place in Merdeka Square. Don’t they understand, are they that shallow and poor in their patriotism and love for their motherland?” – PM Najib, as quoted by Says.com.
However, it seems that MIC members were warned to not attend Bersih 4.0 at the risk of severe disciplinary action. Also, response from UMNO members for both rallies were similarly divided (Dang it, this should have been a point), with some stating support for Bersih although not attending; and some similarly against Padang Merbok.
Similarity 3: Both rallies instill fear and criticism
Well, whenever a Bersih rally comes about, there will a lot of talk from various parties about how it affects local businesses which would be prevented from operating and/or scare off international investors, tarnish the image of the country, and scare off tourists; along with fears that it would lead to violence.
So with the Padang Merbok rally comes a lot of talk from various parties about how it would affect local businesses which would be prevented from operating and/or scare off international investors, tarnish the image of the country, and scare off tourists; along with fears that it would lead to violence.
Yea, we should all be familiar with the pattern by now. Same same but different but same same 😐
However, there is a slight difference, in that Bersih had always been considered an illegal gathering.
Difference 4: Padang Merbok was illegal then legal; Bersih 4.0 was legal then illegal
This isn’t a difference as much as it is a polar opposite since, well, the header’s pretty self-explanatory. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 was passed by PM Najib to improve our right to freedom of assembly (ie rallies like Bersih or Padang Merbok). However, it came with certain conditions that can be considered pretty stringent, such as requiring the approval of the authorities on the venue, and a request submission 10 days in advance. You can read more about this Act and the legality of public assemblies in our previous article here.
The police response to Bersih was initially positive, with IGP Khalid saying that the rally could proceed with the full blessing of the authorities as long as the conditions of the law was met. So applications were submitted, negotiations were held… and then the rally was declared illegal. This was due to a disagreement over the venue, with Bersih 2.0 (the organizer) wanting to hold the rally at Dataran Merdeka while DBKL (who owns the venue) adamantly refused due to the Merdeka Day, offering some other venues instead.
On the other hand, the police initially declared the Padang Merbok rally illegal since they weren’t agreeable to it being held in Jalan Bukit Bintang. However, they later gave it the legal green light when the organizers obtained permission from DBKL to use, well, Padang Merbok.
But then again, the legal status might be irrelevant since…
Similarity 4: Both rallies are exercising their constitutional rights
Yeap, despite all the bad stuff that’s being said about the Padang Merbok rally (You can read this or just check Facebook posts), it can be argued that they should be allowed the same constitutional rights to assembly that many people were asking for Bersih as long as it remains peaceful as promised.
“If you don’t like the leader it’s fine but not stepping on their photographs. If you don’t like the government it’s fine, but take it to the ballot box, not on the streets … Kuala Lumpur belongs to everyone. Not just Bersih. We have no intention to pick up a fight. But they have done it, not once but four times. So here we are, we want to show that we also have the numbers.” – Mohd. Ali Rustam, as quoted by The Straits Times.
So yea, much as a rally can be held to push for government reform and the resignation of a Prime Minister, so can there be a counter-rally since freedom works both ways. But now the question is…
What will you be doing on September 16th?
Of course, we understand that the events that led up to the Padang Merbok rally wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence, with the RedShirts performing their “Silat demonstration,” talking about training with parangs and swords, and staging an anti-Bersih rally at the same time and venue as Bersih 4.0 which, to their credit, agreed to reschedule at the advice of the police. Also as mentioned, the RedShirts will be playing under Pesaka’s rules at the Padang Merbok Rally.
To date, there has been no provocation from people in yellow doing kung fu demonstrations or plans for a anti-anti Bersih rally. Coupled with IGP Khalid’s warning that the event will be heavily monitored and assurance that the police would “ensure the safety and security of everyone,” should we take a leap of faith and ignore the warnings from Whatsapp and worried relatives?
After all, were we as fearful during the Bersih rallies two weeks ago?