Monday, August 3, 2009

Pakatan diversion

Another rally, another stand-off, another protest, another day in today's Malaysia.
Somehow it has become formulaic - the protestors gather at the National Mosque or Central Market or Sogo and try to make their way to Dataran Merdeka or the Istana Negara.
As usual the Pakatan bigwigs will be there, the Pas and DAP leaders will walk around and hold press conferences and, last but not least, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will turn up riding pillion on a motorbike to steal the thunder and denounce the enforcement officers for violence and excessive force.
The riot police will fire the tear gas canisters and a truck with water cannon will roll in shooting at the fleeing protestors like some kind of giant water pistol. The protestors will run off, wash off the chemical-laced water with tap water and regroup. Such running battles will continue till the protestors get tired and make their way home or to the nearest teh-tarik stall.
The government is trying to spin the story against the Pakatan -inspired protestors saying that the rioting has caused massive inconvenience to plenty of innocent Klang valley residents, it has resulted in millions of ringgit in lost income for thousands of shopkeepers (and Sogo) in the area, it is bad for the tourism industry, and it has caused the people to turn against such methods. Mainstream propaganda newspapers will spin this story for days.
We have seen it all before.
Frankly it seems as if street protests have become part of Malaysian life and I am reminded of the students of South Korea who hold protests regularly. In South Korea, taking part in a protest is considered part of growing up, a rite of passage, a loss of innocence.
It appears as if taking part in protests in Malaysia is evolving into the South Korean model.
A German investor asked me some time back why the authorities are so worked up over street protests.
He said in Germany and other West European countries, such protests are common. The people gather, vent their frustrations, clash with the riot police and they go home.
"It's a way for the people to let off steam. It is actually a safety valve," he said.
Whether the government reacts or reforms is another matter.
Last Saturday's anti-ISA protest - made more theatrical by a pro-ISA faction obviously backed by the powers that be - can be read as an attempt by Anwar and gang to divert attention from their internal problems and show Malaysians that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Pakatan should learn that holding one too many street protests - just like having too many forced by-elections - can be counter productive and Malaysians may become immune to such rallies and treat them as a circus.
As a matter of fact, many people decided to stay home and watch TV while others simply avoided the blocked-off parts of town on Saturday and shopped at 1Utama instead of Sogo.
When mamak teh-tarik stalls and Ramli burger/hot dog stands start setting up shop at the usual venues whenever there is a street protest, then Pakatan is in trouble.
In fact they are already in trouble. It is better for them to sort out their internal differences and brush up their performance than to take to the streets again and again.

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