Thursday, July 21, 2011

Censuring censorship

The Barisan Nasional government has confirmed that they are really dinosaurs living in the Dark Ages by blacking out parts of an article in the Economist magazine (July 16 edition) about the Bersih 2.0 rally.

In this digital age when information flows so freely on the Internet that even authoritarian governments in China and Myanmar have found it hard to curb the flow of online news and views, the Malaysian government has sadly made itself look comical and outdated.

Those in power in the Malaysian Home Ministry should ask themselves these questions:

1) Who reads the Economist?

The Economist is an upmarket magazine in English that is aimed at the intelligentsia. Would the fisherman, farmer, small-holder, Felda settler or trader (otherwise known as the rural voters) read the Economist? Or do they read Utusan Malaysia or Berita Harian or Harian Metro or Kosmo or the vernacular newspapers/magazines?

Surely the Economist would be too upmarket for them. How many of these rural folks are fluent  in English anyway?

2) Would the reader of the Economist in Malaysia have access to the Internet?

The Economist readers in Malaysia are the urban English-educated elite. They are mostly  degree-holders with high-paying jobs. They are the professionals in the corporate sector. They are the movers and shakers of the economy. They are also political leaders. They have access to the Internet in the office, at home and on the move.

3) If parts of an Economist story are blacked out would Malaysian readers just make a few clicks and go to the Economist's website to read the same story in full?

Of course they would. I did.

4) Can the Home Ministry censor the same story on the Internet?

You gotta be kidding.

So the action by the Home Ministry is counter-productive as it would actually encourage the reader of the Economist to read the web version to find out what was censored.

BTW, only a few thousand copies of the Economist are sold in Malaysia which is peanuts compared to the local newspapers (mostly controlled by Barisan component parties) and magazines that sell by the hundreds of thousands.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Jews are coming!

When claims were made that the Bersih organisers were financed by foreign Christians and after the police claimed that Bersih supporters were trying to revive Communism, I was actually wondering why the authorities had not blamed the Jews.

It had to come - yesterday, Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia wrote in its editorial that the Bersih rally could lead to Jews and Israel infiltrating Malaysia to topple the government.

According to The Malaysian Insider, the Malay newspaper made the claim in reference to former IGP Tan Sri Rahim Noor's assertion that there were parties who wanted any country that was against Jews and Israel to be toppled.

So now the authorities have blamed almost all the usual suspects - Christians, Communists, Jews and Israel - for somehow or other being linked to the Bersih rally and trying to topple the government. The only 'rogue' that has not been blamed yet is Singapore.

All this is nothing new - and that is the crux of the problem.

The list of rogues is nothing new - it is so old-fashioned, so archaic, so unbelievable. Communists making a comeback? Come on, surely the authorities can do better than that?

In this age of FaceBook, Twitter and new media, such archaic accusations can be perceived as comical.

One may argue that these accusations are aimed at an older, more conservative and rural Malay/Iban/Kadazan audience (and voters) and the urban Twitterers are not the target 'market'.

If that is the case, then the Barisan Government is not touching base with the youths - the college kids, the twenty-somethings, the new gen of voters.

These FaceBookers are impressionable and at the moment they have a bad impression of the Barisan-led Government.

Barisan is taking a huge risk if its leaders think they can depend on the rural, conservative Malay/Iban/Kadazan masses to get them past the post first because the urban and young Malay/Iban/Kadazan voters will try their best to influence their parents back in their kampungs, hometowns and longhouses.

Barisan Nasional needs desperately to connect with the young, urban FB/Twitter generation of voters because they represent the new voice which will get increasingly louder as Malaysia becomes more urbanised.

Barisan may still win the next general election by banking on the rural, conservative (and ageing) voters, but what about the general election after that?

Management gurus will tell you that the rural, conservative (and ageing) community is a 'dying market' or 'shrinking market or 'sunset market' whilst the young, urban FB/Twitter kids represent the 'market with enormous potential' or 'growth market'.

From the management guru's perspective, unless Barisan Nasional explores the 'Blue Ocean' it will probably sail into the sunset as its 'shrinking market' gets smaller and smaller.

Monday, July 11, 2011

One-leg-kick Perkasa?

After all the action is over, after telling his members (if there are any) to "stroll around" Titiwangsa park while the Bersih 2.0 rally took place on Saturday, Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali now wants the citizenship of Bersih leader Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasen to be revoked.

One wonders why Ibrahim was absent from the rally when he had proudly declared that he would stage a huge Perkasa rally to counter the Bersih rally.

And when things fizzled out and Perkasa went limpid, his excuse was that Perkasa did not want to hold a rally as that would have insulted the monarchy.

Is it possible that Perkasa did not hold a rally because it could not round up enough supporters to do so? After all even the Umno Youth 'Patriot' rally in Bukit Bintang managed to attract only hundreds - one report said about 500 turned up - of Umno Youth members. In comparison, there were tens of thousands of Malaysians who turned up for the Bersih rally in various parts of Kuala Lumpur.

Could it be possible that Perkasa has been exposed to be a one-man show? That the Malay supremacist body is merely a - what the Chinese would call - one-leg-kick (yat kiok taak) outfit?

Could that be why not a single Perkasa supporter was seen strolling around in Titiwangsa park on Saturday?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bersih 2.0: Malaysians not meek anymore

The Bersih 2.0 rally that took place in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday has shown glaringly that Malaysians are no longer afraid to express themselves.

Despite the police setting up checkpoints, locking down the city centre, accusing Bersih supporters of reviving Communism, arresting Bersih supporters even before the rally, banning the leaders of Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat from entering the city centre and even shutting the main bus terminals, tens of thousands of Malaysians - of all races - somehow or other made their way to the centre of Kuala Lumpur to fight for clean and fair elections.

Tear gas and water cannons were fired at the protestors in several spots and there were lots of 'CNN moments' for the TV audiences in Malaysia and overseas. Simultaneous Bersih demonstrations were held in other cities in the world.

Though the Barisan Nasional government downplayed the protest by insisting that only 6,000 (I do not know why the police like this number as it is often used after large demonstrations) people turned up, the photographs all over Facebook, blogs, online news sites and the videos on YouTube reveal that tens of thousands turned up and that the official figure is pure fiction.

The Barisan Nasional government and police must realise that Malaysians are not stupid anymore - they no longer believe the so-called 'facts' and 'figures' that are published in the mainstream media.

Insisting only 6,000 turned up while the photos and videos show otherwise would only serve to turn Malaysians more cynical and make them view the mainstream media as the funnies.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his underlings must now take note with great seriousness that tens of thousands of Malaysians showed that they are not afraid anymore to fight for what they think is right, they are not afraid anymore of high-handed police methods, they are not afraid of the tear gas and water cannons, they are not afraid of fighting against repression.

And though some newspaper reports had it that it was a very Malay protest, there were lots of Chinese among the protestors. There were lots of Indians too. Indeed it was a 1Malaysia kind of demonstration.

The Barisan government must now find out why normally-meek Malaysians have become brazenly defiant, why they are willing to fight for ideals and why they are willing to be arrested or punished for exercising their Constitutional and democratic rights.

The world has changed. Malaysians have changed, but their government seems to be stuck in the old ways of doing things.

Instead of constructive engagement, the government has resorted to the old high-handed ways of suppression, of using water cannons to clear the way for the leaders to steamroll their way of doing things over Malaysians and to stuff their decisions down the throats of Malaysians.

But Bersih 2.0 has shown that Malaysians are able to spit out what the government has tried to stuff down their throats and opt for something more palatable.

If Najib continues to live in denial, I fear he may be making the same mistake that the Badawi administration made. The former Prime Minister did not engage with or tried to solve the issues concerning the Malaysian Indians after the Hindraf protests and did not bother to change things after the first Bersih rally and did badly in the general election of March 2008.

Will history repeat itself? Will Najib lead Barisan Nasional to worse results in the next general election?

There is still time for Najib to change things, but he must first acknowledge that there are many Malaysians (not just 6,000) who are unhappy with the Barisan government and its policies (and not just the way elections are held) and he must then take the bull by its horns and find amicable solutions to the various issues.

Otherwise, the increasing cynicism and discontent - and rising boldness - of Malaysians of all races will surely affect the results of the next general election.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bersih 2.0: Some drama expected

Looks like there will be some drama after all.

I was perhaps too hasty to write off the entire Bersih 2.0 as a non-starter and declared a victory for the Barisan government.

In the continuing battle of wits, the Pakatan Rakyat leaders - who are backing the Bersih 2.0 rally - are trying to turn a perceived loss into some kind of victory.

Since tomorrow's rally will not be held on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and will instead be held in a stadium (assuming that the Bersih organisers can find one that will allow them to stage it there), the Pakatan Rakyat leaders - who have conveniently hitched a ride on an event organised by a civil society movement - intend to turn the stadium rally into some kind of street rally.

How? By sending as many supporters as possible to the venue (wherever it is). Let's say the stadium can accommodate 30,000 people and 100,000 people turn up for the Bersih rally, the crowd will spill out to the streets nearby.

Not all of the Bersih supporters will be able to drive to the stadium (assuming the police have not cordoned off the area), so they will have to park elsewhere or board the LRT or taxis to get to the venue. Then they will have to alight some distance from the venue because of the crowd and the roads being closed by the cops.

Thus the thousands of Bersih supporters will have to gather on the streets and walk to the stadium. In that fashion the Bersih rally will proceed.

I feel the Najib administration has slipped from its moral high ground somewhat by its handling of the Bersih rally. Initially I thought Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib had pulled off a master stroke by appearing to be magnanimous by allowing the Bersih organisers to hold the rally in a stadium, but the stonewalling tactics employed by his underlings and the abhorrent rough-and-tough stance of the police have led many to doubt the government's sincerity to allow Malaysians to exercise their democratic right to express themselves.

It may not be an accurate or complete survey, but most of the people I have spoken to disagreed with the Government's high-handed handling of the Bersih issue.

I fear the Barisan Nasional Government may have misjudged the sentiments of the people and may have played into the hands of Pakatan Rakyat.

Looks like "Bersih" will be the slogan that the Opposition will use in the next general election.

The buzz is that the Youth wing of Umno will be gathering in Bukit Bintang while Bersih supporters will be turning up at Stadium Merdeka. And the Perkasa folks? They will be "strolling around" in the Titiwangsa area.

The authorities have banned 91 people including leaders of Bersih and Pakatan Rakyat from entering the city centre and the police will be setting up road blocks all over and locking down the city centre for 22 hours from midnight tonight. The major bus stations - Puduraya, Putra and Pekeliling - will also be closed.

Some Pakatan leaders have declared that they will be in the city. How are they going to get past the police checkpoints? Nobody knows and they are not telling.

And the TV cameramen, photographers and videographers of various news agencies are busy planning their coverage of the event.

Looks like there will be a 'CNN moment' after all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih 2.0 - who's the real loser?

Most activists have viewed the latest developments concerning the Bersih rally in a positive light, claiming that the Barisan Government had backed down by allowing the rally to be held in a stadium instead of on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

On Sunday, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin had issued a statement that street demonstrations bring more bad than good to the country although the original intention is good. "Instead, we should focus on our main objective to develop this country, and not create problems that will cause the country to lag behind," the King said.

At the same time, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Bersih could hold its rally in a stadium - and the Bersih rally organisers later accepted the offer after a meeting with the King.

Najib had said: “Go on assemble in the stadium and yell until you're hoarse. Do it. It's okay, it's not a problem."

While many activists claim the Government had backed down and made itself look ridiculous by 'recognising' and 'legitimising' Bersih so soon after having banned it by offering it the chance to hold a rally in a stadium, I view it differently.

I shall take a contrarian view on the matter. 

The victor, in fact, is the Barisan Nasional government and it is Bersih who was forced to back down. And the Pakatan Rakyat leaders, who had previously loudly expressed their all-out support for the rally, seem to have suddenly lost their voices.

Bersih was, from my point of view, out-manoeuvred by Barisan.

The King made a statement advising against holding the rally which put Bersih in a spot - if Bersih had gone on to hold the rally on the streets on July 9, it would have been seen as an insult to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and this matters a lot to the Malays. PKR and PAS would then find it hard to explain why they insulted the King to their Malay supporters.

Then Najib offered an alternative venue - a stadium. Activists have interpreted this as a sign of the government backing down.

But I interpret it as a master stroke by Najib. Read his statement again - “Go on assemble in the stadium and yell until you're hoarse. Do it. It's okay, it's not a problem."

He's telling the activists to "yell until you're's not a problem". In other words, activists can shout and scream till they are hoarse (or until the cows come home) and it's not a problem (because it is not effective at all).

By holding the rally in a stadium, the 'CNN effect' is gone. Photographers, videographers and TV cameramen from local and foreign news agencies had already been planning where to be stationed along the streets of Kuala Lumpur for the best angles.

TV audiences love footages of street battles, of tear gas canisters being fired and protesters picking up the smoking canisters and throwing them back at the riot police. People love the blood and gore. They love the scenes of riot police charging at protestors with their shields and batons. They love the scenes of riot police kicking protesters lying on the streets. If there are women and children injured, the shock value is even higher.

Water cannons being fired, protesters fighting for clean and free elections, the roads of the capital city all jammed up, hundreds of thousands of people dressed in yellow fighting for democracy and freedom - all these make for good TV coverage.

People shouting till they are hoarse in a stadium? Well, the regional TV stations may air a few seconds of it. TV stations in countries further away from Malaysia would not even bother to air such footages. After all, where's the drama?

And that indeed encapsulates the entire Bersih 2.0 rally issue - where's the drama?