Writers at Blogcritics have expressed concern over demonstrations and violent suppression in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The media reports about 20,000 demonstrators at the Bersih 2.0 Rally this weekend, July 9, a rally for electoral reforms, and suggest a tie to general elections that will put to the test the rule of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The leader of those in opposition to Razak is Ibrahim Ali.
International rights groups reportedly condemn the government response to the popular demonstrations, which have involved tear gas and mass arrests. The first Bersih Rally was in 2007. Bersih, formally, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, is the organizer of the rally. The July 9, 2011, protest was endorsed and supported by that coalition of the three largest opposition parties in Malaysia. The Malaysian government, under Prime Minister Najib Razak, ruled earlier that such a rally would be in violation of the law.
The Najib Razak government has the support of an alternate coalition, the ruling coalition in Malaysia, Barisan Nasional (BN), which consists of parties representing the major racial groups in Malaysia, and has won every federal election since independence from Britain in 1957. The Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of religion while making Islam the state religion. The population is divided at 60 percent practicing Islam, 19 percent Buddhism, 9 percent Christianity, 6 percent Hinduism, 3 percent Confucianism, and some smaller percentages favoring other systems of belief. According to the Malaysian constitution, all ethnic Malays are considered Muslim.
Among those opposed to Prime Minister Najib Razak, is the extremist group Perkasa; representatives of Perkasa failed to appear at the rally, and their planned participation “fizzled out.” One media outlet reported that Perkasa leader Ibrahim Ali “has apparently got cold feet.” Ibrahim Ali achieved some notoriety with his effort to lock up Ambiga Sreenevasan, who, in concert with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, has championed for democracy in Malaysia. Ambiga Steenevasan is considered by some a threat to Islam. Hadi Awang is a member of Parliament and claims he is not seeking the office of prime minister but only change. He would introduce a welfare state policy as propagated by the opposition coalition. Awang and Ambiga Sreenevasan were arrested, held briefly, then released in connection with the July 9 rally.
Also in general contention, and outspoken on the topic of fairness in the election processes, is Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) deputy president Mohamad Sabu. Sabu has expressed concerns about “cheating tactics,” abuses (including media abuses), and has accused the Barisan Nasional of “gerrymandering” and “malapportioning” electoral constituencies.
We at Blogcritics have seen some coverage of the demonstrations in Malaysia. From the photos at social outlets it appears the demonstrators were peaceful and the police only reacted with teargas for some control of the crowds and of the streets at the end of the long day.
From my vantage point in America, I have written about many such demonstrations in recent months. In many cases, the early days of protest are peaceful, the demonstrators, good citizens. Then, in just days or weeks, the gas is replaced with bullets, the banners replaced with blood-soaked t-shirts; formerly peaceful demonstrators now carry automatic rifles. Soon, witness the implementation of artillery, and tanks, and trucks that may run down slow moving protestors. The Malaysians seem peaceful. We hope these things won’t develop.
Beyond those mentioned herein there are other groups seeking power; martial arts groups who are said to “subvert the legal apparatus.” Reference is made to a “shadowy group,” Pekida, and to a Toh Peh Kong group, “emerging from the bowels of Jinjang.” Lastly we have noticed reference to a Red Thali group.
Again from my vantage I can only hope there won’t be bloodshed in Malaysia. One can only wonder, if it comes to that, if China will take a hand. We see comparisons of Malaysia with Taiwan, where responsible demonstrators can do little more than to make their presence felt.