Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Race and the BERSIH Rally

Written by johnleemk on 3:00:48 am Nov 12, 2007.

Much has recently been made of the fact that an overwhelming majority of those who showed up to that wasteful BERSIH rally were Malay. Many non-Malays were left wondering, "What about us? Are we not Malaysian too?"

Of course, let us not be like the mainstream media and fail to look at the big picture. The overwhelming sentiment amongst Malaysians brave enough to open their mouths has been supportive of the rally and its cause. It is heartening to note that the complaint is not about the rally itself, but why the rally was not more inclusive.

I certainly looked askance at some aspects of the rally — "Allahuakbar" is not the most uniting chant (I really wish we could use the more neutral and inclusive "Tuhan", or somehow alter the connotations of "Allah" so as to make it less specific to Islam).

An interesting thing to note is that PAS, the Islamic party, was one of the more involved groups in organising the rally. Their Unit Amal was the one co-ordinating the different subrallies, and formed a protective barrier between the public and the police. It shouldn't be surprising then that the rally tended to be Malay and Muslim in nature.

But at the same time, let's not forget that both Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng turned up for the rally. Prominence was naturally given to Anwar Ibrahim, but the Democratic Action Party's leaders were also present — something that has not been publicised all that well.

I find it difficult to sympathise with complaints about the insufficient inclusive nature of the rally. There was no overt attempt to limit the crowd to Malays, or otherwise hamper non-Malay participation. Both major multiracial opposition parties were involved.

There is a reasonable explanation for why there were so many Malays — because PAS has an incredibly strong machinery. Sometimes one finds more PAS flags than Parti Keadilan Rakyat flags flying at an Anwar Ibrahim ceramah simply because PAS is better-organised and more co-ordinated in its efforts.

As a result, it is likely they were able to bus in a lot of people from their rural strongholds, who would naturally be Malay Muslims. The DAP and PKR, with their less-developed machineries, were probably unable to pull off a feat of similar scale.

But for the non-Malays in the Klang Valley, there really is no reason they couldn't have shown up. Those who complain about the imbalanced racial composition of the gathering — was there anything stopping you from going there and participating?

The event was for all Malaysians, and organised for all Malaysians. It just needed your participation. Democracy is not about sitting down in an armchair and complaining, although it certainly is about your right to do that.

Democracy ultimately is about having the right to take action and express your views. It is about your participation in a structured decision-making process. If you sit out the process, then you should not complain that others took advantage of that same process.

Race really is a non-issue when it comes to the BERSIH rally. Any and all Malaysians, regardless of political affiliation, race or religion, were welcome to come and participate. Could more have been done to balance the rally's racial composition? Perhaps.

But ultimately, whose choice was it to show up and exercise what should be our lawful right to assemble and voice our views? The choice was ours, and ours alone. Let us not blame others for a choice that we ourselves made.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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