Lots could be said about the recently concluded 16 September 2015 which had a surprised turnout which sent strong messages to many and electrical shivers to the spine of the selected few.
It is summed up in Joceline Tan’s column in Sunday Star:
Published: Sunday September 20, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday September 20, 2015 MYT 12:55:32 PM
Political game of numbers
BY JOCELINE TAN
Red sea: Massive numbers, fierce slogans and police water canons added to the drama of the Malay rally but Dr Mahathir was a no-show.
The red show of force at the Sept 16 rally was a signal that Malays have the numbers to defend their hold on political power and fill the streets with raw energy.
TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s signature song is the 1960s hit, My Way – or so they say. But not many had heard him sing it until recently when a video clip of him belting out the song on stage went viral.
He was somewhat off-key, the high notes evaded him – or rather, he dodged the high notes. But all said and done, he had a pretty strong voice for a 90-year-old.
He has also acted in his first movie, Kapsul, which is now playing in cinemas. Well, actually, he played himself in a Malay sci-fi movie that involves time travel triggered by a Vision 2020 time capsule.
It was a cameo role and he had joked in that self-deprecating way of his: “I asked for payment but they don’t want to pay me.”
Age is probably just a number to this man because he is still game for new experiences, including attending his first street protest. His appearance at the Bersih 4 demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 29 and 30 sent shock waves through Umno.
His hardcore supporters applauded him for that but the average Joe in Umno saw it as siding with the opposition while the more thinking class thought Dr Mahathir was going against everything he had once stood for.
He was at the Bersih 4 rally on both days and held a press conference during which he said he did not support Bersih and proceeded to run down Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
He was accompanied by, of all persons, former Umno/ PKR/ Kita politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim who has not had many nice things to say about the older man in recent years.
Politics is full of strange bedfellows but very few in Umno had imagined he would do such a thing.
“He is such a special brand name for Umno. When he took that brand to the Bersih crowd, it was just not right for me,” said Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Johari Ghani.
Or, as Datuk Albakri Mohd Noor of the Umno Veterans group put it: “He taught us that such demonstrations were not the way. Now it’s okay because he wants to bring down the PM.”
The Umno crowd thought their former president would make amends by attending the Malay rally on Sept 16.
But Dr Mahathir not only spurned the rally, he also openly opposed it. He said the Red Shirts were not fighting for the Malays, there was no need for the rally and it should be cancelled.
A day later, he insisted he was still unsure about the purpose of the rally.
“He went for the Bersih protest but he skipped the National Day parade. I feel sad that it has come to this,” said Wan Hakim Wan Mokhtar, assemblyman for Air Putih, Terengganu.
Dr Mahathir has been in Malay politics long enough to read the signs. It was a red sea of Malays made up primarily of Umno and Malay NGOs. They were there because they wanted to make their presence felt and to defend the Malay-led Government and their place in power.
The organisers have been accused of playing up communal sentiments and causing racial tensions but there is no denying that Umno has the numbers.
More important, as one Malay professional pointed out, the party has the network, machinery and resources to mobilise its grassroots at short notice.
There is no denying that many of them were bussed in from all over the country and there was talk of duit minyak or pocket money for participants. But they arrived in the city with a raw energy and oneness that has been missing in Umno for some time now.
“The crowd and the mood, I was like, wow! The silent majority came out in full force,” said Wan Hakim.
Former Kelantan strongman Tan Sri Annuar Musa was one of those who pushed hard for the rally, and he gave an emotional speech as he looked out over a sea of red in Padang Merbok, the gathering point in KL designated by the police.
His fellow Kelantanese, Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad who also addressed the crowd, could feel the energy in the air.
“We went ahead only after many meetings with the police; there were so many conditions we had to follow. But we are the party in power and we want to respect the police.
“We are not into demonstrations but the last Bersih pushed us to the wall. If they want to overthrow us through street politics, we will defend ourselves the same way. We want to tell them, don’t push us because we will fight back,” said Alwi.
The chief target of the Malay rally was DAP. Right or wrong, the Umno right wing perceived DAP as the driving force behind what they now call the “Chinese Bersih”. As such, some of the more aggressive slogans seen at the rally were aimed at DAP.
DAP has gone from strength to strength and its hold over the Chinese since 2008 has been grounded in a well-engineered hate campaign against Umno.
It has blamed Umno for everything that has gone wrong in the country. In retaliation, Umno is now painting DAP as a Chinese chauvinist party that questions Islam and insults Malay leaders.
DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang has been vocal in slamming the Malay rally as racist, and who can blame him? He was the convenient lightning rod for the Malay rally.
He is one of the few DAP leaders alive whose political career goes back to the dark days of 1969. The protesters held placards linking him to the May 13 race riots of that time, although it is doubtful if many of the younger ones were even sure who he is.
Raja Petra Kamaruddin, in an article on the Malay rally, put things in perspective when he wrote that it is not what you do or say that impacts race relations, it is how others perceive what you do or say that counts.
The “yellow rally” was aimed at free and fair elections but the Malay perception was that the Chinese protesters at Bersih 4 were out to change the Government. Those behind the Malay rally meant it as show of Malay and Muslim strength but it was perceived by outsiders as a racist and provocative gathering.
Dr Mahathir was not spared either. There were placards telling him: “Tun, jangan pecah belah orang Melayu (don’t divide the Malays).”
No one in Umno wants to say it openly but their perception is that Dr Mahathir is so intent on bringing down Najib that he does not seem to care if Umno also comes tumbling down.
Umno blogger Ahirudin Attan did not mention names in his Rocky Bru’s blog, but everyone knew who he was referring to when his posting on the rally concluded with the following: “And whether you like it or not, Melayu mudah lupa (Malays easily forget). They will forget the good you have done because of the really bad that they think you are doing even if you had been a hero before.”
There has been criticism that the rally was held to shore up Najib’s image. But the Umno president, said Alwi, was actually quite reluctant about this sort of retaliatory protests and was concerned that it might go wrong.
The rally did not help him much but the big numbers and its cohesiveness bolstered the morale of Umno members. Their confidence had been shattered by the outcome of the last two general elections but the rally gave them the sense that they can survive if they stay united.
Their anger over the hate campaign against their party and leaders has been building up. But they had held back because they did not want to alienate whatever Chinese support there was left for the ruling coalition.
All that changed after Bersih 4. They could see that the Chinese mood had not softened and the community is still dead set against Umno. The rally was their way of saying enough is enough and to show that Umno has the numbers to survive.
Dozens of police reports were lodged against Bersih 4 and it is likely that the same will be done with the Red Shirts.
The concern is that Malaysia is about to enter an era of rallies – of reds versus yellows. Thailand went through years of red shirts rallying against the yellow shirts and vice versa. And they are now under military rule.
The Bersih organisers have not ruled out another Bersih. If that happens, there will probably be a second Malay rally.
It is interesting to note, despite the Redshirt Rally is far from the neat and well planned organisation of BERSIH 4.0 on 29-30 August 2015, the outcome is really alarming red and thunderously frightening.
A lot of UMNO Divisions’s machinery were mobilised less than 48 hours before the event. This is because the ‘green-for-go’ obtained from the Kuala Lumpur Police only received on the weekend before the event.
Hence, the appearance of several UMNO MT Members, Division Chiefs and even Deputy Ministers, along with NGO leaders and right wing nationalists and activists, walking from three different point to converge at Padang Merbok.
Even members of the Opposition party, who have expressed their strong displeasure on matter of ‘nationalism’ showed up and lend their support.
The numbers do make a point, to expound the strong messages across.
What is intriguing is that the foreign and international media gave a lot of coverage for the BERSIH 4.0 rally, which was deemed “Illegal” but not a peep for the one which obtained proper permit and was even better turn out, considering the preparations.
Neither did the Malaysia Day rally a few hours later in Kota Kinabalu, where Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak received very thunderous welcome and cheers by the Sabahans and Sarawakians, mostly of the Bumiputera ethics.
They wore red too.
It is only to fortify the notion that the international community through their media wanted to subdue the strong messages and demands of the Malays and Bumiputera Sabah and Sarawak, who represent the majority of this nation.
The colour ‘Red’ did paint the true picture of the silent majority of the nation.