‘Tis the season to be rallying | Selangor Times
Issue 118


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‘Tis the season to be rallying
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 30 Nov 2012

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. 

Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s Socialism conference, “Revolt of the 99%”, was also held over the weekend. 

And most relevant to the civil society movement were the twin rallies, Himpunan Hijau (Green Gathering) to protest against the rare earth Lynas plant which is about to begin operations in Kuantan, as well as the Dong Zong (Chinese association)protest against the draft Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013, in particular its seeming lack of emphasis on vernacular type schools. 

One might consider this weekend as an example of the flourishing arts, political, and activist scene in Malaysia. Or within the Klang Valley, at least. 

Why the need to rally and protest on the streets? 

This is the question many debated hotly during and following the Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0 rallies. 

After all, is it not enough that an organisation can be formed peacefully, and then seek very civil meetings and brainstorming sessions with the relevant government agency? 

Would we not achieve the same goals by putting together a private or public forum where representatives could sit nicely on stage to carry out intellectual discourse? 

If problems can be settled arbitrarily by the parties involved in a calm, rational manner, then what is the purpose of a street gathering? (After all, it creates conditions in which traffic is worsened, whether due to police’s active work of carrying out roadblocks and spot-checks or by the sheer size of the crowds, does it not?)

I would submit that attempting civil discourse and dialogue with the authorities ought to be the first line of action. 

In advocating any policy change, the decision-making stakeholders – chief of which being policymakers within the bureaucracy – form the first level of a target audience. 

In civil society and public policy work, one method is therefore to try getting the message delivered to as high the decision-making body as possible. 

Malaysian NGOs are experienced in this regard, for instance sending memorandums backed with facts and figures to the appropriate ministries, members of Parliament, and so on. 

In fact, the trend of late has been to deliver such notes to members of the royalty, either the Sultan or Agong. 

But there is also disagreement as to whether the monarchy ought to be ascribed such great attention given their very minimal executive powers in reality.

But quite apart from mere gimmickry in the delivery of such notes, neither that for the reason of making it a publicity stunt, the first course of action ought to be real engagement with decision-makers and opinion shapers. 

This may not necessarily be individuals within government, but could be those wielding influence say from within think tanks, professional associations (depending on the issue), the corporate sector, retired civil servants, the media and so on. 

If, however, all lines of communication and attempts at getting a particular message across consistently fail, then it is certainly worth considering targeting a more radical approach.

It is all well and good to work from within the system, but when the system itself fails to acknowledge any semblance of real reform – despite the verbal commitment to it – then there must be alternative routes, an example being peaceful demonstrations which have the potential to send a strong message. 

Bersih 3.0 was an example where no serious move was seen to be taken by the Election Commission despite the passing of the Electoral Reform Parliamentary Select Committee’s report in Parliament, hence the organiser’s decision to hold the third rally in April this year. 

In the case of Himpunan Hijau, protesters felt their fears and concerns of radioactive waste disposal are unheard and disregarded. 

As for Dong Zong’s protest, it was a way of displaying their sentiments on vernacular schools and although the Education Blueprint is merely at draft stage, this would send a political message that the current government ought not neglect Chinese-type schools especially so close to a general election. 

Having said this, it is open to debate whether or not these movements had truly tried the first route of continuing closed-door dialogue with the government, failing which, that street or public protests were a measure of last resort. 

Another related point is whether or not people marching are aware of the issues they are fighting for. 

A cynic’s argument would be that “they know not what they do” and therefore be dismissive of an entire movement on these grounds since it becomes merely a populist mob, or ‘the cool and hip thing to do these days’. 

An idealist would state that whilst the entire population is being thoroughly educated and made aware of a certain issue (say, the alleged detrimental environmental impacts of the Lynas plant), not all supporters need to know the specifics of why they are protesting – that by being part of the movement is the first – important – stepping stone in participatory democracy and exposure to issues affecting the nation. 

Without a doubt, the spirit of comradeship and camaraderie is extremely strong during and immediately after a gathering advocating a certain cause. 

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? 

Ought we educate the young and only upon their thorough understanding of an issue, grant them blessing to participate in an activist movement? 

Or allow them the space for involvement, growing whilst gaining knowledge, speaking to more experienced individuals, and in the process eventually being “conscientised” into the language of participatory democracy? 

The latter seems to be the preferred choice, and that continual efforts at public education are carried out at the same time. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying; which ones are worth time and attention? 

To come to any conclusion, one would have to evaluate them based on their issues, subject content, methodology and advocacy efforts to stakeholders, messaging, impact of the said rally, and eventual objectives they respectively seek to achieve for the betterment of Malaysian society in the long run. 


 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











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