Sunday September 2, 2012
Calm gathering a cause to celebrate
By SHAHANAAZ HABIB
Although the Janji Demokrasi gathering went on without a commotion, some feel that no one should be above the law.
BUSINESSMAN See came from Johor to spend a few hours in KL with a couple of his friends on Merdeka eve.
After an early dinner on Thursday, he was out on the streets of KL till the wee hours of Friday to show his support for two causes close to his heart The Save Jalan Sultan Merdeka March, and the Janji Demokrasi Merdeka countdown.
“Kalau tak fikir jahat, kenapa nak takut? (If I don't have bad intentions, what is there to fear?)” he said when met at the two gatherings.
The Save Jalan Sultan march, led by the group protesting the land acquisition of Jalan Sultan for the MRT project, gathered in the grounds of the Gospel Hall at Jalan Hang Jebat on Thursday night at around 8pm.
The group spoke about what they were fighting for and their plan of action if the police detained them when they marched out to the streets.
At about 9pm, accompanied by lion dancers, the group mostly dressed in yellow Bersih and Janji Bersih T-shirts, waving Malaysian flags, marched out on Jalan Hang Jebat down Jalan Sultan before coming to a stop at the junction near the Klang Bus Station and Pasar Seni LRT station.
They shouted “Merdeka”, “Save Jalan Sultan” several times, read their three demands, sang the Negara Ku and within 20 minutes or so, they dispersed.
There was minimal police presence. All the few policemen did was keep an eye on the group and radio the information to their superiors.
“I am not sure what to do now, whether to go home or to join the Janji Demokrasi programme,” said a confused Ai Leen when The Save Jalan Sultan Merdeka March ended much earlier than she anticipated.
An hour-and-a-half later, at about 11pm, other groups of people in yellow T-shirts made their way to Dataran Merdeka for the Janji Demokrasi gathering to celebrate national day.
However, Dataran Merdeka was closed off, from 6pm on Merdeka Eve to 6am the next day. A huge screen at the square displayed notice of the closure, saying: “Tiada Sebarang Orang atau Pihak Dibenarkan Masuk ke Dataran Merdeka kerana Persiapan Untuk Sambutan Hari Kemerdekaan 55 Sedang Dijalankan.
True, there were canopies and tents erected at Dataran Merdeka for the national day parade and celebrations.
But people breached the barriers anyway and got to Dataran Merdeka.
Unlike the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28, however, this time there were no razor wires, water-filled plastic barricades or thousands of policemen, FRU or water cannon trucks to keep the people back.
Still, the people, mindful of the National Day preparations, steered clear of the canopies while the small number of policemen kept watch.
When Janji Demokrasi organiser Maria Chin Abdullah showed up, she asked the groups of people attired in yellow to head towards DBKL, and they followed her instructions.
Janji Demokrasi (Promise of Democracy) is a reaction to the government's Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled) theme for Merdeka Day.
The Janji Demokrasi countdown to Merdeka was organised by a coalition of NGOs (which are closely aligned to or are part of Bersih) to pressure the Government into fulfilling promises which, they see, have yet to be delivered. These include a free and fair election, the right to peaceful assembly at public places, and to uphold the Federal Constitution.
Although a number of the Janji Demokrasi organising committee are in the Bersih 3.0 steering committee, including Maria and Hishamuddin Rais, and people were told to wear yellow (the Bersih-adopted colour), they insisted that their Merdeka countdown was not Bersih-organised.
Hence, they changed their rally cry from Janji Bersih to Janji Demokrasi, although the T-shirts were already printed and bore the words Janji Bersih.
Bersih 3.0 co-chairman, national laureate A. Samad Said (Pak Samad), came to read his Janji Demokrasi sajak (poem).
“We are not representing Bersih. Demanding free and fair elections doesn't affect Bersih alone. Every Malaysian should be asking for that,” said Maria.
At the countdown, Maria had brought along a loud hailer (which wasn't really loud at all) but people just 20m away couldn't even hear what was being said. But the thousands who showed up didn't seem to mind. They were in a carnival-like mood.
“It is calm today because there is no FRU around compared to the Bersih rally. We are just here to celebrate Merdeka,” said 23-year-old Kamal Ismail, who took part in the Bersih 3.0 rally in April. Back then, the FRU had fired rounds of tear gas and water cannons at protesters when the barricades were breached.
Still, this Merdeka Eve Janji Demokrasi countdown wasn't without a bit of drama.
Some 15 minutes before midnight, a group of Mat Rempit turned up and deliberately revved up their bike engines to drown out whatever the Janji Demokrasi group was saying.
Angry, some among the Janji Demokrasi crowd rushed to the motorbikers, intending to “bersih” (move) them out of the area but were reminded by the others in the group to stay calm and not respond to any provocation. Everyone including the noisy bikers had a right to be there, they were reminded.
The Mat Rempit were allowed to pass and the Janji Demokrasi group then resumed their countdown.
When the clock struck midnight, they shouted “Merdeka”, “Janji Bersih”, “Janji Demokrasi”, and left as planned.
The following morning, at 8am, the National Day parade went on according to schedule at Dataran Merdeka.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said in a brief speech that the Barisan Nasional government had indeed fulfilled its promises over the last 55 years.
“When we say Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled), we promised stability, prosperity and peace and we can see that the country is stable, prosperous and peaceful.
“Those are Promises Fulfilled and we are doing this for the coming generation so that Generation Y' can take over the reins of leadership from a country that is prosperous and stable,” he said.
Met after the parade, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said the theme Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled), for him, is a “reminder to us to keep our promises not just in the past but also in the future.”
He said it does not apply just at government level but also in interpersonal relationships where people should always fulfil their promises.
“The late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu (former Gerakan president and ex-Penang Chief Minister) told me you shouldn't promise anything that you can't deliver and to deliver whatever you've promised'. So this is nothing new. In life, although we may hold to this dictum it can't be 100%.
“There are shortcomings because no country, no government (ruling or opposition) and no human is perfect.
“Our track record is not 100% perfect but we have delivered 70% to 80% of what we have promised and that is not bad at all. By any standard, Malaysia has done well.”
Dr Koh was unperturbed by the Janji Demokrasi gathering.
“It's all because of election fever. There is nothing wrong with that. We should welcome different opinions. If people are completely satisfied, there's nothing more to strive for,” he said.
Defence Minister and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi said that as long as the Janji Demokrasi gathering did not “kacau (disrupt)” the National Day celebrations and the parade, he was okay with it. “Cukuplah tak kacau.”
Maria was pleased with the way Janji Demokrasi turned out and the huge numbers who came. Calling it a “great success”, she said: “It shows we can celebrate Merdeka Day in different ways and it can be peaceful and bring unity of the people when they are allowed to express themselves.
“It is up to the people how to interpret their Merdeka celebration. A lot of young people came and they were all there to celebrate.”
Praise for police
Maria also commended the police for their stance. Even though the gathering was declared illegal by the police, the police did not take any strong action when people breached the barriers at Dataran Merdeka. Instead they played their role to monitor and facilitate the gathering, she said.
“It showed they can control the situation. They did very well. I feel that the police has learnt from the night's (Merdeka Eve) experience. They need to understand that they have to trust the people to behave peacefully.”
But not everyone is okay with the Janji Demokrasi gathering, one of whom is Kota Belud MP Datuk Rahman Dahlan from Barisan.
There is a time for everything, and Merdeka Eve is certainly not it, he said.
For him, Merdeka Eve is such a “sacred” night and there should be decorum, respect and decency not to do political manoeuvring on such an important night.
“They can do it some other day (but) not Merdeka Eve. They've already said how they feel about Janji Ditepati, calling it Janji Dicapati' (Flattened Promises). They've made their point.”
He was further disappointed that some Janji Demokrasi participants had stomped on pictures of the Prime Minister and his wife, and one person had pulled down his trousers and exposed his butt to the pictures; but Maria so easily washed her hands off the incident, saying they do not support or encourage such actions.
A lawyer by profession, Rahman stressed that the gathering was illegal in the first place because organisers did not abide by the regulations under the Peaceful Assembly Law. They did not give police advance notice and did not get permission from the owner of the venue they planned to gather at, he said.
“Are you saying that the law is irrelevant? A law is still a law. If you don't like it, get to Putrajaya, become the Federal government and change the law.”
He said the police used a lot of discretion in dealing with the issue because they did not want a commotion.
Whichever side you are on, every Malaysian is thankful that hell did not break loose on Merdeka. That is cause enough to celebrate.