Coloured shirts and race relations

MALAYSIANS are often told that diversity is our greatest asset and the strength of the nation.

This plurality has been tested many times by politicians, activists, academics and others but it has always withstood the tests because the unwritten consensus for Malaysians is that we are stronger together.

The challenge of diversity and pluralism is even more acute in this day and age. Britain has voted to leave the European Union as it fears immigration.

The far-right (Alternative for Germany) AFD party, a political upstart predicated on anti-immigration rhetoric, is now represented in 10 German state parliaments.

In Greece, the far right Golden Dawn has been especially vocal on immigration and even traditionally tolerant parties on the left and right have adopted a more insular and inward looking approach as Europeans fret over a future that is “less-white” and more diverse.

Gerakan president Datuk Seri Mah SiewKeong made a potent point in his policy address at the recently concluded 45th National Delegates Conference and I quote: “Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun Sambanthan, despite being members of minority communities, were holding important posts in our nation’s Cabinet in the ’50s and ’60s before African Americans in the USA could vote or the Cabinets of Australia, the United Kingdom or Canada had any minority representation.

“It is time our past record and experiences of harmony in diversity be further enhanced and remain as a model for the world.”

Mah also said: “The growing voices of discord in the so-called more matured democracies and with all political forces, both left and right, are moving in centrifugal directions. It is evident that these countries have failed to embrace multiculturalism in a sustainable way unlike Malaysia.”

Given the gloomy backdrop we also face a unique set of domestic challenges. Post 2008, Malaysia’s political scene has been vibrant and competitive. This augurs well for our democratic system.

However, the challenges have also presented itself in the form of street demonstrations, political pressure, economic sabotage and others in the pursuit of power.

This is the bad side of the growing tide of democratisation because democracy is being used as the justification to destabilise the country and the government of the day.

My focus here is on the red-shirts led by Sungai Besar Umno chief Datuk Jamal Yunos and the yellow-shirts led by Bersih.

Bersih has had four previous rallies and it has not achieved much besides mobilising a large number of people to shout slogans and run down the government. The initial three protests did not evoke a strong response from supporters of the government and Barisan Nasional.

In between the agitations by Bersih, there were also talks between the Government and the group and I was privy to one such engagement.

However, I soon realised that Bersih was less about electoral reform and more about defeating Barisan. So it was rather difficult for the Government to work with an organisation that wanted its demise.

The fourth instalment of Bersih, however, changed the landscape and I am not sure if it was for the better.

The red-shirts led by Jamal found it important to confront Bersih because they felt that while a large number of people supported Bersih, there was an equally large, or probably larger, number of people that supported the Government.

And so the red–yellow showdown begun and it has continued as Bersih prepares for its fifth rally.

In my opinion, Bersih is no longer about clean and fair elections. Bersih has been hijacked by Pakatan Harapan politicians to further their own political aims and the group has become a compliant partner in this exercise. The only good thing to come out of this dalliance is that Bersih has made known its political predilections.

However, I am also disappointed that a number of red-shirt supporters have used this contestation with Bersih as licence to intimidate and incite. (In this regard, the Deputy Youth Chief of Gerakan lodged a police report against an incendiary Facebook post attributed to Jamal and called for the police to take the necessary action to nip the matter in the bud.)

The attacks by red-shirt supporters on journalists from The Star is another example of why street demonstrations and agitations are not suited for Malaysia, because for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.

I am certain the police will take action without fear or favour so all culprits must be put on notice that thuggery and hooliganism are not acceptable.

Beyond that, Bersih should also reconsider its approach.

I believe we are all fatigued by the constant politicking and efforts must be taken to ensure we grow the nation together. The avatar of clean and fair elections must not be used as a means to destabilise the government of the day.

Bersih is free to take part in the impending general election. But until then it should not resort to extra-democratic means.

We will always have differences, but we must stress and build on our commonalities.

The challenge for us now is to ensure our economy continues to grow and the government is able to ensure a steady flow of jobs, affordable housing, protection for the weakest members of society and continued law and order.

The coloured shirts must retreat peacefully so our race relations, despite the challenges, continues to serve as an anchor of peace and stability.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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