On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Deep concern for all

The damaged billboard of the Datum Jelatek Project is seen following a demonstration by a group of residents in Taman Keramat, Kuala Lumpur recently.

The damaged billboard of the Datum Jelatek Project is seen following a demonstration by a group of residents in Taman Keramat, Kuala Lumpur recently.

No one should be allowed to think that race-based protests are tolerated or, worse, encouraged, because the authorities continue to close an eye to such protests.

IGNORANCE, prejudice, politically and racially motivated advice and, worse, economic disparity in an urban setting are a potent, and potentially volatile, combination.

The race-based protest against the Datum Jelatek condominium project in Keramat, Ampang Jaya, is hugely disturbing and it would not be wrong to say that the incident, though local in nature, should be of national concern because of the increasing racial polarisation gripping the country.

Malaysians are by now used to reading about protests by local residents in the Klang Valley and other major urban centres against the construction of apartments, malls, highways and even schools near their neighbourhoods.

The fight by residents to preserve space in their own backyard has never been so loud. It’s simply because residents feel squeezed and, more importantly, they are now more conscious of their rights, more willing to challenge the authorities, more astute at organising themselves, and more clever at using the social media and the press to highlight their plight.

Developers, especially the high-end ones who build exclusive gated properties and charge high maintenance fees, have found that they can no longer increase rates at their whim and fancy.

The residents scrutinise every bill and nothing escapes their attention. Then there are also those residents who are overwhelmed by the rapid changes taking place around them in the name of development.

Many of them stay in areas at the fringe of some of the prime districts that are already bursting at the seams.

For these people in closely-knit communities, there is a genuine fear over the loss of identity and even their homes.

We should look at what happened in the Datum Jelatek protest last Sunday in this context.

The protest turned rowdy when some 100 protestors reportedly turned aggressive and broke into the construction site.

While the police managed to bring the situation under control, what was worrying was that the protestors – and we are not even sure if they are residents – were in a frenzy because they had been led into believing that the project would transform the area into a Chinese district.

They claimed that Malays had been sidelined and that one or two blocks would be sold mainly to foreigners.

The RM1.2bil Datum Jelatek project, which started in 2008 on a 2.4ha land next to the Jelatek LRT station, comprises four blocks of luxury condominiums, a hotel, offices and a shopping centre.

The condominiums are being built on the former site of four blocks of Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) flats, owned mostly by Malays, which were demolished in late 2010.

The project received its planning approval in November 2011 from the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council, but actual work had been postponed several times over a variety of issues.

This is normal in any project where the residents in the immediate surroundings have a right to voice their objections, and to point out procedural matters within a specific time period.

It is also common to have public protests but this becomes a problem when other parties get involved.

Whoever had a hand in organising the protest last week certainly did not believe in civil discourse.

Worse, they played the racial card and directed the protestors to vent their anger at the Chinese for daring to enter into the Malay enclave. In this case, the Chinese has become the bogeyman for nothing.

According to a media report, members of the Selangor chapter of Perkasa were seen among the rowdy crowd in the protest that was supposedly under the ambit of the Datum Jelatek Action Committee (BBDJ).

BBDJ chairman Salleh Samad was quoted as saying that the demonstration was organised to warn Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali to stop the condominium project, saying that “it would open the floodgates to other races entering the Malay-majority area.”

Selangor Perkasa chief Abu Bakar Yahya, who was present, allegedly made racially inflammatory and offensive statements, going by a report in a news portal.

It is worth noting that the developer, Datum Corp International Sdn Bhd, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of PKNS and its management team is almost entirely bumiputra.

And we are now told that 1,097 bumiputra buyers had registered their interest to buy the 674 units available.

This means that the condominiums could entirely have only Malay residents although the PKNS quota for the project is 50% for bumiputra and 50% for non-bumiputras.

We can be sure that after this widely reported racially-slanted protest, potential buyers from other ethnic groups will shy away from this project, proudly proclaimed by the developer in its website as “the epitome of luxury in the heart of metropolitan city.

“A sanctuary in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan city, Datum Jelatek is an oasis of rest and relaxation with world-class amenities and still be a stone’s throw from the excitement of a modern city.”

There is a lot of damage control to be done. According to the developer, the Keramat residents were not directly involved in the protest as the company had already met with them in stages to listen to their grievances.

It has already lodged a police report and is contemplating taking legal action against those involved.

The high number of interested Malay buyers has also proven that the community can afford to buy the apartments despite the high prices, and claims that the project would be swarmed by the Chinese are sheer rubbish and nothing more than a figment of the imagination of racist minds.

With the support and coordination of various stakeholders, local residents can benefit from the economic spin-offs of the projects in the area, even if they cannot afford to buy the units.

Local businesses can bloom and jobs can be created because of the project, and this is something that should be highlighted by the major stakeholders to the residents to counter the outsiders who seek to poison their minds.

The police have said that no arrest has been made so far, but they would investigate reports of trespassing by the protestors. But I think many Malaysians want to know what action will be taken against those who made racially inflammatory remarks at the protest and if they will be able to get away scot-free.

We should all be concerned about any form of racial or religious provocation by any individual or group.

We want the authorities to be fair and firm and not allow any form of race-based protest. Last week’s protest over the Datum Jelatek project is not just a local issue, but a matter of deep concern for all.

No one should be allowed to think that such race-based protests are tolerated or, worse, encouraged, because the authorities continue to close an eye to such protests.

This is not the Malaysia that rational Malaysians know. We certainly cannot allow such extremists to take control of the country’s directions.

Whatever their race or religion, they must not be allowed to grow and threaten the country that we all call our home.