On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Remember the sacrifices

THE Bersih 4 rally, as you read this, is still in progress. It will officially end at the stroke of midnight. The crowds are still there.

At the time of writing, the protest has been carnival-like and the crowd has exercised much discipline and self-restraint while the police, to their credit, has showed minimal presence this time, very much so compared to the previous Bersih rallies.

Ironically, if we are able to travel back in time, it was at the stroke of midnight on Aug 31, 1957, that the Union Jack was lowered and the then Malayan flag raised to signal the birth of a new nation. The crowds were there, at the same venue, in full force as well.

I have been an observer since early yesterday morning, watching the people gathering at various points.

In the lead-up to this event, we have seen how, in true Malaysian manner, some officials have reacted with sledgehammer directives over misguided fears of riots and mayhem.

Some, on the other extreme, seem to take it too lightly, thinking it’s just a weekend ­family stroll, forgetting that as in all protests, it can always take a turn for the worst.

Some just showed up, hoping for a showdown with the police, and to get their moment of fame.

But from what I have observed so far, it looks like we will survive this big protest – in fact, the fourth in the series and we have all survived every single one of them.

But there have been moments when I felt the parties involved were really testing each other – without fully understanding the ­ramifications of their actions.

But let us look at the bigger picture as we also prepare to celebrate our National Day tomorrow.

The Bersih 4 participants have their grievances, mainly political, but I know there are many Malaysians, right now, who are angry and sad with the many external and internal factors confronting the nation.

There is a sense of hopelessness and, when the pockets have been hit, there is also a sense of resentment.

It has reached a point that for some misguided Malaysians, they cannot even differentiate between love for the country and love for the government of the day.

The hoisting of the national flag can invite scorn from some Malaysians, who wrongly associate it as an instrument of the government.

Politicians come and go but our loyalty to the King and country remains steadfast. That means there should be undivided allegiance for the Jalur Gemilang at all times, more so in this Merdeka season.

Our politicians must understand and accept that in a democracy, there will always be a sizeable section of the electorate who will not support them. They just have to look at the election statistics to know that getting into power is not necessarily synonymous with having the majority of the popular vote.

In modern democracies, leaders have found that the majority that they obtained in general elections would keep diminishing as voters want to keep their government in check.

Party members must come to terms with such changes and should not expect their party leaders to deliver victory with unreasonable huge majorities. That is a thing of the past.

Malaysia is a not a dictatorship and the people won’t allow any directions, subtle or otherwise, towards that. The people have a right to love or loathe their leaders.

Likewise, those who take to the streets, demanding popular changes, must also not assume that they represent the majority.

You cannot change the government by merely staging protests because like it or not, the reality is that the present government is legitimately elected with still two years to go, no matter how unpopular it may seem to be to some at this point in time.

Without doubt, the leadership’s credibility has been challenged, if not severely dented, but any change can only come from within the ruling party and no one else.

It must also be recognised, no matter how difficult it is for some, that the current leader­ship has the support of its dominant party and other parties within the Barisan coalition.

But it will be foolhardy, at the same time, for the leadership to just ignore the sentiments of urban Malaysia, especially when they play a strong influence in shaping ­opinions – especially those that work against the leadership.

As in Bersih 4, surely no one can dispute that the sentiments of the protesters are fairly representative of the views of a large number of the electorate, especially in the urban areas.

In fact, our government should sit up and understand the ground rumblings.

There has got to be a better and more effective method of addressing the concerns raised instead of shifting the blame on non-existent ghosts and bogeymen. Haven’t we all grown tired listening to those who blame all the woes of Malaysia on the Jews, Christians and the shrinking Chinese community?

As a nation, we can face the storm ­together because we have gone through worse times. There have been dark hours before but we have survived.

We need to come to terms with reality. This country does not belong to one race but all races. This is a multi-racial, multi-­religious and multi-cultural country.

I am sure the government accepts that the nature of our racial composition is an asset. The country’s tourism promotions boldly proclaim that we are a country worth visiting because we are a plural society. There is great beauty in our diversity.

Despite the inefficiency of some of our ministers, including those who make racist rumblings occasionally, we must acknow­ledge that the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of multi-racial representation in the Cabinet.

Having to accommodate all races and all states, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, has resulted in what some cynics say is a bloated Cabinet. But it is a small price to pay.

We may compare ourselves to bigger countries with smaller Cabinet set-ups, but we fail to realise that these countries do not have the complexities of our racial dynamics which we have to grapple with.

No Malaysian government, at state or ­federal level, can claim legitimacy without the representation of the main races. Politicians who make bravado statements of not wanting the Chinese votes are just ­myopic or plain arrogant.

The last two years have been difficult ones for all of us.

Last year, we had to cope with the loss of two MAS planes and just as we struggled to move on, we ran into the unforeseen collapse of the crude oil price.

The plunge in oil price, which makes up over 30% of our revenue, has thrown our Budget projections upside down and, even after we revised our targets, the drop has continued and put our ringgit down to a level we cannot even imagine.

Without doubt, the domestic issues, especially political ones, have had an impact on our pockets and it is crucial that we come together to face the strong headwinds ahead.

The blame game won’t help and neither would the grumblings, understandable as they may be, to reverse the current financial nightmare.

It won’t be a happy Merdeka this time. But we can safely say that our forefathers, who fought for our independence, expected us to do better and surely, we must live up to what they have sacrificed for this country.

As anak-anak Malaysia, we must rise to the occasion. For Malaysia!