KL rally makes GE13 a keener battle, say analysts

Pakatan Rakyat have estimated that close to 500,000 turned up for the rally yesterday while police said the crowd was, at the most, 45,000.

By Clara Chooi and Boo Su-Lyn, The Malaysian Insider

Kuala Lumpur’s mammoth rally yesterday has revived Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) push to capture Putrajaya from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) which has used a combination of policy and handouts to claw back support, say political analysts.

The analysts told The Malaysian Insider that PR’s ability to organise up to 100,000 for the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat gathering and the crowd’s interest in the issues being discussed will make the general election a close battle for both coalitions. PR have estimated that close to 500,000 turned up for the rally at the iconic Stadium Merdeka but police said the crowd was, at the most, 45,000.

“Regardless of the actual crowd numbers, aerial photographs emerging from the event show a very large crowd, which reflects on the opposition and civil society’s ability to mobilise the public,” Merdeka Center’s Ibrahim Suffian noted.

“But apart from showcasing the capability of organisers, it also shows the enthusiasm and energy of the forces opposing the government, underlining the fact that the coming polls contest will no doubt be the toughest that the ruling coalition will face in its history,” he added.

Centre for Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said the rally was a “clear-cut victory” for both the opposition and civil society, citing the massive turnout, the disciplined behaviour of participants and the “formidable” consensus shown by all parties in opposing Barisan Nasional’s (BN) rule.

“All these indicators will strike dismay in BN,” he said.

But Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political analyst Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff expressed a slightly different view.

“When such a big rally is not disturbed and goes on so peacefully, why then did it not attract the one-million supporters as promised by Pakatan?” he asked.

In the run-up to the event, rally organisers had estimated attendance at a whopping one million people, although the seating capacity at Stadium Merdeka is only 30,000.

The gathering, which saw people dressed in T-shirts in a rainbow of colours to denote various causes, was organised by both political leaders from PR and non-partisan members of various civil society groups as a final showcase of their demands before the 13th general election is called by June.

“So one impact from this event is that we cannot always believe what these parties tell us. They always boast figures.

“Sometimes, they should just be realistic. You cannot promise something that is beyond your reach… you will just give false hope,” Agus said.

But on a more positive note, the professor said the smooth running of the rally, possibly the largest public gathering yet in years, should be marked as a milestone in the growth of democracy in Malaysia.

He said scenes of the carnival-like atmosphere as rally-goers of all race and backgrounds came together for a cause was enough to reduce a person to tears.

“It made everyone so happy to get the permit. It shows that we, Malaysians, can now express our rights in a peaceful way. This is what democracy is,” he said.

Agus added that one of the biggest takeaways from the rally was that it helped voters make up their minds for the polls by placing them in the “best position to assess which party is the best”.

PR’s de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim made several election pledges that appeared to strike a chord with the predominantly Malay crowd at Stadium Merdeka.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider after the event, many rally participants appeared enthused and determined to make sure there will be a change of guard in Putrajaya after the 13th general election.

“This is the climax before PRU13,” despatch rider Md Isa Ishak said, referring to the polls. “We are angry at cronyism. They are robbing us. We are angry at our leaders now.”

“I feel positive after this event. I always feel angry at BN,” said 36-year-old videgrapher David Lim, adding that he would get all his friends to vote in the polls.