Do political rallies still speak for the rakyat?


They appear to have been hijacked by politicians who use them as a means of demonstrating the strength of their support.

Scott Ng, Free Malaysia Today

Rallies and demonstrations were once denounced as something foreign to our culture and thus should be rejected by patriotic Malaysians. That has changed. While Anwar Ibrahim’s supporters held a massive demonstration this weekend, Umno also had a rally of divisional leaders to demonstrate Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s strength. Although one took place on the streets and the other in the safety of an appointed area, they both presented evidence that our political culture has changed to reflect the need for rapport among those of similar beliefs.

However, the purpose of these rallies and demonstrations appears to have changed. What was once a tool for society to have its voice heard has become a tool for politicians to demonstrate the length and breadth of their power. Our avenues of protest have been hijacked by politicians, though one could argue that this would be natural given the nature of protests. After all, politicians are drawn like moths to the flame of public spectacle and attention.

The #KitaLawan rally was commendable indeed in terms of the crowd it drew, especially considering the timing. It came long after Anwar was committed to prison and soon after the Chinese New Year festivities. The Chinese are still in fatigue or haven’t returned from their holidays.

Drawing a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 was no mean accomplishment, but Anwar’s camp was surely hoping for a larger turnout to make a statement. Certainly, had there been more of a PAS presence, the crowd would have swelled to Bersih-level proportions.

In fact, while we’re making a point about a crowd being a political statement, PAS’ choice to go largely unrepresented is also a statement of great magnitude, underscoring the tension between the Islamist party and its Pakatan Rakyat partners. There are rumours circulating that President Abdul Hadi Awang neglected to tell the party grassroots to join the demonstration. This is taken as a message sent loud and clear to DAP and PKR that their efforts to have Anwar freed will receive no tangible PAS support, although there is no doubt the Erdogan faction was represented at the rally.