What did the Red Shirt rally achieve?


So the reason we wore yellow was because we wanted to show loyalty to the Agong. And it was the Agong who we wanted to meet to hand over the memorandum. And the Agong had consented to receiving our memorandum. I don’t know why yellow is still Bersih’s colour when it no longer has anything to do with the Agong.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

There are various estimates of crowd turnout at yesterday’s Red Shirt rally on Malaysia Day. The estimates range from 35,000 to 250,000, depending on who is making that estimate.

The same thing happened for the Bersih 4.0 or ‘Yellow Shirt’ rally on the eve of Merdeka Day just over two weeks ago. The estimates range from 50,000 to 500,000 with one Blogger even mentioning ‘satu juta’.

There are even those who are comparing the two rallies from the point of which is dirtier and smellier and which of the two rallies had a more pungent urine smell.

This is just like discussing the colour of the dog collar of a sick dog instead of discussing the health of the dog. Malaysians love doing this. We prefer discussing the colour of the dog collar rather than discuss the dog and what should be done to improve its health.

I suppose when success is equated to crowd size then this is how we would compare the success or otherwise of the two rallies. The larger the crowd then the more successful your rally is. And if my crowd is larger than yours than I am more successful than you.

The opposition crowd at the Sanggang by-election in Pahang was overwhelming. Even the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was worried enough to mention it. But then Umno beat PAS hands down.

The opposition crowd at the Indera Kayangan by-election in Perlis was also overwhelming. The crowd (or lack of it) at Menteri Besar Shahidan Kassim’s house was so pathetic that they had to cancel the ceramah while there were 70,000 people at Mat Sabu’s ceramah not too far away.

The next day the MCA candidate beat the PKR candidate, Khoo Yang Chong, in spite of PKR already celebrating its victory even before the results came in. That is what happens when you use crowd size to measure your success or win. You might end up being very disappointed.

“What did the Red Shirt rally achieve?” asked Dr Mahathir. I am surprised the Old Man of Malaysian politics would ask this question when he, too, 30 years ago back in the 1980s, mobilised his own ‘Red Shirt’ crowd during his road show all over Malaysia during what is known as the Constitutional Crisis.

Dr Mahathir had declared war on the rulers and he wanted to demonstrate to the nine rulers that the Malays are with him and not with the monarchy. So he organised rallies all over Malaysia and got Umno to mobilise crowds of supporters. Then he got the mainstream media and TV stations to ‘expose’ the transgressions and wrongdoings of the rulers to show the rakyat how the rulers are abusing their position and are wasting the rakyat’s money. Most of these allegations, however, were fabricated although some were definitely true.

Of course, the rulers could not respond. So they took the attacks quietly without saying a word. And at the end of the campaign the majority of Malaysians hated the monarchy and even started talking about turning Malaysia into a republic.

It became so bad that the then Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba, had to issue a statement that while it is not wrong to criticise the rulers, we must not talk about abolishing the monarchy to turn Malaysia into a republic because that would tantamount to sedition.

So what did yesterday’s rally achieve? I would say that one thing it achieved is it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. Many Malays were upset with the Bersih rally two weeks ago, which they perceived as a Chinese anti-Malay rally. And the insults that were made at the rally — the stepping on photographs included — upset some Malays even further.

So yesterday’s rally allowed some of these angry Malays to let off steam. As the Malays would say, they geram and dendam, and unless they were allowed an avenue to release this frustration and anger then it would build up and eventually explode.

So yesterday’s rally was a sort of release valve that allowed the excess pressure to escape. Now that ‘we have shown them’ these Malays can all go home satisfied. They no longer keep the geram and dendam in them. It has all been spent yesterday.

It is just like some Japanese companies that have a gym where the frustrated employees can go there to punch and scream. Once all the steam has been released they can go back to their desks quite satisfied that they have ‘got even’ with their boss. If not they might one day bring a gun to work and shoot the boss dead, like what happens in the US.

The second achievement of yesterday’s Red Shirt rally is it has proven what I have been saying for a long time. What I said is that Malaysia’s race relations is very dicey and things are not as honky-dory as some say. But when I said that I was accused of being a racist.

But that is the truth of the matter. Even Dr Mahathir used to say that Malaysia cannot afford to allow absolute freedom and street demonstrations because of the very delicate racial composition of the country. Anything can spark a race war. And that is why certain freedoms cannot be allowed, argued Dr Mahathir.

So both the Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts need to take note of this. What you say and do can affect race relations. It is not what you do and say that matters. It is how others perceive what you do and say that counts. And the Yellow Shirt rally is being perceived by some as an anti-Malay rally while the Red Shirt rally is being perceived by some as an anti-Chinese rally. You cannot deny this fact.

Anyway, do you know why the Bersih colour is yellow? Well, it started out like this.

In the first Bersih rally that we planned in 2007, we wanted to hand a memorandum to His Majesty the Agong. To demonstrate our loyalty to the Agong we decided to wear yellow since yellow is a royal colour.

Some disagreed. These, of course, were the republicans who did not accept the monarchy as Malaysia’s symbol. So they did not want to join the rally if they had to wear yellow. We then compromised and agreed that they need not use yellow. They can use red, the colour of their choice. But they had to agree that we would hand the memorandum to the Agong since Malaysia is a Constitutional Monarchy, which they reluctantly did so.

So the reason we wore yellow was because we wanted to show loyalty to the Agong. And it was the Agong who we wanted to meet to hand over the memorandum. And the Agong had consented to receiving our memorandum. I don’t know why yellow is still Bersih’s colour when it no longer has anything to do with the Agong.