You've heard of a banana republic. Now, welcome to Malaysia's Durian Democracy. The author takes on the thorny ( and occasionally horny) realities of Malaysian politics and its woes; and tries to show that behind that sharp image, Malaysia, still has some succulent, touching, and very genuine goodness in it. Not an easy task indeed, but then again, Malaysia has always been a hard nut ( or durian?) to crack.
Gives a whole new meaning to Duduk Bantah, eh? Source in image.
This is one of the definitions given by Urban Dictionary (yes I know, what a load of nonsense, but bear with me):
Police [ puh-less], noun The guys you run away from.
e.g. SHIT, IT’S THE POLICE, RUN!
Usually Urban Dictionary doesn’t quite give the most accurate of definitions, but this one seemed pretty damn accurate on Saturday. Well, most of you would have had your own experiences, but I needed to vent my frustration ( since I don’t have anybody to beat up), so here I am writing an article which probably only three people will read (one of them a cyber police officer, perhaps). I’d just like to clarify some things before I move on. Firstly, I am in no way against the police themselves as a force, but rather am opposed to their conduct. In fact, I owe a lot to them, and have friends who have policemen as dads. Secondly, this article is based on my experiences, so please don’t tell me I’m spewing nonsense (I’m talking to YOU, cyber police officer lurking in a dark room).
Okay, moving on.
Police in solemn silence, after prayers.
It was about 1.30 p.m. at Masjid Negara. The solat had begun, and people were starting to pour into the mosque. There was a huge crowd of police (most of whom looked very young) on my side of the road – about five hundred of them – and you could that some wanted to follow the crowd into the mosque (for prayer or for the shade, I don’t know). They had been standing there for about half an hour by now, and some began to sit down. A Bersih supporter joked they were staging their own Duduk Bantah, haha!
The day was maddeningly hot. I thought I was dying from the heat, when suddenly I noticed this huge movement on the right flank of the police formation. They were mobilising! The crackdown had begun! I stood up on the steel railing at the side of the road trying to get a glimpse, oh poor vertically-challenged me. And there they were, about twenty to thirty policemen, surrounding this elderly pak cik. All of them were reaching into their pockets, grabbing his hand…
To give him money for drinks.
Bet I caught you there, eh? Okay anyway, a friend of mine decided to belanja the policemen. “The police are our friends, remember that!”, he said. So we bought like ten cups of sirap and orange juice, and the police officers shared them out. They were a bit reluctant to accept it at first, but judging by the way they devoured the drinks I suppose they were pretty parched. We then begun a conversation with them.
I asked one if he knew how many policemen were present. I hazarded a figure of 3000. He just shook his head, saying there were many more than that. A little bit more snooping revealed that they were all from different contingents – some from Johor, Selangor, Perak, and even from Penang. No wonder the other protests were so peaceful, all the police were in KL!
I even found out that a few of them, by their own confession, were “dari negara asing” ( from a foreign country). I was pretty puzzled, but they seemed tight-lipped about this and so I didn’t press further. Overall they were quite friendly; joking around and jabbing each other, they reminded me of schoolkids teasing each other about “girlfriends”. Several protesters even shared cigarettes with them.
Mainstream media said businesses affected. Affected in a good way I suppose?
About twenty minutes later, prayers ended. Some policemen had stood in solemn silence the whole way. I talked to them a bit more, and one of them asked me why I had turned up. I told him about election fraud. We had a bit of a discussion, and he concluded: “You ada pandangan you, saya ada pandangan sendiri lah.” ( You have your opinions, and I have my own views)
There were lots of helicopters overhead, and even these funny men on parachutes with giant fans strapped to their back (para-gliders). Most were probably FRU air surveillance. Very nice. I joked that, for the next Bersih, we should hijack those parachute things and land in Dataran Merdeka, bypassing all the barbed wire. Heh.
In any case, I found the police mobilisation in shutting down roads to bevery impressive. It definitely revealed the extent to which the government had made preparations for Bersih.
Many festivities followed. This mood continued at my side of Masjid Jamek (I had moved, as Masjid Negara got boring), until about 3pm or so. Then all hell started breaking loose. Tear gas was everywhere. Without warning, police started shooting at us. It was like having cili padirubbed into your eyes, and a whole chunk of wasabi shoved down your throat and up your nose. For those of you who didn’t go gatal to experience tear gas, I would not recommend you attempt to reenact my description. I had a towel wet by water from a pak cik, a mask from an uncle, and salt from a little adik - the clothes of the true Malaysia.
Police fired tear gas indiscriminately. Their tactics were obviously to box us in, not to fan us out. I was getting tired from all the running and gas, and thought of just resting. Then a grandma who must have been in her 70s tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Let’s go!” I sure didn’t feel tired after that.
We ran back and forth, back and forth. Some protestors started hurling insults at the police, who responded likewise. The police shouted, “ Come la! Come la! If you’re so brave, come and hit us la!”
Though certainly the police were provoked, this was certainly unacceptable as they are to be moral guardians and upholders of peace and law. Instead of managing the situation, they fostered aggession. At one point, I was wandering off and got manhandled by a policeman who shouted at me “Pergi! Pergi! You jangan kacau di sini!” and pushed me back into the fray.
If this were some first world country – and yes, I am saying Malaysia is a third world country – the police officer would probably have just barred my way and politely but firmly said “Sir, this is a restricted area, please leave for your own safety”.
What ever happened to our Malaysian police motto of “TEGAS, ADIL DAN BERHEMAH”?
I know, pretty wet, and mind you this was BEFORE the action started!
Things gradually died down from there, as being true Malaysians, my friends and I just had to go for a makan session. So we went to Restoran Ali, although it was less packed than the nasi briyani stall next to it. The food there was not that great, to say the least. The maggi goreng was rather bland, and they had run out of most other foods (in hindsight, I think he got it mixed up with Restoran Ali Maju).
Anyway, in case you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with the police, we were eating away when a group of people in yellow shirts came running over shouting “Baju! Baju! Baju!”. I didn’t quite understand what they were shouting about until this young Chinese guy came over to our table and explained that the police were arresting everybody in yellow. We quickly put on our jackets, a quick ‘I told you it’d come in handy!’ whipped out to my friends in the process. One guy who had heard the brief exchange took off his shirt, while some others either didn’t bother or didn’t hear.
Ten seconds later, a dozen police officers came running over, holding batons and shouting their heads off. They pulled the noticeable yellow shirt wearers out of the mamaks, and the guy who took off his shirt wasn’t spared either ( I mean who on earth walks around, eating dinner half-naked in public?). The police started beating them up, kicking them around. I was tempted to stand up and cry foul, but a tiny voice in my head whispered to me about the importance of continuing the Ong family line and the futility of it all. So I just kept eating.
The police shouted while hitting them, saying “You berani lawan polis, you tau tak dua orang polis sudah mati!” (You dare fight the police, do you know that two police officers have died!) The newspapers make no mention of this, so I assume these were baseless rumours.
Such a rumour could only have come from police themselves, or from the top. If it was from the former, they should have verified the claim through their clearly well-organised communication network. If it was from the top, then it is obviously to stir up emotion and make things worse. Either way, it revealed the excessive force and gangster-ish spirit of our police officers: you hurt one of us, we have the right to hurt you; taking the law into their own hands when they of all people should know that a criminal must be tried by a court.
These vigilantes were obviously not of the Spiderman type, but rather indiscriminately vented their anger on innocent protestors who did not resist arrest.
After they left, I heaved a sigh of relief. Afraid that they might come again and this time check under my jacket, I dumped my Bersih T-shirt into the nearest dumpster. What an ironic end.
I was trying to get back home then, but to no avail. Most of the roads and trains were closed. So I was walking along St. Johns when a group of people came running and shouting how the police were now arresting practically everyone still on the streets. My friends and I dived into St. Johns Cathedral (well, it was as good a time as any to start feeling religious!) and hid there for an hour or so.
I’d like to end my account of Bersih and the police with an analogy: If we are shot by a gun (or, if you prefer, a tear gas canister), do we blame the gun or the person wielding the gun? If we are angry about the police, do we blame the police or those who direct the police?
I leave that judgment up to you. But what I do know is that after the day’s events, I have changed. I remember the first moment the tear gas hit – I shed tears, but they were not just tears from the tear gas, but tears from my heart. Something inside me had died. But recalling the Yellow River that day (we could have given the real river some competition!), something new also grew, and is still growing inside me.
I call it hope. And I hope it grows inside you, too.