Sweet irony. In the end it was Najib Abdul Razak’s ‘1Malaysia’ which united Malaysians from all over the globe to stand in solidarity with fellow Malaysians back home, and demand his resignation.
From the most unlikely places like Guernsey, to South America, a diver sporting a Bersih poster whilst scuba diving in Indonesia, a skydiver with his yellow paraphernalia and small towns which are traditional strongholds of Umno Baru, like Kuala Lipis.
The Malaysians, young and old, rich and poor, answered the appeal made by Maria Chin Abdullah of Bersih 2.0, to show their support for their demand for good governance and clean elections.
The worldwide movement of dissenting Malaysians proved four things:-
First. Malaysians are united, despite 45 years of racial and religious indoctrination, that sought to use race and religion to divide them.
Second. Malaysians will rally to the call for help from fellow Malaysians, thus dispelling the myth that Malaysians are selfish and self-serving.
Third. Malaysians have crossed their threshold of fear, and are willing to stand up for themselves.
Fourth. The Malaysian government has finally realised the new phenomenon known as people power.
Back in London, widely touted as the activist capital of the world, 2,000 Malaysians who answered the Bersih 4 call, streamed in two hours before the official start time. A queue built-up to buy Bersih 4 T-shirts. The queue stretched the length of Belgrave Square, on which stands the Malaysian High Commission. The T-shirts, which had been specially commissioned for the march, sold out very quickly.
Malaysians came from as far north as Carlisle, from Wales and Bristol, Cornwall and Exeter, in the west, from Worthing and Bournemouth in the south. A few crossed the channel. A number of Malaysians, from Germany and some on holiday in France, flew in to be part of this historic event in London.
The stormy weather, which had drenched London throughout the week, cleared on Saturday. Although light drizzle was forecast for later, it could not dampen the spirits of the Bersih 4 Malaysians.
Two men who had recently hurt their backs, came to the rally. Another with a broken arm did not want to miss this chance to tell Najib what he thought of his lack of leadership.
They brought their children and there was a carnival-like atmosphere. Toddlers walked with their parents. Pet dogs had yellow balloons tied to their collars. Grandfathers pushed their young ones in strollers. A pregnant lady was seen with her young children, in the crowd.
Many in their sixties and seventies also joined the rally. English, Scottish and Irish, all with strong connections to Malaysia joined Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians in the march. A few Indonesians joined the rally to lend their support.
Coming to fulfil their duty
When asked, Malaysians volunteered that they had come to fulfil their duty, and respond to Maria’s urging to show Najib that ‘Enough is enough’. The home-made banners and posters expressed their disgust for the happenings back home.
Clare Rewcastle-Brown spoke at the rally, as did Marina Mahathir. Both thanked the crowd for joining the rally. The BBC, Sky News and Channel News Asia, covered the event.
On the upper floors of the High Commission, a window was open. A marcher said that he spotted someone, deep in the shadows, with a camera. On the lower floors a curtain fluttered, briefly, but it was enough to show the assembled crowd that they were being watched. Did they care? Not in the least.
One person said, “I don’t care if they want to take my photo. What can they do to me? I have not broken any laws. I am here to express my anger at Najib. Is that a crime? Najib is the criminal, not me.”
An enterprising group of Malaysians from Hereford, wrote an open letter to the high commissioner imploring him, to walk with them. The letter was dropped into the letterbox, as no High Commission staff answered the door. It was Saturday, and the High Commission was shut.
There was a police presence at specific moments during the rally, but it was merely to see that we were all right and adhered to health and safety rules like not blocking the pavement or spilling onto the road, and obstructing traffic.
As the yellow crowd snaked its way towards Buckingham Palace, en route to 10 Downing Street, the anti-Najib sentiments did not let up. In Front of Buckingham Palace, tourists were surprised at the ‘yellow crocodile’ and trained their cameras on the Malaysians. A group played bangra music with chants like “Turun Najib”, as they walked along St James Park. Motorists tooted their horns to show support.
At 10 Downing Street, more speeches were made, and we competed for space with another smaller demonstration. It started to drizzle but no one moaned. Out came the yellow brollies and placards doubled up as barriers to keep the protestors dry. The chants did not abate, but grew stronger as we approached Trafalgar Square, and the end of the rally.
At Trafalgar Square, a flag-bearer waved his flag with much zeal in front of the Malaysian Tourism Office. More speeches and photographs followed. Throughout the afternoon, Charles Pond, from Monsoons, had carried his sound system on his bicycle. He had provided music for the marchers and microphones for the speeches. After four hours, his batteries were exhausted. It was time to go home.
The rally had been a success, despite Najib’s comments about Bersih.
When a rally-goer was asked if she was worried that her photograph may have been taken, she said, “Who cares? A government which thinks that it can lock up everyone who dares to criticise it is not a caring government. That is a dictatorship.”
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).