May 30, 2012
London chants to Our March for Democracy
On his own shores he wields considerable power and can command the state to do his bidding whenever he wants to advance his political agenda and interest.
He can order the Police to beat up citizens to a pulp. He can direct the army to stop his opponents from gaining power. He can do a thousand and one foul things to stay in office against the wishes of the people. Nobody can touch a strand of his hair. He is the lord of all he surveys.
But when he flies to a faraway land, he loses his aura of invincibility. He is exposed to criticisms and can become a target of protests. And so it was with the Prime Minister of Malaysia when he stepped on British soil lately. At home he dealt harshly with a popular movement for reforms and used a newly enacted law to crack down on his political opponents. His government even sued the organisers of the April 28 rally for their troubles. He must have patted himself on the back for playing the role of a saviour.
Abroad, his heroic acts did not cut ice with Malaysians who know the crackdown on the protesters in Kuala Lumpur on April 28 was not the right thing to do. They heckled him, chanting a household mantra that he finally could not ignore. There was no one to shield him from this sudden gust of wind that blew through the hall. He heard at close quarters the cry that shook his country not too long ago. He could not close his ears or shut his eyes.
This is London where there are no walls to imprison the minds or dull the human spirit. This is not Kuala Lumpur where minds are shackled and bodies trampled upon. This is Britain where political power changes hand as often as the season when voters had had enough of the incumbents. This is not Malaysia where Prime Ministers and their cronies seem to own the country and will do everything in their power to cling to their wealth, perks and positions. The end justifies the means here.
The London protest signals an important change in the attitude of Malaysians abroad. They are willing to openly confront their Prime Minister to show their displeasure over unhealthy political developments back home. By that bold act, they have destroyed the myth that a Prime Minister is untouchable by virtue of his high station in life.
More importantly, the message conveyed is that there are Malaysians who are willing to carry the torch of dissent on the world stage and loudly proclaim their solidarity with their fellow citizens fighting for a clean cause on the domestic front. For sure, Malaysians who brave tear gas, water cannons, police beatings will not be alone in their campaign for a better Malaysia.
All over the world people are rising up against unjust governments after decades of repressive rule. Dissent is a universal thread that runs through all societies and has become a common culture. If Malaysians too are taking to the streets, it is simply because they are fed up with having to put up with all the shenanigans, nonsense and lies of the government all these years.
The Asian culture of showing respect and obedience for those in authority and not questioning them in public obviously did not work. Instead, it has worked to the distinct advantage of crooked politicians, who would rather have a pliant public blind to the misdeeds of the government than a vocal one keeping vigilant watch on the conduct of the government.
Malaysians abroad have taken up the call for reforms, which is a good sign that the flame of democracy will not be extinguished. The state may grind to dust the movement for change but it cannot crush the spirit that moves the people to defy injustice and seize the day for democracy.
The Prime Minister cannot expect to get civil treatment from angry citizens overseas or reverent silence from enraged citizens at home any more: the chant for clean governance will continue to fill the air and reverberate all around him at home and abroad.