It’s been 25 years since Unspun left Malaysia. The reason for leaving was Operasi Lallang, when the Umno-led government, headed by Mahathir closed down The Star, the paper where Unspun was working at, for political reasons.
Since then life has taken Unspun to many countries, with the past 16 years mostly in Indonesia which I consider home these days. For all its faults, Indonesia is more democratic, freer and less hypocritical than Malaysia society.
Time has also loosened many of the emotional ties that Unspun has had of Malaysia, so much so that I do not keep up so much with the politics any more and generally ignore the trivial pursuits of the opposition and the government.
And why bother? The Opposition and the Government were trapped in their artless polemic, devoid of vision.
The Opposition could only oppose without offering any viable alternatives. There was a brief flicker of hope in Anwar Ibrahim. There was a man who at least seemed like he had a vision. But a closer look at him and you see through the man for what he is – a consummate politician with the same moral consistency of a chameleon’s colors as it moves over a varied terrain.
The Government also disappointed. There was Mahathir who was effective and did a lot of good for the country. But at the same time he not only failed to build the institutions that are essential for a democracy ; he helped destroy them. He also failed to groom any worthy successors. The result was Abdullah Badawi, a man who had less charisma than a five-day old rubbish dump; and now Najib, a man so cautious that he’s have to have his domineering wife inspect the toilet paper before he wiped himself.
So Unspun spralled into total nonchalance when it came to Malaysian politics.
Then something stirred when Bersih 2.0 came around. Watching the leader of the movement, Ambiga, speak and address reporters and their questions Unspun saw, for the first time in many years, a Malaysian leader who was skilled in communicating her thoughts and vision. She was measured, uncluttered and spoke her mind without being defensive, like so many other Malaysian politicians.
So when Bersih 3.0 came around yesterday Unspun decided to shake off his ennui and got the family to attend its gathering in Jakarta. The setting was in a restaurant/bar called Liquid Exchange.
The agenda was to gather wearing the trademark Bersih yellow T-shirts, have lunch, give some people the opportunity to make some short speeches and then disperse. It seems tame by comparison to the risks faced by Bersih supporters in Malaysia and the organizers came up for some criticisms from a Malaysian who lived in Australia (see this link).
But the organizers had good reasons: It was illegal for foreigners o stage demonstrations in Indonesia and they were initially unsure how many malaysians would attend. the initial calculation was maybe five Malaysians as they are not generally known for their defiance of authority.
So they were pleasantly surprised when the turnout totaled over 80 Malaysians, plus three or so Indonesians and one German supporter. At the restaurant we were able to follow the development of the Bersih 3.0 protest in KL through news bulletins on Al Jazeera. Another indication of of how the world is watching.
A few speeches were made, not fantastic ones but those that came from the heart. The gist of it was how we all wanted to see a more democratic Malaysia; that Malaysia had receded in democracy while Indonesia had forged ahead; and, most touchingly, that we would have not done our duty to our country and our families if we had stayed home and not tried to make our country more democratic if only by showing up in an act of defiance against the authorities.
One other thing that I was very proud of was how some of the Malaysians, headed by old friend and former president of the Malaysia Club Jakarta Ch’ng Chin Hon, passed the proverbial hat around to raise funds for a charity – not for Malaysians but for the needy in the community we work in – the disadvantaged Indonesians.
Chin Hon and his friends run Kecara, a foundation helping poor Indonesians in Jakarta by collecting and distributing used clothes, food and even disbursing scholarships.
The gathering then released balloons as a symbolic gesture of releasing our wishes for a free election in Malaysia and dispersed after that.
After that, for the first time in a long while Unspun felt proud of the fellow Malaysians who turned up in the Bersih gatherings in Malaysia, Jakarta, Bali and at least 10 other cities worldwide.
The fact that so many Malaysians had turned out in the Bersih gatherings, which in the past was something that most people would have feared to do, for fear of government reprisals, is evidence enough that Umno’s days are numbered as the dominant power in Malaysian politics.
The fear is gone and one that happens there is no way they can hold on to power for too long, unless they change. Maybe that was why Unspun could smile so heartily when a Malaysian Embassy political attaché had asked to take a photo with Unspun. His reason was that he wanted to show a blogger that he had met Unspun but I have a feeling that the Special Branch may be admiring my dentist’s handiwork. I hope they like the smile.