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Yellow, black, red and white colour of democracy

As published in Malay Mail today

 By Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

TRULY,  Malaysia is witnessing the many colours of democratic action by groups of citizen. First, we had the Bersih 4 rally symbolised by the yellow colour. Bersih 4 had reforms of the electoral process as its main objective and rally cry.
While I was not supportive of the choice of date for Bersih 4 — one day before Merdeka Day — the generally peaceful nature of the assembly was commendable. In fact, the police were also to be praised for their role in ensuring a peaceful assembly.
It was unfortunate though that there were some quarters who had taken part in Bersih 4 chanting anti-government slogans. I thought this may actually distract the rally from Bersih’s avowed aim of electoral reforms. This may also alienate the ones that support the government and also want electoral reforms.
In many of the discussions that followed, it was made an issue that the participants were mostly Chinese and very few Malays.
I can understand the concern for so-called ethnic representations in a multi-ethnic society. However, to the best of my knowledge, Bersih 4 did not vocalise anything racial and hence I find the concern baseless.
Now, in response to Bersih 4, a group of red shirts intend to assemble at Bukit Bintang. At the time of writing this article, it is still unclear who the organisers are. The rally has been spoken of as “Himpunan Maruah Melayu” or  “Malay Dignity Gathering”. I must confess though that I am not exactly clear what the purpose of their gathering is though I am aware of various speculations.
Whatever it is, judging by the response, the red shirt rally seems to have invited real concerns for safety and ethnic relations. I hear concerned citizens wondering why the choice of Bukit Bintang knowing fully well the recent Low Yat incident. Some are even wondering at the title of the gathering implying as if the “dignity of the Malays” is somewhat under threat.
Like Bersih 4, I am not too pleased personally at the choice of Sept 16 by the red shirts. I strongly feel that Malaysia Day should be celebrated by all Malaysians and if there was any rally it should be one that celebrates us as being Malaysian irrespective of ethnicity, religion or culture.
Interestingly, former Malacca chief minister Tan Sri Ali Rustam, the president of Pesaka, the national silat federation, reportedly said that members of the federation will be assembling at Padang Merbok. They won’t be wearing red T-shirts but black. Their gathering is called “Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu” and anyone can attend wearing any colour they want. If I am not mistaken, in this seeming confusion, I believe any Malaysian who wants to is invited to join in the Pesaka-led rally.
I also faintly recall reading somewhere about someone proposing that we all wear white on Sept 16 for some reason or other. So, talking about freedom of expression, there has been lots of opinions on gatherings and why they want to assemble.
My wish is very simple — whoever wants to assemble I only hope they assemble peacefully with the least of inconvenience to immediate stakeholders or residents. I hope that more than short-term political objectives they will all remember that we will be living in this country for a very long term because we are Malaysians. Hence, the best reason to assemble is to remind each other that we are all Malaysians who want the best for each other irrespective of man-made differences.

Jahaberdeen is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement that encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at


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