Our political voices are heard not through protests but through ballot papers

Posted on March 21, 2011


I ran across an article written by a columnist of The Borneo Post and rather enjoyed it.

I may not be on the same political wavelength as this old fogey but I do appreciate a well-written story.

Anyway, before I start waxing enthusiastic about him and his article, I just wanted to point out that it was foolish to even consider trying out in Kuching what a few thousand people in Eqypt and several places in the Middle East did over the past weeks.

As the columnist explained, when it boils down to it, people in Sarawak are just too practical for this kind of thing and we still believe and trust in the democratic process – warts and all –  to solve our problems, over taking to the streets to vent our frustrations.

And another thing to remember is, if you find a few friends to protest and I get double the crowd to protest against your protest, does that make my cause more valid than yours?

If my red shirts outnumber your yellow shirts, does that give me the right to say “I’m right and you’re wrong”?

And let’s say you’ve just finished your absolutely brilliant street protest that just happened to disrupt the business operations of several small businesses in the area, how would YOU like it if tomorrow some other protesters on a crusade messed with your day job, for days, and days, and days….?

As we go into our 10th State election next month, let’s all try to remember that we live in a rimauataskerusi (or democracy as some might call it) and in Sarawak we practice it through our ballot papers.

Let’s leave the street protests to others and let all Sarawakians safeguard the peace and prosperity that we’ve enjoyed all these years.

Let’s all look forward to the election and choose the best party and candidates to lead us into a more prosperous future.

Stories of granchildren and protests from the viewpoint of one of The Borneo Post’s columnists:

Our Padang Merdeka is not Tahrir Square

by Sidi Munan. Posted on March 6, 2011, Sunday

IF I could help it, I would not write about events that take place far away from home. Local issues are more than enough to chew and digest. However, since my email has been installed, I’ve been getting a steady flow of communication, mainly from people I used to know, among whom are erstwhile friends in politics and new acquaintances.

Some apolitical buddies from outside Kuching who used to call the house phone suddenly sent messages through the computer and the mobile phone, apparently to show off that they too could handle modern toys. With some coaching from the grandchildren, they must try them out on me.

Little do they know that I’ve graduated from just opening the email on my PC to actually chit-chatting with my grandchildren. I can now surf the Net, glancing at the subversive literature and colour photos, and returning to the various ‘Favourites’ for more news.

In the past these guys would send congratulations via SMS on the occasion of birthday anniversaries or Gawai or some undeserved minor success such as having a new grandchild. Reading the text, which appears within a little box with tiny figures and letters, words wrongly spelt and in some strange language, is an ordeal.

I would prefer mouth to mouth, nay, verbal communication. To hear the undulating voice of someone who used to croon during the 1960s is fascinating. You can discern the heavy breathing now. To listen to the voice of another friend who has successfully undergone a recent coronary bypass is most assuring. To get a 7 o’clock morning call from a Sibu friend now enjoying a lepah (window shopping) in Kuching with an invitation to a bowl of Laksa is a great change.

Protest rallies a la Middle East cannot happen here

Someone took the advantage of email to provoke me to say something about the protesters in the Arab world and wanting to know if such protests could ever happen at the Padang Merdeka in Kuching. I succumbed to the temptation and obliged him.

As I see it, most Sarawakians in Kuching do not resort to street protests to demand our political rulers to step down. Our habit is that people who have the bright idea of organising a rally would prefer other people to go to the Padang Merdeka and shout their hearts out on their behalf, while they themselves stay at home or inside their cars.

The city’s population is too small from which to draw a large crowd for a protest rally. To bring in thousands of people from the surrounding areas would cost a lot of money for the organisers. There are not enough buses, assuming the owners will even let you hire them. There is insufficient parking space in and around the padang.

True, Kuching folk are more interested in listening to speeches at ceramah in the evening in a comfortable setting such as shopping centres, especially if the ceramah is organised by opposition parties — their opponents. People here want to hear alternative views from politicians seeking office and what their action programmes are.

Even in matters as serious as racial riots, people in Kuching are on their own. In May 1969, when murder and mayhem happened in Kuala Lumpur on 13th of that month, here in Kuching, there was hardly a ripple. A solitary Molotov cocktail was thrown at the window of the Borneo Company office (the spot where the Hilton Hotel is now), only managing to blacken the concrete wall nearby.

Earlier, in 1964, a group of boys from the villages nearby had a confrontation with some soldiers from the Penrissen camp over the term ‘Jamban Tarik’ but the impending clash fizzled out easily. It was to take place, of all places, in front of the central police station at Barrack Road.

Anyway, if we are unhappy about oppression or repression or discrimination or cronyism, or corruption, protest rallies at the Padang Merdeka are not necessary because we have in place a mechanism whereby rulers or political leaders who employ those tactics in order to stay in power can be removed.

We use the ballot box, into which we stuff papers fully marked with little crosses against the names of potential legislators to replace the incumbent, whom we prefer not to see any more if he or she has not done the job you expected of them to do for you, your family, your community and your country.

Why waste time and energy on the Padang Merdeka?

What if it rains on the day of the rally or if the hot sun beats on bare and hairless heads of people like me?

We have other avenues for registering our protests.

Of course, there is the right or freedom of assembly for a reason or reasons: either to celebrate Malaysia Day or to protest against alleged corruption in high places or a passage in a school textbook. But every right or freedom carries with it a responsibility to ensure that no one else gets hurt or no building or vehicle is damaged.

A protest rally may start peacefully and orderly, but there is the inherent animal propensity in all human beings to behave in a certain manner in particular circumstances. It is very difficult to control humans once the heart rules the head, especially those who have the intention to be mischievous in the first place.

This must be the main reason why the police, being keepers of law and order in a civilised country, disallow a public rally or procession consisting of not more than five people at any one time or spot. What’s the rationale of five people? It is easier to handle five people than 500 or 5,000, particularly in areas where other people are present, mothers and their babies included; where shops and vehicles are exposed to destruction by unruly mobs venting their anger on their targets but destroying shops and vehicles while running away from the police.

The riot policemen are also human; many have wives and children to return to after a hard day’s duty. They may be your relatives or friends. They react in self-defence in the circumstances; some among them may try their skills in crowd control learnt at their training school. They get their bleeding noses in real action, but that’s one of the occupational hazards.

Those who protest in public are also citizens, good and concerned citizens, taking upon themselves to express disapproval over certain issues on behalf of others. But good citizens are also responsible to ensure the safety of other humans and of their property. They must be responsible for the consequences of their acts.

The tourists at the nearby hotels will watch the spectacle with apprehension and they will send messages to their friends not to come to Malaysia or even cancel their hotel and plane bookings. They won’t come to Miri or Bintulu, though the riots have taken place in a little corner of Kuching.

When we lose the tourist trade, people in handicrafts, hospitality and food businesses in Kuching will be affected.

Therefore, I would reply to my email friends: “dont b daft”.

Wait for the elections and vote with all your might and all your heart and all your mind whomsoever you consider will form the next government, replace the alleged culprits – the oppressive, the suppressive and the corrupt — one by one.

One vote will not do; there must be many votes to effect the change you wish to see in the political landscape in Sarawak. As it stands, unfortunately, half a million young people who are assumed to have the potential to effect reforms by democratic means are not even registered voters. It appears that the Election Commission has not taken automatic voter registration seriously. One of its officials allegedly said recently that the voters would not vote anyway. It’s strange reasoning, but that’s the type of logic we have to live with.

That compels me to flog my old horse: automatic voter registration AND compulsory voting.

Lately, I have noticed that many people are on the same wavelength as me. So I cannot be totally daft. Repeat, give the voting rights to almost half a million potential voters in Sarawak. Give them the chance to exercise their freedom to choose the political leaders of their choice.

Let not historians hold the politicians in power now, Election Commission included, responsible for the deprivation of these voting rights, wittingly or unwittingly.


Posted in: Sarawak Politics